Dragondrums: The Pines of Rome

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.

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19 thoughts on “Dragondrums: The Pines of Rome

  1. aussiesmurf May 21, 2015 at 1:18 am

    The other point about the whole hiding-underwater-with-a-reed-for-a-snorkel thing is that AFAIK Threadfall lasts for FOUR HOURS. Have you ever tried to stay underwater, in roughly one spot, for four hours? Reed or no read, that would be enough of a difficult task that I find it hard to believe that it was considered preferable to simply waiting under a rock ledge and reading the (metaphorical) newspaper.

    Anyway, the Plot mechanics grind their gears so that Piemur stays alone for an indeterminate period of time, and the senior harpers twiddle their thumbs for about the same. Then they realise that the plot requires them to again get moving so that they can meet up and certain lovebirds (SPOILER) can have some alone time (I think, I can’t remember if the scene I’m recalling is in this book or TWD).

  2. Firedrake May 21, 2015 at 7:37 am

    I would think that spending four hours in running water, staying still and therefore not generating any heat from movement, might be quite chilling even in a warm climate.

    What’s so terrible about rock ledges again?

  3. Brenda Appleby May 21, 2015 at 8:01 am

    Four hours for the dragonriders fighting Thread. I don’t think it takes nearly that long for Threadfall to pass over a given point – just long enough for a decent choral rehearsal, if you look at Dragonsinger. A half hour would still be exhausting, but more plausible.

  4. genesistrine May 21, 2015 at 8:16 am

    And how the hell are the herdbeasts staying underwater for 4 hours? Have they evolved snorkels? (Though I think 4 hours is the duration of a full Threadfall – it moves, so it probably doesn’t go on so long from one point on the ground.)

    Native Pernese beasts either burrow, dive or teleport, presumably, though I don’t think we’re ever told what wherries do. Fly like hell?

    Meanwhile, Masterharper Richelieu arranges matters:

    “They could scarcely contend the nomination, since it had been made before such notable witnesses.”

    Yeah. Looks like there really wasn’t any reason to torture Meron, was there. What is your journeymen’s reaction here, Robinton? Sure it’s not dawning realisation of exactly what kind of person you are?

    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.”

    Yeah. Right. And none of them pointed out that Benden and the Lord Holders did sweet-FA about Meron’s sins when he was alive so why would they bother with his successor?

    AAA! DRAGONS! DRAGONRIDERS DON’T LIKE US! AAA! FORGIVE US MIGHTY MASTERHARPER!

    I swear it is a religion and Meron was a heretic. Don’t offend the holy dragonriders; heed the words of Cardinal Robinton, no sniggering at the back there OR ELSE.

  5. Silver Adept May 21, 2015 at 11:01 pm

    Rock ledges become a problem if there’s a wind. I suspect spores can be pushed around by a strong breeze, and while sideways rain week soak you in places you thought you never had, sideways Threadfall is a much more lethal action. Since we have absolutely no idea what standard Southern weather patterns are, it’s possible that underwater is the most effective strategy. It still doesn’t explain how Piemur stays warm enough or how the other fauna survive, though.

    And as for Robinton, well, there’s been sort of a running theme in all of this that Holders and their sons are not the brightest of people, especially compared to clever Harpers. But yes, the torture was unnecessary.

  6. genesistrine May 22, 2015 at 4:19 am

    I’d think burying yourself would be the most effective, if unnerving, method. Grubs seem to climb or cover things close to the ground – Stupid’s mother was apparently not much Thread-eaten, for example, and he has grubs on him and only minor scoring, so a layer of grub-infested earth ought to do the job, though preferably with a wherhide-or-similar tarp under it. Excavate a breathing-pit under your face and breathe shallowly, as with the ascetics/magicians burial-alive trick? (But let’s try with a Mythbusters-style pork dummy first….)

    Or even a sufficiently thick foliage layer might work, depending on how quickly the grubs fix things. Which might have been what Stupid’s mother was trying when she got under the numbweed bush.

  7. Stardust May 22, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    Depends on the weather / time of year. I own a pond with a small waterfall and let me tell you, it resists temperature changes the way the air doesn’t; on a series of warm days and cold nights, the water stayed perfectly warm (enough so that on a chilly night not too long ago, I introduced new fish my dad impulsively bought and found myself wishing I could jump into the water myself while I waited for them to adjust). On the other hand, the first few sweatingly warm days after winter the water was still cold.

  8. boutet May 23, 2015 at 7:51 pm

    What is this weird stressing of impoverished holds? Nabol Hold is “otherwise impoverished” other than the fire lizards which he has stopped the flow of. So now Nabol has nothing. Nothing at all. So Robinton… sentenced an entire Hold to poverty, deprivation and starvation by completely stopping it’s only source of income? For no reason that I can see other than “no, bad Hold, listen to Benden.”

    And the “worthless lot” of heir-hopefuls are sent back to their “beggared holds” to “improve” them. They’re worthless because… they wanted to inherit? Because they are looking for a life outside of poverty? And they must go back and prove themselves worthy of leaving poverty, by building up their holds with… what exactly? I mean, fire lizard trade looks like a good option for a poor hold with no industry or startup funds. Except oh, right, they’re not allowed to. For no reason at all.

    Great job Robinton, you’ve managed to embody and sum up all the problems with class structures.

  9. depizan May 23, 2015 at 8:23 pm

    Following along from that, if Nabol only had the fire lizards, it’s not going to take Dekter long to realize that the only way he can provide for his people is to go right back to trading with the South. They’ll just have to be sneakier about it this time. (Which probably also means more ruthless. So this this is just an all around disaster.)

    I’d say Nice Job Breaking It, Hero, but given that the person responsible is anything but…

  10. Michael I May 25, 2015 at 5:12 am

    @depizan, @boutet

    On the other hand, most of the fire lizards are not native to Nabol. Nabol is trading various goods for them. It’s entirely possible that ending the trade actually leaves Nabol better off.

  11. Silver Adept May 25, 2015 at 9:40 am

    It’s a weird comment, surely. I think the implication we’re supposed to get our of this is that all the heirs save Deckter are doing the same sorts of things that Meron is accused of doing to Nabol – enriching himself at the expense of those under him or on his land. (The whole “everyone must buy coal” thing carried a strong tone of “when there’s plenty of perfectly good wood that could be distributed for free” with it). So the “improvement” Robinton is looking for is supposed to be better governance of the peons so they aren’t unhappy and their basic needs are met by their Lord Holder. It’s an accusation that the lords are failing at their feudal obligations to their people.

    Considering the appetites of newly-hatched fire lizards, too many of them concentrated in one area could be disruptive to the food supply to the point where the tithes get smaller. In the mercantile world that the existence of money suggests exists, Nabol exporting fire lizards and importing food probably would work until saturation. Seems like we’re supposed to believe, though, that shipping goods is an expensive prospect because Thread, and because the dragonriders don’t apparently think that running a worldwide drop-shipping, courier, and security business that could actually get what you needed there yesterday is a good idea in the Intervals, would be excellent flying training for the weyrlings, a respectable profession for a dragonrider to retire to one they got too old to be effective fighters, and might take in enough in cash and goods to finance the entire Weyr operation without requiring tribute and tithes. That way, the Weyrs survive the inevitable takeover by the Crafts with their way of life mostly intact.

  12. genesistrine May 29, 2015 at 2:57 am

    @Michael I: Nabol is the middleman – I didn’t have time to find this quote earlier, but it’s from chapter 5:

    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!”

    Whether it’s Meron’s postulated Scrooge McDuck money pool that’s paying for all this, or whether the Oldtimers took off with bags of money or pass the results of their extortion on to Meron, or whether he’s selling fire lizard eggs as well as giving them to favoured vassals we never find out. Economics is one of the things that doesn’t interest AMC….

  13. Only Some Stardust May 30, 2015 at 10:36 pm

    Nah, obviously someone (Meron) finally figured out the money is made of wood and that’s how he’s paying for it. /wish I was just kidding but could be a thing.

  14. genesistrine May 31, 2015 at 2:47 am

    No, I’ve got it! Meron pays the merchants, then the Oldtimers take the money off them, go back in time and give it to Meron to pay those same merchants with. Infinite money loop!

  15. genesistrine May 31, 2015 at 2:48 am

    Though come to think of it your theory also explains why peasants can’t burn wood. It’s potential money!

  16. Silver Adept May 31, 2015 at 4:37 pm

    I thought the only money we’ve seen to this point is stamped metal (the Smith marks at the Gather) and a mention of Farmercraft money, but with no mention of its composition. Maybe I’m remembering wrong, or maybe they shifted to being wood in a retcon nobody was supposed to notice.

  17. Firedrake June 1, 2015 at 2:38 am

    Silver Adept, see Dragonsong, chapter 8:

    Piemur was thoroughly disgusted with her obtuseness. “Marks! Marks! What you get in exchange for what you’re selling at a gather?” He reached into his pocket and pulled out four small white pieces of highly polished wood, on which the numerals 32 had been incised on one side and on the other, the mark of the Smithcraft. “Only thirty-seconds, but with four I got an eighth, and Smithcraft at that.”

    Not that metal might not make rather more sense…

  18. Silver Adept June 1, 2015 at 11:27 am

    Thanks, Firedrake. Got it in my head that they were metal, but they aren’t. I still have to wonder how there aren’t Lords just minting more of it on the sly so that they can pay for goods when they need it. The South wouldn’t need to extort, then, just quietly introduce more into the money supply over time.

  19. Only Some Stardust June 1, 2015 at 10:11 pm

    err… maybe it’s a super special polishing technique…

    no, still makes no sense.

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