The fantasy world lost a giant today. Anne McCaffrey has flown from us. This is a small tribute that I made for her. I hope it honors her memory in some small way.
By John G. Hartness
“And what about you, Anne? What are you going to be when you grow up?” Mrs. Pennywise asked, her saccharine tone hiding the disdain she usually showed for Annie. No matter what the girl tried to do, nothing seemed to make the old woman like her. Her dresses were never starched enough. Her shoes were never polished enough. And her hair, no matter how long she spent brushing, was never done right for the old bat.Annie was through trying to make her happy, though. It didn’t matter what lies she told, she was never going to get a gold star in her class. So why not tell the truth.
“I’m going to be a DrakeKnight, just like my Grandda was!” She pointed out the window at the cloudless sky, defiance written all over her round eleven-year-old face.
Mrs. Pennywise said nothing, just hrmph’d in that condescending way adults had when they thought kids were being stupid, and went on to Darcy Nevins, who sat right behind Annie in class. Darcy wanted to be a ballerina, and Mrs. Pennywise praised her and cooed over how pretty Darcy was and how she could be anything she wanted to be. Of course Darcy could be anything she wanted to be, her father owned the mercantile and half the village. Darcy already was everything the rest of the children wanted to be. She was rich, smart, pretty, and the teacher’s pet. If she wasn’t so darn nice it would have been easy for Annie to hate her.
But Darcy was Annie’s best friend, had been ever since they were little kids in the first form. And now that they were in sixth form and starting their journey into womanhood, the two were even more inseparable. They shared lunches, swapping back and forth the nasty bits of celery and carrots their mothers sent. They walked home together every day, at least as far as Darcy’s house, where the two girls would play until Annie’s father came by to collect her as he walked home from a long day in the woods.
But today Darcy was even more perfect than usual, and Annie was in even more trouble with Mrs. Pennywise than usual. So it was no wonder that when the headmistress rang the bell for recess, Annie bolted from the room before Darcy could even get out of her desk. Annie ran pell-mell across the playground to her favorite sulking spot, a giant elm tree with huge spreading roots that reached out ike sprawled fingers across the ground. Annie nestled among the roots, wishing with all her heart that she could just climb inside the tree and disappear. But she couldn’t, so she sat with her back pressed up against the trunk of the tree and pulled her knees up tight to her chest, making a nice dark cave to hide her head from the brightly lit playground.
She sat there, pretending to be part of the tree for the better part of five minutes until something thunked against the back of her neck. It didn’t hurt, exactly, just surprised her enough to make her jerk her head ever so slightly upward. She caught herself, but too late. She’d been seen. More thunks and plunks rained down on her head and shoulders, and she realized quickly what was happening. She’d been found. Steven and his irritating brothers had found her and now her recess would be even more ruined. Well, they’d picked the wrong day, Annie decided. Today was the day she stopped putting up with any garbage from anybody, even Steven Dawson.
Another acorn plopped off the top of Annie’s head, and she sprang to her feet. She knew one of them was close, she could smell his toothpaste. So she jumped to her feet and dove to her left, planting a shoulder right in the stomach of Steven’s older brother Jamie.
“Oof!” Jamie exhaled hard as she caught him by surprise, tumbling to the ground on top of the winded boy. Annie quickly sprang to her feet, stepping on Jamie’s belly for good measure as she did so. Steven stood by the trunk of the tree, her tree, gawping at her like she was an animal in the zoo or something. She ran at him, swinging her fists wildly, but she’d forgotten the third Dawson brother. Avery Dawson stepped from behind the tree right behind Annie and wrapped his arms around her, pinning her arms to her sides in a bear hug. She struggled as hard as she could, but the bigger boy didn’t let go.
“Fight all you want, little DrakeKnight!” Steven chanted. “Dragons are about as real as your mother! Neither one will save you now!” Mention of her mother, dead seven years ago in childbirth, brought hot tears to Annie’s eyes and made her struggle all the harder. By now Jamie had gotten to his feet and was tossing more acorns and twigs at her as he and his snotty little brother called her “midget DrakeKnight” and “Dragonlover” and other names designed to embarrass her about her dreams.
Annie stopped struggling and just stood there, panting with fury as tears streamed down her face. Steven stepped right up to her and whispered nastily “It’s no wonder your mother would rather be dead than have to raise a stupid kid like you, Annie Fanny! I don’t blame your dad for spending every day drunk in the woods so he doesn’t have to look at your stupid face.” Annie just cried all the harder, because he was telling at least some truth. Her dad had been smelling like whiskey when he came home lately, and none of the other woodsmen were still working this late in the fall.
Steven waved to his brothers and they let her go, running back to the swings to terrorize other students for their lunch money. They knew Annie didn’t have any money to steal. Annie curled up on the ground this time, wrapping herself around the tree roots and sobbing into the playground dust. She didn’t know how long she’d been there crying before she fell asleep, but when she woke up she had the bark imprinted all along one arm and the side of her face, so she must have been there for a while. It was colder, and the sun was starting to set, so the school day must have been almost over. They forgot me, she thought. They just left me out here all alone.
Good. I don’t need them. I don’t need any of them. Except Darcy. She’s still okay. But the rest of them can just go to the hot place! No sooner had the thought crossed her mind than Annie tried to erase it with a prayer. I’m sorry, Lord. I didn’t mean it. Thy will be done, Amen. Feeling a little better about wishing damnation on her classmates, Annie stood and began walking towards the school. She was only halfway across the playground when the doors opened, spilling happy children into freedom for the end of the school day. Annie had slept all through the afternoon classes under the tree. She edged cautiously over to the side of the school, planning to join the students as they came out. Hopefully no one would be the wiser.
All her hopes were dashed when a huge winged shadow flew low over the schoolyard, scattering children and adults alike. Seconds later, a huge red and green dragon glided to a landing right on top of the school. As dragons go, it was a rather small dragon, less than fifteen feet long from nose to tail. But to a group of six to ten-year-olds, it seemed very large indeed. The dragon roared, and snapped out its neck at a fleeing student. The child dove onto its belly to avoid the snapping jaws, and the dragon drew back its head, seeming pleased with itself.
The dragon hopped down off the building, blocking the door with its hindquarters and facing outward into the yard where all the students were gathered. Some had run for the gate, but the dragon belched a stream of fire at them, herding them back into the yard. Others ran for the far end of the playground, but the dragon simply hopped over them and they shuffled into a clump in the middle of the clearing between the swings and the teeter-totters.
The dragon seemed to take joy in their attempts to escape, flicking out a wing to knock this child over when he tried to run, lashing out with his tail to trip another child as she ran to help her friend. Annie watched all this in confusion for several minutes until Darcy saw her and started to run in her direction. The dragon flicked out a claw, and Darcy stopped in her tracks, the claw hovering just inches in front of her face. Suddenly it dawned on Annie what it was doing – it was teasing them.
“HEY!” She bellowed in her fiercest voice, stomping out into the playground to stand next to Darcy. “Leave her alone!”
“And why should I, little meatling?” The dragon asked, bringing its huge head down to look Annie in the eye. The dragon’s eye was the size of Annie’s whole head, but she wasn’t afraid. She had realized that this dragon was just like Mrs. Pennywise, just like Steven Dawson and his stupid brothers. It was picking on them just because it was bigger. And that wasn’t going to work anymore.
“Because I said so.”
“And who, little meatling, are you?”
“I am Annalisa Chisoman Pern, granddaughter of the legendary DrakeKnight Religan Pern, and by the authority of my bloodline I claim you as my dragon! Now you must do as I say! And I say leave her alone.”
“You claim me, little girl? I don’t think so. I’ve never heard of your grandfather, and I don’t think you’re commanding me to do anything.”
“I don’t care if you’ve heard of him or not, it’s the DrakeKnight law, and you have to do what I say. And I say you leave Darcy alone.” Annie stood firm in front of the dragon, arms folded across her chest. The other children had drawn back when she started speaking, and now they looked from her to the dragon warily, unsure of what was happening.
“Well, if it’s the law,” the dragon drawled. He reared his head back and drew in a deep breath, but halted just before he exhaled at Annie’s upraised hand.
“I didn’t say you could breathe fire.”
“I didn’t ask you.”
“You can’t breathe fire unless I say so. It’s the DrakeKnight law.”
“You’re not a DrakeKnight.”
“Yet, but I will be.”
“Not if I cook you first!” The dragon inhaled again and opened his mouth wide, but nothing came out.
“I told you.”
“How did you do that?”
“It’s DrakeKnight law. My Grandda told me all about the rules. And you have stinky breath.”
“Well, you’re a rude little girl!”
“Then the two of you should get along just fine.” A new voice, deeper and rumbling, came from atop the school. Annie looked up to see a truly huge red dragon hovering over the schoolhouse. She couldn’t land, because the roof would cave in under her weight. The smaller dragon looked around as if trying to find an exit when the bigger dragon spoke again.
“Annalisa Chisoman Pern, I hereby grant you status of Honorary DrakeKnight-in-training, to be bonded with my youngest son Milambrisamon at the earliest opportunity.”
Annie looked up at the huge red dragon and dipped into her best curtsey. “My thanks, lady drake. May I know what you are called?”
“I am Silambristar, called Star by my rider.”
“But my grandda’s dragon was called Star!” Annie exclaimed.
“Indeed. And now his granddaughter shall ride on Star’s child. You may call him Brim.” The huge red dragon flapped her wings once, twice and shot off into the air, quickly fading to a crimson speck on the horizon.
Annie looked around at the children and adults crowded in the schoolyard and stepped closer to Brim. “Don’t worry,” She whispered. “I won’t let them hurt you.”
The dragon leaned in close to her ear, so close that his breath almost burned her neck and he whispered back “Me too.”