When we last left Menolly, she had discovered a clutch of fire-lizard eggs and used the power of SCIENCE! to assist the gold queen of the lizards in saving the eggs from an onrushing tide. In doing so, Menolly also discovered that her injured hand might yet be able to return to full strength.
Dragonsong: Chapter 5: Content Notes: Family toxicity
Chapter Five opens with our budding scientist thinking over more questions with regard to her encounter – can fire-lizards understand humans? If so, how, because dragons are, to the best of her knowledge, a one-to-one correspondence decided on at Hatching. What would a fire-lizard Hatching look like? And so forth. We have the benefit of previous knowledge through previous books, but someone coming to this series for the first time through these volumes is receiving an excellent set of questions to keep an eye out for. When not actively trying to hurt characters, the narrative and writing show skill at weaving a plot.
Alas, Menolly cannot immediately go to gather more data – storms keep everyone inside, and so there is cleaning to be done, glow baskets to be checked, and more. That evening, Menolly has to face Elgion playing music.
She had to hear music sometime. She couldn’t avoid it forever. And at least she could sing along with the others. But she soon found she couldn’t even have that pleasure. Mavi beckoned to her when the Harper began to tune his gitar. And when the Harper beckoned for everyone to join in the choruses, Mavi pinched Menolly so hard she gasped.
“Don’t roar. You may sing softly as befits a girl your age,” Mavi said. “Or don’t sing at all.”
Across the Hall, Sella was singing, not at all accurately and loud enough to be heard in Benden Hold; but when Menolly opened her mouth to protest, she got another pinch.
So she didn’t sing at all but sat there by her mother’s side, numb and hurt, not even able to enjoy the music and very conscious that her mother was being monstrously unfair.
Then Menolly saw her father watching her, his face stem, one hand tapping not so much to the time of the music but to some inner agitation. It was her father who didn’t want her to sing! It wasn’t fair! It just wasn’t fair! Obviously they knew and were glad she can’t come before. They didn’t want her here.
I think this is supposed to read as a teenage temper tantrum, the kind that are ridiculously out of proportion and the fodder for teen dramas and comedies alike. If Menolly were anything other than one-hundred percent accurate in her assessment, then it might be possible to read it as teenage exaggeration. Yanus, and thus, Mavi, are still very invested in making sure the Harper gets zero clue that Menolly has musical talent, lest the Harper encourage it more and Menolly continue to have ideas that women can do things traditionally reserved to men. It’s not fair at all.
Having been told she cannot enjoy herself, Menolly leaves the Hall over her mother’s hissed protests, and arises the next morning before everyone else to go visit the fire-lizards, who are at least an attentive audience. The Hold’s main doors nearly scuttle her plans before they can get underway, but Menolly is a strong girl and is able to open them enough to leave the Hold. Which leaves the doors closed but unlocked, but Menolly doesn’t care about such things. Or understand why they have to be locked and the room glows extinguished, for that matter. Menolly forages for some food, and ruminates on how nobody will miss her until they have some menial task for her, or until the evening, when they expect her to return.
Which leads to the realization that Menolly doesn’t intend to return to the Hold and the misery it contains. The free life is much more appealing. Practicality kicks in soon afterward – food is probably covered by foraging, but she needs somewhere to sleep at night, and somewhere she can take shelter from both the elements and Threadfall. As she approaches the fire-lizard caverns, her danger sense kicks into overdrive. It’s too quiet. Looking over her shoulder, she sees why – Threadfall is inbound. Add Menolly casts about in panic, trying to find a suitable shelter against the deadly rain, she hears a thrummimg sound coming from the ground underneath. Menolly correctly deduces the cavern is hollow, and makes for the ledge where she had widened an entry to see if she can get herself protected. The original hole only covers her head and shoulders – so she tries to widen it more, but strikes rock far too soon for that plan to work.
And then, inspiration strikes.
She could only get herself into the shelter up to her shoulders. No matter how she turned and twisted, the was an outcropping that she could not pass. Once again she wished she were as small as a girl ought to be. Sella would have had no trouble crawling through that hole.
How long did she have before Thread would be raining down on her unprotected body?
Body? She might not get past the bobble in the wall with her shoulders…but…She reversed her position, and feet, legs, hips, all right up to the shoulders passed into the safety of solid rock. Her head was covered, but only just, by the cliff overhang.
Perfect pitch, size, strength, and brains! Menolly has all the potential to be completely awesome at whatever she does, assuming she can escape that toxic environment. And assuming the institutional sexism of her chosen profession doesn’t prevent her from getting a foothold. Because, it appears, only Fandarel is openly pursuing equality – in the name of efficiency, of course.
Menolly notices she didn’t bring her sack of food in with her, so after a little fighting with it, she retrieves the sack – and the force of the retrieval sends her deeper into the cave system as the ledge she was hiding out on gives way. (It also apparently removes whatever obstacle was obstructing her head and shoulders earlier.) Menolly realizes that she’s in the middle of the Hatching Ground right as the eggs hatch. The first few fire-lizards head out, only to have Threadfall meet them at the entrance to the cave. Menolly tries to stop the fire-lizards from exiting, but they attack her and get around her when she had to defend herself. Menolly pleads with the older fire-lizards to stop the younger ones.
The thrill of being the witness to a Hatching of fire lizards gave way to horror. Dragons had to be protected because they protected Pern. In Menolly’s fear and confusion, the little fire lizards were linked to their giant counterparts.
She was overwhelmed with pangs of hunger, belly-knotting, gut-twisting hunger. It took her only a moment to realize that the driving force in these fire lizards was that sort of hunger: that was what was sending them senselessly forth. They had to eat. She remembered that dragons had to eat, too, when they first Hatched, fed by the boys they Impressed.
This is nicely done – those with previous knowledge of the relationship between fire lizards and dragons know this is correct – but for someone coming new to this series, this is a great subtle hint of that relationship, if we are to believe that Menolly is not confused, but correct. Based on the characterization shown thus far, we should be willing to believe Menolly’s hypothesis about this relationship.
Also, Menolly demonstrates the power of SCIENCE! again. Even if the initial thought of hunger being the motivating force is an intuitive leap based on dragon information, the experimentation that follows is good science. Menolly snags a fire-lizard in one hand and a shellfish in the other. The fire-lizard kills the shellfish and heads to a corner to feast. Repeat experiment, same result. Realizing she can’t catch them all for hand-feeding, Menolly dumps out her shellfish catch on the ground of the cavern, and the fire lizards go to town on the food. It’s not enough to satisfy them, but it does delay them long enough so that the Thread has passed by the time they are finished. With the danger gone, the new clutch and the old grouping go off to find more food, and, after eating the one bit of food not sacrificed to the fire-lizards, Menolly goes to sleep in the cavern, exhausted. That closes out Chapter 5, and I’d like to think Menolly dreams of a serpent eating its tail.
Menolly demonstrates the same perception and empathy that Jaxom did in Dragonquest. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most empathetic and well fleshed-out characters in the stories are children. They don’t have dragons or political power or other things interfering with their ability to understand the fairness of the situation, and they are unconstrained and able to act on those feelings, which gives them the advantage of getting to see how things turn out without too much influence from politics or other adults skewing the results.