Dragondrums: Second Suite in F

Last chapter, we were shifted away from Menolly to Piemur, right in time for his voice to crack and his days as a singer to be temporarily suspended. He is reassigned to Robinton to run errands, under the cover of being apprenticed to the drummers, and demonstrates his keen insights into the machinations of others, which is likely why Robinton snapped him up as soon as possible.

Dragondrums: Chapters 2-3: Content Notes: Bullying, abuse

Chapter Two has Piemur quite happy about his new assignment and contemplating the situation in the South – Piemur surmises that those exiled aren’t just sitting on their heels, enjoying the Southern weather, before the distraction of bubbly pies from the kitchen pulls him to Silvina. Who is utterly unconvinced about him becoming a drummer (and possibly not much about his affectation of sorrow for the change in his situation), but who does give him some fresh hot pies and some clothes from the storehouse that he will likely grow into. At the meal table, Piemur adroitly manipulates his table companions for eight bubbly pies, before almost interrupting the assignments when he hears someone he does not like is being assigned to Shonagar, and so he misses his official assignment to the drums. Lest we think Olodkey and the drums are immune from the abusive culture of the Hall, the senior journeyman, Dirzan, removes all doubt.

“So, we get saddled with you, eh, Piemur? I’ll tell you this, you watch your step with our Master. Quickest man in the world with a drumstick, and he doesn’t always use it on the drums!”

Well, then, I’m sure Piemur will get along just fine.[/sarcasm]

Chapter Three ascends to the drumheights, where Piemur is informed that since he’s the low man on the totem pole, he’s responsible for keeping all the big drums polished. And that he has drum code to memorize, a full column’s worth of measures and beats, under Dirzan’s close scrutiny. Menolly’s appearance to borrow him as a runner is a welcome relief from not being able to do anything but study, After changing to riding gear and saddling his runner (demonstrating his heritage as a herder before coming to be a harper), they’re off, Piemur full of questions that he has no intention of asking.

All the way down to the sea hold, Piemur kept his mouth shut. He’d be scorched if he’d ask her why they were going there. He doubted that the sole purpose of this excursion was to see if he could ride runners or keep his mouth shut. […] This reticent, assured Menolly on Harper business was quite different from the girl who let him feed her fire lizards, and a long stride from his recollections of the shy and self-aching newcomer to the Harper Hall three Turns back.

Well, how nice to know that three Turns have passed since the end of Dragonsinger. Clearly, nothing important could have happened to Menolly in those three years that would be worth mentioning or telling as part of this story. Like how the new journeyman fit in with her companions, or whether Audiva turned out to be a competent player and possibly apprenticed to the Hall herself on Menolly’s recommendation, or whether Menolly has become a one-woman wrecking ball against the institutional sexism of the Harper Hall, giving Robinton headaches with her complaints. But no, that’s all for nothing, as it’s Piemur’s turn to be the main character.

Sebell arrives, laden with sacks of herbs, and quite tanned from the sun, and is informed of Piemur’s status change in the hall, which Sebell picks up all the implications of.

Sebell threw an arm across Piemur’s shoulders, telling him to cheer up, and draped his other arm about Menolly. Then he guided them toward the holdstables.
There was a look on Sebell’s face that suggested to Piemur that the companionable arm about his shoulders had been an excuse for the one about Menolly’s. The observation cheered Piemur for he knew something no other apprentice did. Maybe not even Master Robinton. Or did he?

And now we’re setting up love plots for Menolly, since she’s obviously comfortable enough now to be thinking about romantic thoughts, and perhaps more importantly, old enough for it not to seem horribly creepy. And Piemur seems to enjoy the feel of knowing what others do not. I think he’s going to become one of Robinton’s spymasters once he hits journeyman.

The ride, however, makes him sore in all the wrong places, and after a bath, salve, and sleep, he’s still sore. Not enough for it to distract him from being able to beat out the column of drum measures from before, for which he receives a new set as reward, but enough to see Oldive, whom he cannot pry any information out of.

As messages come in, Piemur finds he’s not able to decipher the messages at speed, being either too slow to recognize it or without the necessary knowledge. So he applies himself to the task of learning the drummer language.

Infuriated to be in a position to know more and unable to exercise the advantage to the full, he memorized two columns of drum measures. If his zeal surprised Dirzan, it irritated his fellow apprentices. They presented him with several all too forceful arguments against too much application on his part. Piemur had always relied on being able to outrun any would-be adversaries, but he discovered that the was no place to run to in the drumheights. While nursing his bruises, he stubbornly learned off three more columns, though he kept this private, tempering his recitations to Dirzan. Discretion, he was learning, is required on many different levels.

And failure again on having a main character get through a book without being abused. We might manage the “named female avoids abuse” by virtue of not following Menolly, but my hopes aren’t high. I’m also a bit lost on the motivation for the bullying, as “jealousy of someone studying and doing well” doesn’t really seem to be a sufficient reason.

So Piemur gets sent off to a minehold on an errand, which confuses him some about why he’s not going by dragon, until he arrives. Soon afterward, dragons from Southern appear, in violation of their exile, and proceed to try and intimidate the miners into turning over gemstones to them – gemstones that Piemur received hurriedly before the miner went out to talk to T’ron. (T’ton?) The sapphires in question are set into Master badges, giving Piemur more to speculate on. Realizing he might draw suspicion to himself as a harper, Piemur rapidly transforms himself into a nondescript person after hiding the gems in his boots.

“You there!”
The peremptory tone irritated Piemur. N’ton never spoke like that, even to a kitchen drudge.
“Sor?” Piemur unbent and started around at the Oldtimer, hoping his anxious expression masked the anger he really felt. Them he glanced apprehensively at the Miner, saw a harsh wariness in the man’s eyes and added in his best hillhold mumble, “Sor, he was that sweated, I’ve had a time cleaning him up.”
“You’ve other work to do,” said the Miner in a cold voice, jerking his head toward the cothold.
“A day too late, am I, Miner? Well, there’s been yesterday’s work and this morning’s.”

Piemur hightails it to the cothold, to find the Miner’s private quarters ransacked, and he is able to observe the reason for T’ron’s visit.

Six miners were squatting or kneeling, carefully chipping rough dark stone and dirt from the blue crystals possibly within. As Piemur watched, one of the miners rise, extending the palm of his hand toward the Miner. T’ron intercepted the gesture and held the small object up to the sun. Then he gave an oath, clenching his fist. For a moment, Piemur thought that the Oldtimer was going to throw the stone away.
“Is this all you’re finding here now? This mine produced sapphires the size of a man’s eye-”
[…the Miners continue to produce sub-par gems…]
“I’m not interested in dust, Miner, or flawed crystals.” He held up his clenched fist. “I want good, sizable sapphires.”

T’ron’s efforts net him six small sapphires, and the miners are angry until they see that Piemur has been able to keep safe all their efforts, and their supper, where they have a joyous noise. And that ends Chapter 3.

I think this is supposed to be a reason why Piemur has to be the main character for this book, since a young man doesn’t draw attention like a young woman would, and Piemur is cleverer than anyone by half, so he can do these things, and connect information, that Menolly couldn’t.

And Piemur could have these adventures off camera, reporting back to Menolly and Robinton at the appropriate times, and the information that is going to be communicated (Southern riders going north in violation of exile, also, trying to bully and intimidate miners into giving them gemstones) is the same. So I’m still not convinced that it has to be Piemur.

As an aside, that line about how N’ton wouldn’t speak in the way T’ron did, even to kitchen drudges, not only is it a callback to Lessa in Dragonflight, but it’s an indicator that being part of the kitchen staff anywhere is clearly being part of a lower caste, with all the implied freedom to abuse them these things entail.

Back to the plot. I applaud the Southern riders for figuring out how toothless F’lar’s exile threat really is in the face of hyperspace-hopping dragons, who can even time-twist themselves to avoid being seen should they run into a patrol anywhere. The tactic of finding isolated and supposedly helpless Crafters also makes sense when you want to extort something. But gemstones? Gems are not fungible – there needs to be a fence or some alliance where the gems can be converted into useful goods, which can then be shipped to Southern. Which requires nobody getting suspicious about large orders or frequency of orders from particular places, or about the sudden wealth that is driving these extra purchases. There’s likely more to this than just an intimidation campaign, and judging from T’ron’s reaction to his gems, he’s not asking for gems so they can be used in some manner other than currency. We’re probably not going to see the bigger picture from Piemur’s perspective, but there is going to be something either set in motion or already continued when Piemur returns with the information. It would be nice if we had, say, a journeywoman who we were familiar with to help us along the way.

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14 thoughts on “Dragondrums: Second Suite in F

  1. genesistrine April 2, 2015 at 2:33 am

    I’m also a bit lost on the motivation for the bullying, as “jealousy of someone studying and doing well” doesn’t really seem to be a sufficient reason.

    Oh, it is, absolutely. One part tall poppy syndrome, one part “you’re showing us up and making us look stupid”, one part “they’ll make us work harder to keep up” and probably a good part the existing toxic culture in the Harper Hall.

    And now we’re setting up love plots for Menolly, since she’s obviously comfortable enough now to be thinking about romantic thoughts

    And we won’t have the awkwardness of trying to show a growing romance between peers with mutual respect from the POV of one of them rather than relying on a) mating flights b) “I know you’re into me but too shy to say yes” (to put it politely). Ahahahahaha aaargh FFS McCaffrey.

  2. shuu_iam April 2, 2015 at 11:50 am

    The existing toxic culture encouraging bullying occurred to me too. When the drum master hits apprentices for not learning fast enough, I can absolutely imagine the apprentices then hitting the new guy for learning too fast and showing them up, especially if the drum master uses Piemur’s fast learning as an excuse to be harder on the others.

  3. Only Some Stardust April 2, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    Thirding the sufficient reason. Not sufficient reason to a nice person maybe, but, no one said these were nice people. There seems to be a pyramid of abuse here, starting at the top of the pecking order with the masters and working down.

    I note the author could not be bothered to actually show any of the ‘forceful arguments’, so I wonder if she actually bothered to come up with a reason for the bullying. Of course, if the arguments were actually shown, we might sympathize with the bullies a little and against the teachers and there could even be room for attempting persuading the bullies to stop bullying, in which case we wouldn’t be able to have all the sympathies for good single exceptional person being attacked by baaaddd jealous inferior lazy persons.

  4. bekabot April 2, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    I applaud the Southern riders for figuring out how toothless F’lar’s exile threat really is in the face of hyperspace-hopping dragons, who can even time-twist themselves to avoid being seen should they run into a patrol anywhere.

    I always thought F’lar’s “exile” of the Southerners was mostly publicity, along these lines: “You folks want me to do something about ’em? Well — okay — voilà, they’re exiled. So there, now something’s been done. Satisfied?” The exile would, in practical terms, mostly amount to an unenforceable shunning of the Oldtimers; in other words, it would be more of an inconvenience to the dragonriders who were not exiled than to the dragonriders who were under the ban. In fact it’s surprising that it “works” as well as it does, juvpu vf jul Yrffn vf orvat haernfbanoyr jura fur’f hcfrg gung gur Byqgvzref qvfertneq gur cebuvovgvba va Gur Juvgr Qentba. F’lar’s or Benden’s edicts were never their law.

  5. boutet April 3, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    So I googled, and voice breaks occur between 11 and 14.5 generally. which means that Piemur was 8-11.5 ish in the previous book. I did not read him as that young! And he’s supposed to be small for his age too, right? So he’s maybe running around looking 6 or 7 in that book? What? Was anyone picturing Menolly at the fair with her friend the 8 year old who looks 7? I’m just curious if McCafferey was giving anyone an accurate idea of his apparent age. I had him as about 14 already then, which would have him breaking voice at 17. Not impossible, but I would think that the Hall would be extremely prepared for his break at that point and people seem to be caught somewhat off guard by it.

    Even if he’s on the older end, say 10 looking 8 in the previous book… how young was he when he was sent here? He’s fully trained and performing solos in the highest professional choir on the planet at 10ish. How much practical experience could he possibly have had with his herder family prior to being at the Hall? I know that people in this sort of time period setting bring their kids into their trade early, but he would have been limited by his physical body being so young.

  6. genesistrine April 3, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    He’s stated to be 14 in this book, and also to have spent his last 5 Turns in the Harper Hall. So yes, he was Pern’s top boy soprano after 2 years of voice training.

    I actually don’t know; is that feasible? It’s 2 years of intensive professional daily training; how much and how long do choir sopranos normally train?

  7. notamolly April 4, 2015 at 8:52 am

    Seems that bullying is a normal and acceptable behavior for harpers and not just “mean girls.” There are a couple possible reasons: Institutional rot and a complete disconnect of Robinton from his hall (which screams incompetence) or there is a longstanding tradition of bullying and it is sort of like a rogue local fraternity. I would guess the way the system was designed was that there was a check and balance between the halls, weyrs and holds. which broke long before Robinton and Fax and F’lar were born. Wonder what the more logical Oldtimers are thinking about now.

  8. Funaria April 5, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    Regarding Piemur’s age, I seem to recall a conversation in Dragonsinger with Silvina along the lines of ‘he was pretty young to be apprenticed, but his voice was so good we brought him in early’.

    I always found it frustrating that this third book followed Piemur instead of Menolly. Especially since the second book took place immediately after the first, the time skip seemed unnecessary. I would have been happier with a book following Menolly as a beginning journeyman, growing more into friendships with Audiva, Sebell, and Talmor. This book could still have existed either as a fourth in the series or the first of a new set featuring Piemur. It would have felt more natural to me to follow a new protagonist if Menolly’s story had been finished satisfactorily onscreen.

  9. emmy April 5, 2015 at 5:31 pm

    quoting from the first book (I remembered this passage and found it via google books to confirm)


    “How long have you been here?” Menolly asked. He looked a poorly-grown nine or ten Turns, the age at which boys were customarily apprenticed, but he sounded as if he’d been in the Hall a long time.

    “Two Turns I’ve been apprenticed,” he answered with a grin. “I got taken in early on account of my voice.”

    So yes, the first book was clear that tall, gawky Menolly’s new friend was a quite young boy. One cheerful and socially-confident enough not to be afraid to reach out to a very strange newcomer who was a lot bigger than he was. (Whether he’s written to act like a believable nine-year-old is a different story!)

  10. Silver Adept April 5, 2015 at 9:15 pm

    @ genesistrine –

    Well, Menolly still has fire lizards. Presumably, with their smaller size, they don’t exert quite as much force on the person they’re bonded to, but Menolly has more than most. If they all went for mating at the same time…

    Re: bullying – Taking into account the toxic culture of the hall, I suppose it makes better sense. I guess I would have expected the apprentices to band together rather than establish their own bullying patterns, but then again, I should know better, having seen how social systems develop in high schools. It would be nice, though, if we could get textual justification from the other apprentices about their whys.

    @ bekabot –

    There was still the big knife fight that preceded the exile, so presumably it would have had some sort of weight, after the Benden Weyrleader killed the leader of his primary opposition. It might not be enough for them to respect and obey an exile, but it would be more than just a political stunt.

    Regarding Piemur’s voice, the Hall really should be more prepared for this eventuality. Two years of intense training would produce a great soprano, if we’re to assume the Harpers are on par with organizations like the Vienna Boys Choir. And, despite being an abuser and an ass, the one time we got to see Shonagar actually teach, he was competent at the job, so there’s no reason to believe Piemur got anything but high-quality instruction on the music front.

    As for his herding background, my family on Dad’s side has had a family farm, taking care of livestock, and chores start early – I believe my father said he was feeding the baby livestock milk at six, and I suspect there are a lot of chores one could do with the Pernese equivalent of horses at that age, too, if properly supervised.

    Also, since the Hall maintains its own stables, perhaps Piemur is also sent to the Herdsman that takes care of the animals as part of his chore list, maintaining his training in the family profession for that time when he either gets expelled for intrigue or his settled, post-puberty voice is no longer suitable for the Hall. It would be nice to see more of quotidian Pern life everywhere we go

  11. genesistrine April 7, 2015 at 10:38 am

    Re bullying: I don’t think we ever get to see a Designated Bad Person explain or justify themselves. The only exception I can think of is Kylara thinking that she’s got no intention of ending up like her mother (dumped when the Lord fancied a newer model).

    Re stable chores; since “runner-beasts” are the fastest transport available if you’re not important enough to have a dragon ferry you it would make sense for anyone who might need to travel to learn basic maintenance and riding skills (especially anyone Robinton has his eye on for his Secret Service – and those people would also be encouraged to keep up any skills they have from their backgrounds that allow them to blend in with that background).

    As an aside, may I just say that McCaffrey’s naming habits annoy the hell out of me? Runnerbeasts, herdbeasts, redfruit; come on! “Spit canines”, for the love of Thoth-Hermes! If you’re going to go for fake exoticism to make everything seem more A~L~I~E~N at least make the names interesting! Is a redfruit like a strawberry, a raspberry, a sweet tomato? Call an ox an ox, even if the genetic engineers had a good go at it that’s still what people would call it for convenience!

  12. beappleby April 7, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    I’m pretty sure a redfruit is a native pernese fruit, but I can’t remember which book I got that impression from!

  13. Firedrake April 7, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    beappleby, I’ve just had a poke through my etexts. The best I can offer is that a “red fruit” is discovered as a native plant in Dragonsdawn. Whether it’s the same thing, who can say?

  14. genesistrine April 8, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    Who knows. It reads as though she’d write something with “apples” or “horses” and then think it didn’t sound science-fictiony enough, stick in a stucktogether wordpair as a placeholder and never bother to change it afterwards.

    I don’t even know why it irritates me so much.

    Oh well, the meowbeasts are wanting their eveningchomp so time to rocketsled out of here….

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