Last time, we set up the mystery of the present, involving F’jian’s disappearance late at night (where he’s showing all the signs of doing additional time travel), and Fiona got gaslit by the people who really should have been supporting her about whether or not she saw Lorana for long enough for Lorana to capture a sketch of her and then disappear back into time again.
Dragon’s Time, Chapter 3: Content Notes: Mortality
In darkest night I find you,
The sisters of tomorrow:
Heralding the dawn.
(The Unknown Time of Lorana and Tenniz)
There’s no time marker for this chapter, as it starts with Lorana and Tenniz, and apparently, Lorana doesn’t know where she is, or the narrative doesn’t want us to know where she is, but it’s pretty obviously in the time where Fiona is back in time, because Lorana has felt both infant Lorana and teenage Lorana before making sure she doesn’t accidentally reveal herself to Fiona before her time. So that gives us, essentially, a three-year window of time to work with, and, presumably, Tenniz has already arranged for his prophecies to be delivered at the appropriate time, so there’s really no harm in saying when they are that I can fathom, but maybe we’re supposed to think of this as a timeless space, somewhere that’s not governed by the demands of time.
Anyway, the chapter starts with Lorana asking Tenniz whether or not he could possibly be wrong about this being his appointed place and time to die. While Tenniz admits to the possibility, and that he would be super-embarrassed to be wrong about this particular one, he hasn’t been wrong before, despite seeing only glimpses, so, despite Lorana’s questions, he knows that today is the day that he’s going to die. And Tenniz intends to make his last day a pleasant one. Lorana is not so inclined toward the reality of death, as someone who still presumably has some time before her, but Tenniz has made his peace and knows Lorana has at least a couple of times already about her dragon dying and her baby dying. Tenniz mentions that he has a daughter and a son, in an offhand way also mentioning how old he is, that suggests it’s not just miners and dragonriders who decide they’re going to have kids young.
“You’ve a son and a daughter?”
“I’ve nearly twenty Turns,” Tenniz said.
“But you knew you were going to die,” Lorana said.
“I did and I do,” he said. He gave her a wry look. “As are we all in our own time.”
Lorana accepted that with a nod. “It must be hard on you,” she said.
“No harder than it was for you,” the young man replied. Lorana’s eyes misted as she caught his meaning. “We faced hard choices.”
All the way back at the beginning of this Third Pass set, I believe Kindan and Zenor didn’t really blink at the idea of getting married at twelve, to have kids and start a family, because the expectation was that they would be dead from mining by thirty. The dragonriders of this pass seem very keen on making sure their candidates, for fighting or for queen dragons, are about this same age. And, I forget how old Pellar was when he was part of thw watch-wher mating flight, but they’d arranged it all by age groupings, too, I think. Tenniz, however, knowing he’s going to be dead before he’s twenty, that I can understand him deciding that he wants to experience as much as he can before its his time, and that presumably would include things like sex and having children. Especially, as Lorana deduces in a little bit past the quoted section, because the traders want to make sure that the Sight continues to be passed down through the generations.
“They’re trying to keep this Sight of yours alive, aren’t they?”
“Among the traders it has saved countless lives,” Tenniz told her. “Even for myself, I would say it was more blessing than curse.”
[…skipping over some talk about breaking time that we’ll get back to in a minute, as well as Tenniz suggesting Lorana has some trader blood in her, because of her father’s profession…]
“You’ve been seen by others,” Tenniz said.
“Your father?” Lorana guessed.
Tenniz shook his head. “My mother,” he told her. “The Sight can go to either man or woman.”
“But only one,” Lorana guessed. “The Sight only comes to one in each generation.”
Tenniz gave her a wry look. “See? You prove my point,” he told her triumphantly.
“It was a guess,” Lorana said acerbically.
The point, in this case, being that Lorana has some trader blood in her, I guess, because someone without it wouldn’t have come to such a correct conclusion so quickly. I think it’s much more likely that, y’know, Lorana used LOGIC! It’s super-effective! but that’s me. Also, if the Sight only comes once a generation, that also means that whomever gets it is also apparently condemned to an extremely short life, as it seems to be the sort of thing where the previous holder has to die before the new one will start getting their visions. This is the first time we’ve seen any of the superpowers come with super-drawbacks, and it’s not necessarily a good look that it’s the traders, the nomad-expies, the Roma-types, that get their powers with such severe consequences. Plus, with the way that the traders want to keep the Sight alive, that suggests there’s some pretty intense pressure on the one who has it to have children before they go, so that one of their descendants will carry the gift/curse into the next generation. That’s yet another reason for people who are barely teenagers to start having those kinds of relationships, and further fodder for the textually-supported theory that the new author really has something about relationships and sex happening as young as possible.
(Also, I’m putting this out here just as something in case it turns into a bigger thing later, but given what we know now about the remaining time that Anne had left in her life, one wonders whether these conversations are both serving the plot and a dialogue between new author and old about what it means to be getting old and thinking about one’s death much more firmly. It’s not necessarily intentional, but there’s clearly a reading of the conversations this way if we want to go with it.)
Getting back to the bit that we skipped over, Tenniz tells Lorana that she’s heard everything she needs to know to avoid breaking time, and Lorana suggests that J’trel tried to break time, all the way back when he explained that he tried to go back in time and show his mother his new dragon, but he couldn’t visualize the coordinates well enough to make the jump. Tenniz suggests that many more people will try to break time, but none of them will succeed, but all of these failed attempts are the sorts of things that can be explained away by other means, not because the timeline actively interfered with them. It’s never clear what level of detail is needed to do the hyperspace hop. Presumably, the recognition points drills are supposed to help (and there were instances of pictures not being detailed enough to do a warp to), but it’s never said, say, that envisioning a person in enough detail as you remember them is a good enough anchor to warp back to them, or whether all that means is that you’ll try to appear in the same place that they are, which would be catastrophic for them. And it’s clear that Pern has a calendar system of some sort, even if they might not have timekeeping devices outside of the henges and the positions of the planets, so would it be possible to tell your dragon to do something based on a numerical conception of time and place, like “Fort Hold, five thousand feet above, thirty years ago today” and have that succeed? Jaxom successfully jumped fifty years into the future by adjusting a chronometer in his mental picture, and Lorana has jumped forward into the future by arranging the planetary bodies in the sky to match her intended destination, so there’s no reason to suggest that J’trel couldn’t have learned how to do that hop from the available information at hand and then tried to pop back in time. Again, the incuriosity of the Pernese works against their assertions that time can’t be broken, because nobody has really tested the limits of what they can do with the time travel. They figure out a use for it for things like saving themselves by doubling up on their Thread passes, or by sending weyrlings into the past to mature on borrowed time, but nobody has really done a lot of trying to mess with time in ways that would expose any fundamental weaknesses of continuity or to find things that the timestream really will not accept happening. The kinds of things where trying to warp back in time to prevent someone else’s death always has you appearing at the wrong time to prevent it, or the wrong place to get there in time, or any number of situations where it’s very clear that this is a fixed point that cannot be adjusted. Like, even when Kylara was observing herself repeatedly, over and over again, all we got out of that was people saying “What a vain bitch” and not “now we have to be very careful in and around that time and place because there are so many Kylaras there observing the one that time is pretty delicate in that space.”
I feel like I’m repeating myself. I probably am repeating myself, but a vague “time can’t be broken” really isn’t enough to explain away how, in all of the times that people have known about this ability, they haven’t really tried to use it to prevent a disaster or to spend more time with their loved ones or those kinds of things. Getting back to the plot, there’s a lot of companionable silence, making food (where Lorana marvels at the supplies that Tenniz has with him, and suspects Nuella’s hand in arranging all of this, since it’s good quality things and well-adjusted to Lorana and Tenniz’s preferences), talking about Jirana, Tenniz’s daughter, who will be the next one in the line to be blessed/cursed with the Sight, and Lorana trying to weasel as much information as she can get about the future out of Tenniz by trying to get him more drunk than she is and lead him into conversations where he’ll reveal information. This doesn’t work at all, but we do get a snippet of something that would have been fleshed out a lot more had the authors decided that they were going to admit there’s a mythology or a folk religious practice on Pern.
“You have mentioned your wife,” Lorana said, trying a different tack, “tell me about her.”
Tenniz thought for a moment before answering. “She has the prettiest green eyes,” he said. “I fell in love with her the moment I saw them.” He glanced at her wryly. “Green is such a dangerous color here on Pern, I suppose it seems strange of me to admire it so.”
“We need green to grow,” Lorana said with a flick of her fingers. “Just as Thread needs it to survive.”
“And sucks the land dry,” Tenniz said, his voice suddenly cold and hollow. Lorana met his eyes, but the trader lowered them.
This is the sort of thing that I would expect to happen on a world with a functioning mythology. Green is a bad color, because Thread devastates when it finds green. What does that mean for green-eyed people? Are they always looked on with suspicion? Do all of the Holds, Halls, and Crafts studiously avoid green in their heraldry because it’s seen as an invitation to destruction? Does any good at all come in green, or is that a forbidden color completely? What does that mean for green dragons and their riders? Did some of the cultural prejudice against green leak over, combined with green dragons’ much more amorous natures, such that green riders are tolerated because they’re needed but they’re not really liked by anyone? (And what would that say for Taria?) Did everyone think it completely appropriate that Mirrim, the troublemaker, the opinionated, got a green dragon because a green suits her nature so entirely properly and because they think of her as a curse to be inflicted on others?
All of these questions might not be answered, but this kind of worldbuilding, and thinking through the implications thereof, is what helps bring a culture to life and make it consistent. But again, that would mean that the authors would have to admit that even though the Ancients attempted to discard religion and superstition in their society, it came back in almost as soon as they weren’t looking. Because humans try to make meaning of things, and sometimes that making meaning involves conclusions that seem logical based on experience, even if they’re not logical at all in the formal or the scientific sense.
As Lorana and Tenniz continue to talk, Tenniz recounts that Shaneese spat in his soup because Tenniz said she would gladly share her man, which we have seen around the edges that it’s an insult, but I don’t think we’ve been with the traders long enough to know their culture and understand why that would be the case. From what we’ve seen, the dragonriders are by reputation freewheeling orgies, even if they’re a lot more monogamy for the Weyrleaders, the Lords are nominally marriage-monogamy but practically it seems that the Lords and their sons get to stick their dicks wherever they would like, so long as they don’t make the mistake of officially marrying or acknowledging more than one woman at a time, and the Crafts are a big question mark about how they handle all of these things, although they do have some amount of marriage ritual, even if we haven’t seen a corresponding insistence on monogamy, because that usually requires religion, and Pern doesn’t have one, officially. So the traders, other than their very weird mashup of Roma and aphorism-loving Arabian stereotypes (which we are about to see in full display), we don’t have a flipping clue what their values are with regard to monogamy and marriage to know why sharing her man would be such a problem. It’s like there’s a cultural assumption from the authors that has gone unquestioned in their work, because of course every society would construct itself in a religiously-Abrahamic way and morality unless otherwise mentioned. (Which reminds me of the absolute shitfit I threw at the AIVAS dying scene, because that underlying Abrahamic assumption was naked there, and the reader was expected to not even notice whose morals were on full display.)
Anyway, having mentioned Fiona, the talk turns to Lorana and her loss and Lorana asks Tenniz whether or not the price was worth it. Tenniz ducks the question and reframes it in such a way that Lorana is the sole person responsible for figuring out whether the price of her baby was worth it, with is a pretty dick move, Tenniz, considering you’re the one that made the prophecy that prompted it. Have a look:
Eyes bright with tears, Lorana nooded. Again, she said, “Because I don’t think Fiona would forgive me–”
“No,” Tenniz cut her off. She glanced at him in shock. In a hard voice, he continued: “You know better. She’s no stranger to hard choices. Tell the truth.”
Lorana let out a small sob and lowered her eyes. “I don’t know if I can forgive myself.”
“Yes,” Tenniz agreed. “That’s the truth.”
“And?” Lorana prompted, her voice pleading.
“And that’s the question only you can answer,” he said, pursing his lips in a grimace. “Always, in the end, only we can answer our own questions.”
Which might be good advice to someone who isn’t in the middle of grieving her own loss, with someone who has asked to inflict another loss on her through the certainty of his own incoming death. “Only you can know whether it was worth it,” may be accurate, ultimately, but it’s still a pretty terrible idea to throw at Lorana.
The plot moves forward to Lorana waking from a midday nap, worried that by falling asleep she might have missed Tenniz’s death, but Tenniz is still alive, and so they go about preparations for the evening meal, with Lorana listening hard to make sure that Tenniz is still alive, since in the darkening sky, it’s increasingly hard for her to see whether or not he still breathes. But there’s still time and lessons for Tenniz to impart to Lorana.
“Is it possible that you see too much of tomorrow? That seeing what you see causes you to give in? That you might die because you catch your death of cold tonight?”
Tenniz was silent for a long moment. “That is the greatest danger of knowing too much about the future.”
Lorana absorbed his words thoughtfully, lowering her eyes. For a long moment her mind churned on its meaning, on all that it meant and then–“You tricked me!” she shouted with a laugh. “You just wanted me to teach me the lesson you’ve already learned Turns before!”
“Yes, my lady,” Tenniz agreed with a light chuckle. “I did.”
“How can you be so happy at a time like this?” Lorana asked him, suddenly serious and angry, really angry in a way that embarrassed her, made her feel small and vindictive.
For as much as everyone talks about not being able to break time, I would have expected a certain amount of Calvinist fatalism to have set in for everyone. After all, if you can’t break time, why bother trying to do anything at all? Everything proceeds according to what has happened, is happening, and will happen, and there’s nothing anyone, even those with time machines, can do about it. That’s not Seldon’s psychohistory that predicts the big things but can be snarled and foiled by individuals, especially individuals with interesting abilities that can wreck the plan, that’s “everything is foreordained, so you won’t have the brilliant idea until you’re fated to, you won’t be able to save anyone other than what’s destined, why bother attempting agency in any form when it’s all written on the timeline from beginning to end?” I think everyone is supposed to be comforted or empowered by the fact that what is seen is often a fragment of the whole that comes to pass, and those results are way better than what was seen, and that pressing for more certainty would make it less possible for those good results to happen, but there still have to be a few people who understand this secret who have fallen into despair over it. (And a few others, I would guess, who have gained a sudden flash of enlightenment, as they have grasped the entirety of the Tao in that moment. Or who have beheld the wheel of death and rebirth in its entirety and declared this to be their last incarnation.)
Also, Lorana’s angry reaction is on point, really, as Tenniz is taking his existence lightly on what he says is going to be his last day in existence. Of course, he’s going to be sage about it in response, because he’s supposed to teach Lorana several things, but anger is one of those stages of grief, and it’s a natural response to get angry with someone who seems to be giving up on life.
“If I thought being somber and serious would give me another day with my wife, I wouldn’t be here,” Tenniz replied. He stood up with his supplies and moved toward the fire. “But I’ve known for Turns this day would come, I’ve had turns to adjust to the notion that I would die before my daughter was born, would never live to see my son a man.” He turned back to her. “I cannot see how being angry or solemn would make it any easier for me.”
He gestured around the plateau and beyond to the beauty that was unfolding in the setting sun; the promise of a brilliant night of stars. “I choose not to wrap myself up in grief over things I cannot change, cannot control, and, instead, take joy in all the gifts I’ve been presented. Rather than rail against the moments I cannot have, I will cherish those I do–rather than squandering them in useless rage.”
There was a long silence.
“It is strange,” Tenniz began again, in a softer, less emotional tone, “how those who expect to see tomorrow have so little appreciation for it.”
“I was talking to myself, wasn’t I?” Lorana said after a moment.
“ ’All the words we say aloud are heard by at least one pair of ears,’ ” Tenniz agreed with the tone that made it clear he was reciting another Trader proverb.
Not having been in a position where I know I’m dying, my days are numbered, and having made my peace with that, I don’t really understand Tenniz well enough at this point. Perhaps when I am older and more aware of my own mortality, I will be able to understand Tenniz better. This sequence is much the same, though, of pushing the responsibility for Lorana back on Lorana. It’s the same idea as the dragonriders who are happy at knowing when their own deaths will happen so they can get all of their affairs in order and leave nothing undone before going back to meet their destruction. I can understand how it would be freeing, in many ways, to know exactly the allotment of life you have and to be able to plan your life accordingly, to make sure that every day that you live has no wasted time in it, to not bother with many of the things that someone who doesn’t know how long they are going to live has to worry about. At the same time, I think back to the myth of Pandora (which would be really helpful right now, if Pern hadn’t discarded all of the stories of those who came before, y’know?) and that I’ve heard two different versions of the tale, one where in with all of the evils that Pandora let loose, there was also Hope, which made all of the evils bearable, the other where Pandora managed to slam the box shut before the last evil got out, which was Foreknowledge, the one that would have gifted all of humanity with the ability to completely see their own timelines, and what would happen, and that would essentially crush us all because we would know everything that was to happen.
For as much as this is apparently supposed to be Lorana working through her own grief and coming to terms with the decisions that she made regarding her own baby (decisions that might have been preventable if, say, Lorana had taken smaller hops rather than larger ones by charting out where in the future she could land that wouldn’t have Thread (or other people) around, and then similarly hopping backward in time in short enough hops to keep her child alive, or, just possibly, sending someone else to the picture in Lorana’s head. But no, the narrative has decreed it, through Tenniz, and so it must be done.) it’s also a meditation for Tenniz, who has known this day would come for all of his life and has been preparing for it. No, really.
“One of the gifts of the Sighted is to know our last night,” Tenniz said. He gave her a crooked smile. “It’s more of a blessing to know of a certainty that this night, and no other, will be my last.”
Lorana asks him the obvious question of what Tenniz is doing out here rather than spending his last night with his family and the people who love him best, which Tenniz doesn’t even answer at all, instead pulling out vegetables (carrots, tubers, onion, celery) and herbs to add to the evening meal.
It has to be a certain amount of painful, seeing your own death and knowing when it is going to happen, and knowing that you’re going to be denied the possibility of long life because of your ability to see into the future. What would be more helpful for Tenniz, even though I would probably complain that the doesn’t have the maturity to pull it off convincingly, because of his age, is for Tenniz to have talked about how he already got most of his anger out of the way early on, and how the things he’s said about others haven’t exactly been welcome, so he’s already had a life’s worth of being angry at everything and he made a decision to, as best he could, stop putting energy into being angry. The way that it is now, Tenniz is being painted as the wise sage who has transcended the petty human emotions around life and death, and at nineteen, unless he did some serious sitting underneath an enlightenment tree, he’s just not believable to me. (Which isn’t to say it isn’t possible, more things are possible than are dreamt of in our philosophies, but that this depiction is either leaning into exoticizing Tenniz, which is a bad take, or making him wise beyond his years and very easily mistakable as condescending to someone who is going through the third major grief trauma of her life, which is also a pretty bad take. Tenniz needs to be human here to be relatable, and the authors aren’t managing it, as much as they would like to be.
We’ve also crossed into the point where Lorana is, despite supposedly not having any trader blood in her that she knows of, is able to complete the trader aphorisms that Tenniz is quoting, but we’ll leave that for the next entry, as the night starts to go on and Tenniz spends his last amount of time with Lorana.