Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Reboot, Again?

Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern, Chapter I: Content Notes: None

{3.10.43-1541 – is that 1541 years from the event that started the Pern calendar? Or a time stamp in 24-hour time? Does Pern even have a 24 hour cycle? And does anyone actually in this narrative know about this calendar notation, or is it strictly for the outside reader to know where we are in time?)

Moreta begins with a conversation with her headwoman, Nesso, about where her Weyrleader, Sh’gall should be in relation to where she is headed – a Gather at Ruatha, as well as an instruction to leave alone the sick dragonrider, K’lon. We are treated to a couple of data bits about Nesso that sets up the relationship as an antagonistic one:

Their [Nesso and Sh’gall’s] antagonism was mutual, and Moreta often found herself in the position of placating or explaining the one to the other. She could not change Sh’gall and was loathe to displace Nesso for, despite her faults, the woman was an exceedingly efficient and hard-working Headwoman.
Nesso had an officious habit of “taking” Moreta’s place whenever the Weyrwoman was absent unless specifically ordered not to.

This is not true, strictly speaking, as I’m sure that things could be arranged such that Sh’gall is nowhere to be found at the next mating flight, and it is clearly possible to remove a member of the staff if you want, but with the way this narrative likes to punish women that take action on their own, especially those that try to arrange things for their own benefit, it’s probably safer for her to wait and deal with the aggravation.

Regarding that second bit, why shouldn’t the Headwoman take change when the Weyrleaders are out? About the only thing they wouldn’t be in charge of would be drills or fighting engagements, and there’s an already-established military rank system to handle scrambles, launches, and logistics for that. In the running of the Weyr, the Headwoman should be Goddess. (And only the Weyrleaders able to overrule them as the Greater Gods.) Nesso should be invested with Moreta’s authority, and if she can’t run the place, do what Moreta wants, or abuses the power, then she gets replaced with someone that can.

As it turns out, Moreta has recently become Weyrwoman when the previous queen (Leri’s Holth) did not have a mating flight the last winter, so that may explain some of the animosity and friction – she hasn’t necessarily had enough time to change the senior staff. We’re seven Turns out from the end of a Pass, which gives Moreta a chance to indulge in vanity on what she’s going to do when she doesn’t have to fight off Thread. Which, in turn, gives the narrative an excuse to describe her body and self-image.

She slipped into the dress now, smoothing it over her rather too broad shoulders, over breasts firm rather than large, a waist that was trim, and buttocks flat from long hours of riding astride. The gown hid muscled thighs that she sometimes resented, but they, too, were the legacy of twenty Turns riding a dragon and little enough inconvenience for being a queen’s rider.

So, in that description, we highlight all of the sexual parts (breasts, butt, waist, thighs) and the shoulders. No mention of hands, legs, feet, or face, which all would help with this description and make it seem less like panning the camera slowly over all the Male Gaze bits. What I can’t figure out is whether I’m supposed to see Moreta has having a close-to-hourglass build, or whether I should be imagining her with “swimmer’s build”, where she has broad shoulders that then taper down in a roughly triangle shape to the hips and thighs, and then further streamlining to the feet, where she would be able to swim an event efficiently by cutting thrive the water with maximum efficiency. It would explain basically everything mentioned – big shoulders, flat chest and butt, strong legs and thighs, slim waist. It would make sense as a dragonrider and fighter, and it avoids the problem we had with Lessa’s conventionally-attractive figure despite having lived as a nutritionally-starved drudge for many years. So, in the absence of other evidence, that’s my imagining for Moreta – like an Olympic swimmer.

Moreta’s thoughts turn to Ruatha and it’s TRADITION-based Lord Leef, just about to hand over to a new Lord Alessan, who is not any of the sons of Lord Leef – they all get their own Holds. Sh’gall went to the Gather at Ista to take a look at a curious creature that washed ashore, leaving Moreta free to indulge in her passion of watching races at Ruatha, a passion Sh’gall disapproves of and has restricted heavily. Well, I guess this makes sense, if we treat these Fort Weyrleaders as expies of the Benden Weyrleaders, right down to the controlling streak and attempts to tamp down on the Weyrwoman doing things independently.

Moreta shakes off the issues, and hops on Orlith, her queen, who will soon be laying eggs, to go to Ruatha. The first trip into hyperspace is accompanied by the dragonrider chant of determining distance of hop by how long into the recitation they get:

Black, blacker, blackest; colder beyond frozen things,
Where is between when there is naught
To Life but fragile dragon wings.

Which seems a bit nonsensical, now that I think about it more. I get the first line, describing the hyperspace plane, but the other two don’t make sense, even in some metaphorical way.

Orlith lands herself and Moreta in the dancing square, instead of the normal landing zone, attracting a crowd, and the new Lord Holder, who goes through the formalities and is a bit off-put by Moreta’s responses and Orlith’s decision to buzz the gathering as a demonstration of her abilities. There is gossip about who is attending, about whether the races (which are of runnerbeasts) have begun, and then there’s this, about Lord Tolocamp:

Lord Tolocamp was an energetic, forceful man who spoke his mind and gave his opinion on every topic as if he were the universal expert. As he did not have the least sense of humor, exchanges with him were apt to be awkward and boring. Moreta preferred to avoid his company whenever possible. But, as she was now senior Weyrwoman, she had fewer excuses to do so.
“How many of his ladies came with him?”
“Five.” Alessan’s voice was carefully neutral.

Well, we knew that Groghe had lots of sons, and if I recall all the way back to Dragonflight, Fax was known to use up women with as much pregnancy as possible, but it seems like Hold culture very strongly encourages multiple marriages for each Holder so as to create as many potential heirs as possible. That would make the Weyrs polyamorous, the Holds in favor of multiple marriages, and the “inhibited” Crafts…?

Lord Alessan, however, has had his wife die recently and would prefer not to get involved in another marriage any time soon. Moreta thinks very dimly of the women being presented to him, as well. But the two share a similar reluctant acceptance of their lack of ability to choose, as well as their new promotions to positions of power, him as a new Lord Holder, her as a queen rider and Weyrwoman. So Alessan uses Moreta as a shield against Tolocamp and his daughters, and they both basically run away as quickly as dignity allowed to watch the runner races. Finding a spot to watch from, as well as a skin of wine, Alessan hops up to watch. Moreta is ready to follow:

For just a moment, Moreta hesitated. L’mal [the previous Weyrleader] had often chided her about the dignity expected of Weyrwomen, especially outside the precincts of the Weyr, where holder, crafter, and harper could observe and criticise.[…] It was a lovely warm Gather, just the respite she’d needed from her onerous responsibilities all Turn. There was racing and Benden wine, there’d be dancing later. Moreta, Weyrwoman of Fort Weyr, was going to enjoy herself.
You should, you know, Orlith commented sleepily.
“Hurry,” Alessan said. “They’re milling at the start.”
Moreta turned to the nearest dragonrider at the wall.
“Give me a leg up, R’limeak, would you?”
“Oh, don’t be scandalized. I want to see the race start.” She arranged her skirts and bent her left knee. “A good lift, R’limeak, I’d rather not scrape my nose on the stones.”
R’limeak’s lift was not wholehearted. If Alessan’s strong hands had not steadied her, she would have slipped.
“How shocked he looks!” Alessan laughed, his green eyes merry.
“It’ll do him good. Blue riders can be so prim!”

Well, then. I’m wondering at this point as to whether or not Moreta is another shot at telling a Kylara story, but this time without the giant amounts of slut-shaming. It looks like it will be with the intense pressure to conform to a particular idea of what a Weyrwoman should be, though. So I’m not actually optimistic as to whether Moreta will get through this book without suffering some sort of major injury. For now, though, it seems that she is able to act independently, if only in certain circumstances. I await the dropping of the other shoe with resignation.

Also, this is a pretty good reason why it’s highly impractical for someone who is riding a dragon to be wearing a dress or skirts, unless we are supposed to believe that women dragon riders sit sidesaddle, or that these skirts are riding skirts, with slits in them to allow for a more stable riding posture. Considering the Queens Wing fights with flamethrowers, which can’t be light things, skirts don’t make sense as part of a dragonrider’s costume.

Then there is something very nice: an actual temporal reference! The first that I’ve seen that indicates somebody knows how long it has been since major events happened:

“The harpers tell us that Fort Hold was thrown together as a temporary accommodation after the Crossing.”
“A mere fourteen hundred Turns temporary. Whereas we of Ruatha have always been planners. We even have special accommodations for visiting race enthusiasts.”

Which means that something happened in between the Sixth and Ninth passes that resulted in the severe destruction of records and a major disconnection from the history of the people there. One would think that Lessa’s time jaunt to retrieve the majority of the Weyrs for the Long Interval wouldn’t have disrupted the process, especially if it’s the harpers who generally have the task of keeping and passing on that knowledge through generations. I wonder what happened to disrupt the transmission of knowledge that much.

The first race is a sprint, and Alessan’s runner is the winner – the first in eight Turns…of attempting to breed a long-distance, less hungry runner. So this winner had basically all of the non-preferred traits. Moreta suggests that he let the runner race at other Gathers to collect some purses for himself, before Moreta and Alessan both notice they’re being watched heavily and policed subtly, as well as the indefatigable Tolocamp and his daughters appear. So Moreta and Alessan go on the run again, Moreta fighting her skirts at an “undignified lope” and Alessan following behind. Finding a new spot, Moreta reflects that she likes Alessan as unpredictable compared to the other Lords, and Alessan reflects on the bond between Moreta and her dragon.

And thus, our chapter concludes, with people with responsibilities doing their best to ditch them and have a fun day. I think, of the books so far, this is the strongest first chapter I’ve read. It manages to get the necessary information and setting across, it keeps the action moving, and it tries to be subtle about a possible attraction going on (it mostly fails}. It’s a really good first chapter.

7 thoughts on “Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Reboot, Again?

  1. Firedrake December 17, 2015 at 8:38 am

    Going by , I believe 1541 is the number of years after landing. Though that raises the question of what the rest is – day-month-turn within Pass, maybe?

  2. boutet December 17, 2015 at 11:00 pm

    I only read this one once for Reasons That Will Become Clear but I do remember enjoying a lot of it. I look forward to having my memory refreshed (and somewhat dread).

  3. Only Some Stardust December 18, 2015 at 12:06 am

    No content warning for once? That’s a change.

  4. Madame Canard December 18, 2015 at 9:35 am

    Yes, I am also a bit apprehensive – this is the book that stands up better in my memory!

  5. WanderingUndine December 19, 2015 at 6:46 am

    This was the second Pern book I read (after Dragonsdawn, as I was trying for chronological order), and I think I liked it OK at the time. I look forward muchly to more discussion.

  6. genesistrine December 20, 2015 at 3:55 am

    That would make the Weyrs polyamorous, the Holds in favor of multiple marriages, and the “inhibited” Crafts…?

    Let’s be precise here; there’s no hint that Holder women are allowed to marry multiple men. The Holds are polygynous, at least as far as high-status men are concerned – AFAIR we haven’t had any hints about how far down the status ladder it’s possible to be and still have multiple wives/concubines; it may just be a prerogative of the Lord Holders. Yanus and Fidello had one wife apiece, FWIW.

    The only thing we can be reasonably certain about regarding Craft sexual morals is characters thinking that Kylara would have long since been murdered anywhere but a Weyr. And Brekke’s “repression”, I guess, though being terrified of involuntarily going into mindless sexual overdrive seems a perfectly sensible fear to me.

  7. depizan December 21, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    I kind of like Moreta and Alessan. This probably doesn’t bode well for them.

    The world of Pern remains deeply disturbing, though. Especially the place of women in it.

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