Last time, Talenth went on her mating flight, and while Fiona wasn’t gripped by fear about it (other than needing some talking-through asserting her control over her dragon), it still turned out pretty terribly for her, because unbeknowst to Fiona, Lorana and Kindan were providing a lift for Zirenth to fly in competition, and when Zirenth won the flight through Talenth chasing him for running away, Fiona came back to herself finding that she was boning Kindan. Fiona immediately felt terrible about it. Lorana strongly suggested she engineered the whole thing, along with telling Fiona that she’s entirely okay with the two of them sharing Kindan between themselves.
Dragongirl, Chapter 13: Content Notes: Racism,
Bronze and gold,
Fleet and bold.
Entwined as one,
(Telgar Weyr, morning of AL 508.2.13)
The chapter opens with confirmation that Jeila intends to stay at Telgar and take H’nez as her weyrmate, before the conversation turns to how unprecedented it will be to have both of Telgar’s queens clutching and raising their eggs on the same grounds. Jeila makes fun of H’nez being bony, and then has to change the subject. She wants to talk about Fiona’s flight, but that avenue gets cut off quickly once a short whispered summary of what happened is delivered to Jeila. Instead, the conversation turns to T’mar, who apparently is much improved than he was before both mating flights happened.
“Anyway, Seban said that afterward, he thought he heard T’mar murmur something,” Fiona said, returning to their original topic.
“He spoke?” M’tal asked, surprised. “What did he say?”
“ ’Three times,’ ” Fiona answered, trying and failing to hide her blush.
“Three times?” H’nez repeated in confusion. “What does that signify?”
“I, when we were back at Igen, I decided that I needed some…instruction.” Fiona found herself blushing even redder.
“With T’mar?” Jeila asked, her eyebrows arching high. She pursed her lips tightly, even though there was a definite upward curve to them, before adding judiciously, “From what I’ve heard, he would have been an excellent instructor.”
“Anyway, as with all his lessons, I insisted that we perform the exercise three times,” Fiona finished lamely.
“I see,” H’nez said, his voice more diplomatically neutral than Fiona had thought possible. He glanced at her, asking, “So you feel that he was recalling the same reference?”
M’tal instead comes to the conclusion that a third mating flight could revive T’mar entirely, but before much can be done to elaborate on that, Fiona is called away by Talenth because T’mar is much more active than before.
I’m not going to fault Fiona for being embarrassed about asking for sex from T’mar before her mating flight. I would have thought Weyrs would be glad that Fiona made a decision to have some practical experience of what sex is like before her dragon’s mating flight ensures she’ll know. T’mar was not the person I would have wanted for Fiona, because he’s still a bronze rider and an asshole, but given that Fiona had a limited repertoire of people to select from that weren’t, say, her own age at the time, I’m not going to put Fiona at fault for any of those decisions.
I do wonder why everyone is having a laugh at Fiona’s expense about her embarrassment. I would expect this kind of “ha, ha, you’re nervous about sex” to be present between bronze riders or other dude riders, because Pern is absolutely the place that is going to have that kind of toxic locker room talk, but this seems to be another one of those things that if the supposed power of the Weyrwoman to make your life miserable were actually true, they wouldn’t be even hinting at making fun of her about this.
Plot-wise, what Talenth is calling Fiona over for is that T’mar and Zirenth are both agitated, and while there have been sobering recollections in the Records about head injuries and the bad prognosis for people who don’t wake up in the first day after receiving those injuries, Lorana and Fiona both determine that the agitation is because both rider and dragon are reacting to the fact that there’s a mating flight going on at Fort right now, and so Lorana and Kindan hop on Zirenth, Fiona feeds them coordinates to make sure they arrive on time (by popping them back in time a touch) and then there’s some fretting about whether T’mar will survive, and also some concerns about what might happen if Zirenth successfully wins the mating flight, which would potentially put Kindan and Lorana in charge at the Weyr, since they’re nominally the people flying the dragon on the flight.
The thought of the flight possibly pulling Lorana and Kindan away from Telgar leads Fiona toward more recriminations about the situation she has been pulled into.
But was it Talenth, really? Fiona asked herself, recalling her thoughts from the day before. How much of the outcome had been her own desire?
You love Kindan, she told herself. You always have.
Ah, but how much of it was because he was safe? she taunted herself. How much because he was always there, out of reach, a constant reminder of things lost, of hopes never achieved?
He had Lorana now.
And would you poach his love away from her? she chided herself.
It’s only poaching if you refuse to share, the thought came to her with the force of the spoken word. This was not herself, Fiona realized, this was Lorana.
I would never hurt you!
I know, Lorana responded. Fiona got the impression that Lorana was straining, exerting herself, and needed to focus on solely on the events immediately before her. With a soft touch, Fiona released the attachment, with the gentle wish that Lorana be happy.
“What am I?” Fiona asked herself aloud. Did other queen riders behave this way? Had there ever been such a connection? What would happen? How could she handle this?
This seems like the sort of thing that might be part of Records somewhere, even if they’re the diary entries of queen riders agonizing over this themselves. Or that would be part of rumors spread among the Lords and Ladies Holder and the children within earshot. Or that had been mentioned in some offhand conversation Fiona heard between weyrlings, or riders, or the women of the lower caverns, or somewhere. I realize that it makes for a lot more drama for Fiona to be thinking and angsting about this on her own, and that it’s also probably developmentally appropriate for her, if she were a normal teenager in 21st c. Terra, to keep all of this internal. Here on Pern, though, and especially among the dragonriders, Fiona has peers. She has people that she can ask, whether of her contemporaries, or by looking in the Records to see if this situation has ever happened before. Because Zenor spouting off in the last book can’t have come ex nihilo.
I realize that asking the Records to actually be useful is a fool’s errand, but since they somehow only seem to have bits when they’re important to the plot, they continue to have me wonder why they’re still there. Even with every Weyr having a Harper, there doesn’t seem to be any organization or filing system to the records. Even if they don’t like being archivists, the Harpers should at least be able to file according to the Archivist’s system, because it should have been drilled into them like everything else.
While the mating flight is happening at Fort, Fiona is keeping watch on T’mar, who wakes up and tells her “three times” himself, before Fiona comes to a conclusion about what is going on.
“I love you.” The words were hers. And, in saying them, she realized it to be true. He was a hard taskmaster, a person steadfast in his convictions, sometimes angry, always thoughtful, often kind. But, as his heart beat, so did hers.
“Kindan?” T’mar’s question was barely above a whisper but the name was spoken clearly.
“I love him, too,” Fiona said. She gave him a sad smile. “You’ll have to make do with someone who loves more than one man.”
“ ’Course, you’re a Weyrwoman,” T’mar said, struggling to open his eyes. “ ’S your job.”
“Shh!” Fiona whispered, gently rubbing his brow. “Close your eyes, you’ve got to rest, regain your strength.”
“As you say, Weyrwoman.”
Okay, so that’s a quick conclusion to come to after all of that angst. Also, at this point, I wish T’mar wasn’t concussed, because his reaction to that idea would tell us loads about what the default setting for something like this will be. Instead, there’s a strong argument that because T’mar is still loopy, he still doesn’t understand the complete ramifications of what Fiona has told him. He’s Weyrleader, after all, and if there’s a presumption of monogamy while Weyrleader and Weyrwoman (dragons chasing mating flights notwithstanding), then T’mar being accepting at this point would tell us whether he’s bucking tradition for Fiona’s happiness or whether there ever was any expectation of monogamy for either partner during the Weyrleadership. Given that the narrative has already pulled the stunt of “Fiona says something, another person agrees while they’re potentially in an altered state, but they definitely understood Fiona in all her particulars and agreed to it.” once, we’re probably going to find out later on that T’mar entirely understands Fiona, Kindan, and Lorana are going to be a triad as well as the partnership he has with Finoa, and he’s going to be completely fine with sharing.
Kindan and Lorana return, and Seban and Bekka come back to help examine T’mar, and what Kindan discovers about T’mar has him wanting to send out for a second opinion. Fiona thinks of borrowing Tintoval from Fort. And will also conveniently be able to give her congratulations to Cisca on the mating flight on the same trip. Fiona has a couple of questions on the way in about whether or not Talenth would lay more than one gold egg and whether Lorana would stand to re-bond to another queen, should there be one available. But nothing comes of her thinking at this point, and soon after landing, Merika, Bekka’s mother, says hello and the two talk about how Bekka has been good to Telgar, even though she’s missed at Fort, too.
“And for all that I love her, and she’s the youngest of my four, she’s worse than a nest of tunnel snakes some days.”
“Which is probably why she’s so dear to my heart,” Fiona said. “I made a fair number of marks hunting tunnel snakes.”
“I thought you two were well-matched,” Merika said in a tone which indicated that that had been a part of her willingness to let her youngest go to Telgar. “And I’d be doing both of you a disservice if I didn’t admit that I was much the same at the same age.” She smiled as she added, “After all, it takes a fair bit of flirting to catch the eyes of a blue rider, duty or no!”
There’s a little more back-and-forth about love, including the phrase “love loves love,” which Fiona recognizes as a sign that her arrangement is being talked about in other Weyrs. Once back on task, Fiona indicates she’s here to see Tintoval, and then asks where Ellor is. Merika directs Fiona to the Dining Caverns.
I want to take a look at this segment. Like Fiona, I’m “not certain how to deal with the question of blue riders and their duty.” Merika is talking about being independently-minded and chasing what you want to have, but at least previously, the thought was that the green and blue riders were primarily, if not exclusively, interested in other men as their partners. But, as we’ve discussed in earlier entries, in Toddverse Pern, there are either a lot more het men riding greens and blues, or there are a lot more bi men riding greens and blues. And also, wasn’t it just in the last book where blue riders were supposed to be flighty and quick and energetic, but not slow and steady. So now I don’t know if Merika is calling it difficult because a blue rider flits about and wants to flirt and sleep with all sorts of people (which I would have expected to be the hat of the presumably-insatiable green dragons and their riders), or whether it’s because Seban wasn’t actually all that interested in her at all, and through persistence and possibly an arrangement to have a child, Merika managed to get Seban to sleep with her and enjoy it, even if he didn’t prefer it.
Despite Fiona’s confusion, however, she doesn’t press the issue, and Merika doesn’t actually explain anything. So they instead get to have a boggle at yet another thing that might have been unprecedented.
“And by the First Egg, we’ve never heard of one bronze rider being Weyrleader to two Weyrs!” She shook her head and chuckled. “Awkward, that’d be.”
“Awkward, indeed,” Fiona said, wondering if such a thing had ever occurred in all the Records. Once again, she regretted the necessity that kept the Records of the Weyrs seperate. She wondered how much more could be gleaned from reading the Records of all the Weyrs combined? She pushed the thought from her mind, returning to her present issue.
Which is asking where Ellor is. Also, Fiona has a really good point. Why are the Records of each Weyr separate from each other? Why aren’t Records pooled or copied from each of the Weyrs to some central repository somewhere so that someone can study all of them together and draw cross-references from them? Or, even better, because a depository system is one of the best ways of producing redundancy in case, say, a Weyr is abandoned for not having a queen dragon and not many fighting dragons in it, why aren’t copies of other Weyrs’ Records deposited in the Records rooms of every other Weyr? As best I can remember, it’s never actually been said as to why the Weyrs don’t share their records. And if the Archivist of the Harpers has the old tomes of Hold records, why not also get copies of the tomes of the Weyr records? Copying all of that material regularly would keep a lot of the apprentices very busy while they are learning about proper archival practices. (And again, summary documents should also exist of those works, too, and then the originals transported to somewhere that will be good for preserving them over time. Since dragons can go anywhere at all in the world, there’s no reason not to have copies of the originals somewhere that will be preserved and then to have the summaries available to refer to anything that’s not in the current volume that’s being added to.) Despite a lack of clerics and their scriptoria for the relentless copying of books, it seems like the sort of thing that would once again independently evolve. Except for the part where, despite all the Records that exist, Pern is remarkably uninterested in its past, or in documenting things for its future, or in any sort of things that written Records would be actually useful for.
Getting back to the plot, Fiona goes to see Ellor, who is ready to throw her out of the kitchen until she sees who has come to see her, and then is all smiles and hugs. And possibly showing a little bit more as to why Xhinna has been such a heatsink of negativity.
“They’ve been most kind to me at Telgar. Shaneese is the headwoman and she’s quite something.”
Ellor’s lips pursed disapprovingly. “I’ve heard of her,” she said shortly. “She’s got trader’s blood, hasn’t she?”
“There’s nothing wrong with trader’s blood,” Fiona rebuked her softly. “And, in case you’ve forgotten, I’m beholden to traders for my time in Igen.”
Ellor allowed her frown to fade. “Of course you are,” she said. “Not that they didn’t profit from the encounter, by all rights.”
“Profit was had by all,” Fiona agreed. “And is there harm in that? The Weyrs work to the profit of Pern by providing protection; our wares cannot be bartered, should we frown upon those who can?”
Ellor shook her head, her expression mulish as she admitted, “No, I suppose we can’t.”
She looked up and met Fiona’s eyes squarely. “Why, you certainly have your father’s way about you to shame me in my own hearth.”
“I don’t mean to shame you,” Fiona said soothingly. “I merely wish to be fair.”
“And it’s not that you aren’t, Ellor,” Fiona hastened to add. “If it weren’t for you–”
“If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t know half of what I know about running a Weyr,” Fiona told her. “Not to mention how to cook.”
At which point the conversation shifts away from Ellor’s racism and antagonism to food, which is a much safer topic for everyone, since it means letting Ellor be the older and wiser instead of having to confront that Ellor has some deep-seated prejudices against traders and those that have trader blood.
So, yeah, with this display, I have a much bigger idea of why Xhinna might have been blamed for everything. Ellor the headwoman has heard that Shaneese has trader blood, and that’s a negative thing. You know, Roma ancestry, dark skin, that sort of thing. There’s an immediate shift to blame it on the profit-making off the Weyr, but that’s not the first thing that Ellor thought of. I suppose it’s better that they’re finally bringing the prejudices up to the surface, instead of having all of them baked into the society and everybody denying they exist. But this is still very much a 20th-21st century Terran prejudice. Which is great if you’re trying to use the medium of the science fiction novel to talk about things in your current society. Except, as we’ve noted, this is not a vision of grace and subtlety in the way that it’s handling trying to be more socially progressive. (I am also reminded that Melanwy was critical of Xhinna in similarly racist ways, so maybe it’s a Fort headwoman tradition to be racist toward anyone who isn’t white-skinned?)
I, personally, would find Ellor to have a much better time of it railing against people making profit off of the Weyr’s protection. Because the Weyrs were initially set up with rules in mind to make sure they didn’t accumulate power and wealth, even though they haven’t actually held to any of that at all. In the perfect Weyrs-Pern relationship, the Weyrs get everything they need so they can have a near single-minded devotion to the task of protecting the planet from the all-devouring Thread, which they provide to everyone else as their way of earning their keep. Someone making a profit off of trading with the Weyrs might be rightly seen as taking advantage of people who don’t have anything to spare, feeding their own greed at the expense of the protectors of the planet. Now, of course, we know that the Weyrs have done plenty of amassing wealth to themselves over time, so getting gouged a touch by the traders in return is necessary redistribution, but there’s a much more fruitful antagonism going on there based on what we’ve seen on screen about Pern.
The one part that is entirely accurate here, though, is how, after being called out by Fiona, Ellor immediately makes a big scene about how she’s being “shamed” for her racist viewpoints, and Fiona scrambles to reassure her that she doesn’t really think that Ellor is racist, and that she has some good points, too. As anyone who has dealt with a Nice White Lady, or anyone being called to account for their -ism that prioritizes their fragility over learning and doing better, it can be really frustrating when the other person wants to make it about how they are feeling, what their reaction is, and how it should be about them, instead of the people being wronged.
There’s still a lot more to go in this chapter, so I’m going to call a break point here, with Fiona and Ellor settling down to talk for a little bit and catch up with each other, despite the bad footing they’ve gotten off to. And, apparently, for Fiona to have another small revelation about how unique and well-suited she is to running Telgar Weyr.