Last time, the narrative inflated the egos of the confirmed rapist half-brothers before inflicting a series of unnecessary traumas on Brekke, culminating in the death of her dragon, Wirenth, and Kylara’s dragon, Prideth, in a terrible two-fer that seems to be composed mostly of spite.
Dragonquest, Chapter XIII: Content Notes: Depression, suicidal ideation
It has been six days since the loss of both gold dragons, and Masterharper Robinton has…
No, I can’t continue yet. A six day time skip after this tragedy robs everyone of the ability to do those lovely empathetic things that are so important after death, things like the expression of anger, the close calls of depression and the rest of the things that would produce all sorts of character development. That has been taken from us, to be replaced by Robinton’s retrospective. This is a very poor storytelling decision, and lessens the impact of the event. It’s probably supposed to blunt any empathy we might feel for Brekke or Kylara, but it also prevents us from getting the entire message the narrative wanted to give us about what happens to women who try to be progressive.
So. Six days have passed, and Robinton isn’t sure if the best way to keep people from dwelling too long on the tragedy is to push forward with the idea of taking a trip to the Red Star. But he’s attending a viewing party at Fort, where he is able to mentally comment on the virtues of having many people know all the Craft secrets – he has five possible successors and three apprentices studying to be possible successors, unlike the other Crafts that apparently don’t spread their knowledge around, despite existing in a culture that regularly complains about the variability of its paper records and that has an entire Craft devoted to the transmission and preservation of culture though songs, poems, and other oral methods. We’re supposed to brush it off as if they were trade secrets, but over the last four hundred Turns, each of the Mastercraftsmen has seen proof of how much data and information has been lost though transmission methods that lack redundancy, and had apparently decided that the secrecy is more important than the redundancy. Bullshit. Especially since Fandarel had no apparent backup method, despite his relentless quest for efficiency. I would think every Smith knows as much of the knowledge as their brains can handle, so that the teaching and transmission of the knowledge goes as efficiently as possible. And the same for every other Craft.
Anyway, Robinton asks Lessa about Brekke.
“She does as well as can be expected. F’nor insisted that we bring her to his Weyr. The man’s emotionally attached to her – far more than gratitude for any nursing. Between him, Manora, and Mirrim, she’s never alone.”
“And – Kylara?”
Lessa pulled her hand from his. “She lives!”
And there’s the meat of it, how we’re supposed to view this. Brekke, since she was sweet and innocent, and a main character loved her enough to forcibly have sex with her, is being cared after and worried about. Kylara? Two words, with clear contempt for the thought that she is alive. Lessa blames Kylara, so everyone else at Benden likely does as well. And likely blames Kylara for having an active sex life as the cause. (Lessa, remember, is apparently unable to conceive, but this seems more than just jealousy at potential fertility.) You could search for a clearer example of the virgin-whore dichotomy if you wanted to with regards to Brekke and Kylara, but I don’t think there will be many more that are this obvious to follow.
Brekke, as the good girl in this pairing, is going to be re-presented as a candidate for Impressing a queen dragon at the first opportunity, which is a blatant disregard for custom and tradition (tradition!) that nobody is raising an objection over. Lessa also doesn’t understand why Brekke isn’t more active, since she can still talk to all the other dragons.
“Brekke says nothing. She will not even open her eyes. She can’t be sleeping all the time. The lizards and the dragons tell us she’s awake. You see,… Brekke can hear any dragon. Like me. She’s the only other Weyrwoman who can. And all the dragons listen to her.”
“Surely that’s an advantage if she’s suicidal?”
“Brekke is not – not actively suicidal. She’s craftbred, you know,” Lessa said in a flat, disapproving tone of voice.
Cocowhat by depizan
And then there’s this fucked-up classist bullshit about non-Weyrbred people. That Lessa feels entirely comfortable saying in front of the Masterharper, who is presumably also craftbred. I really wonder what Robinton thinks of the dragonriders when they aren’t around. Some part of dealing with all these people that think they’re better than you must grate at some point. Not to mention that Lessa disapproves of Brekke not trying to kill herself.
“No, I didn’t know,” Robinton murmured encouragingly after a pause. He was thinking Lessa wouldn’t ever contemplate suicide in a similar circumstance and wondered what Brekke’s “breeding” had to do with a suicidal aptitude.
“That’s her trouble. She can’t actively seek death, so she just lies there. I have this incredible urge…to beat or pinch or slap her – anything to get some response from the girl. It’s not the end of the world, after all. She can hear other dragons. She’s not bereft of all contact with dragonkind, like Lytol.”
“She must have time to recover from the shock…”
“I know, I know…but we don’t have time. We can’t get her to realize it’s better to do things…”
And… this actually makes sense, awful behavior that it is. Robinton, the Harper, fundamentally understands what depression is and can relate to it. Lessa and the dragonriders, because their pair-bond is so deep-set that it is a core part of their being, as unshakable a fact as their own existence, that they cannot really conceive of what life would be like without their dragon. And so, they lack empathy, not because they choose not to (well, that might be too generous), but because they can’t. Which is why Lessa doesn’t understand why Brekke is still depressed, despite being able to maintain contact with other dragons. She thinks the connection is still there, even though it isn’t. Lessa thinks Brekke lost a very close friend, but has others to sustain her, where Brekke lost the entity that she loved the most in her life, and that hole can’t be filled by the presence of other friends. It’s actually a little sad here, even though Lessa appears to be taking the Weyrleader’s technique to heart on how to get someone reluctant to do what you want as her primary desire. Because the misunderstanding is so fundamental, and Robinton understands that getting Brekke moving will not be sufficient to cure the depression.
Brekke will need a lot of time to grieve, and, if it’s possible, to heal from what has happened to her, and it will take much longer than six days. After all, there are cultures where the surviving spouse is expected to be in mourning for at least a year in our world. I wonder if dragonriders have developed mourning rituals for lost dragons, or whether they have basically assumed that riders without dragons will find a way to commit suicide and hold off on the ritual until both are gone. Since, in this set of books, we have only Lytol as the example of what happens when the dragon dies before the rider, there’s nobody who can really speak to this part of dragonrider culture.
I’d also like to know why he hasn’t been called in as a consultant, though, since, again, he’s the only one with a clue as to what Brekke is going through.
Before moving on, is also like to now that this is the second moment of Big Empathy in this book, and that all the empathetic characters (Terry, Brekke, Robinton) are all either in the Crafts or come from there. Whatever it is they are doing in those Halls, it should be replicated planet-wide, because both the Holdbred and Weyrbred seem to be missing the ability to empathize outside a very carefully selected few. That’s a shame, because when we see empathy, it’s loving and beautiful and I want more of this instead of the other stuff.
Anyway, the Brown Rider Rapist, Manora, and Mirrim are all fretting over Brekke, with the BrnRR sounding much like he’s either really panicked because he loves Brekke, or really panicked because of what he did right before Brekke got in the fight and feels guilty, and the Benden Weyrleader has taken sick by popping through hyperspace to the fighting queens before his own knife wounds had fully healed.
Back to the viewing party at Fort. Meron appears to observe the Red Star through the telescope, sending Robinton and Lessa into disapproval of his presence so soon after his involvement in the incident. And by involvement, we mean that he was the person Kylara was having sex with. Still, that line of disapproval is a pretty thin one, considering that Lessa was involved in trying to stop the fight and is here to observe as well. So Meron steps up to the eyepiece and looks. He’s shocked at first, but then steps back up for another good long look at it. After Lessa accuses him of monopolizing the telescope, Meron insults her with a lascivious comment. Before Lessa can get satisfaction with him, Fandarel picks Meron up bodily and moves him to the farthest permissible point away from the telescope, setting him down roughly. Fandarel’s actions to protect Lessa from the narrative are so noted.
Anyway, Lessa steps up to the telescope and we see the surface of the Red Star for the first time, with polar ice caps, clouds, and gray masses. It looks like… a planet. After Lessa leaves, others stepping up to the eyepiece react in fright and want to know why they can see so well, despite it being dark. Fandarel explains albedo and the fact that planets exist in three-dimensional orbits, so light from the sun can still reflect off the Red Star. (Again, the scientific knowledge available to a supposedly-medieval pastiche is quite extensive. Perhaps this is what would have been if not for the Vandals, Goths, and others destroying and scattering the knowledge of Greece and Rome in our time.) Then, as the Lords squabble over what they have seen, the Masterglasssmith, Wansor, answers their questions about whether the grey stuff is land, why the Red Star had clouds, and so forth, in his best scientific way – admitting when the information is incomplete or when they don’t know.
We find Meron’s true purpose at the gathering not soon after – to accuse Robinton of being in the pocket of Benden Weyr, which gets Robinton ready to defend his honor as Meron accuses Robinton of having an attraction to Lessa. Which Robinton deftly dismisses by saying he’s more interested in Benden wine than Benden Weyrwomen. Which is a rather misogynist statement – “I think wine is more interesting than this woman. How ugly she is. Bitches, amirite?” But Robinton has gauged his audience correctly, and his indication that he’s part of Team Misogyny is just right to defuse the situation.
And then he turns around and gives a The Reason You Suck speech to the assembled Lords Holder, correctly detailing the unknowns (the grey masses could all be Thread, it’s possible the clouds are not water clouds, and so some form of protection may be needed, and it’s possible that others have gone and failed). Wansor picks up those threads, detailing the needs for more observations, but Meron continues, obstinately, demanding a specific time for an attempt, and then claiming that fire-lizards eating Thread should be enough to keep all the lands clear.
Which actually plays to Lessa, and she sweetly offers to make sure the Weyr that normally covers Meron’s lands doesn’t sweep them for Thread. And then gives him a much-abbreviated version of a The Reason You Suck speech, holding the lives of the innocents as more important than Meron’s stupidity. She even offers a subtle quid pro quo – if the Lords Holder want anything done to Kylara with regard to Wirenth and Prideth, they need to do something to Meron for his involvement. Since the Lords Holder are all about Team Bros Before Hos, that pretty well settles the matter of Kylara.
I’m surprised the narrative doesn’t immediately strike her down where she stands for all of this action. Maybe because she only feinted instead of attacking?
After the viewing party breaks up, Robinton asks whether Lessa is in favor of the Red Star jump.
“It scares me. It scares me because it seems so likely that someone must have tried. Sometime. It just doesn’t seem logical…”
“Is there any record that someone, besides yourself, jumped so far between times?”
“No.” She had to admit it. “But then, there hadn’t been such need.”
“And there’s no need now to take this other kind of a jump?”
“Don’t unsettle me more….How can we know? How can we be sure?”
“How were you sure the Question Song could be answered – by you?”
While it’s nice to see that Lessa does have fear of something (and a rather smart one, at that), Robinton, these things are not alike. There is a lack of records about a time-jumping Weyrwoman because her future self needs to not see her successes so that she decides to go back and succeed. It’s very Stable Time Loop requirements that demand the excision of records. A hop to the Red Star may not carry any records because everyone who went could easily die without returning or having their corpses analyzed to assist the next team. Even if they could hit the right space-time coordinates, there’s no guarantee the environment there would be hospitable enough for anyone. So Lessa has a well-justified fear here – the environment is so alien that it’s likely everyone who tried died without leaving any useful information. As opposed to dying in an attempt to time skip to somewhere that is at least known to be habitable.
The next morning, Lessa repeats her fears to the Weyrleader, and reports on the success of his experiment with grubs – N’ton substituted for the Brown Rider Rapist and had proven to be very discreet. The Weyrleader wants to discuss the results with N’ton. Who arrives, unbidden, a few moments later, with Wansor, who has discovered that Pern and the Red Star are not the only planets in the sky and that the Red Star also has its own rotation, independent of Pern. Wansor would like to put carved lenses into place at the Weyr so as to allow for observations.
Afterward, N’ton is sent on a journey to gather grubs from all over the Southern Continent, as the Weyrleader is fairly convinced they are intended to be the ground protection against Thread. N’ton shares this perspective, as well as the likelihood that grubs became a problem in the north because a secret that should have been communicated didn’t go through because someone died. The chapter comes to a close with more of the Weyrleader’s annoyance at his continued sickness.