The White Dragon: The Flying Circus

Last chapter, we spent quite a bit of time with Jaxom recovering from a fever, which resulted in him for deciding to break up with Corana and pursue Sharra, who he didn’t necessarily find attractive in his description.

The White Dragon: Chapter XIV: Content Notes:

The chapter opens with the news of the impending mating flight D’ram had mentioned earlier in the book to the Benden Weyrleaders, delivered to Robinton by Silvina with a cup of klah. Robinton places a wager with the dragonrider come to collect him (by proxy, of course, and a fairly hefty bet – two marks), and the two arrive at the spectacle of a gold dragon getting ready to mate, which is in stark contrast to the way the green dragon took off and had pursuers a few chapters ago. As the young dragons wait, two aging bronzes from Southern arrive, flying low to escape detection for as long as possible. The bronzes take their place, and the riders (T’kul and B’zon) are greeted by a welcoming party of D’ram, Robinton, and the Benden Weyrleader. The three try to dissuade the Southerners from joining in the flight, but T’kul rightly points out that D’ram said it was an open flight, and the options available to the South are pretty limited, now that they have queens that are too old to lay eggs and someone took back the egg they stole.

The Benden Weyrleader then delivers the biggest line of bullshit he could in this situation.

“Had you come to us, we would have helped you.”

You exiled them, remember? If you expected them, proud as they were, to come back to you, hat in hand, asking forgiveness and accepting your leadership, then your optimism alone could power several of Fandarel’s batteries. They attempted to stab you while you were trying to get to Threadfall, O leader of dragons. At what point did you honestly expect them to ask for your help? You engineered this very scenario, and you have the audacity to say that you could have been diverted from your course, had they but asked for help? Bullshit.

The Benden Weyrleader has convinced himself of the lie, though, as he repeats it after realizing he can’t persuade either of the Southerners to give up the opportunity and the mating flight begins.

“If they had come to us…” F’lar began, placing his hand consolingly on D’ram’s. “But those Oldtimer riders always took! That was their error at the outset!” His face hardened.
“They’re still taking,” Robinton said, wanting to ease D’ram’s distress. “They’ve taken what they wanted from the North all along. Here, there. What pleased them. Young girls, material, stone, iron, jewels. They looted with quiet system ever since they were exiled. I have the reports. I’ve given them to F’lar.”
“If only they had asked!” F’lar looked upward at the fast-dwindling specks of dragons in flight.

Oh, that’s incredibly sanctimonious bullshit from the Benden Weyrleader. I think he’s trying very hard here to convince himself of that truth, rather than anybody else. And nobody has yet acknowledged whether or not Lessa would be on board with that kind of help, since she’s now the one with the “irrational” desires and emotions.

Also, the dragonrider really has no leg to stand on talking about taking from people, when he is the recipient of a tribute and taxation program that takes things from other people. That others were taking from his subjects, or from his stores, sure, but not that they were taking, period. And what’s with the list that Robinton provided of what’s being taken? Why are we leading with “young girls” instead of the other things? Are were supposed to believe that the young girls are the most valuable resource for the dragonriders to be stealing? Presumably, if they need a queen rider, then they only really needed one. What are the others being used for? And how does this idea of the girls being valuable square with all the misogyny that’s been on display for all of these books so far? It’s not like anyone has been showing women respect, whether part of Hold, Weyr, or Craft, outside of the Smiths, maybe.

After all of this self-serving justification for everything, the assembled groups settle in to wait out the mating flight. Robinton is observing and puzzling over the remarks made about the return of the egg as he ignores a rather strong and persistent pressure in his side. He realizes nobody from Southern would have returned the egg, but he also wonders why T’kul went South and whether someone neutral should be in the chambers, just in case one of the old dragons dies and their rider does something horrible from the resulting insanity. When he goes to make the suggestion to the Benden Weyrleader, he finds that the Weyrleader has already gone to the chambers, having had similar worries. When the conflagration erupts from the death of T’kul’s dragon, Robinton is trying to get to the queen’s chamber, but has to convince Mnementh to let him and others by to give the Benden Weyrleader help. He’s a bit grateful for the stop, having to catch his breath after running. When they reach the chambers, T’kul and the Benden Weyrleader are locked in mortal combat (again with the Benden Weyrleader getting into knife fights), with T’kul ready to drive his knife into the Weyrleader’s neck, before having his feet knocked out from under him. As the fight continues, it’s pretty clear that T’kul knows exactly who to blame for these circumstances, and who he’s going to get revenge on – for his dragon dying, for his exile, for T’ron, for all of it. This fight ends like all the others have, with the convenient distraction this time provided by the shriek of the Weyrwoman as her dragon is caught, and another antagonist with a knife between his chest.

Oh, and speaking of chests, that persistent pain had migrated from Robinton’s side to his chest, and he can’t understand why he feels so weak at this point. Apparently, the idea of a heart attack hasn’t survived down the generations, so all Robinton can do at this point is call for help. Which arrives, strangely enough, in the form of Lessa, some medicine, and a very insistent set of voices telling him he can’t go to sleep yet.

Harper, Harper, listen to us. Now listen to us. Harper, don’t sleep. Stay with us. Harper, we need you. We love you. Listen to us.
The voices in his head were unfamiliar. He wished they would be silent so that he could think about the pain in his chest and the sleep he so desperately craved.
Harper, you cannot leave us. You must stay. Harper, we love you.
The voices puzzled him. He didn’t know them. It wasn’t Lessa or F’lar speaking. The voices were deep, insistent, and he wasn’t hearing them with his ears. The voices were in his mind where he couldn’t ignore them. He wished they would leave him alone so that he could sleep.

As addled as he is, Robinton doesn’t understand that it is Ramoth and Mnementh keeping him alive and mentally there until Lessa can give him the medicine and Oldive can press some cold instruments to his chest and everyone understands that he’s going to stay alive from his heart attack. The chapter ends with him asking about the mating flight, and he learns that Benden’s and D’ram’s chosen candidate was the winner of the flight, so his bet is also going to come through.

That said, um, the Schizo Tech world that is Pern continues, because while Robinton doesn’t recognize the heart attack while it’s going on (I suppose Pern doesn’t have the benefit of there’s public health campaigns that we do when it comes to things like recognizing the signs of a heart attack), Master Oldive has a stethoscope (most likely the cold instrument) and either nitroglycerin pills or digitalis to give Robinton to counteract the problem. Or the Pernese equivalent thereof, as well as the capacity to convert it to a powdered or otherwise transportable form and then make pills or capsules out of it. Which, you know, suggests some pretty impressive manufacturing ability on this planet. Despite being supposedly a place that’s a pastiche of the Italian city-states. It’s like the author can’t decide on how much old technology survived. Or is making it up as needed to advance the plot.

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27 thoughts on “The White Dragon: The Flying Circus

  1. genesistrine September 17, 2015 at 3:17 am

    What are the others being used for?

    Sex slavery (with a side order of actual slavery), presumably, since the only specifications are “young” and “female”. They don’t seem to be kidnapping skilled cooks, or seamstresses, or Healers, or whatever other skillsets are acceptable for women in Pernese society. And as for institutionalised misogyny, we’re told F’lar already knows about this. And his reaction is “oh no we could have helped the poor dragonriders if only they’d asked”; no concern whatsoever for the kidnapped girls. Credit to Robinton for leading with it, I guess, though he may be starting with least-important-first to soothe D’ram….

    And knife fight. Again? You’d think a culture that claims dragonriders don’t get into knife fights would get a clue from so many dragonriders apparently longing to stab F’lar….

    I suppose Pern doesn’t have the benefit of there’s public health campaigns that we do when it comes to things like recognizing the signs of a heart attack

    But why not? Again, what are the Harper Teaching Songs actually teaching? Aren’t there “this is how clever Amal saved his friend who cut his leg with a scythe” or “brave Jillie knew what to do when her mother was bitten by a tunnel snake (she knew it was a poisonous one because she saw the red bars on its back) and this is what she did” first-aid Harper PSAs?

    (I’m now imagining them as a sort of cross between Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children and Harry Graham’s Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes. Which I would have loved as a child!)

    some pretty impressive manufacturing ability on this planet

    You can handwave a lot of Pern medicinal weirdness with biomagic, though. If the original colonists could inflate fire lizards to dragons even while ultra-omnivorous Quorn rained down they could, theoretically, have created medicinal plants that grew specified dosages of useful drugs. And no-one thinks to mention it because that’s what medicinal plants do, duh.

    Well, the ones that come with Glaxo-Smith-Kline printed on the seeds, anyway. That’s how you tell.

  2. JudasFm September 17, 2015 at 3:30 am

    Hi, I love your Pern deconstructions – I’ve been following this one avidly – but there are one or two comments I’d like to make on this entry:

    “Apparently, the idea of a heart attack hasn’t survived down the generations”

    Although there are plenty of people who are well aware of the symptoms of a heart attack, many of them also think that it’s synonymous with ‘suddenly-clutch-your-chest-and-keel-over’. The gradual one that the text describes fools a lot of people in our society into waiting to see if it’ll go away on its own rather than phoning for an ambulance, even with all the awareness campaigns going on. Therefore it’s more than plausible that Robinton also wouldn’t know what was happening to him.

    “Or the Pernese equivalent thereof, as well as the capacity to convert it to a powdered or otherwise transportable form and then make pills or capsules out of it. Which, you know, suggests some pretty impressive manufacturing ability on this planet.”

    Actually, no it doesn’t. At least, not if we’re talking about pills. To make a low-tech pill, all you do is mix the ingredients with something to bind it together (a little flour and water would work, both of which exist on Pern) mash it into a paste using a pestle and mortar, roll that paste into a cylinder and then slice that cylinder. To give an example of low-tech manufacturing, the earliest known pills were found aboard a Roman ship that was wrecked around 140BC.

    Of course, if Oldive produced a bag of pills with a brand name stamped on each one a la Nurofen or aspirin, I’d have to agree that this would be a step too far 😉

    Powdering something is also easy; you dry it and then use a pestle and mortar. Klah is made from ground seeds (nuts? I never did find the answer to that) so if the Pernese can powder that, they can powder the herbs they need for medicine.

    Ack! I’m sorry for the length of this post; I didn’t mean it to turn out this long! I just think it’s fairer to back up my points rather than say, “This bit’s wrong!” No offense intended and I’m really looking forward to the next one!

  3. emmy September 17, 2015 at 8:38 am

    I think klah is supposed to be bark-based.

    Not that it matters. It’s just – you can tell I read these books when I was at the right sort of impressionable age for a bunch of details to stay fixed in my head forever.

  4. Silver Adept September 17, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    Klah is bark based, according to the spoiler data.

    @ JudasFm –

    No worries! I had no idea that the technology to make pills is that old – I’d be a bit worried about whether or not someone could get consistent dosage, but I suppose a well-mixed bit could achieve this.

    Also, good to know that gradual heart attacks still fool people. So, no need to apologize about correcting wrong information.

    @ genesistrine –

    I have no idea what the Teaching Songs teach, other than maybe “dragonriders are the coolest ever, don’t piss them off” and “women, never seek to rise above the station a man puts you in.” Nobody seems to ever recall them for actually useful things.

  5. JudasFm September 17, 2015 at 11:27 pm

    @Silver Adept

    Neither did I! I thought pills dated back to around Shakespeare’s time, and then I found out about this Roman ship. And yeah, I think if you mixed and measured properly, the dosage would be consistent, or as near to it as makes no odds.

  6. genesistrine September 18, 2015 at 2:44 am

    Dosage is why I was thinking of genetically engineered medicinal plants. The amount of active ingredients can vary a lot in plants; it depends on weather, season, growing conditions, etc etc. Cultivation and gathering protocols can even it out a bit, but without lab equipment and testing protocols you can’t guarantee a consistent dosage. Which is an obvious danger if you’re dealing with something as powerful as, say, digitalis.

    And needless to say we haven’t seen anything like a working laboratory on Pern. The only time we’ve seen any medicines being prepared is numbweed, which is gathered wild and boiled down in open cauldrons with minimal quality control. (AKA hey, this batch is pink, that’s a bit odd.) Though it would be nice to think that the Healers are actually (or include) the remaining chemists…

    And, again, Oldive is the Master Healer. Where are his students? Where are his researchers? Why does he (in ‘Song at least) spend his time in an office in the Harper Hall making face cream for the Fort Hold ladies? I suppose we could get all Borgia about Robinton and say Oldive’s actually his poisoner-and-druggist-in-chief….

  7. genesistrine September 18, 2015 at 2:47 am

    Whoops, that should be ‘Singer. Wrong Menolly book.

  8. JudasFm September 18, 2015 at 6:21 am

    The novella Nerilka’s Story describes Pernese medicine and healing in a little more detail. I’d have really loved Anne to have written some more short books that dealt with all the Crafts, like following a new Healer in the same way we get to see what life in the Harper Hall is like with Menolly. Then again, I would have loved her to have written more Pern books in the Red Star Rising/Dragonseye time, or even continued with that Doona series of hers. Oh well. C’est la vie.

  9. Silver Adept September 18, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    @ genesistrine –

    Well, the only thing that’s been consistent about women, human or dragon, in these books is that their worth directly correlates to their beauty, and possibly their ability to make babies. Given that, I would guess all Healers are in the business of making cosmetics, since they’re the most likely people to know what plants and animals can be safely used. It’s probably a status symbol among the women as to how high-ranking the Healer is that provides you with your makeup.

    Yes, they could be doing things like experiments, but I think we’re supposed to believe Pern is a static world and society, only innovating when faced with world-shattering crises. Fandarel and Menolly are really the only two characters explicitly noted to be creating new things – Yanus tried to beat it out of Menolly, and it seems like a lot of people don’t really know how to express their disapproval with Fandarel, since he’s a Craft Head. There’s probably guile involved in how he came to power.

    Plants engineered to dispense dosages in specific amounts seems possible, I suppose, despite the likelihood that evolution would have something to say about that in the intervening time. The extent of what constitutes medical or scientific knowledge is always vague on Pern.

  10. boutet September 18, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    I seem to have the understanding that the original settlers decided to sabotage scientific fields in a sort of “burn the boat, no turning back” kind of thing, so that they would have to work their way up to space flight again and presumably by then people will be well settled and not likely to fly away at first opportunity. If I’m remembering that correctly it could explain why they have bits of knowledge (agenothree, heart attack pills) without necessarily having the structure to discover them or use their discovery to advance. The thing was kept as useful, but the research behind it was obscured and lost on purpose.

    This might be a headcanon thing. I honestly don’t remember. I have a startling amount of headcanon that I don’t know is headcanon until I reread books from my childhood.

  11. Only Some Stardust September 18, 2015 at 8:26 pm

    Plants producing specific doses doesn’t seem very likely to me; in many species, you can expect to see mutant crop in your very first generation because many traits, especially in corn, rely on being heterozygous. You only get the really good corn by crossbreeding, something which corn is quite happy to do by itself I understand.

    Now, this could be a lot more possible if they were /cloning/ the same plants over and over, though even then something like different growing conditions could cause the same plant to grow differently (think Arctic circle versus tropics). Plant cloning is, from my admittedly inexperienced understanding, fairly easy, and necessary for things like seedless fruits anyway. That’s probably the only way to get a consistent product. This does introduce a huge weakness(es), though: disease, mold, bugs. Without any genetic variation in your population, your plant will be extremely vulnerable to being wiped out; you should expect to lose a few pure-clone strains over a few thousand years.

    Of course, the Pernese seem to have no long term plans for genetic mutation or evolution, which could at any moment set a race of intelligent fire breathing dragons loose on them the moment one mutates the highly useful ability to not need to impress, (even if they have an anti-mutating gene, there could be a mutation of the anti-mutation gene :P). That they would rely entirely on plant clones for their best medicine doesn’t seem that unlikely to me.

    I feel like Pern lost a great opportunity for a Horror novel…

  12. emmy September 18, 2015 at 9:07 pm

    Dragons have evolved over time canonically, but mostly only to get bigger, with the exception of Ruth.

    Interesting question, though – what WOULD the pernese do if a dragon hatched and wasn’t interested in Impressing? If it just sort of sat there being friendly to everyone but didn’t attach itself to anyone in particular? The cultural worship of dragons should, one would think, stop them from killing it out of hand, at least not at the Hatching while everyone was looking. But what would they do with a dragon who insisted on being treated as an independent person?

  13. boutet September 18, 2015 at 10:45 pm

    @emmy They’ve been genetically turned towards total dependence as hatchlings (as opposed to the wild fire lizards who need some training-by-example and the safety of the group but otherwise tend to themselves) but have not be genetically turned towards active parenting. So the dragons have been made dependent on Impressing. If it didn’t Impress I imagine it would just die? With no instinct and no parent-figure to direct them they wouldn’t survive long enough to become independent people.

    Though I guess one of the riders who can speak to all dragons could try to guide them without having them Impress? I can’t imagine the weyrs would react well to an independent dragon. It might mirror an asexual person’s experience with parents/people throwing partners at them and expecting things to just magically stick.

  14. boutet September 18, 2015 at 10:46 pm

    Edit for my previous comment: It might mirror an axsexual person’s experience with parents/partners throwing “acceptable” sexual partners at them and expecting things etc.” I didn’t mean to imply that asexual people can’t/don’t have partners.

  15. JudasFm September 19, 2015 at 3:13 am

    @boutet Yes, the dragon would die. In Red Star Rising, it specifically mentions this as having happened more than once, and that the people involved would do anything to prevent it happening again “including accepting the dragon’s choice from among the spectators” (or something like that). Which could explain why there wasn’t an instant uproar when Mirrim Impressed Path. That, and in RSR most of the green riders were either female or homosexual, so there is a well-established precedent for it.

  16. Madame Canard September 19, 2015 at 5:32 am

    @boutet My recollection is that the colonists were idealistic folk who signed on knowing that the aim was to set up a lower tech society and had been through several wars. I think yes it was definitely a one way trip but that was more to do with the distances involved and the fact that there was no fuel on Pern compatible with the ships. I think the intention was to keep a certain level of technology and there were a lot of training programmes in place to pass on knowledge. The way the decline is portrayed by AMC is that thread sent everything backwards. Resources that were meant to go into science, education etc got depleted pretty quickly fighting thread in habitable areas. The move north and then several serious illnesses then wiped out key people. I seem to recall that in RSR they then lose a lot of the stored data when the computers get fried, and that they had folk copying out records on to paper but it wasn’t completed in time. It is a long time since I read any of the books – I do recall a sentiment that Earth had nothing to offer them and a desire to create a new culture but I am not sure it extended to deliberate loss of knowledge.

  17. boutet September 19, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    @madam canard: headcannon then. Good to know, thanks! I put a startling amount of time and energy into making imaginary worlds work for me, haha

  18. Madame Canard September 19, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    @boutet Ha! Me too. In the case of Pern the world made no fecking sense half the time so head canon was rather necessary. 😛 Ah, but I loved it all the same.

  19. Laurie September 19, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    @boutet: Emmy was extrapolating on Only Some Stardust’s hypothesizing of dragons mutating to the effect of what would happen if…

    It really does seem unbelievable that over 2500 years, there has been no fertile green, or no unImpressionable dragon. (Well, no fertile greens until Todd got hold of the series.) Or, no females Impressing a fighting dragon between the second Pass and the 9th. My theory on that is that yes, females did Impress – just no one talked about it because they were so few and far between. As for a dragon hatching and just looking around and not Impressing…that could be something so dire and evil that no one talks about it.

  20. Only Some Stardust September 19, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    No instinct isn’t quite right. All animals have instinct, and dragons are shown distinctly as being able to walk around after hatching and being quite hungry, and as being able to communicate. That’s actually really advanced for a newborn. All it has to do is steal food, which, with betweening, should be pretty easy. It could also beg Mum. They may have muted the mothering instinct, but it isn’t gone completely; otherwise golds wouldn’t tend the eggs at all. If I were a sapient being (and I am) and children happened to be one of my values, even if I normally let other people tend them, I’d be hard pressed to just let one of my kids die if all it took was feeding them in secret.

    But being mostly dependent and helpless is a pretty good insurance policy it’ll almost always just die I guess, and if the riders go out of their way to kill baby dragons who don’t act quite right that could solve the problem.

    My memory (albeit shaky) of RSR is that the baby just went between when it couldn’t find someone to impress – not that it decided not to impress at all and hung around until it starved to death. I could be wrong though. When I say unimpressable, I really mean not having the ‘go kill yourself in despair if you don’t find the One’ reaction.

  21. emmy September 19, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    If correct, that’s even creepier than the cultural acceptance / promotion of suicide after losing a dragon partner, IMO. I can certainly understand that losing a mindbond partner is extremely traumatic and that Pernese society has decided not to interfere with someone’s choice to opt out. But the idea that not being able to find your Chosen Partner immediately means you should go between is… ack.

    I don’t think I’ve read that particular book, so I don’t know how it goes. I can try to sugarcoat/headcanon it being a mistake (confused baby goes looking for partner, other dragons don’t realise they should stop it, baby goes between without knowing how to come back) but this is obviously just me making ideas up to try and be a little more palatable.

  22. AlexSeanchai September 20, 2015 at 5:45 am

    Are we just gonna ignore the fact that dragons hatch with developed telepathy, and thus the possibility that their mom and whoever else has been teaching them things in ovo?

    I dunno the implications of this possibility, but I thought someone should mention it.

  23. Silver Adept September 21, 2015 at 10:38 am

    @ Alexseanchai –

    That’s a good thought. Since dragons hatch with relatively developed bodies, it’s quite possible that in that brooding phase, the parent dragon is teaching lots of things to their eggs. Although what that means about Ruth, I don’t know, because Ruth’s egg was explicitly rejected and left behind, and Ruth turned out okay.

    As for the lack of Impressing dragons, that makes sense for the people who are worried about scarce resources, although to deliberately engineer in going into hyperspace is yet another strike against the ethics of Pern.

    It’s very convenient how the Records that don’t mention things that are immediately not available – makes it easy to make it up as you go along, certainly.

  24. Only Some Stardust September 22, 2015 at 6:17 pm

    In Temerarie, a dragon historical novel series (and way better than Pern, far more female friendly), dragons learn how to speak from the egg by listening to conversations, although those dragons also aren’t telepathic, so who knows. Science wise, learning to speak from listening to conversations isn’t too plausible (babies don’t learn from a tv, they need an actual person doing baby talk and pointing at things), so I’d favor having some parental figure teach them in the egg.

    Ruth may have ‘listened in’ to his mother chatting to his siblings, including any images she might have sent them of objects she named. Maybe. I think this (telepathy teaching) was done in a dragon series by E.E Knight (actually about dragons, not humans, the only riders are evil enslaving bastards) although I could be misremembering because it’s been ages since I’ve read that series. It’s actually a pretty nifty idea, mom teaching babies in the egg!

  25. Brenda Appleby September 24, 2015 at 10:09 am

    I always assumed that Oldive gave Robinton the equivalent of aspirin, which is a lot less complicated than nitrogycerin and is commonly recommended to help treat heart attacks today. And it’s made from willow bark – I can definitely see the colonists including willows in their plant inventory just for that use.

  26. Silver Adept September 25, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    Oh. I didn’t know that aspirin is potent enough to assist in full-on heart attacks. Since it’s more forgiving between minimum effective dose and lethal dose, it would be a lot better to use, since variations in plants wouldn’t be quite as big a problem. I can’t see the colonists particularly liking willow trees in relation to Thread, but I’m sure they’ve got it all handled with those dragons.

    Thanks for the information.

  27. Brenda Appleby September 26, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    I do remember now that they used “willow salic” in Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern.

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