When we last left our anti-hero and the Control Freak, the puny humans had waved their swords and then been sent scurrying back to their castles so that the real heroes could be left alone to do their planet-saving preparations. F’lar has mentally threatened violence against Lessa (again), who continues to find joie de vivre in trying to establish herself as The Man Behind The Man in the Weyr. There’s no way this can end well.
Dragonflight: Part III: Content Notes: Rape, slut-shaming, PTSD
But! Petty politics must be put aside, for the signs are now clear that Pern is about to be visited by a menace from the past: Thread. Although the narrative has not actually done more than hint at what Thread is and does yet at this point. The Introduction and it’s spoiler-knowledge says exactly what Thread is and what was developed to fight it, which is clearly the result of what was spoilers then being considered common knowledge now. Leaving that aside, though, Dragonflight now is starting to take on the shape of a classic fantasy novel. “An ancient evil has arisen, after many years (Turns) of peace and prosperity, during which time most people forgot about the evil and turned themselves to more petty matters. To fight this evil, a band of adventurers have formed, consisting of a commoner (F’nor, for reasons of being F’lar’s half-brither and further down the chain of power than F’lar), a wizard (F’lar, regrettably), and hidden royalty (Lessa), along with some support muscle (the dragonriders) who will journey across the world, foiling evil plots and defeating the ancient evil along the way.” And possibly a bolted-on love plot or love triangle to break up the action. So, yeah, now we’re getting into the groove of the actual story that was intended, so hopefully there’s some meatier things to tear into here.
Part III opens with F’lar and the War Council having to deal with contrarianism from R’gul, who now has the part of being the voice of the line of inquiry the Lords Holder were pursuing, before their subjugation at the end of Part II. The narrative informs us that R’gul is jealous of F’lar taking away the Weyrleader position from him (which reminds me, there really does need to be a way of having older Weyrleaders on as Weyrleader Emeritus or Immediate Past Weyrleader or something to prevent this exact situation from happening), but also points out to us, perhaps unintentionally, that R’gul is an excellent judge of character:
Wasn’t F’lar’s pride sufficiently swollen by having bluffed the Lords of Pern into disbanding their army when they were all set to coerce the Weyr and dragonmen? Must F’lar dominate every dragonman, body and will, too?
Yes, yes he must.
And, in case we had forgotten, the narrative allows F’lar to be entirely correct yet again in interpreting ancient signs and rock formations, as well as being able to explain away why the ancient menace hasn’t been back in a while.
“There have been long Intervals before. The Red Star does not always pass close enough to drop Threads on Pern. Which is why our ingenious ancestors thought to position the Eye Rock and the Finger Rock as they did … to confirm when a Pass will be made.”
Wait, WHAT? Exactly when were we going to find out that the people of Pern have relatively advanced scientific knowledge, even though the world has fallen apart, even by their standards? That casual statement from F’lar indicates at least understanding the Copernican model of planetary bodies, at least a basic idea of gravity not just as “the thing that pulls us back to the planet” but “the thing that pulls things toward each other”, knowledge that the orbits of bodies may be elliptical or irregular (so there are Intervals instead of a constant yearly Threadfall), and the ability to interpret the ancient structures as being a calendar device for a particular astronomical event, like henges may have been, instead of as some other ritual item. What sort of stuff is being taught in the songs and legends that Lessa has had to memorize, recite, and scrawl many times over? It would be so nice to know.
Back to the narrative. F’lar insults R’gul’s skepticism, after giving him an ultimatum that he can accept F’lar as the Weyrleader and obey, or he can take his dragon and go somewhere else. Then, he distributes orders for fliers to go outside and look for more good candidates for dragonriders from the Holds, since he thinks there aren’t enough boys in the caverns at the Weyr to cover the likely egg spread, watch the weather, make sure the tributes arrive safely, go clean out satellite bases of operation, and retrieve any history records that might still be there (because it hasn’t already been collected before? What the fuck kind of operation is being run here?) and other such logistical matters involving dragonrider oversight. After dismissing the riders, F’lar returns to his chambers, where his thoughts turn to love.
That girl was going to scrub her hide off with this constant bathing. She’d had to live grimy in Ruath Hold, but bathing twice a day? He was beginning to wonder if this might be a subtle Lessa-variety insult to him personally. F’lar sighed. That girl. Would she never turn to him of her own accord? Would he ever touch that elusive inner core of Lessa? She had more warmth for his half-brother, Fnor, and K’net, the youngest of the bronze riders, than she did for F’lar, who shared her bed.
That would be because they aren’t controlling assholes, F’lar.
Also, that would be because they haven’t raped her, either. But F’lar has feels about that. That look remarkably like apologia.
He caught her arm and felt her body tense. He set his teeth, wishing, as he had a hundred times since Ramoth rose in her first mating flight, that Lessa had not been virgin, too. He had not thought to control his dragon-incited emotions, and Lessa’s first sexual experience had been violent. It had surprised him to be first, considering she had spent her adolescent years drudging for lascivious warders and soldier-types. Evidently, no one had bothered to penetrate the curtain of rags and the coat of filth she had carefully maintained as a disguise. He had been a considerate and gentle bedmate ever since, but, unless Ramoth and Mnementh were involved, he might as well call it rape.
Yet he knew someday, somehow, he would coax her into responding wholeheartedly to his lovemaking. He had a certain pride in his skill, and he was in a position to persevere.
Cocowhat by depizan
So, Lessa tenses when he touches her, because he’s an abusive asshole. The rest of this, however, is rape apologia – he didn’t control himself when he could have, a detail conveniently left out in that mating flight from Lessa’s perspective, and again we are reminded that Lessa got no preparation for the feelings that came from a dragon in heat. He would have felt better about his own rape if she had already been raped beforehand. But he won’t actually call that first one rape, nor any of the times that he has had sex with her since, probably without her consent, because that would mean admitting he violated her without consent. And that he might not be able to win her over at all because of that, which would mean something was out of his control. And that he did something wrong. Neither of which his pride and nature will allow. Instead, he continues to believe that if he rapes Lessa enough, eventually she’ll fall in love with him. And considering the narrative has always given F’lar what he wanted, I have a sinking feeling that he’s going to be right.
F’lar casually insults the previous Weyrwoman, both in habits and in attractiveness, while marveling at Lessa’s insistence on cleanliness in the bedchamber (from her drudge past, she probably knows what happens to dirty dishes and bodies left out), and wonders why Lessa might be a bit acidic at him because of a woman he could have gotten pregnant (but has plausible denial on, and she seduced him, anyway, even though he was willing), meaning he’s also been having sex with others than his Weyrwoman, which may or may not be considered scandalous. Even though he slept with this other woman, he still calls her a slut (she has “the amorous tendencies of a green dragon”, which suggests that everyone in the Weyr thinks Green riders are easy).
Lest we think that F’lar is the only horrible person in this pairing, Lessa suggests murdering R’gul to silence his skepticism, a position with which F’lar privately agrees, but publically will put out on the front line against Thread, possibly hoping he will get killed that way, as David did to Bathsheba’s husband, which is a much easier position to be able to work with. And we are reminded that Lessa is forever scheming in some way, probably against F’lar, so we should hold them equally contemptuous. Except Lessa has only ever been thinking about such things – F’lar has done both rape and murder. I still have no real incentive to root for either of them, according to the narrative, anyway.
And then, while discussing signs and portents, Lessa has a flashback to when Fax invaded.
Her voice was a barely articulated whisper. Her eyes were wide and staring. Her hands clenched the edge of the table. She said nothing for such a long interval that F’lar became concerned. This was an unexpectedly violent reaction to as casual question.
So Lessa starts to recount the tale, clearly disassociating from the events, and F’lar…has empathy, although he doesn’t act on it (much to the great snark of Mnementh). Lessa doesn’t get very far before Ramoth wakes up, providing a clear distraction.
And now the narrative has given enough proof to substantiate what more senior deconstructors have probably suspected for a long time – Lessa hasn’t been able to recover from her trauma because she doesn’t have a supportive environment, a partner that is actually willing to listen to get feelings and not rape her, nor any sort of way of excluding F’lar from her life until she’s recovered. They’re all traumatic still because the trauma keeps being inflicted. And F’lar is a big enough asshole that even when Lessa is demonstrating that things are not okay with her, he continues on as if everything were just fine. Fuck you, F’lar, you rapist ass.
And on that traumatic note, we’ll leave off for next time, where we learn the secrets of dragon teleportation.