Last chapter, Jaxom and Ruth successfully managed firestone. And a relationship for Jaxom. And Ruth apparently remembers things that happened in the past. Let’s see if all of these things continue, or whether they collapse in a house-of-cards way.
The White Dragon: Chapter V: Content Notes: Genocidal intent, sexism
Chapter 5 starts with an agitated fair of fire lizards saying the dragons are angry when Jaxom and Ruth arrive at the Harper Hall for a lesson with the star equations and charts. The reason they’re angry is because someone has stolen Ramoth’s queen egg, and Benden is ready to raze Southern to the ground to take it back. To make things worse, after stealing the egg, the thieves did a time-skip to temporalities unknown.
Which brings me to a problem that has been plaguing this series since the beginning – problems are only introduced in this series after we see their solutions. After we find out that dragons can time-travel, there’s the issue of Thread falling out of pattern, which can be solved by time-shifting dragons. After we Impress fire-lizards, then we start talking about problems of too many lizards or how to take care of them. We already have Menolly, the exceptional Harper, before she runs into the problems of “Harpers can’t be girls”. After we know that Ruth knows when he is and can collect time data from fire lizard images, we have a problem where dragons have disappeared to an arbitrary time point and someone has to find them. This is the inverse of how most novels work. Or they introduce the solution in the first chapter, the problem in the tenth, and the rediscovery of the solution in the twentieth. So that the reader isn’t just waiting for the narrative to catch up to what they already know.
Benden is very much ready to burn all of the Southern Weyr to ash, as Menolly informs Jaxom that the stealing is because the Southern queens haven’t mated, and even their greens aren’t producing eggs, but everyone is distracted by the sudden reappearance of the queen egg in its proper place, aged about ten days or so. Which calls off the war drums, but leaves a stable time loop for someone (I wonder who) to go through.
And by “calls off the war drums”, I mean “convinces Lessa not to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge“. I’m not sure how much of this exchange is Lessa and how much is Ramoth, really, but earlier in the book, Lessa had apparently assumed the Benden Weyrleader’s hotheaded streak without anyone noticing.
“Whoever took that egg kept it at least ten days or more.” they [Jaxom and Menolly] heard Lessa saying angrily. “This demands action.”
“The egg is back safely,” Robinton said, trying to calm her.
“Are we cowards to ignore such an insult?” she asked the other dragonmen, turning away from Robinton’s calmer words.
“If to be brave,” Robinton’s voice laid scorn on the quality, “means to pit dragon against dragon, I’d rather be a coward.”
Lessa’s white-hot outrage noticeably cooled.
Dragon against dragon. The words echoed through the crowd. The thought turned sickeningly in Jaxom’s mind and he could feel Menolly beside him shutting off the implications of such a contest.
Ah, okay. So it’s still Crossing the Line for dragons to fight each other. From a practical perspective, this makes sense. Dragons fighting each other means that the people who are on the ground, no matter their rank or importance to history or the world, die. If the combined might of several Lord Holders quailed and couldn’t even be in the presence of one dragon, the people who aren’t dragonriders are very invested in dragons not fighting. Terran history says the non-mounted class fares extremely poorly, in terms of the land being laid to waste, the people being pressed into service, their possessions stolen, and so forth, whenever the nobles go to war. So it’s good to know that Robinton, even though he’s fully behind Benden, is still much more fully behind his own survival.
“The egg was somewhen for long enough to be brought to hatching hardness,” Lessa went on, her face set with her anger. “It’s probably been handled by their candidate. It could have been influenced enough so that the fledgling can’t Impress here.”
“No one has proved how much an egg is influenced by pre-Hatching contact,” Robinton was saying in his most persuasive voice. “Or so you’ve had me understand any number of times. Short of dumping their candidate on top of the egg when it hatches, I can’t think their conniving can do them any good or the egg any more harm.”
Someone should ask Jaxom and Ruth about that…and also, was nobody keeping records about the experiment in Dragonflight where the candidates were able to touch and handle the eggs before they hatched? They should at least have an inkling of whether or not candidates handling eggs predisposes dragons to match. (Path will be an outlier, but that’s because Mirrim is.)
Additionally, unless Ramoth has an instinctive knowledge of which eggs are hers, nobody actually knows whether the egg deposited there is the original one that was stolen. Since the egg disappeared to time unknown, this could be several generations descended from the original stolen egg. It could be a green’s egg that looks like a queen egg. Since the way things were has been radically upset at this point, why trust that the returned egg is the same? Because you assume Southern wouldn’t return an egg at all, even though they know that would bring Benden’s wrath? Less assuming, more thinking, Benden.
Lessa’s first solution is to ban fire lizards entirely, since they’re gossips. Cooler heads suggest teaching fire lizards to identify themselves, as dragons are being taught to do, and marking the fire lizards with colors to indicate their origins. Which makes me nervous, because that suggests they haven’t thought about friend-or-foe identification before. Despite having exiled riders. Despite having had campaigns conducted against them by Holders. And it’s the people who have already created a solution with fire lizards who are taking about this problem with dragons. Solutions precede their problems in Pern. Seems like the best way to avoid problems, then, is to not think – if no solution is invented, it’s corresponding problem will never show up.
Lessa still wants fire lizards away from her and Ramoth. Jaxon returns to Ruth and Ruth informs him that the fire lizards are frightened of something big. Not Ramoth, not the prospect of warring dragons, but something else they were remembering. Not enough to give Ruth anything clear, but it makes his head hurt, certainly. Perhaps Ruth and the fire lizards are sensitive to the temporal flux associated with events like these?
The next paragraph indicates I have anticipated the story again in my criticism, as Robinton is cursing himself for believing that the Southern Weyr would respect tradition (tradition!) regarding the sanctity of a Hatching Ground when in a life-or-death situation. He also realizes that even if he was able to come to the right conclusion, he wouldn’t have been able to convince Benden of what was about to happen. Running down a list of likely suspects…
T’kul must have been the motivating force – T’ron had lost all his vigor and initiative after that duel with F’lar. Robinton was reasonably certain the two Weyrwomen, Merika and Mardra, had no part in the plan; they wouldn’t wish to be deposed by a young queen and her rider.
Cocowhat by depizan
That’s a shoddy line of reasoning, especially considering the alternative is the death of the entire Weyr. (Also, I think that’s the first time we’ve seen Merika’s name.) Perhaps in an alternate universe, people lose their ambition when bested in single combat, but from what I’ve seen so far of Pern, stubbornness in the face of anything but impossible odds seems a staple trait.
Robinton still doesn’t know what to do with Lessa, since she is capable of “sustaining the unthinking frenzy” of the morning, with results “as much of a disaster for Pern as the first Threadfall had been.”
Cocowhat by depizan
I thought the whole issue with Lessa jumping back to just before the long Interval was that she was using a tapestry with no supporting imagery or records to do the hop into times unknown. But if Robinton knows there is a First Fall, and also what happened then, the records must be a lot more compete than previously known. It also throws this timekeeping system entirely out the window – if you know when the first point was, them everyone should be referring to this Pass by which iteration it is, not as the “present pass” with an unknown time in the past where any number of Passes could have happened. Dragons may be able to live and think about an eternal present, but humans do not, and especially not humans that keep records of things that show what is going on now has happened before.
When not messing with space-time through offhand remarks, Robinton is clinging to the idea that an egg replaced the one that was stolen, requiring great skill in popping in and out unnoticed, as reason for hope against an all-out dragon war. He assumes someone at Southern foresaw the consequences and returned the egg to forestall it. I’d like to see the orphaned future where the egg wasn’t returned and fire rained from the heavens, destroying all in its path. Mostly because I think it would give The Day of Lavos a run for its money in pure cinematic destructiveness. But also because it would be an object lesson on what happens when everyone is stubbornly inflexible.
Robinton is soon joined by Fandarel, who understands that something must be both done and not done about the incident, Brekke, recovered fully and firmly on the side of fire lizards being harmless and not at fault, because she believes they have no sense of wrong and right, and Brekke’s rapist, who follows the Benden Weyrleaders in opinion on what to do.
Lessa is still ready to fly off on revenge as the assembled war council settles in, but Robinton is having none of it. Just in case we aren’t on the same page, this is “I plotted my revenge against Fax for ten years, enduring all that time as a drudge, with the accompanying abuse” Lessa who wants to go out and fight dragons against each other. The “I can influence people’s minds with my own to get them to do what I want, so long as I’m not obvious about it” Weyrwoman, now calling for the most obvious solution to the problem of theft. The cosmic retcon underway is pretty audacious, I must say.
Robinton tries to pull Lessa off the offensive by pointing out the egg’s return means the failure of Southern to rejuvenate themselves, as now all the northern Weyrs will be on their guard against egg pilfering. (Setting aside the reality of time-traveling dragons, that is, which would actually necessitate warning the past as well as the present against these actions, which would alleviate the need to warn them because the theft doesn’t happen, so the past isn’t warned, etc. Unstable Time Loops are not so great.) He also tries to spin it as a matter of flattery that Ramoth’s egg was targeted, before leaving an argument for the Benden Weyrleader to seize on and run with: the cause for revenge left when the egg returned.
The argument basically proceeds the way Robinton wants it to, with each of Lessa’s potential outs countered by someone else in the room, with Fandarel making Robinton’s capstone point that the theft might have been more to sow discord in the alliance than to actually try and save the Southern dragons. The Benden Weyrleader vows (raising his right hand as surety) to revisit the issue if the dragon from the egg is somehow malformed or otherwise imperfect, but for now, Lessa is overruled, and leaves the room.
The Masterharper downs a cup in one drink and the Benden Weyrleader agrees to the premise of I Need A Freaking Drink.
“We could all use a cup,” F’lar said, gesturing to the others to gather about as Brekke, rising quickly to her feet, began to serve them.
And Brekke, restored to her regular mental state, has returned to her Good Girl self, assuming the role of servitor she had with Kylara at Southern. Nobody finds this out of place, of course, because it’s already been well-established that women are always the servers in dragonrider culture and the Men are the ones who do things. Brekke is also quite well-recovered at this point, considering she is around things that could potentially be triggering, like the Benden Weyrleader. And his brother. Who asks for Robinton and N’ton to join him and Brekke after everyone agrees its a good idea to not let Ramoth see fire lizards.
The fire lizards themselves appear to be having a collective memory of dragons flaming them, some sort of darkness, and then a picture of an egg. It’s sending them into a tizzy, even though none of them know exactly from whom the memory comes. It will affect Ruth later at night, when he and a giant fair of fire lizards are sleeping with him. Robinton gathered intelligence from Piemur that the Southern Weyr had gotten more secretive lately, and the dragons started just popping in and out, possibly signifying training in time travel. When N’ton went to Southern to check for the egg, he found it deserted. But nobody knows what’s is going on.
Jaxom and Menolly eventually get back to the Harper Hall, where the story is told, and eventually, Jaxom gets what he’s supposed to get regarding Wansor’s equations. Since Ruth is the fire lizard favorite, it’s going to be more difficult for him to keep training in secret. Jaxom resolves to use the South, but to warp back at least twelve Turns so as to avoid anyone actually being there, and similarly to avoid fire lizards following.
And that is chapter five – revenge planned, dreams imparted, equations given.