Last chapter, the Weyrleaders held a conference about the stabbing of F’nor. Like all good political organizations, nothing got done, leaving F’lar with the short end of the stick. As the novelty of the situation sinks in, the call to action arrives.
Dragonquest: Chapter III: Content Notes: Winning At Patriarchy, Infertility, Domestic Abuse
F’lar and company are alerted to a Threadfall that is happening in the wrong section of the Hold and earlier than the charts F’lar uses to track Thread would indicate. He is able to successfully scramble fighters because the messenger dragon he sent ahead to warn the Hold of their imminent Fall was able to observe and report. Because dragons can hop through both the space and time axes, being initially late can be corrected, but existing in two places at the same time is tiring and has nasty side effects. After taking care of the threat, F’lar learns from Lord Asgenar that this is not the first out-of-sync Threadfall that has happened, but the third. Worried about his lack of information (but also wishing for a worldwide communications network), F’lar chats with the Lord Holder about the supply of wood for Hold fires (distributed for free, except in Lord Meron’s domain, because he wants everyone to have to pay for Crom’s coal), new Crafthalls, hopefully in Asengar’s Hold and Benden’s Weyr, the possible production of woodpulp paper, and the general mood regarding change.
This gives us some interesting data – in addition to Meron’s greed, we’ve now been told that coal can be used as a heat source, which may suggest that the fire temperatures available to smiths is hotter than would normally be expected of a medieval pastiche limited to wood-fired forges, but also that either wood is plentiful enough everywhere (not likely, because Thread, at least right now) or that there’s a really good reason to spread the wood around to the inhabitants (cost savings, we’re told, because coal fires are expensive to purchase, and goodwill from commoners to their Lord).
After being assured the area is clear, F’lar heads home, to find Lessa barreling down the steps to him at high velocity, reminiscent of how their child (O hai, we can haz kids nao, apparently) does, so as to treat his injuries, which offends F’lar’s sense of macho tough-it-out, but he’s overridden by Mnementh’s desire to not piss off his mate. Lessa frets about injuries and protective gear (note to self, increase technology level available to Pern if protective eye lenses made of glass are being thought of), and then we find out what’s really on her mind.
“Which is just as well because if he doesn’t stop raiding Holds for new lovers, we won’t be able to foster all the babies. Those holdbred girls are convinced it’s evil to abort.” She stopped short, set her lips in the thin line F’lar had finally catalogued as Lessa veering away from a tough subject.
“Lessa! No, don’t look away.” He forced her head up so she had to meet his eyes. She who couldn’t conceive must find it hard, too, to help terminate unwanted pregnancies. Would she never stop yearning for another child? How could she forget she had nearly died with Felessan? [their child] He’d been relieved that she had never quickened again.
This almost deserves the cocowhat, just on the principle that Sith Lady Lessa has apparently become something utterly alien to her previous self, a lot more submissive and apparently interested in children and doting on her mate, like someone in a rom-com who has built up their career and then is mysteriously seized with an overriding desire to settle and have kids, based on some random event. F’lar, as we see, hasn’t necessarily mellowed out in his control phase, forcing Lessa to look at him while she’s trying to process her feelings. We do note that he’s managed to clear the extremely low bar of not shaking her violently to get her to agree with him, so a very tiny “about fucking time” for that.
Also, the Thread falling…the one that will uncaringly consume organic material…you think that might affect attitudes toward children a touch, if it’s possible your lover could be killed by a wandering parasite on any given day? I don’t have data, but I wonder what attitudes toward children and having children are like in warzones versus peacetime versus military culture.
F’lar is secretly glad Lessa has not gotten pregnant. Because kids totally harsh his…no, wait, kids are raised communally. Because it messes with his macho image…no, it seems more like dragonrider culture values having lots of lovers and lots of kids from those lovers. Because Lessa nearly died? Yes, but there’s something that seems subtly wrong with that idea, and I think it’s because the culture laid out in the Weyrs shouldn’t lend itself to either monogamy or caring about childbirth. But then F’nor’s offhand remark in Chapter One about women flocking to them because they won’t be permanently pregnant stops making sense, and…grah. This scene reads off, not just because Lessa seems downright Stepford Wife, but because the culture-as-established would suggest none of these issues that are suddenly important to Lessa would actually be important. Seven years in the Weyr, if it can change Lessa this much, should probably also have changed her ideas and operating philosophies away from Hold culture to Weyr culture. It’s a mess, and I can’t untangle it satisfactorily at this point in the chapter.
This scene, the narrative assures us, is touching and romantic nonetheless, and shows us that F’lar cares tremendously about Lessa. Not enough to actually give her space or to respect her opinions on subjects, but he cares, and that’s good enough for the narrative. Which is why we’re not supposed to notice him going straight back to old habits, shaking Lessa once when he sees Lessa calculating on how to get the time-skipped Weyrs on board with modernity. Any small cookies you received from earlier are revoked, F’lar. And, oh, look, T’ron is arriving as a convenient distraction!
T’ron is ready to berate F’lar for missing important things with regard to the timetables the dragonriders have been using to anticipate where and when Thread will fall (by virtue of being able to study a record 450 Turns before F’lar would have initially encountered it, which wouldn’t be cheating at all, now would it?) and to do some macho dick-swinging when Lessa calls in both riders for a hot drink. And then proceeds to shamelessly flatter and manipulate T’ron into revealing his data without the penis-fencing. Maybe Sith Lady Lessa isn’t gone, after all, and she’s running a long con on F’lar with her newly-demure self. Or Lessa fully appreciates what kind of power she can wield by playing the part of a weak woman. Either way, this is encouraging for me, even if I’m not sure what the narrative thinks of this.
F’lar is able to push through his idea of worldwide communications, using signal fires the Holds used to communicate intruders as flares to indicate Thread, with young riders providing overwatch to spot the signals when they light up. And, because F’lar always gets what he wants, a messenger interrupts the meeting with news of another unexpected Threadfall, with the Weyrleader in that area injured in fighting the Thread and then knocked out through the application of too much numbweed salve before he could send more word. Lessa gets F’lar out of running to help with even more flirting, and then returns to demonstrate that Sith Lady Lessa isn’t gone at all.
“By the Egg, Weyrleader,…
Wait, we have oaths now? What is it with all this new content without context? We could use at least a little bit of a handwave here, instead of being expected to just not notice.
“…you astonish me. Why can’t there be deviations? Because you, F’lar, compiled these Records and to spite the Oldtimers they must remain infallible? Great golden eggs, man, there were such things as Intervals when no Threads fell – as we both know. Why not a change of pace in Threadfall itself during a Pass?”
“But why? Give me one good reason why.”
“Give me one good reason why not! The same thing that affects the Red Star so that it doesn’t always pass close enough to cast Thread on us can pull it enough off course to change Fall! The Red Star is not the only one to rise and set with the seasons. There could be another heavenly body affecting not only us but the Red Star.”
Lessa shrugged impatiently. “How do I know? I’m not long in the eye like F’rad. But we can try to find out. Or have seven full Turns of certainty and schedule dulled your wits?”
“Now, see here, Lessa…”
Suddenly, she pressed herself close to him, full of contrition for her sharp tongue.
And thus, F’lar falls prey to the same manipulation Lessa used on the other Weyrleaders – make a strong an excellent point, then distract them from it so they can’t raise objections, allowing it to work into their brains until they accept it or come up with something better. Maybe even with a little mental push that’s better covered because the boys are too busy ogling. Lessa has learned to play the game of Patriarchy, and is now busily figuring out how to twist all the boys around her finger, since she’s learned the direct route doesn’t work.
Also, Lessa demonstrates her signature ability here: F’lar may understand orbits and models, but Lessa understands astrophysics, because she’s smarter than everyone else. (Advanced scientific knowledge! Still dangerous to give birth. What the fuck kind of place is this world?) It’s nice having a brilliant protagonist, but it’s really a pain to have to wade through all of this other crap to get to that conclusion, and the narrative still wants us to sideline Lessa in favor of the men. Hopefully, this changes soon.
The chapter ends with F’lar intending for a much better communications and transport system for Pern (a dragon and rider at every Hold), and Lessa heading to bed, knowing F’lar, Masterharper Robinton, and Mastersmith Fandarel will talk long into the morning while the two Mastercraftsmen drink F’lar under the table.