The White Dragon: exd8N++

Last chapter, Jaxom and Ruth snuck off, did some digging, and uncovered the shuttle rockets that brought down the settlers to Pern. The big find – ancient maps. Now, with the growing threat of an ambitious Holder in the South, the coalition of Benden and the Harpers move their pieces into position…

The White Dragon, Chapter XXI: Content Notes: Sex policing,


Last chapter. And it’s shorter than usual, at a mere nine pages on my reader. Let’s dive in.

Chapter XXI opens with a meeting between the Benden Weyrleaders and Masterharper Robinton to discuss the matters at hand.

“Toric is a man we shall have to watch these next Turns. I’d no idea he’d prove so ambitious.”
“Farsighted, too,” Robinton said in a dry tone. “He achieves as much by gratitude as by possession.”
“Gratitude has a tendency to sour,” F’lar said.
“He’s not fool enough to rely on that alone,” Lessa said with a rueful expression then looked about her, puzzled. “Did I see Sharra at all this morning?”
“No, a rider collected her last evening. There’s illness at–oh!” The Harper’s eyes widened to emphasize his surprised dismay. “Now there’s no fool like an old one. It never occurred to me to doubt that message. Yes, he’d use Sharra, and his other sisters. He has several daughters as well to bind men to him. Jaxom will react to this situation, I think.”
“I hope so,” Lessa said with some asperity. “I rather approve of Sharra as a match. If this is not a simple case of his being grateful for her nursing…” She clucked her tongue at the mention of gratitude.
Robinton laughed. “Brekke feels, and so does Menolly, that the attachment is sincere on both sides. I’ve been daily hoping he would ask me to officiate. Especially in view of today’s reflections. By the way, only it isn’t exactly by the way but to our point, Jaxom went back to Ruatha Hold last evening. He approached Lytol on the subject of his confirmation as Lord Holder.”
“Did he?” F’lar was as pleased as his weyrmate. “Prompted by Sharra? Or by Toric’s not-too-subtle jibing yesterday?”

Well, so long as everyone approves, then. We couldn’t leave it up to Jaxom and Sharra, could we?

Secondly, I’m still not sure at all that is a mutual affection. Sure, there was sex involved, but Jaxom had quite a bit of sex with Corana without any affection developing. And the last time we saw inside Sharra’s head without an intermediary, she was still pretty sure it was nursing gratitude. I can easily see what Sharra did with Jaxom as a favor to Ruth and not for any affection to Jaxom. Or to make Toric mad that she’s ruining his plans for her.

And speaking of plans, shouldn’t everyone in this meeting be a lot more concerned for the common knowledge that Sharra is likely being held against her will and possibly pressured into a marriage she doesn’t want? Why is everyone sitting around, quipping that Jaxom will do something about it, so the problem is solved? You’ve got great big flame-throwing beasts and have done intimidation before, why not now? Why are you treating Sharra like a woman destined for the fridge instead of a critical component in your plan to make Jaxom overthrow Toric? Lessa got the Benden Weyrleader to off Fax with less, and for less reason. This lack of urgency suggests that they don’t care, believing Jaxom will act, regardless of what happens to Sharra.

DARK HELMET: How many assholes do we have on this ship, anyway?
[BRIDGE CREW all jump to their feet and raise a hand]
DARK HELMET: I knew it! I’m surrounded by assholes!

An interruption to the meeting sends everyone back to the excavation site, where we discover the mound the Masterminer unearthed is a classroom, with “numerals and letters paraded as design across the far end, and rather fascinating animals, large and small and bearing no resemblance to anything walking Pern’s surface” on the walls. Robinton identifies it as a “harper’s room, for the very young learning first Teaching Songs and Ballads”, which is the closest analogue anyone on the planet has to the idea of school.

Jaxom arrives soon after, and confides in Robinton his plan to storm Southern and take back Sharra from Toric.

There was a dangerous glint in Jaxom’s eyes and a sternness to his features which, for the first time since Robinton has known the lad, gave him the look of his father, Fax, a resemblance which afforded Robinton some small pleasure.

Uh, what? I thought we had already established that Fax was supposed to be the incarnation of the Evil Holder. Shouldn’t it be frightening Robinton to see Fax coming out so clearly in his son, not amusing? Unless Robinton doesn’t really expect Jaxom to get in a knife fight with Toric, or that Jaxom well make all sorts of grand gestures and someone behind the scenes will make the Maddux work. Except Robinton has deduced that Jaxom did the queen egg run earlier in the book, so Robinton should have an idea of what Jaxom is capable of.

In all cases, before Jaxom can go storm the castle, Toric comes to see Robinton and express his distaste for the match between Sharra and Jaxom, calling Ruatha a “table-sized” Hold…to Jaxom, who is unhappy about it. But Lessa overhears and drops saccharine acid over that suggestion, with Robinton obliquely pointing out the danger of the situation at hand. The Benden Weyrwoman asks Toric and Robinton to talk somewhere in private about Jaxom and Sharra with a glorious unstated threat.

“There’s surely no time like the present,” Lessa continued at her sweetest, “to discuss the future. Your future.”

Now that’s the Lessa I remember, and have been waiting to see come back. Unfortunately, Lessa stops speaking as the men start negotiating. At this point, though, I would much prefer Jaxom Errol Flynning to yet more of men talking over women.

Anyway, Toric outlines how far he has sent expeditions, with the help of the dragonriders of the Southern Weyr (an alliance hinted at by the fact that D’ram has been shuttling Toric back and forth to various meetings at the excavation site) and what he would like to have. Lessa is more than willing to give it to him, knowing that the Continent itself is far bigger than that, and soon after, the obvious becomes apparent, that this entire conversation was meant to keep Toric occupied while Jaxom does, in fact, do his best Errol Flynn routine.

Which we then get to see. After realizing that Toric would stomp him in a knife fight (not, we note, that smaller reach and height stopped the Benden Weyrleader from winning his knife fights), Jaxom arranges through Ruth for Sharra to get to the Hatching Ground, where two of Toric’s guards are chasing her, weapons out. Sharra isn’t wearing much for clothing, and has a blanket wrapped around her for warmth. After Jaxom and Sharra are safely in the air, it’s time for a Bond One-Liner…

“I think your brother has miscalculated, Sharra.”
“Take me away from here, Jaxom. Take me to Ruatha! I’ve never been so furious in all my life. I never want to see that brother of mine again. If all the devious, misguided…”
“We have to see your brother again, for I’m not hiding from him. We’ll have it out in the open today!”

…and, for the most part, Sharra is having none of it. She is concerned that Jaxom will get killed in a knife fight, though.

Thankfully, Jaxom is not going to get into that. In that respect, he might be smarter than the Benden dragonriders. After demonstrating that Ruth can command the fire-lizards, if need be, including Toric’s, Jaxom outlines to Toric exactly what sort of rock and hard place he’s been put between.

“How did you know Southern? I was informed you’ve never been there!” He [Toric] made a half-turn as if to accuse Lessa and F’lar of complicity.
“Your informant erred,” Jaxom said, wondering if it had been Dorse. [You know, Jaxom’s milk-brother and bully, who we haven’t seen or heard from since the beginning of the book.] “Today is not the first time I’ve retrieved something from the Southern Weyr which belongs to the North.” He laid his arm possessively about Sharra’s shoulders.
Toric’s composure deserted him. “You!” He extended an arm, pointing at Jaxom; his face was a mixture of anger, indignant outrage, disappointment, frustration, and lastly, a grudging respect. “You took the egg back! You and that…but the fire-lizards’ images were black!”
“I’d be stupid not to darken a white hide if I make a night pass, wouldn’t I?” Jaxom asked with understandable scorn.
“I knew it wasn’t one of T’ron’s riders,” Toric cried, his fists clenching and unclenching. “But for you to… Well now,” and Toric’s whole attitude changed radically. He began to smile again, a trifle sourly as he looked at the Benden Weyrleaders and then the Harper. Then he started to laugh, losing anger and frustration in that laughter. “If you knew, lordling…” again he pointed fiercely at Jaxom, “the plans you ruined, the…How many people knew it was you?”

A few, it turns out. And Jaxom apparently did spill all while he was recovering from the fever earlier on. Perhaps this is supposed to be our justification for Sharra liking Jaxom – he clearly did something heroic and didn’t talk about it except when under the grips of fever.

Having outlined his position, Jaxom asks Toric for Sharra’s hand in marriage and gets it… which I don’t really get. Considering, as Toric points out, he doesn’t have a choice in the matter, the asking part really is moot. Maybe so that later on, the witnesses will be able to tell the truth that the permission was asked and approved? Either way, it seems really out of place for this exchange to be happening. Toric, having been humiliated, heads back to the thing he thinks he can control – the size of his Hold. And the chapter ends.

There’s also an afterword, which is basically on the day of Jaxom’s Confirmation. Of note is that Toric apparently sent food up for the event (how grudgingly, we wonder, only to be told later that Jaxom has been siding with Toric and the younger Lords, because the old Lords like Groghe don’t understand the new needs and requirements of the times), and N’ton informs everyone that one of the oddly-colored maps in the ship was a tectonic and resource map, showing both the fault lines, the potential affected area of those faults and volcanoes, and the presence of seams and deposits of “metals, black water and black stone”, which we presume are oil and coal (coal has already been used as a word earlier, in relation to Crom Hold, so no reason to tiptoe around it). Nicat and Piemur are doing most of the work there, but everyone present has a thought about their retirement days at the end of the Present Pass: rediscovering more of the South, figuring out how to get dragons to places they haven’t seen yet, like the ships in orbit, and how to defeat the menace of Thread permanently. Now that the dragonriders know they have a place to retire to, that is.

And to make sure we know that the circle is being closed, there’s a call back to the beginning:

“It’s your day, too, Lessa,” he said, taking her hand to his lips. “A day your determination and spirit made possible!” He turned her into his arms and made her look up at him. “Ruathan Blood holds Ruathan lands today!”
“Which proves,” she said, pretending to be haughty though her body was pliant against his, “that if you try hard enough, and work long enough, you can achieve anything you desire!”
“I hope you’re right,” F’lar said, unerringly turning his gaze toward the Red Star. “One day dragonriders will conquer that Star!”

What Lessa just said is a lie, on par with the delicious cake offered at Aperture Science. While it might be true after the Cosmic Retcon between Dragonflight and Dragonquest, Lessa had much greater ambitions in the first book to rule the place herself after having Fax disposed of. The Benden Weyrleader thwarted those ambitions by kidnapping her and putting her in as a candidate for Ramoth, which essentially killed her ambition to rule Ruatha and allowed Jaxom to take hold. Only afterward, and after significant struggle and abuse, does Lessa settle for the goal of having Jaxom in charge, since she can’t make any headway on doing it herself.

So, that’s the end of the book, with everyone heading off to Jaxom’s confirmation, having gotten the girl he wanted and given a black eye to the one who wanted to keep her away. There’s a listing of data clearly added after initial publication in my electronic version, so we’ll be skipping that, as usual.

The final point I have to make in this regard is this: History Repeats. If this end sounds familiar to you, it’s because this is the third time, I believe, that Benden has left sometime at Southern with animosity toward them and seems to be assuming they won’t plot or plan anything in revenge. First, there was the initial exile of the time-skipped after a knife fight, which resulted in the pact with Meron to supply goods to the South, and which ended with the death of Meron, but no resolution to the problem, as the thought of “Well, they’ll all graciously accept exile to death” is rather…dumb. And it flared up again with the stolen egg, which resulted in another knife fight…and the problem was still not resolved, as while the time-skipped might die out, there’s a culture of resentment well-bred in the South, perfect for another ambitious Lord Holder to try and set themselves up as the master of the continent, in alliance with the exiled dragonriders. While the dragonriders put the Holder in check and get one of their own the woman he wants, they still leave him in charge at Southern, ready for the next problem or ambition to put him in opposition to the Benden Weyrleaders. I don’t really fathom how they haven’t realized that this is a pattern for themselves. Or at least they don’t seem to think that Toric is going to have any more ambition, now that he’s been chastised. It makes no sense. History Repeats.

We’ve finished the initial run of the Dragonriders of Pern at this point, as well as the Harper Hall trilogy. We can stop now, if you’d like, or are bored with the whole thing, or we can continue on to the next sequence of Pern, starting with Moreta. (Originally, the Renegades series, because The Other Wiki believes that Moreta is part of that series.) Let me know in the comments, please.


20 thoughts on “The White Dragon: exd8N++

  1. genesistrine November 12, 2015 at 3:34 am

    It’s weird; I’m utterly convinced that the first time I read TWD it ended with them finding AIVAS – and TWD is the last one I read in that era, so how the hell did I know it was found? Were there multiple versions? Memory’s a funny thing….

    Re keeping going, I’m game if you are! If you don’t mind me asking, why straight into Renegades rather than order-of-writing?

    And as for the rest:

    shouldn’t everyone in this meeting be a lot more concerned for the common knowledge that Sharra is likely being held against her will and possibly pressured into a marriage she doesn’t want?

    Nope. Looks like as far everyone there is concerned Toric has a perfect right to coerce his sister into marriage; the only person who’s allowed to object is the MAAAN who wants to marry her himself. (Whether or not she wants to marry him is probably unimportant too.) Yay for patriarchalism. Note also the belongs to the North bit. Sharra’s expression at that point might be interesting to see.

    Shouldn’t it be frightening Robinton to see Fax coming out so clearly in his son

    Maybe Robinton wants a convention-breaker, for Reasons….

    A convention-breaker he can control, of course.

  2. WanderingUndine November 12, 2015 at 9:11 am

    I’ve especially looked forward to deconstructions of Dragonsdawn and the other chronologically-early Pern books, but I guess it makes sense to first finish the books with this set of characters.

  3. Laurie Hicks November 12, 2015 at 10:06 am

    1. Yes, keep going. I’m enjoying reading these deconstructions. I don’t quite agree with some of your comments, but then again, these deconstructions wouldn’t be necessary if everyone agreed with everything.

    2. re: Robinton seeing Fax in Jaxom: I think it’s more that he’s glad Jaxom is finally standing up for himself. At the beginning of the book, it had been stated that Jaxom was too obedient to his elders. He was made to look like someone who didn’t take risks. Now, even though it would be scary to have him exactly like Fax, the fact that he’s finally got a backbone is a Good Thing for a Lord Holder.

  4. Firedrake November 12, 2015 at 10:57 am

    genesistine: that was my recollection too, but I think it’s in ATWoP.

    I’d be in favour of returning to publication order, which would give us Moreta (about which I am likely to be impolite), Nerilka’s Story, Dragonsdawn, and then Renegades and ATWoP. Which was the point at which I stopped reading, probably about ten years too late.

    But when I started reading these, these six were what there was. I didn’t spot the problems at the time, but I thought of them as being conceived as fantasy and then pushed roughly into an SFnal configuration – not really surprising, as a lot of writers in the 1950s and 1960s wrote their SF basically as fantasy (“the world is the way it is, now live with it” as distinct from “let’s find out about stuff”). Thus all the weird orbits.

  5. genesistrine November 12, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    I’m absolutely flat certain that I’ve never read ATWoP, though. I might still have my old pb of TWD around somewhere, what with being a godawful book-hoarder. I’ll see if I can dig it out and double-check.

    And yeah, these books are pretty much the definition of science fantasy, as in “fantasy using sf terminology instead of magic/myth/folklore terminology” – planetary romance, space opera, Star Wars….

  6. Lodrelhai (@Lodrelhai) November 12, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    Finding AIVAS was definitely not in All the Weyrs of Pern, because that book was all about working with AIVAS to remove the threat of the Red Star, and AIVAS was found at the end of a book – Dragonsdawn is apparently the early Pernese history the AI starts reciting as the last chapter closes.

    Wikipedia says AIVAS was found in Renegades, which is weird to me because I’m certain I did not read Renegades, but I remember that scene clearly. Possibly I just read the end of my friend’s copy? (I’m very bad about spoiler exposure, but in my defense it is because friends and family have repeatedly advised me to watch movies or read books that have extremely upsetting content or conclusions, which they thought would not be a big deal or were even part of what they loved about the story. There are very few people I will accept recommendations from anymore without full disclosure.)

    What’s really interesting to me is that Dragonsdawn came before both Renegades and All the Weyrs. I would’ve expected it to fall between the two for narration, since Renegades ends with the start of its story, and ATW starts with the end of it.

  7. boutet November 12, 2015 at 10:45 pm

    Are we given a reason for why Sharra isn’t wearing much aside from a blanket? Because it reads like: brother kidnaps Sharra, strips her nearly naked, leaves her guarded by armed men so she can’t escape. Or possibly: Brother kidnaps Sharra, steals most of her clothing while she bathes, leaves her guarded by armed men so she can’t escape.

    Or possibly, given the strength of her anger: Brother kidnaps Sharra, somehow takes away her clothing, leaves her in quarters to await her approved husband, guarded by armed men so she can’t escape.

    What on Pern happened to Sharra in the time between being taken back to the hold and being rescue/kidnapped by Jaxom?

  8. Firedrake November 13, 2015 at 4:01 am

    Lodrelhai – searching the etext also puts the big introduction to AIVAS in Renegades, which I don’t remember reading at all but I suppose I might have.

    And I think that the next three books – Moreta, Nerilka’s Story (both sixth pass) and Dragonsdawn (first pass) – were all written with the sense that the original double-trilogy was complete, and the ninth-pass world and stories had been done and didn’t need to be explored any further. (I don’t have a citation for this, just memories of the time; whether that was my own impression or a comment by McCaffrey at a convention panel, I couldn’t say.)

  9. Silver Adept November 13, 2015 at 8:00 pm

    My memory believes the discovery of AIVAS, who is otherwise a massive spoiler to mention, happened at the end of this volume, too, when I read it originally. Perhaps the extension of the books has resulted in a subtle retcon, or a part that was the end of TWD got shifted to a different book.

    I’m going to Moreta next, and only mentioned Renegades because The Other Wiki believed that Moreta was part of the series. I’ve corrected the post to reflect that.

    As for the content, I would expect a lot more from any of the women present other than “Yep, Jaxom is good for Sharra, hope he gets her”, but this whole book has had a lot of messaging about how active women shouldn’t be allowed, thanks to the handling of Mirrim and the literal stripping of agency from Sharra by Toric.

    Which also doesn’t make much sense – the idea of restricting her movement by stealing her clothing, maybe, but there’s also the possibility that those armed guards saw an opportunity they wanted to take, and we’re interrupted by the alarm raised by Ruth’s appearance. Maybe those “ambitious men” Toric has been coring have other ambitions.

    I agree that this is basically a science fantasy work, with a lot of the science getting shoehorned in later. At this point, it wants to be complete, but it’s going to turn out that these books are a sort of Machete Order for the history of Pern.

  10. Only Some Stardust November 14, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    exd8++ does that mean anything?

  11. genesistrine November 15, 2015 at 6:55 am

    @Silver Adept:
    My memory believes the discovery of AIVAS, who is otherwise a massive spoiler to mention, happened at the end of this volume, too, when I read it originally.

    Nope – we all have a case of collective false memory, and I apologise for the unwitting spoiler (though hopefully without knowing what AIVAS is it’s not too much of one.) I’ve dug out my original Corgi 1980 edition* and checked the ending; no AIVAS. So god alone knows how I knew about its discovery, since I stopped reading at Dragonsdawn. Maybe I leafed through a copy of Renegades at some point….

    [*And incidentally discovered a place where Spike-the-Cat-Before liked to pee, may Bast bless and protect his incontinent, paranoid soul….]

  12. Silver Adept November 15, 2015 at 8:59 am

    @ Only Some Stardust – it’s chess notation, which indicates a move that would involve a (white) pawn capturing a (black) queen in their home row, which permits the pawn to be promoted to another piece, because it traversed the board without being captured. (exd8) The pawn became a knight (N), and the move also resulted in checkmate. (++)

    So, Jaxom went to Southern, stole Sharra from Toric, left on his mount, and put Toric in a position where he could not escape his defeat. exd8N++.

    @ genesistrine – No harm, really. Interesting that we all have this collective false memory – I know I went on far enough to discover and see the implementation of the chosen solution, but somehow the presence of the walking spoiler has worked its way backwards in our timeliness. It certainly would have made a better cliffhanger ending for TWD, but that’s with the knowledge of perspective and that there are more books to come. Knowing the fact that there’s more coming has altered where we are putting the beats of the story. I’ll bet there’s interesting research out there on meaning-making that shows how we revise the telling of stories once we know the complete narrative.

  13. Madame Canard November 15, 2015 at 11:22 am

    I would love to see Moreta and Dragonsdawn deconstructed here 🙂

  14. genesistrine November 15, 2015 at 1:57 pm

    Eh, well, Pern is prone to shifting timelines anyway, as we already know (e.g. the difference between the explanatory intro in the first few books and events in Dragonsdawn), maybe that carries over to our reality and we’re all remembering the version from a slightly different timeline!

    (Not to mention its shifting directions – the map in the first few books doesn’t have North at the top, but the one in TWD and later does, in spite of the continent having the same shape and orientation. Something shifted the poles!)

  15. genesistrine November 16, 2015 at 3:49 am

    @Madame Canard
    But first we must suffer the horrors of… The Smallest Dragonboy, heh heh heh heh!

  16. Madame Canard November 20, 2015 at 8:09 pm

    @genesistrine… Nooooooooooo. Do we have to?! Bah, too late!

  17. genesistrine November 21, 2015 at 7:18 am

    :evil grin:

    The glurge is terrifying, but it’s fascinating to see the amount of pure Pern concentrated into a few pages; the “bronze dragons choose the bestestest!” (must have been VERY few to choose from in pre-fall Benden, going by the bronze riders in DF…), the ignored/condoned bullying (how many Pernese children make it to adulthood without being severely injured?), the internalized macho, the things we see in the text that contradict what we’re told by the author… (there’s a nice example at the beginning of TSD; “Dragonriders … were expected to be punctual and prepared. Sloth was not tolerated by the Weyrleader of Benden Weyr. A good record was especially important now” – so… lazy and unpunctual candidates get the boot? Even if they might be the only ones for particular hatchlings? Why is only age/height a factor in the dinner discussions then?)

    And it’s nice to get a ground-level view of a Weyr’s workings, even if it’s a short one.

  18. Brenda Appleby November 30, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    One reason people might be having confusion is because Renegades of Pern overlaps the timeline of all the other 9th pass books at one point or another. In particular, it shows most of the action from the last part of The White Dragon – from Jaxom’s recovery onward – from a different POV, often Piemur’s. So it shows the discovery of the settlement, the confrontation with Toric… and then the excavations continue, interspersed with other, unrelated action, ending with the discovery of AIVAS.

    I think I must have read Renegades before The White Dragon, because the first time I found out about Robinton’s heart attack was from Piemur’s POV being told by Sharra and Jaxom…

    I would recommend publishing order if this is going to continue.

  19. Brenda Appleby November 30, 2015 at 8:08 pm

    Also, I know there is a lot of problematic stuff in the series, but since when was Lessa kidnapped away from Ruatha? She went of her own free choice, after learning that A. claiming her inheritance would be a lot harder with the baby not being dead, and B. there was another choice that she could make. He didn’t explain much, but he let her make the choice, and he gave her some time to think it over, and to mourn the watch-wher. I suppose you could call it coersion, but I don’t think you can justify calling it kidnapping.

  20. Silver Adept December 2, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    Coercion, certainly, but also kidnapping because I don’t see Lessa having any sort of free choice in the matter – she wanted to rule Ruatha, but the Benden Weyrleader tells her that if she tries, the group with the mounted war weapons will oppose her. He also tells her that she’s going to come with him, with the clear implication that the war weapon will be used to take her if she doesn’t come willingly. Everything involved in that sequence is done under threat and coercion, without the possibility of free choice. So even if the Benden Weyrleader doesn’t have to physically take her or bind her, it’s pretty clear that Lessa will be forcibly removed from the place she wants to be. That qualifies it as a kidnapping for me.

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