Last chapter, Piemur found his southern paradise invaded by herb-gatherers, and in his attempts to get away, comes across a girl with the same adventurous spirit and distaste for cooking numbweed. Could it be the first signs of love blossoming as they collect herbs from the countryside?
Dragondrums: Chapter 11: Content Notes: Dragon-influenced sex
…we’ll have to wait for another book to find out about that, as this chapter sticks firmly with Menolly and Sebell. The action, or rather, lack thereof, has Menolly and Sebell in a calm out on the seas as they sail toward Southern Hold, and Sebell is quite irritable at this point. After a couple snaps that are uncharacteristic for him, Menolly deduces the cause.
Suddenly, she glanced skyward, where the fire lizards were aerially following the skiff in swoops and glides. She watched them for a long moment, frowning slightly as she saw one dive into the waves. Sebell, puzzled by her abrupt curiosity, identified the fisher as his own Kimi and smiled indulgently as she brought the neatly captured yellowtail back to the prow of the ship. Sebell wondered why the other three fire lizards didn’t come to share the feast, but the thought didn’t absorb him long. The ferocity with which Kimi ate fascinated him; he felt as if he were somehow involved in tearing the strips, as if he could savor the warm salty flesh in his mouth, as if-
“I’m sending Beauty to Toric at Southern Hold. She can’t stay here now, Sebell.”
This is good characterization, although I’m pretty sure Menolly didn’t have to deal with this particular problem on-camera at any point in the previous books, so we would have to assume her familiarity is from previous times that such things have happened. Considering Menolly has nine, and at least once of each color, I’m guessing she has been able to settle such issues internally, if needed. Unless the fire lizards have an innate sense of avoiding their own clutch mates. Then, I’m guessing someone has to go off and find a wild one or someone else’s fire lizard to satisfy those urges. Which, now that I think about it, has to have some consequences somewhere. Why haven’t we seen any of this, especially in Nabol where all the fire lizards are?
Sebell eventually understands what’s going on.
Kimi was about to fly. And it was Menolly’s bronzes who would fly her. A surge of elation swept Sebell, who could scarcely believe his good fortune. And yet…
“Menolly?” He turned to her, hands outstretched, palms up, pleading with her and apologizing for what he knew was about to happen since there were only the two of them on this becalmed boat in the middle of the windstill sea. He hadn’t wanted Menolly coerced, as she now must be; he’d wanted to be in full command of himself, not overridden by the mating instinct of Kimi.
“It’s all right, Sebell. It’s all right.”
Smiling, Menolly put her hands in his and let herself be drawn into his arms where he had so yearned to have her.
And there is a mating flight, and there are two humans mating on the boat while their fire lizards do.
There’s good things about this: I think this is the closest we have gotten to two adults, aware of what is about to happen, giving express consent for sex while their fire lizards/dragons mate, for example. Sebell needs to articulate more, but if this is his first time experiencing the mating instinct, the confusion makes sense. And it is much easier to read Menolly as consenting with what she says to Sebell than any attempt to this point for any other person affected by this urge.
Sebell’s attraction to Menolly outside of Kimi’s urges appears out of left field for me, but they’ve been together and done enough things that I’m willing to give the narrative the benefit of the doubt on this. Sebell’s desire to have done this uncoerced is refreshing, compared the dragonriders, who are significantly more “whatevs” when it comes to what mating instinct does to them.
There is one seriously bad thing going on, here, though, and I guess it’s meta at this point in the narrative – in whatever process was used to breed dragons out of fire-lizards, wouldn’t someone have figured out that the strong emphatic bonds the fire lizards formed would be inconvenient around mating time and tried to breed traits in the fire lizards that encouraged not sharing that time, or not so strongly? Or some form of training, perhaps? So that we don’t have situations where people are having sex without having consciously consented to it while not under the influence? After all this time, nobody has come up with a solution to this problem?
It could be as simple as giving the humans a dose of an anti-aphrodisiac, should they exist. Maybe fellis. Someone, whether a queen rider or a green rider, has to have at least tried to figure out some way of suppressing the urge for them, if not for their dragon.
The fact that the fire lizards also have this power makes Benden and others that are giving them away as pets and gifts seem a lot shadier. “Here, have this cute thing that will drag you into an uncontrollable urge to have sex with someone every so often, whether you want to or not.” Which was the problem with dragons, but dragons are controlled in supply. There’s nothing stopping someone else from doing as Meron did and saturating the area around them with fire lizards and the associated problems that come with it. Then again, the Weyr culture we’ve seen probably thinks that’s a good outcome, as it gives them more potential people to rape and claim it was their fire lizard.
The ancients don’t seem to have thought this idea through very well, and their descendants are following firmly in those footsteps.
A couple of extra revelations come from this unexpected mating:
“It wasn’t just Kimi’s need,” he said in a hurried voice, “you know that, don’t you?”
“Of course I know, dear Sebell.” Her fingers lingered on his cheek, his lips. “But you always stand back and defer to our Master.” She did not hide from Sebell then how much she loved Master Robinton, nor would that ever come between then since they each loved the man in their separate ways. “…but I have so wished-”
[…a swinging boom interrupts the tender moment, as the wind has returned…]
“Where did Rocky go?” [Sebell] asked Menolly, who frowned slightly in thought.
“He either joined Beauty…or found himself a wild green. I suspect the latter.”
“Wouldn’t you know?” asked Sebell, surprised.
Menolly shook her head from side to side, with a half-smile, and Sebell realized she’d been unaware of anything except their rapport with their two fire lizards. He relaxed, thoroughly content with their new understanding.
Uh, Sebell, that’s the worst way of asking “now that it’s over, do you still consent to what happened?” Because confessing your pantsfeels to the woman who gave an ambiguous consent signal at best could backfire spectacularly. As in “I hope you can swim to Southern, you asshole. Taking advantage of me like that.” You’re lucky Menolly returns your affections. Even though she’s apparently carrying a torch for Robinton. And, if you squint just right, it’s possible that Sebell loves him the same way, but would also never confess such a thing. Not that the narrative really allows for the possibility – it tried pretty hard to make Kylara into something unsympathetic, instead of ketting her be kinky and feminist-y, so it’s unlikely to allow for the possibility that Sebell could be bi. Which is a tragedy, because fantasy pastiches really can stand to be more inclusive, instead of less.
Second, how did Menolly ever manage to get anything done at the Harper Hall, having nine fire lizards, if one of them being in the mating throes is enough to completely take up her attention? Admittedly, Dragonsinger only took seven days, but there’s been plenty of time before that and afterward, between Dragonsinger and Dragondrums, for this sort of thing to have already happened. I had been handwaving it before this point as “fire lizards don’t have as strong a bond, so people can handle their urges more easily”, but that is apparently not the case. Also, for everyone who received a fire lizard or two from the Weyrs or Meron, we’re sorry, you’re going to have the same problems the dragonriders do, but without the implicit ability to get away with it because dragon. I wonder how many regional conflicts will start because of fire lizards boinking. We’ve had three turns of the planet so far, so there should have been more than enough opportunities for these kinds of things to have happened and to have stories of the conflicts that resulted.
Finally, I feel markedly more uncomfortable about Weyr culture in relation to what Menolly just said about Rocky. I didn’t think that was possible, but it is. Since the fire lizards seem to be able to do what the dragons do, and at the same strength, what happens with all the other bronze dragons that don’t get to mate with the queen? Do they all go off and find greens, leaving their riders to find whomever is nearest to assault in dragon-sex-feels? Are there enough greens in the mating mood to manage that? Do dragon or rider actually care whether their partner wants to mate? (No.) Blurgh.
Fire lizards now seem like some sort of gambit by the Weyrs to make all the rest of Pern behave and think like them.
The plot advances with the ship landing at Southern and Toric greeting them. The message is faithfully delivered to Toric about the new Lord Deckter and his lack of willingness to deal with the Southern Weyr. Toric mentions that Mardra was inflamed about a half-empty sack, which piques the curiosity of the Harpers, and they explain what Piemur did, and how that action set in motion the Rube Goldberg machine that led to the current situation at Nabol. Which could cause headaches once Southern needs another supplier, and Toric doesn’t want to jeopardize his relationship with Benden.
Then we spend several pages of Menolly and Sebell trying to convince Toric that Piemur is crafty enough to survive outside in Thread. Even though Menolly, who has done it, is talking, and Toric admits that there are some from the north who have adapted to living outside the Hold. Unfortunately, it’s another missed opportunity to tell tales of Piemur’s exploits, and so Toric’s unwillingness to believe the harpers feels more like a narrative ploy to keep everyone at Southern Hold so that we can resolve the story, instead of an organic reason to keep everyone from going off on their own.
And there is watermelon. Not described by that name, of course, but watermelon all the same.
Sebell finally hits on a unique solution to pull Piemur out, if he’s in the Hold or around it.
“Drums! Piemur will answer a call on drums!”
“Drums?” Toric threw back his head in an honest guffaw of surprise.
“Yes, drums,” said Sebell, beginning to find Toric’s attitude offensive. “Where’s your drumheights?”
“Why would we need drumheights in Southern?”
It took the astonished harpers a little while to understand that drumheights, traditional in every hills on the north, had never been installed in the [South’s] single hold.
See, this is how you keep people in place for the plot to advance, by giving them an actual problem to have to solve. Sebell meets Saneter, the Hold Harper, and finds the complete complement of drums available in the Hold are small dance assistance drums with no resonance at all. Toric, however, has some ideas about how to build a proper message drum. He describes an impossibly large tree trunk that could have a hide stretched over it to make a giant drum, to which Sebell is skeptical, and then Toric shows him that he’s not exaggerating at all.
Saneter, who had come with them, stooped to pick up a thick, knobby-ended branch and pounded the tree trunk experimentally. Everyone was surprised at the hollow boom that resulted. The fire lizards, who’d been perched on the surface, lifted with shrieks of protest.
Grinning, Sebell held out his hand to Saneter for the stick. He beat out the phrase “Apprentice, report!” He grinned more broadly as the majestic tones echoed through the forest and started a veritable shower of tree-dwelling insects and snakes, shaken from their perches by the unexpected loud reverberations.
Toric cuts an appropriate size drum, and they haul it back to Southern Hold, have a bath (where Sebell starts ducking Menolly to let her fire lizards pull her back to the surface), and…
Suddenly a sound paralyzed them: the sharp thudding of a practiced hand against what could only be the newly-acquired drum round. A practiced hand that beat a measure, “Harper here, anyone else?” and the staccato that was a question.
“It has to be Piemur!” Menolly’s cry was half-gasp half-scream, but the words weren’t quite out of her mouth before both harpers were on their feet and running towards the ramp up from the harbor.
“What’s the matter?” they heard Toric yelling after them.
“That was Piemur!” Sebell managed to gasp out as he charged a bare stride ahead of Menolly. But when they skidded to a halt on the shell-strewn area before the cavern, the was no one about.
Sebell cupped his hands about his mouth. “PIEMUR! REPORT!”
“Beauty! Rocky! Where is he?” gasped Menolly, half-angry with Piemur for the heart-stopping shock.
The harper’s name echoed and re-echoed coming from the cavern. Sebell and Menolly were halfway there when a tanned, bare-legged, shock-haired figure ran straight into them.
It’s Piemur, and there is much happy dancing, and introductions all around, and Piemur tells Toric how he survived out in the wilds. Sebell gets another brilliant idea – to keep Piemur occupied, he’ll install Piemur as the Hold drummer at Southern, assuming Toric is okay with it. Toric is okay with it, so long as Robinton is okay with it. Piemur almost jumps at the opportunity to stay with Farli and Stupid (and Sharra?) and to have his energy expended in the exploration and discovery of the Southern Continent. Menolly and Sebell both silently give Piemur the “you’re a man now” appraisal, noticing his getting taller and broader of shoulders, and give their blessing to him.
Robinton gives his permission for Piemur to stay in Southern, and promotes Piemur to journeyman. And the loud jubilation is where this book ends, again with a promotion, and we’ve completed the reversal. Menolly started in a Hold out in the middle of nowhere as one of two musicians, Piemur finishes in a Hold out in the middle of nowhere as one of two musicians there. They’ve both suffered horrible abuse at the hands of Harpers in the middle, and both of them are still with the Harpers anyway.
I was hoping that this trilogy would give us insight into what life was like for people not dragonriders or Lord Holders or nobility. I was also hoping that the rampant abuse present in the Weyrs wasn’t replicated elsewhere on the planet, but I was wrong there. And I’m not sure that the Harpers are sufficiently down the scale of nobility to give us insight into how the non-nobles live on Pern. Piemur-as-herdsman would probably have been the right place to start for that, but we didn’t get to see that. Just adventures and training as musicians. I suppose it’s a function of the narrative, but if the result was going to be that Piemur got to go to the Hall, that would make a reasonably good narrative to work with.
I was also hoping that this trilogy would give us more of the overall plot so that the detour would be justified, instead of having interrupted one trilogy for no reason. I don’t think this trilogy did that. So, next time, we go back to the dragonriders and finish up the original trilogy of the Dragonriders of Pern, by following the thread of the only character who is both Lord Holder and dragonrider.
In the meantime, enjoy the playlist of the Harper Hall trilogy – I put some thought into the titles of the posts so that everyone would have a good musical experience through these sometimes rough situations.