Last chapter, Menolly was finally able to get some of her aggression out against Pona and the Mean Girl Squad, although she only threw one punch, and it gave a Lord Holder’s son a fine black eye. It’s not Yanus, or even Morshal, but we’ll take it.
Dragonsinger: Chapter 10: Content Notes: Sexism, violent intent, gaslighting
This is the third chapter we are spending on the gather day, and it begins with Menolly advising Lord Groghe and the other new fire lizard symbionts about how to get their lizards to do things – it takes strong emotion. And all the other things she knows about fire lizards. And some about Half-Circle Sea Hold, where Menolly gets to assert that she is a Harper, instead of a Sea Holder. Which is great to hear from her.
The entertainment for the evening is something akin to a square dance, with callers and instruments and a lot of dancing. The intermezzo is Brudegan and a chorus, which is accompanied by the fire lizards in attendance, which sets up a clamor for the fire lizard song. Groghe, Brudegan, and Robinton all insist that Menolly come up to sing her own song, with new wording, as her turn at being a Harper at a gather.
It goes well, in that Menolly collects a lot of applause for the song and for one from Half-Circle, and Robinton is very happy with her performance.
The second dancing group arrives, and everybody wants a dance with Menolly afterward – Talmor, Audiva’s escort from earlier, Brudegan, Domick, then Piemur. Menolly’s songs are requested so much that she squirms in embarrassment. But eventually it is time for the care and feeding of fire lizards, which makes Camo and Piemur happy, and finally, gather day concludes.
The morning has Menolly attend the Masterharper, who is having trouble with just one lizard, and then feed her fair with Camo and Piemur. Domick comes soon after to pressure her into another quartet rehearsal. She’s still got to copy her new song for the Masterharper, but she has no copying tools. So Domick takes her to Master Arnor, the archivist.
Master Arnor was a fusser: he wanted to know why Menolly was to have sheets; apprentices had to learn how to copy properly on old hides before they could be entrusted with the precious sheets; what was the hurry about? And why hadn’t Master Robinton told him himself if it was all this important? And a girl? Yes, yes, he’d heard of Menolly. He’d seen her in the dining hall, same as he saw all those nuisancy apprentices and holder girls and, oh, well, all right, here was tool and ink, but she wasn’t to waste it now, or he’d have to make more and that was a lengthy process and apprentices never paid close attention to the simmering and if the solution boiled, it would be ruined and fade too soon and oh, he didn’t know what the world was coming to!
And there’s another asshole in the Hall with actual power. This time, we’re supposed to pass it off as Arnor just being nervous about everything and he would never trust his precious things to any apprentice, much less the untrained and musically hopeless paying students. But there it is again, that institutional sexism that automatically makes girls lesser. That invisibles women in roles outside the kitchen, despite their singing prowess, and that prevents even the possibility of gender parity at the Hall.
After collecting her copying tools and sheets, Menolly sets to work, even as she overhears some discussion by the senior staff (and Silvina) and others about posting journeymen. Just as she finishes, Domick arrives to take her copies and push her off to quartet practice, with a call back to Menolly’s self-criticism about dynamic levels. Where Talmor and Sebell seem to be sniping at each other overtly, as if something’s changed between them. After practice, Menolly hits the chow hall, where Piemur has been restored to his usual place by all the women, now that Pona had been dismissed from the Hall.
The thin knot of worry in her middle grew larger and colder. Pona in the cot, contained by the discipline of the Harper Hall, was bad enough, but, in her grandfather’s Hold, pouring out acid vengeance, she was much more dangerous for Harper apprentice, Menolly.
“Naw, not just yesterday,” Piemur said firmly. “So don’t you go feeling guilty about it. But yesterday was the final crack, the way I heard it, bearing false witness against you. And Dunca’s been raked over by Silvina! That pleased her to no end; she’s just been itching to take Dunca down.”
…[Menolly takes the seat next to Audiva, noticing that Audiva is getting the silent treatment from Pona’s lieutenant]…
As she stepped to the place, she caught Briala’s startled, antagonistic glance. The dark girl nudged her neighbor, Amania, who also turned to glare at Menolly. But Menolly smiled at Audiva and, as she stood by the tall craft-girl, she felt Audiva’s hand fumble for hers and the grateful pressure of her fingers. Stealing a sideways glance, she noticed that Audiva’s eyes looked red and her cheeks showed the puffiness of recent and prolonged weeping.
Uh, Piemur, did you forget what happened yesterday, how easily Pona manipulated others, and what Menolly said about her family in relation to her talent? Why would Menolly willingly want a loose cannon out in the world to spread lies about her to an audience that is predisposed to believing those lies about her?
In slightly happier news, Menolly is once again the carrier of empathy, noticing Audiva is getting the same treatment that Menolly got for sticking up for her. We’re still unhappy that empathy is still a scarce resource here. The meal proceeds with Piemur filling the space with talk, as Briala pointedly ignores it all, and Piemur is angling to get a fire lizard, since his high singing voice won’t last forever. Piemur baits Briala by pointing out that Menolly being Robinton’s apprentice confers some status, and Briala takes the bait by intimating that Pona’s grandfather will put his resources to trying to hurt Menolly. Audiva and Menolly strike an agreement for Menolly to tutor Audiva in her spare time, because Menolly considers Audiva to be the only girl worth a damn in playing, and Audiva is the only one in the group that actually wants to get better.
Now fed, Menolly and her fair share a happy set of images involving playing in the lake with Merga, Groghe’s fire lizard, before her lesson with Shonagar. Who has, to this point, been the only Master who hasn’t been an obvious asshole to Menolly. Surely he won’t close the loop.
“So, you return to me? After singing at the gather?”
“Wasn’t I supposed to sing?” Menolly halted so abruptly in her astonishment at the reprimand in his voice that Beauty cheeped in alarm.
“You are never to sing without my express permission.” The massive fist connected with the tabletop.
“But the Masterharper himself…”
“Is Master Robinton your voice instructor? Or am I?” The bellowed question rocked her back on her heels.
“You are, sir. I only thought…”
“You thought? I do the thinking while you are my student…and you will remain my student for some time, young woman, until your voice is properly trained for your duties as a harper! Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, sir. I’m very sorry, sir. I didn’t know I was disobeying…”
“Well,” and his tone abruptly modified to one of such benevolence that Menolly again stared in disbelief, “I hadn’t actually mentioned that I didn’t consider you ready to sing in public yet. So I accept your apology.”
Menolly gulped, grateful for the reprieve.
“You didn’t, all things considered, perform too badly yesterday,” he went on.
“You heard me?”
“Of course I heard you!” The fist landed again on the table, though with less force than the previous thump. “I hear every singing voice in this Hall. Your phrasing was atrocious. I think we’d better go over that song now so that you can correct your interpretation.” He heaved a sigh of profound resignation. “You will undoubtedly be obliged to sing it again in public; that’s obvious, since you wrote it, and it is undeniably popular. So you might just as well learn to sing it well! Now, we shall start with breathing exercises. And we can’t,” another crash on the sandtable, “do that when you’re halfway across the hall and trembling all over. I won’t eat you, girl,” he added in the gentlest of the voices he had yet used in her presence. A slight smile parted his lips. “But I will,” and his tone took on a sterner note, “teach you to make the most of your voice.”
Although the lesson began with a totally unexpected scolding, Menolly left Master Shonagar’s presence with a feeling of considerable accomplishment. […] By the end of the lesson, Menolly stood in further awe of Master Shonagar’s musical acumen. He had drawn from her melody every particle nuisance and shading of tone, heightening its total impact.
Of course he can.
DARK HELMET: How many assholes do we have on this ship, anyway?
[BRIDGE CREW all jump to their feet and raise a hand]
BRIDGE CREW: YO!
DARK HELMET: I knew it! I’m surrounded by assholes!
Any previous charitable interpretation of Shonagar is revoked, effective immediately. I’m surprised Shonagar didn’t get a face full of fire lizards for this performance, considering that Menolly is showing visible signs of fear in his presence. But Shonagar is quick to reassure us that he’s not actually going to hurt the girl with the abusive past, and the narrative follows that up immediately with “Menolly learned a lot in the lesson, so see? Totally not a problem.” Except, no, the reason that works is because Menolly is used to dealing with abusive assholes that hold power over her, when it comes to finding ways to pursue her musical passions, not because the abusive assholes aren’t going to hurt her.
It appears the author cannot write a character with power without first removing their capacity for empathy. And some amount of their brain, as well, because the senior staff really should know what kind of background Menolly is coming from, and exactly who they will be answering to if Menolly has a bad time.
Only one more scene to go before the end of the chapter, and it’s Audiva coming by for a tutoring lesson, and to properly apologize and make friends with Menolly, which she apparently can now that Audiva has become the outcast and target of the remaining Mean Girl Squad and their “poisonous atmosphere”. Menolly is still worried about Pona, which Audiva says should be no problem, because Menolly is Robinton’s apprentice and because Pona lied, not anything Menolly did. Which is, again, focusing on the wrong thing. It doesn’t matter if Pona is lying if it becomes a question of her word against Menolly’s. The others are much more likely to believe the slander if it comes from someone high-ranking and of their world. Audiva saw it at work, and yet she says the same thing Piemur did.
Audiva gushes over Menolly’s new song, and there is the settling of accounts and offenses, which Menolly wipes because, well…
“Let’s forget everything else…and just be friends. I’ve never had a girl friend before,” Menolly added shyly.
“You haven’t?” Audiva was shocked. “Weren’t you fostered out?”
“No, being the youngest and Half-Circle being so isolated and with Thread falling, and that’s what the Harper usually does, and Petiron never…”
So, right from the beginning, Yanus intended to keep control over his kids, with Thread and an aging Harper as convenient excuses, not that he didn’t have more of them. Menolly is just completely isolated from the world outside. Just so that she didn’t get competing ideas about life. Fuck you, Yanus.
The tutoring commences, and we find that Menolly is not very good at all in teaching, because she suffers from the inability to translate her expertise into something that Audiva, the beginner, can follow and use. Which is pretty true – the vocabulary and actions of an expert are often so automatic that someone just trying to learn may not be able to do much with it. Beginners learn from someone of intermediate skill best, because the intermediate players can probably still see and understand the beginner’s mind.
Chapter 10 closes with Menolly feeding herself and the fire lizards and then going to bed, still worried about the damage Pona can do. One more chapter to go.