Last time, everyone at Benden Weyr contemplated the reality of getting old, while Jaxom spun his wheels with Piemur and Sharra. D’ram accepted the responsibility of going South to make sure stupidity didn’t happen and to keep the Lords Holder from annexing land the dragonriders have already put dibs on.
The White Dragon, Chapter XVI: Content Notes: Sexism, Misogyny
The chapter opens with a relay of the news of the last chapters to Piemur, who takes it in stride, by which we mean
the young journeyman treated them to a colorful description of his Master’s follies, shortcomings, stupid loyalties and altruistic hopes that quite stunned the listeners until they saw the tears leaking down Piemur’s cheeks.
Which is par for the course when it comes to someone you admire greatly.
Ruth’s return scatters Stupid to the weeds, and Piemur reminds us that Stupid is not actually stupid, and that his tendency to hide in the presence of dragons has been useful on his secret mission to stomp about the South and explore, precipitated by Toric sending North some very attractive metals, which drew Robinton’s attention to investigate, both for the metal and the likelihood of dragonriders deciding to head South at the next Interval. As usual, Robinton knows what people are going to do, using his extensive spy network of Harpers, long before everyone else has a clue on what to do about it. Piemur mentions the Benden Weyrleader as “the only one that matters” on the upcoming decision, a notion that Sharra removes from him with pointed mention of Toric. (That said, Piemur is right – the people with the large weapons of war are the important people in a land discussion.)
Piemur boasts about the size of Southern, the things that are there, and praises Stupid as an impressive runnerbeast, far better on foraged food than the best stock of Piemur’s family, before mentioning that his final destination is still before him, and casually mentioning and showing a scarred leg while he asks to rest longer.
“I can’t walk any farther on that, now can I, Sharra?”
“No, I don’t think you should, Piemur,” Jaxom said, critically examining the healed wound. “Do you, Sharra?”
She looked from one to the other and then began to shake her head, her eyes dancing.
“No, positively not. It needs soaking in warm salt water, and plenty of sun, and you’re a terrible rascal, Piemur. Just as well you’re not a posted Harper! You’d scandalize any sensible Holder!”
Bzuh? Maybe I’m forgetting something at this point, but aren’t Harpers supposed to be in everybody’s business (discreetly, of course) and regularly traveling between Holds, Weyrs, Crafthalls, and the like so that information and propaganda get spread properly to those that need it? Is it Piemur’s willingness to explore the wilderness and find interesting things that would be scandalous? I’m not understanding what the scandal part is, unless it’s Piemur getting hurt in the first place.
Continuing, Jaxom, our student Holder, asks the important questions about documentation:
“Have you kept any Records of your traveling?” Jaxom asked, keenly interested and just a shade jealous of Piemur’s freedom.
“Have I kept Records?” Piemur snorted derisively. “Most of what Stupid packs is Records! Why do you think I’m wearing rags? I haven’t had room to carry spare clothes.” His voice lowered and he leaned urgently toward Jaxom. “You don’t just happen to have any of Bendarek’s leaves down here, do you? There are a couple of–”
“Plenty of leaves. Drawing tools as well. C’mon!”
And the two of them dart off to where Jaxom has been keeping his drawings and maps. And here, we have another oddity. Piemur comments on Jaxom’s decision to use Ruth as the unit of measurement (I assume this is the length of Ruth, stretched tip to tail) and says that for his maps, he’s using the distance that Farli, his fire-lizard queen, can fly per second (with corrections for wind). Which suggests there is a lack of standardized measurements on Pern.
This seems absurd. If I recall correctly, Weyrs have talked about dragonlengths as a unit of measure before, but if each rider’s measure is keyed to the length of their own dragon, we have a problem. Actually, if it’s keyed to the length of any dragon other than a historical or hypothetical one, we have a problem.
Additionally, Wansor has equations that predict orbital mechanics, Fandarel is building electronics, and there’s an entire Craft system turning out goods for sale and use. I don’t have to know what those units are, I suppose, although it would be an awkward story to tell that had standard units but nobody actually says what they are, but there’s no way they don’t exist. Jaxom and Piemur are both students at the Smithcrafthall. And map-makers. One of the first things they would be taught is what the standard measures of distance are and how to represent them accurately in scale drawings. There should be no reason for variant measures, especially under Mr. Efficiency himself. That way, nobody worries if Ruth grows or Farli hits a headwind.
Beyond this, Piemur explains that between him, Stupid, and Farli, the three of them do well as surveyors, since Farli does well with concepts and Stupid keeps Piemur alive by funding drinkable water and avoiding treacherous ground. We also learn that green fire-lizards abandon their clutches, which makes them ready prey for tunnel snakes, while golds stick around to kill off any would-be predators. It doesn’t make sense to me why two variations of the same species would adopt different strategies for passing on their genes to the next generation, but nature could very well be that odd.
The next day, all three go to a fire lizard clutch to collect the eggs (frightening off the queen, which really should cause an ethical pang about whether it’s okay to raid a sentient being’s nest for your own purposes) and Piemur speculates why the ancients left the South, thinking the earthquakes might have something to do with it. Specifically:
“Not where the earth drops beneath your feet and two paces beyond you lifts above your head half a dragonlength.”
ARGHBLRABJEK ARGELFASTER *headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk* Tell he again why we’re using nonstandard units?
On the way back, Piemur recounts that he and N’ton watched a volcano spring up above the water line, spew rock and ash, and then build itself an island. Apparently tectonics moves a lot faster on Pern, as even a small volcano wouldn’t just pop up and build itself an island that quickly, would it? Either way, all three appear to have a shared dream of a large volcano erupting and people fleeing from it after they get back to camp, having hacked their way through rather than taken the beach way home.
The next day heralds the arrival of the Brown Rider Rapist, delivering news that a Crafthall is to be built at the spot of the cove for Robinton, who is traveling on Master Idarolan’s (the Mastershipbuilder?) fastest boat, with Menolly and Brekke. Because the last time he traveled by ship, there was turbulence and a lot of illness and that’s totally okay for the man still recovering from a heart attack. Who did Robinton have to charm to get out this early? Did Oldive give his blessing?
Piemur subtly points out that all the beginning mapping probably should have been done by dragonriders, who have no trouble going to destinations or with flying high enough to be able to sketch out things without worrying about scale.
Sharra takes a look at the proposed plans and starts redrawing them in the sand so as to actually make the place comfortable for Robinton, based on her many years of living in the South, where things are hot, breezy, and basically Thread-immune…
“Oh, you dragonriders! This is Southern, not the North. It’s all been grubbed. Thread sears a leaf every sevenday or so, but the plant heals itself. Meanwhile, you’re coming into the hot season and, believe me, you’ll want as much green about you as possible to keep cool. You want to build off the ground, on pilings. There’s plenty of reef rock for foundations. You want wide windows, not the tiny slits, to catch every breeze. All right, you can shutter them if you want to but I’ve lived south all my life, so I know how you should build here. You want windows, and corridors straight through the interior for breezeways…” As she spoke, she was delineating the revised hold with strokes that were strong enough to stay in the hot dry sand. “And you want an outdoor hearth for so many. Brekke and I did most of our baking here in stone pits,” she pointed to the spot on the cove, “and you don’t really need a bathing room with the cove a few steps from the door.”
“You don’t object to piped water, do you?”
“No, that would be handier than lugging it from the stream. Only put another tap in the cooking area as well as one in the house. Perhaps even a tank by the hearth so we can have hot water, too…”
“Anything else, Masterbuilder?” F’nor was more amused and admiring than sarcastic.
“I’ll let you know when the thought occurs to me,” she replied with dignity.
F’nor grinned at her and then frowned down at her drawing.
You know, there’s a couple ways of interpreting this that I can think of, and they’re both potentially bad for Sharra. One is that the Brown Rider Rapist is patronizing Sharra and the narrative is covering for him by telling us that he’s totally impressed with her instead of snarking her because she’s a woman, a Hold woman, no less, telling the great dragonrider how to build things, as if she had a say in anything. He’ll indulge her and then ignore her when it comes to actual building.
The other is that his amusement and admiration are because the Brown Rider Rapist is actually quite turned on by bossy women and enjoys it. Brekke was his nurse and ordered him around on a regular basis before, and from that, he earned his moniker with her. What’s to say he won’t try it again, even with Brekke there?
There’s nothing wrong with him being kinky that way, really. It’s just that he’s chosen to express himself by rape the last time he had a thing for someone.
Sharra is not in a good situation right now – Jaxom, who has shown he can rape, is infatuated with her. The Brown Rider Rapist may be infatuated with her based on this. Piemur seemed like he had an infatuation with Sharra from Dragondrums, and his behavior with her here doesn’t dissuade me from thinking he still has it. Which puts at least three men who might act on their desires without consent (two of which have already acted on desires for others without consent), in close proximity to her. This just sounds like a bad setup.
Also, in the annals of Pern technology, the planet now has access to running water on demand, through some manner of pump, whether manual or electric, and/or the Archimedes screw, none of which was in evidence before this book. I presume the Masterfarmer is thrilled with the new ability to irrigate fields regardless of their proximity to running water, and there have already been fights over water rights with regard to rivers, lakes, streams, and other fresh water sources. Since Piemur mentions having to find fresh water on his journey, desalination and sterilization is not sufficiently advanced to be portable, if it exists at all. I have to assume Fandarel had a hand in this somehow, and his inspiration might be the naturally refreshing pool Lessa took a bath in all the way back in Dragonflight. The presence of outdoor plumbing should make way for some very interesting innovation in the North and the South, and surely indoor plumbing will soon follow.
The construction of the proposed location is going a lot slower than planned, as not even the mighty dragonriders can fell trees with any speed, as the fruit trees resist the axes significantly, and those who have been swinging have blisters after a half day of work dropping six trees. (Except Piemur, who is already presumably calloused from all the axe work he has already done) The Brown Rider Rapist is confused at how supposed softwoods in the grubbed lands resist getting punctured by foreign objects intending to kill them before tactics change to asking the dragons to move the trees and marking out the foundations with rock.
I don’t know much about trees, but I suspect their root systems would probably give the dragons a good strength contest to see who budges first. Maybe the dragons bite the trees and leave a stump? Or excavate with their limbs and then pull up? Or possibly try to touch as many of the trees as possible and pop into hyperspace with them? We’ll never know.
After work is done for the first day, we are reminded that Sharra is still sitting in a dangerous position.
Sharra took pity on their aching muscles and rubbed salve that smelled aromatic and burned pleasantly into the soreness. Jaxom liked to think that she spent more time massaging his back than Piemur’s. He’d been glad to see the young Harper and was fascinated by the Records and the charts he was drawing from his travels, but he did wish that Piemur had taken a day or two before he’d reached the camp. There was no way he could consolidate his hold on her attentions with a third party about.
And we’re right back in creepy stalker-ville, courtesy Jaxom. Exactly what, past the obvious male privilege at work on Pern, makes you think you have a claim on Sharra, Jaxom? Your fantasies have reached a dangerous level, to the point where I expect you to follow in the Brown Rider Rapist’s footsteps for both technique and lack of consent. Brekke should probably be taking Sharra aside and suggesting that she take a flight back to Southern to change out for a new nurse, recognizing the same look on Jaxom’s face that she ignored with her own attacker.
The next morning heralds the arrival of the Mastersmith, the Masterwoodsman, the Fort Weyrleader, and a wingleader from Benden, possibly T’gellan, whose rank is identifiable by his shoulder knots, along with an entourage of apprentices and weyrlings.
This is the sixth book to involve dragonriders and the first to mention what their identifying insignia are. (The Mastercraft badges for the Harpers only appeared in Dragondrums, so I suppose I should be happy they’re here at all.) We are clearly flying aboard a planet-sized version the USS Make Sh*t Up.
Anyway, the two masters are shown the drawings in place —
–Brekke’s original drawing and the alterations suggested by Sharra. The brown rider retrieved the sheets and showed them to the Craftmasters. “Now, here, Fandarel, Bendarek, this is our idea…”
Acting as one, the two men lifted the sheets from F’nor’s hands and scrutinized first one then the other. Both shook their heads slowly from side to side in disapproval.
“Not very efficient, F’nor, but well meant,” the huge Smith said.
[…the circus in tow is described…]
“First we must correct this design, Master Bendarek…”
“I quite agree. This is a nice enough little cot but not at all suitable accommodation for the Masterharper of Pern.”
Okay, you know what? There’s really one thing that has to be said here about this sequence:
Now, possibly minor points to the Brown Rider Rapist for saying “our design” and not trying to take all the credit for something he contributed nothing to, and I’m willing to grant, based on what we’ve seen of Pern to this point, that one of the men would have to present for the idea to have more than a snowball’s chance in the Inferno, but everything else about this is fucking stupid.
I note again that the designs that are so apparently inadequate come from Brekke and Sharra, who are both women and both have spent significant time at Southern, but this apparently means nothing in the face of all these men who insist they know better how to build somewhere they’ve never been. It’s not “efficient” and needs correcting. Sorry, women, but you’re always going to be wrong, no matter what, if a man says you are.
Secondly, Robinton is recovering from a heart attack, and presumably is getting older in years. Why wouldn’t he want a small cottage that he can move around in easily and that has short distances between rooms instead of a palace that he will likely use less of each year? The Mastercraftsmen are clearly thinking too much of their own egos to think about what might actually work.
And after Jaxom and Piemur sneak away their respective drawings from prying eyes, Sharra lays into the Mastercraftsmen about the same topics she did yesterday when sketching out the new plans. Points for fearlessness, Sharra, not that they’ll listen to you until they come up with the same idea.
The Brown Rider Rapist provides his assessment of the situation:
F’nor made a clicking noise against his teeth. “She sounds like Brekke. And if she acts at all like my weyrmate when she’s in that sort of mood, I’d rather be elsewhere. You,” F’nor poked Jaxom in the chest, “can show us where to hunt. Food was brought along but since you’re the resident Lord Holder, it’s up to you to play host with some roasting meat…”
Okay, so how are we supposed to reconcile this affectation of being henpecked with the earlier supposed admiration of Sharra’s take-charge female demeanor? Unless, that is, the narrative is lying that the Brown Rider Rapist was more admiring than sarcastic. Patronizing was probably the right word to apply there, and then everything falls into place appropriately and consistently.
Also, what the fuck, springing the obligation of meat and host duties on Jaxom, who is still recovering? Apparently, we’re supposed to remember the scene with Fax and the dragonriders all the way back in Dragonflight as the template to use for hospitality on Pern, even though Lessa was deliberately sabotaging that one to fail. All the other ones we’ve seen to this point have had allies feasting together or otherwise failed to mention any details about hospitality requirements (other than things like “don’t knife another dragonrider in public”). If that was going to be the expectation for Jaxom, he needed advance notice to pull this together.
Especially since apparently just about every Craft, Hold, and Weyr sent representatives to this party. The narrative mentions Jaxom feels like his privacy has been violated. Jaxom’s right. Even if the narrative is spinning it as “he wants to get back to trying to get into Sharra’s pants with nobody around”, Jaxom had every right to feel like he’s been intruded upon – he has.
Hunting goes well (the weapon of choice is a weighted noose that allows for the swift breaking of necks after a dragon accelerates upward), although Jaxom is not actually strong enough to pull the dead carcass on his own (it feels like his arms almost get pulled from their sockets), so Ruth helps transport the kill back to the construction site. Which is already in full swing, with a large clearing made by dragons pulling out trees by the roots (which does not, apparently, disturb the sand and ground around them in any meaningful or dangerous way, despite the big, solid, very old trees being moved) and people hard at work. The Brown Rider Rapist asks Jaxom to focus exploration on moving toward the big volcano, and, to close out the chapter, Jaxom remarks that there aren’t any wild fire-lizards around the site.
The loud, dragon-filled, people-filled, otherwise completely foreign construction site, that is, which would probably set off lots of “steer clear” alarms from the normally-skittish wild fire lizards. But it’s apparently weird that the wild ones aren’t here.