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]
BRIDGE CREW: YO!
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.