Last chapter, the Benden Weyrleader asked the Masterharper to help him find the Ista Weyrleader, because the Weyrwoman is distressed that she can’t find him. The Masterharper asked the Lord Holder of Ruatha to ask his dragon to ask the fire-lizards to remember where and when they saw the Ista Weyrleader’s dragon. Which crafted a mission for the Girl Harper, the Lord Holder of Ruatha, and selected fire lizards to hop back in time to find the Ista Weyrleader and discreetly report back.
The Ista Weyrleader, if alive, presumably, does not want to be found by anyone. His autonomy and desire to grieve is deemed subordinate to everyone else’s need for him. Which is not anywhere near kosher – what could D’ram possibly be needed for that he cannot be allowed to grieve?
The White Dragon, Chapter X: Content Notes: Male Gaze
(15.7.4 – the next day)
The first part of the chapter is getting everyone to the correct location – Ruth mentions that Menolly sends vivid pictures (as befits a Harper that has to memorize and report on clandestine affairs) and Jaxom wonders whether the fire lizards will be enough to get Ruth there, which puts all the time spent memorizing star positions to waste for Jaxom. Menolly and Jaxom settle in to wait for fire lizards, while Ruth takes a bath. There’s food plucked of the trees in the South, and Menolly nonchalantly mentions the time where she nearly lost two of her bronzes to a wild queen while she was here last when Jaxom asks whether or not there will be fire lizards.
The wait and heat is eventually too much for Jaxom to suffer through, and so he strips and dashes for the water, with Menolly following suit soon after. Which gives Jaxom a chance to ogle Menolly, helping us actually finally start building a picture of what she looks like.
Menolly’s body was trimmer than Corana’s, Jaxom noticed as they waded out, happily exhausted from their swim with Ruth. She was longer in the leg and not nearly as rounded in the hip. A bit too flat in the breast, but she moved with a grace that fascinated Jaxom more than courtesy allowed. When he looked back, she had put on pants and overtunic, so that her slim bare arms were exposed to the sun as she dried her hair. He preferred long hair in a girl, though with all the dragonriding Menolly did, he could see why she’d keep it short enough to wear under a helmet.
And… Menolly is apparently long and thin, despite having apparently kept up her sailing technique. And, most likely, the singing and instrument playing. And the traveling, which probably isn’t by beast in Southern or the more remote parts of the North. Yet she has “slim” arms. I can believe being flat-chested, long-legged, and slim in the hips from her life in a Sea Hold and the continual muscle-building and toning exercise that being a Harper and sailor is. For comparison, here’s the International Sailing Federation women’s match sailing champions from 2015, which is sailing with a lot of technological assistance, as you can tell from the gear still on them. They all might fit the profile for body type, but you can tell their arms are quite strong and not slim by looking at their picture. The work Menolly does should be putting muscle on everywhere, especially the arms, so I want to know what Jaxom is comparing to that Menolly’s arms are slim.
Also, how convenient it is that Menolly is still apparently without shame about the display of her body. Despite Dunca’s best efforts, that is. Menolly is also entirely comfortable being naked around Jaxom without being worried about anything happening to her, despite having plenty of stories about what Holder sons like to do and what dragonriders do when they’re in the throes of mating – a state she and Sebell have already shared when their fire lizards went at it. Admittedly, Jaxom has made no such moves toward her in the past, but they’ve mostly been in the company of others. This would be an opportunity, if he were inclined. Menolly might well kick his ass, but he wouldn’t know that.
Anyway, the plan to use Ruth as a fire lizard magnet works, and Ruth would get appropriate time coordinates for D’ram, except the fire lizards also remember quite a bit about men on the Southern continent, a time when there were many men, but no dragons, only fire-lizards. The fire lizards don’t remember sadness, though, so it’s unlikely there was a suicide, from which we get this interesting snippet:
“And besides, a dragon wouldn’t let his rider harm himself. D’ram can’t suicide with Tiroth’s alive. And Tiroth won’t if D’ram is still alive.”
O rly? Poorly-visualized coordinates caused a dragon and rider to be entombed. Doing the giant time hop nearly killed Lessa, and now there are equations that could be used to try a jump that would be beyond the constitution of even the hardiest rider. Two fighting queens killed each other without giving a damn about their riders. Accidents have killed dragons. Surely it would be possible to drink, drown, or poison oneself – or even take a one-way trip to the Red Star. Or just fly into a Threadfall and die, since it seems the prohibition against self-harm has a giant exception carved out for fighting Thread.
Speaking of, Jaxom deduces that the dragonrider that has spent his life fighting Thread would want to settle down sometime where he wouldn’t have to deal with it, and takes off for a twenty-five year hop (the 15 of Present Pass plus a safe margin) to find D’ram and Tiroth – over Menolly’s caution. Jaxom is correct in his deduction, and returns immediately to the present time, to be confronted with a pissed-off Menolly, hands on her hips, glaring knives at him, and this particular gem:
Menolly was very pretty, Jaxom thought, with her eyes flashing like that, but she was daunting, too.
That sounds familiar – like Lessa to the Benden Weyrleader, Brekke to her rapist familiar. “Look how pretty she is when she’s mad, which I can say because she can’t actually hurt me.” At least in Jaxom’s case, he’s not discounting taking a wound or three from fire lizards or from Menolly. She’s mad at him because he’s been gone for hours, her time, and she was worried that he had miscalculated – and she had no way of connecting to him through fire lizards, because the time gap was too large (which is why Ramoth can’t find Tiroth – someone should do a study to see how far in space and time the draconic connection goes).
The return to Benden brings a fair of fire lizards with them from the South, which alarms the watchdragon, and therefore puts everyone on high alert. Jaxom manages to get everyone set down and sends Ruth off to get food (after getting permission) before completely passing out from the strain of the time jumps. Smelling salts (or the Pernese equivalent) revive him, and he is required to drink soup before being allowed to talk. And is told he’s bedding down at Benden as well. And that Lessa is clearly annoyed at how this has turned out:
She glared at her weyrmate. “Yes, I’ve been worried over D’ram but not to the point where I would risk a fingertip of Ruth’s hide to find him if he’s trying that hard to be lost. Nor am I very pleased to find fire-lizards involved.” She was tapping one foot now and her glare was divided equally between Menolly and Jaxom.
Which gives the earlier conversation between Robinton and the Benden Weyrleader a little bit of the Unreliable Narrator. Or, if they are both right, it means that Lessa’s not-concern was still frequent enough and plaintive enough that the Benden Weyrleader sought help. I don’t believe Lessa has been known to be passive-aggressive in that way. Using her mental powers to push someone in the direction she wants them to go, sure, or acting in a manner to get a desired result, yes, but not trying to get someone you do anything but being not-concerned a lot a bit it. Maybe Lessa mentioned it, and then pushed hard on the Weyrleader’s resentment toward Lessa trying to get him to do something so that he went off to do it because he couldn’t stand the nagging. That would be more consistent with the Lessa that was already established.
Messages dispatched and assurances given that Lessa will not chew Jaxom out while he’s still weak from time travel, Lessa gets a good look at Jaxom and notices his Threadscore. Which means he is going to get chewed out, just not about D’ram. Lessa wants to know why she wasn’t informed about his injury and subsequent training. Not their jurisdiction, says the Weyrleader, and besides, a little battle scarring makes Jaxom less likely to try doing it on his own again (without training). Lessa is unhappy, but smooths out somewhat as Jaxom explains why he thought the twenty-five year hop was the right idea (because Lessa and company came forward in those intervals).
Menolly’s return changes the topic, as does the news that Ruth is eating far more than usual, and Manora has sent food up with her – enough to restore Jaxom’s energy and comfortably feed everyone else. Discussing the images that the Southern fire-lizards sent has the Benden Weyrleader muse that there could be other people on the Continent, prompting a Suspiciously Specific Denial from Lessa.
“F’lar!” Lessa’s voice was sharp and warning. “You are not exploring the Southern Continent. And, might I suggest that if there were men there, somewhere, they would certainly have ventured far enough north to be seen at some stage or another by F’nor when he was south, or by Toric’s groups. There would have been signs of them other than the unreliable recollections of some fire-lizards.”
“You’re quite likely right, Lessa,” F’lar said, looking so disappointed that Jaxom realized for the first time that being Benden’s Weyrleader and First Dragonrider of Pern might not be as enviable a position as he’d previously assumed.
Great Maker, another title, one that acknowledges that he’s the bestest. The narrative really does give him everything he wants.
I’m almost certain at this point that we’re now supposed to see the Benden Weyrleader as the old high school quarterback who now works a dead-end job, married to the girl he knocked up and who henpecks and emasculates him constantly, who is looking for any excuse to sneak off and relive the glory days (or at least try to rekindle that spirit he had when he was king of the world). We’re supposed to feel sorry for him.
I don’t. Partially because casting him as a henpecked husband means casting Lessa as the shrew in the operation, and to do so would be injurious to her characterization. And we have had more than enough of the narrative insisting that active, opinionated women are problems to be fixed. I also don’t feel bad for him because he’s still a big jerk, even if he’s a mellower jerk these days. What he wanted for Jaxom, and what Lessa wanted for Jaxom, both gave very little thought to what Jaxom might want or be curious about, being both Holder and dragonrider. And, perhaps, I still haven’t forgiven him for what he’s done to Lessa in previous books.
As it turns out, the Suspiciously Specific Denial is because the Weyrs have plans for the Southern Continent – after the grubs make the dragonriders obsolete, they plan to retire to the South and live a luxurious life feasting on the land there, preempting the Holders and Toric. Basically, the Benden Weyrleader believes the dragonriders should be independent of Hold tribute, so they need enough land to be self sufficient. On that revelation, the chapter ends.
I do have one question, though, and I think I’ve asked this before when talking about the Weyr-Hold issues before – if dragonriders really did want to be self-sufficient, why haven’t they done it already? They hold the military power, they can go basically anywhere on the planet to harvest or breed their own stocks of meat and plants and supplies, and if things get too far gone, they can time-travel to harvest ahead of Threadfall if they lost a crop that way, or to prevent the natural condition that killed a crop otherwise. If the Weyrs really wanted it, they could have long since established themselves as independent. What they have clearly wanted, instead, is for everyone else to be dependent on them for protection and to give then tribute.
What has changed? It can’t be that the Holders somehow have gathered extra military power to be a threat to dragons. They have flamethrowers to fight Thread with, but I don’t think that will really work against an enemy that can disappear and reappear at will. They could still try economic warfare with the Crafthalls, but that still doesn’t prevent the dragonriders from taking what they want or sieging everyone until they die or surrender.
No, there must be an advantage to be gained by controlling the South, and the Benden Weyrleaders are blowing smoke up Jaxom’s ass by talking about “retirement” after the grubs are properly seeded in the North. Since we’re following Jaxom, though, we may never know.