In the last chapter, everything went wrong for Jaxom that could, at least in his opinion. His quest to make Sharra believe she’s in love with him was put on hold, and then completely delayed by the construction requirements of a new Hold for Robinton. I had a lot to say about the content of the last chapter, which didn’t make a whole lot of on worldbuilding issues and was rather creepy in others.
The White Dragon: Chapter XVII: Content Notes: Institutionalized sexism, ageism, ableism
The chapter opens with a meeting between Lord Groghe of Fort Hold, N’ton of Fort Weyr, and Sebell, currently Craftmaster of the Harpers (which is different than Masterharper of Pern?), representing the Harpers during Robinton’s recovery. The topic of discussion is all of these Holder sons that still have nowhere to go to Hold their own lands and are continuing to fight among themselves for the right of inheritance. Since Pern lacks an organized religion to send them into and the North decided not to engage in a protracted military campaign against the dragonriders of the south, there’s no ready outlet to bleed off all of the excess men into something that keeps them out of the way. Groghe believes there will be a land rush southward once D’ram takes over at Southern, with plenty believing they can do as Menolly did and live without a Hold or dragons flying overhead. Sebell points out its not for the faint of courage, to which Groghe replies that such a thing would be a feature, not a bug.
The whole thing is a ruse to get the Lord Holders to ask permission to invade the South. More specifically, Robinton sent Sebell around to see how good relations were between Holds and Weyrs and to instill the requirement of asking permission from Benden before heading south, having manipulated everyone else to put them in this position so that the Weyrs would have first strike at land before any Holders arrived. This plan and attitude is laid out in front of the Benden Weyrleaders by Sebell (with N’ton in attendance), along with the new maps of the South made by Jaxom and Piemur. The suggestion is that the western part could be opened up to the Holders and the eastern part reserved for the dragonriders.
Before we get anything more of that meeting, though, we cut back to the cove, where the work party has gone home for the night. The lack of people gets Piemur to reappear, and the three residents of the area all share a commiseration that there were far too many people around. (They also apparently ate just about all the food stores.) Piemur is a bit worried about what people will do to the unspoiled natural beauty of the south, resigning himself to the knowledge of having been there first, before an oddity of the heavens distracts him.
“The so-called Dawn Sisters. You can only see them dusk and dawn down here and much higher in the sky. See, those three very bright points! Many’s the time I’ve used them as guides!”
[…What about ’em, Piemur?…]
“They just don’t act like proper stars. Didn’t you ever notice?”
“No. But we’ve been in most evenings and certainly every dawn.”
Piemur pointed with several stabs of his right arm at the Dawn Sisters. “Most stars change positions. They never do.”
“Sure they do. In Ruatha they’re almost invisible on the horizon…”
Piemur was shaking his head. “They’re constant. That’s what I mean. Every season I’ve been here, they’re always in the same place.”
“Can’t be! It’s impossible. Wansor says that stars have routes in the sky just like–”
“They stay still! They’re always in the same position.”
“And I tell you that’s impossible.”
“What’s impossible? And don’t snarl at each other,” Sharra said, returning with a tray piled high with food and a wineskin slung over her shoulder. Giving Piemur the food, she filled cups all around.
Piemur guffawed as he reached for a buck rib. “Well, I’m going to send a message to Wansor. I say it’s bloody peculiar behavior for stars!”
Bloody appears again, and I guess I’m just supposed to accept it as a tic of the Ancients…
Why Sharra raiding the meat pits and then pouring the glasses? Because the men were talking big things with each other? If Sharra is cut from Brekke’s cloth, then one of those two young men would likely have been dragged along to help. Or maybe that’s Mirrim, since new-Brekke is supposedly devoted to her man. It’s just incongruous that the person who had no trouble telling the Craftmasters off about their bad designs silently slips out, gathers food, and then does table service without a remark. Characterization is apparently also fluid as needed, regardless of the character being bent to serve it.
While the three at the cove eat, we cut away to Robinton, on the deck of Masterfisher Idarolan’s ship, the Dawn Sister. Robinton is content to recover and itching to get back into the business of being the Masterharper, despite Sebell being trained to be his eventual replacement. The name of the ship triggers Robinton to resolve to ask Idarolan for his far-viewer (tele-scope) to check out the Dawn Sisters, as they’re in the wrong position based on what he’s used to. He also resolves to send a message to Wansor asking about this peculiar behavior. Just in case anyone believes that one of Robinton’s subordinates can come up with an idea that Robinton hasn’t, and therefore Robinton might not be the cleverest man on the planet.
Menolly is on board with him, receiving and delivering regular reports about the Harpers. Her presence is felt by his fire lizard before she steps into frame behind him. His grumpiness is soothed with some juice mixed with wine, and then the Feels come out.
“You sound better.”
“Sound better? I’m as peevish as an old uncle! You must be heartily tired of my sulks by now!”
Well, that casts an entirely new light on the nickname that Old Uncle has back in Half-Circle. If being an old uncle is a detriment, then I really wonder what it must be like for him to have a nickname that basically says “Pain in the Ass” – which is Exponentially Wrong because he’s also an amputee, so way to mock both the disabled and the old. I’m sure it’s supposed to be endearing, but it’s not.
“Menolly, I’m fine. I’ll be up and about any day now, Brekke says.” The Harper permitted himself to stroke her hair. “Don’t cry. Not now!”
“Silly of me, I know. Because you’re getting well, and we’ll see to it that you never strain yourself again…” Menolly wiped her eyes impatiently with the back of her hand and sniffled.
It was an endearingly childlike action. Her face, now blotchy from crying, was suddenly so vulnerable that Robinton felt his heart give a startling thump. He smiled tenderly at her, stroked tendrils of her hair back from her face. Tilting her chin up, he kissed her cheek. He felt her hand tighten convulsively on his arm, felt her lean into his kids with an appeal that set both fire-lizards humming.
Perhaps it was that response from their friends, or the fact that he was so startled it caused him to stiffen, but Menolly swiveled away from him.
“I’m sorry,” she said, her head bent, her shoulders sagging.
“So, my dear Menolly, am I,” the Harper said as gently as he could. In that instant, he regretted his age, her youth, how much he loved her-the fact that he never could-and the weakness that caused him to admit so much. She turned back to him, her eyes intense with her emotion.
He held up his hand, saw the quick pain in her eyes, as the merest shake of his fingers forestalled all she wanted to say. He sighed, closing his eyes against the pain in her loving eyes. Abruptly he was exhausted by an exchange of understanding that had taken so few moments. As few as at Impression, he thought, and as lasting. He supposed he had always known the dangerous ambivalence of his feelings for the young SeaHold-bred girl whose rare talent he had developed. Ironic that he should be weak enough to admit it, to himself and to her, at such an awkward moment. Obtuse of him not to have recognized the intensity and quality of Menolly’s feelings for him. Yet, she’d seemed content enough with Sebell. Certainly they enjoyed a deep emotional and physical attachment. Robinton had done everything in his subtle power to insure that. Sebell was the son he never had. Better that!
“Sebell…” he began, and stopped when he felt her fingers tentatively closing over his.
“I loved you first, Master.”
“You’ve been a dear child to me,” he said, willing himself to believe that.
I’m honestly not sure what deserves the stink eye most – the dismissal of a May-December romance (Menolly should be comfortably above the age of squick at this point), Robinton admitting that he’s been manipulating Sebell and Menolly into a relationship (so that bit where both of them were alone on a boat when a fire-lizard goes into heat is now suspicious instead of coincidental), or the way Robinton crushes Menolly’s affection and love for him and buries his own feelings. As a romance trope, doing so rarely ends well for anyone involved. Although, points for it being Robinton invoking I Want My Beloved To Be Happy instead of Menolly. The stated reason, though, seems weak, especially for a manipulator like Robinton, and it seems almost impossible for him not to have noticed Menolly’s feelings for him, given that he’s been trying hard to steer her in Sebell’s direction. It seems like a moment of drama without purpose, unless your narrative’s purpose is to hurt strong women wherever possible, and then it fits nicely with the narrative’s insistence since Dragonsong that Menolly is not allowed to be happy in interpersonal relationships. (Except maybe Sebell, for now)
The chapter closes out with the appearance of Idarolan, who agrees to loan Robinton his distance-viewer and says that he’s already sent word back to Wansor about the oddness of the Dawn Sisters in the Southern sky. So, apparently, everyone is clever and Wansor is going to have to pen a few standard replies for everyone. The chapter fully ends with Robinton asking Menolly to help him finish the (unspecified) board game Robinton and (Idarolan? Menolly?) started this morning. As if nothing had just happened at all.