Last time, the revelations came quickly – the telescope means Threadfall can be predicted with proper accuracy, even when other planets interfere, the fire lizards appear to have some form of memory, something Ruth appears to have as well, which might give a strange credence to the idea that Ruth is an “overgrown fire lizard”, instead of its usual insulting context, and Menolly had her characterization ignored to deliver a message in favor of impulsive action, supporting F’lessan’s approach to problems instead of Jaxom’s default mode of thinking before action.
The White Dragon, Chapter Four: Content Notes: Misogyny, objectification
(Dating sequence says this chapter covers 15.5.10 to 15.5.16, so the second number is the day during whatever partial-year time division the 5 represents.)
Chapter Four starts with Jaxom trying to get away to get time for Ruth to chew some firestone. Which is easier said than done, as Lytol is filling his schedule to the breaking point, and no matter where he tries to go with Ruth, fire lizards from the Hold always follow. Deelan’s green and the blue of Brand, the steward, are everywhere Ruth is, slightly delayed. Jaxom is pretty sure he can’t get Deelan to call off her green, but he thinks he can work Brand in to getting the pursuit squad called off, based on his reputation – he was called in to curb the “lustiness” of the fosterlings and accomplished it. As Jaxom arrives to talk with Brand, two drudges are being told that if they don’t present tunnel snake corpses to show they’re taking care of the problem, they won’t be fed for a few days. Which makes me wish that we saw how this society looks from the viewpoint of the drudges more often – when we see them, or when main characters disguise themselves as drudges, we see nearly constant heavy and hard work under the threat of abuse, starvation, and other punishments, without much reward, or, as Lessa demonstrated at the beginning of Dragonflight, basic necessities like warmth and blankets. This whole society is built on the backs of a permanent underclass that is taken entirely for granted.
So Jaxom has a chat with Brand.
“Occasionally,” Jaxom hurried on, “a fellow likes to get off by himself, completely by himself. And, as you know, fire-lizards are the world’s greatest gossips. They might get the wrong impression…if you know what I mean?”
Brand did but, if he was amused or surprised, he dissembled well.
“I do apologize, Lord Jaxom. An oversight, I assure you. You know how anxious Deelan used to be when you and Ruth started flying between and the fire-lizards followed as a safeguard. I should have long ago altered that arrangement.”
“Since when am I Lord Jaxom to you, Brand?”
The steward’s lips actually twitched. “Since the other morning…Lord Jaxom.”
“I didn’t mean it like that, Brand.”
Brand inclined his head slightly, forestalling further apology. “As Lord Lytol remarked, you are well old enough to be confirmed in your rank, Lord Jaxom, and we-” Brand grinned with uninhibited ease, “-should act accordingly.”
So, apparently, Jaxom’s outburst at the table has convinced everyone that he’s a man now, and this conversation with Brand is the assumption that Jaxom has his eye on romancing someone. If we hadn’t had Menolly asking inappropriate questions on Jaxom’s sexuality last chapter, would this appear to be as double-entrendre-laden as it does here? What Jaxom said could just as easily refer to masturbation as it does to firestone as it does to sex. It’s a framing device to bring the audience along in snickering at Jaxom’s inexperience. Jaxom himself realizes he’s going to have to find a girl to maintain pretenses, based on the cultural assumption that Holder sons would dally with other women. Specifically:
He should have told Menolly that he had no trouble with any of the Holder girls…when he was of the mind. Not that he had followed some of the bawdier fosterlings’ examples. He wasn’t going to have the reputation of a lecher like Meron or that young fool of Lord Laudy’s, whom Lytol had sent back to his home Hold with a cover excuse that no one really believed. It was all right for the Lord Holder to beget a few half-bloods, quite another to dilute Holder Blood with other lines. Nonetheless, he would have to find a pleasant girl to give him the alibi he needed, and then take the time for more important things.
Welcome to the Pernese Double Standard, Jaxom. Young noble men getting noble women pregnant is just standard operations, nothing to be concerned about. Yet dragonrider women, if they choose to sleep with others, and even if those men are Lord Holders, will be regularly slut-shamed. Also, where is Jaxom going to find a young Holder woman who will willingly play along with being his date? (Everywhere, if they’re aware enough about what their life is going to be like…) The fearlessly misogynist world has boys being sent around to other Holds, but the only thing I’ve seen so far about girls going elsewhere is taking lessons at the Harper Hall, so Jaxom is not going to have an easy time of finding a suitable girl to be his excuse. (And that assumes Jaxom is interested in girls at all, which is not yet facts in evidence.)
So, with a sea change underway at Ruatha, Jaxom takes Ruth out to hunt, and his chosen target for food (wherries) has the herder, a holder, out taking care of the flock. Said herder requests of Lytol a fire-lizard egg, so that he can use the accompanying fire lizard to kill the snakes that eat some of each of his wherry egg clutches. After the herder (Tegger) suggests a spot for Ruth and goes on his way, Ruth demonstrates another thing that dragons aren’t supposed to do.
Tegger was unlikely to Impress a fire-lizard, Jaxom thought as he leaped to Ruth’s shoulder.
Ruth agreed. That man had an egg once. The little one went between and never returned to its hatching place.
“How did you remember that?”
The fire-lizards told me.
When it happened. I have just remembered it. Ruth sounded very pleased with himself. They tell me many things that are interesting when you’re not with me.
Long-term memory in a dragon, as well. Ruth is shaping up to be a dragon unlike any other in more than just pigmentation.
As Ruth hunts, Jaxon reflects on the duties of a Lord Holder, and how everybody always changes the subject whenever Fax comes up as a possible topic of conversation. His mother, everyone will talk about, but nobody wants to discuss his dad, or whether they’re afraid that Fax’s ambition will manifest in him and he’ll want to go on a conquering rampage. (Given that he has a dragon, he could probably mount a more successful campaign than Fax did, at least until Benden dispatched a wing to shut him down.) He returns to the problem of firestone and fire-lizards, and when Jaxom asks Ruth whether he could get the fire lizards to go away, Ruth says that they would come to see whatever it was that had Ruth asking them to go away. Since fire lizards talk amongst themselves, Jaxom is sure he needs a space clean of fire lizards before he can train with Ruth on how to use firestone.
The action shifts to put Jaxon, Lytol, and one of the fosterling sons at one of Lytol’s vassals, Fidello, where they intend to test a new wheat seed for the Masterfarmer. Southern crops have grown well and been resistant to blight, so now it’s time to see if it will do the same in Northern climate. Which gives the boys time to eat and for the fosterling, Tordril, to comment on how pretty this Fidello’s sister is, as she serves them klah. Considering how vested the narrative is in taking about how women are the keepers of the household, and how comments of beauty and subservience are often linked, I don’t think that it’s an accident that Tordril talks beauty while being served. Tordril tries to chat her up, but she’s apparently only got eyes and smiles for Jaxom. So Tordril tries to tell Jaxom that he should get to know her better.
“I wonder would you have got her so quick if I’d been Lord of Ruatha?” Tordril asked Jaxom as they checked their saddle girths before mounting.
“Got her?” Jaxom stared blankly at Tordril. “We only chatted.”
“Well, you could have her next time you…ah, have a chance to chat. Or does Lytol mind a few half-bloods around? Father says it keeps the full ones on their toes! Ought to be easy for you with Lytol weyrbred, and not as stuffy about such things.”
Lytol and Fidello joined them at that point but Tordril’s envious comment set Jaxom’s thoughts on a very fruitful track. What was her name? Corana? Well, Corana could be very useful. There was only the one fire-lizard about the Plateau Hold – and, if Ruth could just dissuade that creature from following them…
Nor do I think it an accident that we have had an entire discussion about how pretty the woman is, how Tordril sees her as a possession that has apparently been claimed by Jaxom through no effort of his own, and that Tordril encourages Jaxom to see her the same way and take sexual advantage of her before the narrative gives us her name. Tordril and Fidello were named before we saw them in action. Corana only gets named after her sexual virtues and her appearance are discussed, and only because Jaxom struggles with remembering her name. He’s being taught and encouraged to see women as interchangeable things, not even worthy of having names first. And Tordril thinks that Jaxom will have an easier path to having sex with Corana because Weyr culture is always told to be sexually promiscuous and permissive, even though the reality that we’ve seen in these books is anything but, with perhaps the exception of Kylara, who met a bad end at the hands of the narrative, one that the other characters think she deserved. The awful compounds.
So Jaxom thinks he’s found the perfect spot for Ruth to chew firestone – only one fire lizard to deal with, and a perfectly good cover in chatting up (and more) Corana. After pilfering a bag from the watch dragon’s stores, and manufacturing an excuse to deliver an extra bag of wheat seed to Fidello, it’s time to put the plan into action. It’s successful – Ruth can chew firestone and spit flame, but it’s not particularly big and not particularly sustained. I think some part of it is that they talk about “belching” the fire, when it seems like the technique in question would be more like whistling, playing a brass instrument, or the circus firebreathing trick – all three focus on the breath being important for sustained flame. Belch lets all the gas out at once.
After the experiment, to solidify his alibi, Jaxom goes to see Corana, who gives him a hint about how to avoid detection (he smells like firestone) and when he flies back from gathering withies, getting a few kisses in and deciding she’s not going to be an excuse for him any more. Okay, so Jaxom does like women, I guess. After a bath and cleaning the clothes, he and Ruth do a short temporal hop backward so he only looks like he’s been gone long enough for a dalliance. And then Ruth vomits firestone ash in the middle of their Hold, forcing Jaxom into a hurry-up cleaning so as not to give away the whole thing. So the chapter ends with Jaxom taking more firestone to try things again.