Menolly, youngest daughter of Masterfisher Yanus, Sea Holder of Half-Circle Seahold, is a gifted musician who is punished for using her musical talents after Petiron, the Harper who encouraged her talent, dies. Finding life at the fishing community unbearable because her father forbids her to express her musical talents, she runs away from home. Menolly takes refuge from falling Thread in a cave—and discovers hatching fire-lizards, the precursors to the great dragons which are Pern's primary defense against Thread. Isolated from civilization in her cave and forced to care for nine baby fire lizards that she Impressed, Menolly quickly learns to be resourceful and independent. Freed from the restrictive role forced upon her by her family, she indulges her passion for music.
Menolly is out foraging one day when she is caught in Threadfall. She is rescued by a dragonrider, T'gran, and his brown dragon, Branth, who take her to Benden Weyr. As she is adjusting to the liberal lifestyle of the Weyrfolk, she is discovered by Masterharper Robinton, the Masterharper of Pern, who has been searching frantically for Petiron's mystery apprentice. He discovers that she is the writer of two songs that Petiron (his father) sent him and offers her a place at the Harper Hall as his apprentice.