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Pern is a fictional planet created by Anne McCaffrey for the Dragonriders of Pern series of science fiction books. It is said to be "Rukbat 3", the third planet in orbit around the star Rukbat, counting outward.
As of June 2011 there are two collections of Pern stories and twenty-two novels, some written jointly or solely by Todd McCaffrey, the series creator's son. The figure to the right shows the habitable portion of Pern's northern continent and a tiny portion of its southern continent, which are the setting for the first novel Dragonflight (1968) and its sequel Dragonquest. East–West it shows approximately the known hemisphere. It does not show the abandoned region of "Landing" and early colonization, further to the southeast, whose rediscovery and resettlement is one unifying theme of the stories that follow Dragonquest in Pern historical time, perhaps one third of the series.
The Atlas of Pern (1984), a companion book produced by Karen Wynn Fonstad in consultation with McCaffrey, provides geographical detail for a region extending further south and east. In their geographical scope The Atlas maps cover the settings for all but the latest book, Dragon's Time (2011).
Exploration: The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall
Pern was explored and cleared for colonization by an Exploration and Evaluation Corps team, two hundred years before the actual colonization commenced. This is in keeping with McCaffrey's themes of space exploration and colonization to escape from a polluted and overcrowded Old Earth, explored in many of her different series.
The EEC team spent ten days assessing the planet. They recorded geographical, geological, botanical, ecological and zoological information in a variety of locations, some of which are recognizable as areas of interest in other Pern stories. One member of the EEC team, Shavva bint Faroud, found the pristine planet so beautiful that she struggled to remain objective. (In a classic McCaffrey inter-story connection, Shavva is later revealed as an ancestor of Avril Bitra, the astronavigator of the Pern colony.) Despite the beauty of the planet, the EEC team were puzzled by a repeated random pattern of circles of bare dirt, which they observed across the whole globe. Eventually, they labelled the planet with the acronym: Parallel Earth, Resources Negligible (i.e., insufficient to support interstellar commercial investment).
In the novel, Dragonsdawn, Pern was colonized by settlers originally from Earth, First Base on the Moon, and the colony at Alpha Centauri. These people had lived in a technocratic society recovering from a war with an alien race. The colony was led by Admiral Paul Benden and Governor Emily Boll, who had both been key leaders in the war. The 6,000 colonists wanted to return to an agrarian society with a low level of technology so badly that they were prepared to take a fifteen-year one-way journey to an isolated part of the galaxy.
Less than a decade after the first colony was established, the settlers discovered that their chosen planet was subject to periodic attack from space by the destructive Thread, a spaceborne spore that destroys organic substances on contact. This was responsible for the mysterious bare circles noted in the EEC report. Unable to retreat from the peril, the settlers developed methods of combating the Thread. A small indigenous lifeform, the fire-lizard, was discovered with remarkable adaptations against Thread: flight, teleportation, limited telepathy, and the ability to chew phosphine rock and generate bursts of flame. (McCaffrey explored another of her favourite themes, biological manipulation, using it as a plot device to allow the colonists to battle Thread.)
Kitti Ping, a scientist trained in genetic manipulation by the Eridani, genetically "upgraded" these into full-sized flame-breathing telepathic dragons, who were able to sear the Thread before it could fall to the ground. Dragonriders became a vitally important and highly respected profession, especially after a mass migration to the northern continent, where they lived in Weyrs (weyr rhymes with 'here'), and, as time progressed, the settlers forgot their Terran origins.
Last Contact: The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall
In the weeks following the first Thread attack, the colonists debated sending a homing capsule to Earth, asking for help. The colonists demonstrated independence and bravery, traits that come to typify the Pernese, in deciding to fight Thread alone. A small segment of the community disagreed, and Ted Tubberman, colony botanist, stole the official colony SOS beacon and sent it off on a homemade launch pad. As a punishment for this, Ted was shunned by the colony.
Some fifty years later, a Fleet battle cruiser, the Amherst, passed by the Sagittarian Sector on a search for alien incursions, and noted that the Rukbat sector had been flagged for investigation by passing ships. (Such heartlessness of large bureaucracies is another common theme in McCaffrey's novels.) The captain on board, Anise Fargoe, authorized a rescue run under the leadership of Lieutenant Ross Vaclav Benden, nephew of Admiral Paul Benden, to discover the reason for Tubberman's SOS. Upon arrival planetside, Ross flew the shuttle Erica in a scanning pattern, but failed to notice the new settlements in the northern hemisphere, as they were looking for surface heat signatures and these were situated in deep cave systems to protect them from Thread. In the southern hemisphere, the Erica found the original settlement buried under volcanic ash, but a faint beacon still pulsed in the southern mountain range. Ross and his crew found original colonist Stev Kimmer, now an old man, in charge at Honshu Hold. Stev mislead Ross and his crew that he and his people were the last survivors of the colony, thanks to the depredations of Thread. They were evacuated, and the Rukbat system was interdicted, ensuring that Pern would remain undisturbed in future centuries.
Planetary system data
Pern is the third of five planets in the Rukbat system (the Pernese star is also known as Alpha Sagittarius). In a departure from reality, Rukbat is a class G (yellow) star in the series; the real Rukbat is a blue, class B star—although it could be that the star Pern orbits is simply a solar-type star that is near the real Rukbat which was given the brighter star's name for convenience. (See spectral classification for more information.) Pern has two moons, Belior and Timor (in order of distance). The Rukbat system in the novel also contains two asteroid belts and an Oort cloud. The Oort cloud and a rogue "sixth" planet, the Red Star (a Sedna-class inner Oort cloud object), plays a major role in the series, as it is the source of Thread.
Pern bears three continents, four major oceans, and a large number of islands. The largest continent, the Southern, is noted for large areas of grassland and jungle, as well as high tectonic and volcanic activity (probably due to the two moons, although this increases with the coming of the Red Star). The Northern Continent, in contrast, is relatively infertile, composed primarily of 'shield' bedrock and is the most tectonically stable landmass on the planet. Not much is known of the small Far Western Continent, as it has never been explored; its existence is known only from orbital satellite surveys and maritime expeditions.
Pern is noted for its high incidence of cave systems, particularly in the Northern Continent. This feature heavily influenced the development of human society on the planet, as humans forced to take shelter in these caves eventually developed an intricate culture associated with cave-dwelling in a feudal society at a medieval to Renaissance level of technology.
Pern is relatively lacking in most major metals. Nonetheless, sufficient deposits of petroleum and metals exist to supply a high-technology agrarian society, though not a high-technology industrial one.
Although Pern has four major oceans, the only ocean of major concern to most inhabitants of Pern is the Southern, which separates the Northern and Southern Continents. Few expeditions have explored the Western and Eastern Oceans to either side of the main continents, and the Ring Sea is known only from satellite observations.
The Southern Ocean is noted for its volatile weather and strong currents, which present a challenge for mariners. At least one tropical cyclone has occurred in the ocean in the course of the books.
Firestone is a phosphorus-bearing rock found on Pern. Dragons and fire lizards are able to produce spontaneously flammable phosphine gas from firestone, and to burn Thread out of the air by emitting the gas.
There are two firestone varieties. One is highly unstable, prone to release potentially explosive gas on contact with even the slightest bit of moisture, which makes it extremely dangerous to mine, store, transport, and consume. (Evidently it does not explode in a dragon's mouth, however.) The second variety is relatively stable, and must be "digested" in a dragon's second stomach to produce phosphine. The stable variety was discovered on the beaches of the Southern Continent soon after Landing, by observation of the native fire lizards (in Dragonsdawn). About 500 years later it was rediscovered by Kindan the harper and successfully mined (in Dragon's Fire), and thereafter used exclusively by dragonriders.
Golden queen dragons cannot produce phosphine from firestone. They help fight Thread by deft spotting and flying with riders who use mechanical flame throwers.
Firestone is believed to render female dragons sterile, which is considered beneficial regarding the green females. They are the smallest dragons, and sexually active, which would produce too many too small dragons if they were fertile.
The traditional theory is debunked for the reader's benefit in Dragonsdawn, where it is noted that green dragons are sterile and gold dragons are unable to use firestone by design. Evidently that knowledge was lost and the folk explanation generated, before the Third Pass at latest. (Both the gold and green female fire lizards are fertile, and both use firestone to flame Thread. There has been little study of fire lizards since the early days, however, and wild green clutches produce few young because greens do not defend their nests or carefully choose secure sites.)
Pernese biomes have been profoundly affected by the cyclical appearance of Thread, a spore which destroys organic material. This has resulted in a relative dearth of terrestrial plants and animals. However, as Thread drowns in water, Pern has a much more populous and thriving aquatic ecology.
Pernese biomes contain both indigenous Pernese flora and fauna and introduced species from other worlds—primarily Earth. (The original EEC team found that there was very little biodiversity, meaning that the colonists, coming two hundred years later, brought flora and fauna species with them.)
The plants best known to humans residing on Pern are those that are useful. There are several types of plants which are edible to humans: the redfruit tree, which produces a red, plum-like fruit, and the klah tree, whose bark is infused, like coffee beans, into a stimulant beverage reminiscent of chocolate, coffee, and cinnamon. Native medicinal plants include dragon's tongue, which produces a gel similar to aloe; the Needlethorn, whose hollow thorns can be used as hypodermic needles; Numbweed, a strong analgesic plant that is made into a cream after boiling it in large pots for 3 days that numbs small wounds completely, and dulls larger wounds; and Fellis, which produces a juice used as a soporific drug. Text in Dragonquest indicates that the flower of the Fellis plant produces a strong yet pleasant odor, and is used as a decoration for special occasions.
Pern is host to a number of invertebrate species, including the insect-like trundlebugs, rollers (analogous to a woodlouse), VTOLS (a type of fly), springs (a type of parasite), and spider-like creatures called spinners (in the very first story, Weyr Search, they were referred to as crawlers). There is also a type of worm or millipede called a grub, which was genetically engineered by the settlers to consume Thread. It serves the important purpose of protecting fields and crops by tunneling underground, eating any Thread that has reached the ground and burrowed. However it has only flourished in the Southern Continent and its existence was forgotten by most of the inhabitants of the North for many years. The only people who knew about the grubs had been eradicating them whenever they appeared in the North; an error in records interpretation led them to believe they were parasitical instead of beneficial. After the error was corrected, the grubs were encouraged to flourish—indeed it was noted that areas sown with the grubs prospered better due to the grubs aerating the soil and preventing Thread from destroying the crops or potential infestations forcing the burning of the field.
Native Pernese vertebrates have a body-structure with six limbs. Flying creatures, such as the fire-lizards and wherries (carnivorous creatures not dissimilar to large birds), have two wings and four legs. Ground-bound creatures like most tunnelsnakes have six legs, which may include specialized digging feet or hunting claws. Some tunnelsnakes are aquatic or semi-aquatic, and have one or more set of fins or flippers in place of legs. Wherries are edible, and have been domesticated for food; some tunnelsnakes are edible, but they are primarily considered a pest animal in Weyrs and Holds.
The native dragonet was genetically engineered using advanced high-tech Eridani techniques, such as a mentasynth enhancement, by settlers into the much larger and more intelligent dragons. Other experiments resulted in the enhanced fire-lizards, which would come to play an important role in Pernese society as companions and message carriers, and the watch-wher (wher rhymes with 'there'), a stunted, photophobic cousin of the dragon. Fire-lizards proved compatible with the original dragonets, but the enhanced genetics of the fire-lizard proved to be a much bigger advantage, and dragonets eventually bred out of existence. Whers are used in mining and as guards of Holds, and were long thought to be a mistake made by Wind Blossom, the Eridani geneticist who was credited with (or blamed for) developing them. It was later revealed for the readers' benefit (in Todd McCaffrey's "Dragonsblood") that their 'flaws' were deliberate: they were designed to fight Thread by themselves on the few occasions when it fell at night. Their infrared eyesight not only allowed them to see Thread but to discern live Thread from Thread that had been frozen by the night atmosphere, and the shorter wingspan was intended to minimize Thread damage. Unfortunately, this information was kept from the general population and soon lost, and it became customary to chain whers up, which prevented them from playing their intended role in the fight against Thread. The Watch-wher's role is finally realised in Todd McCaffrey's New Tales of Pern, where they play a critical role in the fight against thread after the creation of a specialised Wherhold.
A wide variety of fish-like creatures dwell in Pernese seas, many of which are edible to humans, including the oily-fleshed packtail, the prized redfin, and the easily preserved whitefish.
Most of the plants introduced by Pernese colonists are providers of food, fiber or medicine. Most grains, vegetable crops, and fruit trees were imported to Pern, as were a wide variety of herbs and fiber plants such as flax and cotton. Notably, the Pernese lack cocoa, tea and coffee plants.
The original Pernese settlers brought a wide variety of animals (transported in coldsleep or as ovum and sperm to be bred in the revived birthing stock) and plants with them when they originally settled the planet. However, due to both the disastrous threadfall and the natural Pernese landscape, some animals never adapted at all. Deer and other forest-dwelling animals did not fare well in Pern's warm, tropical climate. Other animals required "genetic adaptation" but survived in some form or another. One type of genetic adaptation needed was the altering of the digestive processes of animals like cows to allow them to digest the boron-heavy grass successfully and without ill-effects.
The Pernese circa the Ninth Pass of the Red Star tend to categorize animals by use more than by species. Herdbeasts are animals kept in large numbers for meat or leather, and include bovines, ovines and caprines (which became the standard Pernese terms for cows, sheep and goats). Milchbeasts are the same species as herdbeasts, but kept for milk. Draybeasts are donkeys, oxen or draft horses. Runners are a particular breed of horse developed by the Pernese, a riding/racing beast vaguely analogous to the Anglo-Arabian. Burdenbeasts may be donkeys or llamas.
Cats and dogs, called felines and canines, are kept for pest control or, in the case of dogs, as herd or guard animals. The felines and canines have adapted to fit the colder climates of Pern, having developed thicker, shaggier coats. A large feline (mentioned to be a cheetah in "Dragonsdawn") was engineered by a renegade settler for the purpose of being an intelligent helper, but they turned on the settler and went wild on the Southern Continent.
A genetically altered breed of dolphins, subsequently called shipfish by the native population (due to their tendency to follow ships), accompanied humans to Pern. These dolphins had greatly increased intelligence, including a degree of telepathic ability, and had developed means of verbally communicating with humans because of the genetic metasynth enhancement. Unlike many of the other animals that accompanied humans, dolphins took to their new home well. They were trained to come to the sound of bells, help troubled sailors in the oceans, and inform sailors and fishermen about the currents and fish. Unfortunately, intelligent contact between dolphins and humans was soon lost following the first thread fall, as the humans struggled for survival. For much of Pernese history they were not known to the human population as intelligent beings, and were considered as merely another animal, though forbidden and unlucky to harm. While the dolphins were forgotten about by the humans, the dolphins remembered the contract between the two species (made when the two species originally arrived on Pern), and continued to help sailors in distress, and returning lost cargo to shore, awaiting the day when humans would remember and again honour the old contract.
Human settlement patterns
At the time of colonization, the eastern portion of the Southern Continent was selected as the most hospitable site to initiate the spread of civilization. Accordingly, Landing was established near the dormant volcano Mount Garben, on a fertile plateau near the Jordan River. Suitable stakeholds were established across much of the Southern Continent.
The arrival of Thread and the eruption of Mount Garben, both consequences of a close pass by the Red Star, forced the evacuation of first Landing, and then the entire Southern Continent, to Fort Hold on the Northern Continent. Circumstances then constrained human settlement for the next twenty-five centuries to the tectonically stable, cave-riddled Northern Continent. During the Ninth Pass of the Red Star, population pressure and improved technology made possible the recolonization of the Southern Continent and the rediscovery of the original settlements along with the creation of brand new ones such as the telescope project on the oft forgotten Western Continent mentioned towards the end of The Skies of Pern.
Thread, a deadly phenomenon that appears throughout the series, are thin silver filaments of a space-borne mycorrhizoid spore that devours all organic matter that it touches. Pern periodically experiences Threadfalls, in which this deadly organism rains down from the sky.
Thread is brought to Pern by another planet in its solar system, the inexactly named Red Star. The Red Star has a two hundred and fifty Turn (Pernese year) elliptic orbit around its sun, Rukbat. When at aphelion, the Red Star travels as far as Rukbat's Oort Cloud, the natural habitat of Thread. As the Red Star moves through the Cloud, some of the Thread falls into the planet's gravity well, remaining there as the Red Star leaves the Cloud on its journey sunward. As the Red Star approaches perihelion, gravitational perturbations and outgassing from the Red Star's interior launch Thread on trajectories that impact Pern.
Threadfalls occur on Pern for about fifty Turns while the Red Star is near Pern's orbit. This is called a Pass, while the two hundred Thread-free Turns during which the Red Star is farther away are called an Interval. Twice, the Red Star did not come close enough, leading to a Long Interval of four hundred and fifty Turns. McCaffrey's first Pern novel, Dragonflight, begins near the end of such a Long Interval. Long Intervals are of such duration that, by their end, most of the Pernese population believes Threadfall has permanently ceased.
The two Long Intervals were caused when dragons were sent back in time by AIVAS to detonate large explosions on the Red Star's surface. The explosions perturbed its orbit, causing the long intervals. A third explosion in the present completed the calculated change in the Red Star's orbit, ensuring that thread never again threatens Pern once the present pass is complete.
Thread remains dormant in inner-system space as a small, icy ovoid (a Zebedee), but is reactivated by passage through the atmosphere. Heat and atmospheric friction burn off the outer shell, releasing "thread-like" strings which float down to the surface in sheets, tangles and clumps. The size of a single strand is initially comparable to a long, silver strand of yarn. However, while feeding, Thread grows visibly, being described as a "heavy hawser" rope or "wriggling sausages" about 10 cm by 3 meters in size.
Structurally, Thread is composed of many thin, tightly wound filaments within a very fine outer shell or film. Complex proteins (presumably including proteases, nucleases, glycolases and adipases linked to molecular motors and fibrils) allow Thread to consume any carbon-based substance through direct physical contact as well as providing wriggling mobility. Contact with Thread results in "Threadscore," similar to a chemical burn.
A small clump of Thread can devour a fully-grown cow in moments. Feeding Thread grows rapidly, pulsing with sickly grey and green colors as it consumes. The exterior shell thickens with growth, and Thread dies from the inside out, suggesting that Thread's explosive consumption interferes with its metabolism. The shell thickens and hardens in death, while the inside undergoes an "unravelling/melting" process that leaves a foul stench. Water drowns Thread quickly, leaving a "soggy, bubbling mess".
Thread has no brain and is not sentient. The majority of Thread dies after landing, due to starvation. However, if Thread survives to begin its feeding cycle on the organic component of soil, the result is a burrow that multiplies extremely rapidly. A single burrow can devastate multiple square miles of land before perishing.
Close examination of Thread ovoids under inert conditions (near-vacuum pressures and subzero temperatures) reveal an ice shell embedded with cometary matter (rocks and dirt), requiring special glass tools to cut. Dissection reveals a mass of tightly wound fibers, tubes, and yellow goo (liquid helium). Captured Thread ovoids, when exposed to warm laboratory conditions, explode into a writhing, devouring mass that later melts into a dead puddle after a short time without food.
The Pern of the Ninth Pass is a highly structured society, consisting of four different groups of people, Weyrfolk, Holders, Crafters, and those without a permanent home, the Holdless and Traders. The Weyr, Hold, and Craft Hall are all separate from one another and the leaders of each are equal in rank. But in the same way, they are interdependent, and no one group could exist without the other two. Individual Weyrs, Holds, and Halls are autonomous, but generally maintain good relations with one another.
Anne McCaffrey uses clothing ensignia throughout the Pern Chronicles to identify role and rank of different individuals. In the stories of the Ninth Pass, these ensignia include general colours, such as harper blue, and accessories described as shoulder knots. The colour and pattern of knots denotes geographical affiliation, Craft and rank, such as apprentice, journeyman, or Master. Amongst the sailing members of Pern society, such knots can also indicate the rank of Captain.
The Weyrs are the home of the dragonriders of Pern. They are expansive structures, often situated in a cave-riddled extinct volcano, or along a mountain face, where there is enough space for the dragons, their riders, and the people of the "lower caverns", i.e. the staff which maintain the Weyr. Due to the unsuitable terrain of Weyr locations (volcanoes, cliff faces), Weyrfolk are generally unable to grow food. They depend on tithes of goods from the holds in order to survive, and in exchange, the Dragonriders have pledged to protect those holds from Threadfall.
The Holds of Pern are where the majority of people on Pern live. Holds are literally castles, just not quite like the castles from the Middle Ages. There are three sizes of Hold: Major, Minor, and Cothold. Major Holds are ruled by a Lord and Lady Holder, and their family. The remainder of the residents are staff and workers who run the hold, and professional crafters; all told, they usually number around one thousand. The Headwoman is in charge of the inner hold, and looks after all of the workings inside, while the Steward runs the outdoor parts of the hold. Major Holds tithe a portion of their produce to the nearest Weyr in return for protection from Thread.
Minor Holds are always beholden to a Major Hold, and tithe to them in return for protection from Thread and other dangers. They are run by a person who bears the title of Holder, and are home to smaller numbers of people than Major Holds.
Cotholds are small, family-run holds, and usually all those who live there are family or close friends. 'Family' on Pern generally means an extended family of several generations and branches, as opposed to the nuclear family common in Western societies on our own world.
Each hold is responsible for the discipline of its wrongdoers. Most times the Lord Holder will make the wrongdoer pay restitution and service to the wronged party. The next level of punishment is incarceration. Death penalty can also be used in response to heinous crimes. One of the greatest punishments is to be named holdless. This is where a person is stripped of all rank and status and thrown out of the hold. The most severe punishment of all is exile, usually to the island archipelago known as the Eastern Ring Islands. The reason this is the most severe punishment is because the holdless have nowhere to go during Threadfall and have no other human contact. This punishment is usually followed by a Shunning, which, in effect, causes the Shunned to be ignored completely by all humans. It is established in Dragon's Fire that the Shunned are marked on their foreheads with an indelible dye for identification.
The Crafthalls are the home to craftsmen; those Pernese skilled in a particular industry. The Crafts of Pern are: Harper, Smith, Healer, Miner, Weaver, Farmer, Fisher, Tanner, Baker, Vintner, and Herder. For example, the Harper Hall is responsible for the arts (specifically music) and teaching young children the Teaching Ballads, which provide them with basic knowledge. When a child is ten or twelve, they can be sent to be an apprentice at a Crafthall if they show a flair for that particular craft. The Crafthalls train the crafters and send them out all over Pern to provide their skills to even the remotest hold. Note that it is not necessary for someone to be (for example) a trained farmcrafter in order to grow food; holders have a wide variety of skills, but it is the crafters who are the experts.
The most recent craft, Starsmith (astronomy) was created during the Ninth Pass when Wansor, a Master of the Smithcraft, began his research into local celestial bodies. His work was influential to the major events of the Pass.
The crafts all use the same hierarchy. Everyone in each craft begins as an apprentice, usually from age twelve to eighteen, then becomes a journeyman (eighteen to thirty) with a great deal of hard work and dedication, attainment to the status of Master (thirty+) is possible. Not everyone makes it to Master, and some leave before even the rank of Journeyman is reached. Such a step from apprentice to journeyman is called 'walking the tables', based on the custom that apprentices and journeymen eat at different tables at a crafthall. The craft rank and hold they are beholden to are indicated by complicated knots which are worn on the shoulder.
The crafthalls are located near or in the Major Holds. For example, the Harper Hall and Healer Hall of the Northern Continent are both located in Fort Hold. At least some crafts have local crafthalls at other Major Holds; for example, there is a small Weavercraft Hall at High Reaches Hold, as well as a branch of the Healer Hall in South Telgar Hold.
The leaders of the Halls are called Mastercrafters, for example, the Masterharper is the head of the entire Harper Hall, and is not to be confused with a Master Harper, of which there may be several.
People who do not live in an established hold – either by choice, or due to punishment – make up the Holdless. They have no guaranteed protection from Thread, and the life of a Holdless is often dangerous.
Several nomadic groups were part of the initial colonization of Pern. Similar to European Gypsies and Irish Tinkers, they disdain hold life, choosing instead to live on the road, traveling from place to place. They tend to live in tightly knit family groups and are fiercely loyal to their group and way of life. They are extremely distrustful of outsiders and do not often take in strangers, especially ex-holders, without some proof of trust. Many are Traders (see below) and help organize trading caravans which travel from hold to weyr.
A Gather is a periodic, day-long event, similar to a county or state fair, held by Major Holds for recreation and commerce. References are made to Gathers as seasonal, indicating that several are held yearly at each Hold. At a Gather, Pernese from Weyrs, Crafthalls and Holds may mingle and enjoy various entertainments, including runnerbeast racing (enjoyed by the title character of Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern) and physical competitions such as boxing and wrestling (All the Weyrs of Pern mentions the use of "Gather champions" as guardsmen, and a supporting character of The Renegades of Pern is shown being rendered Holdless for repeated use of deadly force in Gather competition).
Gathers are also a chance for Craftsmen to offer their wares for sale, usually from Craft-run booths (although All the Weyrs of Pern notes that on occasion, apprentices will sell items that did not meet their masters' approval "under the table" to make some pocket money to spend at the Gather). Food vendors also operate at gathers selling snack items (as the hosting Lord and Lady Holder customarily provide a full meal to Gather attendees). Skilled Harpers, often Master Harpers and on occasion the Masterharper himself, are invited to play both performance pieces and dance music for the attendees' pleasure.
These are the people who take goods to trade to well-off holds, and to those people who often cannot reach a Gather. It is these isolated holders who need the traders and their trains of goods to keep them equipped with flamethrowers and farming equipment from the Crafthalls. Traders usually visit those holds that have few to no Marks, and so take produce instead of currency. It is very rare that a trader will carry perishable goods that can be found somewhere else such as grain or culled animals. The only way this will happen is if the good in question is local and/or exotic and will be highly valued by those with more marks in the larger holds.
Another way the traders serve the rest of Pern is by allowing Craft Journeymen or Masters to travel with them so that these talented men and women do not have to take the long and sometimes dangerous journey by themselves.
Pern's currency is known as the Mark. Marks are circulated in the form of coins made of wood, apparently as a fiat currency (though, due to Thread, wood has traditionally been a scarce resource during most of Pern's history), whose value is set by a meeting of the political and economic leaders of the planet, apparently as a command economy. The coins occur in the denominations 1⁄32, 1⁄16, ⅛, ¼, ½, 1, 2, 5, and 10 marks, with a few 100-mark coins for very large transactions.
All the coins are the same size, denominations being indicated by a stamped number. They also have some sort of picture marking representing the type of hold or craft mark they are. If the number has a line above it, then it represents a unit fraction (that is, 32 would be 1⁄32), whereas a line below the number indicates an integer. The ½ and 2 Mark coins are the only ones that could be potentially confused.
Every craft produces its own marks, and the supply is kept constant, new marks only being produced to replace old ones. Some craft's marks are valued over other crafts depending on the political climate of the time.
The Mark is a moderately large amount of money (somewhere around $20), but an exact exchange rate is impossible to determine due to the differences between the fictional Pernese and real world economic systems.