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.
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.