Dragonsong: From Panic to Pleasure… and back again, both ways.

Last time, Menolly spent quite a bit of time acclimating to Weyr life and healing her feet from her sprint against Thread, made friends with Mirrim, and meet Lessa on a day when Lessa was in an irritable mood.

Dragonsong: Chapters 11-12: Content Notes: PTSD. Good content: Empathy! In spades!

Chapter 11 is short, but impactful. Bringing back a clutch of thirty-one eggs improves Lessa’s mood considerably, and she places Menolly in charge of making sure the eggs are warm and sandy. And orders up new clothes for Menolly, leaving her in Felena’s care. Who starts with a long series of orders to her staff to get clothes, footwear, and something to give Menolly a haircut.

“How many Turns do you have?” Felena asked on the end of that long series of orders.
“I’ve fifteen, please,” answered Menolly, dazed and trying very hard not to cry. Her throat aches and her chest was tight and she couldn’t believe what was happening to her: people fussing over how she liked and what she wore. Above all, Lessa had smiled at her because she was so pleased about the clutch. And it seemed as if she didn’t have to worry about being sent back to Half-Circle. Not if the weyrfolk were ordering her shoes and giving her clothes…
“Fifteen? Well, you wouldn’t need much more fostering, would you?” Felena sounded disappointed. “We’ll see what Manora has in mind for you. I’d like you as mine.”
Menolly burst into tears.

So, remember last time when I talked about how the narrative missed opportunities to check in on Menolly’s mental state? Apparently, it’s anticipated that criticism and is giving us very clear signals here. It is a nice touch to explicitly mention that Menolly feels safer because Lessa is happy, because that definitely jibes with the idea of Menolly not wanting to upset anyone who can send her back. And the tears of joy at finally feeling somewhere secure and having people pay attention to her because she’s done well, not because she’s pissed Yanus or Mavi off, is also very in-character with Menolly’s past.

If a bit baffling to the weyrfolk. Manora arrives and asks why Menolly is crying, and is able to settle her down and strike up a conversation with her.

Menolly found it easy to talk to Manora, and soon she was showing the headwoman the oil and explaining how she’d made it.
“I think you did successfully well all on your own, Menolly, not but what I’d expect of someone Mavi has trained.”
Menolly’s ease disappeared at the sound of her mother’s name. Involuntarily she clenched her left hand, feeling the scar tissue pull painfully from the intensity of her grip.
“You wouldn’t like me to send a message to Half-Circle?” asked Manora. “To say you’re safely here?”
“I don’t want you to, please! I’m no use to them there.” She held up her scarred hand. “And…” she halted, she’d been about to add “a disgrace.” “I seem to be useful here,” she said quickly, pointing to the basket of fire lizard eggs.
“So you are, Menolly, so you are.”

Empathy. It is so lovely to see characters practicing it. It’s interesting to see that Manora, the person who runs the household logistically, has it, but all the people who are nominally charge of the household seem to be rather lacking in it. Menolly isn’t wrong that Yanus and Mavi consider her a disgrace, but it’s a good sign of recovery that Menolly isn’t using that terminology on herself at this point.

Mirrim approves of Menolly’s new wardrobe, and shocks Menolly a bit by giving as good as T’gellan does in barbs and insults, and T’gellan gives Menolly a cup of wine, which also shocks her, because wine was saved for special occasions at Half-Circle. The wine is enough, along with something that Manora gave her for nerves earlier (whisky, perhaps? Or beer?) to lower Menolly’s inhibitions about music that she hums her own harmony to the Weyr’s Harper, Oharan, playing. Mirrim notices, and drags the Harper over to hear. T’gellan gives Menolly another cup of wine, and that helps Menolly get over Yanus’s conditioning about singing in front of others enough to sing along.

“Yes, I like it, Menolly. You’ve a sure sense of pitch,” said Oharan so approvingly that she started to worry again.
If Yanus knew she was singing at the Weyr…But Yanus wasn’t here and he would never know.
“Say, can you harmonize to this one?” And Oharan broke into one of the older ballads, one in which she had always sung a counter-tune against Petiron’s melody.
Suddenly there were other voices humming along, softly but surely. Mirrim looked around, stared suspiciously at T’gellan, and then pointed at Beauty.
“She’s humming in tune. Menolly, however did you reach her to do that? And the others…some of them are singing, too!” Mirrim was wide-eyed with amazement.

The singing continues, and then the questioning is ready to start, when Menolly hiccups from the drink. Which switches Mirrim from collaborator to den mother immediately, and they hustle Menolly off to bed to sleep it off.

And thus ends chapter 11, with Menolly taking fledgling steps toward really breaking free of the poisonous mentality that Yanus and Mavi instilled in her. Admittedly, with the help of alcohol, which isn’t the best way to go about going it.

Chapter 12 opens with Mirrim rousing Menolly, who is hung over from the drinking, because today is Hatching Day and every hand is needed to prepare the feast. Mirrim is still talking a mile-a-minute, trying to hide her real feelings, which come out in a giant cry and a quick summary of what state Brekke is in, and how Brekke loves the Brown Rider Rapist (although Mirrim doesn’t know what he did to Brekke). The best line, though, is once again, the practice of empathy:

Menolly just let Mirrim cry, knowing how much relief she had felt the day before when she’d wept, and hoping deep in her heart that there might be joyful tears, too, for Mirrim later that day. There had to be. She forgave Mirrim all her little poses and attitudes, aware that that was how Mirrim had masked her intense anxiety and grief

For fuck’s sake, where were all these empathetic and likable characters in the first two goddamn books? It definitely seems like the writing knack is in teenage protagonists, because I like all of Anne McCaffrey’s younger characters a lot more than her older ones.

The kitchen is ablaze with activity – the cooks have been at work, and there are weyrmen pitching in as well, getting a large beast ready for cooking (already, we see more cooperation and efficient kitchen-running than Ruatha, where cooks kicked drudges and left them all the work). Given the choice between peeling roots and cooking the fish, Menolly elects the fish and spices up a large quantity of stew (which earns compliments from Felena, the head cook), with enough time left over to hack away at the root pile and decorate some cakes. There’s a lot of chatter going on, and the actual time the Hatching starts catches Menolly with a kitchen-stained shirt when her ride to the event appears.

The next several paragraphs are a reworking of the hatching that involves Brekke re-awakening, thanks to her fire-lizard, and Jaxom’s Impression of Ruth, which Menolly gets to see because her ride has completely forgotten about picking her up. Menolly is happy for Mirrim at Brekke’s return to active awareness, and for Jaxom’s Impression of Ruth, because she only understands the happy part, not the social taboo of “Lord Holders can’t be dragonriders.” (Conflicted loyalties! A potential enemy with a dragon of his own! Oh no! It’s not like F’lar couldn’t fix the problem by putting Lessa in charge. Or Lytol, if he wants to be a dick to both Lessa and Jaxom.) Which is like the taboo of “Women can’t be Harpers” – an arbitrary rule imposed by people more interested in protecting their privilege than in truly getting the best people in the right jobs.

So Chapter 12 finishes with Menolly witnessing something incredible, but with no ride back to the feast.

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