Last time, the narrative gave us a Two Minutes Hate with regard to Kylara and Meron, but also, fire-lizard eggs hatched and presumably, Kylara and Meron both got one.
Dragonquest: Chapter VII: Content Notes: Subtle Sexism
Chapter VII opens with a trip to see Fandarel – the blacksmith Terry from the opening chapter is hale, hearty, and entirely sleep-deprived, just like F’lar. Who ignores the news from F’nor about fire-lizards before knowing what it was. We get confirmation the Mastersmith does have a sense of humor and a demonstration of a loudspeaker for communication in the Crafthall.
Wait, what? For a medieval pastiche, we have telegraph wires and devices, and an interoffice communication system, which no doubt requires some amount of transmission of audio over a wire. If it weren’t for the dragons, we’d be firmly in steampunk territory with Pern. As it is, it’s now really quite the mishmash of technology and feudal obligations, and the clash is starting to grind, because the technology already being deployed would easily adapt to a military use in case the subjects decided they didn’t want to serve under awful Lord Holders. With Thread falling outside, it would be easy to arrange an “accident” where an unpopular Lord would be outside his Hold, with no way back in and the rain coming. Get the assistance of a dragonrider and you’re all set. Of course, you still have to deal with the dragonriders if you want a proper democratic entity, even if you can flamethrower your liege at any time.
Then comes the distance-writer demonstration. Fandarel explains the chemistry: metal-acid reaction produces energy, which both drives the machine and allows the messages to be sent either or both of the two places the wires have been run to. To engage the system, acid from the telegraph arm presses on litmus, making marks and sending the electric signal to the destination, Or received electric signals actuate the arm and print messages from the other locales. During the demonstration, Lessa accidentally touches the paper, drawing a quip from F’lar about her acidity in word and deed. Leesa invites F’lar to try the same trick in response.
Mostly, though, this entire interlude serves to tell me the only way to figure out what sort of time period, or even type of novel, we’re in… is to say “oh, fuck this” and stop trying to figure it out. Because the presence of electricity, even if it is DC, should mean a lot of possibilities just opened up for the Smiths to explore. Anyway, over a meal, we find that telegraph communication is not quite that easy, even if it is faster-than-dragon (which it really isn’t, because dragons can time-travel and arrive in time for someone to get the message as it is dispatched) because constructing appropriate wire (which is being strung above ground for now) is difficult and the Holders are more interested in weapons than logistics.
At least, until Lessa tastes the food, at which point, the saboteur of Fax’s dinners declares a need for a better kitchen staff.
Lessa had taken a sip of the klah and barely managed to swallow the acid stuff. The bread was lumpy and half-baked, the sausage within composed of huge, inedible chunks, yet both Terry and Fandarel ate with great appetite. Indifferent service was one matter; but decent food quite another.
“If this is the food he [the local Lord Holder] barters you for flamethrowers, I’d refuse,” she exclaimed. “Even the fruit is rotten.”
“What’s your wife’s name?” [Lessa asked]
“Lessa,” F’lar repeated, more urgently.
“No wife,” the Smith mumbled,…
“Well, even a headwoman ought to be able to manage better than this.”
Terry cleared his mouth to explain. “Our headwoman is a good enough cook but she’s so much better at bringing up faded ink on the skins we’ve been studying that she’s been doing that instead.”
“Surely one of the other wives…”
Terry made a grimace. “We’ve been so pressed for help, with all these additional projects,…that anyone who can has turned crafter…”
Lessa declares she’ll send over some of her excess women to cook, under strict orders nor to get engaged in crafting, and thunders off to make a proper pot of klah.
Which conveniently leaves the men to discuss manly matters. I have to say, though, this is a nice call back to Lessa’s previous life as a kitchen drudge involved in food preparation. It conjures an image of the recently-made Weyrwoman, many years ago, confronting the kitchen staff about technique and spicing and making sure that the food she was served would always be high-quality. But it also subtly reinforces the idea that cooking is women’s work. Lessa runs down the people who should be cooking – a wife, a headwoman, excess women in her Weyr. No suggestion made for the men to handle their cooking, in case there’s someone with an aptitude.
Actually, the Smthcrafthall is doing some interesting things regarding equality. Fandarel’s quest for efficiency provides excellent cover for getting women and others who might be stuck in a role they don’t like or aren’t the best at to change and do what they’re good at in service of the Craft, putting the best people to work on things. If his ideas escape his Crafthall and get in to others…
…which might be something F’lar is about to help with the pollination of, suggesting that the Masterharper could send copy scribes to help with the transcription of old Records, freeing up some personnel to go back to their Smithcraft. Terry espouses a view that knowledge should be preserved for all, a position that I applaud, and the Mastersmith thinks the scribes could be delivered by dragon for maximum efficiency and speed. Terry is thankful for the extra help, and expresses both his thanks and his assessment of what it’s like to work with the time-skipped Weyrs.
“I see it this way, and I’ve seen riders from every Weyr by now. The Oldtimers have been fighting Thread since their birth. That’s all they’ve known. They’re tired, and not just from skipping forward in time four hundred Turns. They’re heart-tired, bone-tired. They’ve had too much rising to alarms, seen too many friends and dragons die, Threadscored. They rest on custom, because that’s safest and takes the least energy. And they feel entitled to whatever they want. Their minds may be numb with too much time between, though they think fast enough to talk you out of anything. As far as they’re concerned, there’s always been Thread. There’s nothing else to look forward to. They don’t remember, they can’t really conceive of a time, of four hundred Turns without Thread. We can. Our fathers could, and their fathers. We live at a different rhythm because Hold and Craft alike threw off that ancient fear and grew, in other ways and other paths, which we can’t give up now. We exist only because the Oldtimers lived in their Time and in ours. And fought in both Times. We can see a way out, a life without Thread. They knew only one thing and they’ve taught us that. How to fight Thread. They simply can’t see that we, that anyone, could take it just one step further and destroy Thread forever.”
“I hadn’t seen the Oldtimers in just that light,” he [F’lar] said slowly.
And that, F’lar, is why you’re the figurehead. You get to play the translator role between modernity and the time-skipped, and, assuming you don’t let your ego get in the way, you’ll be the one who can forge the understanding and help bring around the others to the new reality. After Terry finishes, Lessa enters with the pot of klah, and the spell is broken, but not without a geater understanding. How long did MCU Captain America have to spend acclimating himself to the idea that he had lost sixty years of time? Or Aang, having been frozen in ice for a hundred years? Change is painful, even for those who live through it. Hiw much more painful it must be to have had a complete change happen without you being there to live it, or to get adjused to it? Time marches on, but for people invested in the past, it’s always a pain to have to let go.
Having increased their empathy and sympathy for the time-skipped Weyrs, F’lar reads F’nor’s message about fire-lizards. And for…the third time, I think, when someone mentions fire-lizards are Impressable, someone else asks if they can be trained as messengers. Either the narrative is tryig really hard to alert us to a plot point, or people on Pern have remarkably similar ideas about novelty. Lessa and F’lar decide they might want to explore Fort Weyr for more hidden rooms, and…all that empathy they had just obtained in the absract goes right out the window when having to consider the specifics of acually dealing with Mardra and T’ron. Ah, well, chapter’s over.