Last chapter, the conspiracy keeping Robinton from Petiron collapsed as Merelan couldn’t take it any more and told the truth. Right before going to Benden on dragonback and taking Robinton with her.
Petiron, after the initial apparent shock of realizing his son is a genius and resolving to train him, settles into a desire for revenge at the point in time where he can claim custody of Robinton. This is a problem situation that a family court would call for. But those don’t exist, so Merelan has essentially just bought time.
The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter VI: Content Notes: Toxic masculinity,
Chapter VI shows us the escape from Robinton’s perspective, including surprise at the swiftness and dragon-ness of the affair, but knowing not to ask questions because his mother’s look says not to.
There’s another conversation with this dragon, Spakinth, which is somewhat doubled by audible conversation with the rider, C’rob.
“Oh, I beg your pardon! I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
Of course not, the ridge is there to hold on to, Spakinth said in the same instant C’rob laughed and said, “You won’t hurt a dragon that way, lad.” And then he leaned to one side and regarded Robinton with raised eyebrows. “But then Spakinth is telling you, too, isn’t he?” The rider seemed surprised.
Robinton grinned back, flexing his fingers around the ridge just for the feel of it. “Cortath and Kilminth have spoken to me, too.”
“Have they…” And then C’rob’s attention was taken by Merelan’s arrival behind them.
Best as I can remember, this still isn’t a retcon, because I think Robinton mentioned much earlier that he was Searched, but this is, to my knowledge, the only known instance where a boy hears all the dragons and not a girl.
So everyone climbs on and they go through hyperspace and there’s a charming bit of toxic masculinity.
“That’s Benden below you, lad.” C’rob patted his shoulder. “And not a peep out of you. Nor did you wet your breeches.”
Robinton was stunned by by a shocking suggestion and stiffened under C’rob’s hand. Very quietly, so not even Spakinth could hear and think badly of him, Robinton knew that, just a moment longer in frigid between and he might well have disgraced himself.
Many do, young Robinton, but never you.
Right, so traveling through hyperspace is explicitly terrifying, pants-pissing terrifying, and here we are with dragonriders complimenting the lack of terror in Robinton. Who, we might note, has been whisked away from his home and not told anything nor briefed about what happens when you travel by dragon. And is also nine years old. He has every reason to be scared out if his mind. And yet, he is apparently shocked at the prospect that people are afraid, and essentially presents himself as if that would never have crossed his mind. Even if in private he’s admitted to being so scared he might have pissed himself. Yay, toxicity.
Introductions are made, which gives Robinton insight into his own situation, while also giving the narrative a way of setting up a big flashing neon sign of whom we’re supposed to dislike here.
“This is Raid, my eldest son, Mastersinger,” the Lord Holder said with pride, laying an arm across the boy’s shoulders.
A shaft of totally incomprehensible envy swept Robinton. His father had never done that. His father didn’t even touch him–hat he could remember. And then a girl, not as old as Raid, pushed through to Raid’s other side, neatly pushing Lady Hayara aside. And Robinton caught a quickly hidden flare of dismay on Lady Hayara’s face and the indifferent look on the girl’s.
“And this is my eldest daughter,” Lord Maidir said, “Maizella.”
And, in case we’re not clear,
Robinton sighed. He knew by the expression on Maizella’s face and her stance that his mother was going to have trouble with this one. He saw by the quirk of his mother’s mouth that she realized it, too.
Robinton, at nine, seems to have very well-developed observational skills. The kind that I would expect from a child in an abusive situation who has concluded that the best way to stay safe is to be able to predict and anticipate other people perfectly. To the point where someone can be so smoothly handled that they don’t even notice it happening. We’re laying the groundwork of how Robinton comes to be the person he is, and since there still aren’t trained psychologists and counselors on Pern, Robinton is unlikely to get the help he’ll need to break this particular way of thinking and get a healthier outlook. Worse, it looks like having this particular mindset is going to be helpful to him. Poor child.
Robinton also meets a weyrbred named Falloner, who I have a sneaking suspicion is going to have at least two sons with Manora and both of them will be instrumental in the return of the Weyrs to their glory. Falloner is assigned as Robinton’s escort and tour guide, so we get to see Robinton realize Benden isn’t as big as Fort, hear Falloner tell him about a staircase forbidden to everyone except the Holder family, observe and chat a little about who changes the glowbaskets, have Falloner preemptively dismiss Maizella’s opinion about everything, and then check out the rather roomy digs he and Merelan have, right before everyone else arrives. His enthusiasm is met well by his mother and “Maizella raised her eyebrows contemptuously.” Because it still isn’t clear, apparently, that Maizella is not to be trusted or liked. Robinton and Merelan get a little alone time, where Merelan promptly bursts into tears and has the meltdown that she’s been holding in until everything has been settled. Because it’s very hard to leave your abuser, take your child, and essentially go somewhere strange and trust that the people you meet and know won’t turn out to be worse, or predatory, or that they won’t understand.
What Merelan needs right now is the assurance of her support system. Because the first few days that you’re away from your abuser are emotionally difficult to deal with. Even though Merelan has done pretty well in having a job and a place to stay already lined up, it’s still really, really hard.
Don’t ask me how I know. It hasn’t been long enough for me to want to tell you.
Robinton, of course, doesn’t really understand all of this, and so he continues on with the conversations he’s had with Spakinth. Merelan hugs him and says it’s rare and that it might solve everything if he Impressed.
“But I could still be a harper, couldn’t I?” He hadn’t had a definitive answer to that question from the dragons. Maybe his mother would know.
“I think that depends on many things,” she said, drying her eyes, and suddenly she seemed more like herself. “Like if there’s a clutch when you’re the right age. Dragons don’t have as many eggs during an Interval, you see, and you’re only impressionable until you’re twenty, and the weyrbred have preference. At least, you’ll get to understand more about the Weyrs, and that’s all to the good.”
Again her remark was not meant for him, but he didn’t mind because he’d like to know more about the Weyrs. The abandoned Fort Weyr was forbidden by order of Lord Grogellan. That might have been one reason why every boy had to go up there alone for a night when he turned twelve, or he’d be considered cowardly.
Cocowhat by depizan
Wait, what’s with this “impressionable until you’re twenty” routine? Ages are often rather vague in the chronology, and until now it’s been mostly a question of “women eventually get too old to impress upon queens.” When did it get specific, and how do they know?
Secondly, while I recognize the “spend the night in the haunted house” point from plenty of adventure stories, I’m more struck by yet another instance of this toxic idea – you spend the night or you’re branded a coward. How does that even work? Why twelve? Is that the year when your education finishes and you’re expected to take on a fuller role at your hold? Is it some sort of tradition? And why every boy? Surely there must be groups of friends that don’t participate in this idea because they don’t have a clue about it. But way to go, narrative, in telling us that anybody who is different gets mocked.
Before the scene changes, Robinton realizes his mother didn’t bring any scores in Petiron’s hand and asks if his dad is going to come visit. Merelan no comments to the point of saying “maybe for the big Gather,” but that’s all she says. Perceptive Robinton.
The next scene is the children’s dinner table, where more than a few kids are vying for trying to make Robinton feel welcome, and while Robinton eats, and enjoys the food, he’s also keeping an eye on Merelan.
His mother sang, too, after the head table finished eating. And there were good voices joining in the chorus, so he wondered why Benden Hold would need a Mastersinger of his mother’s standing. A good journeyman would have done as well. No, she was here to teach Maizella. Robinton wrinkled his nose: It was obvious from the loud way the girl was singing that she thought her voice was good. It wasn’t bad, he had to admit, but she didn’t need to shriek and she hadn’t much breath control.
I’m choosing to read this in the way of the “child thinks they know more than they actually do,” because even if Robinton is a musical prodigy, he’s still nine and there are very few nine year-olds that I know of that could come to those conclusions and be right. Plus, he’s also judging by Harper Hall standards, which are likely to be far more stringent than anywhere else.
Everyone else joins in the singing, and Robinton thinks the other kids at the table are trying to show off to him, but he’s cool about it because
Robinton was used to the way new-come apprentices to the Harper Hall acted, so he pretended not to notice.
“It doesn’t cost any marks to be gracious, no matter where you are or what you’re doing,” his mother was always saying. “No singer of a professional caliber would think of drowning out other singers” was another point she often made. Especially when she had been having all that trouble with Halanna. He hoped Maizella wouldn’t be as difficult.
So this sounds like setting Robinton up to be aloof and superior, and actually coming across as condescending and better-than-you. Not that he necessarily gets it – still nine, but I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The narrative then let’s us know that Merelan’s presence is good for everyone at Benden, because Merelan
… curbed the loudness of Maizella’s rather good basic voice,
[…which gets Merelan in good with not just kids, but adults…]
Lord Maidir was a good man, and generally fair, but he adored his daughter, Maizella, who at sixteen hadn’t the wisdom of common sense of her brother, Raid. Robie found him a bit stuffy and prim, but Raid had inherited his father’s sense of fair play and would take criticism from any of the more senior members of the large group of people who managed the big Holding. Unlike his sister, he was popular. And there was a discreet understanding that Hayon, Rasa, and Naprila, the older of Lady Hayara’s children, were to be protected from Maizella, who either teased them outrageously or ignored them as the fancy took her.
Inured to such tactics as Robinton was, having survived Halanna’s antics, he learned to smile and keep his tongue in his mouth.
Yes, we get your point, narrative. Women who are “doted on” by their fathers turn out to be unholy terrors that make things miserable for everyone around them.
However, this time around, rather than advocating for punishment and corporal abuse until the woman submits meekly, Merelan takes a reasonably effective tactic to show Maizella how to sing more properly.
She stacks the deck against her by putting her in a duet with Robinton.
There’s a little more about how Merelan would not stand for Robinton to show off for any longer than it took to “twist his ear to remind him to keep his place,” and that Merelan’s experience with Halanna had “taught Merelan a trick or two about overdeveloped conceits,” but the narrative is misdirecting is by putting these in a musical context. Because the character not being mentioned at this point is Petiron, who is waiting in the wings for his opportunity to exercise patriarchy, but who also had to have Robinton hidden from him (and thus, “keeping his place” is a survival mechanism) and whom Merelan has been cleaning up after and running interference for all the time they were together (as you have all pointed out so wonderfully), so she probably knows a lot about “overdeveloped conceits” already, and not just from teaching Halanna. They have both been doing these things all their lives, just so that Petiron is placated.
Anyway, the way Merelan gets Maizella in line is by letting Robinton off-leash just enough to show how good a singer he actually is (which he enjoys immensely), and then cutting off Maizella when she tries to drown him out.
“In duet singing, the voices must balance for the best effect. We know you can sing the crawlers out of their webs, Maizella, but there are none in this room.” Merelan regarded those tittering with a stern eye. “From ‘Now is the time’–and sing with the treble, not against him.”
Which is a far more likely way of getting the lesson to stick, even if it does rely a little bit on embarrassing her in front of others, which doesn’t set nearly as well as some other method could. It’s still much better than the idea of hitting her until she sings quietly.
The next scene is the boys playing “goal ball”, which has a goal like a Quidditch hoop, set on a pole, and a shooting line to fire from. Falloner suggests scaring the watch-wher, which elicits surprise from Robinton that someone weyrbred would do such a thing, and then, well, Falloner doesn’t know that he’s pushed Robinton’s Berserker Button. He gets headbutted and Robinton is ready to pound him into the ground unless he promises not to scare the watch-wher anymore.
“But it’s not hurting them…”
“If they scream, they hurt. Promise?”
“Sure. Whatever you say, Rob.”
“I just don’t like to hear them scream,” Robinton be a convulsive shake. “Goes right through my ears and down to my heel-bones. Like chalk on a slate.”
I like this Robinton a lot more than his adult self, because this one seems a lot less willing to inflict needless cruelty on others. He’s still pretty full of himself, but someone could probably train that out of him.
Falloner promises, although he doesn’t understand fully, and the narrative moves on to tell us about how Clisser’s legacy actually has panned out. There’s
basic reading, writing, and figuring that all children were obliged to learn before their twelfth year. After that, they would take up apprenticeships to whatever Hall their inclination suited them, or go on in their family Hold’s work. With a large Hold like Benden, there were enough pupils to be divided by age and ability.
As opposed to the backcountry, where it seems that even the basic songs are either neglected or campaigned against. But also, nobody seems to talk about whether or not taking up a Craft is a thing to be expected of children, children that are in excess of what you need to run your subsistence farming operation, only younger children of particular noble families, or what. Because the aristocracy of Terra might teach noble children various crafts, but it was not expected that they would pursue them as professionals (unless it were, say, the military or the priesthood.) There’s always the possibility that the inheritance order or the marriage prospects gets messed up by having a kid turn into a dragonrider, and if the land grant idea still holds strong, there’s always the possibility of someone starting their own Hold as their profession. It’s never clear whether joining the Crafts is seen as a step down in status or not.
Also, compulsory education to the equivalent of sixth grade.
Cocowhat by depizan
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH. Most people don’t know at twelve what they want to do with the rest of their life, and I’m guessing the apprenticeship process takes long enough that there’s no real way of changing careers if you guessed wrong. Clisser, you’re a terrible asshole.
In any case, Merelan let’s Robinton teach the youngest younglings some of the scales and basics, because he’s apparently quite good at making it understandable to them, while she tutors him herself and lets him continue to compose (he can’t not do it). Merelan feeds those compositions out into the world by performing them and using them as songs to teach others with. Robinton would love recognition for all of that, but Merelan promises that it will come out at some point.
“Harpering is not just knowing the words and melody to a lot of songs…”
“And not just knowing when to sing them, either.” He finished the saying for her.
Even now, the Harper Hall is engaging in the kind of “discretion” that lets them know and influence others.
As it turns out, we get to learn that Falloner is the son of the Benden Weyrleader before the time when he will have a son to do the same, and probably do the same himself. Falloner’s pretty glib about how he’s going to be a bronze rider, and how he’s at Benden because the Weyr doesn’t have a Harper and he needs to know all the things so that he can be a Weyrleader like his dad. Robinton is starstruck, tells his mother, and ends up with an assignment to rehearse the Question Song for that night.
Ah, and also a throwaway paragraph before that about how Maizella sings a lot better, even if most of her applause is from relief that it wasn’t terrible rather than for her being good. Because even when women do well, they can’t actually be good at something enough for the improvement to be worthwhile or noticeable. And the narrative doesn’t bother pointing out that clearly, Merelan is an excellent teacher and was able to handle Maizella’s issues much more easily and cleanly without Petiron’s interference making things way worse.
Because women, apparently.
Dinner that night, with the Weyrleaders, starts dark.
Falloner was not at the head table as Robinton thought he might be, since S’loner was his father. Carola was not his mother and, as Falloner took his usual place next to Robinton, he muttered something about her disliking S’loner’s weyrlings.
“Aren’t weyrlings small dragons?”
“Yes,” Falloner said with a little snort. “Applied to us,” he explained, sticking his thumb into his chest, “it’s not a compliment. All she can get is girls. When she has anything.”
Robinton nodded and decided maybe more wasn’t the time to ask more questions about the Weyr.
I have a few. Obviously, one of the casualties of medical knowledge is that sperm are generally responsible for the sex of a baby (assuming a sex and gender binary, which I’m sure Pern does, to their detriment), so blaming a woman for only daughters is misplaced at best. And also, childbirth is still incredibly painful and taxing. And dragonriders often warp through hyperspace before they know they’re pregnant, so carrying to term is somewhat difficult. But what I really want to know is what S’loner and Carola’s agreements are regarding ethical non-monogamy. Because if there are enough children to have a derogatory nickname, that’s worth further examination. Is it a “I’ll forgive you for anything you do while your bronze is chasing greens” idea? A more general permission for each of them to take lovers as they want to? Or (probably most likely) does S’loner just sleep with whomever he wants to, green dragon or no, because he’s Weyrleader and a man?
The entertainment for the night has acrobats and a stage magician, before the Weyrleaders are feted with the Duty Song done with harmony and instruments, and
Maizella stepped forward from her place in the chorus. Robinton heard the rustle: dismay or annoyance. They were in for a surprise, too, now that his mother had taken the girl in hand. Instead of planting herself in a defiant way, as if to indicate that she was going to sing and everyone had better listen to her, she came to the front in a quiet and professional manner and then looked to Merelan, who was accompanying her on the gitar.
Robinton couldn’t miss Weyrleader Carola’s expression–total dismay–until Maizella started singing. Even S’loner regarded the girl with a pleased look and murmured something to Maidir, who nodded and smiled back.
And this is where I remind everyone that I am still entirely done with the idea that girls and women become “good” in Pern when they stop being outspoken, advocating for themselves, and taking up the space they should have. Because the narrative still insists that every girl who isn’t immediately deferential to all the men around them is spoiled or wrong. So while I do want to see Maizella get her voice trained, I don’t want to see her turn demure and have it looked on approvingly by the narrative as somehow her proper or natural state.
And then we get to Robinton singing the solo of the Question Song, the one we know Lessa commissioned in the past to make sure she would know to bring the Weyrs forward when the time came. Which makes S’loner very happy, Carola entirely not, and a provokes a small discussion about whether someone believes Thread will return. Falloner says the song made the Weyrleader quite happy. He also casually mentions that dragonriders routinely live past a century, which is great if you’re the dragon and engineered to that…
A few days later and Merelan and Robinton are invited up to Benden Weyr to sing and dine. Merelan shows she knows more than she lets on by saying it will be good for Robinton to understand the Weyr for when he has to spend his confidence night in Fort. Robinton doesn’t understand how she knows, because the “apprentices did not tell anyone, certainly not the girls” and I am still ready to spit flames at the sexism.
Robinton likes having his mother around and teaching more and life here more than at the Harper Hall, and when he asks Falloner whether he’s also going to the Weyr, Falloner shrugs him off by pointing out that his birth mother died, likely in childbirth, and his foster mother died of fever, and so there’s nobody there that Falloner is interested in seeing. There’s also a Noodle Incident that resulted in Falloner getting sent down in the first place, but Robinton exercises discretion and doesn’t pressure Falloner. Or C’vrel, who is the transport dragonrider.
Lady Hayara makes sure Falloner accompanies, so that Robinton can learn what he needs to know about Weyrs so that he can be an excellent Harper. And so the chapter ends with Robinton observing the Weyr from above.
Next chapter picks right up where we leave off here.