The White Dragon: Double-Secret Probation

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.

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17 thoughts on “The White Dragon: Double-Secret Probation

  1. genesistrine August 6, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    Worldbuilding? In my swept-away-by-Animal-Passions dubcon fantasy planet? Perish the thought!

    This is the point, though, where Jaxom gets convincing to me. I never bought the whole “woe, woe, bullied by my wetnurse’s son who everyone follows along with for no discernable reason” thing*, but this little git? Yep, that’s who you’d get with that upbringing in that society.

    [*come to think of it, anyone feel like writing fanfic where Dorse is of illegitimate Ruathan Blood and is using his Ruathan Sith powers to squeeze Jaxom out?]

    As for the open queen flight, there seems to be a bit of bowing to the inevitable there – either open up queen flights or Benden will Very Kindly lend them a bronze rider or two and in a couple of years guess what? It’s N’ton all over again…

  2. boutet August 6, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    I guess I had assumed that all queen flights were open flights? At least all queen’s first flights, and at least headwoman queen’s first flights.

    There was speculation that BrownRR’s brown was going to crash Brekke’s first flight and the emphasis was on the brown being transgressive more than the crashing. And Lessa’s flight was open, but maybe by virtue of there being only one weyr so of course every bronze on the planet was eligable.

    Why would Benden’s large dragons be at an advantage anyway? They don’t have to subdue the queen, they have to catch her with speed and agility, which are often more the realm of smaller creatures.

  3. Funaria August 7, 2015 at 3:18 am

    I think the larger dragons supposedly have higher stamina, so can last longer in the mating flight. In Dragonflight, Ramoth flew for a long time before she was interested in the bronzes and only 3 had managed to stick around long enough.

  4. Nothing August 7, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    In truth, that doesn’t make sense. Higher stamina vs. smaller but faster and more agile? Realistically every queen should be getting caught by a blue before the bronzes even have a chance. It never did make sense to me. Moreover, the queens are bigger and slower than the bronzes. Apparently during mating flights, large dragons magically become far faster and more agile. Only way it makes any sense at all is if maybe smaller dragons can’t gain the same altitude… But it still suggests bigger dragons have speed and agility as well as stamina, and that would render the supposedly invaluable smaller dragons useless.

    Effectively, I don’t believe McCaffrey thought this through beyond the “wild animal passions” part.

  5. notamolly August 7, 2015 at 5:58 pm

    3 S’s Size strength and stamina would make sense. and if flights are higher for queens and bronzes then there may also be something about the larger dragons being bred to handle lower oxygen at higher altitudes.

  6. genesistrine August 8, 2015 at 1:11 am

    Or McCaffrey’s not mentioning the bit where the bronzes attack the other colours (and smaller bronzes) to discourage them early in the flight….

  7. boutet August 8, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    @genestrine I guess if rider-rider violence is acceptable in the throws of mating (the rape of various queen riders, that blue rider attacking BrownRR) then dragon-dragon violence is probably acceptable too. No matter how Lessa/Robinton/F’lar treat it as a taboo.

    Or maybe it’s only dragon+rider-dragon+rider violence that’s taboo. Or only if it involves flaming.

  8. Silver Adept August 9, 2015 at 8:47 am

    Yeah, the transgression was really more “there’s a brown rider trying”, not “there’s an outsider trying”, so open flights are still somewhat traditional here. I think, at its best, the idea of the open flight is to try and introduce new perspectives on the running of Weyrs and to help with the genetic diversity of their populations – Igen’s open flight might be fulfilled with a High Reaches bronze, which will introduce a new line into the stock for the dragons and a new Weyrleader (and administrative team) for the humans to have sex with and make babies from. Done right, that would accomplish the same things the fostering system is doing for the Lords Holder. Presumably, that would mean the queens select for size and stamina with regard to their primary mission of fighting and flying. I think we’re supposed to believe that it turns out in that bigger dragons can cover more ground per flap, and since mating is essentially a chase first and a display of agility and cunning second, then the smaller dragons are supposedly weeded out by not being able to keep up with the chase.

    That said, we’ve seen why the queens don’t warp during their flight or close to it, but what prevents the chasing dragons from doing so? Is draconic sperm frozen out in the same way that eggs and little humans are?

    We’ll get to see some mating flight action in this book, too, so there will be plenty to refer back to one we get there.

    And yes, Jaxom gets a lot more believable from here on out, once he starts to believe and behave like someone raised in both of these cultures since birth.

  9. Only Some Stardust August 10, 2015 at 9:17 pm

    Realistically, if you have multiple different versions of breeding males, then those animals should pursue different breeding strategies. It makes sense only bronzes would chase… but that then the other colors would do something else to impress females. The real world blue, yellow (browns), orange (bronze) throated lizards in one species suggest that blues and browns /should/ be fathering offspring on the sly while silly humans aren’t paying attention. I understand they can’t mute the connection, but they could try something while their humans slept. In the case of the real world blues, flirting and having a long term relationship with one female so she wants to mate with only him, and with yellows/browns just sneaking in while the big guys are distracted competing with each other.

    “As in the rock-paper-scissors game where rock beats scissors, paper beats rock, and scissors beats paper, three morphs of lizards cycle from the ultra-dominant polygynous orange-throated males, which best the more monogamous mate gaurding blues; the oranges are in turn bested by the sneaker strategy of yellow-throated males, and the sneaker strategy of yellows is in turn bested by the mate guarding strategy of blue-throated males”

    The mate in the air strategy is clearly based off of insects, but even they, when they display different males, choose different mating strategies. In weevils (and numerous other species), dominant males duke it out (here, the big bronzes I assume attack smaller males to keep them from flights) but often smaller males sneak matings behind their back while they are distracted. Females actually often deliberately choose nondominant males, even in species with the flashiest of ornamentation like deer, at high rates, so they would have incentive to go along with this.

    So I think we have to assume that females are actually faking some of their flights (in the wild, smarter female animals do mate with multiple males and even fake being in heat in order to protect their offspring / get better support from the males) and really sired their children by some other dragon while no one was paying attention, and the humans are just too stupid to figure it out because they assume biggest = best. Perhaps that’s the real secret of how all the different colors are maintained in the population.

    This is very appealing to me, mostly because it amuses me to think that some of the big proud rapist dragon riders who ride their egos on baby making and rank might have dragons who actually sired zero offspring and spent their time crooning over babies sired by some sneaky sweeter tempered low ranking male.

  10. Nothing August 12, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    @Stardust: if Pern were realistic at all, that would probably be the case, but canonly, only bronzes can produce gold queens–without which the dragons would die out. Green dragons are engineered to be sterile and don’t even lay sterile eggs. A brown may or may not be able to produce bronze offspring. And according to McCaffrey, if I recall correctly, a brown-gold pairing (or blue-gold) would produce smaller dragons overall, i.e. tiny browns and bronzes. Though that may not be a bad thing…

    Something of note: large dragons eat so much that it’s hard to imagine even small numbers could be sustained by Pern’s small population (and without factory farming, it’s pretty impressive how much meat people seem to have available on Pern for human consumption). Yet Anne tells us they tend to be lazy (even though they love playing in water). Smaller dragons might eat less but also be more active. Quicker response times to Threadfall emergencies would be a good thing. Also, depending how draconic metabolism works (they are warm-blooded and we know little else), it could be healthier for dragons to be smaller in stature. Breeding animals to be unnaturally large or small often has negative health consequences, and Benden’s dragons are both larger than intended and presumably highly inbred. Hard to say if large dragons are lazy because dragons in general have a slow metabolic rate or because they are so large it is difficult for them to move much outside of exercise and necessary flight.

  11. Only Some Stardust August 12, 2015 at 9:29 pm

    I would assume a slower metabolism, even akin to a cold blooded animal, because even a ‘cold blooded’ animal of that size is going to be generating some heat simply from having so much muscle moving. A slower metabolism would help them have enough to eat. On the other, they are flying animals, and those need high metabolisms, unless they spend 99% of the time gliding and can only generate short bursts of flapping to get up which might make sense, as larger animals tend to be more gliders than flappers.

    I could see the increasing larger sizes to be a run-away affect of unnaturally messing with the dragon’s breeding system. With the smaller dragons taken out of the breeding pool, they are just selecting for larger and larger more aggressive bronzes that can successfully compete in flights, and who, being in unnatural conditions, don’t have to worry about trying to catch enough food for themselves. The humans are stupid enough to have these animals that they are feeding yet aren’t controlling the breeding behavior of to select for the best animals. This would be like if instead of breeding dogs for skill and temper we just let the biggest, nastiest dogs duke it out and breed with whichever female. It’s a wonder none of the bronzes have turned vicious, especially considering plenty of vicious humans exist to bond with.

    You know what also happens when animals have very little selection weeding out their members? They do what dogs did; they increase their breeding cycles and up the amount of offspring they can have. We do see some slight evidence this is happening: aren’t the clutches getting bigger? Selection should put pressure on the queens that produce more and more queens; even a small mutation that produced 1 more queen egg than usual would be a massive advantage and quickly spread, because if dragons do starve or ever get culled, it isn’t going to be a precious queen.

    The smaller colors might even just disappear, because they aren’t aiding reproduction in any way anymore, not even helping catch food or looking after young as the humans are doing that.

    In fact, at this point it seems like the dragons are controlling human breeding a lot more than the other way around, with the way they can make humans go into sexy times against their will. Maybe this is why everyone is so messed up. The dragons have been secretly pairing humans up for the qualities dragons like and nothing else. They don’t want humans with religion and potential rebellion, or logical thought, they want humans that unquestioningly feed them. Humans are their pets and don’t know it. :3

  12. genesistrine August 13, 2015 at 12:50 am

    @Only Some Stardust: I like that thought!

    Re gold/bronze offspring, we don’t have to assume that all the eggs in the clutch are sired by the same dragon. Maybe bronzes sire gold females and the the other colours green ones….

  13. Nothing August 13, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    The increased clutch size has an explanation: dragons (and probably firelizards too) lay larger clutches during a Pass and smaller during an Interval. Most likely explanation for it is lots of dragons die during a Pass due to Thread injuries.

    Anne also ruled out golds reproducing with colors other than bronze by claiming greens rise frequently but golds only mate once or twice per Pern year and only to reproduce. Greens are also evidently eager to be caught, while golds are intent on avoiding it as long as they can. But it would make for a much more interesting Pern if golds were polyandrous (like Harris’s hawks).

  14. genesistrine August 14, 2015 at 9:22 am

    They seem to be totally monogamous in practice, in spite of all the “oh no! Who will win the mating flight?!” stuff – we’ve never seen a change in Weyrleader due to a different bronze flying the queen; there’s no gossip about queens being flown by unexpected bronzes and had their riders been messing about behind her ex’s back? nudge nudge hur hur. Even Kylara stuck to the same bronze, which given her proclivities pretty much red-flags that that was Prideth’s decision.

    We also never seem to get bronzes flying multiple queens – do their riders tactfully remove them as soon as a queen starts revving up for a mating flight?

  15. Nothing August 14, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    I think junior queens can be and are flown by whomever. The senior queen may be encouraged to stick with just one bronze to keep stable leadership. Later novels suggest the queen’s rider can influence who wins the flight.

    But once you’re in the top ranks, I guess, for stability or whatever, the dragons mostly stay paired.

  16. Silver Adept August 16, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    The monogamy of the gold and bronze pairings might be a Threadfall thing, so that the Weyr has the comfort of routine and consistent leadership on their side. During the interval, there might be a lot more jockeying for position, and even some of the younger bronze riders might be able to have a turn at being Weyrleader to see if they’ll be a good fit for when Thread does return. Since we don’t have any stories that happen during Interval, we won’t know.

  17. Only Some Stardust August 16, 2015 at 8:56 pm

    It doesn’t really make a great deal of sense for a sapient or even just near-sapient species not to engage in sex-just-for-fun. Whenever you have an animal of above average intelligence, you tend to start seeing stuff like curious fondling and masturbation and homosexuality which is also curiously never mentioned between dragons… although I suppose greens would have too much difficulty catching a gold, it’d be pretty funny to see a gold chasing a green.

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