Last chapter, Piemur was sent back out on assignment to Nabol Hold, and ended up being sent to the Southern Weyr in a supply run after a decision to steal a queen fire lizard egg from Meron, because there were too many peasants getting their lizards before Menolly fulfilled her promise to give one to him.
Dragondrums: Chapter 7: Content Notes: Torture
Chapter 7 starts with Sebell going through progressively greater stages of worry as Piemur continues to fail to show up for dinner or dancing. Sebell eventually wonders if Piemur has left the Gather grounds and gotten himself into trouble and sends his fire lizards, Kimi, to look for Piemur on the Gather grounds or at the place Sebell had haggled for as quarters. Kimi returns with an anxious no. So Sebell goes back to where he met Piemur, and searches carefully with Kimi – still nothing.
He sped back to the Hold, retied his borrowed mount, and reached the Gather just as news of the theft of the queen egg rippled through the crowds.
[…Sebell has a sinking feeling…]
By the time Sebell got to the Hold gates, no one was being allowed in or out. Glowbaskets shone on empty courtyards, and every window of the Hold was brilliant with light.
[…Sebell is pretty sure he knows where Piemur is, but…]
An order was circulated, and additional guards posted, to prevent anyone’s leaving the Gather. Sebell positioned himself along the ramp parapet leading to the Hold, where Piemur could easily spot him in the light from the Hold’s glows. Surely if the boy had only fallen asleep, the noise would rouse him.
It was only when word filtered through the crowd that some unknown drudge had made off with the precious egg that Sebell came to the startling conclusion that the drudge could have been Piemur. How the boy had managed to enter the guarded Hold, Sebell couldn’t figure out, but trust Piemur to find a way. Certainly it was like the boy to steal a fire lizard egg, given the opportunity. A queen egg at that! Piemur never did anything by halves.
As things go, Sebell warns off N’ton from staying in the valley using his fire lizard, Kimi, collects N’ton’s lizard (Tris) in return, and witnesses the exchange of goods between Nabol Hold and the dragonriders from Southern (where Piemur is packed in for transport). His nap is interrupted by message drums beating for Oldive and Robinton to come to Nabol – Meron is in the last stages of life. Sebell sends Kimi to Menolly, asking her to come and bring him a change of clothing, and sends Tris back to N’ton, telling him not to come. Oldive, Robinton, and Menolly appear, and Sebell briefs them as he strips and changes clothes.
“Is that why I’ve been summoned? To witness the punishment of a thieving apprentice?” Master Robinton was no longer amused.
“I don’t know, Master. Kimi located Piemur in the Hold, but she couldn’t explain where, said she couldn’t get to him because it was too dark. I know the guards spent hours searching the Hold. Presumably they know it better than Piemur could. But-” Sebell paused. “I’m bloody certain they would have made some sort of commotion if they had found him and recovered that egg.”
[…Oldive confirms for Sebell that Meron is dying…]
“Did you find out who the Nabolese prefer as heir?” asked Master Robinton.
“A grand-nephew, Deckter. A carter who runs a steady business between Nabol and Crom. He’s got four sons that he keeps firmly in line. He’s not a friendly man, but he’s got the grudging respect of those who know him.”
Standard grumble here for Sebell’s “bloody” and the unquoted one that Menolly utters right after. Although the possibility of it being in relation to dragon’s blood, as mentioned in a previous entry, could work out pretty well. Sebell finishes briefing the Harpers about the nature of the fire lizards (green eggs) and the clandestine dragon visit before meeting up with their escort from Nabol, who unintentionally confirm that Piemur was not captured while they fill in Master Oldive about Meron’s condition. When Robinton requests a drum message to the local Lords and the Weyrleader, Sebell takes the opportunity to call for Piemur to report, if he’s within earshot of the message drums. No response, even after taking a lunch to listen and wait for the summoned dignitaries to arrive.
Then comes the meeting with Meron.
Although Sebell had seen Lord Meron the day before, he was appalled by the change in the man propped up in the bed: the eyes were sunken, pain had lined his face deeply, his skin was a pale yellow, and his fingers, plucking nervously at the fur rug that covered him, were claws with hanging bags of flesh between the knuckles. It was as if, Sebell thought, all life was centered in those hands, feebly holding onto life through the hair of the fur.
“So, I’m granted my own private gather, is that it? Well, I’ve no welcome for any of you. Go away. I’m dying. That’s what you all wished me to do these past Turns. Leave me to it.”
“You’ve not named your successor.” said Lord Oterel bluntly.
“I’ll die before I do.”
“I think we must persuade you to change your mind on that count,” said the Masterharper in a quiet, amiable tone.
“How?” Lord Meron’s snarl was smug in his self-assurance.
“There is friendly persuasion….”
“If you think I’ll name a successor just to make things easy for you and those dregs at Benden, think again!” The force of that remark left the man gasping against the props, one hand feebly beckoning to Master Oldive, whose attention was on the Harper.
“…Or unfriendly persuasion,” continued Master Robinton as if Lord Meron hadn’t spoken.
“Ha! You can do nothing to a dying man, Master Robinton! You, Healer, my medicine!”
Master Robinton lifted his arm, effectively barring Berdine [Nabol’s healer] from approaching the sick man.
“That’s precisely it, my Lord Meron,” said the Harper in an implacable voice, “we can do…nothing…to a dying man.”
Cocowhat by depizan
Everyone clear what the plan is, here? Until Meron names a successor in the presence of all the witnesses, Robinton and the witnesses will deny Meron the medicine he gets to dull the pain, essentially hoping the pain will persuade Meron before it kills him. Which would blatantly and flagrantly fly in the face of any medical ethics or other philosophy that says “First, do no harm.” I would wonder whether such things have developed on Pern, but the track record for decisions that require empathy is dismal at best, so I doubt that Master Oldive will protest these actions. Journeyman Berdine has more empathy for the sick man than anyone else in the room.
Sebell heard Menolly’s catch of breath as she understood what Master Robinton had in mind to force this issue with Lord Meron. Berdine started to protest, but was silenced by a growl from Lord Oterel. The healer turned appealingly to Master Oldive, whose eyes had never left the face of the Harper. Although Sebell had known how desperately Master Robinton wished for a peaceful succession in this Hold, he had not appreciated the steel in his pacific Master’s will. Nabol Hold must not come into contention, not with every Holder’s younger sons eager and willing to fight to the death to secure even as ill-managed a Hold as this. Such fighting could go on and on, until no more challengers presented themselves. What little prosperity Nabol enjoyed would have been wasted in the meantime with no one holding the lands properly.
“What do you mean?” Meron’s voice rose to a shriek. “Master Oldive, attend me. Now!”
Master Oldive turned to the Lords Holder and bowed. “I understand, my Lords, that there are many seeking my aid at the Hold gates. I will, of course, return when my presence is required here. Berdine, accompany me!”
When Lord Meron screamed for the two healers to halt, to attend him, Master Oldive took Berdine by the arm and firmly led him out, deaf to Meron’s orders. As the door closed begins him, Meron ceased his entreaties and turned to the impassive faces that watched him.
“You wouldn’t? Can’t you understand? I’m in pain. Agony! Something inside is burning through my vitals. It won’t stop until its eaten me to a shell. I must have medicine. I must have it!
“We must have the name of your successor.” Lord Oterel’s voice was pitiless.
[… The torture begins in earnest, with recitations of the possible successors…]
“You must name your successor.” said T’bor, High Reaches Weyrleader, and Meron’s eyes rested on the man whose private grievance with him ran deepest. For it was Lord Meron’s association with T’bor’s Weyrwoman, Kylara, that had caused the death of both Kylara’s queen dragon, Prideth, and Brekke’s Wirenth.
That’s interesting. I think it’s the first time I’ve seen the narrative try to victim-blame someone other that Kylara for the incident. Perhaps because Kylara already had her narrative punishment exacted on her, the narrative is moving on to the “surviving” partner. And because the narrative still believes Kylara was slumming with Meron, T’bor also believes it and hates Meron for everything that happened. So the narrative has exacted horrible consequences on both members of that pairing.
Sebell watched Meron’s eyes widen with growing horror as he finally realized that he would have no surcease from the pain of his body until he did name a successor, confronted as he was by the men who had excellent reason for hating him.
[…The litany begins again…]
Sebell knew he would always remember this bizarre and macabre scene with horror as well as with a certain awful respect. He had long known that Master Robinton would use unexpected methods to maintain order throughout Pern and to uphold the leadership of Benden Weyr, but he had never expected such ruthlessness in the otherwise gentle and compassionate Robinton. He schooled his mind away from the stink and closeness of the room, from Meron’s pain, by trying to appreciate the tactics that were being used as Lord Meron was deftly maneuvered into choosing the one man the others preferred among his heirs by their seeming to forget Deckter half the time. For a long while afterward, the flickering of glows would remind Sebell and Menolly of those eerie hours while Lord Meron tried to resist the will of his inflexible peers.
It was inevitable that Meron would capitulate: Sebell thought he could almost feel the pulsing of pain through the man’s body as he screamed out Deckter’s name, thinking he had chosen to displease the men who had so tormented him.
The instant he spoke Deckter’s name, Master Oldive, who had gone no further than the next room, came to give the man relief.
“Perhaps it was a terrible cruelty to inflict on anyone,” Master Oldive told the Lords when they left Meron in a drugged stupor, “but the ordeal has also hastened his end. Which can only be a mercy. I don’t think he can last another day.”
Cocowhat by depizan
[The Loudest Profanity I’ve Ever Heard], repeatedly and without end.
The horror of the torture is enough to leave strong memories, but Sebell respects it as utilitarian. But Sebell is wrong about gentle and compassionate Robinton. He’s already seen how wrong he is, with how Menolly was treated when she got here, how Piemur was almost killed when he was sent to the drumheights – hell, that he got sent there in the first place for puberty. That Robinton continues to employ abusers, misogynists, and others that create a hostile environment for the apprentices. This should not be unexpected to you, Sebell. Or, rather, the only thing that should be unexpected is that Robinton was willing to go that far as to deny a dying man comfort to get his way. Sebell, disillusionment would be a good response here.
Also, Oldive, perhaps? Perhaps? PERHAPS, you asshole? What the fuck would remove the qualifier for you? You were just complicit in the torture of a dying man. Now, you can “ends justify the means” it all you like so that everyone can sleep tonight thinking they did what was good and just, but the fact is that the Healer did great harm and should have to account for it, just like everyone else in the room there. Of course, since the only people in the room were the conspirators, and Meron didn’t have enough strength to really make enough noise to alert his own allies (who were being barred from the room) to what was going on, nobody will charge or accuse the conspirators with torture. This is shameful behavior.
Sebell is on his way to rationalization of the whole affair, which leaves Menolly as the only person witnessing what happened that might have conscience issues. Since she’s the only one who has suffered torture, pain, and abuse in that group, aside from her gasp of realization, the narrative carefully ignores what she might be thinking or feeling about all of it while the torture goes on, and hurries us into the next plot points before Sebell can ask. Assuming that Sebell would ask, which appears highly unlikely.
To close out the chapter, Sebell announces the choice of Deckter to the assembled audience waiting outside in the Hold courtyard, and takes the opportunity to try and figure out how Piemur evaded detection.
His glance traveled upward and paused on the small window. “Menolly!” He grabbed her by the hand and started pulling her toward the kitchen yard. “Kimi said it was dark. I wonder what’s…” In his excitement, he reversed back to the guard, hauling the complaining Menolly with him.
Because, as we’ve already noted, the bodily autonomy of women is always subject to the needs of whatever man is around, whether dragonrider, Holder, or Harper. Sebell, why are you dragging Menolly around? You, of all people, should understand how to use your words.
“See that little window above the ashpit?” he asked the guard excitedly. “What does it open on? The kitchen?”
“That one? Naught but a stores room.” And then the guard clamped his teeth shut, looking apprehensively back to the Hold as if he had been indiscreet and feared reprisal.
His reaction told Sebell exactly what he needed to know.
“The supplies for Southern Weyr were stored in that room, weren’t they?”
The guard stared straight ahead of him, lips pressed firmly together, but the flush in his face was a giveaway. Laughing with relief, Sebell half-ran toward the kitchen yard, Menolly eagerly following him.
“You think Piemur hid himself among the stuff for the Oldtimers?” Menolly asked.
“It’s the only answer that suits the circumstances, Menolly,” said Sebell. He halted right in front of the ashpit and pointed to a wall that separated the two pits. “That wouldn’t be too high a jump for an agile lad, would it?”
“No, I wouldn’t think so. And just like Piemur! But, Sebell, that would mean he’s in the Southern Weyr!”
And the actual plot of the chapter closes with Sebell and Menolly planning to ask friends and send fire lizards to find Piemur on Southern.
Sebell, however, is a terrible poker player. In some other novel, without time-traveling dragons, Sebell tipping his hand about knowing would have the guard go back to his commanders, inform them that the Harpers, and thus Benden, had proof that they were dealing with Southern, and that they should probably scrub any further evidence of the affair. Such that when Benden arrived to confront Meron about his involvement, all they would find were the smoking remains of Nabol Hold, where Meron tragically perished after naming his successor. All Sebell really needed to know was where the window led to – the rest would be deducable from there, knowing what he knows at that point.
Then again, as it has been pointed out, the only authority we have that Meron had been doing something wrong is the narrative, the proclamation of Benden, and the active Harper propaganda in favor of that proclamation. There’s no real moral component or justification that accompanies any of this – just that Benden says so and the Harpers work to keep opinion in favor of Benden. The libertarian Galt-world that is Pern seems to find this arrangement just fine and doesn’t provide any more justification as to why people obey Benden and consider trade with the South wrong, but it isn’t really clear or given justification to my satisfaction. And based on the comments on the last two entries, it hasn’t been to your satisfaction, either.
This chapter has been awful. Tune in next time, where we find Piemur has found a civilization of Lost Boys searching for a mother figure…