The White Dragon: Sickness Supreme

Last time, Jaxom contemplated the reality of Ruth and mating fights, worked up into a list by the mating flight, then raped Corana for it, and the narrative used Ruth as the apologia mouthpiece to assure us Corana liked it. And then Jaxom got to fight Thread with the queens’ wing.

The White Dragon: Chapter XIII: Content Notes: Boundary Violation, “Nice Girl” attitudes, patriarchal attitudes, toxic masculinity writ large

(15.7.7-15.8.7)

Jaxom awakens in Chapter XIII to find out that his cold is not an actual cold, but instead the fever referred to as fire-head, and that his fever has finally broken. Brekke is tending to him, as is Sharra, and they inform him that Menolly caught it, too.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Healers should be studying the absolute shit out of this, especially since they have medicine that can treat it, and because it seems like just about everyone from the north who goes south, and many people in the south, get this and have to go through it. Possibly repeatedly. As much as Pern seems to be a place that runs on the theory that suffering builds character and credibility (unless you’re a woman, then you just deserve it for being female), I’m pretty sure everyone would be in favor of finding a method to stop people from getting fire-head in the first place. It’s too bad that the settlers apparently lost the ability to vaccinate, have lost the ability to try and figure out where fire-head tends to congregate, and haven’t apparently done a whole lot about figuring out preventative medicine.

Considering the symptoms as described to us, which is apparently a fever, significant fluid loss, light sensitivity to the point of optic damage if exposed to too much light, weakness of body, and having a headache sufficiently strong that moving the head in any way causes great pain (as Jaxom finds out when Ruth tells him he hasn’t eaten while Jaxom was down), to the point where Jaxom’s head gets immobilized, I would think the Healers would want to be all over this disease and trying to cure it. This should be one of those points where we hear about scientific inquiry going on.

Anyway, with careful instructions and juice laced with sedative, Jaxom recovers, nonplussed that Sharra is fully a healer, rather than one of Brekke’s fosterlings. (Which reminds me – I don’t think we ever find out which Craft Brekke came from. Maybe she’s a Healer?) Although the text hints he might be getting a bit of Florence Nightingale Syndrome with Sharra. Later on, N’ton gives Jaxom hell about going off to fight Thread while sick, (his exact threat is to throw Jaxom to Lessa’s mercies, which still says bad things about what the men consider the worst possible punishment for a dragonrider, and what the narrative thinks Lessa is) and compliments Ruth on having a good presence of mind instead of being affected by Jaxom’s confusion to the point of uselessness.

Then Jaxom confirms he’s got an infatuation with his nurse, but in a really Rape Culture way:

“My eyes are just fine, Sharra,” he replied, catching her hand in his, keeping her where he could see her clearly in the dim light. “Oh, no, you don’t,” he said with a low laugh as she tried to break his hold. “I’ve been waiting to see what you looked like.” With his free hand, he pushed aside the hair that covered her face.
“And?” She crawled the word in proud defiance, unconsciously straightening her shoulders and tossing her hair back.
Sharra was not pretty. He’d expected that. Her features were too irregular, in particular her nose was too long for her face, and though her chin was well shaped it was a shade too firm for beauty. But her mouth had a lovely double curve, the left side twitching as she contained the humor which her deep-set eyes echoed. She arched her left eyebrow slowly, amused by his scrutiny.
“And?” she repeated.
“I know you may not agree but I think you’re beautiful!” He resisted her second attempt to free her hand and rise. “You must be aware that you have a beautiful speaking voice.”
“I have tried to cultivate that,” she said.
“You’ve succeeded.” He exerted pressure on her hand, pulling her still closer. It was immensely important to him to determine her age.
She laughed softly, wriggling her fingers in his tight grasp. “Let me go now, Jaxom, be a good boy.”
“I am not good and I am not a boy.” He had spoken with a low intensity which drove the good-natured amusement from her expression. She returned his gaze steadily and then gave him a small smile.
“No, you’re neither good nor a boy. You’ve been a very sick man and it’s my job,” she stressed the word just slightly as he let her withdraw her hand from his, “to make you well again.”
“The sooner, the better.” Jaxom lay back, smiling up at her. She’d be nearly his height when he stood, he thought. That they would be able to look eye to eye appealed to him.
She gave him one long, sightly puzzled look and then, with a cryptic shrug, turned away from him, gathering her hair and twining it neatly about her head as she left the room.

Cocowhat by depizan

There is so much wrong with this. Apparently Jaxom has learned nothing from his previous worries about what he did to Corana, because he’s just done them again, with the exception of the actual rape, to Sharra. Who, in my head, refrained from flattening Jaxom because she didn’t want to have to nurse him longer, and because she knew Brekke wouldn’t approve. This enterprise might also sound or be familiar to the women in the audience – the jerk that violates your bodily autonomy to deliver their judgment on your attractiveness, with the expectation of reciprocation, or at least you not screaming at him to get away from you, because he has the culture on his side and can make you out to be a frigid bitch, or worse, someone who needs “correction”, because he was just giving you a compliment, lighten up. The only thing we’re not sure of is whether Jaxom is drunk on his sedatives, but there’s no indication in the text of this, so we have to go with Jaxom meaning every word of it, and Sharra giving him the nice girl act until she can get away from him safely. What the hell, Jaxom? What the hell?

As Jaxom recovers more, he tries to ask of Brekke whether he said anything embarrassing while in his fever, and Brekke reassures him that they don’t pay much attention to fevered ramblings. Jaxom is thinking about the secret of who returned the egg, but the way Brekke dismisses his fear, we’re suppressed to believe that his exchange with Sharra is thought of as fevered ramblings. Which makes this the second time in as many chapters that the narrative has had to rescue Jaxom from doing something that would earn him a solid condemnation from most readers, and possibly a couple people actually inside the narrative. Jaxom has internalized the worst aspects of both of the cultures he’s a part of and is losing the things that made him such a good character when he was younger.

Also, Brekke’s remark suggests that Jaxom is not the first of the fever-recovering to make such advances on their nurses. Which says a lot about what kind of underpinnings Pern runs on, if in their unguarded, drug-induced states, the men of the culture are trying to get in the pants of Brekke, Sharra, and other women Healers.

To prevent us from dwelling too long on the implications of what Jaxom has done, Lytol arrives, by dragonback, to see Jaxom. Which is treated as the serious affair that it is, and then Lytol gives Jaxom a “Well Done, Son Guy” hug and comment about how he needs to improve his memory, as the trees are wrong. Which Jaxom was going to check on, before illness. It’s the part of the movie where the serious injury and/or near death experience has finally pierced the outer shell of the Manly Man and he is able to show affection and all of the normal parental love that a well-adjusted child should already be getting from his adopted father figure. Doubly so, considering his dad was killed and his mom died giving birth to him. Jaxom is happy that the rift he believes he caused by Impressing Ruth has finally healed, and after Lytol leaves, Groghe arrives to examine Jaxom’s condition, brought by D’ram, who was apparently okay with being found and brought back to the present. (Perhaps Jaxom found him at the end of his mourning period instead of the beginning – after all, we only know that D’ram was in the place at the time Jaxom went to – nothing said about whether he was there before then.) Sharra and Brekke suspect ulterior motives in Groghe’s appearance, but nobody can prove anything. And Sharra lets Jaxom know that not only did he nearly die from the fire-head, but that the fever he just recovered from lasted sixteen days. Which Jaxom understands the sudden seriousness to mean that Sharra lost someone to fire head, but we don’t know who, since she won’t say. (Again, Healers should be looking for cures, protective measures, and more.)

The next day brings the Benden Weyrleaders, who believe that Lord Groghe will start sending people southward, now that he’s seen the beautiful land next to the volcano, so the dragonriders are thinking they should move in first and accelerate their plans. Which hints at some sort of custom that hasn’t been fully explained, or for that matter, ever explicitly acknowledged – that the first person to settle and claim a place for themselves has it, however big or small their claim. Yet, from previous books, we hear about Holder sons fighting over claims, and there was also Fax, who went out and conquered other people’s Holds. So the idea of first claim is clearly not a universal, and the people who have the ability to enforce their will on everyone else, either by big angry dragons or by time-warping themselves so they were there first, shouldn’t be nearly as concerned as they are about claims. (Maybe the Harpers threaten to make people pariahs if they don’t adhere to the conventions.)

Lessa still needs to be reassured that the fire lizards congregating around Ruth are not from Southern Weyr (and how, exactly, do the Benden Weyrleaders plan to deal with Southern when they move in en masse to the continent?), but they set Jaxom to the idea of learning more about the fire lizards and the men that they remember.

And Jaxom is a jerk again.

He thought about his guardian’s visit. So Lytol did like him. Shells! He’d forgotten to ask Lytol about Corana. He ought to have sent her some kind of word. She must have heard of his illness. Not but what this didn’t make it easier for him to complete the break in their relationship. Now that he’d seen Sharra, he couldn’t have continued with Corana. He must remember to ask Lytol.

Okay, first, Jaxom, using your illness as an excuse to break up with her is a dick move. Second, how are you so certain you want to pursue Sharra or that she’s interested in you at all? Piemur will try it (since Dragondrums is published after The White Dragon) and get a no-sell, even though he has the same sort of infatuation with her that Jaxom does. And third, you really owe Corana something more than a breakup by proxy, especially if you find out you have to make arrangements for a son or daughter. You might escape consequences this time, but the more you do these kinds of things, the more likely consequences will catch up to you. That is, unless the narrative shields you like it has done for so many others.

Recovery proceeds slowly, with Jaxom getting an understanding, thanks to a visit from the Brown Rider Rapist, that other dragonriders (and Ruth, without Jaxom aboard) have been fighting off the Threadfall that’s been going on while he’s been recovering. Apparently, Ruth is very protective and effective at fighting Thread, and has been getting plenty of praise (and fire-lizards washing out the firestone stink) while he’s at it. There’s some awkwardness between Brekke and her “weyrmate” (Brekke doesn’t embrace him, but just rests her hand on his arm. Sharra is watching this, with a “peculiar expression” that vanishes as soon as she realizes Jaxom’s watching her), but everything goes smoothly. Then there’s Threadfall, with running commentary by Ruth, and another pointing-out that the marine life really loves drowned Thread. The chapter closes, after cleaning of the dragons, with the news of a queen flight at Ista Weyr (which was the subject of the meeting back before D’ram left for the South and the past).

And I think this chapter could probably have been cut, since the most important parts of it apart to be “Jaxom hits on Sharra and is convinced she’s a good match, and Jaxom recovers from fire-head.” Which could probably be done some other way while the plot advances, but it appears the narrative is very invested in Jaxom’s feels, even if they’re not plot-relevant.

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11 thoughts on “The White Dragon: Sickness Supreme

  1. Firedrake September 10, 2015 at 8:28 am

    They probably gave up vaccination after, well, spoilers for book we haven’t got to yet.

  2. genesistrine September 10, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Ha. Yes. Makes perfect sense (from the Pernese PoV) to give up vaccination after it was… linked to the death of a queen dragon! :shrieks, fainting, general horror:

    Re D’ram; I like to think he told whoever came to fetch him to piss off and leave him alone and he’d come back to that time when he was good and ready – after all, he could take as long as he needed.

  3. emmy September 10, 2015 at 11:56 am

    The concept of vaccination had been almost completely forgotten by the time of that book… but considering that they made a huge ballad out of what happened, and that part of the point of harper ballads is supposed to be to ensure that people DON’T forget, and that everyone clearly remembers her, logic says they all must know about vaccination now.

    If logic matters.

  4. emmy September 10, 2015 at 11:58 am

    Of course, I don’t think we ever actually hear the words to that ballad, and they would have had to lie quite a lot about some of the details because of timing being classified, so who knows what actually came through?

  5. genesistrine September 10, 2015 at 12:23 pm

    Hang on, what, Moreta was timing it too?! And that got forgotten by every single dragonrider on Pern?!

    I try not to use the phrase “too dumb to live”, I really honestly do, but there really isn’t another one that fits. What’s wrong with these people? Does betweening cause progressive brain damage in humans?

    And even if timing was classified, “you can cure/ameliorate/prevent a disease by using an extract from the blood of survivors of that disease prepared in this particular way” ought to be number 1 on a list of “things we have to make this song about, but don’t forget to stick in a tragic climactic death with awesome soprano solo to get bums on seats.”

  6. Only Some Stardust September 10, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    So Ruth basically proves that humans on dragons are superfluous when it comes to fighting thread. I suspected this. I suppose the excuse is that ‘Ruth is spwecial’ because gods forbid you make your sapient talking flying slaves intelligent enough to do tasks on their own. :3

  7. notamolly September 10, 2015 at 6:49 pm

    Ruth pretty much is special and unique. Ruth is an asexual being (not sure what exactly the title or honorific is) and is smarter than the average flying lizard.

  8. beappleby September 11, 2015 at 8:54 am

    Brekke was from the Farmcraft – Masterfamrer Andemon asked how she was doing after the queens’ battle in DQ, wondering if she would want to return.

    There’s a line or two somewhere about how D’ram was so touched by the search for him – didn’t realize how much he was still wanted/needed for his experience and friendship – that he came back.

    In Dragonsinger, when Menolly leads the Harper Hall in the ballad of Moreta’s Ride, it clearly states that she was exhausted from delivering the seeds that were the cure to the plague. So even the Hall that is responsible for preserving Pern’s history has forgotten what the details were.

    Whatever else is wrong with this chapter, I love Lytol’s reunion with Jaxom.

  9. emmy September 11, 2015 at 10:43 am

    There’s some other obvious problems with how wrong the ballad of moreta’s ride is compared to the story we’ll eventually hear but I don’t want to spoil that whole book’s plot.

    If I were writing Pern fanfic I’d give it the Doylian handwave that McCaffrey hadn’t worked out the details yet when she first mentioned the ballad, so the in-world ballad is not quite the same as what was mentioned in Dragonsinger.

    Because, again, if the whole point of harpers is to pass down important educational material, it breaks the universe much harder for the ballad to be that wrong than it does for the book to be that wrong. Logically the ballad should contain the critical medical information, the martyrdom, and some extra stuff flavored by the political needs of the time. But I should save that until we finish Moreta.

  10. genesistrine September 11, 2015 at 11:46 am

    It’s actually a really interesting idea; the “real” ride vs the version the harpers should have cooked up as heroic-self-sacrificing-dragonrider propaganda with useful info included in (except they forgot the last bit – it ruins the scansion! Just say seeds, come on, can’t the Healers keep their own notes for once? Do we have to do everything?!), but AMC seems to have forgotten Harper songs are supposed to do that since the Question Song.

    But you’re right, we should leave this discussion till Moreta-the-book.

  11. Silver Adept September 12, 2015 at 10:23 am

    Mental noting to self – end of Moreta is going to be a very fun discussion.

    Also, about Ruth being special, I think back in Dragonflight, the Benden Weyrleader made mention that once in the rhythm of fighting thread, the dragons really did make the humans feel like they weren’t needed. Maybe for moral support, but not for the actual practicalities. Which, to me, makes it sound more like the humans could be doing this in fly-by-wire, plus or minus a few spotters to make sure everything gets charred appropriately.

    The reunion with Lytol is a great scene. Admittedly, it also trips some of “could we have had this person raising Jaxom, instead of basically letting the culture do so instead?”, but better late than not at all, I suppose.

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