Last chapter, as promised, Piemur landed into life on Southern with a thud, hatched his fire lizard egg, and decided he was content, right where he was.
Dragondrums, Chapter 9: Content Notes:
Chapter Nine continues this idea of Piemur running on instinct, in contradiction to the character that had been established in the previous book and here until he stole the fire lizard egg.
Afterward, Piemur wasn’t certain why he had run from the dragonriders. He seemed to have been running from or to something ever since his voice had changed. In his panic, he supposed he aligned the Oldtime dragonriders with Lord Meron, and he did not want to encounter anyone connected with Lord Meron just then.
That’s not instinct, that’s logic. Piemur already knew by that point that Meron was supplying Southern Weyr in defiance of Benden, and then he heard Mardra threaten Meron. That sounds like a perfectly good pair of reasons to run away very fast, not to mention the stolen fire lizard egg Piemur had. Stop robbing Piemur of opportunities to demonstrate what he’s allegedly famous for.
Breakfast is an unexpected half-consumed-by-Thread runner beast corpse for Farli (Piemur’s queen) to eat raw and Piemur to cut strips from for cooking later. As they explore, Piemur finds the perfect inland camp point, with vegetables behind him, herdbeasts in front, and fresh water a-plenty.
Squinting against the sunlight, Piemur could see herdbeasts grazing on the lush grass on both sides of the river. And yet, there’d been Thread here the day before, and no dragonriders flaming to prevent the deadly stuff burrowing into the ground and eating the land barren.
As if to reassure himself, he poked at the soil with one of the sticks he’d collected, lifting up a clod of grass. Grubs fell from the roots, and Piemur was suitably awed by the abilities of those little gray wrigglies, which could, all by themselves, keep stuck an enormous plain free from the ravages of Thread. And those bloody Oldtimers hadn’t so much as stirred from the Weyr during yesterday’s Fall. They weren’t proper dragonriders at all. F’lar and Lessa had been right to exile them here to the South, where the insignificant grubs did their work for them. Why, he could have been killed during that Threadfall, and not a dragonrider around to protect him. Not, Piemur honestly admitted, that he hadn’t been well able to protect himself.
Freeze it there, please.
First, when did Piemur learn/deduce that grubs were the reason that Southern recovered easily from Thread? From what I remember, that was supposed to be a closely-guarded secret with need-to-know clearances applied, such that Benden and the Masters of the Crafthalls friendly to Benden are the ones to know, and everyone else left in the dark. Could this be yet another of the Noodle Incidents perpetually referenced but never explained? An authorial slip, perhaps, because the audience learned about the grubs back in Dragonquest? In any case, there’s no forthcoming explanation as to why Piemur knows this secret knowledge.
Second, um, Piemur, if I’m a dragonrider, and I know that I’m sitting on a continent where the grubs will keep the vegetation alive, and nature is smart enough to keep most of the fauna out of harm’s way, why would I risk injury to myself and my dragon flying flaming passes over deserted areas where there are no confirmed people? You’ve been trying to hide yourself from them for this long, so they really have no reason to be there. Unless you believe that Tradition (TRADITION!) dictates that dragonriders fly and flame all the areas where Thread could fall on land, regardless of whether there are things there or backup systems in place. That sounds like what “proper” means here. But again, exiled, so therefore they’re already outside the definition of “proper”.
Anyway, Piemur’s plan at this point is to wait in the valley, let Farli and himself feast from its riches until she’s outgrown her beginning-of-life appetite, and eventually make his way to Southern Hold. While he gathers fire material, he takes a closer look at some of the vegetation and realizes that he’s in a field of numbweed plants, which provides needed relief to his still sunburned skin. The Plan, however, finds itself getting easily derailed.
As he settled by the fire to wait for his meat to cook, he knew he’d be sorry to leave here.
He said that to himself the next morning when he rose, and that evening when he curled himself up in the shelter he’d made for Farli and himself. He really ought to try and get word back to the Harper Hall.
Each day, however, found him too busy catering to the needs of a rapidly growing fire lizard to make provisions for a journey of possibly several days. He spent a whole day trying to catch a fish for the oils need to soothe Farli’s flaking skin.
[…Thread falls again, but this time, Piemur is ready for it…]
He had made preparations against the next Fall of Thread, determined never to spend another eternity under a rock ledge. He had found a sunken tree trunk where the river flowed out of the forest. Diving into the water, he kicked down to the depth at which drowning Thread could no longer sting. There he hooked his arm around the tree trunk and poked back to the surface a thick reed, through which he then was able to breathe.
Since it doesn’t say what the diameter of the reed was, and since Piemur isn’t dying of poisoning while he does this, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt that his snorkel is sufficiently wide to permit proper exchange of gases. And a second benefit that the snorkel is curled at the top in some way so that the sheets of Thread falling above the surface of the water don’t drop into his breathing apparatus and destroy him internally. And a third benefit that Thread doesn’t viciously chew through the reeds like it does any other organic matter so that his snorkel can be above water without being shorn off…
…okay, that’s a lot of doubt. The way the scene is written, I’m not sure Piemur can survive. Maybe there’s a missing detail, like that his snorkel is protected by the tree trunk, and so the Thread falling onto the trunk either doesn’t penetrate or gets a grub swarm as soon as it touches down. Despite the missing details, Piemur is able to wait out the Threadfall. Once it finally passes, he notices that much of the local wildlife has been doing the same thing he has in trying to get away from the Thread. Which makes me wonder why life on Pern hasn’t evolved some adaptation to combat Thread, like armor, or the ability to anticipate the Thread so as to be able to get under cover, or gills. So that something like this doesn’t happen:
He saw the bulge of the fallen runner beast, half-hidden under a large numbweed bush. To his surprise, it heaved upward, its bloodied flank crawling with grubs. The poor thing couldn’t still be alive? He raised his stick to put an end to the creature’s pain when he realized that the movement came from under the animal, spasmodic and desperate. Farli hoped from his shoulder and chittered, touching a tiny protruding hoof that Piemur hadn’t noticed.
It had been a female runner beast! With an exclamation, Piemur grabbed the hind legs and pulled the corpse from the youngster the female had given her life to protect from Thread. Bleating, it staggered to its feet, shedding a carpet of grubs, and hobbled the few steps to Piemur, its head and shoulders scored here and there by Thread.
Almost absently, Piemur stroked the furry head and scratched behind the ear cup, feeling its rough tongue licking his skin. Then he saw the long shallow scrape on the little beast’s right leg.
“So that’s why you didn’t make it to the river, huh, you poor stupid thing?” said Piemur, gathering it closer to him. “And your dam sheltered you with her body. Brave thing to do.” It bleated again, looking anxiously up at him.
So Piemur gives the beast a name – Stupid – and takes care of him, using everything he knows from his pre-Harper life, which is another advancement along the path of running Menolly’s story in reverse.
The narrative spins away from Piemur back to the Harper Hall, where Sebell and Menolly meet with the newly-returned Robinton from Nabol Hold. Robinton is quite pleased with himself, even though he has no news of Piemur.
“I have arranged matters so that we don’t have to worry about Nabol Hold supplying the Oldtimers with northern goods or receiving a further embarrassing of riches of fire lizard eggs in that otherwise impoverished Hold.”
“Then, none of the disappointed heirs caused trouble during the confirmation?” asked Sebell.
Master Robinton waggled his fingers, a sly smile on his face. “Not to speak of, though Hittet is a master of the snide remark. They could scarcely contend the nomination, since it had been made before such notable witnesses. Besides, I never bothered to disabuse them of the notion that Benden and the other Lord Holders would call the heir to account for the sins of his predecessor.” Master Robinton beamed at the reactions of his journeyman to his strategy. “It afforded me considerable pleasure to help the new Lord Deckter to send the worthless lot back to improve their beggared holds.”
[…Robinton gave some advice that running a Hold is like running a successful business…]
“We won’t locate Piemur by whistling for him from the north. You two go south. Make certain that Toric lets the Oldtimers know, if you can’t carry the message discreetly to them yourselves, that Meron is dead and that his successor supports Benden Weyr. I believe that Master Oldive wants you to bring back some of those herbs and powders. He used up a large portion of his supplies on Meron.”
“But don’t you dare return until you’ve found Piemur.”
So the narrative has no trouble at all showing us why Robinton is the best ally the Benden Weyrleader will ever have, but it won’t bother with why Piemur is so universally known. Still, it’s a solution that would make Spock proud – no lies, merely omissions, and everybody filled in the details the way that worked to the Harper’s benefit. Plus, an excuse to send Menolly and Sebell southward to collect the wayward apprentice, even though at this point, there’s no useful intelligence that he can deliver. (Which might be another part of his reluctance to return to the Hall, in addition to the part where he feels out of place there and almost was killed there by apprentices who are still there.)
Only a little while to go before everything wraps up. But first, everyone has to actually get to their appointed places.