Last time, Fiona learned a lot more about what it means to be a weyrling and what sort of responsibilities she’s going to have to take on a a Weyrwoman supervising them.
Dragonheart: Chapter 11: Content Notes: Trolley Problems and Faulty Logic, Gaslighting
I reached out
And you were gone.
I cried out
But you had flown.
(Fort Weyr, Morning, AL 508.1.19)
Cisca and Fiona debrief about the incident in the morning, and Fiona mentions her mysterious voice told her things were going to be fine despite this setback. (It was there, but the mysterious voice isn’t doing much but being reassuring, so it’s not always important.) The two of them then try their hardest to convince everyone else that everything is going to be fine as well, despite no actual evidence of progress. Fiona gets to go drill the weyrlings today. Tajen and T’mar are going to try Fiona’s suggestion of trailing firestone sacks behind the dragon. Fiona ships J’gerd off to drill the older weyrlings, and Xhinna gives Fiona advice about drilling the younglings – all things are tests, especially anything that looks like a mistake or a missed command. Fiona does well, especially when Talenth gets involved and when Fiona rotates who is giving commands.
Xhinna proved as adept at drill as Fiona had expected, giving her orders in a well-timed cadence that actually made the drills work better.
“That was amazing!” Xhinna told Fiona when they finally called halt, he eyes shining with joy. “I could almost feel how they’d be in the air and–” She cut herself off abruptly and dropped her eyes to the ground.
Fiona could guess what the other girl was thinking: that it was something she’d never experience. She wanted to say something to reassure her, to give her hope, but she couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t sound false or silly.
Talenth ends up promising Xhinna an egg from her clutch, when the time comes. And this is another one of those times where I really have to boggle at the hoarding of knowledge and material by everybody on Pern. Like, the fife and drum corps is not a new concept in any sort of way, and yet it seems like Fiona notices Xhinna’s natural cadence and this is some sort of novel idea and improvement to the previous drill idea. We already have Harpers for the Weyr, so how hard would it be for an apprentice drummer to be put on loan to a Weyr to practice their rudiments in such a way that gives the weyrlings a beat and cadence to practice their drill to? And since it’s not like the dragonriders need any sort of secrecy to fight Thread, why not have a drummer on hand when fighting a Fall to keep time and tempo so that the dragons fight Thread as efficiently and rhythmically as possible? Maybe the Songmaster can compose a song for the weyrlings to memorize that contains their drill in it, so all they have to do is hear the right command and the tempo and they can do it. There’s always the possibility that a weyrling will be without rhythm at all, of course, but it’s always interesting to see how many things are being rediscovered that should never have been forgotten in the first place.
Drill goes well, T’mar and Tajen say the trailing firestone idea works, but they don’t particularly like it compared to having weyrlings do resupply. Even though having six sacks floating seems to make this idea work fairly well. The return of the rest of the fighting groups means a leader meeting where everyone’s numbers are basically terrible, and that’s worse because High Reaches won’t help (because of the time plot) and Telgar won’t help (because there’s an asshole in charge). Fort currently has about a wing’s worth of reserves over the minimum needed to fight a Fall properly. Fiona suggests that wing could be the firestone reserves, using the same technique of floating sacks behind, and then the reserve wing could join the fray and patch holes that might have appeared through casualties, a suggestion swiftly adopted and then assigned out to be put into practice with the next day’s drill.
Fiona is getting a lot of mileage out of the outsider perspective trait, since Cisca and company seem to be actively encouraging Fiona to examine all of their issues and practices to see if there are improvements to be had, and Fiona seems to be coming up with solutions on the regular.
The more the book gets into the details, though, it continues to leave out a lot of things. Like, is firestone mined to a certain size and weight so that there’s a standard-within-tolerance expectation of how long a flame a dragon can sustain per rock? (Does it change depending on the dragon’s color? If so, is every dragon wing composed solely of one color?) Does an attacking wedge of dragons sustain their flame for a set amount of time before peeling off and letting the next wedge smoothly take their place while they float back to the back of the queue to reload? How does a wing or wedge or flight accomplish resupply without Thread advancing some amount of ground, given that the point is to make sure no Thread touches down?
These things don’t have to be explicitly said in painstaking detail, but they should be known, so that when characters speak or act, they’re doing so in a way that shows the author has thought of it and plotted it out. You need a series book of research, even if the research itself doesn’t need to go into the narrative.
As it turns out, the next day, Xhinna and Terin present Fiona with a new problem – the next scheduled Threadfall will go through sundown and dragons do not see well on the dark. Fiona runs the problem past the other Weyrleaders, and everyone goes “…shit.” Some of the Thread might freeze, but there’s going to be space for Thread to burrow that the ground crews aren’t going to be able to cover. The Weyrleaders are appreciative, even if it means having to do more things.
“You have a habit of finding difficult friends, don’t you?”
Fiona looked up and saw that he was smiling at her.
“Don’t stop,” Cisca told her heatedly. “We need these sorts of friends; they keep us from making terrible mistakes.”
“Indeed,” K’lior said, his expression thoughtful. He raised an eyebrow toward Cisca in some secret communication that seemed to Fiona that they were dragons communicating telepathically.
“Yes,” K’lior said after a moment. “I think we shouuld encourage this Terin to stand on the Hatching Grounds.”
“Nothing short of a full revolution for you, is there?” Cisca wondered, her eyes dancing at Fiona.
” ‘Need drives when Thread arrives,’ ” K’lior quoted in reply.
And so, at least at Fort, we seem to be headed in the direction of getting plenty of eligible candidates from places unexpected to sit for dragons. Which is excellent, and it’s nice having Weyrleaders who think this is a good idea, rather than trying to obstruct it for any sort of TRADITION reasons or otherwise. Cisca and K’lior seem to be both practical and pragmatic, except when it comes to getting rid of people that needed to step down or be dismissed, I guess. Which can be a big flaw in the wrong conditions.
Fiona continues to do the thing she does best, in providing outside perspective to the dragonriders that sorely need it.
“What about the watch-whers?” Fiona asked. “I know my father’s Forsk will be eager.”
“Watch-whers?” K’lior repeated, running a hand through his hair in exasperation. “What could they do?”
“They can see at night,” Fiona replied, undaunted. “And I know that father has been training with Forsk, getting guidance from Kindan, M’tal, and Nuella.”
K’lior groaned. Cisca looked at him worriedly. “The watch-whers,” he explained. “When M’tal was here at the Hatching, he wanted us to train with the watch-whers.”
“And you said no,” Cisca guessed.
And I said no,” K’lior agreed disconsolately. “Could you imagine H’nez…?”
“He would have been apoplectic,” Cisca agreed.
“Well, there’s nothing we can do about it now,” K’lior said with a heavy sigh. “We’ll fight the Thread tonight and see if perhaps we can train with the watch-whers before the next Fall.”
Or, perhaps, the consequences of not being able to throw H’nez out on his ear when needed will come back and bite the Weyrleaders in the ass more directly. Also, watch-whers are an important part of things, and the fact that they can see in the dark and eat Thread should not have become part of lost knowledge, but again, Pern.
As it is, the first night-time raid is a disaster for K’lior, because the dragons can’t see, but it turns out the watch-whers and Nuella turn up to help them out anyway and remind everyone that they’re the night crew for Thread, because the watch-whers will eat the stuff up. There’s some concern about how there aren’t enough watch-whers to fight a full onslaught if all the Thread is live (since, remember, they work on heat-vision, they can tell what’s live and what’s dead in terms of Thread), and Cisca is put out that she missed out, but mostly it’s “Nuella was flying upside-down and said hello. Since she’s blind, I’m not sure she noticed,” from K’lior, to which Cisca says, “Yeah, no, she noticed. I’ll bet her mate will be unhappy about that stunt. And also, don’t get any ideas.”
H’nez is grounded for the next Fall, due to injured dragon, and T’mar has Fiona accompany him to the Harper Hall. Once Fiona gets under the archways, she’s lifted off her feet by an unknown person, who nearly gets kicked in sensitive areas for assaulting her like that, before Fiona identifies it as Verilan, and the two have a conversation about how much Fiona’s grown before heading in to Zist’s office, where Bemin, Kelsa, Zist, and a few others are seated. Kelsa tells Fiona that she’s pregnant, which nets an “About time” from Fiona. (Exact quote.) Fiona rattles through the reasons why there might be so many dignitaries present, but those reasons have been covered, it’s mostly to be sure that Fiona’s okay with it. Which she is, and thinks that both her mother and Koriana would have wanted it. Koriana gets named, Lady Sannora does not, but such is the way with siblings, I suppose.
Then they get to the real reason they called for the meeting – Fort Weyr is getting a healer again, a newly-promoted master by the name of Tintoval. She will hopefully have a better tenure than the last healer did, perhaps by virtue of being someone H’nez is less likely to get into duel fights with, even if H’nez will have to be told, repeatedly, that he has to listen to her. T’mar also wants to relay the news about the watch-whers fighting Thread, but Forsk was apparently in the thick of it, so everyone already knows.
When it’s time to leave, Fiona notes there aren’t enough straps to make sure everyone’s secure in. T’mar brushes off her concern, so Fiona gets a grip on one strap with one hand and holds on to Tintoval with the other. There’s a little turbulence on the way back, and Fiona hurts herself holding everyone down, which provokes T’mar into a fit that Fiona could have been lost. Fiona is pretty pissed that they endangered the new Healer and doesn’t understand why T’mar, and then Cisca and K’lior, are pissed at her in return. I follow Fiona’s confusion, even as the whole thing is supposedly explained by K’lior and Cisca.
“But T’mar was–”
“–wrong,” K’lior finished for her. “He should have used the straps.”
“He said he didn’t have any,” Fiona protested.
“He could have borrowed some from the Harper Hall,” K’lior replied. “Master Zist is used to dealing with dragonriders and is smart enough to keep some on hand.”
“As, no doubt, does your father,” Cisca added.
“Then you agree–”
“I do not agree with your public humiliation of a wingleader,” K’lior interjected harshly. “T’mar’s a good man; he would have learned his lesson without your childish outburst.”
“Childish,” Cisca agreed, but her tone was softer than K’lior’s and she shot the Weyrleader a look that Fiona couldn’t fathom. K’lior shrugged in response, leaving Cisca to continue, “An adult would have realized that T’mar would punish himself harshly for his error and–”
“–an adult would accept the realities of being a queen rider,” K’lior finished.
Cocowhat by depizan
Yes, T’mar should have made better choices. Also, Fiona’s a Weyrwoman, it’s within her remit to remark that T’mar made poor choices. Fiona is not in the wrong, here, which makes it even more aggravating that Cisca and K’lior are acting like she is, even after having acknowledged that Fiona isn’t wrong.
“And let someone else die?” Fiona demanded in anguish and fury, her eyes filling with tears.
“If need be,” Cisca answered softly. She gestured to herslef and Fiona. “Without us, there would be no queens. And without the queens, there will be no Pern.”
“So our queens are nothing more than brood mothers?” Fiona demanded sourly. “And you and I are–” She found she couldn’t finish the sentence and so said instead, “But what about Tannaz? Why did you let her go between?”
“It wasn’t my choice,” Cisca told her. She shook her head sadly. “You know that it wasn’t really Tannaz’s choice, either. Kelsanth was dying; there was no cure.”
Fiona finally comes to the terrible conclusion herself, that being a queen rider and a Weyrwoman isn’t any more free than being a Lady Holder would have been, especially in this situation where queens are precious and need to be protected. Which is the sort of thing that’s been more obvious or less obvious as the previous series have gone on. Fiona exchanged one cage for another, but at no point was she ever going to be free.
Cisca and Fiona have a heated exchange about whether Fiona’s going to give up in despair because there’s still no cure for the dragons, or whether she’s going to fight it all the way through, and then when Fiona resolutely says she’s not giving up, Cisca asks her
“Will you be a leader and an inspiration, or will you be a whiner and an embarrassment? Will you bear your responsibilities, or bow under them?”
“But–to let her fall!” Fiona wailed. A torrent of emotions broke over her and she began to cry.
Realization dawned on K’lior’s face. “You aren’t angry at T’mar–you’re angry because you would have let her go!”
“I held on!” Fiona declared, holding up her aching arm as proof.
“Of course you did,” Cisca replied proudly. “You’re a Weyrwoman.” She glanced to K’lior. “We’ve never questioned that.”
“But,” K’lior persisted, “if it had come to letting her go or falling with her–”
“I would have let her go!” Fiona cried, dropping her head into her hands and shaking it in shame and sorrow. “I would have let her go.”
Strong arms wrapped around her and she was pulled tight against Cisca’s tall body. “Of course you would,” Cisca agreed with her, “because that’s what you would have had to do to protect Pern. You would have hated yourself for it, probably never have forgiven yourself, but you would have done it.” Cisca pushed her away and put a finger under Fiona’s chin, gently raising it so she could see the girl’s eyes. “And that’s what makes a great Weyrwoman: doing what has to be done even when she hates it.”
“That’s why you let Tannaz go,” Fiona said with sudden understanding.
“Yes,” Cisca replied, the words torn out of her, and again she crushed Fiona in a tight embrace, the sort of embrace a mother gives her daughter; the sort of embrace Fiona had always longed for. A short moment later, however, Fiona pushed herself away and glanced toward K’lior. “And that’s why you called me in here.”
The Weyrleader nodded, a corner of his lips turned up in a bitter smile. “Better to know your mettle now than when we are in worse straits.”
Fiona nodded. She stood as tall as she could and said to K’lior, “Weyrleader, I apologize for my outburst at Wingleader T’mar. I was distressed and took my temper out on him. I regret it.”
Cocowhat by depizan
Cocowhat by depizan
Cocowhat by depizan
I don’t even understand this sequence. Fiona’s really mad at herself that she would have engaged in self-preservation when the chips were down, and that’s somehow emblematic that Fiona will be able to make the hard decisions when it’s time, and that’s what they want in a Weyrwoman, so now Fiona understands their position, accepts it as correct, and apologizes for it?
I don’t know if that’s gaslighting, but if it isn’t, it sure as hell is in the same family. T’mar’s still wrong, Fiona’s still justified in taking it out on him, his feelings be damned, and Cisca and K’lior should be supporting her rather than telling her she was wrong to do it and convincing her that she’s really mad at herself instead of at T’mar. He might very well beat himself up about it in private, and that’s well and dandy, but everybody, including Fiona now, is trying to make the greater sin in that Fiona said something and was harsh with him, rather than that he endangered lives.
“Seriously,” Cisca said, turning again to Fiona, “it is often hard for a young Weyrwoman to accept the realities of her position.”
“To let healers die that I might live,” Fiona said by way of example.
“If that is what is needed to protect your queen and the future of Pern,” Cisca responded emphatically.
“It just doesn’t seem fair,” Fiona said softly.
“It isn’t fair,” Cisca agreed. “It’s up to us–Weyrwomen and Weyrleaders–to make it as fair as we can.”
“And when we can’t,” K’lior added, “it’s our responsibility to make certain that no sacrifice is in vain.”
Cisca also says she expects Fiona to deal with T’mar on her own before the Weyrleaders go out to formally meet Tintoval.
But we’re still talking about different things here. T’mar didn’t follow safety regulations and endangered lives through his carelessness. Fiona told him there were problems, but he blew her off. Consequently, Fiona injured herself trying to make sure that T’mar’s carelessness didn’t cost the life of the Healer the Weyr desperately needs. Everyone is yelling at Fiona that she can’t endanger herself for other people, because she’s too precious. If that were the case, really, then Fiona shouldn’t be let out of the Weyr for any reason at all. Like she wouldn’t be let out of her Hold ever, either as someone to be married away or when she was properly married, because she would need to produce at least an heir and a spare to ensure succession.
This does not tie into “sometimes, as a leader, you have to make choices that will kill people,” unless everyone is tacitly admitting here that T’mar’s carelessness was instead a deliberate test to see if Fiona would let Tintoval go and only care about herself. Which is an extremely shitty thing to do to Fiona and Tintoval, even if T’mar was confident there wouldn’t be any real danger and they could catch Tintoval if she were jostled out of her seat. There are way many more ways of doing a test like this, and in reality, with Threadfall already underway, there won’t be any need to test this idea, as Fiona, should she ever become Senior, will have to send riders out to die, or at least be okay with the Weyrleader doing so.
This entire sequence seems to be here for the purpose of gaslighting Fiona, inflicting trauma on her, and making it very clear to the reader just how little has changed for Fiona because of her Impression. And, just, ugh. It’s fucking terrible, because it’s all about prioritizing the feelings of a dude over the very real problems that Fiona is absolutely right to point out.
The narrative goes on with Fiona showing Tintoval around, answering questions, and coming to see one of the sick dragons, where I am reminded that names ending in consonants are men’s names, not women’s names, and therefore there’s the possibility of confusion if someone hasn’t seen Tintoval before hearing her name. “A new healer,” the voice inside began hopefully. “Does he–”
He broke off as they entered. S’ban was dressed elegantly in wherhide breeches and a thick blue sweater accented with a gold chain around his neck. For a moment his face showed his surprise at Tintoval, and then it darkened. “I’m not sure that Serth will tolerate a woman’s touch,” he warned them. When Fiona opened her mouth to argue, the blue rider amended quickly, “I mean, a woman who is not a queen rider.”
And, along with name confusion, we get slapped with the casual sexism of Pern. (Yay.) Because there’s no reason to believe that the dragon gives a damn about what gender the person is that’s trying to heal them. Instead, it’s the rider assuming that Tintoval can’t be capable, because she’s a woman, never mind that she’s just recently been promoted to her Mastery and so is exactly the person that can fill the great big gaping hole in Fort Weyr’s ability to keep the people and the dragons healthy.
Tintoval explains she was named because her father, also a blue rider, expected her to be a son so much that he had her named before they knew. This would be the perfect place for a trans narrative, where Tintoval says, “And he was right about having a son, even though I look like this.” and we get representation and someone doing important work. But that’s not going to happen. Instead, we get more of Tintoval being competent, some teasing of Fiona from Tintoval about her crush on Kindan, which leads into wanting to think about the problem of catching riders too injured to fly their dragon well, a few bits of reaction to the Weyr seeing Tintoval for the first time, and Fiona being deliberately snubbed from the Weyrleader’s table (there’s no place for her) because she hasn’t apologized to T’mar yet. So Fiona goes to do it, and we get more of Fiona gaslighting herself and others joining in.
“She didn’t,” he [Bemin] would probably have said, “and you weren’t angry with the bronze rider because of that.” She could imagine him sighing and drawing her close. “Lying does not become a Lady Holder, particularly if she lies to herself.”
[…Fiona sees T’mar and makes her way over…]
“Wingleader T’mar,” Fiona began, “I wish to apologize t you for my outburst this morning. I should not have been angry with you.” She bit her lip and forced herself to continue. “The truth you spoke was not one I was prepared to hear. I regret my harsh words.”
[…T’mar accepts it and makes a place for her at his table…]
T’mar waited until she was seated, then leaned in close to her. “You are not weyrbred; you learned something to day that our children know as soon as they can talk.”
Cocowhat by depizan
Then why the fuck is everyone coming down on Fiona like a ton of bricks? Unless nobody actually stopped and thought for half a second about how Fiona doesn’t understand this truism of their life and perhaps someone should explain it to her.
“I am holdbred,” Fiona agreed, “but my father is a Lord Holder and many of the same truths apply to Lady Holders as [they do] to Weyrwomen.” She frowned. “It’s just hard to accept.”
“Harder as a Weyrwoman, I believe,” T’mar told her. “As a Lady Holder you could renounce your claim, but as a Weyrwoman…” He shook his head.
“Is it always this hard?” Fiona asked him frankly. “Am I the only one…?”
“No,” T’mar assured her. “I think every Weyrwoman battles with this issue.” He waved a hand toward Cisca. “I know that she did, before Melirth rose.”
No, you’re not the only one. Every Lady Holder being trained up to be a nice marriage token and then household-runner, every Weyrwoman, basically every woman on Pern has the same issues that you’re running into, Fiona. Those that choose to strike out on their own, like Thella or Kylara, or even Brekke, had she been given half a chance, are almost invariably painted as villains by both society and the narrative (who wants to make sure that there are no women that want something different and that might be sympathetic to the reader in their wanting). So your options are to conform to the society that insists your value is only in how well you play a narrowly constricted role for men or to strike out and risk the wrath of that society and the narrative itself.
It’s hard to accept because Pern requires doublethink on par with the United States’ constant talk about Freedom, Liberty, Equality, and the bootstraps illusion, when even cursory research or examination of a perspective other than a privileged white man shows that all the talk being talked has basically no walk being walked behind it. Fiona thought that she could get out of the cage of being a Proper Lady Holder by ascending to a position that theoretically is above just about everyone, only to discover that she doesn’t have any of the actual power that comes with it, and by the time that actual power comes around, she won’t be able to use it except in approved ways anyway, because she’ll have to have a minder/husband/Weyrleader by her side instead of ruling the place by herself. Or at least being able to do what she wants to do, instead of what everyone that’s putting her on a pedestal expects her to do.
We haven’t seen Fiona have that realization and the mental breakdown that’s likely going to follow from it. There’s hints of it, because Fiona continues to be super-anxious about what will happen when Talenth rises to mate. (I don’t think it’s solely about the sex part, even if that’s what the conscious worry is about. I think Fiona is worried that when Talenth rises to mate, that will slam shut the last door Fiona has to get out of the situation before she no longer can. Fiona is facing an existential crisis at thirteen. The same one she would be facing as a Lady Holder, to be sure, but the stakes are, somehow, much higher than she would have expected to have as a Lady Holder. I kind of want to see what happens when a dragon goes to live with the watch-whers or something similar, where the dragon and rider simply close themselves off completely to being found by anybody else and go find a community of similar renunciants and lives out a life without having to become a Thread fighter, or leader, or Weyrwoman. Not that someone could hide dragons easily in the inhabited lands, but maybe some raids and a few other things to get a space for themselves and their dragons established and they could just opt-out as much as possible from the life and destiny set in front of them. That would be nice to have as an option.
There’s still nearly half of this chapter to cover, and this post is long enough already, so we’re going to stop here. I keep thinking back to the beginning piece, where the author mentioned rising tensions between dragonriders and holders, and have to wonder how much of this conflict between what’s expected in dragonrider culture and what’s expected in holder culture is really all that different, at least for the women allowed to participate in either realm, and how much of the conflict is really between the world as it is described to us and our own sense of ethics and morals about the treatment of others. But maybe that’s because I’m looking at this series with a lens toward showing where things don’t make sense, rather than being swayed by the presence of neat dragons and potential world-ending threats and engaging in some reader self-insertion (which is really easy to do in all of these novels) that might make me want to be more apologetic for Pern than I might otherwise be. Because it’s still got a decent concept, even if the executions leave a lot to be desired.
More next week.