Last time, Piemur was run out to play listening ears at a Gather, and was then taken to a Hatching at Benden Weyr, where he got to see Mirrim Impress a green dragon, despite not standing as a candidate, the consequences of which have yet to be seen.
Dragondrums: Chapter Four: Content Notes: Premeditated Malicious Pranks, Neglectful Adults
Piemur’s return to the Harper Hall, after a restful sleep, is greeted by Clell and a gang in the dining hall. (Finger-snapping optional)
“You’re going to get it from Dirzan!” A pleased smirk crossed Clell’s face.
“Why should he get it from Dirzan, Clell?” asked Menolly, quietly coming up behind the drum apprentices. “He’s been on Harper business.”
“He’s always getting off on Harper business,” replied Clell with unexpected anger, “and always with you!”
Piemur raised his fist at such insolence and leaned back to make the swing count in Clell’s sneering face. But Menolly was quicker; she swung the apprentice about and shoved him forcefully toward the main door.
“Insolence to a journeyman means water rations for you, Clell!” she said and, without bothering to see that he’d continued out of the hall, she turned to the other three who gawked at her. “And for you, too, if I should learn of any mischief against Piemur because of this. Have I made myself perfectly clear? Or do I need to mention the incident to Master Olodkey?”
The cowed apprentices murmured the necessary assurances and, at her dismissal, lost themselves in the throng of other apprentices.
“How much trouble have you been having in the drumheights, Piemur?”
“Nothing I can’t handle,” said Piemur, wondering when he could get back at Clell for that insult to Menolly.
“Water rations for you, too, Piemur, if I see so much as a scratch on Clell’s face.”
Umm… that’s unexpected. Not the “poor communication prolongs plot points and causes unnecessary pain” part, but those three years as a journeywoman have clearly changed Menolly. The apprentice in Dragonsinger was reluctant to pull her rank as a noble daughter to take command of the Mean Girl Squad and put their efforts to better use, or even to try and shield herself from the worst of their excesses. This journeywoman has zero hesitation at pulling rank on the apprentice and assigning discipline to him over backtalk. (Not that it’s effective discipline – in the dining hall, Piemur notes the other apprentices smuggling food for their disciplined comrade.) Now, it could be that Menolly could see the brawl about to develop, with Piemur exercising no subtlety about his intent to punch out Clell, and stepped in so as to prevent it, but that’s a significant change of characterization for Menolly. The security of her rank must be contributing quite a bit to this. Too bad we didn’t get to see any of it.
After food, where his normal choir companions ask about whether he’s doing well in the drumheights, Piemur returns to his lessons, and the need to polish the drums, and then finally to his quarters… to find that the other apprentices went into his room and pissed on everything he had there. Since he’s been gone, it’s also had an extra couple of days to ripen and add fragrance to injury. Dirzan allows Piemur to take it all to the washing room, where Piemur plots revenge, even if he has to suffer a month of water rations for staining new clothes. The unexpected laundry attracts Silvina’s attention.
“What are you doing in here at this time of day, Piemur?” asked Silvina, attracted by the splashing and pounding.
“Me?” The force of his tone brought Silvina right into the room. “My roommates play dirty jokes!”
Silvina gave him a long searching look as her nose told her what kind of dirty jokes. “Any reason for them to?”
In a split second Piemur decided. Silvina was once of the few people in the Hall he could trust. She instinctively knew when he was shamming, so she’d know now that he was being put on. And he had an unbearable need and urge to release some of the troubles he had suppressed. This last trick of the apprentices, damaging his good new clothes, hurt more than he had realized in the numbness following his discovery. He’d been so proud of the fine garments, and to have them crudely soiled before he’d worn some of them to acquire honest dirt hit him harder than the slanders at his supposed indiscretions.
“I get to Gathers and Impressions,” Piemur drew a whistling breath through his teeth, “and I’ve made the mistake of learning drum measures too fast and too well.”
Silvina continued to stare at him, her eyes slightly narrowed and her head tilted to one side. Abruptly she moved beside him and took the washpaddle from his hands, skipping it deftly under the soaking furs.
“They probably expected you back right after the Igen Gather!” She chuckled as she plunged the fur back under the water, grinning broadly at him. “So they had to sleep in the sunk they caused for two nights!” Her laughter was infectious, and Piemur found his spirits lifting add he grinned back at her.
And it’s good to have a moment of levity, but I don’t believe that the stated reasons are true for a second. This really is the Spear Counterpart of the Mean Girl Squad in the last book, but the reasons there were just as spurious and dismissed as low-grade jealousy as they are here, and both sequences are escalating in the conflict despite nonaggression from the people being victimized. The parallels should be far too uncomfortable for Menolly, even with her limited exposure to the details, to bite on the proposed explanation, since it wasn’t the case for her that ignoring them would make it better.
If this is supposed to be a commentary on how “they’re just jealous” absolutely sucks as a justification, then brava, certainly. Because, no matter how often the adults use that as the excuse, it isn’t. As someone who regularly got pranked by people in the same Boy Scout troop, it was never about jealousy. It was about making someone be an outsider because they were different and “weird” and “not like us”. And really, really, Menolly should be having alarm klaxons the approximate decibel level of a plane taking off right next to her ear sounding off.
So, now that Silvina knows, Piemur has a confidante, but Dirzan is apparently unwilling to make the changes, or is being narratively prevented from doing so.
Afterward, Piemur thought that if Dirzan had ignored the mischief the way Piemur intended to, the whole incident might be forgotten.
It wouldn’t. Really, Piemur, it wouldn’t. And you, of all people, probably know that at heart.
But Dirzan reprimanded the others in front of the journeymen and put them on water rations for three days. The sweet candle cleared the quarters of the stench, but nothing would ever sweeten the apprentices toward Piemur after that. It was almost as if, Piemur thought, Dirzan was determined to ruin any chance Piemur had of making friends with Clell or the others.
Though he did his best to stay out of their vicinities, he was constantly having benches shoved into his shins in the study room, his feet trod on everywhere, his ribs painfully stuck with drumsticks or elbows. His furs were sewn together three nights running, and his clothes so frequently dipped in the roof gutters that he finally asked Brolly to make him a locking mechanism for his press that he alone could open. Apprentices were not supposed to have any private containers, but Dirzan made no mention of the addition to Piemur’s box.
In a way, Piemur found a certain satisfaction in being able to ignore the nuisances, rising above all the pettiness perpetrated on him with massive and complete disdain. He spent as much time as he could studying the drum records, tapping his fingers on his fur even as he was falling asleep to memorze the times and rhythms of the most complicated measures. He knew the others knew exactly what he was doing, and there was nothing they could do to thwart him.
Because, when you have no allies anywhere that can help you, eventually you learn to shell up and ignore the things that are happening, instead of telling people about them. And you stop giving a shit about what other people think of you, too. Which Piemur’s choral mates pick up on and try to get Piemur to talk to them, or to anybody else, about what’s going on. Which he doesn’t. And, as Piemur does, you stop talking to the people who really should be able to help you. Piemur wants to tell Menolly about what’s really going on, but Menolly will only tell Dirzan, and Dirzan has already repeatedly pointed out, in very certain terms, that he has no interest at all in stopping what is happening to Piemur. All his interest apparently lies in not having to see what’s going on, so that he doesn’t have to do anything about it.
Piemur could see clearly now that his well-founded reputation for mischief and game playing were coming back at him when he least expected, or even less, deserved it. He’d no one but himself to fault, so he’d just have to chew it raw and swallow.
This is another issue with the characterization in this novel. The Piemur we met in Dragonsinger was a bit mischievous, who liked to bargain hard and who would scam extra bubbly pies for his friends (and then from his friends), and he always liked to know things and appear in places where he wasn’t supposed to be, but there was never an indication that Piemur was in any way a kind of person that was indiscriminate with his tongue or the knowledge he had – he might use it to better his position or help his friends, but he never comes across as someone who does things without thinking about them. How Piemur has managed to garner his reputation as a blabbermouth would have to have occurred in the three-year interim. If it did, we have yet another case of an informed ability or characteristic appearing, like Menolly’s newfound confidence. This is not good storytelling – things can be time-skipped around, but if things change in that time, there should be some method by which the reader can be signaled that things have changed.
The escalating damage in this scenario is rather far too close to reality, though. The other boys continue to torment the newcomer, the person who should be noticing and stopping it is turning a blind eye, and there’s nobody around that seems to have much of an interest in protecting or listening to Piemur. It’s breeding in him the kind of personality that will be absolutely useless as a Harper, if, that is, one thinks that a Harper is supposed to help others and keep an ear out for discontent or other issues with regard to how the world is operating. If we’re training Piemur to be a member of the senior staff here at the Hall, or even apparently, some of the junior staff, then things are working out just fine.
Admittedly, at this point, it’s now a balance between Poor Communication Exacerbates Problems and All Adults are Useless. Neither is particularly a good way of instilling drama by themselves, and with Menolly right there, it rings extremely hollow and false that Piemur would be going through all of this in the first place.
Chapter 4 closes here, but we haven’t hit the bottom of this yet. The worst is yet to come.