Let’s get to the actual text of the book, now that my issues with the idea of keeping time using “Present Pass” are taken care of.
The White Dragon: Chapter One: Content Notes: Bullying, gaslighting
The chapter opens with Jaxom finishing a cleaning of Ruth under N’ton’s direction. Actually, Jaxom had had help with the cleaning part, which he is pleased about, because it means his group of bullies hadn’t been able to torture him:
From the corner of his eye, Jaxom noticed Dorse and his cronies creeping away, just in case N’ton had any further hard work for them. Jaxom had somehow managed to keep the smugness he felt under control during all of Ruth’s bath. Dorse and the others hadn’t dared disobey the dragonrider when N’ton had blithely pressed them into service. To see them sweating over the “runt”, the “oversized fire lizard”, unable to tease and taunt Jaxom as they’d planned to do this morning, raised Jaxom’s spirits considerably. He entertained no hopes that the situation would last long. But, if today the Benden Weyrleaders decided that Ruth was strong enough to bear his weight in flight, then Jaxom would be free to fly away from the taunts he’d had to endure from his milkbrother and his cronies.
This, in publication chronology, is the second such story to indicate that bullying is rampant everywhere on Pern, with adults always conveniently elsewhere (or in Menolly’s case before and Piemur’s afterward, actively participating), and I might ask what kind of world is being built where being bullied by groups is just a fact of life for the main characters. I suppose it could be an attempt to point out how the people who are different here on Terra have to suffer such things on a daily basis, group bullying and adult involvement included. That said, dragons. At this point, it seems to be more like the author had only one story type to work with for their young characters, and all we’re doing at this point is riffing on the theme – specially talented bullied child leaves bullying environment, discovers great and awesome thing, has adventures.
It’s also interesting that the bullied kids are all in positions of relative power and privilege – a Sea-Holder’s daughter, a Lord Holder/dragonrider, and a Harper. Living in the upper crust doesn’t necessarily grant immunity from your peers…but it’s also interesting that we haven’t seen any of the kids perform classist bullying on people they consider lower status. Despite being a caste kind of society, all of the looking down on the commoners has been done by adults to this point.
N’ton points out to Jaxom that Ruth’s coloration is not due to albinism, which would be the most likely cause for whiteness (a lack of pigmentation), but instead is white because of a combination of all pigmentation colors for dragons.
“Y’know,” N’ton began, frowning slightly as he folded his arms across his damp-spattered tunic, “Ruth isn’t really white.”
Jaxom stared incredulously at his dragon. “He’s not?”
“No. See how his hide has shadows of brown and gold, and ripples of blue or green on the near flank.”
[…Jaxom had somehow not noticed this, but attributes it to cleanliness and a bright sun…]
“He’s…more…all dragon shades than the lack of any,” N’ton continued.
Which, to be this way, would be…iridescence, I guess? Since pigments, when combined, become black, not white, if Ruth has shadings of all the other colors, I would expect him to be the black dragon, but that produces color connotations that I’m sure the author wants to avoid in their city-states pastiche. It’s good for Ruth, though, because one of the noticeable bad effects of albinism is the sensitivity to ultraviolet rays that translates into ease of sunburn. In a world like Pern, where getting out of the sun means going into giant caves, it’s not a good thing to have to have your dragon stay inside during the day. That would have likely sunk any plans anyone had for Jaxom to become either a Holder or a dragonrider.
N’ton assures Jaxom that Ruth is a properly-proportioned and healthy dragon, even though Ruth is half the size of any other dragon, and that he should be able to hold Jaxom just fine. On their way back to the hold, Jaxom reflects on everything that’s happened since he impressed Ruth, and the massive guilt trip (although he doesn’t recognize it as such) that’s being inflicted on him by everyone around.
Not that he had wanted to, but Impressing Ruth had caused all kinds of problems for the Benden Weyrleaders, F’lar and Lessa, for the Lord Holders, and for himself, since he was not allowed to be a real dragonrider and live in a Weyr. He had to remain Lord Holder of Ruatha or every younger Holdless son of every major Lord would fight to the death to fill that vacancy. The worst problem he had caused was to the man he desperately wanted most to please, his guardian, Lord Lytol. Had Jaxom only paused a moment to think before he jumped onto the hot sands of Benden’s Hatching Ground to help break the tough shell for the little white dragon, he’d have realized what anguish he would bring to Lord Lytol by a constant reminder of what the man had lost with the death of his brown Larth. Never mind if Larth had died Turns before Jaxom’s birth at Ruatha Hold, the tragedy was vividly, cruelly fresh in Lytol’s mind, or so everyone told Jaxom repeatedly. If this was so, Jaxom often wondered, why then hadn’t Lytol protested when the Weyrleaders and Lord Holders agreed that Jaxom must try to raise the little dragon at Ruatha?
Jaxom, you haven’t learned about the power of the narrative in relation to F’lar getting what he wants, yet, so that’s forgivable. Consulting my notes from Dragonquest, it seems that the was a lot of drinking and Sith Lessa interference involved in setting up this particular situation, so there may not be a straight answer to give about why Lytol doesn’t object to seeing another dragon being cared for in his Hold. The most obvious answer is that time has, in fact, dulled the grief and pain Lytol feels for the lost Larth to the point where he can function normally, even around other dragons. If that’s the case, though, then other people can’t use it to browbeat Jaxom, taking advantage of his capacity for empathy, to some purpose, I would assume, other than “to make the kid feel bad about himself”. Because if that is the reason why, then I hope Jaxom conveniently forgets to let those people back into his Hold when Thread is falling outside, so they can understand what kind of psychological damage they did to him.
Also, what the hell, narrative? Although Dragondrums comes later, with its torture scene, it had already been established before then that there is such a thing as a Conclave of Holders that could settle matters of succession if Jaxom had gone off to the Weyr. And since Lytol is regent at this point, if Jaxom did want to go to the Weyr, surely Lytol could run the place until the Holders determined who would be best-suited to rule, assuming the Benden Weyrleaders didn’t have a firm opinion on the matter. There should be none of this “chaos and battle among younger sons” crap, unless it’s part of a concerted effort to gaslight Jaxom into staying right where he is, for whatever unknown reason. And if a younger son of a Holder shows up with an army to take Ruatha, Lessa only has to appear on Ramoth, say “MINE,” and the matter gets resolved in her favor, because DRAGONS. Plus, as we find out in a few pages, at least some of the residents of Ruatha consider Lessa the last remaining pure-blooded Ruathan. Which, combined with the dragon, should give her significant weight in determining who rules there. Ramoth might even enjoy the possibility of ripping apart a few of the mounts of the soldiers if she’s getting close to a mating cycle.
Back to the plot. N’ton asks Jaxom if Lytol has any fosterlings, under the idea that Jaxom should be socialized with other children of his own rank, to which Jaxom shrugs and points out Dorse and gang, and mentions he hasn’t seen F’lessan much, either, to N’ton’s inquiry about their ability to make mischief in the past. When N’ton’s fire lizard arrives and chitters excitedly, because Ruth is present and every fire lizard likes Ruth, Jaxom asks N’ton why Ruth is so popular. Tris doesn’t say, and N’ton can only speculate. As Jaxom heads back to change for the trial, we find out why Dorse had been given free reign to torment Jaxom – apparently, during his birth, for a part we didn’t see in Dragonflight, since the narrative was busy with Lessa getting F’lar and Fax into a knife fight to the death. Dorse’s mother, Deelan, had given birth to Dorse two days before Jaxom, and thus was still able to nurse and lactate for Jaxom, who would have otherwise died without the breast milk she provided. Because of that, both Lytol and the Hold Harper told Jaxom he owed his life to her and to Dorse, and he had to share everything he had with Dorse.
Cocowhat by depizan
I can understand “be respectful and generous to Deelan, because she nursed you to life when your mother died in childbirth”, but I don’t see how any of that favor automatically extends to her son, because I refuse to believe that she was the only woman capable of lactating at that point in time, based on the narrative’s own insistence that Fax liked to sleep around and get as many women pregnant as he could. Yes, his birth made it possible for her to do what was necessary, but he should derive no direct benefit from that, because she ultimately made the decision to nurse. Yet another way the sexism of Pern manifests, according benefit to men and boys because of the actions of women.
Jaxom has enough time to scrub himself up a bit and change into his new clothes before the Benden Weyrleaders arrive. He’s nervous about hurting Ruth (empathy!), which Ruth assures him isn’t possible. Lessa doesn’t help Jaxom’s nerves by teasing him about being thin, and Jaxom realizes he’s taller than Lessa, which is also embarrassing. The Benden Weyrleader steps in and redirects the conversation to Ruth, delivering a compliment that Ruth is bigger than he expected, because of Jaxom’s care. After an inspection, everyone is in agreement that Jaxom gets to try and fly with Ruth. Jaxom expresses Ruth’s eagerness:
“Yes, sir, because, he is a dragon, and dragons all fly!”
Which, the narrative subtly reminds us, is a call back to Lessa in Dragonflight, about her wanting to take Ramoth out flying instead of being cooped up in a Weyr.
The flight test is a success, although Ruth and Jaxom both have some things to learn about good takeoff and landing technique so that Jaxom isn’t bounced around during either. The dragonriders seem pleased, the Lord Holders seem sour, and the Harpers (Robinton and Menolly) seem thoughtful. And Lytol is a blank. N’ton and the Benden Weyrleader discuss the next phases of training for Jaxom and Ruth, where N’ton says he’ll handle the training part, even though the Benden Weyrleader clearly wants to, since Ruth hatched at Benden. There’s another call back where the Benden Weyrleader assents to teaching Ruth how to fly between:
“Oh, very well. He’s to be trained to fly between. Otherwise, I suppose you’d try it on your own anyhow, wouldn’t you, young Jaxom, being of Ruathan Blood?”
“Sir?” Jaxom really didn’t quite believe his good fortune.
“No, F’lar, Jaxom wouldn’t try such a thing on his own,” N’ton replied in a curious tone. “That’s the trouble. I think Lytol has done his job too well.”
“Explain,” F’lar replied curly.
F’nor held up his hand. “Here’s Lytol himself,” he said in quick warning.
Jaxom is quite happy that the test went well, because it means he’ll soon be able to escape Dorse and everyone else giving him trouble. On his way to the feast that will be in his honor, he notices Robinton avoid a frenetic fair of fire lizards flying into and out of the doorway by flattening himself against the door itself and shielding his face. Or rather, Robinton flattens himself, and then observes Jaxom taking care of Ruth, as the viewpoint has shifted without warning. Robinton is unhappy at how things have turned out, mostly because of the geopolitical headaches that Ruth flying will now generate. Jaxom slipped through his fingers, because he was too distracted with other things to pay enough attention, even with all his journeymen and aides running missions for him. A call to his reputation at being able to identify wine by taste distracts him from his current line of thinking, and after demonstrating his talent, and toasting Jaxom in such a way that makes it an inevitable point of discussion, the assembled fall to the discussion of what to do with Jaxom, since he bridges both worlds of dragonrider and Lord Holder.
“There will be no problem, Sangel,” said F’lar diplomatically. “We’ve no shortage of large dragons in the Weyr. So he isn’t needed to fight.”
“We’ve no shortage of trained, Blooded men to take Hold here, either,” Sangel said, shooting his jaw out belligerently. Trust old Sangel to come to the point, thought Robinton gratefully.
“Not with Ruathan Blood,” Lessa said, her grey eyes flashing. “The whole point of my relinquishing my blood right to this Hold when I became Weyrwoman was to cede it to the one remaining male with any Ruathan Blood in his veins – Jaxom! As long as I live, I will not permit Ruatha, of all the Holds of Pern, to be the prize for continent-wide blood duels among younger sons. Jaxom remains as Lord Holder-elect of Ruatha; he will never be a fighting dragonrider.”
“Just like to set matters straight,” Sangel said, stepping aside to avoid the icy stare Lessa gave him. “But you’ve got to admit, Weyrwoman, that riding dragons, no matter in how limited a fashion, can be dangerous. Heard about that Weyrling at High Reaches…”
Ahem. As I was saying before…
Jaxom having no peers allows Groghe to pawn off one of his sons on Lytol with no expectation of reciprocation, which leads to a broader discussion of the problem of too many sons and not enough land for all of them to have their own fiefdoms. Which was a real problem in the world Pern is playing off, and led to the kind of warfare that the Lords Holder are trying to avoid. And since there is no church to send those sons off to, nor any foreign war campaigns, and dragonriders can only take as many sons as there are eggs…it’s a powder keg. What I don’t know is how widespread and well-known the dragonrider abortion is, which would be a pretty simple solution to the problem of too many children, assuming that the ladies of the hold would be able to sneak out.
Groghe pressures the Benden Weyrleader to open up the Southern Continent to send those younger sons to, for exploration and conversion to their own Holds. Robinton tries to deflect the idea by pointing out that other younger sons have found service in the Crafthalls working with Fandarel, and that some of those idle sons might find similar work as a Craft task force exchanging ideas and technique. Groghe is dismissive of the idea, and the eventual solution of Jaxom is hit upon – fosterling from Groghe, instruction on riding, and then apprenticeship to Robinton’s archivist, Master Arnor (who we know from Dragonsinger is very finicky and fiddly about everything relating to his craft) in addition to all his requirements on learning how to be a Holder. Jaxom’s arrival at his own feast closes the chapter, but Jaxom is really excited at his possible future when told about the plan.
I’m still side-eyeing the presence of another bullying group in this novel, though, because past evidence and future evidence suggest that their presence means that Jaxom is going to get hurt by them, and likely hurt horribly. It would be nice if we avoided making it a trilogy with regard to the bullies. And that people would stop trying to make him the source of their problems, whether “on behalf of” Lytol, his dual status, or because his mother brought him into existence. Maybe we can have a full novel of an adventure story, instead of just pieces?