Dragonquest: Throwback Day

The more distance we can put between last chapter and where we are, the better.

Dragonquest, Chapter X: Content Notes: Genocidal intent

Chapter X begins with Masterharper Robinton getting dressed in formal clothes. Because there’s still a wedding for everyone to attend. Which has all sorts of horrible implications considering what’s happened last chapter. Three dragons appear to take the Masterharper to his destination, one from the Weyr that serves the Hold where the wedding is, one from the Weyr the Crafthall is protected by, and one from Benden, because F’lar has no intention of making Robinton feel slighted. The other two riders immediately argue about who gets to take the Masterharper, while the bronze rider from Benden politely waits and asks Robinton his preference. Robinton chooses the bronze and loads his backup band on the other two dragons.

After disembarking, Robinton thanks the dragon, Lioth, for the ride, and is startled to hear a reply. Perhaps Robinton has the potential to be a rider, too? (More likely, the dragons can talk to whomever they want, they just don’t normally do so.)

Through Robinton’s eyes, we get exposition. Mastercraftsmen are all here, the Weaver, Miner, Herder, Tanner, and Farmer seen immediately, and likely Fandarel around. We also get a little about how Holders trend to try and have lots of sons, so that one will hopefully meet with approval by the Conclave of Holders to succeed. They also have to approve the wedding that’s going on, and Holders practice the royal pastime of sending their children off to be fostered at other Holds and accepting other fosters. In our reality, that practice was a good way of making sure that lords didn’t go attacking and razing each other, as well as providing an outside perspective on running a kingdom. Also, possibly, exposure to potential marriage partners. Considering that we’re not that far away from Fax and other attempts by Holders to conquer each other, this was probably a practice swiftly reinstated to ensure some peace in the era of dragonrider power. If for no other reason than to try and keep the Holders united against the riders.

Lytol arrives with news – Fandarel isn’t there, and he fills in Robinton about the fire-lizards that Kylara brought, mentioning that Meron Impressed one. Then one of the Harper apprentices gives him the mood of the crowd with regard to Threadfall, and a rather curious convention that appears to be developing…

“For instance, they refer to ‘that Weyrleader’ meaning their own weyrbound leader. ‘The Weyrleader’ always means F’lar of Benden. ‘The Weyrleader’ had understood. ‘The Weyrleader’ had tried. ‘She’ means Lessa. ‘Her’ means their own Weyrwoman.”

Interesting. It seems like more than just F’lar is noticing the differences, now.

And speaking of “The Weyrleader”, he and Lessa arrive, resplendent and looking good… right until Kylara arrives and basically blows dust and wind into their entrance by flying Prideth on a buzzing pass and having Prideth have to backwing to avoid hitting things. Then Kylara and Meron make their entrance, with their fire-lizards perched, ready to steal F’lar and Lessa’s thunder… and F’lar and Lessa steal it right back by presenting the couple-to-be-married with their own eggs to hatch and Impress. Which works right up until Kylara lets slip that her fire lizard ate Thread.

And then, all hell breaks loose. For a short while, anyway, as the plot demands the Conclave of the Holders to meet. While that happens, Robinton receives another dragon-message, right before a dragonrider arrives with the same message. Which means Robinton steps into the middle of Kylara explaining how she knew the fire-lizard eats Thread – an out-of-phase Threadfall, where Kylara couldn’t convince T’kul to summon the wings, and so she had to use Prideth to summon them instead. After preening a bit from well-deserved praise, the Weyrleaders and Lessa conspire to keep Kylara away from the party, using one of Robinton’s apprentices to keep her occupied. So that they can demonstrate the distance-writer with Fandarel, officially, but most likely also to keep Kylara from sparking something off. Presumably, since F’lar is basically walking on eggshells to try and pull this gambit off, he wants as few uncontrolled variables as possible. Kylara certainly counts as variable.

Fandarel finishes hooking up the device and sends a test message before all the dragons indicate a great disturbance at the Conclave. One of the ancient rooms in Fort Weyr has produced a telescope, and T’ron has gazed upon the surface of the Red Star. Before we can get to that significance, though, the telegraph indicates another out-of-phase Threadfall, right before a dragonrider arrives to confirm. Which creates a full-scramble situation, right until T’ron plants himself in F’lar’s way and makes the most Idiot Ball-enabled declaration I have seen from him yet.

“Since when has Benden Weyr concerned itself with Igen and Ista?…And rushed to Nabol’s aid?”

“Thread falls, dragonman. Igen and Ista fly winglight, with riders helping at Telgar Weyr. Should we feast while others fight?”

“Let Ista and Igen fend for themselves!”

Cocowhat by depizan

You have got to be kidding me. A Weyrleader is willing to let people die because…well, apparently, he’s had enough of F’lar being the one everyone is talking about, with his modern notions and willingness to help everyone. So he picks a fight, in the middle of a meeting of the Holders, whole dragonriders are trying to respond to a Threadfall, and goes after F’lar with his belt knife. Unlike his brother, who was caught by surprise when a Fort dragonrider pulled a belt knife on him, F’lar is ready, gives T’ron as much time to abort as possible, and then gives him a fight. Unlike Fax, however, T’ron is still in fighting trim. F’lar is able to deduce the reason for T’ron fighting him publically – to silence him and prevent him from bringing the other Oldtimers to bear on T’kul abandoning Kylara and land to Thread – which, by the way, isn’t a very good strategy, hinging everything on one fight.

There’s no guarantee that the others will fall in line if F’lar dies, there’s no guarantee that the next Weyrleader won’t be just as compassionate and headstrong, and there’s no guarantee the Lords Holder and the Mastercrafters, who are witnessing this, won’t turn completely on T’ron. And, of course, there’s the possibility that T’ron could lose. Now, if T’ron were, say, goaded into it through the mental abilities of one Sith Lady while angered at the Red Star, that would at least have precedent. So, until the text directly contradicts me, I’m going to say Lessa had a mind in this.

In any case, if we weren’t supposed to see how this fight is similar to the one against Fax, the way it proceeds is much the same – lighter, faster F’lar gets taken by surprise to start by how good his opponent is, recovers quickly, manages to talk about the politics while fighting for his life, goes in for a solid hit, finds himself on the receiving end of a much more solid hit to the abdomen, is saved from his death by luck (although in this case, it seems more like Lessa has figured out the telekinetic part of the Force and is able to push T’ron’s strike aside just enough), and takes advantage of the opportunity to stick his knife such that it grates on the ribs. T’ron dies, and after a Bond One-Liner, F’lar intends to fight Thread. He’s not in fighting gear, though, so he moves to collect the nearest set by trying to strip T’ron’s corpse of his gear. Unsurprisingly, Mardra tries to fight him off, because T’ron is still dead and what F’lar is doing looks suspiciously like desecration of a corpse.

Oh, wait, T’ron isn’t dead, because his dragon hasn’t taken a suicide flight. So it’s totally okay to strip him of his stuff now. Instead, we get one of those movie scenes where, after having beaten the Big Bad, or his seemingly-invincible lieutenant, the hero shouts “Who’s with me?” and everyone joins in, naming themselves one by one until it’s a cacophony of alliances. So, really, its just the narrative grandstanding a bit while it gives F’lar everything he wants. Even when F’lar really says that anybody not with him can be exiled to the Southern Weyr. Then F’lar rides off to fight Thread, while Lessa stays behind to manage people, specifically Mardra. Still can’t be giving Lessa credit or glory, even though she might have provoked this whole thing.

And this would be a crowning moment in any other book… except we’re not even halfway through. Clearly T’ron can’t have been the real villain of this book. It’s a bit of a thing in these books so far to have big fights early on.

After fighting Thread, F’lar muses on how awful it was for the telegraph to have worked, but failed because Thread hit the wire and severed it. (See? Bury the wires to have a better chance. Strange that nobody thought that might happen when they have to fight an airborne menace regularly. Fandarel, however, learns from his mistakes and has plans to reinforce or bury the wires for the next incarnation.) Over the careful and tender ministrations of Lessa, we find that Mardra made a stand to stay, but “her arrogance and shrewishness” left her bereft of support, and so she accepted exile. Given the narrative’s track record regarding punishing Weyrwomen, I wonder what Mardra actually did that brought the wrath of the narrative. Asserting her power too strongly, maybe? In any case, since Mardra goes to Southern, Kylara wants to go to Fort and be its Weyrwoman. That can’t happen, because narrative fiat, but Kylara does get the High Reaches Weyr, and one of the other Weyrwomen candidates at Fort will take over, so as to leave the least amount of feathers ruffled as possible.

And then we find out that Southern is intended as a prison and for all the dragonriders there to have their lines die out, because none of the queens there will likely produce any more eggs, and especially not queens. Which runs a bit of a chill up the spine, because either F’lar is a better planner than previously thought (not likely – the narrative thrives on his luck. Also, Lessa.) or is really good at thinking on his feet to take advantage of opportunities (much more likely). Either way, it makes F’lar a strong antagonist to any women who want to escape the narrative’s insistence on gender and sex roles.
Here’s hoping someone gets out without suffering greatly.

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19 thoughts on “Dragonquest: Throwback Day

  1. Only Some Stardust September 25, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    ‘The other two riders immediately argue about who gets to take the Masterharper, while the bronze rider from Benden politely waits and asks Robinton his preference. Robinton chooses the bronze’
    – of courseeee they do, and of course he does.

    I find it odd to believe that after all this time, no one has asked dragons if they can talk to whoever they want. Then again these are Pernese.

    Tthere’s something really creepy about preventing people you don’t like from breeding. Even if it’s really dragons and not people here, it’s still much the same because they need dragons for their way of life. This has to be the closest to -and really is- an act of genocide I’ve ever seen in a ‘heroic’ character. I mean, a weyr worth of people you send off to get rid of, who you deliberately look to have die off (even if of old age or thread) so they can’t spread traditions and ideas you don’t agree with: that’s genocidal. I don’t know if I can recall any other ‘good guy’ protagonist in works I’ve read that went so far. Even Luke Skywalker killing a million storm troopers is really not the same (the stormtroopers were trying to kill planets, he wasn’t looking to destroy stormtrooper culture, just stop a death weapon).

    He’s really the absolute worst. Although, I do have to admit that his enemies are all too dumb to live, but that’s because they were written that way.

    As a kid, most of the subtlety went over my head, but I’m pretty sure I disagreed. I didn’t pay a great deal of attention obviously, because I remember being confused later that the Southern were (minor, predictable spoiler) so adamant about getting a new gold. I think I wondered ‘Hey, why can’t everyone just share??’ Probably right around the moment I lost interest in reading the series, I just wasn’t following it or keeping interest. The actions of the protagonists and antagonists were too alien to me, I suppose. I felt kind of guilty that I found this popular series to be so boring, especially with such an interesting premise, so this decon is kind of reassuring. It wasn’t just me – the villains really were flat and the heroes really were jerks!

  2. genesistrine September 26, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    Note that it’s specifically sons that inherit, and only ones the Lord Holders en masse approve. More and more I want to read the alt-fic where Lessa told F’lar to sod off and kept Ruatha, and has to politick and mind-control her way to being (and staying) the first Lady Holder in her own right.

    Re the linguistics, eh? Her came to the Weaverhall and demanded five yards of our best brocade? Lessa took she dragon to visit Ruatha? It just doesn’t work with pronouns, unless you want to sound like a yokel cliche.

  3. genesistrine September 28, 2014 at 6:05 am

    Bluntly, I think genocide is overstating it. They’ve got descendants. All those queens who are young enough to breed and decided not to go to Southern are their descendants, for starters.

    It would be interesting to know their reasons for staying – did the younger generation broadly agree with Benden policies? Were they just thinking they’d get a leg up the status ladder with older riders gone? Were they just glad to get rid of the creepy old gits in charge? (And get all-new creepy young gits most likely, but eh….)

  4. depizan September 28, 2014 at 11:57 am

    So he picks a fight, in the middle of a meeting of the Holders, while dragonriders are trying to respond to a Threadfall, and goes after F’lar with his belt knife.

    I don’t quite understand why he doesn’t just get dogpiled and stuffed in a cell to be sorted out after the emergency is over. No one should want him to win, or give him a chance to win. His statements are against the only legitimacy that the dragonrider protection racket/rulership has.

    Though F’lar exiling everyone against him to the Southern Weyr seems like not only a dickish thing to do to the Southern Weyrfolk, but seems likely to come back and bite him in the butt. He’s giving his enemies every reason to attempt to sneak back and steal queen eggs and to plot against him. Good job. You’re hugging the Idiot Villain Ball nearly as tightly as T’ron was.

  5. genesistrine September 28, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    @ depizan; I don’t quite understand why he doesn’t just get dogpiled and stuffed in a cell to be sorted out after the emergency is over.

    He has a dragon! Don’t make him use it!

    As for the rest, F’lar is, to be fair, low on options at this point – as we’ve previously remarked, it’s hard to make someone who has a giant flying flamethrower that loves them do something they don’t want to. T’ron’s just broken the prohibition on duelling, and T’kul and his entire Weyr would have done nothing during a Threadfall if Kylara hadn’t overridden him. And this all comes out in front of every Lord Holder and Craftmaster on the planet. This is a HUGE crisis, even without off-timetable Threadfall.

    Both of them have to be dealt with fast and thoroughly before the Lord Holders kick off; they can’t be permitted to stay in power. Exiling them and their supporters to the South does this without bloodshed or berserk/suiciding dragons and reassures the Holders that no-one’s going to allow uncontrolled Threadfall. It’s storing up problems for the future, sure, but at that point it seems to be the least worst solution.

  6. depizan September 28, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    Yeah, I guess F’lar is in a tough spot.

    But T’ron and T’kul seem to be villains just to be villains. Not that villainy isn’t a popular go-to on Pern.

    And if it’s safe to duel someone without their dragon attacking, even after you win. It should be just as safe to bonk someone over the head. (Which, I guess, is what F’lar eventually did.) I mean a lot of shit has gone down involving dragonriders getting hurt or fighting each other without their dragons getting involved. (Perhaps the dragons exert some pressure to make sure that dragons behave unless their rider is actually killed?)

  7. depizan September 28, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Though, honestly, at this point, if I were the Holders and Crafters, I’d be thinking long and hard about inventing a poison that killed dragons off nice and quiet like.

  8. Only Some Stardust September 28, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    I guess I was a little over-eager to hate on F’lar (he’s, well, very hateable.)

    Exile I suppose is preferable to killing off valuable but rebellious dragonriders. My memory of the books are pretty foggy at this point too. I guess I’m a little unclear, is it a entire weyr rebelling and refusing to flame thread here or just the leader? If it’s just him, well, it shouldn’t be too big of a problem because the weyr could just go off and flame thread without him. I know I’d rebel against my weyrleader in such a situation. If it’s the whole weyr not wanting to flame thread, I’m amazed.

    It does seem kind of weird they’d be so eager to duel (villain ball by T’ron I suppose). If you have a giant beast you love dearly who will die if you do, wouldn’t you think twice before leaping into fights? Maybe develop some kind of contingency method where you have your dragon sit on anyone who threatens you, which neatly stops any dueling?

  9. genesistrine September 29, 2014 at 4:59 am

    @depizan: I’d worry about the possibility of his dragon freaking out if it suddenly lost contact with him. OK, there’s a ton of queen and bronze dragons around that could theoretically coerce or dogpile it, but that could still get really nasty, even fatal. Trying to talk him down would be the best option, though of course F’lar, being F’lar, decides to sneer and goad instead….

    Yeah, between dragonriders and Thread the third way of inventing dragon poison and hydroponics and holing up in Holds for the next 40 years is very tempting.

    @Only Some Stardust: According to Kylara, she saw oncoming unexpected Thread in T’kul’s catchment area, but he didn’t believe her and refused to call out his Weyr. There’s no way in TRADIIITION! to demote or replace a Weyrleader for dereliction of duty, so I guess T’ron is going for “kill F’lar and everyone else will fall into line OR ELSE” fix rather than having to come up with a solution that’ll satisfy everyone.

  10. Silver Adept September 29, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    I’m also waiting for the fic where Lessa is just holding on to Ruatha against an increasingly better-armed group that feels she is bringing doom and Thread upon them.

    This whole situation makes no sense, except perhaps as a power play that wasn’t thought though properly. If T’ron stabs and kills, then he has to deal with Lessa and the alliances she’s going to make to exercise her power too make T’ron miserable and freeze him out of his own Weyr, assuming Ramoth doesn’t just kill him outright. If he wounds, same problem. It’s like someone felt the right with Fax wasn’t done right and felt on the second run that it would be better.

    The exile decision will come back and bite, but it’s the best of a bad one, I’m guessing, because nobody wants to see a dragon civil war.

  11. Pebblerocker September 29, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    F’lar and T’ron are trading insults instead of rushing off to protect people from Thread. They’re both aiming to kill in the duel, which will lead to the death of a valuable fighting dragon. “But T’ron started it!” is a pretty poor reason for all the watching Holders and Crafters to cheer F’lar for winning. I feel disgusted with both of them for prioritising their internal squabbles over people’s lives* and they seem both as bad as each other. T’ron may have been shirking his responsibilities but F’lar has just staged a coup and placed himself as Great Dictator, above Hold and Craft and every other Weyr, with hardly any dissent; even with Robinton’s backing I’m baffled that the general mass of spectators just swallowed it without a murmur.

    *Very convenient that they can pop back in time and deal with Thread without having to cut short the macho act.

  12. Only Some Stardust October 3, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    See, here’s my confusion! I keep having this mental image of Kylara, after he refuses to call his weyr, doing it for him. Are these people really so hidebound with TRADITION!!! that not a single one of his weyr would go, ‘hey, it is also TRADITION to fight thread, I better go even if my weyrleader is an ass?’ How does he not get a massive mutiny on his hands? How would he even stop a mutiny if it rose, ask really nicely for people with teleporting dragons not to teleport away? Or is this weird classist ‘only a bronze can talk to a bronze!’ shitanoozle nonsense? In which case she could ask Lessa.

    It would have been a really awesome twist to have Kylara playing the hero and saving the day, leading out the weyr to fight thread, but the narrative chose not to go with that. It didn’t even go with ‘she tried and failed because his entire weyr decided to support him instead’.

  13. genesistrine October 4, 2014 at 2:28 am

    That’s pretty much exactly what she does do. She sees oncoming Thread, goes to tell T’kul, who says something along the lines of, “it’s not scheduled, go away stupid woman,” so she gets Prideth to call up the entire Weyr , grabs a flamethrower and rides out with the queens’ wing. Off-page, because AM forbid we see a DESIGNATED NASTY SLUT! be heroic.

    And then she gets a grudging pat on the head from F’lar for it because he thinks she’ll kick off if he doesn’t give her some praise.

    The big mystery is why pretty much the entire High Reaches Weyr follows T’kul into exile two chapters later. Are they so demoralized that the sweet life of lying around eating fruit and ignoring Threadfall seems – what am I saying? Who wouldn’t go for that! Plus from what T’bor reports later they’ve evidently been neglecting Threadfalls for a while.

    I do wonder if the lack of people leaving Fort Weyr has anything to do with Lessa though. Presumably she went along to “help” Mardra with T’ron, so maybe there was a bit of mindshoving going on, just to keep in practice….

  14. Silver Adept October 4, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    I think we’re supposed to see Kylara riding out as the ultimate perversion of order, with a queen rider (whose primary job should be making sure the queen dragon makes babehs) not only fighting at dangerous altitudes, but is leading the charge. (Someone, either Kylara or Lessa, got chewed out earlier for flying at dangerous altitudes and pulling dragons out of formation to protect her) The all-men flying army, following a woman? Scandalous! (Considering how the narrative has treated Brekke for merely suggesting that a woman could ride a fighting dragon, I dint think this is too far from the mark.)

    Also, time-traveling dragons. There’s been a vague handwave about existing in too many places at once, but presumably, all errant Threadfall can be handled as the first one was – pop back in time to the right place and flame on. Use a different Weyr if the Timey-Wimey Ball doesn’t like people to close to each other.

  15. genesistrine October 4, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    Mardra was the one leading a fighting wing, and getting dragons hurt because they were trying to protect a queen and fight Thread at the same time. Kylara just joined the queens’ wing; the low-altitude mopup squad considered suitable for ladies. Which, incidentally, in DF seems to include queenriders from all the Weyrs, yay for female solidarity!, but by DQ’s time seems to be every Weyr for itself. Must be a pretty small wing, with only 3 or 4 queens per Weyr….

    I find it sourly funny how the narrative does its damndest to minimise what she did. “Yes, she overrode T’kul, called up the Weyr and went out with them to make sure they did it right, but look how smug and braggy she’s being about it, wanting praise and all that, rather than being properly girl-heroic and modest and getting shaken and told never to do it again ew she’s soooo hateful guys”.

  16. Only Some Stardust October 4, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    aww. Poor Kylara gets way too much hate. That should have been on-page even if it was ‘perverse’; when someone does something interesting, even if it’s ~villainous~ like a woman daring to go saving babies and livestock, you show it!

    So I guess her standing up is yet another thing that is supposed to make us cheer for her comeuppance at a later date?

    Anyway, I wish she’d gone with a dragon civil war. That would be an interesting plot!

  17. Pebblerocker October 4, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    She could have been a protagonist – the brave queenrider exiled by a leadership who wanted her out of the way, the woman who ran an entire makeshift Weyr cut off from the world by time displacement as well as geography (thanks to her excellent delegation skills), hero of the unexpected Threadfall who led the wings into battle herself, and originator of a new initiative to bring about increased rapport between ordinary folk and dragonriders by searching out and distributing firelizard eggs (instead of reserving them to dragonriders and Weyr personnel, as would otherwise be the case). Kylara could have had some good stories from her POV… and given the level of ethical behaviour typical of most McCaffrey protagonists, her actions wouldn’t need toning down at all; skip harping on her every flaw and paint things in a less hostile light and she’d be just as sympathetic as Lessa or Brekke.

  18. Silver Adept October 5, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    Thanks for the correction.

    Kylara really could have been the star of her own series. It’s a really missed opportunity to explore a strong female protagonist. That would have meant ditching the SLUT! aspect that’s not actually contributing to the plot, except as a convenient excuse to have the author’s male characters opine about how horrible women are. And all those other parts that are designed to make the make audience hate her.

  19. genesistrine October 8, 2014 at 4:26 am

    The weird thing is that AM’s Crystal Singer books have a protagonist who’s every bit the sleeparound that Kylara is, but with none of the editorialising about SLUTTINESS!, so she’s obviously capable of writing a sympathetic non-monogamous heroine, but…not in this case.

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