Last chapter, Robinton got settled into a retirement house, not that he took it easy, Jaxom was able to finally figure out what the ominous fire-lizard dreams meant, resulting in the discovery of the settlement of the Ancients, and Jaxom also got his creepy wish fulfilled by having sex with Sharra, mediated by Ruth.
The White Dragon: Chapter XX: Content Notes: Misogyny, Toxic Masculinity
(Also, this chapter is nearly as long as the last. Seems like the author is trying to cram a lot in near the end, instead of spacing things out and spending less time on recovery.)
Chapter XX opens with the attempt by Ruth to focus the wild fire-lizards into providing useful information about the buried settlement. News of the find has spread very rapidly, and a large amount of people are planning on helping with the excavation, so the wild fire-lizards are about to make themselves very scarce. There’s no new information extracted, but with time to analyze and realize what perspective they are watching from, Menolly and Brekke are able to deduce which peak exploded (the smallest one, not the big one) and which part of the settlement the people were running from when it happened.
Girl Power, yo. Also, still wondering how the Ancients were caught unaware of the seismic activity, but if it wasn’t the expected volcano, that at least provides some plausibility (it wasn’t the one we expected! No sensors there.)
The next scene is the beginning of the excavation, where several dragonriders, Craftmasters, and Toric, the Southern Lord Holder all choose their preferred spots for digging and get to work. They work for a significant amount of time before Sharra sets her fire-lizards on the task, which prompts Jaxom to ask Ruth, and the other riders to get their dragons in on earth-moving. Considering how the dragons helped with the construction of Cove Hold, I’m surprised that nobody came up with that idea sooner.
Since Toric was spotted, Sharra and Lessa have been mentioning that Toric is a highly ambitious man, possibly in the same mold as Fax, and Sharra says Toric isn’t very trustworthy. He is, apparently, possibly paranoid, as Sharra is not very enthusiastic about Jaxom pulling her close and mentions that his fire-lizards may be spying, even if Toric himself isn’t looking. There’s some quick talk of how Toric has other intentions for Sharra, and Jaxom promises he’ll win over Toric and everyone else the proper way before the dragon digging produces fruit.
I have one question for you, Jaxom. What about Corona? You rather explicitly mentioned in your internal monologue that you considered her a dalliance and someone to get your rocks off on, and you discarded her as soon as you got infatuated with Sharra, excepting for that point where you were complaining about blue balls. I’m not inclined to believe you’re sincere about this pursuit, since you already have a history. And I also wonder what you’re going to do to help Corana, since you probably ruined any marriage prospects she had by doing what you did with her. (Which is an entirely different complaint.)
The discovery is quickly excavated, with panels on the top, but no obvious entrance until the building is more fully dug out. Once the entrance is discovered, Lessa is ready to charge in (after the necessary parts of clearing the dirt off the sliding door tracks and oiling them sufficiently), but Fandarel stops her with a well-timed warning about fetid air.
After airing out the place, Toric discovers what he believes to be sleeping areas, and a spoon. made of a compound entirely foreign to them, not wood, and not like any known metal. The day passes in excavation, but it gets dark before a building that doesn’t look like the sleeping quarters is fully uncovered…and the door is stuck.
Toric seems to be sniping at everyone, and especially Jaxom, according to his ears, and the evening’s plans and conversations mention him frequently – his belief that the Ancients took everything useful with them, that Masterminer Nixa can’t get an agreement with Toric to mine ancient mines discovered on Southern, since Toric considers then his by right of an exploring party finding them. The Benden Weyrleaders cock an eyebrow and say they’ll give Toric a talk on the next day (one that will likely include several unsubtle reminders about who is really in charge and what Toric should be doing to remain in good graces).
Having been needled enough about it, and reminded of Ruatha, and what Lessa went through to make sure that he was the one who would be in charge at Ruatha, instead of F’lessan, Jaxom decides he’s going to go home and start acting like a Lord Holder.
…I mean, is going to start taking on the responsibilities of a Lord Holder. Based on the books so far, Jaxom has been acting like one for a good long while before this point. Before heading off, he goes for one last kiss.
“And with Ruth, I can handle both responsibilities. Manage my Hold and please myself. You’ll see!” He drew her closer to kiss her, but suddenly she broke away from him, pointing over his shoulder, her face mirroring hurt and anger. “What’s the matter? What have I done, Sharra?”
She pointed to the tree where two fire-lizards were intently watching.
“Those are Toric’s. He’s watching me. Us!”
“Great! Let him have no mistake about my intentions toward you!” He kissed her until he felt her taut body responding to his, till the angry set of her lips dissolved into willingness. “I’d give him more to see but I want to get back to Ruatha Hold this evening.” He rapidly drew on his riding gear and called to Ruth. “I’ll be back in the morning, Sharra? Tell the others, will you?”
Hrm. Jaxom has been baited by Toric pretty well, and is playing his role as a hothead, but it seems like Jaxom is doing this to get the approval of Toric, to be seen as a peer, so that he can stake a claim to Sharra, instead of any other reason. So Jaxom is still thinking with his penis. Just this time, he’s getting into a dick-swinging contest over Sharra, with neither him nor Toric believing that Sharra actually has a say in things.
So Jaxom heads off to Ruatha, and asks Lytol if there’s anything getting in the way of his confirmation as Lord Holder. Lytol says no, and gives him a gentle ribbing about whether or not Sharra has something to do with his change of mind. Jaxom acknowledges that it is “a large part of my haste” and finds out that Toric intends to be a major player in the South, and that all the landless sons who went south with the promise of land will likely back Toric in any sort of conflict that might develop. He also suggests that Lytol could be put to use in the puzzle of the Ancient settlement once Jaxom takes over at Ruatha.
Back at the Cove, Jaxom sleeps to the dawn, wakes up, sneaks around to gather supplies and get Ruth off to the settlement. He wants Ruth to call for fire-lizards away from the eruption site to see if he can coax any better memories from them, but while he’s picking out a spot, a part of the landscape attracts his eye, and he follows it to a distinct part of the land, a little away from the settlement.
No sooner had he asked Ruth to land than fire-lizards erupted about them, chittering with wild excitement and unbelievable pleasure.
They are happy. They are glad you are come back. It has been so long.
“When I was first here?” Jaxom asked Ruth, having learned not to confuse the fire-lizards with generations. “Can they remember?”
When you came out of the sky in long gray things? Ruth sounded bewildered even as he relayed the answer. Jaxom leaned against Ruth, scarcely crediting the reply. “Show me!”
Brilliant and conflicting images stunned him as he saw vistas, unfocused at first, then resolving into a clear picture as Ruth sorted out the myriad impressions into one single coherent view.
The cylinders were grayish, with stubby wings that were poor imitations of the graceful pinions of the dragons. The cylinders bore rings of smaller tubes at one end while the other was blunt-nosed. Suddenly an opening appeared about a third of the way from the tubed end of the first ship. Men and women walked down a ramp. A progression of images flashed across Jaxom’s mind then, of people running about, embracing each other, jumping up and down.
The image doesn’t hold together after this point because the fire-lizards start showing their own individual viewpoints again, but Jaxom has noticed and discovered the original landing site for the colony.
And apparently in the future of the late 70s and early 80s, we’re still using cigar-shaped rockets as our primary mode of people and material transport. Which are not VTOL devices, nor things that can even be easily stood up again. Apparently, coming down was a one-way trip, hope you got everything you needed.
Anyway, with the help of the fire-lizards’ memory, Jaxom finds the right spot for the hatch, and then briefly considers calling for backup. Ruth talks him out of it by saying everyone else is asleep and he’s totally up for another day of digging. They unearth together, and when they hit the important parts, Jaxom decides it really is time for reinforcements.
And it’s taken me this long to realize it, but the last time we saw Jaxom, he was having boys’ adventure stories with Felessan, so the fact that this half of the book is returning to that formula shouldn’t be a surprise. The first half has been the growing-up story, with the quick adventure interlude regarding Ramoth’s egg. Now that we’re supposed to see Jaxom as all grown up, we’re returning to the template, just now as “a man and his dragon”. So naturally it’s Jaxom and Ruth sneaking off to make great discoveries. A running theme in the adventure stories is that the adults don’t listen or try to keep the kids away, and that the smallest are almost always the ones to make the biggest discoveries. Which makes Jaxom and Ruth the necessary candidates.
The excitement of the new find has everyone astir again, including the Brown Rider Rapist, dispatched from Benden to figure out what has all the fire-lizards agitated and annoying Lessa this time. Robinton invites himself along this time, making a dramatic show that the suspense of not knowing is stressing his heart unnecessarily. He promises not to exert himself by digging, to which Menolly threatens to sit on him if he does, as everyone apparently fears getting chewed out by Brekke if word gets out.
So tell me again why Mirrim is disliked for her abraisiveness and Brekke isn’t?
Further excavation at the site reveals the door to the shuttlecraft, at which point the Benden Weyrleaders and the Mastersmith are brought in to also see what’s inside. Pern’s chief scientist goes to work immediately and discovers the way in.
“Aha! The Smith cried in sudden triumph, startling everyone. He’d been examining the rim of the doorway minutely. “Perhaps this is meant to move!” He dropped to his knees to the exposed right corner. “Yes, I’d one excavated the entire vessel, this would probably be man-height! I think I ought to press.” He put action to words and a small panel slid open to one side of the main door. It displayed a depression occupied by several colored circles.
Everyone crowded around him as his big fingers wiggled preparatorily and then hovered first over the upper rank of green circles. The bottom ones were red.
“Red has always meant danger, a convention we undoubtedly learned from the ancients,” he said. “Green we will therefore try first!” His thick forefinger hesitated a moment longer and then stabbed the green button.
And thus, having armed the self-destruct mechanism by not inputting the lock code, the shuttle exploded and everyone died. The end.
…well, it could have happened. Admittedly, though, with enough of a time gap, there’s no way of knowing, without records, what would happen, so go scientific curiosity. Also, I wish there were more touches of culture in these books like Fandarel mentioning that red is always a warning color. It’s been passed down forever, and the Red Star reinforces that, and it just is.
Also, I want to see the story of what happened to the Pern where the Smiths are the ruling power. If Fandarel is a typical example, I suspect the planet would be much closer to the tech level of the Ancients by now, and run on efficiency as its motto. How nice it would be to have automated Thread defense systems and the dragons. And vastly fewer hangups about gender roles and feudal government that shouldn’t exist anyway.
At first nothing happened. Jaxom felt a clenching, like a cold hand on his guts, the prelude to inner disappointment.
“No, look, it’s opening!” Piemur’s keen eyes caught the first barely perceptible widening of the crack.
“It’s old,” the Smith said reverently. “A very old mechanism,” he added as they all heard the faint protest of movement.
Slowly the door moved inward and then, astonishingly, it moved sideways, into the hull of the ship.
Aaaaand, there went my suspension of disbelief. Throughout this chapter, although I haven’t quoted any of it, there have been hints that the objects and things covered by the ash have had odd-looking things on their tips designed to hint that the buildings and everything else use solar panels to collect power. Unless there have been significant advances in technology since our time in the efficiency of solar cells, a few hours charge in the sun isn’t likely to provide enough power to light up the access panels or to activate the door. I would guess the eons of being covered by the ash would provide no chance to recharge, so the battery should long have exhausted its charge. Unless there’s an alternate power source like a mini nuclear reactor that we haven’t discovered yet.
In any case, light is fetched and everyone goes inside to examine the craft, which turns out to contain what appears to be several maps of Pern, in various styles and illuminations – all drawn on the walls of the ship, and while the party can decipher some of the color and marking, as well as the star chart that shows the planets in the system they know about and a few more, there’s still plenty they don’t get, and they realize they have to adjust for the knowledge that the land itself has changed significantly since those ship maps were drawn.
It’s a treasure trove of new knowledge, and it also shows how big the Southern Continent really is – more than enough land that even if Toric got really ambitious, he couldn’t hold the whole thing, Jaxom realizes as he’s copying the new maps for the rest of the party to study. And that’s where we leave him and this chapter. The plot has accelerated to rocket speed after hardly moving at all.