Last chapter, Moreta visited a gathering at Ruatha to watch runnerbeasts race and try to avoid the eye of those who wanted to police her choices. She did so in the company of Alessan, the new Lord Holder of Ruatha, who was trying to duck everyone who wanted to ply him with a marriageable daughter and get him hitched after the death of his previous wife. There’s a clear chemistry between them, even though it would be scandalous, by the Pernese double-standard for them to engage with each other too much.
Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern, Chapter II: Content Notes: Animal death, ableism
Chapter II starts exactly where the last chapter left off – the next race is ready to begin and starts without a hitch, but a tumble during the race has Moreta running toward the field. Of the three beasts that fell, one is not getting up, and isn’t trying to, either. While Alessan believes it just tripped, Moreta says otherwise, and the problem is that the animal can’t breathe, with a bloody discharge from the nose blocking air attempts. Not that it could breathe if the nose was clear, as its lungs are filling with fluid. There’s nothing to do but watch it die. The rider and the two race enthusiasts confer and agree that the circumstances of the death are suspicious, but go check out the other animals just in case there’s sickness among them that could be the cause of death. Nothing turns up, and with them already at the stables, Moreta and Alessan go on to check on the beast that won the first race. There’s discussion about the absence of prominent Lords with champion stock, we learn more about how much Moreta doesn’t like the Lords that are under Fort Weyr’s protection, and on the way back, a minor disaster strikes.
Moreta had opened her mouth to reply when she was suddenly drenched with water. A colorful and original string of invective in Alessan’s angry voice told her he had not escaped the slops.
[…Orlith asks what’s wrong, and tells Moreta she’ll dry out quickly…]
The erring handler, belatedly discovering that he had launched a full bucket of dirty water at the Weyrwoman and the Lord Holder – who didn’t ought to be strolling along picket lines when everyone else was off watching the races – proffered Moreta a towel, but the rag had been used for many purposes and merely compounded the problem. Alessan was shouting for clean water and fresh clothes and the location of a vacant tent.
The commotion was sufficient to attract everyone not engrossed in the race just starting. Assistance was offered, and people began running here and there on Alessan’s orders while Moreta stood, her beautiful new brown-and-gold gown plastered to her body. She tried to reassure the mortified handler that she took no offense, All the while knowing that her long-awaited afternoon of racing was doomed. She might just as well summon Orlith and go back to the Weyr. She might get her death of cold going between in the soggy ruins of her Gather dress, but what choice had she now?
Another reason to forego dresses for riders – wet things and hyperspace don’t mix, and dresses take a long time to dry. If the leathers weren’t so hot, I would have thought they made an excellent outer uniform for general purposes. I suppose, though, that a high-status woman not in a dress would be a scandalous thing. How I hate your ideas on femininity, Pern.
Moreta is able to change quickly into less flashy clothing and spend the rest of the races in Alessan’s company. Along the way, they go to visit Runel, a herdsman with a knack for lineages.
Runel’s expression altered dramatically. He threw back his head and unfocused his eyes, wide-opened. “Alessan’s sprinter, Squealer, won the first sprint race at the Ruathan Gather, third month, forty-third turn of the sixth Pass, bred by Alessan out of Dextra, five times winner at sprint races in the west, Leef by Vander’s Evest which was nine times winner over sprint distances. Dextra’s sire, twice winner, by Dimnal out of Tran, nineteen times winner. Dimnal by Fairex out of Crick, Fairex…”
“There he goes,” Dag said to Moreta in an undertone, shaking his head ruefully.
Moreta is curious about Runel’s eidetic memory (and calls it such), Alessan is unconcerned about the talent, compared to Dag’s scorn. The behaviors here, though, seem to be confusing someone with eidetic memory with the eponymous character in Rain Man. Dag is still an asshole, though, but being an asshole about disability or difference seems to be standard operating procedure for this planet.
Moreta wants to know why Runel isn’t in the Harper Hall. Alessan says that his father’s granduncle was a Harper for Ruatha, had the eidetic memory, and thus tended to remember things that he should have forgotten. To hear Alessan describe it, the eidetic memory had a genetic component in his bloodline. I don’t think it works that way, but I could be wrong.
The rest of the races pass amiably enough, except the last, which is too close to call and only dispersed after Alessan adroitly doubles the purse so that it can be split evenly between the two riders. To transport Moreta back to the Hold, Alessan gets to show off the towering endurance beasts his father wanted bred, which can seat two comfortably.
Their arrival at the Gather square attracts an entourage, with Alessan’s mother taking charge and escorting Moreta up for a change of clothes from her dusty race-watching outfits.
In the instant her eyes meet Lady Oma’s, Moreta knew the woman disapproved of her as much as Tolocamp did but more for upsetting her own plans for her son’s afternoon entertainment than for Moreta’s hoyden behavior.
Oma. That’s like, Greek for “grandmother”, right? Naming is clearly a functional pastime here, right? Also, I think that’s the first time I’ve encountered the word “hoyden”, but it certainly seems to apply from what the narrative has shown so far.
Oma offers Moreta a choice of dresses, then Moreta takes a bath after choosing one that will suit her intention to dance hard tonight. Her assigned assistant, Oklina, is chagrined that Moreta is already in her dress and needs no help with hair, so much so that she dashes in quickly when Moreta mentions needing help with the back of the dress. And almost causes another accident.
Oklina is Alessan’s sister, and from her, we find out that Alessan wanted to make sure Moreta stayed to dance, that he hasn’t danced or sung or been himself since his wife died, that she expects to have absolutely no time to dance tonight, and that she’s thrilled at his happiness with regard to the runner victory on the track today.
Oh, and that Alessan could have been a dragonrider, but his dad forbade it. Which is sandwiched in between the first instance that I know of that actually paints dragonriders in the religious light they have to exist in.
Moreta smiled, recognizing the girl’s yearning to be found on Search and to impress a queen dragon. Once when faced with such envious yearnings, Moreta had felt unaccountable guilt over her good fortune at Impressing Orlith, her friend, her sure consolation, her life. That reaction had gradually been replaced by the knowledge of the great gap between wish, fulfilment, and acceptance. So Moreta could smile kindly at Oklina while her mind reached out to her sleeping dragon.
[…Alessan could have been one, too. Oklina asks how they know…]
“Search dragons know,” Moreta said in a mysterious voice, a rote reply after so many repetitions. “Each Weyr has dragons who sense the potential in youngsters.” Moreta deepened the mystery in her voice. “There are folk, weyrborn, who’ve known dragons and riders all their lives who don’t Impress, and complete strangers – like myself – who do. The dragons always know.”
“The dragons always know…” Oklina’s whisper was half prayer, half imprecation. She stole a quick look up at the fire-heights as if she feared the somnolent dragons might take offense of they heard.
“Come, Oklina,” Moreta said briskly. “I’m dying to dance.”
That’s the end of the chapter, but that’s also the first reaction to dragons that makes sense to me in six books. Oklina is both in awe of the dragons and wants to get one and afraid of the dragons in that she might be rejected, either as a candidate when the search comes to Ruatha, or worse, as a candidate on the Hatching Ground, consigned to whatever date befalls those women, and have her hopes of achieving a better life than the one she has permanently shattered. Moreta, as the priestess of the dragons, has to maintain the mystery and the allure so that the Weyrs can keep collecting candidates looking to move up in life. At the same time, she understands that the reality of the situation is that she traded running a small household for running a much bigger one, where the person she’s supposed to run it with can change based on dragons, and that there’s never a guarantee, as with all the other possible marriages, that the man won’t turn out to be abusive and worse. There are no good lives for women on Pern.
Also, is it me, or do the gold dragons really seem to prefer people outside the Weyr as their bond partners? Lessa is Hold, Kylara is Hold, Brekke Craft, and Moreta Hold. I think even some of the junior queens are from outside the Weyr. Are the queens selecting those already with strong organizational skills, or do they want people with certain personalities or inner strength that can only be found in the otherwise awful lives found outside the Weyrs? It would be nice to get inside the head of the searching dragons to find out what their criteria are.
The Gather still isn’t over yet. Maybe next chapter we’ll see everyone retire for the night.