The White Dragon: Recovering That Which Was Thought Lost

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.

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11 thoughts on “The White Dragon: Recovering That Which Was Thought Lost

  1. Only Some Stardust August 20, 2015 at 10:34 am

    Controlling the South = whole extra continent, yaywhoozle. If they get there first they won’t have to share with any dirty peasant holders.

  2. genesistrine August 21, 2015 at 2:45 am

    Re Menolly being unworried about possible sexual assault, she (and everyone around her) are used to anyone who upsets her getting a fair of fire lizards to the face. She doesn’t have to worry about random harassment, so it may well not occur to her as a possibility any more. Everyone around her automatically behaves themselves….

    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.

    Or F’lar actually still doesn’t understand Lessa, which seems a distinct possibility to me. “Oh no she said she’s worried; I must get something done before she tries teleporting back 400 years or something equally dangerous again!”

  3. Brenda Appleby August 21, 2015 at 8:50 am

    Stripping down to swim seems pretty universal in the southern continent.

    I get the idea the dragonriders don’t feel they would be able to establish a settlement and still be able to fight thread in the North, so they are waiting until they don’t have to.

  4. Only Some Stardust August 21, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    But but but…
    They can teleport. And time travel. They should be able to defend two continents easy.

  5. emmy August 21, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    The time travel is too exhausting to do regularly, trying to make it part of the daily commute and be in two places at once would kill them?

  6. Silver Adept August 21, 2015 at 9:44 pm

    @ Only Some Stardust –

    Except there’s already both a Weyr there and the dirty peasant Holders, too. The expanse of the continent hasn’t been fully revealed yet, so we don’t actually know how big Southern is, but as you pointed out, time traveling dragons means they shouldn’t have to compete with anyone of they don’t want to. emmy raises a good point about the exhaustion of being in two places at the same time, but the whole “establishing a Southern Weyr” part involved sending the Brown Rider Rapist back in time with others to do so and having them stay in the past for significant time. It’s stressing, but not impossible.

    So we’re once again at the point of “if they want it, why haven’t they done it yet?”

    @ genesistrine –

    Good point regarding Menolly’s personal point-defense system, although it would only be engaged if Menolly were aware of hostile intent. This would be one of those times where stories could be remembered about some poor Lord Holder who tried to hurt her and got a face full of fire lizards, like in Dragonsinger.

    Plus, if we recall, Menolly sleeps in the nude, and only seemed to get perturbed about it when Dunca raised a giant fuss about it. Perhaps because Yanus would have considered undergarments useless frippery, or perhaps because being part of a Sea Hold means you do a lot of work in as little clothes as possible (so they don’t have to dry out), Menolly explicitly doesn’t seem to have issues with nudity around others.

    It’s still weird, though, because Jaxom is fully embracing the society around him that says any woman who isn’t a dragonrider is his for the looking or taking if he so desires. Maybe he’s not going to go after Menolly because he would feel squick about it, maybe because he knows what will happen to him if he does. But none of that is voiced or thought – they just bathe together and Jaxom looks longer than would be polite. It’s not consistent with his characterization at this point. (Big shocker, we know.)

  7. genesistrine August 22, 2015 at 3:28 am

    @emmy/Silver Adept: They don’t have to time travel though – it wouldn’t be any more difficult for them to teleport from Deep South Weyr to Threadfall than from Benden/Fort etc.

    We’re told that the positioning of the Weyrs is to make it easier for them to protect their designated areas, which is patently rubbish since teleportation, duh. The positioning of the Weyrs is actually to make it easier for tribute trains from their protected areas to get to them without having to have dragons do cargo hauling.

    (The other factor stopping them from having one big centralised Weyr is queen dragons not liking to share their Weyr with too many other queens.)

    Presumably the real reason the Weyrs haven’t already moved out to the Southern Continent as a load of smaller 1-or-2-queen Weyrs is that, like Southern, they’d have to have dragons haul in the booze and the cloth and any other luxuries they couldn’t pick off trees.

    Re Menolly: Jaxom is fully embracing the society around him that says any woman who isn’t a dragonrider is his for the looking or taking if he so desires.

    I think you’ve missed a bit off the Rule of Pernese Patriarchy – my bet is “looking” is OK within limits, but “taking” is taboo if she already “belongs” to a higher-ranking male. And my other bet is that, through patriarchical eyes, Menolly belongs to Robinton and has a DON’T PISS OFF THE MASTERHARPER sign over her head, 15 feet high and flashing alarm colours to those eyes.

  8. boutet August 22, 2015 at 11:18 am

    Menolly also might not be considering Jaxom as a sexual person when it comes to her. She was nearly an adult, going up the ranks of her craft when she met this kid. Neither of them have families in the traditional sense, so Menolly steps in and supports him. He is surprised and grateful. Over time they develop a sort of auntie-nephew or different-age cousins relationship.

    Jaxom growing up doesn’t change Menolly’s feelings towards him. She notices and teases him about women but she doesn’t consider herself a candidate for his attentions because she would never consider him a candidate for hers. Jaxom growing up changes a lot for him, internally and externally, so his understanding of Menolly -does- change. He already cares for her and is grateful to her but now suddenly he’s a sexual person and he’s realizing that other people are also sexual people. Including this woman that he admires so much.

    Which is a long way to say that it feels pretty real to me that Menolly would be like “who cares, it’s Jaxom,” and Jaxom would be like, “omg Menolly is nekkid.”

  9. Silver Adept August 23, 2015 at 9:25 am

    @ boutet –

    I agree that it’s realistic. What I’m not so sure is realistic is that Jaxom just watches and doesn’t really say anything at all to Menolly, either in embarrassment or as a come-on, because Menolly, to him, fits the Girl Next Door archetype and would probably be his first crush.

    @ genesistrine – I can see some amount of Robinton getting involved there, but I see it mostly on a consequences side, rather than as a deterrent from trying.

    As for the Weyrs and their transport lines, having to haul goods would be a minor inconvenience, I suppose, if Mardra’s perpetual annoyance at Meron never getting her orders right is supposed to be an example. But it seems like the retiring dragonriders idea is to make them as self-sufficient as possible, so eventually they wouldn’t need to do as many supply runs. Transporting Crafters, maybe, but the supplies themselves would be harvested locally.

    It would be interesting to see what happens, though, when rider caste gets turned internally and now the greens and blues are the labor force for the browns that supervise them and the bronzes and golds that enjoy the luxury of not working.

  10. Only Some Stardust August 23, 2015 at 10:17 am

    re; greens and blues as labor force.

    I am surprised that hasn’t already happened.

  11. boutet August 23, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    @silver adept Aah, I see. Yeah, Jaxom’s characterization can’t seem to settle between Abused Orphan or Small Town Quarterback. He just flows with whatever the narrative needs at the moment.

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