Last time, Robinton proved he had more empathy in him than the Lords Holder and the dragonriders combined. There was also telescope-viewing of the Red Star, and the confirmation that Southern grubs were meant as the second line of defense against Thread, after dragons in the air.
Dragonquest: Chapters XIV-XV: Content Notes: Depression, mental regression, slut-shaming
I’m going to open up Chapter XIV’s commentary with an extensive quote, because Jaxom (whose perspective we have to start the chapter) is so painfully observant about everything that has happened up to this point that it confirms for me that these terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad decisions in the narrative are all deliberate and have been thought through, which increases their ick factor logarithmically.
He [Jaxom] had never shaken off his sense of blasphemy from invading the Hatching Ground, and he wondered if this were his punishment. But he was a logical boy and the deaths of the two queens had not occurred at Ruatha, not over Fort Weyr to which Ruatha Hold was bound. He’d never met Kylara or Brekke. He did know F’nor and felt sorry for him if half what he’d heard was true – that F’nor had taken Brekke into his weyr and had abandoned his duties as a Wing-second to care for her. She was very sick. Funny, everyone was sorry for Brekke but no one mentioned Kylara, and she’d lost a queen, too.
Jaxom wondered about that but knew he couldn’t ask. Just as he couldn’t ask if he and Lytol were going to the Hatching.
Not that anyone had done much more than Thread-watch since the wedding at Telgar.
Jaxom sighed. That had been some day. He shivered, remembered how sick, cold, and – yes – scared he’d been. (Lytol said a man wasn’t afraid to admit to fear.) All the time he’d seen F’lar fighting T’ron, he’d been scared.[…]Everything was going wrong on Pern. Dragon queens killing each other, Weyrleaders dueling in public, Thread falling here and there, with no rhyme or reason.[…]It wasn’t fair. Everything had been going so well.
Jaxom, never change, please. Keep that sharp observing eye of yours, and keep empathy for everyone. Jaxom understands that something is very wrong with the Brown Rider Rapist, that everyone is conspicuously shunning Kylara for some reason, and that everyone is on edge over fighting dragonriders and out-of-phase Thread. Since they are noticed by Jaxom, they were meant to be there. Which makes them deliberate, and exceedingly more icky and problematic because of it.
One good thing, though – props to Lytol, who is instilling in Jaxom a conception of masculinity that explicitly says it’s okay to be scared out of your mind. This is different than the performance masculinity he’s getting from other Lords Holder, his peer children, and the Weyrbred fosterlings. I think Lytol’s conception is superior, and will pay dividends further down the line. Lytol also refused fire-lizard eggs earlier on, which Jaxom is miffed at, so there’s still some work to do in getting Jaxom to check his privilege and think of his office less as getting himself things and more of providing protection to those under his care.
In any case, it turns out that Jaxom and Lytol are going to the Hatching at Benden, where Brekke will be represented as a candidate for a new queen dragon. Since we’re staying with Jaxom (and Felessan) at this point, though, Jaxom’s attention is focused completely on an egg that’s been pushed aside – the egg that Jaxom touched. Until the candidates arrive, that is, and then all eyes are on the dragons, including the hatching queen – whom all the other girls defer to Brekke as the first candidate to try and Impress.
Brekke doesn’t. Her fire-lizard actively interferes with it, no less, and another girl Impresses (the candidate from Ruatha. How… something). With all the dragons hatched, everyone else turns to leave. Except Jaxom, whose empathy overflows, and who is the only one to notice that the small egg that nobody is paying attention to is showing signs of wanting to hatch. So Jaxom helps out, cracking the outer shell and using his knife to cut through membrane holding in… a white dragon. Whose name, Jaxom tells us, is Ruth.
Everyone else noticing this, while nobody explicitly says anything profane, basically thinks, “Shit.”
And that’s chapter XIV.
Chapter XV shows us that Brekke had been cured of her depression, brought out by her experience at the Hatching. Regrettably, the narrative’s price for returning Brekke to the land of the aware is that she, like Lessa, is now devoted to her rapist. Brekke uncorks her long-held grief and starts to cry for everything, which is apparently okay for a little bit, but after a while, Manora slaps Brekke and then dunks her in a bathing pool to snap her out of her grief. Well, now I know where both half-brothers get that particular idea on how to relate to others. And Brekke thanks her for the abuse.
Not that she’s out of the woods yet. Any time she remembers the tragedy, the depression threatens to swallow her back up, prompting the dragons and fire-lizards to interfere. Brekke is safely bundled off to sleep with a bowl of broth and a sleeping draught, served to her in a no-nonsense manner by her own fosterling, Mirrim. Who then hustles out the Brown Rider Rapist with a directive to get his dragon fed before settling in to watch Brekke.
Once Brekke falls asleep, we shift over to the party after the Hatching, where Lessa is happy for Jaxom, but extremely worried about what Jaxom’s actions are going to mean and do for politics. Because he’s a Holder with a dragon, instead of all the fire-lizards being distributed to the other Holders. She doesn’t think the white dragon will prosper: Ramoth tells her she’s wrong. And Lessa finally explicitly mulls over the idea of succession at Ruatha, and ultimately concludes that she wants to keep Jaxom there, since he has some small part of the Bloodline she has, so it’s okay. Anybody else is fucked, though.
And I just can’t believe this. I can believe Lessa saying “Well, I’m not likely to go back, and things seem to be going okay, so I guess Jaxom can stay.” I can believe “I want to keep Ruatha close to me, so I should be friendly with Lytol and Jaxom so that I can still interfere at Ruatha.” But “Jaxom is part of my bloodline, so he’s all right in charge there”, no fucking way. If Lessa really believes purity of bloodline is what’s needed there, then she wants herself to rule, because her blood is purest. So, if we want a consistent Lessa, there must be some other reason she’s okay with Jaxom and Lytol staying in charge (for now), and it should probably have something to do with keeping and making alliances.
So Lytol and Robinton, who are apparently matching each other cup for cup of wine, declare that Jaxom has to stay in the Hold, while other Holders say that Jaxom had to go to the Weyr because he Impressed a dragon. Lessa takes advantage of the drinking to use her Sith Force powers to lean on the minds of the Holders and bring them around to the idea that Jaxom should stay at Ruatha. The Lord Holders cannot be dissuaded, though, leaving Jaxom to plead his case, which he does admirably, holding his own against the bigger and older Holders. Lessa’s instinct to interfere is curbed by Robinton, who shows that he’s a lot more sober than his act suggested, and by Lytol, who stands by his ward.
The situation with Jaxom resolved, Robinton, Lessa, and F’lar go to the secret experimental chambers with the Masterfarmer, who was just flown in to examine the grubs. He has the same reaction as the Masterherdsman, and specifically mentions that Farmer lore says to watch for the grubs…and then realizes what he’s just said. Watch for the grubs, not destroy them. Which brings him around immediately to the idea that the grubs are beneficial, although he’s confused about the purpose of dragonriders in a world where the grubs can eat all the Thread and repair any plants struck by spores. Robinton mentions that wood pulp paper can be used to store and disseminate knowledge, so the practices of the various Crafts can be preserved and spread everywhere, over the Masterfarmer’s objections that some knowledge should remain Craft secrets. Before he leaves, though, the Masterfarmer is converted to the cause of spreading the grubs, and will work to get his Craft to do the same, even though he would much prefer to have the flashiness of the dragonriders to the boring, ugly practicality of the grubs.
And just when we thought we’d coast in to the end of a chapter, the Masterfarmer asks about Kylara…
“What of that adulterous transgressor?”
“She – lives,” and there was an uncompromising echo of the Farmer’s coldness in Lessa’s voice.
“She lives?” The Masterfarmer stopped again, dropping Lessa’s arm and staring at her in anger. “She lives? Her throat should be cut, her body…”
“She lives, Masterfarmer, with no more mind or wit than a babe! She exists in the prison of her guilt! Dragonfolk take no lives!”
…and there goes my hope that we’d be able to get through two chapters without a Whatfruit.
Cocowhat by depizan
First, narrative, I hate you for putting both Kylara and Brekke into a situation where they were attacked viciously, because they were both independent-thinking women who wanted progress, or at the very least, to be treated seriously.
Second, unless I am severely mistaken about what we have been told about Weyr culture, the Masterfarmer just grossly insulted Kylara, an insult Lessa is willing to let slide because she blames Kylara for everything, too. From what we are told about Weyr culture, their sexual attitudes do not care much about monogamous pairings, especially for queen riders, because any bronze could theoretically fly the queen at any flight. (They, presumably, are also a-OK with male-male partnerships, since men ride green dragons.) Weyrs raise all the children collectively to avoid parental attachments suffering when pairings of riders change based on mating fights. There should be very little conception of marriage among those born and raised in a Weyr (or those raised in the Weyr from a young age), so the idea of adultery should be nonexistent, and its suggestion (that someone should be punished because they slept with someone other than their preferred partner) taken as a slur, an attempt to impose inferior Hold (or Craft) morals on the dragonriders that have transcended them.
Or, it would be if dragonriders behaved according to what we’ve been told about Weyr culture. What we’ve been shown, on the other hand, is that Weyr culture functions much more similarly to the Holds and Crafthalls. Of the named rider pairings we’ve seen involving queen dragons, except for Kylara, they’re all monogamous between Weyrleader and Weyrwoman (or want to be monogamous, in Brekke’s case) in a very marriage-like setup. Kylara’s tastes and willingness to actively satisfy her sexual appetites are regularly shamed and disparaged by other characters, and is used as the justification for the Brown Rider Rapist’s violation of Brekke. Green dragons’ active sex desires are routinely used as running jokes or other indications of their lesser status. We also see no male-male partnerships at all. From what’s been shown to us, dragonriders are just as prudish about sex as everyone else. And so the Masterfarmer’s insult is un-remarked-upon.
The end of chapter XV is upon us. Only one more to go.