We’ve spent only a couple days at the Harper Hall, and Menolly and her fire lizards are the talk of everywhere. She’s found some of the Masters sympathetic, and at least one that’s biased against her gender, like many of the apprentices are. And Menolly has a dorm mother who hates her and change. Jury is still officially out on the other women who are studying music at the hall.
Dragonsinger: Chapter 4: Content Notes: Mocking the disabled, Queen Bees and Mean Girls
We’re still on Day Two of Menolly at the Harper Hall. Menolly has managed to not collapse through the examinations of the various Masters, but now she needs to feed the fire lizards. Camo is delighted to help, to the point where he abandons his duties to help feed. Piemur also appears and asks if he can help feed.
“I’ve already got Camo falling over himself to feed…”
“Pretty Beauty,'” and Piemur mimicked the older man’s thick voice perfectly, ” ‘Feed pretty Beauty…’ Oh, don’t worry, Menolly, Camo and me are friends. He won’t object to me helping, too.”
I don’t think she’s objecting to your help, Piemur, at least not in my headcanon. She’s unhappy because you’re mocking Camo and then trying to pass it off as okay, because you’re friends. Because Menolly has that most precious of resources, empathy.
The dinner bell sounds, and Menolly goes to the back table with all the other women for this particular meal. All the other girls enter together, and have a fairly uniform expression of disgust and disdain for Menolly. The leader of the girls introduces herself.
“My name is Pona, my grandfather is Lord Holder of Boll.” She held out her right hand, palm up, and Menolly, who had never had an opportunity to make the gesture of formal greeting, covered it with hers.
“I am Menolly,”…”my father is Yanus, Sea Holder of Half-Circle Sea Hold.”
There was a startled murmur of surprise from the others.
“She ranks us,” someone said, rebellious and astonished.
“There’s rank in the Harper Hall?” asked Menolly, disturbed and wondering what other elements of courtesy she might unwittingly have neglected. Hadn’t Petiron always told her that the Harper Craft, in particular, laid stress on skill and musical achievement rather than natal rank? But Piemur had said “You rank ’em.”
“Half-Circle is not the oldest seahold. Tillek is,” said the dark-complexioned girl, rather crossly.
“Menolly is daughter, not niece,” said the girl who had mentioned outranking. She now extended her hands, less grudgingly, Menolly thought. “My father is Weaver Craftsmaster Timareen of Telgar Hold. My name is Audiva.”
You can guess where this is going. Having basically been excluded from the regular structure of the Hall, the girls have formed their own hierarchy based on their lineage. I have but one question about all of this so far.
Cocowhat by depizan
What. The. Fuck. Up to this point in the series, there has been no mention at all about any of this regarding ranking, inheritance, or anything else with even remote relation to some sort of complex system of primogeniture and status based on who someone’s father is. We had an entire book set mostly in a Hold where all of this could have been explored, and then maybe compared to the structure of a Weyr, and finally, the supposed egalitarianism of the Harper Hall. Mavi or Yanus or Alemi or Sella could have talked about this with her, even if they think her the unmarriageable daughter. This could have been explained as to why Menolly knows what a formal greeting is, despite apparently never having had the opportunity to use it. This doesn’t make much sense at all. Why is this appearing now…
…you know what else this reminds me of? High school drama. Which has zero need in this story, except as a provider of artificial drama. Which we already have, with the sexist teacher and the dorm mother who cannot stand her, and this is Menolly, who has been beaten by her father, gaslit by her mother and sister, and is still trying to feel out an entirely alien place to her. We have covered plenty of possibilities for drama without having to add a clique of catty women to this. Apparently, the narrative has had enough of competent and empathetic women in the books and wants more reasons why the men are totally justified in their misogyny.
But then there’s this:
Menolly are hungrily and quickly until she realized the girls were all taking half-spoonsful and breaking their bread and cheese into dainty bite-sized portions. Pona and Audiva watched her surreptitiously, and one of the other girls tittered. So, thought Menolly grimly, her table manners differed from theirs? Well, to change would mean anything that hers were faulty. She did slow down, but continued to eat heartily, making no bones about asking for more while the girls were still but halfway through their first serving.
Go, Menolly. But also, we’re being set up for Menolly to always be one of the Other compared to these girls. I’m hoping that the way this turns out is more Miss Congeniality (with Menolly in the role of Sandra Bullock’s character) than Cinderella.
So the girls grill Menolly about the Impression, but not for interest in the process, but in how the social statuses of the men and women who were there have changed due to dragon. There’s disdain from Pona about Menolly’s menagerie, but Audiva deflects with some well-placed barbs about the boys Pona is chasing. The topic turns to why the dragonriders haven’t sent flame crews to the Red Start to destroy thread yet, but Menolly tunes it out because she’s exhausted from her day, and stuck somewhere with way too many people, and her feet hurt. She wants alone time, so much so that she wants to go as soon as she sees people going, but apparently dismissal is done by rank, so she has to wait (earning more disapproval from Pona).
She did not want to be among people, especially all these strange people who had odd notions and different manners, and seemingly, no sympathy for the newcomer. The Weyr had been big and well-populated, but she had felt at home there, with friendly glances and uncritical, smiling faces.
“Your feet hurting again?” It was Piemur asking, his brows contorted in a worried scowl.
Piemur has apparently mastered the art of Not Being Seen, because he tends to appear out of seeming nowhere. He offers a shoulder to Menolly to get her back to Dunca’s, where she calls out for her (this becomes important), then gets to bed, lets in the fire-lizards, takes off her clothes, uses the medicine for her hand and feet, and falls asleep. With her first day finally over, we end Chapter 4.
Also, I’m still wondering what possible power Menolly might have by virtue of her rank. If she hadn’t been beaten into submission by Yanus, and discouraged from anything by Mavi, it would make things so much easier for Menolly to say “Oh, I rank you? Well then, that makes me the leader, doesn’t it? Starting right now, you’re going to treat everyone here with respect and get Dunca to do the same thing.” Not that the narrative would allow Menolly to just take control that way, but it certainly seems like a lot of grief would be avoided by letting Menolly exploit her newfound position to her advantage.