Last chapter, Piemur survived an attempt on his life, for which no real discipline was issued to those who were responsible, or the person who allowed it to happen.
Dragondrums: Chapter 6: Content Notes: Getting Away With Attempted Murder, Victim-Blaming, Gaslighting
Chapter Six resumes the action near the end of Piemur’s enforced convalescence, with Silvina spoon-feeding him broth, since Piemur doesn’t know what his Hall future holds.
Piemur caught her skirt as she made a move. “There was grease on those steps, wasn’t there, Silvina?” Piemur had to ask the question, because he couldn’t really trust what he thought he had heard.
“Indeed and there was!” Silvina frowned, pursing her lips in an angry line. Then she patted his head. “Those little sneaks saw you fall, scampered down and washed the grease off the steps and handrail…but,” she added in a sharper tone, “they forgot there’d be grease on your boot as well!” Another pat on his arm. “You might say, they slipped up there!”
For a moment, Piemur couldn’t believe that Silvina was joshing him, and then he had to giggle.
“There! That’s more like you, Piemur. Now rest! That’ll set you right quicker than you realize. And likely to be the last good rest you’ll get for a while.”
Bit of gallows humor there, eh, Silvina? Also, with Piemur asking about the grease, something tells me that Dirzan has been gaslighting him for quite a while before the murder attempt, off page.
Piemur sleeps for a while until Menolly appears with proper food for him, and they talk about the attempt and his upcoming mission.
She grinned, then, her eyes twinkling. “Clell and the other dimglows are on water rations and they won’t get to the Gather!”
“And why not? They deserve restriction. Pranks are one thing, but deliberately conspiring to injure – and you could have been killed by their mischief – is an entirely different matter. Only…” and Menolly shook her head in perplexity, “…I can’t think what you did to rile them so.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Piemur said so emphatically that he slopped the water glass on his tray.
Rocky chirped anxiously, and Beauty took up the note in her trill.
“I believe you, Piemur.” She squeezed his toes where they poked the sleeping furs. “I do! And, would you also believe, that’s why you had trouble? They kept expecting you to do some typical Piemur tricks, and you were so busy behaving for the first time since you apprenticed here, no one could credit it. Least of all Dirzan, who knew all too much about you and your ways!” She gave his toes another affectionate tweak. “And you, bursting your guts with discretion to the point where you didn’t tell me or Sebell what you bloody ought to have. We didn’t mean for you to stop talking altogether, you know.
“I thought you were testing me.”
“Not that hard, Piemur. When I find out what Dirzan…no, eat all your tubers.”
No, no, no, no, NO, NO, NO!
Cocowhat by depizan
[The Loudest Profanity I’ve Ever Heard]…several times.
Before we even get to the content of this exchange, I object in the strongest terms to Menolly being used in this fashion. Yes, she’s Piemur’s friend, but she’s only been three Turns off of her own harrowing Hall experience, and she has her entire lifetime of abuse from her father as experience toward how much pranking and malice can be dangerous and harmful. The Menolly from Dragonsinger would not be satisfied merely with restrictions on liberty and on diet as punishment for attempted murder. She probably doesn’t have the authority to expel them on her own, but she shouldn’t have to make too much of a case for it, either.
I also object to Menolly engaging in victim-blaming here. Firsthand experience of what being yourself results in, and having to work through the issue that such things are not the fault of the victim, no matter how much the bullies insist it is, remember? Menolly is the very last person that would say “You brought this on yourself because everyone expected you to act like your reputation, so when you didn’t, it was open season on you. You should have just conformed to their expectations.” Bullshit. Absolute coprolite.
Finally, although it is minor compared to the flagrant fouls already committed, “bloody” as an oath is derived from “God’s blood”. There is no indication, anywhere, that there is any sort of religious practice on Pern, much less monotheism, and certainly not Christianity. An oath like “bloody” has zero fucking context to appear in, so it should not exist.
So. Plot. Not one to waste opportunity, Menolly informs Piemur of his upcoming trip to a Nabol Gather, where his bruises will provide extra realism to his role as an apprentice herder (a role Piemur is intimately familiar with, as he was part of a herder family before becoming a Harper). Sebell will be playing the role of the herder, and their mission is to discover why there are so many fire lizards at Nabol, whether Meron is trading with Southern Weyr, and which of Meron’s heirs will be the best fit to inherit from him.
“Meron’s trading with the Oldtimers?”
“Lord Meron, lad you don’t forget the title even in your thoughts…and yes, that’s the possibility.”
Because even if he is a slimeball in everyone’s opinion, and he’s done things to piss off most of them, he’s a Lord Holder, dammit, and that means he must be respected with his title. Much like how criticisms of dragonriders must be suppressed to the point of not even becoming conscious thought. Even though Sebell immediately undercuts that respect, Piemur is supposed to give it.
“He is dying then?” He’d [Piemur] been sure the message to Master Oldive was spurious.
“Oh, yes, a wasting disease.” Sebell’s grin was malicious, and there was an unpleasant gleam in his eyes as he met Piemur’s astonished gaze. “You might say, a very proper disease to fit Lord Meron’s…peculiar ways!”
No details are forthcoming about the disease, but we can probably surmise it’s an STD, since what we know of Meron from Dragonquest and this book is that Meron sleeps around a lot (many heirs) and sleeps with dragonrider queen riders (Kylara) who are well above his station, and, oh, is also abusive to those women (also Kylara). The way it’s described by Sebell, the “wasting disease” could be HIV/AIDS, although at the time of publication, I don’t believe it had yet been changed from Gay-Related Immune Disorder. If it is HIV/AIDS, with the implication that Meron is bisexual and collected it from a male partner, then Sebell and all the people, including Harpers and others not quoted in this chapter, who are taking great schadenfreude in someone they hate dying painfully, get an extra “you’re a homophobic asshole” on top of their current astronomical count of sins. So why, again, is Sebell telling Piemur he has to remember to say Lord Meron, since Sebell doesn’t respect Meron at all?
Everyone has promised Master Oldive that Piemur will have a light-duty time at the Gather, so we can expect that not to happen at all as soon as Piemur gets out into the wild. Because of that, though, Piemur gets dropped off by dragon ahead of where Sebell is driving the herdbeasts and told to wait for him. Piemur hears the sounds of people coming, and hides from them to observe.
He curled up small, hugging knees to chest, secure in the belief that he couldn’t be seen.
A chirrup disabused him off that notion and, startled, he glanced up and saw three pairs of fire lizard eyes gleaming at him.
“Go away, you silly creatures. I’m not even here!” To prove this, he closed his eyes and concentrated on the awful nothingness of between.
The fire lizards responded with an agitated chorus.
Piemur escapes discovery because the men with the fire lizards are uninterested in what just caused their fair to squeak frightfully. Which, yeah, moving cart, Gather, so it makes sense. However, it does raise an interesting question: Since fire lizards communicate mostly by images and emotions, is Piemur saying something like “I’m going to kill you.” unintentionally when he tries to communicate that he’s not here? It drove off the fair, but what will happen with a fair that doesn’t have a destination?
After quite the long wait, and enough time to feel somewhat sorry that he’s going to Nabol instead of performing at Fort, Piemur wonders whether Sebell is anywhere nearby. In the middle of a boast about his abilities with drum measures, Piemur gets an idea.
He groped on the ground beside him and found a rock, gave it an experimental whack against the builder that sheltered him. The resultant shins echoed about the small valley. Piemur found another rock and, rising, went to the now visible track. He beat the rocks together in the monotone code for “harper”, adding the be[a]t for “where,” grinning as the sharp staccato sounds reverberated. He repeated the two measures, then waited. He beat his measures again to give Sebell time to find his own rocks. Then in the pause he heard distantly a muffled reply: “journeyman comes.”
Hey, that skill Piemur picked up is going to come in handy after all, not just in sending coded messages on parchment. I’d like to see more of this creative problem-solving, and less of the abuse-because-talented, please.
After another giant fair of fire lizards and humans passes by, with Piemur thinking of nothingness again, but counting and confirming that there are way too many fire lizards about, Sebell arrives and the two go to the Gather. Sebell haggles down the fee for stable space for the animals, then sends Piemur to collect fodder for the animals while others start to bargain with Sebell for the beasts.
They got the beasts enclosed, and Piemur was sent with a worn mark of the Herdsman’s Crafthall to haggle for fodder. He managed to save an eighth on the dealing, which he pocketed as any apprentice would. Sebell was already deep in bargain with one of the men while the others were examining the beasts with pinch and prod.
Trust a Harper to weave words well, and Piemur’s respect for the journeyman increased proportionately to the elaborations of the tale he told. Sebell would have his audience believe that he merely used an old trick handed down from grandsire to grandson: a combination of herbs and grasses sweetened with just the right amount of berries and well-moistened dried fruits.
So, apparently, Piemur and Sebell are cut from the same mischievous, bargaining, advantage-gaining cloth. Which says good things about Piemur’s career trajectory, assuming he doesn’t end up dead from inexplicable reasons or poking his nose somewhere that gets his head cut off. I see promotions in Piemur’s future, and possibly a blue sapphire. Especially since he pockets the savings, “like any apprentice would”, which says a lot about how much everyone intends to take advantage of everyone else at all times. What’s to stop a journeyman from shorting his apprentice and forcing the apprentice to haggle down to ridiculous amounts? And would anybody care?
Also, that thing I talked about in the last book about the Smithcrafthall’s apparent monopoly on mark pieces? Utter bullshit. Which, okay, yes, Italian city-states pastiche, but holy fuck, how do you establish valuation for different Crafthall marks? It’s not like there’s an overarching monetary control authority that establishes the equivalencies. And marks aren’t based in precious metal or gemstone values, to the best of our knowledge (except maybe Miner marks). It seems like there’s no reason for the Crafthalls not to try and screw each other over in the exchange rates. “Oh, you have a Herder mark. That’ll net you a thirty-second of this Smithcraft mark, so I’ll need four more of them for this thing that costs an eighth, since I only deal in Smith marks.” And other such shenanigans. There’s no real rhyme or reason to this, and even a little bit of worldbuilding and thought would have been very welcome.
Sebell sells the beasts at a significant profit, and the two Harpers go off to their real missions. Piemur counts lizards, realizing that most of the lizards are browns, blues, and greens, and listens into a conversation that suggests that Meron is distributing fire lizard eggs, all right, but eggs from green fire-lizards. Piemur puts two and three together and follows the people conversing to the main Hold gates to confirm his suspicions. He can’t see inside, but he does see people leaving, concealing things that could be egg pots under their clothes.
A happy accident gives Piemur another piece in the puzzle.
Then three carts, heavily laden to judge by the straining of the burden beats struggling up the ramp, forced the smithmaster to one side. The guard waved the carts toward the kitchen courtyard. The last cart jammed a wheel against the ramp parapet, the driver thudding his stick against the burden beast’s rump.
“Wheel be jammed.” yelled Piemur, not liking to see any animal beaten for what was not its fault.
He jumped forward to help guide the carter. The man now backed his stolid beast, swinging its head left. Piemur, setting his shoulder to the tailgate, gave a push in the proper direction. He also tried to peek under the to see what on earth was being delivered to the Hold on a Gather day when most business was fine in the Gather meadow. Before he could get a good look, the cart had picked up speed as it reached more level ground.
He was past the guards, arguing with the smith and paying no more attention to the procession of carts. Ducking quickly to the side of the cart away from the carter, Piemur gained access to the Hold proper.
For once, empathy turns out to be useful to the plot, instead of a commodity to be shared only with intimate friends.
(Nitpicking again – to the residents of Pern, Terra doesn’t exist, so the phrase “what on earth” wouldn’t, either. “what on Pern”, perhaps, but not “what on earth.”)
And from here, we step into a boys’ adventure story again. Actually, that’s not true, we’ve always been in a boys’ boarding school story, it’s just that the consequences and the pranking went well beyond what a hazing for that kind of story would have gone through. This looks like it could be the longest attempt at this style of writing, since previously it was limited to a chapter or two as a breather here and there. The previous attempts worked out pretty well, and were good breaks. Considering we’re only a chapter out from a murder attempt, we might need a bigger break this time around.
Once inside the gate, Piemur snags some drudge coveralls and is immediately put to work helping unload the carts, gutting food, doing dishes, and then helping with a scramble when the kitchen is informed that Meron is dining in his quarters, instead of elsewhere. Piemur has confirmed to him that Meron has not picked an heir, and is apparently playing them all against each other. Having cleared out rooms full of an extraordinarily foul funk, confirmation of his theory comes with the largest room.
The foul odor hung heaviest in the last of the four large rooms that comprised the Lord Holder’s private apartments in Nabol. It was then that Piemur blessed the happenstance that had sent him in here ahead of the others. Reposing on the hearth were nine pots of exactly the size in which fire lizard eggs were placed to keep warm and harden. Mastering his urge to gag, Piemur ducked across the room to investigate. One pot was set slightly apart from the others and, lifting the lid, Piemur scraped enough sand away to see the mottled shell before he covered it carefully over. He took a quick look at the contents of the first pot in the other group. Yes, the egg was smaller and of a different hue. He’d rather every mark he owned that the separate pot contained a fire lizard queen egg.
Observation! A useful skill, indeed. What I’d like to know is whether Piemur is currently reinventing the wheel, considering the Weyrs would have many hundreds of years of experience looking at eggs to see what kind of dragons will pop out of them. And everyone else would have the collected experience of all the attendance at Hatchings to also make proper deductions. If fire lizards are kin to dragons, it should follow their egg patterns are kin, as well. So this feels like it should read more definitively, instead of as a very good guess.
So what does Piemur decide to do with this revelation of so many fire lizard eggs?
Quickly he switched pots. Shielding his actions with his body in case Besel [another drudge] ventured this far to check on him, he dumped the sand with deft speed into the cinder shovel, removed the egg and shivers it up under his coverall and into his shirt above his belt. Poking among the cinders, he selected one that had a slightly rounded end and nearly inserted it into the egg pot, replaced sand and lid and stood the rifled put back in line, straightening up just as the woman crossed the threshold.
…Steal one? Huh? Why do that? If someone notices, then there’s a lot of heat to have to avoid until it dies down, and being the new guy, Piemur is going to get immediate suspicion. And a few chapters ago, Menolly told him that she hasn’t forgotten about her promise to give him an egg. Maybe Piemur thinks he needs it to show Sebell as proof? Does he think Sebell is going to behave like Dirzan did toward him about things? I can’t find a credible justification for why Piemur takes the egg anywhere. Unless this is part of that “any apprentice” idea that says everyone is out to gain as much as they can without regard for other people.
As it turns out, the answer is “the plot made him do it”, as best as I can tell. After stealing the egg, Piemur finds a good place to dump it where he can keep it warm, insulated, and away from casually prying eyes, and then goes back to work assisting with the preparation of dinner. Having completed that, Piemur finally gets to eat scraps from the main table as his dinner. Now resolved to get out and report to Sebell, Piemur heads for the gate.
He jauntily approached the main gate, whistling deliberately off-key.
“And where do you think you’re going?”
“T’Gather,” Piemur replied as if this was all too obvious.
He was surprised by the man’s guffaw as he was by being swung around and roughly propelled back the way he had come.
“Don’t try that one on me again, guttingman!” called the guard as the force of his push sent Piemur stumbling across the cobbles, trying not to fall and damage the egg. He stopped in the darkest shadow of the wall and stood fuming over this unexpected check to his escape. It was ridiculous! He couldn’t think of any other Holds in all Pern where the drudges were denied the privilege of going to the Hold’s own Gather.
“G’wan back to the ashes, guttingman!”
As if we needed another reason to dislike Meron. This particular reason, though, serves double duty, as it keeps Piemur inside the Hold, with stolen goods. This doesn’t bother Piemur that much – he just thinks he’ll wait it out until there’s some other Hold traffic that he can slip out with, so he finds an out-of-the-way spot by where the coal is collected and the ashes dumped and naps.
And wakes up to the alarm in full fury looking for him and the stolen egg. Which he brought completely on himself by stealing the egg. And we still don’t know why he stole it. Realizing he needs a better place to hide, Piemur manages to climb the walls and slide through a window into a locked storeroom. The lock is tested by the searchers before they move on. Piemur still needs an even better hiding spot than this, and his cleverness provides an answer.
He crawled cautiously over the stacked bundles until he found one with enough slack at the top to admit him. He opened the thing, and just as he was crawling in, wondered how under the sun he was going to tie it up again, the stitching in the side began to give in his hands. Smiling happily at such a solution, he rapidly undid the stitching down the side. Crawling out, he retied the knot about the mouth of the sack, then slid through the undone seam, which, once inside, he could do up slowly, but enough to pass a cursory inspection. It was hard to do, feeding the thick thread though the original holes from the inside, and his hands and fingers were cramped when he finally accomplished the feat.
[…Finally safe…ish, Piemur falls into a deep sleep, then has a moment of panic trying not to suffocate in his bag…]
It was then he realized he wasn’t in Nabol Hold any longer. That the heat was not due to the unventilated stores room beyond Lord Meron’s kitchen, but the sun pouring down from southern skies.
And thus, in one of the more clumsy ways possible, but fitting with the idea of a boy’s adventure story, the narrative deposits Piemur where it wants him – on the Southern Continent, where he will get to have a survival adventure in a land he has no firsthand knowledge of. There’s just the matter of food (he snags an orange fruit from a tree and eats – and it is apparently not poisonous), and of the people who are coming to collect the supplies.
“If we don’t get some of that stuff under cover, it’ll be ruined,” said a tenor voice.
“I can smell the wine, in fact, and that better be taken out of the sun or it will be undrinkable,” said a second male voice with urgency.
“And if Meron’s ignored my order for fabric this time…” The woman’s sharp alto left the threat unspoken.
“I made it a condition of that last shipment of fire lizard eggs, Mardra, so don’t worry.”
“Oh, I won’t worry, but Meron will.”
“Here, this one bears a weaver’s seal.”
“At the very bottom, too. Who piled this so carelessly?”
Piemur, scurrying down the other side as fast as he could, felt the shiver as someone began tugging at the sacks in the front. Then he was sliding and grabbed the egg more tightly, exclaiming as he hit the ground with a thud.
Immediately three fire lizards, a bronze and two browns, appeared in the air about him.
“I’m not here,” he told them in a soundless whisper, gesturing urgently for them to go away. “You haven’t seen me. I’m not here!” He took to his heels, his knees wobbling uncertainly, but add he lurched down a faintly outlined path leading away from the voices and the goods, he thought so fiercely of the Black nothingness of between that the fire lizards gave a shriek and disappeared.
“Who’s not here? What are you talking about?” The strident tones of the woman’s voice followed Piemur as he careened away.
Good piece of writing to have the singer identify unknown voices by their singing ranges. I’m not very fond of Mardra continuing to be painted as evil, although it does make sense that she’s able to casually threaten Meron. It would be interesting to see if Mardra were really in charge at Southern through some form of power that’s not feminine in nature, since we’ve seen enough of that before.
Also, Piemur, your trick scares the fire lizards, but it doesn’t make them forget you. Which means Mardra should know your picture, if not who you are, and be thumping the bushes and posting an overwatch to find you, in case you are a spy, saboteur, or you just know too much about what is going on with the Meron-Southern deals. (Not that anyone in this sequence is being particularly subtle about what’s going on.) Since this is a boy’s adventure story, of course, Piemur will be able to thrive in the new environment and evade any patrols that might be looking for him. He should also probably figure out what it is he’s really saying when he projects between at them.
Chapter Six closes with Piemur finding shade and shelter under a plant and falling deeply asleep from his exhausting day. I’m going to predict that once he wakes up, he’s going to find he has no trouble at all adapting to his new environment. And that he might find a friend or two.