Dragonflight: Batman Gambits Pay Off

(by Silver Adept)

When we last left our sociopathic hero Lessa and inflated-ego traditionalist deuteragonist F’lar, Lessa’s sabotage had finally brought the villainous lord Fax to his breaking point, and he made a rash promise to abandon Ruatha Hold to the child of Lady Gemma, if it lived and was a boy. Lady Gemma has died childless from labor complications, and Lessa is setting one final desperate plan in motion.

Dragonflight, Part II: Content Notes: Abuse, Murder, Considered sexual assault, Patriarchy, Classism. Also, most likely, a Whatfruit.

I’m going to note at this point that violence seems to be the default men-on-women interaction here in these first few chapters. I have a sinking feeling it’s going to continue through the rest of the book. I hope I’m wrong.

As Lessa enters the hall, her scheming self carefully covered under the disguise of an uninteresting drudge, Fax has been informed of the death of Lady Gemma. We would assume that he has also been told she died childless, but this is apparently not the case.

“The child lives,” Lessa cried, her voice distorted with anger and hatred. “It is male.”…”Ruatha has a new Lord.”

Which provokes Fax into a flying rage, and he beats Lessa savagely for what she says until she is knocked unconscious. Fax would continue to beat Lessa’s unconscious body, but that F’lar calls him to attend to his oath.

We’ll get to that in just a second. First, though, we should take a look at this Improbability of Improbabilities. Here’s the sequence of events as the narrative runs.

  1. Gemma dies in childbirth, and her child dies with her.
  2. The news of Gemma’s death is transmitted to Fax. The news of the child’s death is not.
  3. A drudge enters the hall and proclaims the live birth of a male heir,
  4. Fax denies the claim and beats the drudge senseless,
  5. and F’lar calls on Fax to honor his sworn oath.

And nobody, apparently, thinks to check and verify the claim. That has been boldly asserted by someone of the untouchable class to an assembled gathering of nobles, one of whom has a vested stake in making very sure that this claim is vetted. F’lar may be willing to let such a claim skate on he word of a drudge, because it gives him the excuse he needs to kill Fax, but Fax most definitely wants proof, because if he can prove there’s no heir, then there’s no way that F’lar can challenge him on his oath. Problem solved. Fax is provoked, sure, but his first response should be to find the supposed child, even if his intent is infanticide. That he beats Lessa is in character for him, but that he doesn’t go onward to verify that there is an heir is not credible.

Unless, that is, that Lessa’s power did something to Fax, before she lost consciousness. Let’s do a quick recap of Lessa’s powers.

  • Limited telepathy with certain creatures
  • Limited precognitive abilities regarding danger
  • The ability to influence weaker minds so that she passes unnoticed, even while doing unsubtle things, or to implant feelings and thoughts in others that they believe are their own. (Later on, F’lar will witness Lessa transform herself into an unremarkable person, which is our explanation of how Lessa can commit blatant sabotage and not get caught.)

About the only thing she’s missing is some form of telekenesis, and you have Lessa as a Force user, almost a decade before Star Wars is released into theaters. And given Lessa’s abilities are fueled by rage and hate and her generally sociopathic view of Fax and anyone in the way of her revenge, I think I can safely say that Lessa is a Lady of the Sith Order.

So, Lessa’s announcement comes with all of her angry ball of emotions attached, leaving Fax in such a blind rage that his cognitive functions are temporarily suspended and he acts to hurt the target that sent him such horrible news. Which gives F’lar enough time to act to divert Fax’s attention away from the dubious claim and back onto the oath he swore that now requires satisfaction. Let’s roll the tape.

“It was heard and witnessed, Fax,”…”by dragonmen. Stand by your sworn and witnessed oath!”

“Witnessed? By drangonmen?” cried Fax with a derisive laugh. “Dragonwomen, you mean.”…”Parasites on Pern! The Weyr power is over! Over for good,”…

And here Fax plays straight into Flar’s hands – he insults dragonriders and their traditions in full view of many dragonriders and an audience that probably doesn’t give a [Ay carumba!] about whether Fax lives or dies. F’lar won’t suffer that kind of obvious insult to his pride and ego, and while Lessa is still unconscious, the two men fight. Fax uses his bulk and speed to keep pressing F’lar into a defensive position, although he suffers a Groin Attack from his persistence. Ultimately, F’lar wins because Fax is too aggressive and F’lar is able to step around him and stab him in the heart through the back. With the rather grisly detail of the knife coming back out a touch as Fax hits the floor facefirst.

Oh, and through this fight, F’lar has been able to identify the drudge that made the annoucement as the source of the disturbance in the Force he felt. So when the aftereffects of what he has just done kick in, F’lar leaves crowd control to his brother and takes Lessa back to his chamber. No grand pronoucements, no standing on tradition and the rest, because the details of who the [Crikey!] is going to take over as the Lord of each of Fax’s Holds when we find out there’s no male heir is boring and beneath the dragonrider who just caused a succession crisis and quite possibly a bloody civil war. Let the practical brother deal with all the politics while he focuses on Lessa.

Despite being tired from battle, we find that F’lar can effortlessly carry Lessa to his chambers, because she’s a slight thing with barely any weight at all. He examines her on the bed, revolted at the amount of filth she’s covered in, but still able to see that she’s of noble birth and pure blood despite her very successful-until-now methods of concealing herself from everyone. And then there’s this:

Delighted and fascinated by this unexpected luck, F’lar reached out to tear the dress from the unconscious body and found himself constrained not to. The girl had roused.

Cocowhat by depizan

F’lar is stopped from undressing Lessa because she’s awake. Not because he’s a decent guy, not because he thinks of women as beings worthy of respect, but because she’s awake. And, presumably, F’lar’s ego would not allow him to commit an assault with a live and aware victim, lest there be a witness to his carefully-constructed persona falling apart. Or that someone might object to those aspects of his conservatism that insist that women, no matter how noble, are supposed to be subordinate to him. F’lar, you’re a walking embodiment of rape culture. Why are we supposed to treat you like a hero?

So, with Lessa awake, almost the first thing out of F’lar’s mouth is “Name and rank.” Not asking, of course, because F’lar would never stoop to asking a woman a question, but demanding. Lessa, confronted with this haughty, egotistical prick in his bedchambers, is happy to hear the news of Fax’s death, and reveals her lie in claiming her Hold for her own. F’lar is nonplussed, to say the least, that he’s been tricked and killed another man because of a woman. It hurts having your ego popped like that, doesn’t it, F’lar? And his reaction is pretty much the same as Fax’s – he grabs Lessa’s wrist and does her bodily harm in his anger, with the intent of doing her much more harm. Unlike Fax, though, F’lar intends to publicly shame her.

That is, if he can catch her. Lessa bolts, leaving F’lar to try and pursue her on her home territory, ultimately requiring his dragon to catch her (which I would think is terrifying as [Crikey!] to Lessa, but the narrative insists otherwise). Along the way, he encounters F’nor. Who has done exactly the thing neither Fax nor F’lar did in their dick-swinging contest and clash of egos – he checked to see if there was actually a kid. Lo and behold, there is! And he’s a male, too! F’lar’s ego is saved, and he doesn’t have to admit he was outclassed by a woman and tricked into murder. And, even better, he has Lessa trapped and unable to escape his revenge for her trickery. The narrative gives F’lar everything that he wants.

So of he goes into his tirade, commenting on how foolish Lessa is, and how he would have happily killed Fax, if she had only come to him with her claim right at the beginning. He claims that Lady Gemma would have still been alive if she had done this. Because, of course he would have recognized her as the rightful heir.

Bul[Ay carumba!] F’lar has trouble recognizing the drudges as humans, before being able to conceive of the possibility that a woman could be the rightful heir of a Hold. But Lessa is supposed to have opened up to him with her secrets, trusted him implicitly, and then left him to do his work. Even though he’s the man she’s never met before. F’lar is demanding that Lessa trust him, because he knows he’s a trustworthy guy, regardless of what she thinks about him.

After fluffing his own ego sufficiently and giving Lessa the lesson he believes she deserves, and gloating a bit that Lessa will be accompanying him back for the dragon hatching, F’lar realizes he might do better, or at least get a fig leaf of legitimacy, if Lessa appears to come willingly instead of by force. F’lar makes a hash of that, too, first by appealing to greed (why settle for a Hold when you can have a Weyr?), which goes over about as well as you would expect, since Lessa’s primary motivation is revenge, not avarice. Then F’lar calls Lessa a coward, and in true Marty McFly fashion, it works.

Before everyone leaves, though, F’lar rewards loyalty by putting Lytol, the dragonless rider who told him to kill Fax, as regent of Ruatha, and the watch-wher knocks F’lar flat on his ass and tries to kill him, in a last-ditch effort to stop Lessa from her new life as F’lar’s pet. Lessa calls it off mid-pounce, and the resulting effort breaks its back, making sure that Lessa no longer has any ties to Ruatha to come back to. With the last loose ends tied up, the riders take to the sky.


15 thoughts on “Dragonflight: Batman Gambits Pay Off

  1. alexseanchai May 15, 2014 at 6:47 am

    Wow. The Suck Fairy really got this book good. The sad part is I recognize all the events.

  2. froborr May 15, 2014 at 8:23 am

    So, I’m enjoying these deconstructions. I want to make that clear first. I really am enjoying them, with the exception of one small thing:

    All this [ay carumba!] and [crikey!] nonsense is neither cute nor clever. It’s distracting and annoying. Pulls me right out of whatever sentence I’m reading as my brain tries to determine whether the word you’ve replaced is “shit” or “fuck.”

    Please, if you’re going to use curse words, use them. If not, don’t. Either way is fine, but this coy in-between crap is just silly.

  3. Only Some Stardust May 15, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    I second that. Please use curse words. ^_^

    Some thoughts:

    I think I can understand (though not agree) why he thinks Lessa should have opened up to him. He is a ‘proper authority’, even if she has never met him before, and is displeased that she has not recognized his authority to settle disputes by coming to him with information. Kind of like how medieval Lords were very keen on controlling the courts, because that was how they collected fees from criminals and controlled others under their domain; having others socially in debt to you because you ‘graciously’ gave them justice is very useful to a lord.

    Also, super creepy! I somehow never noticed that line about trying to take off her clothes in the several times I read that book, though in defense I was young! I also don’t remember the book as well as I used to, though this makes me tempted to try and dig it up from where ever it is hiding.

    It makes me wish there was more introspection seen from the characters; except that’s probably the problem, people rarely question about what’s normal to them.

    In some stories, if characters bothered to stop and think or talk to each other semi-rationally, half the plot would be gone. In theory, this shouldn’t be one of those stories; it has flying dragons in it, and potential war, and that stuff is interesting and will still be there.

    One thing I really don’t get is why Fax is so comically stupid. Here you have a chance to have a threatening villain who will up heave the social order of things and maybe kill dragon riders, and you just kill him off immediately. Heck, there’s no evidence to show he was ever any threat whatsoever to the dragon riders and the Weyr; he’s basically just there as a straw villain who ‘is a meanie’ to knock down and show how tough and noble F’lar is and by extension the Weyr he represents.

    If his hate of the Weyr was shown more before he died, that would be really interesting. I could see people getting behind the message of ‘The dragons are parasites, they eat so much and give so little back’ and providing the source of his power. [spoilers] I think I might even vaguely remember that being a further source of conflict later in the books, which is good. Maybe I misremembered. But if the book uses Fax’s death as an excuse to set off further conflicts by his allies on the ‘weyrs are parasites, look they even killed Fax, the bastards!’ front, that would be awesome and completely make up for his brainlessness. I don’t think it happens, but, I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong!

  4. jrandomscribbler May 15, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    I agree, Fax was completely wasted. Part of that may simply be that AM was just writing a novella, and didn’t know how big the series was going to get. A surprising number of details in Dragonflight get retconned (or simply ignored) from Book 2 onward.

    When I first read DF, I had already read Dragonquest, so I had the benefit of more worldbuilding context. Knowing that there was widespread resentment of the Weyr and its traditions made Fax a little more plausible; he attracted followers because he was the first to go directly against the Weyr. There are still a lot of problems with that idea, but it’s something at least. I wish AM had made that more obvious and actually developed Fax as an antagonist. He could’ve been a lot more interesting than… well, I shouldn’t spoil more than I already have.

    Oh, and a curiosity question for everybody: at this point, does Dragonflight seem more of a fantasy or more science fictional? I’m not sure what AM intended when she wrote this, or if she even cared about the distinction.

  5. Firedrake May 16, 2014 at 7:08 am

    Only Some Stardust: I think that the quick demise of Fax shows the book’s origins as a collection of short stories. What we’re in now is the story of Lessa’s progress from drudge (spoiler); there isn’t room to develop side characters, and I think that may be one of the reasons the protagonists come off as so unsympathetic (because the world really does revolve around them, and Anne wasn’t a good enough writer at the time to hide that)

    Thirded on the un-swears; I had assumed they were from some sort of compulsory automatic filter.

  6. Silver Adept May 16, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    @ AlexSeanchai –

    It did, indeed. And it gets worse.

    @ Only Some Stardust –

    Yeah, F’lar gives off the impression that he was miffed over not being recognized as a “proper authority” by virtue of being a dragonrider, but also that he wasn’t immediately consulted by virtue of being, in his opinion, the baddest man in the whole damn town. Which comes through in the way that he treats Lessa like she’s still a drudge in the aftermath. Of course she should submit to him – she’s a woman. And being a woman means he could strip her without objection. It’s not a good start to the development of F’lar as a character.

    @ J. Random Scribbler –

    Yes, please keep the spoilers to a minimum so as not to ruin the…surprise. And the antagonism toward Weyrs in Dragonquest is…different enough, in my opinion, that I think they’re separated. Not by much, but enough.

    I’d also say, at this point, we’re looking at something that’s more fantasy than SF. I’ll be touching on spots here and there where something runs incongrously to the idea of a fantasy novel.

    @ everyone –

    Fax really is wasted as an antagonist here. The ten years of time passed in between the event that sent Lessa into hiding and her final tirumphant revenge could have been at least a book to themselves. And his death won’t drive much of anything past getting Lessa out of Ruatha. I think we’re supposed to believe that he fades out because he was pretty much reviled by everyone, but the worldbuilding is a bit light on the details of how Fax treated the people who he really should be taking care of.

  7. Firedrake May 16, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    jrandomscribbler: oh, fantasy all the way. Dragons, primitive politics, no electricity. It was only a bit later later, when SF was deemed more “respectable” than fantasy, that Anne started claiming they were SF books, talking to Jack Cohen, and so on.

  8. froborr May 16, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Did the early stories even give any hints that this was a space colony or that dragons were a product of genetic engineering or any of the other tricks AM pulled to science-fictionalize the setting?

    Aside: I will never not find it funny that her initials are the evil computer from “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.”

  9. Firedrake May 16, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    I don’t believe so. I don’t have them available as etext, so I can’t say when the Three Sisters first showed up; that’s probably the first actually science-fictional element. I know at some point she talked to Jack Cohen and others about (a) dragon biology and (b) the orbital dynamics of the Pern system, to try to justify the setup of… OK, still a spoiler at this point.

  10. alexseanchai May 16, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    I want to say Dragonsong? So fairly early in the series. Certainly by The White Dragon.

    I think.

  11. Silver Adept May 17, 2014 at 9:54 am

    If you know what to look for, hints about these things will show up in Dragonquest. And, in remastered versions of the early books, like the ebook I have, there’s a prologue that talks about all of the science-fiction bits. Since the narrative isn’t going to get around to explaining all that for several books, I’ve omitted it as spoiler data. I think it’s a kludge and that the works would be better with the gradual realization of what’s going on, rather than knowing up front where things are going.

  12. depizan May 17, 2014 at 10:48 am

    So…what is the difference supposed to be (ethically, morally, what have you) between Fax and F’lar? Why is one the villain and one the hero? (Not that Lessa’s better, mind.) Is it purely that F’lar is “legitimate”? This is a hell of a case of Designated Hero we’ve got going on here.

    F’lar is nonplussed, to say the least, that he’s been tricked and killed another man because of a woman.

    But he wanted to kill Fax anyway. WTF. And then tells her he’d have killed him if she’d just announced herself as the rightful ruler. So…he’s upset purely because he was tricked (by a woman)?

    This book is a wonderful example of the eight deadly words, at least for me.

  13. Silver Adept May 20, 2014 at 9:35 am

    @ depizan –

    Pretty much. F’lar feels that his claim of “defenders of the planet against an enemy that hasn’t been seen in some time” is more legitimate than Fax’s “conqueror of the lands and people” claim.

    And yeah, F’lar would have been fine with it if it had been two men fighting over some matter of honor where he could justify everything. But because it’s done by Lessa through subterfuge and trickery, he is much less okay with it.

  14. J. Random Scribbler May 20, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    @Silver Adept: On reflection, I do agree with you that the situation in Dragonquest isn’t really the same thing. Sorry for being spoilerish; further comment can wait until we get there.

    @depizan: Yeah, the difference is basically just legitimacy. Apparently because F’lar is part of the traditional power structure, anything he does is inherently right, while Fax is always wrong because he went outside the traditions and took his own power. Even when they do pretty much the same thing for the same reasons.

    I’m not sure that F’lar is angry specifically because it was a woman who manipulated him; if this is a case of standard macho psychology, he’d not like being manipulated by anybody, In fact he might have been even angrier if it were a man, since (from the macho perspective) a man would be more of a threat. I’m just guessing at that, though.

    Re fantasy vs. SF, I’m mainly asking because my first read was biased by the prologues. At the time I thought they’d always been part of the story, but now I wonder how differently I would’ve read Dragonflight if I’d not been explicitly told it was SF. That’s why I’m so interested in how it looked to others.

  15. depizan May 20, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    Even when they do pretty much the same thing for the same reasons.

    That’s what bothers me about the fact that one’s supposedly a hero and one’s a disposable villain. If it were just a matter of F’lar thinking his power was more legitimate, eh. But his attitude toward people seems pretty much identical to Fax’s and he doesn’t treat people much better (possibly not at all better…just what would he have done if Lessa hadn’t woken up?).

    The manipulation thing just seems strange because the sequence of events appears to go:

    F’lar wants to kill Fax when there’s an opportunity.
    Opportunity arises.
    F’lar kills Fax.
    Opportunity turns out to be partly manipulation.
    F’lar is peeved.

    On looking at it again, it kind of seems like F’lar just wanted to blame someone for his killing of Fax. If Lessa hadn’t done what she did, maybe he’d have blamed the guy who originally suggested it, or his brother, or some woman Fax hit in front of him, or…

    But then, nothing about F’lar really makes me sympathetic towards him.

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