Last time, there was a wedding. And a knife fight, a show of loyalty, exile, change in political organization, fighting Thread, and a whole lot more.
Dragonquest: Chapter XI-XII: Content Notes: Rape, sex-negativity, mention of suicide
Chapter XI has the Brown Rider Rapist talking with his brother, the Benden Weyrleader (with a figleaf of protection regarding his own rape) about all the changes that have happened, including the exiles kicking everyone else out and saying they’ll toast anyone who comes close that isn’t one of theirs. The leader of Benden has new assignments for his brother, to collect fire-lizard eggs, but also to collect grubs so they can be studied for their Thread-killing abilities.
Then, everybody in charge has a meeting, Weyr, Craft, and Hold alike, to discuss what happened last time and put some new protocols in place. The new Weyrleader of the High Reaches has realized what kind of a hash was made by the old one, including nearly having his own stabby run-in with a Holder who had not been treated well by the previous leaders. The meeting proceeds smoothly, with reassurances that there will be enough riders to handle the Thread menace for the day, before Fort’s Lord Holder demands that the dragonriders take the dragons to the Red Star and destroy Thread at its source. Which is met entirely with an enumeration of what kind of undertaking such a task would be (also a basic failure to grasp that the Red Star may not be hospitable to men or dragons), including the likelihood of leaving Pern defenseless during such an attack. Instead, it’s suggested to continue unearthing ancient rooms and developing today’s technique and technology to protect what already is in anticipation of being able to take the fight to the source.
And that’s chapter XI. A meeting, after some secret orders. Oh, and after another of those grand shows of agreement, an argument breaks out over who gets the next batch of fire-lizard eggs. Not even F’lar of the Immense Ego appreciates what he’s just been shown about how difficult it will really be to hold together his coalition.
Chapter XII opens with the BrnRR and the Benden Weyrleader in one of the secret rooms in Benden, running an experiment – will grubs survive in northern continent plants? And, if they do, will they munch Thread in the same way? So the BrnRR is told to go catch himself some Thread to being back for the experiment. The narrative almost wants us to believe it will punish him for what he did, but that would be completely against type, so he’ll probably manage it without injury.
Incidentally, at the beginning of the chapter, we find that the peephole Felessan and Jaxom used earlier has been sealed up “because it bothered Ramoth”. We’ll have to take their word for it, but I think it probably bothered Lessa more that there was a vulnerability than Ramoth. That said, the peep show aspect I alluded to back in that chapter is definitely out in force here, as this spring thing has been going on for generations.
Anyway, the two RRs bicker jokingly before the BrnRR asks what the Benden Weyrleader intends to do with the grubs should the experiment succeed.
“Why then, son of my father, we breed hungry grubs by the tankful and spread them all over Pern.”
I’d normally complain that this doesn’t take into account possible side effects from introducing a new population, but the success of the grubs in the South suggests that things have a high probability of success in the North. Assuming there isn’t a natural predator for the grubs somewhere.
The Benden Weyrleader reveals that he believes that everything so far has been building up to them being able to go to the Red Star and end the Thread that forever. Because his ego is sufficiently large for him to believe that fate and history itself have existed just for him and his to do this greatest thing, for which his name will be known forever.
To be fair, the narrative has been basically playing along with this idea since the beginning, making sure that the Benden Weyrleader always comes out ahead or smelling like the Pernese equivalent of roses when deposited in a situation that is complete dragon shit. Usually by causing the antagonists to make out-of-character mistakes or just dropping an advantage into his lap.
The BrnRR, however, reasserts his practical side and asks what happens to dragonriders after the thing dragonriders are needed for goes away permanently. He’s not sure everyone could adjust to farming or crafting or some other pursuit, because he knows the Lords Holder will stop sending their tribute once the threat is gone. Which would shift this world more into the pastiche of Latin Christendom that would normally be expected, but leave the outsized military force with nothing to do. We know what happens then, and it’s generally not pretty for anyone other than aristocrats or the military class – imagine the Crusades or the various wars between England and France, but fight with mounted dragons instead of mounted knights, and wait for Fandarel (or a successor) to develop firearms to spur the next uneasy truce, and so forth. Dragons would probably settle into being couriers and security forces for trade caravans, when they weren’t being hired out as mercenaries for various Holder wars.
Anyway, the BrnRR feels much more comfortable about eventually asking the Benden Weyrleader about whether he can participate in Wirenth’s mating flight, figuring his own disregard of traditions would be seen as no biggie compared to the social upheaval the Benden Weyrleader is accomplishing on a daily basis. At this point, I don’t necessarily see the Benden Weyrleader giving his permission, because I can see it sticking in his throat over what the idea of “open flight” would mean from that point on, as well as the likely further estrangement of the time-skipped Weyrs due to their strongest flyers being given a four-hundred Turn disadvantage against even the lowliest of modern blue riders. No, social change is for the “commoners” and people who believe differently, thankyouverymuch.
As the BrnRR’s thoughts drift to his victim, he thinks she’ll be asleep, because it’s night in her new home. Brekke, the target of the BrnRR’s possessive interests, is jetlagged, however, and is awake in the middle of the night. She takes a bath with her fire-lizard and mentally reviews all the work that needs to be done to get the Weyr back into form, as T’kul raided the place for the best of everything and took almost all the supplies in the Weyr with him to Southern. (Which makes sense – deny the invaders any advantage by taking anything not nailed down with you when you vacate the castle. If they had fields to burn, they probably would have. Even in our modern times, this is true – change of business, change of political leaders, whatever it may be, there’s always something that’s going to be taken away so as to force the newcomers to have to build things up again on their own.) Since Brekke didn’t have any warning about the change, she couldn’t do the same at Southern.
Brekke is also adjusting to having to depend on tithes for supplies, unlike her Crafthall upbringing and the relative natural abundance at Southern, considering alternatives to having to ask others for help, cataloging the extensive amount of repairs needed (attributing this to Merika, the Weyrwoman of High Reaches while T’kul was in charge) while knowing Kylara will want no disruption in her lifestyle, and generally trying not to go into a logistics panic about everything that has to be done. After her assessment is complete, she’s less panic-y and more aggravated at past mismanagement and the deliberate sabotage of the Weyr’s natural lake by T’kul so as to deny a fresh water source. (Also, regrettably, makes sense for the same reasons as above.) Since sterilization by heat and/or chemicals is not part of the scientific canon here, or the “household garbage” that is fouling the lake contains toxic elements that could not be fixed by boiling the water, Brekke has to figure out where to get a potable supply from. Kylara says she’ll gather some from Meron, which is not Brekke’s (or T’bor’s) preferred solution, but it works, and soon there is the comforting hum of logistics and inventory. So much so that Brekke is able to shut out the fact that Wirenth is ready to fly and mate until her fire-lizard brings her out of her concentration.
If there was anything that could make Brekke panic, this is it. And panic she does, although the single shred of advice anyone gives – don’t let the dragon gorge on food – does sink in enough for Brekke to exert control. Brekke has zero interest in the bronze riders, and is hoping against hope that her rapist will arrive, so that when she is overwhelmed by Wirenth’s desires, she can at least be raped by the rider who has already done it and that she thinks she loves.
Instead, Wirenth meets another queen in heat, Prideth, who is returning from Meron. And a queen fight breaks out, because Wirenth sees Prideth as an intruder and competition. Prideth bats Wirenth aside to start with, but Wirenth gets the drop on Prideth and gouges her deeply. The two queens exchange blows as a circle of other dragons tries to cut them both off, but Prideth pokes one of Wirenth’s eyes and blinds it, and Wirenth gets her revenge by biting Prideth’s tail, walking up her back with her talons, and biting Prideth’s neck for control as she tries to smash the other queen into the mountains. Canth interferes in the dive by biting Wirenth, Ramoth tries to keep Prideth from getting crushed, but Wirenth is having none of this and pops into hyperspace with Prideth to try and shake the interference.
And then, in the middle of this action sequence, we skip backward in tine so we can see it all again from the BrnRR’s perspective, from the fire-lizard warning signal to confirmation that Prideth is also in heat, to seeing how completely Brekke is linked with Wirenth. For now, at least, the BrnRR does the sensible thing and keeps the area around Brekke completely clear so that she doesn’t injure anyone while linked to Wirenth.
And then, we find out the real consequence of the hyperspace hop – Wirenth and Prideth are both dead.
Cocowhat by depizan
That is the sound of the narrative exacting its revenge on two potentially progressive women, by putting them in direct conflict under the fig leaf of both their queens getting ready to mate. There is, at least, no stooping to the idea that Brekke-Wirenth or Kylara-Prideth are enjoying getting their frustrations out on each other this way. The will be plenty of blame to sling, though, and it will likely fall completely on Kylara, since she, like the green rider that attacked the BrnRR, took a female dragon out of her Weyr too close to a mating flight.
What I want to know is why the two of them had to run into conflict at all. Sure, mating instinct happens, but there should be no issue at all if Prideth takes off in any of the other directions except Wirenth. The narrative tells us that Kylara was having sex with Meron when Wirenth started her flight, and the sex is what set Prideth off on her flight with Wirenth “right above her”. That’s still narrative interference, though, deliberately putting the two queens close by so they will fight. Surely Kylara would know the minute Wirenth took wing, and likely what vector Wirenth was flying, before Prideth went into the air. Even if she was having sex with someone else. Also, it seems like there would have been enough time in between Prideth starting her mating feeding and taking to the air for a position to be established on the other flight, and possibly to ship in enough bronze riders to handle the second queen. If there’s enough control to stop a gold queen from gorging herself, there should be enough control, especially from the senior Weyrwoman, to direct the flight’s general path. Enough other dragons arriving from hyperspace would make it easier for air traffic control to keep the two flights away from each other. Especially once Ramoth gets involved, since she and Lessa can play the radio tower.
It doesn’t make narrative sense for this to happen, unless the narrative has an interest in hurting the women. It’s already established Kylara as independent and not caring about things except as they relate to her, and has already grievously wounded Brekke and Kylara at the hands of other men. These deaths serve no apparent narrative purpose other than spite, and possibly sex-negativity, since the cause of everything is Kylara indulging her own sexual desires (and with a “commoner”, no less).
Well, maybe. In addition to all this punishment and sex-negativity, this could be the narrative’s way of answering the question of “What happens to tradition when Canth flies Wirenth?” The answer, apparently, is “Kill Wirenth and the problem goes away. Oh, and kill Prideth, too, so that we don’t have to make up another disaster to punish Kylara with.” Which is pretty much the worst answer to the question, ever.
The chapter closes with the BrnRR panicking that his prize will try to suicide, as riders are apt to do when their dragons die, and Mirrim demonstrating the same practical knowledge that Brekke did, bringing a tray of strong drinks while the Weyrleaders and Lessa settle in for the vigil and for sorting out what needs to be done now that everything at High Reaches had just gone fucking pear-shaped.