Earlier in the chapter, the true nature of the Dawn Sisters became apparent with a powerful telescope, and Jaxom, accompanied by Menolly, Piemur, and Sharra, discovered what are likely to be the ruins of the first settlement on Pern, before having to fight off Thread and the anger of everyone else for just going off and exploring. The discovery has basically summoned everyone that is everyone to the South, and it’s here that we pick up again…
The White Dragon, Chapter XIX, Part Two: Content Notes: Misogyny
In the hours that followed, Jaxom was grateful that Sharra had thought to feed him breakfast. He didn’t get much time for more food. The moment he entered the main Hall, questions were thrown at him by the Weyrleaders and Craftmasters assembled. Piemur had been very busy during Fall because Master Robinton had already completed a sketch of the southeastern face of the mountain to show the incredulous visitors, and a rough, small-scale map of this section of Southern. From the almost rhythmic way Menolly described their jaunt, Jaxom decided she had already repeated the account many times.
What Jaxom remembered most of that session was feeling sorry that the Masterharper was unable to see the mountain first hand. But, if Jaxom had waited until Master Oldive permitted the Harper to fly between…
…and the Benden Weyrleader is asking Jaxom to send him the coordinates so he can take a look with everybody else, a move N’ton squashes after laughing at “the look on your [Jaxom’s] face”, which isn’t described, but presumably is either crestfallen or utterly pissed off at the Benden Weyrleader wanting to steal his thunder so completely and transparently.
So Jaxom leads the others to the site of the ruins, where the Benden Weyrleader tries to dig through the ash and uncover the path…with his belt knife. T’bor (High Reaches Weyrleader, still) points out that erupting volcanoes tend to cover everything in their path in lots of ash before a sun-blotting grouping of fire-lizards arrives, exuberant that men have returned to them. After they all vanish when asked about the volcano and everyone with a fire lizard gets vivid imagery of the eruption, the Benden Weyrleader is still openly skeptical of the idea that fire lizards have a way of preserving memory from previous times.
Because it’s not like he lives in a society that preserves memory, albeit imperfectly, in crafts, songs, and traditions, or anything like that.
“Of course men were here. They’re not telling us anything we didn’t know. But for them to say they remembered?” F’lar was scornful. “I could accept your finding D’ram in the Cove with their aid…but that was only a matter of twenty-five Turns in the past. But…” For want of an appropriate expression of his skepticism, F’lar merely gestured at the dead volcanoes and the long-covered traces of a settlement.
I should probably mention that at least one of those depictions of memory was detailed enough to allow for a time jump, and it survived more than four hundred and fifty Turns so that it could be used for the purpose of that hop, along with a song that would provide the key for its use. There’s skepticism, oh great thief of credit due others, and then there’s what you’re doing. None of this is mentioned, but a defense is mounted:
“Two points, F’lar,” Menolly said, boldly contradicting the Benden Weyrleader, “no fire-lizard in this time knew the Red Star, but they were, nonetheless, all afraid of it. They also…” Menolly paused, and Jaxom was certain she had been about to bring up the fire-lizard dreams about Ramoth’s egg. He hastily interrupted.
“Fire-lizards must be able to remember, F’lar. Ever since I’ve been in the Cove, I’ve been troubled with dreams. At first I thought it was leftover from fire-head fever. The other night I found out that Sharra and Piemur have had similar nightmares…about the mountain. This side of it, not the one facing the Cove.”
“Ruth always sleeps with fire-lizards at night, F’lar,” Menolly said, pressing their case. “He could be relaying those dreams to Jaxom! And our fire-lizards to us!”
F’lar nodded, as if granting them this possibility.
He never fully agrees with it, as Fandarel offers some sound advice on what to do next – dig. Lots. Much like the proverbial child in a candy shop, the Mastersmith has a lot of new problems to solve and knowledge to gain, and he’ll borrow the best diggers from the Masterminer to excavate.
Jaxom takes his leave, and an afternoon nap, before Mirrim and Sharra wake him up to send him in to Robinton for a report. Jaxom is rude and cross with Mirrim, before trying to turn the charm on for Sharra.
“You are my true friend, Sharra,” Jaxom said. “Mirrim irritates me so! Menolly told me that once Path had flown, she’d improve. I haven’t noticed any sign.”
Sharra doesn’t take the bait, and Jaxom is soon set to the task of trying to get information from the fire-lizards about where would be a good spot to focus the digging efforts. After Robinton deduces that Jaxom was the one that stole Ramoth’s egg back from the south, that is, now that the whole picture is laid out before him of what fire-lizards can do.
Robinton also gets to articulate the main question that has been in our minds since we could piece together that the Ancients were highly technologically advanced and possibly a space-faring race:
“…Surely people who could hold the Dawn Sisters in the sky in a stationary position for who knows how many Turns ought to be wise enough to identify an active volcano. My surmise is that the eruption was spontaneous, totally unexpected. The people were caught going about their daily tasks in cot, hold, crafthall. If you can get Ruth to focus those disparate views, perhaps we could identify which of the mounds were important from the numbers of people coming from it, or them.”
Knowing Robinton’s character design, he’ll turn out to be right, but the question itself is important – why would a space-faring group be caught unawares by an active volcano? Unless there were no seismologists or computers and sensors to monitor the activity, at which point I’m surprised they didn’t completely wipe out when Thread first arrived. If us Terrans have had the technology to monitor activity for decades at this point, it seems reasonable to believe so would any settlement in the blast zone of any volcano. So I’m going to guess that Robinton is correct, but that the Ancients brought it on themselves by doing something seismically dangerous.
Mirrim volunteers herself and Path to help with focusing the fire lizards after Menolly, Jaxom, and Sharra are set to start tomorrow. Now, we’ve already been set up earlier in this part, and in earlier books, to understand Mirrim as sharp-tongued and generally headstrong. With that in mind:
“I can arrange to come, too,” Mirrim said.
Jaxom caught Sharra’s closed expression and realized that Mirrim’s presence would be as unwelcome to her as to himself.
“I don’t think that would work, Mirrim. Path would scare the Southern fire-lizards away!”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Jaxom,” Mirrim replied, brushing aside the argument.
“He’s right, Mirrim. Look out in the Cove right now. Not a single fire-lizard that isn’t banded,” Menolly said. “They all disappear the minute they see any other dragon but Ruth.”
“It’s ridiculous. I have three of the best-trained fire-lizards in Pern…”
“I must agree with Jaxom,” the Harper said, smiling with sincere apology to the Benden dragongirl. “And, though I quite agree that yours are undoubtedly the best-trained fire-lizards in Pern, we don’t have time for the Southern ones to get used to Path.”
“Path needn’t be in evidence–”
“Mirrim, the decision has been made,” Robinton said firmly, with no trace of a smile now.
“Well, that’s plain enough. Since I’m not needed here…” She stalked out of the hall.
You know what? I’d love to see the book called Dragongirl…written by someone who doesn’t have a deep and abiding hated for women who stand up for themselves and are assertive. Otherwise, the use of that term instead of “dragonrider” pretty well cements what the narrative, and most likely all the other riders, think of their first female fighting rider. Mirrim deserves more than a brush-off and a convenient excuse that pretty well indicates that she’s not wanted. If Jaxom can read Sharra’s body language, Mirrim probably can, too.
And as extra topping on this shit sundae, Robinton reaches for the most convenient and sexist excuse possible.
Jaxom noticed the Harper’s gaze following her [Mirrim], and he felt acutely embarrassed by her display of temperament. He could see that Menolly was also disturbed.
“Is her Path proddy today?” the Harper asked Menolly quietly.
“I don’t think so, Master Robinton.”
So our options appear to be that Mirrim is either raggedy because her dragon is having a PMS-equivalent, or that Mirrim is just naturally bitchy. Way to go on the false choice there. *thbbbbpth*
After Mirrim is sent off, Brekke and the Brown Rider Rapist arrive, Brekke to chide Robinton for not taking his retirement easy, the Brown Rider Rapist to chide Mirrim (if he can find her) for bothering Robinton. Piemur calls for a swim, and the gang head to the water, Jaxom asking how Robinton knew, and Menolly pointing out that someone could follow the logic chain to Jaxom, and that more people will, now that the crisis of the South is finished and they don’t need to believe in nonexistent goodwill.
There is another joke at Mirrim’s expense about her trying to stay on and see if the fire-lizards will react to Path.
“And what do you bet Mirrim tries to stay there [with Wansor star-watching] the night, too, to see if Path does keep away the Southern fire-lizards?” Piemur asked, a slightly malicious grin on his face.
“Mirrim does have well-trained fire-lizards,” Menolly said.
“And they sound just like her when they scold everyone else’s friends,” Piemur added.
“Now that’s not fair,” Menolly said. “Mirrim’s a good friend of mine…”
“And as her best friend you ought to explain to her that she can’t manage everyone on Pern!”
As Menolly prepared to take umbrage, dragons began popping into the air over the Cove, and with their bugling no one could hear anything else.
Which is convenient, otherwise we might have to hear someone say something nice about Mirrim, instead of her perpetual Butt Monkey status. We also know that Brekke has been managing everyone since her appearance several books ago, but she apparently isn’t the focus of negative attention any more. Perhaps because the Brown Rider Rapist’s “claim” on her gives her protection so long as she doesn’t step too far out of line.
The arrival of dragons and ships is for a big conference at Cove Hold about what to do with the ruins. The time-skipped are uninterested in the artifacts of the past, and the Masterminer’s analysis suggests that the lava and the ash both avoided the main parts of the settlement and only damaged a small bit.
Heading back to the dragons, Jaxom gets to overhear Mirrim talk with N’ton about Ruth, which is also the narrative teeing up for us a reminder that we should not feel empathy for Mirrim.
“Of course, Wansor’s all right,” Mirrim said, sounding peevish. “He’s got his eyes glued to that tube of his. He never knew I came, never ate the food I brought, never knew I left. And further,” she paused, taking a deep breath, “Path did not scare away the Southern fire-lizards.”
“Why would she?”
“I’m not allowed to be on the Plateau when Jaxom and the others try to coax some sense out of the Southerners.”
“Sense? Oh, yes, seeing if Ruth can focus the fire-lizards images. Well, I shouldn’t worry about it, Mirrim. There are so many other things you can do.”
That sounds incredibly patronizing, and it probably is. Considering the context, N’ton and Mirrim are probably both thinking that those “other things” are delivering food, running supplies, and generally the things that women in the Weyr do, not the things that the real dragonriders do. So Mirrim is most likely understandably aggravated, in much the same way Jaxom was, about regularly being sent to the support squadrons. Even so, her rejoinder aims well below the belt.
“At least my dragon is not an unsexed runt, good for nothing but consorting with fire-lizards!”
Jaxom heard the coldness in N’ton’s voice; it matched the sudden freezing in his guts. Mirrim’s petulant comment resounded over and over in his ears.
“You know what I mean, N’ton…”
Just like Mirrim, Jaxom thought, not to heed the warning in N’ton’s voice.
“You ought to,” she went on with the impetus of grievance. “Wasn’t it you who told F’nor and Brekke that you doubted if Ruth would ever mate? Where are you going, N’ton? I thought you were going…”
“You don’t think, Mirrim!”
“What’s the matter, N’ton?” The sudden panic in her voice afforded Jaxom some consolation.
[…N’ton reveals Jaxom within earshot…]
“Jaxom?” Mirrim cried. “Oh no!” Then Jaxom heard her running away, saw the glow basket jolting, heard her weeping. Just like the girl, speak first, think later and weep for days. She’d be repentant and hanging on about him, driving him between with her need to be forgiven her thoughtlessness.
So, I’m very much not sure what to do with this. The brash and unapologetic Mirrim we’ve seen so far wouldn’t crumble at her target overhearing her. At the same time, if the aggressiveness is a front and Mirrim uses it because she sees it as the only way to survive and be on an equal footing with the hypermasculine dragonriders, then the thought of having actually hurt someone might be enough to set her off. That Jaxom groans at this, making it sound like Mirrim does this tears-and-apology routine a lot, suggests that the second interpretation is more likely, which makes Mirrim continually victimized and hurt by the institutional anti-women sentiments embedded deeply in Pern and in the narrative. Once again, the narrative punishes women who get ideas, and it doesn’t permit anyone else to speak positively on their behalf. (Which is interpretation three – Mirrim goes off to cry because men cannot be impugned without swift consequences on Pern.)
After Mirrim leaves, N’ton apologizes and Jaxom dismisses the whole thing – after all, Ruth doesn’t understand and Jaxom’s okay with having an ace dragon. Ruth, on the other hand, is itchy and his concern is what Jaxom can focus on. While retrieving oil for Ruth, Jaxom is annoyed at not ever being treated as a full dragonrider (a Thing that should generate empathy for Mirrim, not scorn), and on his return, he finds that Mirrim has been sent back to Benden and Sharra is itching Ruth.
And to close out this triple-length chapter, it turns out that Jaxom’s penis sense is correct. Sort of. Ruth called Sharra over to get Jaxom to open his mind up again, which Ruth apparently has determined means sex. Sharra is apparently up for opening Jaxom’s mind.
Jaxom asks “Will you do that for us, Sharra?” and her reply is “I would do anything for you, Jaxom, anything for you and Ruth!” Which doesn’t actually sound like she’s interested in Jaxom per se, but she is interested in Ruth, and Jaxom is the vehicle for that. Now, it’s entirely possible that Sharra has become affectionate for Jaxom during his recovery, but she’s been giving him a lot of signals that says she thought it was the fever talking and not him. I haven’t seen any change in her that hasn’t been filtered through Jaxom’s desire for her. To have it come to sex at this point seems to be a sign of narrative necessity and not any organic reason that has to do with Jaxom.
The closing line for the chapter is
They made love in the soft warm darkness, delighting in each other and fully responsive to the moment of ecstasy that came, totally aware that Ruth loved with them.
Which still suggests that Ruth is the interesting thing in their mental threesome and not Jaxom. It would be nice to have more explicit confirmation of this from the text, otherwise it’s basically the narrative rewarding Jaxom for being creepy, possessive, and trying to control Sharra. Which, admittedly, is in character for the narrative, but is still a bad thing.
Now that I look at it, Ruth may, in fact, have a sex drive, but not one that wants to engage in mating flights and the physicality that goes along with it. He’d rather be engaged with the minds in the act than get physical. Being able to peer into Ruth’s head during this would be nice. Instead, all we get is everyone apparently has a good time.