Last time, Menolly endured Threadfall, helped Domick get past his stereotypes, and realized she wasn’t going to win a battle of wills with Silvina. Which had the added benefit of removing her from Dunca and the other Mean Girls as should have happened at the beginning of this book.
Dragonsinger: Chapter 7: Content Notes: Intimidation, evidence of gaslighting
Chapter Seven begins with restless fire lizards and, by extension, a restless Menolly, who runs down the checklist of things that could agitate her fair, and gets nothing other than an increasingly agitated set of fire lizards, reacting to some distress from very far away.
Suddenly, their terror erupted in her with such intensity that she cried out.
“Don’t!” Her injunction was spontaneous. She tried to throw up her arms to protect herself from this unknown danger, but her hands were lizard-bound. Their fear was completely and utterly hers. And, incoherently, she repeated the cry, “Don’t! DON’T!”
In her mind, out of nowhere, Menolly received an indelible impression of turbulence: savage, ruthless, destructive; a pressure inexorable and deadly; churning masses of slick, sickly gray surfaces that heaved and dipped. Heat as massive as a tidal wave. Fear! Terror! An inarticulate longing!
A scream, heard in her mind, a scream like a knife upon raw nerves!
“DON’T LEAVE ME ALONE!
Menolly didn’t think she had cried out. She was, as far as she could think sanely, certain that she hadn’t heard the cry, but she knew the words had been spoken at the extreme of someone’s anguish.
So, hey, you know that thing where Brekke and Lessa can communicate with all dragons and not just their own? Apparently, that extends to dragons and fire lizards a very long way away from them, when they’re in pure terror. Since Menolly has nine fire lizards, she gets a far clearer picture of what’s happening, even to the point where she screams out what Brekke is screaming. We knew that Lessa could influence others around her with her mental powers, but being able to talk to all dragons is apparently a sign of those abilities, as Brekke’s call summons all of Menolly’s fire lizards, the dragon of a rider that’s currently at the Hall, and even sets the watchwher at Fort into alarm.
And speaking of alarms, Menolly’s shouting has summoned the senior staff to make sure she’s okay, with Morshal taking the role of “just a silly girl and her hysteria” before being sent away by Silvina and Robinton. The return of the fire lizards allows Menolly to pass along where they were (Benden), what happened (Canth and the Brown Rider Rapist in a deadfall), and whether the terror has passed (it has). Which is Silvina’s signal to clear everyone out but Robinton and Menolly, who tells him about her fire lizards retrieving her pipes from the cot, and receives reassurances that Ruth and Jaxom are okay, as well as some amusement about how training fire-lizards to run messages is tougher than expected, in return. Before Silvina drugs Menolly to sleep, Menolly hears that the fire lizard of the Fort Lord Holder reacted the same way, with the same nightmare played before his eyes.
After she wakes, Menolly is filled in on the details of what happened, with Menolly’s mind backgrounding working out the new information about fire lizards, as she and Silvina eat and then check in on Robinton’s eggs. Camo and Piemur took care of the morning feeding of the fair, to their delight. As they finish checking on the eggs and trying to figure out how they can get Robinton to be in the right place at the right time, Silvina calls down to Piemur, whom I suspect she knows had been hanging around outside the window, to fetch Sebell and convey to Master Shonagar that Menolly will be late for her lesson.
“Piemur! Piemur, ask Sebell to step up to the Harper’s room, will you? Menolly? Yes, she’s awake and here. No, she can’t attend Master Shonagar until Sebell arrives. Yes? Well, go through the choir hall to the journeymen’s quarters and give Master Shonagar my message. Menolly answers to Master Robinton first, me second and then any of the other masters who require her attention.”
Menolly fretted about Master Shonagar’s certain wrath while Silvina made her wait until Piemur had found and returned, at a run, with Sebell.
This continues to bolster my belief that the headwoman is the person who is really in charge of any large institution on Pern, for all that the men posture and claim to be the person in charge. Nobody crosses Silvina if they know what is good for them. Not that it stops Shonagar from expressing his opinion on the matter to Menolly.
Despite Silvina’s reassurance, Menolly was apprehensive as she made her tardy arrival before Master Shonagar. But he said nothing. He kept looking at her until she nervously began to shift her weight from foot to foot.
“I do not know what it is about you, young Menolly, that you can disrupt an entire Craft Hall, for you are not presumptuous. In fact, you are immodestly modest. You do not brag nor flaunt your rank nor put yourself forward. You listen, which I assure you is a pleasure and relief, and you learn from what you are told, which is veritably unheard of. I began to entertain hope that I have finally succeeded, in a mere slip of a girl, the dedication required of a true musician, an artist! Yes, I might even coax a real voice out of your throat.” His fist came down with an almighty wallop on the sandtable, the opposite end flapping onto its supports. She jumped. “But I cannot do much if you are not here!”
“Silvina is a wonderful woman. Without her the Hall would be in chaos and our comfort ignored. Master Shonagar said, still in a loud tone. “She is also a good musician… ah, you didn’t know that? You should make the occasion to listen to her singing, my dear girl… But,” again the voice boomed, Master Shonagar’s belly bouncing, although the rest of him seemed stationary, “I thought I had made it plain that you are to be here without fail every single day!”
“Come fog, fire or Fall! Have I made myself plain enough?”
“Then…” and his voice dropped to normal proportions, “let us begin with breathing…”
Menolly fought the desire to giggle. She mastered it by breathing deeply and then settled quickly to the discipline of the lesson.
And it’s that last line that makes me hesitate on how to interpret it. If Menolly were just frightened the whole way through, it would be easy to say “Fuck it, Shonagar, you’re just as bad as the rest of them. Is there nobody here who has a shred of empathy about how difficult it is to be the only girl apprentice and to come from an abusive background?” Because Menolly giggles at the end, though, I think we’re supposed to reinterpret what sounds like a thundering tirade as Shonagar performing all of this with a wink and a nod, perhaps so that Piemur, who is probably hanging around outside, doesn’t get it into his head that Shonagar has a soft spot for excuses originating from Silvina, or that Menolly is somehow getting special treatment and his friendship with her could be used to soften Shonagar at a critical moment. Since I’m still of the opinion that Shonagar is the smartest and most empathetic of the Masters there, with the exception, perhaps, of Jerint, I’m giving him the benefit of a charitable interpretation, and the narrative is excluding the subtle signals that clearly communicate to Menolly that he’s not mad at her at all, but doing this because appearances must be kept up.
Or that’s a nervous giggle, and everything in the preceding paragraphs should be wiped in favor of a giant fuck you to Shonagar for terrorizing Menolly like that.
After practice, Menolly returns to Sebell, who has been playing for the fire lizards. Menolly gives him a few pointers about how to interpret the feelings of a fire lizard (it’s all in the eyes), where to scratch them for pleasure (eye ridges and wing joints), and some other matters on the care, feeding, and teaching to sing of fire lizards. Camo arrives with food and makes Menolly promise he’ll help feed the fair tonight, the tone of which “suggested that too many promises made to Camo were conveniently forgotten” to Menolly. Sebell reviews his fish knowledge as they eat, and shares stories of his own apprenticeship, before the two of them work on one of Domick’s new assignments until Sebell calls it quits on account of his hands not being able to catch up. Which leads to some conversation about what it is that Sebell actually does as a Harper, and the differences between Menolly’s songs and Domick’s and what Menolly should think about one of her compositions having been spread Pern-wide.
“What your have to do now is learn how to push your music without losing its freshness. That’s why it’s so important for you to study with Domick. He has the discipline, you have the originality.”
Menolly could not reply to that assessment. There was a lump in her throat as she remembered the beatings she’d taken for doing exactly what she was now encouraged to do.
“Don’t hunch up like that,” Sebell said, almost sharply. “What’s the matter? You’ve gone white as a sheet….”
[…Sebell leaves, Menolly ruminates…]
They were still twiddles, her songs, unlike the beautiful, intricate musical designs that Domick composed. But if she studied hard with him, maybe she could improve her twiddles into what she could honestly call music.
Firmly she turned her thoughts toward the gitar duet and ran through the tricky passages, slowly at first and then finally at time. One of the chords modulated into tones that were so close to the agonized cry of the previous night that she repeated the phrase.
By the time Menolly had arranged the chords in the plaint to her satisfaction, Beauty, Rocky, and Diver were softly crooning along with her. So she studied on the verse.
“Well, you approve?” she asked her fair. “Perhaps I ought to jot it down or something.”
“No need,” said a quiet voice behind her, and she whirled on the stool to see Sebell seated at the sandtable, scribing quickly. “I think I’ve got most of it.” He looked up, saw the startled expression on her face and gave her a brief smile. “Close your mouth and come check my notation.”
“What did I tell you, Menolly, about apologizing for the wrong things?”
“I was just tuning…”
“Oh, the song needs polishing, but that refrain is poignant enough to set a Hold to tears.”
This is an illustrative sequence, I think, because it nor only shows us that Menolly is still dealing with the memories of the past, it shows us how far she still has to go, for her own confidence. She doesn’t compose unless she thinks there’s nobody there – a habit learned from Yanus – and she’s very quick to dismiss the whole thing as “twiddles” and “just tuning”, also a habit learned from Yanus. After all, if she’s going to be a successful Harper, there’s anyways the chance that she’ll have to perform for an audience with him in attendance. Or that he’ll learn who the composer of these interesting songs is and decide that she has properly disgraced his Hold and come looking for her to abuse her more. And Menolly is comparing herself to Domick, a Master with much more time composing, as the standard for which music is. It’s all in the service of showing us how much Menolly is still reflexively hiding her talents, because they seem to get her in trouble with anyone not Sebell, Silvina, or Robinton. Who, by the way, is listening at the door as Sebell plays the tune to make sure that everything is correctly notated. Double embarrassment squick for Menolly, as both Sebell and Robinton try to reassure her that this is what they went looking for her to do.
Before Menolly can fling herself from the room, though, the fire lizard eggs are ready to hatch. Under Menolly’s direction, Robinton collects a bronze and Sebell a gold. Also attending, Lord Groghe, the Fort Hold Lord Holder, brought by Merga, his queen fire lizard. Who gets Menolly to agree to teach him how to train his fire lizard.
“Well spoken.” Lord Groghe turned his heavy torso in Silvina’s direction, favoring the headwoman with a fierce stare. “Well-spoken child. Not what I expected. Can’t trust other people’s opinions. Never did. Never will. I’ll arrange something with Robinton later. Not too much later. But later. Good day to you all.”
“What did Lord Groghe mean, Silvina? I’m not what he expected?”
“I was afraid you’d catch that,” Silvina said, her eyes narrow with a contained anger. She patted Menolly’s shoulder absently. “There’s been loose talk, which has done them no good and you no harm. I’ve a few knees to set to knocking, so I have.”
Menolly was thoroughly and unexpectedly consumed with anger.
Ooh, I think Menolly has finally had the last straw with regard to Dunca and the Mean Girl Squad. Silvina claims she’ll handle the issue, and that Menolly is to concern herself with Harper business. Sebell tells Menolly to drop the issue as well, to copy the music sent up instead.
So Chapter Seven ends with Sebell naming his queen Kimi, and Menolly copying music, supposedly “with a good heart”. But I believe this is the first time we’ve seen Menolly about to boil over with anger. This might be a turning point between the girl trying to make everyone nor notice her or be happy with her and a girl more intent on being assertive about her position and how fair these girls are treating her, and what they’re doing to prejudice others against her.