Last chapter, Alemi got told not to involve Readis in dolphin tales, then went to AIVAS to get instructions on how to talk to the dolphins. Rather than read them, Alemi scouts, and then rings, the bell that summons the dolphins, establishing more contact and firmly cementing them as intelligent mammals instead of non-intelligent fish.
The Dolphins of Pern: Chapter IV: Content Notes: References to abusive family
Chapter IV opens with Alemi returning to a Paradise Hold and talking about what he did to Jayge.
“That’s all very well and good, Alemi, I suppose”–Jayge hesitated–“it’s good. We’ve got fire-lizards and dragons, why not intelligent life in the seas? The Ancients apparently knew what is combine to make a perfect world, so those doll-fins had their role to play…” He hesitated again.
“But you’re worried about Readis?”
Jayge let out an explosive sigh. “Yes, I am. He’s still talking about his mam’l…”
“They are,” Alemi said, regaining his perspective on the matter, “mammals.”
[…Jayge is confused that AIVAS has data on dolphin births and such…]
“Look, I’ll keep my findings to myself, then. You didn’t mention my interview with Aivas to Readis, did you? No. All right. I certainly won’t, but I’d like your permission, as my Holder, to discreetly pursue a closer relationship with these creatures.[…]”
[…Jayge asks what Idarolan thinks of it, and then assents…]
Alemi nodded, perversely pleased that he could try to establish himself with the dolphins without having to share the experience.
And also, doesn’t actually mention that he’s planning on building a bell (and a float for it) so that he can summon and talk to the dolphins. How is anyone going to keep a curious Readis from hearing the bell, or from piecing together that the bell summons the dolphins when you ring it? Especially when the narrative tells us that Alemi plans on building a bell bigger than the one that’s currently on his ship to use. It’s going to carry.
We also get more about the strained relationship between Alemi and Yanus, who remains unnamed.
Alemi was extra mindful of some of the precautions Aivas had mentioned–precautions Fishmen always observed but without knowing why: taking care of the size of the nets, as well as the old warnings of the “sin” of netting a shipfish. Even his father, who hadn’t the imagination to be superstitious, followed those precepts. Now Alemi knew the reason behind those practices, but he doubted his father would ever admit to it–much less admit that dolphins could actually talk and were intelligent. One of the many gulfs between them.
No, wait, hang on. The idea of “sin” and “hadn’t the imagination to be superstitious” do not belong in the same description. Yanus does these things in a near-fanatical devotion to TRADITIONS (traditions!), which suggests there’s something driving that belief. “Society collapses if we deviate from the perfect ways of our ancestors” is a perfectly good superstition.
That said, “sin” is a distinctly religious concept, and until AIVAS specifically made reference to it, Pern very specifically never had any sort of religious work. (Unless you count Harper ballads about the Cult of the Dragonriders. Which we probably should.) There’s no Being Represented By The Tetragrammaton, but also no Wiccan Rede, Wheel of Karma, or any other concept that would facilitate the idea of virtue and sin. Netting a shipfish might be a sign of ill fortune, but unless a theology developed somewhere while we weren’t looking, it wouldn’t be a “sin”. (This is where you need a continuity editor, no really.)
Anyway, Yanus’s stubbornness at being proven wrong would have an easier time being accepted if Alemi casually dropped something here about how long and how far Menolly has risen as a Harper, and yet, if you asked Yanus about her, he would say his daughter had ran away to become Holdless [x] years ago and he’s never seen her since. It’s probably bad enough that Alemi is a Masterfisher and went away from the Hold to go South.
There’s also a lot about more settlers coming south to get their own hunk of land to do work with. Which, essentially, temporarily relieves the pressure problem that’s been plaguing the North. Once there’s no more land to grab, though, the problems will start all over again unless the Lords decide there’s some way they can parcel out their land in smaller ways.
Or the end of the threat of Thread is the harbinger of the complete takeover by the Crafts and conversion of the feudal society into a capitalist one, now that there’s no overarching threat to hold the society together. (Assuming the dragonriders don’t get involved, anyway.)
Alemi does inform Idarolan of his plans, framing it as good research toward the end of making sailing and fishing safer – if all ships can summon additional help in bad situations, that’s a benefit to the Fishercraft. There’s a little praise of Menolly, as it’s her methods for fire-lizard training that Alemi used to get his well-behaved Tork.
After discarding the idea of using Jayge’s alarm triangle as a dolphin bell (has the triangle been here for longer than this book and the last one? Or is it an instrument that’s definitely came with the AI? It’s talked about as a “post-Thella” thing, but does that make it post-AIVAS?), Alemi asks Fandarel if he’ll cast him a nice bell. Fandarel says yes, but it will have to wait until all the other commissions are done. Robinton sends a handbell and the possibility that a bigger bell might exist somewhere else.
For the moment, Alemi concerns himself with learning the hand signals and commands for dolphins on the printout that AIVAS provided and shaking his head at the fact that the Pernese have had intelligent species there the whole time and have not put the pieces together. And then offers a useful explanation of the why, although it’s couched in yet another commentary on Yanus, who is finally mentioned by name.
“Yes, indeed, I can just picture my good father, Yanus, listening to a shipfish!” He snorted.
“Exactly,” Kitrin said with some heat, for a moment abandoning the little wrapper she was hemming for their expected child. “I mean no disrespect–well, maybe I do,” she added with a rueful expression, “but he is sometimes…”
“Always,” Alemi amended firmly with a smile.
“So set in his ways. You know, neither he nor your mother have ever mentioned Menolly. Though your mother often remarks on ingratitude in my presence.” She sighed. “It’s as if Menolly never existed.”
“I think she prefers it that way,” Alemi said with a wry and slightly bitter grin, knowing all too well the treatment given his talented sister during her adolescence at Half Circle Sea Hold. “Both of them–mother and daughter.”
“Menolly’s never been back? Ever?”
“Not to the Sea Hold. Why should she?”
Kitrin shrugged. “It seems so…so awful…that they cannot accept her accomplishments.” Then she added shyly, “Sebell always remembers to send us copies of her latest songs. Alemi, when are we going to have a harper?”
He grinned, for he knew that had been the main reason for the trend of their conversation.
“Hmmm. I’ve asked Jayge and Aramina. Readis is growing old enough to learn his ballads and so are enough youngsters, including our own, for the hold to have its own harper. Enough for a journeyman surely, and we can offer many benefits here: decent weather and property to develop.”
“Ask if they’ve asked,” Kitrin said with unusual force. “I’m not going to see the girls, or our son“–and she said this defensively, one hand on her gravid belly–“grow up ignorant of what they owe Hold, Hall, and Weyr.”
And there’s the thing that should have come first – the easiest way of establishing that Yanus is stubborn to the point of disowning and insisting his daughter doesn’t exist because she bucked his traditional worldview.
Given how abusive Yanus is, I can’t make a judgement on whether Mavi is going along with this because she believes the same thing or because she’s too afraid of him. The questions about ingratitude might be solidarity or attempting to get information about Menolly without appearing sympathetic to her. I realize that Mavi allowed Menolly’s hand to heal improperly, but everything she’s done that’s hurt Menolly has been passive instead of active – she allows Menolly to come to harm instead of actively harming her.
Alemi does inquire of Jayge, who says that all the Harpers are essentially booked to transcribe AIVAS’s data banks. Alemi offers to lean on Menolly to get a Harper freed up to be sent to Paradise River. And gets Menolly herself, who needed to go somewhere warm to compose. And also to give birth to what will be her second child. She came with Camo, who is apparently not just great at taking care of fire lizards, but also children, by virtue, supposedly, of being “not much more than an overgrown baby himself.” Menolly apparently brought mostly instruments and writing instruments and only a couple changes of clothes for herself.
Menolly’s arrival in person causes a scramble, as they erected quarters only for a journeyman and Menolly is far too important for that kind of structure, but Menolly refuses fancier accommodations. In response, Kitrin organizes a baking and cooking storm to make sure there’s enough food of fancy enough making to be appropriate for her rank for the impromptu Gather put on in her honor.
Menolly’s singing brings memories of childhood and adolescence for Alemi (which I am beginning to suspect is a reasonably well-crafted way of bringing new readers up to speed that haven’t read the Harper Hall trilogy, or have forgotten enough of it to need the refresher – it’s been nearly a decade or more since those books came out) as well as what is the narrative’s answer to my speculation before about Mavi’s malevolence.
He had been furious with his parents’ vindictive attitude when she’d cut her hand on a venomous packtail fish and it looked as if the injury might prevent her from playing again. They looked so pleased!
What would have been more useful is if Alemi ever got to see or hear Mavi talk about it in a situation where she could be reassured that her talk wouldn’t get back to Yanus. Because everything that’s presented as evidence is always them together, and really, if you’re in a situation with an abuser and there doesn’t seem to be a way of getting out and living a life in your own (because fucking patriarchy and flesh-eating rain), then you order your life and your thoughts around making sure that abuser doesn’t hurt you, by whatever formula your brain comes up with that it believes will work. Mavi might have been pleased in the sense of “Oh, if that scars badly, then Yanus will stop abusing all of us” and not “what a blessing from God that will stop my wayward daughter from straying from His commands.” The difference is crucial, and the narrative is trying to elide it in insisting Mavi was enthusiastic about the abuse.
After a spell of singing, Alemi thinks to himself that Menolly’s songs continue to do their jobs as effective tools.
Still, that’s what harpering was about, wasn’t it? Getting people to think and feel and, most of all, learn. The Fishercraft fed bodies, but the Harpercraft fed souls.
Setting aside for a second the continuing problems of religious concepts invading the nominally atheist Pern, this line could be read in both a way that’s virtuous, if you believe the Harpers are educators and entertainers, or sinister, if you blame them as propagandists who have been trying to keep a world stagnant from progress for the last two and a half millennia. Think, feel, and learn (what we want you to) sounds very much like the Harpers, and it’s a little chilling in light of what Kitrin said earlier about making sure the children learned their obligations.
Which, actually, I should point out is an insistence that children learn a way of life that has as a keystone a situation (Thread) that could presumably be permanently removed in their lifetime. Because when the threat of being sent out in the deadly rain evaporates, what reason is anyone not currently being benefited by the social structure going to have to continue it? Especially if the dragonriders decide to take retirement and essentially remove themselves from Pern. Someone should be laying the groundwork for post-Thread civilization social contract. The Harpers have the responsibility for it, but they’ve all got their heads in the sand, it seems.
As things are, Alemi sneaks off one night and rings his ship bell occasionally, but only when he hits the Report sequence do the dolphins come, squealing “Bellill!”, because dolphins can’t possibly be expected to get a two-syllable word correct.
There are two good things that comes out of this – dolphins get fish, and finally, Alemi asks what “blufiss” are and gets shown so he figures out that they’re bloodfish and is then able to remove them with his knife. Getting close enough to them allows Alemi to see their distinguishing features and associate them with their names. After cleaning, everyone goes to sleep and there’s a short dolphin interstitial about how they are pleased mans are remembering more of their duties, but mans still haven’t figured out the dolphins know where the best fishing spots are, and there’s no bell for the dolphins to ring yet.
The next morning is frank talk between Idarolan and Alemi, with Idarolan promising not to mention dolphins to Yanus, because they both know that Yanus wouldn’t believe it anyway, much like how he doesn’t believe AIVAS exists. And Idarolan relays a very touching confession from Menolly about why she came.
“You’re why she came, you know. Told me one night she’d never had a chance to get to know you but you were the best of the lot.”
Alemi stared back at his Master. “She said that? About me?” He felt his throat get tight with pride and love of her.
Not that it was a particularity high bar to get over, but yes, Alemi, you were not awful to Menolly.
After that, Alemi rings a report bell and Idarolan gets his first up close with the dolphins…and is mostly bowled over by the legends being true, but also there’s some going over of the contractual bits between dolphins and humans. The mention of Tillek sends the dolphins into a frenzy, asking if there’s a Tillek present. The humans don’t get it, but it’s still essentially a good first contact, and Idarolan leaves with the idea of enlisting those Fishers he believes would be open to the idea of working with dolphins. And that’s the end of the chapter.
Have to say that the Fishercraft are definitely the best so far as a whole at adapting to their new realities.