When we last left Half-Circle Hold, Menolly had been acknowledged as missing. And that was about as far as her search-and-rescue operation got. Yanus explicitly gave zero fucks about finding his daughter, Mavi was anxious until she had official cover to not care, which relieved her of the fear of being blamed and punished for Menolly running away, her brother told Elgion not to try too hard to find Menolly, and the children of the Hold actively resisted giving information about Menolly. Elgion has correctly deduced that something is very rotten in Half-Circle Hold.
Dragonsong: Chapters 7-8: Content Notes: No content notes. For two whole chapters, no less!
Chapter 7 is “The Care And Feeding of Fire Lizards”, starring Menolly and her cadre of nine fire-lizards. We find out that Menolly had been paying attention to all the other things she has had to do at the Hold, and can therefore find food, whether by forage or by fishing, gather fire-starting materials, harden clay vessels in the ashes of that fire, and boil water. And teach nine fire lizards the finer points of hunting.
Menolly is also able to fashion reed pipes so that she can play and sing music again, and the fire lizards are an appreciative audience, and learn to study of harmonize with her as she makes music. Menolly treats them like people are supposed to treat dragons, and things work well for her. She also learns that the queen fire-lizard rules the nine, with commands and scolds and discipline all coming from her.
The first major test for Menolly comes when she needs to collect some sort of oil for the cracking fire-lizard skin.
The closest source of oil swarm in the sea. But she’d no boat to catch the deep-sea oily fishes, so she searched the coast for dead fish and found a packtail washed up during the night. She slit the carcass, carefully, always working the knife blade away from her, and squeezed the oil from the skin into a cup. Not the most pleasant of jobs; and by the time she’d finished, she had a bare cupful of unpleasantly fishy yellow oil. Yet it did work.
This could have been a spot for drama or to show us more explicitly how much Menolly’s mental state has improved – the packtail is the fish Menolly was working on when she sliced her hand open. Regrettably, all we get is that Menolly exercises caution with her knife in skinning the fish. It’s an acknowledgement, but it’s very much a missed opportunity to examine how well she is or isn’t doing in relation to her Hold, to any memories that might have surfaced upon seeing a packtail, or anything else. Menolly’s mental fortitude must be doing quite well, for the narrative to be so blase about this encounter.
When seeking more oil, Menolly comes across a trapped wherry and kills it, disembowels it, strips the meat, fat, and all the rest, then leaves the bones and organs as a feast for her lizards and the older clutch. Oil problem solved, as Menolly can also render fat into grease with her fire and clay vessels.
At the end of the chapter, the fire-lizards get names: Uncle (the small blue who always seems to get bullied), Auntie One and Auntie Two (greens), Rocky and Diver (bronzes, named for their hunting habits), Lazybones, Mimic, and Brownie (browns, named for their behavior), and Beauty (gold queen, named for her fastidiousness in cleaning herself).
This is a pleasant interlude, with happy entities all around and much laughter and geniality at the antics of the fire lizards. Even Shakespeare knew you wanted to lighten the mood before diving into the very tragic parts. Chapter Eight opens with Alemi suffering a broken leg and then getting cabin fever at having to rest. Yanus was unhappy about the break, but Mavi was able to turn him aside by pointing out it would be an opportunity to see if his XO could captain a ship.
Thus, bored and looking for something to do, Alemi drops in on Elgion teaching a new song to the kids. Alemi is a quick study and is soon singing along with them, to his own happiness.
“How’s the leg, Alemi?” the Harper asked when the room had emptied.
“I’ll have a weather-wise ache now for sure.
That’s a fine ballad you’re teaching.”
“That’s a fine voice you were singing it with, too. Why don’t you sound out more often? I was beginning to think the sea wind snatches the voice of everyone at about twelve Turns.”
“You should have heard my sis…” and Alemi stopped, flushed, and clamped his lips tight.
Elgion inquires after the mysterious boy with the composing talent, and Alemi can’t bring himself to say who made those songs, even after Elgion says they’re great and that he’s sending them on to Robinton. He hopes that the composer will show himself when he hears his own compositions. Elgion is dealing with a plot-mandated Idiot Ball at this point, considering how much Alemi has already slipped and the attitude of everyone regarding Menolly. He works through it as best he can, though, by delighting in Alemi’s flexibility and making a deal with him to teach him music if Alemi will teach him sailing. The mutual exchange of skills creates a friendship and Elgion uses the cover of his learning to borrow a boat and range up the coastline looking for the signs of fire-lizard eggs. Once let in on the secret, Alemi is eager to sail in close and look on the beaches. Which gives Elgion a good enough listen to hear music. Pipes, specifically.
“Alemi! That’s music! Not wind over blow holes! That’s someone playing pipes.”
An unhappy furtive thought crossed Alemi’s face so plainly that Elgion jumped to a conclusion. All at once, the pieces feel into place.
“Your sister, the one who’s missing. She wrote those songs. She taught the children, not the conveniently dismissed fosterling!”
Slowly Alemi nodded. “Yanus believed the Sea Hold disgraced to have a girl taking the place of a Harper.”
Now Elgion could understand many things about Menolly’s disappearance and the general reluctance at the Hold to discuss her or find her. Anyone sensitive enough to compose such melodies must have found life in the Sea Hold intolerable: doubly so with Yanus as Sea Holder and father. And then to be considered a disgrace! Elgion cursed Petiron for not making the matter plain. If only he had told Robinton that the promising musician were a girl, she might have been at the Harperhall before that knife had a chance to slip.
Oh, thank Prime Elgion isn’t carrying the Idiot Ball any more. His suspicion should have been roused a lot earlier than this, instead of having a flash of insight based on music, but we can finally move forward with the plot, now that Elgion is on board. If Elgion had been able to put aside his own prejudices and hadn’t accepted Yanus’s story as fact, we could have gotten here a lot earlier. Because Robinton, whenever described, is apparently really on board with the equality thing, so it’s a bit of a miss that such an attitude wasn’t instilled into Elgion before he left for Half-Circle.
Before they return, Alemi warns Elgion against divulging his knowledge, for obvious reasons. And Elgion, gifted with a free day from teaching, hatches a plan to go back and find Menolly in the caverns. Thus ends Chapter Eight.