Last time, Jaxom Impressed. Which touched off some politics. And a flagrant insult to Kylara. Also, the plot to bring grubs north from the southern continent proceeds apace.
Dragonquest: Chapter XVI: Content Notes: Animal abuse, Existential Terror
It’s the last chapter, everyone! Let’s see if we can’t get through it without major content issues.
I’m told optimism is healthy, after all.
Chapter XVI opens promisingly, with an extended report on the difficulty of convincing everyone of the plot to seed the north with grubs. Fandarel and Terry give their approval (and a new prototype for capturing Thread more efficiently) and mention the irritation they are suffering at being unable to work on shielding the telegraph cables because of so much Threadfall and flamethrower jams. Robinton is playing diplomacy with the Holders, but they’re really insisting that the expedition to the Red Star happen sooner rather than later, despite the continued inability to find good coordinates for a hyperspace hop. The Lord of Telgar is particularly obstinate, not even accepting Wansor’s theory that planets that are close to each other affect each other, which explains the out-of-phase Threadfall. (Which, you know, planetary gravity will do just that, which means Pern could theoretically have discovered the very far out planets of the Sol system long before the inhabitants of Terra were able to make the calculations.) He and Meron get extra people spying on them to make sure they don’t make moves that disrupt the plan.
Brekke takes an interest in the plan, with the data being relayed though the Brown Rider Rapist, and her brain seizes on the idea that Meron might attempt to send his bronze fire-lizard all the way there, so she asks the riders to keep an eye out for that possibility. Brekke’s instincts appear to be right. Furthermore, the dragonriders are starting to realize that the cloud formations over the Red Star could be the recognizable marks to use to send the dragons over to attack. Which makes Lessa worried, because F’lar of the Immense Ego, Figurehead Extraordinaire, will totally jump to the Red Star once he thinks he can manage it, so that he can save the world singlehandedly.
Things come to a head, though, with Meron at Fort Weyr, when not only does Canth confirm how cruel Meron is to his fire-lizard, Canth interferes with an abuse situation by startling Meron enough for the fire-lizard to escape and do its own hyperspace hop. This sets Meron off entirely, resulting in his swift banning from Fort as he continues to insist that the dragonriders are just hiding their confirmed coordinates from the Holders as a power play to keep the Holders subject to the Weyrs. The Brown Rider Rapist wonders what Meron sees through the telescope, and suggests to his fire-lizard going there. Which, naturally, freaks the fire-lizard out.
Terror, horror, a whirling many-faceted impression of heat, violent winds, burning breathlessness sent him [the BrnRR] staggering against N’ton as Grall, with a fearful shriek, launched herself from his hands and disappeared.
Which is probably the most clear sign that the Red Star is inhospitable to visitors a dragonrider will receive. The Brown Rider Rapist ignores the warning signs, privileging the knowledge that the coordinates he sent to Grall are good enough for Canth over the fire-lizard’s clear “back the fuck off” signals.
There’s no small pride in being able to steal his brother’s thunder on this, too, and it clicks into place for him why Brekke was very interested in distracting him from that idea (including blatant come-hithers) earlier. Again, rather than taking this as a warning sign that what he’s doing is extremely dangerous, he still thinks he can just jaunt over, get a really good look, use Ramoth as the relay tower so that every dragonrider knows where to send themselves later for the invasion.
So, before we see the consequences of this trip, let me point out that Meron is correct about the dragonriders having coordinates, but his reasons are half-wrong – it’s that no dragonrider was ready to risk themselves on something less than a sure bet – that form of “cowardice” we call the survival instinct.
So, Canth makes the hop.
Canth started to open his wings and screamed in agony as they were wrenched back. The snapping of his strong fore-limbs went unheard in the incredible roar of the furnace-hot tornadic winds that seized them from the relative calm off the downdraft. There was air enveloping on the Red Star – a burning hot air, whipped to flame-heat by burning turbulences. The helpless dragon and rider were like a feather, dropped hundreds of lengths only to be slammed upward, end over end, with hideous force. As they tumbled, their minds paralyzed by the holocaust they had entered, F’nor had a nightmare glimpse of the gray surfaces toward and away from which they were alternately thrown and removed: the Neratian tip was a wet, slick gray that writhed and bubbled and oozed. Then they were thrown into the reddish cloud that were shot with nauseating grays and whites, here and there torn by massive orange rivers of lightning. A thousand hot points burned the unprotected skin of F’nor’s face, pitted Canth’s hide, penetrating each lid over the dragon’s eyes. The overwhelming, multilevel sound of the cyclonic atmosphere battered their minds ruthlessly to unconsciousness.
Then they were hurled into the awesome calm of a funnel of burning, sand-filled heat and fell toward the surface – crippled and impotent.
Painridden, F’nor had only one thought as his senses failed him. The Weyr! The Weyr must be warned!
Okay, that is excellent writing. The sense of utter panic comes across really well, without any bravado, macho bullshit, or anything beyond the immediate need to stay alive.
A pettier me might snark about how cocky the Brown Rider Rapist feels now that he’s met something stronger than he is, but I’m reserving that kind of commentary for when Brekke kicks him in the testicles and tells him to fly between without coming back as she leaves.
Instead, we get to see Brekke panic again, this time over the Brown Rider Rapist and Canth going to the Red Star, and the dragons are all in distress over the beating the two are receiving at the Red Star. And Brekke screams her worst fear, with sufficient force that it breaks blood vessels in her eyes. “Don’t Leave Me Alone.” Because she knows, with the experience of having lost Wirenth, just what alone means. Knowing that if she loses them, the darkness that she’s been fighting off, the one that threatens to swallow her completely and return her to the catatonic state, will come back and will take over again. The one that everyone has basically left Kylara to suffer under, without any help, or even empathy, because Brekke is virtuous and Kylara wicked.
So Brekke has to watch as the dragons mobilize to break the fall of the unconscious Canth. And then, she remembers some long-forgotten lore and performs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the Brown Rider Rapist until he can breathe on his own. And then, Canth is there, and Brekke screams her relief – “I am not alone” – and passes out.
And this is touching and wonderful and really needs a nice soundtrack swell and a great fade to black, roll credits. If only the whole thing wasn’t based on a rape, and a preventable disaster, and a narrative that punished a woman for having feminist opinions. It sours what should otherwise be the moment of the Triumph of the Heart. I cannot interpret this really good, heartwarming scene apart from the sheer awful that happened earlier in the book. Which is why I’m still hoping that after he recovers, the Brown Rider Rapist finds himself bereft of Brekke and on the bad side of the Benden Weyrleaders, so that some small amount of punishment can be given to those that deserve it.
Then, after what would be the credit roll for this movie, to close out the chapter, there is yet another demonstration of the effectiveness of grubs during live Threadfall. Groghe, Lord Holder of Fort, isn’t ready to accept the power of grubs, even though Meron has, and would still prefer to send attackers to the Red Star. The Brown Rider Rapist and Canth will recover, and the Benden Weyrleader thinks that when the grubs have finally taken hold, it will be time for dragonriders to go explore the other planets of the star system, assuming that at least one of them will be hospitable for dragons and riders. Even though he has no real reason to believe this is true, but now that he’s said it, the narrative will ensure that he gets everything he wants. Anyone attempting to upstage him, as has been demonstrated, will suffer at the narrative’s hands.
Next up: the Harper Hall trilogy, which will hopefully have less awful, before we come back to the third volume in this cycle, The White Dragon. There are again, appendices of material that contains spoilers and then some, so it will also be skipped for this book. So the question of whether or not a successful assault will be mounted against the Red Star will have to wait.