Last chapter, someone stole Ramoth’s egg. Someone else returned an egg to Ramoth, aged some. Which, through some faulty logic, was enough to stop Lessa, she of the long game, from burning down Southern Weyr in revenge, which would have sparked a dragon war, resulting in the destruction of wide swaths of Pern.
The White Dragon, Chapter VI-VII: Content Notes: Mansplaining, There Are No Social Workers On Pern
Chapter Six burns a couple days in the marking of fire lizards and fighting Thread, now correctly predicted due to Wansor’s new equations, before picking up with Ruth going hunting. There’s a marked change in behavior for Ruth, though – he would normally kill things and let the fire lizard flock feast with him, but this time, he only kills one creature and keeps everything to himself.
I will not kill for them, Ruth told Jaxom so fiercely that he wondered if Ruth might eventually flame the fire-lizards.
“What’s the matter? I thought you liked them!” Jaxom met his dragon on the grassy slope and caressed him soothingly.
They remember me doing something I do not remember doing. I did not do it. Ruth’s eyes whirled with red sparks.
“What do they remember you doing?”
I haven’t done it. And there was a tinge of fearful uncertainty to Ruth’s mental tone. I know I haven’t done it. I couldn’t do such a thing. I am a dragon. I am Ruth! I am of Benden! His last words sounded in a despairing tone.
“What do they remember you doing, Ruth? You’ve got to tell me.”
Ruth ducked his head, as if he wished he could hide, but he turned back to Jaxom, his eyes wheeling piteously. I wouldn’t take Ramoth’s egg. I know I didn’t take Ramoth’s egg. I was there by the lake all the time with you. I remember that. You remember that. They know where I was. But somehow they remember that I took Ramoth’s egg too.
So the fire-lizards have already been affected by things that have happened in the past, even though the dragon and rider have not yet done it in their timeline. Wibbly-Wobbly Timey-Wimey Ball and all that. (Best example of this – the Series 6 Christmas Special, “A Christmas Carol”, where The Doctor messes with someone’s past in real-time, displaying it to the person in the future he’s trying to affect.)
I also find this much more satisfying as a narrative mystery – we have a sequence of events that have already happened, memories of what happened, but crucially, it’s playing out as a locked-door mystery, where the real focus is on figuring out the why, rather than as a mystery where all we’re waiting for is for the actors to fulfill their prescribed roles, or for the detective to appear and deduce everything in a Sherlock Scan.
Well, it was, anyway. It turns out that the fire lizards are getting after Ruth because they know he took the egg back from Southern, and they want him to close the loop by going back in time to the spot where the Southern Weyr is hardening Ramoth’s egg by using the volcanic sands that Southern will eventually become. Which is actually a good idea to do – dump the egg far enough back that dragons searching Southern won’t find it, even if they search the early parts of the Weyr. If fire-lizards weren’t such gossips, Southern would likely have been able to get away with it. At least, until someone started methodically searching the past for the egg and eventually discovered it, wiping out the alternate timeline where Southern succeeds.
Camouflaged appropriately, Ruth and Jaxom buzz the Southern guards, snag the egg and pop forward in time a small bit. They have to hop forward slowly, so that the cold of hyperspace doesn’t kill the egg. Doing that by itself is complex, but the appearance of fire lizards not known to Jaxom or Ruth indicates pursuit pressure is coming shortly. So the two make an extra jump forward to try and shake pursuit before it arrives.
Which gives Jaxom time to contemplate just what kind of temporal tightrope he’s walking:
In between Jaxom had time to worry if he was making the jumps too long to keep the egg warm. It hadn’t actually Hatched before he’d left. Maybe he should have waited, to see if the egg had Hatched properly: then they’d’ve known how to judge the forward jumps. Maybe he’d even killed the little queen trying to save her. No, his mind reeled with between and paradoxes; the most important act, returning the queen egg, was still in process. And dragon had not fought dragon – not yet.
That had worried Jaxom, but he thought he had the answer. “They don’t know who brought the egg back that day. There weren’t any in the Hatching Ground, so they don’t know what they haven’t seen. Jaxom decided not to think further on that subject.
Admittedly, Jaxom doesn’t have the additional complication of having to fix his own timeline so that things he’s already done still happen in sequence, but with a different result, but someone still remembers what has already happened, so we’re either dealing with Jaxom doing exactly what he was going to do anyway, or that the memory of the fire lizards creates a fixed point and Jaxom cannot do wrong, despite not actually knowing what he’s doing, or reality unravels. Feel free to speculate. And to comment on why things like this are the reason why time travel rarely gets used as a principal plot point.
To hurry our thieves along, Threadfall catches them almost unaware, so they panic-jump back to the present, to the Hatching Ground, deposit the egg, and then hop to the mountain lake to discard the camouflage and try to numb the Thread. Jaxom is down on their abilities to actually fight Thread, but Ruth points out that they were busy at the time with other things, so they can’t call that a failure. Upon their return to Ruatha, Jaxom hears the queen hatched normally and healthily, and collects numbweed (which, I belatedly realize, is likely the Pernese equivalent of the aloe plant, just with its own (genetically engineered?) anesthetic packed inside or generated by the rendering process) to cover his injuries. The relief is enough to engender an appreciation for the salve and a greater willingness to tolerate the stink of its rendering.
Then, the whole thing blows up in his face when Lytol enters and sees the telltale marks of Threadscore.
Jaxom waited then, facing Lytol calmly. He noticed, with a sadness for the inevitability of this moment of reserve, that Lytol’s eyes were dark with emotion. He owed the man so much, never more than at this moment. He wondered that he had ever considered Lytol cold or hard and unfeeling.
“There’s a trick of ducking Thread,” Lytol said quietly, “that you’d better teach Ruth, Lord Jaxom.”
“If you’d be kind enough to tell me how, Lord Lytol…”
Which, I suppose, is the best outcome for such a situation, even if it crushes Lytol’s heart to know that his dragonrider ward is going to try and become a fighter over everyone’s objections. Best, then, to train him properly so he doesn’t get seriously injured or killed.
That’s how chapter six ends – with little investigation into the how and the why someone stole a queen egg, how it came back, and with Lytol having to relive a time he was probably hoping to avoid, with nobody really thinking about what it would do to him to have a dragonrider ward, ever since Ruth hatched. There’s a significant lack of support from everywhere for Lytol and Jaxom – no Holder support for raising Jaxom, no dragonrider support for helping Ruth, and everyone always half-hoping the situation resolves itself without having to intervene. Pern is a weird place when it comes to mental health issues.
Chapter Seven is a continuation of the conversation at the end of Chapter Six, as Lytol informs Jaxom that there are guests here to see him – N’ton, Menolly, and Robinton. Lytol, understanding that things are well past the point of no return, says that he’ll recommend Jaxom for Weyrling training, so that he can learn the things he needs to with Ruth, and lets slip that he wishes Jaxom were older so that he could turn over Ruatha to him. Jaxom says he doesn’t want it, and Lytol points out he wouldn’t be able to step down anyway.
The assembled guests take one look at Jaxom and think immediately that he snuck off to fight Thread, prompting N’ton to indicate it’s time for Jaxom to be trained properly in riding and fighting.
“I’d rather he learned how to fly properly now, Robinton. With my other Weyrlings,” N’ton interrupted unexpectedly, winning Jaxom’s gratitude. “Particularly if he’s mad enough, brave enough, to attempt it on his own without any guidance.”
“I doubt we could get Benden to approve.” Robinton said, shaking his head.
“I approve,” Lytol said, his face set. “I am Lord Jaxom’s guardian, not F’lar or Lessa. Let her manage her own concerns. Lord Jaxom is my charge. He can come to little harm with the Fort Weyrlings.” Lytol stared fiercely at Jaxom. “And he will agree not to put his teaching to the test without consulting us. Will you abide by that, Lord Jaxom?”
Jaxom was relieved enough that the Benden Weyrleaders would not be queried so that he agreed to more stringent conditions than he might have.
“I think I’ll require a further promise of you, Jaxom,” the bronze rider said. “No more timing it. You’ve been doing far too much of that lately. I can tell from your eyes.”
Support! And possibly even defiance of Benden. It’s a bit telling that Lytol refers solely to Lessa in the case of managing the concerns of Benden. Anyone who thinks the duties are shared equally between the Weyrleaders is… mistaken.
Also, Jaxom does not have a track record of obedience, back from his first appearance with Felessan when the two went exploring. Maturity may arrive with regard to Thread for long enough to learn what there is to know, but after that, Jaxom is likely to go off and do his own thing again. So that Lytol and the others expect him to promise and hold to it is not showing the necessary Genre Savvy that raising an adventurous teenager needs. I won’t be surprised at all, however, if things get arranged behind the scenes such that Jaxom has someone watching him. The fire lizards worked before, but they probably won’t now.
Since this meeting is supposedly about informing Jaxom of the gravity of the situation with regard to stolen eggs and Southern, Robinton gives us his characterization of Lessa:
“Our Lessa is a woman of strong emotions, Jaxom – revenge being one of those most highly developed in her. Remember how you came to be Lord here?” Robinton’s expression indicated regret for reminding Jaxom off his origin. “I do not belittle the Benden Weyrwoman when I say that. Such perseverance in the face of incredible odds is laudable. But her tenacity over the insult could be disastrous for all Pern. So far, reason has prevailed, but currently that balance is shaky indeed.”
Uh, we are talking about the same person here, right? I somehow think anyone who can hold the grudge for ten years and be patient until a plan presents itself will be able to bide their time before springing an appropriate revenge. But that’s the old Lessa from Dragonflight. New Lessa is apparently impulsive and ready to fly off the handle at any moment, because someone needed to retcon her into being a “hysterical” woman to make all the menfolk look serious and wise and give them opportunities to joke with each other about women, amirite?
Fuck that noise. I hope New Lessa is revealed to be an act designed to give her enough space to do and plan and manipulate people into what she wants.
The meeting proceeds with the news that a Weyrwoman, Fanna, is dying, and that her death will upset everyone, because a gold dragon will suicide right after, and the realization that the fire lizards are no longer agitated about flaming dragons or anything else. Which trips Menolly’s suspicions that whatever had been agitating them has passed…and that Jaxom and Ruth have had a hand in it. Jaxom is able to deflect Menolly’s suspicions by claiming he was trying to fight Thread (which he’s got the scars for) instead of having to admit to time-running and the rescue mission for the queen egg, much as he wants to tell Menolly the truth.
Since this is a meeting about big things, Robinton and N’ton lay on Lytol and Jaxom the secret of the grubs and the inevitable end of dragonriders, and the plans to let the North send their excess sons to the Southern Continent to relieve the fighting pressure over limited land. And then Robinton points out that the Harpers now know for certain the origins of people on Pern is the Southern Continent (it was suspected before), and that the Harpers and others have been quietly exploring the Southern Continent without informing Southern Weyr about it, discovering new materials and artifacts from the past that would have the Smiths in research for years.
With those bombshells dropped, Chapter Seven ends.