Dragonquest: All Aboard The Abuse Train

(by Silver Adept)

When we last left our protagonists, the fundamental constants of the Pernese universe had just been reconfirmed:

  1. Lessa is smarter than everyone.
  2. The narrative ensures F’lar gets what he wants.
  3. Lessa is clearly a Sith.

Dragonquest, Chapter IV: Content Notes: Misogyny, Domestic Abuse, Abuse Apologia

Chapter IV opens with the first chance to see the world from Kylara’s perspective. Kylara, the queen rider that Lessa is intensely jealous of, F’nor cannot stand after prolonged exposure to her intense vanity, and that F’lar would secretly enjoy having sex with, if he could somehow make it work with Lessa. Kylara is supposed to be vain and indiscriminate with her sexual favors – the latter half I would assume comes from Weyr culture, but we’re supposed to view her as slutty because she has a queen, I guess? Mardra is also described as being indiscriminate as a bad thing, so there’s probably a double standard here that hasn’t been explained. Anyway, the narrative wastes no time at all telling us that everyone’s assessment is spot-on, through Kylara staring at herself in a mirror in a red dress (hellooooo cultural sexuality marker!) and getting quite cross about bad hand stitching with Rannely, her Weyr matron, whom Kylara dismisses as being old and stupid based on the banalities that she talks about, like the appreciation of nature and the lack of care in clothing work. Just in case we were unsure about Kylara having redeeming qualities, we are then treated to a disdainful “I go where I please” in response to Rannely’s quite valid concern about the Weyrwoman disappearing without telling anyone where she’s gone. And a point-counterpoint of Kylara complaining about the ignominy of it all, being sent to the Southern Continent to start a new Weyr, when someone of her bloodline should be somewhere else, and Rannely doing her very best to yes-man all of those complaints, collect the offending dress, and get out. The way the scene reads, we might be expected to infer that Kylara also has a temper and will throw fits if she doesn’t get what she wants.

So now that we’re clear that Kylara is a horrible person and F’lar and Lessa were totally right to get rid of her…right up until we see that Kylara’s body is covered in bruises, and not the kind that one receives by accident. Rannely makes concerned noises, and wants to know if he did that to her. He is a person in a Hold, apparently. The conversation suggests that T’bor, one of the riders sent from Benden to found Southern, and its current Weyrleader [orig: time-skipped riders], might also be abusing her when he gets stinking drunk. Rannely offers the practical idea of staying away from him, but Kylara dismisses that idea with the same reasoning about how being Weyrwoman gives her unchecked freedom, and she doesn’t need advice from Rannely, anyway, which produces a fairly acid retort, confirming my suspicions that bronze and gold dragonriders not named Lessa seem to have issues with practical solutions to problems.

Also, however, that means that two of the three named gold dragonrider players in these stories so far are victims of domestic abuse (Mardra is still an unknown at this point). And that both of them have apparently responded to this abuse by entrenching themselves more firmly into the patriarchal systems that abuse them, give cover to their abusers, and encourage them to see each other as rivals and competitors, instead of as allies to fight the system. Since their queens are the only fertile dragons due to greens becoming sterile by eating firestone, they potentially have tremendous leverage – a queen that allowed no bronze to fly her would be seen as scandalous, but if all the queens refused to let the bronzes fly any of them, the negotiating table would eventually open up for them. That said, being strong against an abusive culture is peril-fraught. The problem usually gets worse for a long time before it gets better, so significant mental and physical fortitude would be needed to outlast the men working against them. It’s really difficult to achieve. So, ultimately, it’s Kylara, Lessa, and Madra’s choice about whether to fight or give in. The narrative, however, will constantly remind us that we’re supposed to think of the system as natural, and any excesses that system produces are the results of bad actors. Like our own culture does. The narrative is wrong.

Kylara continues looking at herself, whereupon we discover she has apparently had five children in her seventeen Turns at Southern and is proud of her still-flat belly. Or that she’s gotten pregnant five times and used the cold of hyperspace to abort them all – it’s not completely clear. We also get a hint as to who he may be – Lord Meron, who enjoys increasing his personal wealth by forcing his subjects to buy expensive coal for heating. Kylara believes she is looking for someone who appreciates her right, like F’lar. Prideth, her queen dragon, cuts off that line of inquiry with more pragmatism – she’s not going to contend with Ramoth over Mnementh. We learn that Kylara’s mother suffered from being used, abused, and discarded from the bed of a Lord Holder at Telgar, and that she was likely destined for the same if she hadn’t been diverted to the Weyr for the opportunity to stand for Prideth. (Also, Pride-th? Unsubtle hinting there about another of what Kylara’s flaws is.) So the cycle of abuse started before Kylara.

This is also a potential hint as to why Hold women might be throwing themselves at any dragonrider they can find – the possibility that they might get knocked up, abort, and then be left alone to help run the Weyr could be seen as a better life than being married off to an abuser that will expect her to be perpetually pregnant, raise the kids, and run the household. The calculus of abuse is never easy, but a lot of women will probably take the chance of “a little abuse and then a normal life” over “constant abuse and an early death”. Of course, it would be worlds better if, say, the men didn’t abuse, but that is most likely a lost cause.

Lest we garner empathy or sympathy for her, however, Kylara is sure to let us know that she wants to rule the world with Meron, and is categorically rude to T’bor, despite Prideth saying that he is devoted to her and wants to treat her well. She snaps at him, tells him to go find Brekke, one of the junior queenriders, to answer his questions, expresses her annoyance at Southern being the convalescence facility for Thread-injured riders, and digs at him that he’s only a second fiddle lover for Brekke, who apparently desperately wants F’nor in the same way T’bor desperately wants her (well, a nicer, more civilized version of her, anyway). She’s pleased at how well she can manipulate him…

…and that’s an uncomfortable parallel to what Lessa just did last chapter. I think we’re supposed to see Kylara as the person that wants to be Lessa, but is much more overt, brash, and clumsy in her manipulation attempts. As such, she also suffers the more obvious signs of her physical abuse. F’lar shakes, Meron strikes. We’re supposed to pity Kylara for reaching for what she can’t get and pretending to sophistication above her reality, but we’re not supposed to notice that Lessa did not escape unscathed from her own attempts to be direct, either.

We’re fucked, aren’t we? We’re not going to see a woman in this series who isn’t going to suffer horrible abuse at the hands of a (supposedly) loved one, are we?

So, Kylara dismisses Brekke as unsuitable for anyone based on being flat-chested and non-curvy, and believes that Lessa is far too much of a Stepford Wife now to notice that Kylara is planning to take over the world with Meron right out from under her. Regarding that opinion, see Constants of The Pernese Universe, #1 and #3. There’s no way Lessa doesn’t know, but being a Lady of the Sith, she’ll wait to see whether Kylara can actually pull off the plan before sending F’lar in to crush it. No sense revealing her hand too much.

We pick up with Brekke, who is a clearly gifted nurse and healer, tending F’nor’s knife wound as T’bor arrives, asking how many spots they have for the wounded. F’nor is concerned about Brekke spreading herself too thin by being both the de facto Weyrwoman, chief nurse, and adoptive foster to Mirrim. F’nor teases Brekke about how “men sent to Southern heal faster”, with a potentially lascivious undertone, which T’bor picks up on and responds to testily, having been wound up by Kylara before. F’nor suggests that perhaps Southern should stop being the hospital Weyr, which prompts Brekke, unbidden, to complain about Mardra’s leadership qualities in flying a wing, which is news to both of the other riders – apparently, ever since a wingleader was downed by Thread, Mardra’s been flying the upper realms with a flamethrower, which changes the dragon formation to protect her queen, resulting in quite a few serious injuries. Another case of female ambition being shown to have bad consequence. Kind of a running theme here, too, to the story’s detriment.

T’bor and F’nor discuss Kylara’s plan to make trouble at a wedding, her alliance with Meron, and the Threadfall pattern shift, to which F’nor is understandably distressed. After T’bor storms out, complaining that the precious timetables don’t include Southern, F’nor correctly-and-incorrectly reads Brekke’s interest in T’bor, gets upbraided by Brekke for even thinking about charging back into battle, and discovers that Brekke can do what Lessa does – hear other dragons, when Brekke asks him why he hasn’t responded to Canth, his brown. He also learns that Canth refers to Brekke by name, which indicates familiarity not normally accorded by dragons to humans, and rather than be scolded about withholding the variant Thread information from F’nor, Canth insists on a bath.

Which turns out to have far-ranging implications. So we’ll leave off here and pick up next time.


15 thoughts on “Dragonquest: All Aboard The Abuse Train

  1. alyson August 7, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    I always had the impression that what was being implied here was that Rannelly thought it was an abusive relationship, but that actually Kylara was into BDSM (of a not entirely safe and sane variety) and loved every minute of the activity that caused the bruises. And that this was also meant to be a sign of her as a Bad, Sinful, Fallen woman, because normal people have normal sex but SHE is jaded and has to do wicked, perverted things to find pleasure.

  2. genesistrine August 8, 2014 at 3:35 am

    @ alyson; I agree, both with the “Kylara prefers rough sex” and the “this is used to signify she’s an Extra-Bad Wicked Evil Slutty Slut” parts.

    (BTW, Silver Adept – T’bor’s not an Oldtimer; he’s the Benden rider who has a long-running fairly-steady relationship with Kylara – he’s named as the father of her son in Dragonflight before she impresses Prideth. It’s all these T’ names….)

    I’m not even sure about it being a valid concern about the Weyrwoman not saying where she’s going – wherever she’s going she’s going with a giant teleporting mobile phone; anyone who needs to get hold of her can ask a dragon or a rider to ask Prideth. The main whinge seems to be She’s Not Around To Do Her Job, and the Weyrwoman’s job, by and large, seems to be identical to Manora’s and the other headwomen bar the care and feeding of a queen dragon and hostessing for visiting Weyrleaders.

    Obviously the headwoman’s job is a vital job, but there’s not the faintest attempt to pick Weyrwomen with managerial skills or anything other than, “hey you’re cute wanna come see my weyr” so it’s hardly surprising some of them are crap at it – see that charming list of F’lar’s earlier on (Mardra: slutty and jealous; Kylara: slutty stirrer; Nadira of Igen: passive; Bedella of Telgar: stupid; Fanna of Ista; taciturn; Merika of the High Reaches: sour. They speak so well of you too, F’lar.) Though even then it’s personalities rather than skills; there’s no mention of how capable any of them are, though Telgar at least is about to live up to F’lar’s opinion.

  3. Silver Adept August 8, 2014 at 7:18 am

    @ genesistrine –

    Corrections always appreciated, thank you. Will get to other theory when I have more time.

  4. Silver Adept August 9, 2014 at 10:56 pm

    Okay, now there is time.

    The “Kylara likes rougher sex/BDSM” theory is plausible. Considering she likes to get T’Bor all wound up with some fairly aggressive “teasing”, maybe she’s a brat to him and to Meron. In Some Other Book, the mention of her mother’s abuse may have been a signifier that she was abused in such a manner as well, and that abuse made her develop her taste for “deviance”. Something like that would garner sympathy, though, and the narrative doesn’t want that.

    Kylara being a sinful woman for it only works if you discard what the narrative says the culture is and focus on what the narrative does and the other characters say and do. Which is basically the idea here. The narrative frames her with Lessa on one side, who was assertive and then goes subtle after her abuse, Mardra in her mostly same spot, who is now suffering disdain from being too masculine and aggressive, and Brekke on the demure, nonassertive end, who has not yet been attacked or abused by anyone. The narrative has a clear preference at this point.

    As for what the Weyrwoman’s job is, I think it’s supposed to be akin to the lady of a major castle or manor – keep track of the goods and their usage, keep the staff on their duties – so what Manora does, yes, but I always got the impression that Manora was head of the kitchen, first and foremost. Lessa and Kylara are theoretically in charge of the whole staff. Also, be available to entertain guests at a moment’s notice, be seen in public supporting her Weyrleader, and, of course, sex. So Kylara’s shirking the responsibilities that are designed to keep her in the Weyr at all times. Such a horrible woman she is, says the narrative.

  5. genesistrine August 10, 2014 at 4:07 am

    Well, some people use BDSM to help process abuse they’ve suffered, but some are just wired that way. Kylara could be either, and no less deserving of sympathy for a crappy childhood in a horrible society either way. Especially since she obviously can’t separate “being willing to hurt me because it gets me off” and “being an abusive arsehole”.

    It’s not just Meron and T’bor she’s a brat to – there’s a bit where F’nor wishes that queen riders could be spanked, and hey, F’nor, I get the distinct impression that you’d only have to ask. As I read it, she doesn’t know any other way to get what she wants other than finding men with short fuses she can wind up until they hit her or mating-flight sex every couple of years. But as you say, the narrative isn’t interested in having sympathy for Kylara. Every part of her description and behaviour is only meant to make us think BITCH WE HATE HER SHE DESERVES HORRIBLE THINGS.

    This also points up another weird loss of knowledge – there’s no psychology or psychotherapy in Pern. Of all places that would need lay therapists you’d think the one where everyone regularly has to crowd into caves together to avoid all-devouring horror falling from the skies, dragon mating-flights overhead can lead to indiscriminate uncontrollable sexual arousal and possible rape, and the majority of women live a life where every pregnancy is an inescapable potential death sentence would have kept some kind of Mindhealer or Listener or Sociodynamicist craft as an essential.

  6. genesistrine August 10, 2014 at 4:14 am

    Oops – and yes, I see; Manora is the boss of the kitchens (probably the quartermaster in effect, going by Silvina), but can’t command dragonriders, while Lessa can, as well as the figureheading.

  7. emmy August 10, 2014 at 10:53 am

    My opinions on what a weyrwoman does are somewhat informed by fanfic as well as canon, but I get the feeling there’s some more direct morale role as well. Even if the Weyrwoman can’t speak to all dragons directly, her queen can. The queen dragon is Mother and Desired Lover to all the dragons in the weyr (and during Benden’s long exile, mating with your mother/daughter was the only option). The queen dragon provides direct mental support/contact/control that can push other dragons to improve their performance or control their more ‘animal’ instincts’, which I think we get more sign of in Moreta. The weyrs don’t have psychology, but they may expect a queen to be able to intercede with troubled souls and soothe them with feminine wisdom.

    If you extrapolate from that, the Weyrwoman’s “job” is to be an idealised woman, to be nurturing and kind and motherly enough to look after all the dragons and riders, support and encourage them when they are ill, control them when they are naughty… and to be beautiful and desirable enough to motivate them to compete with each other for the honor of winning you in the mating flight, and to respect the man who does win you. Kylara’s “sin” in this system is shading too far to the Whore side without enough Madonna.

    The Weyrwoman is also the superior-in-hierarchy to the headwoman, and the one with more power to go out and interact with more far-flung locations if there’s a problem in the supply chain.

  8. bekabot August 10, 2014 at 10:59 pm

    The Weyrwoman is also the superior-in-hierarchy to the headwoman, and the one with more power to go out and interact with more far-flung locations if there’s a problem in the supply chain.

    The Weyrwoman was the one with more power to go out and interact with more far-flung locations — in Mardra’s day. In Lessa’s day, at least in the previous book, the Weyrwoman is as weyrbound as the headwoman, and mostly performs the same functions, except that she gets to talk to a dragon and take part in the draconic mating rituals. (Remember all the energy that’s devoted to keeping Ramoth on the ground in the first book and remember, also, that Lessa has to wait until F’lar is otherwise occupied before she dares take Ramoth out for a trial flight.) This behavior on the part of the male dragonriders doesn’t make much sense unless queens have become so rare during the Long Interval that no Weyrleader ever has the courage to risk any queen for any reason and also feels obliged to preserve each queen’s fertility for the benefit of his Weyr and his Weyr alone. So I assume that’s what happened. These two pressures in tandem would explain F’lar’s father’s actions, or lack thereof, and they’d also account R’gul’s tightfistedness. Plus, the previous Weyrwoman’s dragon is specifically mentioned as a light egg-layer, so there is that factor in addition to the rest. Everybody in the narrative blames the previous queen dragon’s scanty clutches on the previous Weyrwoman but it might just as easily not have been her fault — it might instead be that the dragons respond to no Threadfall with a deficit of eggs, which would be sensible of them.

    Conversely, there’s Lessa with Ramoth the champion egg-layer. Lessa is given credit for Ramoth’s fertility but, again, she may have had nothing to do with it. The dragons were genetically engineered to fight Thread. It would make sense for the queen dragons to respond to resurgent Threadfull by producing more eggs. So Ramoth’s huge clutches could be more due to Thread than to Lessa’s “correct” management of her.

    I too got the impression that Kylara is kinky when I read this book for the first time, and I wondered whether a preference like that might not prove useful when it comes to dealing with or channelling the rougher aspects of dragon mating. It could. The dragons choose their riders in the end, so although they usually only get to choose from among the candidates who are presented to them, the dragons, male and female both, must have been winnowing the human population out for certain characteristics, and they must have been doing it for centuries or millennia. Considered in that light, neither Kylara nor Meron is difficult to explain.

    @ emmy

    You make the Weyrwoman sound like the idealized lady of a medieval manor, something I don’t think is a coincidence.

  9. genesistrine August 11, 2014 at 2:24 am

    @emmy – That makes sense. I like the idea of the queens as a sort of Mother Confessor/empathic lightning conductor for the rest of the dragons. It could explain the lack of PTSD in dragons and riders, since the riders are emotionally linked to the dragons. (I know the canon reason is that dragons have short-term memories and forget about how much Threadscore hurts, but we’ve already seen a counterexample of Mnementh extrapolating from F’lar’s past behaviour and giving him time to calm down.)

    I’m a bit more dubious about the interceding with troubled souls in general, seeing that Prideth doesn’t seem able to do much for Kylara, nor the Oldtimer queens with the developing situation with the Oldtimers. Unless that’s down to Sith Lessa working for Team Thread, of course…. (ALL WILL BE DEVOURED.)

    Kylara’s sin – F’lar knew her behaviour when he was thinking she’d be an excellent Weyrwoman last book. From the beginning of this one Weyrwomen are allowed all the bronze rider lovers they want, so it looks like Kylara’s big step outside socially sanctioned promiscuity could have been taking non-Weyr lovers once she had her own dragon and could go where she wanted. As well as not staying in the Weyr being inspiring.

  10. Silver Adept August 11, 2014 at 9:02 am

    @ genesistrine –

    When the narrative and the other characters police Kylara’s choices in partners, there’s a district vibe that she’s sleeping below her station when she has sex with Meron, so at least one of her sins is sleeping outside the Weyr.

    A lack of psychologists for dragonriders makes sense, because their bond is so tight they can’t conceive of life without a dragon, and most riders that lose their dragons swiftly follow them into death. For the rest of the people, though, a lack of mental health services is a glaring omission. And probably would have been very useful for people we haven’t met yet.

    @ bekabot –

    I think I read elsewhere that the presence of absence of Thread does contribute to clutch size, although the canonical revelation of such may not come for a while.

    The idea of kinkiness as a selected-for adaptation is interesting, though, especially for the queens and greens. “You’re going to be subjected to many instances of rough sex while your partner is under the influence of their mating dragon. Oh, you like it this way? Then I’m choosing you, definitely.”

    Although Meron is regularly a jerk to everyone, so perhaps he’s the end product of to much selection for those traits. He’s also a Lord Holder, though, so presumably he’s not in the pool of people the dragons are trying to optimize. “Just” a colossal prick, which we’ll see more and more of as the books go by.

  11. bekabot August 11, 2014 at 11:26 am

    He’s also a Lord Holder, though, so presumably he’s not in the pool of people the dragons are trying to optimize.

    I mentioned Meron because there are some indications that the upper-crust of Hold society mingles with the Weyrs or the upper levels of the Weyrs on a fairly regular basis. Lessa keeps talking about how many Weyrwomen her Hold has provided to Benden in the past, and IIRC the narrative talks about it too. Lessa is probably only familiar with the history of her own Hold, so my guess is that she’s not the only one. For example, Kylara is a Lord Holder’s sister and, sure enough, she ends up as a Weyrwoman. I imagine that theoretically when the dragonriders are on search their job is to pick up anyone promising, no matter what their outer level or station, but in practice it can’t work that way; one of the first things F’lar does when he shows up at Lessa’s Hold is dismiss the drudges from consideration. The dragonriders eat at the high tables with the noble class and the upper class girls are the ones they’re going to get the best look at. Other Holder women are going to be busy, and besides, the upper-crust girls are going to be the best fed and the best educated. And besides that, their Lord Holder male relatives are the ones who are going to be (in charge of) producing what the dragonriders eat, so the dragonriders and Weyrleaders are going to cultivate relations with the Lord Holders to the best extent that they can. When F’lar runs into significant Lord Holder nonsense, as he views it, his response is to kidnap all the upper-crust Hold women he can find. A marriage on a world like Pern is going to be a softer version of the same condition: a Lord Holder’s sister or daughter or female cousin is out of his Hold and stashed in a Weyr where he can’t threaten her but can’t protect her either (and it occurs to me that a woman could meet with a lot of accidents in a Weyr). Weyrwomen before the Long Interval which precedes Lessa’s time are somewhat mobile, but during the Long Interval, that practice ceases. Given that situation Weyr which contains a noblewoman can count on being able to exercise some influence over her male relatives, unless they absolutely and completely don’t value her. So, disproportionately, upper-class Holder girls would be chosen for the Weyrs and through them the dragons might in the long run affect the genetics of a man like Meron (though he’s likely to be the last man on Pern who could ever handle a dragon).

    I think I read elsewhere that the presence of absence of Thread does contribute to clutch size, although the canonical revelation of such may not come for a while.

    I only read the first three books closely, though I skimmed some of the others, so everything I remember-for-certain is in the first three books.

  12. genesistrine August 11, 2014 at 11:56 am

    @bekabot (and Silver Adept): the first book states that Nemorth should have been rising twice a Turn for 10 Turns before the Pass began – this is from F’lar’s research into the old Records, so it should be reasonably reliable.

    Of course that she didn’t is presented as entirely Jora’s fault for being fat and lazy and disgusting and not-Lessa, but I wonder how much of that might be down to being the sole queen dragon on the planet – in the previous Intervals, even the long ones, all the Weyrs would have remained inhabited. As bekabot points out this leads to the Benden queen being permitted hardly any exercise for fear of injury, which can’t be healthy and presumably means the mating-flights have to be cut short (even more so if Jora let Nemorth feed uncontrolled), and it’s at least believed that longer flights lead to better clutches. It’s even possible that Nemorth died of old age – I don’t think we’re ever given her age; Jora could have been a generation or more older than F’lon, let alone F’lar.

    Re: Meron – he gets a mention during the Lords’ attempted attack on the Weyr as a jumped-up ex-Warder with no Blood at all; he’s most likely just some random abusive git rather than the result of possible draconic natural selection.

    (I’ve just started rereading the whole series; we’ll see if I can get past Moreta and Dragonsdawn this time – Moreta bored me too much to finish it, and Dragonsdawn made me give up on Pern entirely.)

  13. emmy August 11, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    I liked Moreta – it’s the first book in the series I remember where people are actually allowed to have the sort of freer relationships the books CLAIM are common to weyr life, without the narrative heavily judging them for it. That said it’s been ages since I reread it.

  14. bekabot August 11, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    @ genesistrine

    Sorry. I got Nabol mixed up with Telgar, and the brother mixed up with the boyfriend. My bad.

  15. genesistrine August 12, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    No problem – that’s Larad, right?

    It’s hard to tell the Lords apart – there are the Fine Upstanding Young Chaps Who Like Dragonriders, the Nervous Ones Who Complain To/About Dragonriders, and That Creepy One Who Nobody Likes And Isn’t A Proper Lord Anyway.

    And Lord Groghe, of course.

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