Last time, the antagonism against Piemur escalated to new heights, and all the adults around who could do something about it were otherwise occupied, unknowing, prevented by the narrative from acting, or actively aiding and abetting the drum apprentices in their campaign against Piemur.
As one might guess, at some point, these things must come to a head.
Dragonflight: Chapter 5: Content Notes: Attempted Murder, Willfully Neglectful Adults
Chapter Five begins with Piemur having to run a message to Master Oldive as Nabol has requested his presence to attend to the dying Lord Meron. Rokayas, the journeyman on duty, is suspicious that Piemur is always running messages, but he ships him off to collect Master Oldive’s reply. After collecting the response, Piemur heads back up the stairs to the heights.
He was halfway up the second flight when he felt his right foot slide on the stone. He tried to catch himself, but his forward motion and the stretch of his legs were such that he hadn’t a hope of saving himself from a fall. He tried to grab the stone railing with his right hand but it, too, was slick. He was thrown hard against the stone risers, wrenching thighs and hips, cracking his ribs painfully as he slid. He could have sworn that he heard a muffled laugh. His last conscious thought as his chin hit the stone and bit his tongue hard was that someone had greased the rail and steps.
[…Dirzan roughly wakes Piemur and is unsympathetic to his plight…]
“Greased! Greased?” Dirzan exclaimed in acid disbelief. “A likely notion. You’re always pelting up and down these steps. It’s a wonder you haven’t hurt yourself before now. Can’t you get up?”
[…Piemur wants to reply, but he’s fighting the urge to vomit over everything…]
“You said it was greased?” Dirzan’s voice came from about his head. The agitated tone hurt Piemur’s skull.
“Step there and handrail…” Piemur gestured with one hand.
“There’s not a sign of grease! On your feet!” Dirzan sounded angrier than ever.
“Did you find him, Dirzan?” Rokayas called. The voice of the duty journeyman made Piemur’s head throb like a message drum. “What happened to him?”
“He fell down the steps and knocked himself between. Dirzan was thoroughly disgusted. “Get up, Piemur!”
“No, Piemur, stay where you are,” said Rokayas, and his voice was unexpectedly concerned.
Okay, so Dirzan is not, apparently, very smart, or his antagonism to Piemur is so strong that it prevents him from noticing something that Rokayas is able to pick up on immediately – Piemur is concussed. I doubt that Piemur is exhibiting subtle signs of his head injury to both of them and that Rokayas is using a hidden knowledge store collected from Silvina to determine this. Dirzan’s lack of concern for an apprentice in his care should raise big red flags about how he was able to become a journeyman in the first place, and even bigger ones about whether he will be able to maintain that rank in the face of this latest incident. By this point, yes, asshole seems to be the default personality, but there should be at least a little bit of practical or self-serving concern on Dirzan’s part.
“He said it was greased! Feel it yourself, Rokayas, clean as a drum!”
“Too clean! And if Piemur fell on his way back, he was between a long time. Too long for a mere slip. We’d better get him to Silvina.”
[…Dirzan complains, but helps Rokayas get Piemur to Silvina, while Rokayas insinuates Dirzan has been complicit in the bullying of Piemur…]
“He knocked himself between, Silvina, probably for a good twenty minutes or more.” Rokayas was saying, his urgent tine cutting through Dirzan’s petulant complaint.
“He claimed there was grease!”
“There was grease,” said Silvina. “Look at his right shoe, Dirzan. Piemur, do you feel nauseated?”
Yes, yes he does, and he proceeds to vomit all of the contents of his stomach when someone unwisely sits him up. Again, Silvina notices what Dirzan hasn’t or chooses not to. And yet, Dirzan persists in the face of conclusive evidence to the contrary. Like he has ignored the other signs that things are, well, getting out of hand. And in the same manner that the narrative has made Menolly unable to put two and three together, Silvina appears to be not allowed to draw on her own past experience (including Menolly) to drive to the correct conclusion until something flagrant happens that cannot be ignored.
The following blocks take place after Piemur has properly passed out again from his concussion.
“How could you let matters get so out of hand, Dirzan?” she demanded, working on the astonished journeyman. “What sort of prank is that for apprentices to try on anyone? Piemur’s not been himself, but I put that down to losing his voice and adjusting to the disappointment over the music. But this…this is…criminal!” Silvina brandished Piemur’s begreased boot at Dirzan, backing the astonished journeyman against the wall, oblivious to Master Robinton’s repeated query about Piemur’s condition, to Menolly’s precipitous arrival, her face flushed and furrowed with anxiety, and to Rokayas’ delighted and amused observation.
Okay, Rokayas, you’re an asshole, too, for taking schadenfreude in this situation, instead of being concerned about Piemur.
Robinton tries to take control, and Silvina will have none of it, but she does tell everyone assembled that Piemur is not head-injured past shock, concussion, and bruises and scrapes. Modern-sounding medical knowledge in an Italian city-state pastiche is odd, especially since we haven’t really explored the damage a concussion can do at the time of publication for this book, but like so many other things, we’re just supposed to accept it and move on.
“A few days’ rest will see him right, I’m sure. But I mean rest!”[…]”Right there! Nowhere near those murdering louts in the drumheights!”
“Murdering?” Dirzan gasped an objection to her term.
“He could have been killed. You know how Piemur climbs steps,” she said, scowling fiercely at the journeyman.
“But…but there wasn’t a trace of grease on those steps or the railing. I tested them all myself!”
“Too clean,” said Rokayas, and earned a reprimanding glare from Dirzan. “Too clean!” Rokayas reiterated and then said to Silvina, “Piemur’s decidedly [an] odd man. He learns too quickly.”
“And spouts off what he hears!” Dirzan spoke sharply, determined that Piemur should share responsibility for this untoward incident.
And then Dirzan is very quickly corrected on his view about that, being forced to admit Piemur has a knack for learning, with the others understanding that Piemur probably knows more than he lets on.
Here, though, you can see Dirzan’s position cracking, partially because the narrative is now ready for it to do so, but also because the narrative cannot sustain such a persistent denial in the face of the evidence provided. Murderous is exactly the right word to use to describe this scenario, and it doesn’t matter a whit whether Piemur takes the steps one at a time or three at a time. There will be no victim-blaming here.
So, the drumheights are obviously a ways up from ground level. The steps leading up and the railings have been carved out of stone. Someone has greased both steps and rails to ensure that Piemur slips and falls. Starting with the obvious, a head injury against stone, or, for that matter, an untreated broken bone from the fall could easily cause Piemur to bleed internally or externally until he dies. Piemur could break his neck or spinal column in a headfirst strike. Assuming he survives the initial contact, head injuries have the possibility of causing brain swelling, which is likely going to be fatal if untreated, especially with the Master Healer away.
That’s just assuming that Piemur falls and injures himself and stops moving from that point. If Piemur retains momentum, or lands poorly on the steps, since the greased steps are about two-thirds of the way up, it’s possible Piemur can fall off the staircase entirely, if the rails are carved in such a way that there are gaps between the posts. (There’s no detail to this point that says how the rails and steps are carved.) Which is a very swift trip down, risking more injuries or death, depending on how sheer the drop is. Or, Piemur could bounce his way back down all those unyielding stone steps to the bottom, with the attendant risk of broken bones, bleeding, organ damage, or a broken neck with each new impact.
If you’d like to recreate the possibilities of what kind of damage an unconscious person could do to themselves with enough force, I recommend Stair Dismount as a primer – sure, it’s a ragdoll, but even small amounts of force can produce big scores if applied just so.
With the history of malicious pranks leading up to this, I think it wouldn’t be very hard to charge the apprentices with attempted murder and Dirzan with anything from negligence to being an accessory to the attempt. His paper-thin defense (“Piemur blabs!”) is a non-sequitur to the act, and even so, wouldn’t justify things rising to the level of the pissed-on furs. Dirzan intends to victim-blame, first because he believes Piemur deserves it, and then increasingly to save himself from the consequences of his own inaction.
One of the constants of Pern, however, is that you do not get on the bad side of the Headwoman unless you want the full wrath of everyone to rain down upon you. I wish it were something more like “Doing bad things nets you appropriate punishment when found out,” but that’s not anywhere close to the reality that we’ve seen so far, and that injustice will continue as we find out what the punishment is.
“Rokayas, would you help Menolly collect Piemur’s things from the drumheights?” asked the Harper. His voice was mild, his manner unexceptional but, unmistakably his attitude informed Dirzan that he had misjudged Piemur’s standing in the eyes of the most important people of the Hall.
Dirzan offered to do the small task himself, and was denied; offered to help Menolly, who awarded him with a cool look. He desisted then, but the set look in his mouth and the controlled anger in his eyes suggested that he was going to deal sternly with the apprentices who had put him in such an invidious position. When he was unexpectedly placed on duty for the entire Feastday, he knew why the roster had been changed. He also knew better than to blame Piemur.
Oh, for fuck’s sake…
Cocowhat by depizan
Robinton, why haven’t you expelled all of them on the spot? The apprentices attempted murder, and the journeyman responsible for the apprentices let it happen. You can’t get much bigger in terms of misconduct. Expulsion would be the least that you should do to them. If you’re feeling charitable, send them back home. If not, let them work out the issues of living holdless, or send them to work in another Crafthall known for hard labor and very little prestige (the farmers, maybe?) Instead, Dirzan stays in the Harper Hall, just with his customary liberty revoked, and he’s left to discipline the apprentices, which, based on what his outlook appears to be, is probably going to involve a lot of abuse, most likely physical. Because the person who is made to look bad like that, and that had let all that abuse happen already, is not likely to be above getting their hands dirty when it comes to taking out their frustration on the subordinates responsible for making them lose face.
Also, how is it that Dirzan takes away from this encounter that things were only like this because Piemur had an in with the important people of the Hall? That is skull-crushingly Too Dumb To Live territory, which, admittedly, fits Dirzan’s characterization, but someone who had enough smarts to become a journeyman and be trusted with the care of apprentices should be able to draw the correct conclusion from this incident, which had nothing to do with his social status and everything to do with the apprentices in his care trying to kill someone. Of course, it would help if the punishment met the severity of the crime – if all such murder attempts as these are only punished lightly, perhaps Dirzan has a point in thinking the greatest casualty of this affair is his social status.
It really does feel like these chapters are just gender-flipped versions of what Pona, Dunca, and the Men Girl Squad did to Menolly in the last book. The idea isn’t a problem, but the lazy execution that doesn’t take into account the previous characterization established makes this painful to read on top of all the fractal Wrong actually happening.
I don’t think we’re going to see the consequences of that decision, though, because, after some recriminations about how their advice to Piemur to be discreet put the idea in his head that he didn’t have any allies to face the bullying with, the narrative pivots immediately to the next plot point once Silvina and Robinton return to his office. Oldive went to Lord Meron, who is dying, but most irritatingly to the Harpers, he refuses to name a successor, preferring a war between all the possible candidates instead of an orderly transition of power. Also, the logistics problem we mentioned a few chapters ago about T’ron gathering gemstones collects a resolution.
“Several disquieting rumors have come to my notice. The most worrying, the fact that Nabol abounds with fire lizards…”
“Nabol has no shoreline and scarcely any friends in Holds that do acquire what fire lizards are found.”
Robinton agreed. “They have also been ordering, and paying for, large quantities of fine cloth, wines, the delicacies of Nerat, Tillek, and Keroon, not to mention every sort of mongery from the Smithcrafthall that can be bought or bartered, quantities and qualities enough to garb, feed and supply amply every holder, cot and hold in Nabol…and don’t!”
“The Oldtimers!” Silvina emphasized that guess with a snap off her fingers. “T’kul and Meron were always two cuts from the same rib.”
“What I cannot figure out is what besides fire lizards the association gains Meron…”
“You can’t?” Silvina was frankly skeptical. “Spite! Malice! Scoring off Benden!”
Really, Robinton, that’s not hard to guess, in both cases. If someone is buying up large quantities of things, but nobody there appears to be benefiting from them, there are a few logical conclusions to start with:
- They’re being stockpiled in the belief that those goods will become rare and valuable (which Robinton would likely already know about).
- It’s an attempt to monopolize the market so that everyone must buy through them (which is unlikely, given the way the Crafthalls scatter themselves).
- The goods are going somewhere else as their final destination, likely as a smuggling run.
So Meron is acting as the fence, the launderer, and the middleman for the exiled dragonriders. Except, of course, people don’t like and are suspicious of Meron from the last two books. Surely someone else, other than Piemur and Silvina, has come to the correct conclusion or suspicion. Maybe not F’lar, but Lessa-of-Dragonflight certainly would, since that kind of subterfuge was her trade for many years. And with someone being suspicious, they, or someone else, should be able to connect the dots about a story involving an extortion run with regard to gems from the miners and some merchant making a big sale to another that paid in gems. Or any sales at all that are paid in fire lizard eggs, since those are officially rare and tightly controlled objects. Meron would have to have a very impressive network of merchants to obfuscate the transactions enough that suspicion about what he is doing doesn’t connect immediately.
Or, there’s a significant amount of Holders, Crafters, and possibly even dragonriders in the North that are sympathetic to the South and either directly aid them or deliberately don’t care where their goods are going or how they are being paid for. That’s the possibility that Robinton is worried about, and he’s going to send Piemur in to listen at Meron’s Gather. That’s conveniently being held at the same time as the Fort Hold Gather where the new music piece that started this book will be premiered.
That’s how Chapter Five ends – Piemur unconscious, having survived a murder attempt from his peers, Dirzan likely to perpetuate the cycle of abuse that’s endemic to the Harper Hall on those peers, and Robinton, under the guise of empathy at Piemur’s voice change, ready to send Piemur back into dangerous situations as soon as possible. Have I mentioned lately how much this world really should have no reason at all to appeal to people?