Last time, Jaxom successfully avoided telling anyone about his egg rescue, letting everyone fill in their own blanks, to the benefit of finally being able to get proper training on flying a fighting dragon. Robinton also made mention that the South is being thoroughly explored by the Harpers without the permission of the Weyr there (although the Holders, like Toric, are presumably on board with it).
The White Dragon, Chapter VIII: Content Notes: Misogyny, toxic masculinity
(15.6.3-15.6.17 – two sevendays)
Jaxom awakens the next day realizing that Robinton manipulated everyone into getting Jaxom into training, so that Lytol could stay on as Regent for longer. The practical matters of caring for Ruth and his own injuries, as well as the need to actually go to training, stop Jaxom from delving deeper into his realization. A couple of the Weyrlings in Jaxom’s new cohort are closer to his age instead of being fresh new children from a Hatching, much to his relief. To his, K’nebel (the Weyrlingmaster), and Ruth’s consternation, however, the fixing of the temporal discrepancy means the fire-lizards are back to their crowding behavior around Ruth. After Ruth is able to get them to shoo and stay away, the morning lesson proceeds without incident. Jaxom is also secretly pleased that Weyrling training means he doesn’t have to deal with Menolly’s tendency to ask exactly the right questions to unravel any hiding of the truth.
Jaxom is certainly not above taking advantage of other people’s assumptions, though.
He was heartily amused when he realized that Lytol was leaving him several uncommitted hours in the afternoons. Obligingly he and Ruth took off for the Plateau Hold to see how the new wheat was prospering – of course.
Corana was about the Hold these days since her brother’s wife was near her time. When she showed a pretty concern for his healing score, he did not abuse her notion that he’d acquired it in a legitimate Fall, protecting the Hold from Thread. She rewarded him for that protection in a fashion that embarrassed him even as it relieved him. He’d as soon save his favors for honest endeavor.
But at least he feels guilty about it, right?
Except he doesn’t, not really.
He had finally achieved proper training for Ruth and, if he hadn’t taken Hold, at least he was enjoying more of the prerogatives of a Lord Holder. He grinned, savoring Corana’s sweetness. Judging by her sister’s warm welcome, he assumed Plateau Hold would not object to a half-blooded addition. Success in that area would do him no harm in the eyes of the Lord Holders. He considered bringing Corana to the Hold, but decided against it. That would be unfair to the other fosterlings and cause trouble for Brand and Lytol. It wasn’t as if he didn’t have Ruth and couldn’t come and go at his leisure and speedily. Furthermore, if he brought Corana to his quarters, she’d demand more of his attention at Ruth’s expense than he was willing to give.
How nice it is to grow up with privilege in a social group that reinforces that privilege. Jaxom is starting to feel like he’s finally getting what is owed him – respect, power, women. So much so that he’s assuming one of his vassals wouldn’t object to having and raising a bastard. And that fathering one would raise his esteem in the eyes of his peers. And that he can just leave the mother of that child at her Hold, because bringing her into his life at Ruatha would mean not having enough time to spend with his bro, Ruth. (Admittedly, the draconic pair-bond might be influencing this last decision more strongly that the culture around him is, but it still fits the mindset.)
Jaxom has achieved the status of the star athlete in a small town and/or the collegiate campus – he can do no wrong and will be backed up by others in his group against anyone who brings charges or accusations of misconduct. Welcome to the privileged position in rape culture, Jaxom. I’d like to hope that it won’t destroy your signature empathy abilities, but from the way this is going, I’m not holding out particularly high hopes for you. Perhaps the best case scenario is that this is a temporary thing, and with age will come wisdom.
His Big Man On Campus bubble is slightly popped when he goes to Plateau for a booty call and finds himself in the middle of a birthing. Being around labor and the potential result of his half-blooded plan is too embarrassing for Jaxom. To his credit, he does ask whether he should fetch the Hold Healer to help with the birthing. When told no, however, he runs away – fast. And laments that there are things in life that are more important than him right now.
The next major event for Jaxom is that there’s a Hatching, and Jaxom will be expected to put in an appearance for Ruatha. Lytol advises Jaxom to stay away from the Benden Weyrleaders so as not to provoke questions about why he’s Threadscored, and sends him to collect Menolly, who has some of the salve Oldive made for her knife scar to help conceal Jaxom’s scars – scentless, of course. Menolly mentions Beauty is about to clutch, and Jaxom lets slip that he might want one for Corana, because she’s been good to him and asked (which she did, earlier in the chapter). Menolly gives him a shoulder-whomp after a gulp of surprise, which he yelps in pain over because he’s scored there. There’s no further conversation, though, as they need to find seats for the Hatching.
Since Menolly is supposed to be the tomboy of tomboys, being the Girl Harper and having marinated for years in the profoundly sexist environment of the Harper Hall, I’m inclined to believe this shoulder-pound is supposed to be read as a compliment to Jaxom for his studliness. It could also be read as an objection, but since the only time we’ve seen Menolly thinking about sex, it’s generally in relation to the fire lizard fair or her admitted crush on Robinton, I’m not sure we have her official opinion on the idea of Holders having sex with others, with the potential of pregnancy. That said, the author has a bad habit of using women characters to make commentary on sexual habits, and to this point, they haven’t said shit about men behaving badly, only women’s responsibilities to not sleep with the wrong men, so we have yet another situation where the woman character is used to reinforce the double-standard.
Sitting by Robinton, Jaxom is exposed to one of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism as he realizes that Robinton is getting older and showing signs of age, and has to contemplate a world without the Masterharper. Not for long, however, as the first egg hatches and Ramoth moves protectively toward it, not allowing the candidate to Impress, needing reassurance that the people here will take care of their dragons and not try to steal her eggs before she relents. The Hatching proceeds, with a little wistful reminiscence from Jaxom and Ruth and jealousy from Menolly.
After the Hatching, Jaxom, Robinton, and Fandarel head to a meeting of the Lords Holder, the Weyrleaders, and the Craftmasters. Masterminer Nicat tries for small talk with Jaxom, but starts by insulting him over what Nicat had thought Ruth’s chances of survival were, leaving an accusation dangling that Jaxom and Ruth had stolen firestone sacks from him, and then asking if he has any fire lizards to spare – not for prestige, for once, but because they are incredibly useful to the Miners, killing tunnel snakes and alerting the miners to gas pockets they can’t smell. (And unlike canaries of our world, they apparently can handle the gases without dying or suffering serous injury as the alert.) Jaxom now has three requests to think about, but he’s pretty certain his schedule won’t allow for a flight to go look without time travel.
The first order of business for the meeting is D’ram, incredibly aged by dealing with the illness that has Fanna (his Weyrwoman), resigning his spot as Weyrleader of Ista. He’s brought his favored choice to succeed him, but…
“It was the custom in the Oldtime, when a Weyr was leaderless, to throw open the first queen’s flight in that Weyr to all young bronzes. In this fashion a new leader was fairly chosen. I would invoke that custom now.” He said it almost belligerently and yet his manner toward Lessa was entreating.
There’s a murmur among the crowd, and the Benden Weyrleader declares that he’s only going to send bronzes who haven’t had a chance to fly a queen yet, so as not to stack the odds against D’ram’s chosen successor. There are some questions from the Lords Holder about whether the queen to be flown is of Benden stock (no) and whether the successor is time-skipped or not (yes), which appears to gather support of the remaining time-skipped leadership. The request gives a lot of deference to Benden, but I’m not sure what the unspoken alternative is here – that Benden will just fly a bigger, stronger bronze down to take control with one of their loyalists and make Ista a satellite state, maybe? Considering how much everyone defers to Benden as it is, that would probably come across as pretty heavy-handed, and likely as a slap against the time-skipped.
I’m going to take a time out here and WTF at the use of “Oldtime” by Dream in this exchange, because, as best I can tell, “Oldtimer” hasn’t stopped being a pejorative. Now, while D’ram might use it with other time-skipped people the same way black people use “[N-Word privileges required]” with each other, I don’t think he would do so in mixed company, and especially not with a group of people that would take its usage as a sign of their superiority to him. The more natural choice would have been “past” or “In my time” so as to avoid giving legitimacy to the insult. Giving each character uniqueness, and being able to keep them straight, is a major part of making your writing work well. It seems like the author forgot who D’ram is for a moment.
Having stated his intention, D’ram and his successor leave, with a short burst of debate afterward about whether such a custom should be allowed. The Benden Weyrleader favors it, which means it will happen. After that, one of the Lords Holder asks for more information about the egg theft, and is stonewalled, to his increasing annoyance. Finally, N’ton steps in and explains more directly:
“Unlike Lord Holders,” N’ton said, coming forward, “dragonriders are not free to indulge their passions or honors at the expense of their primary duty, which is to protect all of Pern from Thread. That is the important occupation of dragonriders, Lord Begamon.”
Begamon is dissuaded from further inquiry by Lord Groghe of Fort, who mentions that is Weyr business and they shouldn’t interfere, and that the wine will be excellent.
I’m not sure I believe N’ton’s claim, though, considering that the Benden Weyrleader has been put into a knife duel twice, once while Thread was falling, and raped his Weyrwoman. His wing-second has been stabbed over a knife, one queen rider in a Weyr is still in an unknown location, her mind shattered, because she chose her sexual partners, another rider is devoted to her rapist (said wing-second), after suffering a similar mental shattering, and then there’s Lessa, who was quite happy to go burn down dragonriders if it meant getting her egg back. Which was probably the latest of her likely many plots to move, shuffle, and otherwise try to bring others under her wing or send them away so that her jealousy was satisfied.
The rest of the chapter is Menolly asking if Robinton said anything to the Benden Weyrleaders, a muted Hatching feast, an after action report to Lytol, which Lytol accepts with a grunt and passes to Jaxom two more requests for fire-lizards, Jaxom passing on the request and N’ton informing Jaxom he can’t go with them on a Thread flight, even though N’ton is impressed with Ruth’s abilities in the air, and the news that Fanna’s death is imminent while Jaxom and Ruth are having a mountain spring bath.
Ruth, of his own initiative, spins them back in time a bit to before death, claiming that Lytol will need Jaxom at the time the news comes through, which gives Jaxom enough time to ask where Lytol is and get some extra wine to bring with him. Jaxom arrives just as the news does, with a fire lizard starting the keening that indicates the death of Fanna’s queen dragon.
Jaxom splashed wine into a cup and held it to Lytol.
“It doesn’t stop the pain, I know,” he said in a rough tone, “but you can get drunk enough not to hear or remember.”
And here would be a really great place to know what the customs really are when it comes to dragonriders and death. And to know how Lytol actually is, in terms of mental state, and whether he’s gotten through the stages of grief, and whether his preferred way of coping really is trying to drown it out with drink, and whether he actually wants to drink himself silly, or whether he feels able to handle the situation. There’s so much unexplored at this point that it would be worthwhile spending time on the long night – Lytol can keep Jaxom there, figuring he’s old enough now to understand, and tell stories of his own dragon, Lioth, and what it feels like to be separated, and all of those things that come into a teenager’s purview when the adults think they’re old enough to participate in mourning. This should be a defining moment for Jaxom, another step to adulthood.
Instead, the chapter ends on that line and will pick up again a month later, so yet again we are robbed of a worldbuilding opportunity after the traumatic death of a queen dragon and expected to just move on. This seems a very conscious decision on the part of the author – death, where needed to advance the plot, only appears long enough to wave at the possible consequences, and then everyone has moved on, accompanied by a time skip.