The White Dragon: Once More, With Feeling

Where we last left Jaxom, he was close to forcing drink on Lytol after the queen dragon at Ista Weyr committed suicide shortly after her rider, Fanna, died.

The White Dragon: Chapter IX: Content Notes: suicidal ideation

(15.7.3 – several sevendays after the death of Fanna)

Where we pick up, however, is with Robinton nearly being bowled over in his office by Menolly’s excitement that the Benden Weyrleader has come to the Harper Hall. Robinton, returned to his role of shrewd and wise Harper, is not convinced yet that this visit is all good.

Robinton sighed again, sadly, as he looked at the empty doorway. She [Menolly] had grieved over the estrangement of the Harper Hall and Benden Weyr. So, in his own way, had he. He brought his thoughts sharply away from that. There’d been no hint of distress in Mnementh’s acknowledgement of the watchdragon’s challenge. What had brought F’lar to [the Hall]? (Benden in my copy, which is clearly not correct.) And, more important, did the Weyrleader come with Lessa’s knowledge? Or consent?

Wait, so now we care about Lessa, after having spent several books ignoring or demeaning her when she tries to get involved? If she had known that all it would take to be taken seriously is to threaten the destruction of the entire draconic way of life and not blink or back down when called on it, she probably would have used a much more convenient excuse, like the exile, or Kylara, to get herself some respect.

The Benden Weyrleader is not here for pleasure, however – he’s here to consult Robinton’s brilliant mind to figure out where and when D’ram and his dragon, Tiroth, have gone to, as they aren’t in the present time, and the general opinion is that neither dragon nor rider could make the hops all the way back to D’ram’s original time point. Which still leaves a large swath of possible space-time to have to cover to try and find him. Robinton is being asked to come up with some likely coordinate possibilities.

So it is in this context we talk, not about the one who is dead, but the one who could be, and by doing so, we start to see a little about what passes for opinions about death.

“Oldive said he was completely in possession of his reason, F’lar, if that’s your worry.”
F’lar made a grimace and impatiently stroked back a forelock which invariably feel into his eyes when he was agitated. “Frankly, Robinton, it’s Lessa. Ramoth can’t find Tiroth. Lessa’s certain he’s gone far enough back in time to suicide without causing us distress. It’s in D’ram’s nature to do so.”
“It is also his option.” Robinton said gently.
“I know, I know. And no one would fault him but Lessa is very worried. D’ram may have stepped down, Robinton, but his knowledge, his opinions are valuable and valued. Right now more than ever. Bluntly, we need him…need him available to us.”
Robinton thought briefly about the possibility that D’ram had realized this and removed himself and Tiroth from easy access. But D’ram would serve Pern, and dragonfolk at any time.
“He perhaps needs time to recover from his grief, F’lar.”
“He was worn out with tending Fanna. You know that. He could also be sick and who would be the to help? We’re both worried.”

Ah, and now some more truth comes out. It’s not just Lessa, even though Lessa may have a different opinion on why D’ram needs to be found. Also, there really does seem to be an expectation that dragons and riders commit some form of suicide when they want to or are about to die, assuming they have the strength to do so.

Robinton asks about fire lizards, not in the traditional sense of pointing them at a destination and asking them to go, but in querying their collective memory for the image of a lone bronze dragon. The Benden Weyrleader is not convinced, but is willing to go along with it.

“If I could relieve Lessa’s fears, I’d even forget my antipathy to those nuisances.”
“I trust you’ll remember that statement.” Robinton grinned to soften the remark.

Curioser and curioser. The Benden Weyrleader I’m used to seeing wouldn’t have cared at all about Lessa’s distress, only his own interest and the consequences to his ego of having a Weyrleader able to sneak off without his knowledge. I guess we’re supposed to accept this as a consequence of Lessa becoming the emotional one, and to prove that he really does love her, not just that he used her to come to power. Of course, lacking tonal clues, this exchange could also be read in the style of “I wish that woman would just shut up, but she keeps going on and on and nag, nag, nag. I came here to do this because I need peace and obedience in my weyr, not because I care.” Which would be a lot more in line with previous characterization.

Robinton and the Benden Weyrleader take a small hyperspace hop to see Ruth, since fire-lizards tell Ruth everything, but not before we’re informed that the telegraph had made it all the way to Crom Mines. And, somehow, in the midst of that and other talk about everyone in the north wanting to go south to get resources and land, Robinton thinks he knows the where of D’ram’s disappearance, but isn’t sure about the when. Upon arrival, Robinton checks to see if there are any signs of scarring on Jaxom (no) before explaining to everyone what he’s looking for – the when in relation to the Noodle Incident referred to in Chapter Two, when Robinton and Menolly were blown off-course and Menolly kept Robinton alive. Robinton asks Lytol if Jaxom will assist, and Lytol defers, saying it’s Jaxom’s decision alone. Jaxom is quite ready to go for it, and so maps are sent for to plan out where the location is to start spinning backward in time to find D’ram.

Also, the Benden Weyrleader wants to know how much Jaxom and Ruth have been time-shifting themselves.

“How much timing it have you done, Jaxom?” F’lar asked suddenly.
A flush suffused Jaxom’s face. With a start, Robinton saw the thin line of scar white against the reddened cheek. Luckily, that side of Jaxom’s face was turned away from the Weyrleader.
“Well, sir…”
“Come, lad. I don’t know any young dragonrider who hasn’t used the trick to be on time. What I want to establish is how accurate Ruth’s time sense is. Some dragons don’t have any at all.”
“Ruth always knows when he is.” Jaxom replied with quick pride. “I’d say he has the best time memory on Pern.”
F’lar considered that for a long moment. “Have you ever tried any long jumps?”
Jaxom nodded slowly, his eyes flicking to Lytol whose face remained impassive.
“No wavering of the leap? No unduly long stay between?”
“No, sir. It’s easy to be accurate anyhow if you jump at night.”

N’ton had mentioned earlier that time-shifting yourself shows in the eyes. While it’s been a few weeks since Jaxom promised (but Ruth didn’t), he shouldn’t be so red in the face about it. Unless he’s thinking about the egg rescue? If so, bravo on the right reaction, but a signpost would be nice. If not the egg, then maybe Ruth has been adjusting Jaxom’s arrival points without telling him? Since we have no information about what this sign is in the eyes, whether it’s reversible by not time-shifting, and how long it takes for the signs to go away if they are reversible, I can’t gather any useful information about why Jaxom is embarrassed except by guessing. This is a missed opportunity for everyone to have descriptive thoughts or speculation. And for the author to show us this new Weyrleader with empathy and understanding.

Resuming where we left off, with Jaxom explaining nighttime jumps are far easier to hit…

“I’m not sure I follow that reasoning.”
“Those star equations Wansor worked out. […] If you work out the position of the dominant stars in the skies, you can position yourself most accurately.”
“If you jump at night,” the Masterharper added, never having thought to put that use to Wansor’s equations.
“Never occurred to me to do that,” F’lar said.

Cocowhat by depizan

I can believe the Benden Weyrleader not thinking about such things, because he’s never really come across as the kind of person who sits and thinks about the applications of the sciences, but Robinton? That seems to be stretching it. Maybe he’s been too busy being caught up in the politics of everything to realize the full implications of the equations. Although…our perspective on what Wansor had to say was cut off because Jaxom stopped paying attention after the parts involving the ability to improve Threadfall predictions. Maybe Wansor mentioned it, or someone else did, and Jaxom is reinventing the wheel here. But that still means both the Benden Weyrleader (who had had two people very close to him do new and interesting, if foolhardy, things regarding their hyperspace time-traveling dragons, as well as a serious incident involving time-travel shenanigans) and the Masterharper (the spymaster-general) to have missed the implications of the knowledge of being able to keep accurate visual time.

This follows what seems to be a general trend with regard to scientific knowledge in these books – a discovery, the application it has to Thread, and then nothing more. Thread is an existential threat, albeit a well-managed one, but it seems to have an outsized influence on the development of Pernese society.
Jaxom hangs an immediate lampshade on the lack of knowledge of star positions by remembering that Lessa used the stars in the tapestry to do the jump backward to pull the time-skipped Weyrs forward. The return of the maps by fire lizards (who are all still skittish about getting flamed by dragons or hurt by dragonriders) starts the planning in earnest. Ruth will receive the right imagery from fire lizard memory (of Southern fire lizards) and do hops, much to the Benden Weyrleader’s consternation (naming it a “conspiracy to get fire lizards back in good odor”). until he finds D’ram, at which point Jaxom is to note the coordinates and return, all in great discretion, of course, which sets Jaxom’s lack of poker face off again. Robinton is sure something’s up, but he doesn’t know yet, and he’s not going to pry.

Back at the Harper Hall, Robinton hopes Menolly won’t object to being sent along with Jaxom to provide the correct picture for Ruth to start from. When he informs her and Jaxom, both are relieved,, but also apparently sharing a private joke of some sort. He wonders whether it’s a love bond, and mulls the prospect of Menolly as Lady Holder, before ultimately dismissing it as just friendship.

And thus, the chapter ends with Robinton turning to the paperwork he’s been putting off.


9 thoughts on “The White Dragon: Once More, With Feeling

  1. Funaria August 13, 2015 at 8:36 am

    I always assumed the blush was due to the egg rescue.

  2. genesistrine August 13, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Re temporal navigation by planetary positions, I don’t find it that surprising that neither F’lar nor Robinton saw the possibilities – F’lar, as said, is not the sciency type, and Robinton’s never had to visualise for a dragon jump. Seeing the un-obvious applications of new knowledge is a really difficult thing to do.

  3. boutet August 14, 2015 at 10:28 am

    Continuing @genesistrine’s thought, I think it seems more obvious to us because navigation by stars is a common knowledge thing in our society (as it’s tied in with colonial history and crossing the Atlantic and all) so for us it’s a short mental step. For Pern there is remarkably little ocean travel, mostly just fishing. The Southern continent was known but entirely ignored, there was no travel, there is still fairly little travel (Masterharper had to boat himself over and you’d think he would commandeer any existing ship with little trouble). There’s even fairly little land-based travel and I expect people follow existing paths rather than overland directly.

    The traveling bands of merchants and such (have they come up yet in text? they will eventually) might make the star navigation->time navigation jump easily enough if they use star navigation at all, but they might stick to existing paths too.

    But yes, it felt like forced ignorance that no one else came to that conclusion but Jaxom. Possibly the craft halls have already figured out all the details on this but F’lar has been neglecting his paperwork and hasn’t read the detailed document that was sent to him on the topic.

    I enjoy that Jaxom can have a female friend and that Robinton can conceive of a male-female friendship that isn’t a love and/or lust situation.

  4. genesistrine August 14, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    @boutet: what Jaxom’s doing isn’t quite the same as star navigation, though – it’s specifically relying on the positions of the planets; in effect it’s observational astrology.

    (I’m going to nerd out for a bit, sorry if it bores anyone. Also there will be minor spoilers regarding the Dawn Sisters.)

    Star navigation uses the fixed stars, which, in effect, stay where they are while the planet rotates under them. It’s relatively easy to use them to find North/South (especially if Pern has a polestar as a marker), but using them to find East/West longitude on Earth needs good clocks and reliable ephemerides (timetables) – you check the position of a particular star at a particular time and calculate your position from that. The original settlers definitely had the tech for ephemerides (see the Sun and Finger Stones) but apparently didn’t care for reliable portable clocks.

    Though those aren’t necessary on Pern, at least in the Eastern portion, because of the Dawn Sisters. I don’t think they’ve been mentioned yet, but this is the book where we discover that Pern has a clump of 3 artificial satellites in a geostationary orbit. They’re always visible in the same spot in the sky, though as far as I remember they’re pretty low in the sky at Ruatha’s longitude, so any further west they’re probably not visible at all. But if you can see how high the Dawn Sisters are you can calculate your longitude from them.

    (Jaxom doesn’t seem to have thought of using star positions for geographical betweening, interestingly enough – Ruth ought, theoretically, to be able to visualise the Dawn Sisters’ position to jump to any point on the hemisphere they’re visible from.)

    What Jaxom is doing is using the planets – the moving stars – as markers; heading for a time when, say, the blue one’s in that constellation and the yellow one in this. He is, essentially, time-travelling using astrology and that amuses the hell out of me. He calculates that at the time he wants to arrive in Vars will be in 4° Scirgo and Menus in 23° Vorpio, and bamf.

  5. Silver Adept August 17, 2015 at 9:19 am

    If the blah was still die to the egg rescue, that’s odd, for me, because there’s been a significant amount of time elapsed between the rescue and this chapter, enough, I would guess, for Jaxom to stop feeling embarrassed about it and more heroic or some other feeling. It doesn’t seem life that would be a thing he’s still blushing over that far out.

    Navigation by astrology is amusing, especially considering there’s still no officially acknowledged religious belief on Pern. What sort of naming convention is Jaxom, or rather, Wansor, using to visualize his map of the cosmos? I’m sure there’s a lot of juicy worldbuilding there, but we won’t see it.

    Also, since Jaxom had clearly worked out a relatively reliable method of time traveling, it should be no trouble from there to establish rules about how to go about doing it so as not to collide with yourself or other travelers, right?

  6. boutet August 17, 2015 at 10:45 am

    @silver adept: I figured the blush made sense for the egg thing specifically because it’s F’lar asking. F’lar is in a weird quasi-relative quasi-boss position with Jaxom and Jaxom did something not -illegal- but not sanctioned that was directly connected with F’lar, and then kept it secret from him. So I can see it being a sort of hero-shame jumble for Jaxom when he’s being asked about some aspect of it by F’lar or Lessa.

  7. genesistrine August 18, 2015 at 3:41 pm

    @Silver Adept: What sort of naming convention is Jaxom, or rather, Wansor, using to visualize his map of the cosmos? I’m sure there’s a lot of juicy worldbuilding there, but we won’t see it.

    At this point I think we still haven’t learned that Pern has 2 moons, let alone learned their names.

  8. Silver Adept August 21, 2015 at 9:10 pm

    That’s true. Even so, though, someone has to be naming things, even if just for themselves. The Brown Rider Rapist used geographic landforms to approximate on the Red Star, so someone has to be doing something for stars.

    Too bad it’s another skipped bit of building.

  9. saidahgilbert September 12, 2016 at 11:07 am

    @boutet and @genesistrine Isn’t it astronomy that they’re doing? They’re measuring the positions of celestial objects not revering them as some divine object that has an impact on their lives, right?

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