Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Don’t Believe Me, Just Watch

Last chapter, Moreta got to watch some races, but also took a bucket full of slops to her gold dress, necessitating a change of wardrobe in time for the dances, which will start in this chapter. Alessan and Moreta have been sharing some companionship during the day, so that he can dodge all the ladies hoping to land themselves a Lord Holder, and it seems like they have good chemistry.

Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Chapter III: Content Notes: Ignored Consent

Moreta arrives at table with Oklina, who would normally disappear now that she’s delivered Moreta safely, but Moreta insists there’s a place for her at the table, too – and there is one made. Once everyone is situated, the Harpers start up a lively tune and Alessan asks Moreta for a dance, which they both enjoy. Oklina hopes for some dancing, but thinks Alessan will be too busy to ask her, prompting Moreta to scan the crowd for an unoccupied dragonrider. Before she can find a partner, though, someone wants to dance with Moreta, and isn’t waiting for her to say okay:

“Moreta!” A firm hand clasped on her shoulder, and she looked up at B’lerion, bronze Nabeth’s rider from the High Reaches Weyr. “There’s good music begging your step. And me!”
The bronze rider did not wait for her consent, but took her hand and pulled her into his arms, laughing down at her. I knew you couldn’t resist me.” And he winked over Moreta’s shoulder at the astonished Oklina as he spun the Weyrwoman off to the square.

And with that introduction, we get to see B’lerion at work being a pick-up artist’s wet dream. Oklina is a bit star-struck by the bronze rider, and Moreta’s narration suggests that he’s the father of her third child. There’s some cracks in the ideological facade of the dragonrider, though.

But then, the strongest, cleverest dragon flew the queen: That was the only way to improve the breed. Twice Sh’gall’s Kadith had been the strongest and fastest. Or so Moreta kept telling herself.
[…B’lerion half-teases Moreta about letting Kadith fly Orlith…]
By the intense gleam in his eyes and the sharp hold he took of her waist for the last figure of the dance, B’lerion was half in earnest, Moreta realized. Moreta reminded herself that B’lerion was always in earnest for the duration of any given encounter. A charming opportunist who didn’t limit his activities to any one Weyr or Hold.
[…more teasing…]
She laughed and swung away from an embrace that had best be broken. B’lerion’s attentions might be misconstrued by some. She owed Sh’gall her undiverted support at least until the Fall ended. As she made her way back to the table, B’lerion followed, smiling at Oklina in imperturbable good humor. Moreta wished he hadn’t followed her, noting Oklina’s breathless reaction as B’lerion smoothly set himself down beside the girl.
“May I have the next dance with you, Lady Oklina? Moreta will tell you that I’m harmless. I’m also B’lerion, bronze Nabeth’s rider from the High Reaches. May I have a sip of your wine?”
“Oh, that’s Lady Moreta’s wine,” Oklina protested, trying to retain possession of the cup B’lerion had seized.
“She’d never deny me a sip of wine, but I’ll drink to you and your big dark eyes.”
Schooling her own expression, Moreta watched Oklina’s, saw her blushing confusion at B’lerion’s compliments. She could see the pulse of excitement beating in the girl’s slender neck, her quickened breathing. Oklina could not have been more than sixteen Turns. Hold-bred, she’d be married off very soon to some holder or craftmaster to the east or the south, far from Ruatha, strengthening Bloodlines. By the time the Pass ended, Oklina would have children and this Gather day would have been long forgotten. Or, perhaps, better remembered for B’lerion’s attentions. She smiled when the harpers struck up a slow and stately dance and B’lerion lead the delighted girl onto the square.

And that, I suspect, is why we have an Author’s Note at the beginning of this book about it not being the story the fans were hoping for. Because Sixth Pass Pern is not any better than Ninth Pass Pern at all.

I also am looking at this sequence with B’lerion and seeing so many opportunities for him to walk away wincing in pain from a discreet knee to the genitals. Or, perhaps, an indiscreet one, starting right from the beginning where the narrative even acknowledges that he’s not waiting for Moreta’s consent before taking her to the dance floor. Since Sixth Pass Pern operates on the same principles as Ninth Pass Pern, it’s clear Moreta is expected to just grin and bear it, lest she make some public scandal of refusing to dance with someone. Or hurting a dragonrider for stepping on her consent. Even if he has been a Weyrleader in the past or could be in the future. And even if he was “just being friendly”.

I can’t really get over the slime dripping off B’lerion and am trying to imagine how he’s supposed to be anything other than a creep, with the plausibly-deniable insinuations that he’s better for her than Sh’gall is and his immediate recognition of Oklina as a charmable and naive woman to play his game with. Yes, sixteen means different things on Pern than on Terra, but he’s fathered kids and the whole thing reminds me far too much of Jaxom and Corana from the last book – she can’t really say no because of the power differential, and he doesn’t really care about her except as another notch on the bedpost.

Which is another thing – it’s still never quite clear what young women, especially young women of some stature, are taught about sex, marriage, and relationships. I don’t know if it’s “attract as high a stature of person as you can get married to” or “attract as high a stature of person that you can get pregnant by” or something else. If Dunca from Dragonsinger is typical, the young women are being told not to have sex with anyone as it will spoil them for their eventual marriage. While, no doubt, being encouraged to try and snag as high a ranking person as possible in marriage, and eventual childbirth. In that sense, it’s probably like a lot of sex education on Terra.

Finally, through this sequence, I think we can get a lot more sympathy for Kylara and her attempts to get out from underneath this system the best way she knew how. Because Moreta still feels like an expy of Kylara at this point, but that worries me as to how this is going to end for her.

The Gather continues, with people from the Ista Gather arriving, panning the creature on display and bringing news of illness in three Holds – a fever. Moreta would like to get Alessan for another dance, but he’s having to do his duty with young eligible women who all want to be his wife. At intermission, the Harpers lead everyone in some traditional songs, including one supposedly newly discovered with a haunting tone and tenor to it. This is too early on the timeline for the temporal hop that Lessa does that produces the Question Song, so I wonder what this song is that’s so haunting and catchy.

There’s food for Moreta after the singing, as she slips away to escape Tolocamp. Alessan finds her, carrying more food and drink, and the two enjoy company with each other, hiding away from their responsibilities.

“My mother, the good and worthy–”
“–and duty conscious–”
“Has paraded every eligible girl in the west, with all of whom I have dutifully danced. They’re not much on talking. By the way, speaking of talking, is that bronze rider who’s been monopolizing Oklina a kind and honorable man?”
“B’lerion is kind, and very good company. Is Oklina aware of dragonriders’ propensities?”
“As every proper hold girl is.” Alessan’s tone was dry, acknowledging dragonrider whims and foibles.
“B’lerion is kind and I have known him many Turns,” Moreta went on by way of reassurance. Oklina’s adoration of her brother was not misplaced if he troubled himself to speak to a Weyrwoman about a bronze rider who was paying marked attention to his sister.

Moreta, you’re a liar, unless we’re supposed to believe that B’lerion really is all talk with his lecherous grin and complete willingness to override consent. Also, hello, “dragonrider propensities?” Meaning that at least in Sixth Pass Pern, it’s known how dragonrider and dragon mating works, and the Hold girls are warned off of getting involved with dragonriders, presumably because it would ruin their later marriage prospects. Dunca really is typical, I guess.

The rest of the Gather passes in dancing, some acrobatic, some not, between Moreta and Alessan, and Moreta is reminded again (as she has been for much of the night) about a man from her past, apprenticed to the same Healer before she went on a different path. Thoroughly exhausted, Moreta heads sleepily back to her own Weyr as Alessan heads to bed. And thus, the Gather itself finally finishes with the end of Chapter III.

We haven’t learned a whole lot about what the plot of the book will be by this point, but we have learned a lot about the customs and festival life of Pern not from the perspective of a Harper. It’s Sixth Pass Pern, though, so there’s no automatic reason to assume that Ninth Pass Pern is the same. I suspect it is, because it’s probably easier to keep the world consistent that way, but there shouldn’t be an automatic assumption.

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10 thoughts on “Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Don’t Believe Me, Just Watch

  1. depizan December 31, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    CN: rape

    “B’lerion is kind and I have known him many Turns,” Moreta went on by way of reassurance.
    Moreta, you’re a liar, unless we’re supposed to believe that B’lerion really is all talk with his lecherous grin and complete willingness to override consent.

    What’s far more horrifying is that Moreta may well be telling the truth – that by the standards of Pern (and/or dragonriders), sleazy lecher dude is kind. (Whatever exactly that means.)

    And, I realize on looking at it again, Moreta never says the guy is honorable. So…um…you’ll be getting your sister back minus her virginity, but she won’t need medical attention? God I hate this planet.

    I don’t want to think deeply on what it’s like to live in a culture where you have no right to your own body. Whatever dragonrider flies Moreta’s dragon gets to “have sex” with her, and dragonriders clearly feel they can help themselves to whatever other women they want (which gets nicely described by the narration as ‘whims and foibles” and by Moreta as “propensities”). The best a woman can hope for, it seems, is that her rapist is “kind.”

  2. WanderingUndine December 31, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    I first read this at age 15, long accustomed to fantasy with more-or-less teenaged protagonists, and assumed Moreta wasn’t much older than me. (I apparently overlooked the bit about her having fought Thread for twenty Turns). So when she had that thought about B’lerion having possibly fathered her third child, my thoughts went “Whoa, this ‘girl’ I’ve been identifying with is a woman with multiple grown children* and a colorful sex life! I can’t understand her at all now.”

    Thirteen years later, I still don’t identify with her. But it was part of my introduction to fantasy where the central protagonists are adults from the start, which is oddly uncommon even in books “for adults.”

    *I didn’t yet know about the Weyrs’ fostering system.

  3. emmy December 31, 2015 at 10:39 pm

    If we want to be exceedingly generous to the narrative, one could assume that the line about ‘not waiting for her consent’ was meant more as a nod to the fact that he and Moreta do actually know each other and have interacted with each other sufficiently in the past that he is aware she does actually enjoy dancing with him, and is capable of saying no should she decide otherwise. Not waiting for explicit consent doesn’t HAVE to mean overriding it…

    Unfortunately the narrative has not really earned this sort of generous interpretation with its male characters in the past.

    As depizan noted, Alessan asks if B’lerion is ‘honorable’, and Moreta dodges it.

    In the sort of fantasy feudal-noble culture that people love to play at in fiction, ‘honorable’ tends to be code for ‘is he willing to marry a maiden after de-virgining her’? To which Moreta could be read as saying “You know he’s a dragonrider, right? We don’t do marriage.”

    But really, THAT should be extremely well-known, not just to Oklina but also to Alessan. So what is he actually asking? The other possible interpretation I can think of is “will he provide for her if she gets pregnant”? And for that, Moreta’s unclear answer becomes much more disheartening. Oklina, at this point, seems to be sufficiently low-status in her family that it’s possible no one would mind too much if B’lerion did carry her off to a weyr as his mistress and a lower-caverns woman…. but Moreta could be read as warning Alessan that B’lerion’s attention is temporary at best, so she’s on her own if she gets knocked up.

    Maybe Moreta’s insistence that B’lerion is “kind” is meant to reassure Alessan that he’s not going to spirit the girl off the dance floor and attempt to ravish her right here and now, so as long as they don’t associate further in the future, she’s “safe”?

    Alternately, Alessan knows perfectly well that B’lerion is not ‘honorable’ in terms of marriage, and is asking Moreta about it in a half-joking way, acknowledging that his role as male protector requires him to do this sort of thing, even though he doesn’t intend to interfere in Oklina making her own decisions. The same way that many people in modern culture make some sort of token “treat my little girl right” fake-threats which are meant to demonstrate that they care. Both Alessan and Moreta seem willing to sit back and let Oklina enjoy her “first love”, as long as she’s not in danger. Moreta’s “reassurance” could be saying that B’lerion makes a much better choice for first love than many others she could encounter.

    Gosh I’m making a lot of hypotheses out of very few words, aren’t I?

  4. emmy January 1, 2016 at 12:44 am

    It’s potentially interesting that her argument about ignoring B’lerion in favor of Sh’gall is not couched as a matter of romantic or sexual fidelity, but a political one. She doesn’t think “I belong to Sh’gall”, but “I owe Sh’gall my support, at least while there’s still Thread falling”.

    Courting someone who could be viewed as a rival for the leadership might be seen as criticism of the Weyrleader and therefore weaken his command.

    But if everyone in the Weyrs already knows that Moreta isn’t really into Sh’gall, would it really be so undermining? Can’t they both carry on as they please, as long as they carry out their duties?

    Weirdly enough, Moreta also seems initially very disapproving of B’lerion following her and flirting with Oklina, before suddenly turning around and defending him… I really can’t follow what she’s thinking.

  5. genesistrine January 1, 2016 at 4:03 am

    I like that she’s thinking of her choices in political terms, just for a change from deathless romance, but creepiest-dude-at-the-party is from another Weyr entirely – does she have to police her interactions with all the bronze riders on the planet like that? Unless customs change markedly in 3 Passes default queen flights only involve bronzes from that Weyr, so how is B’lerion a threat to Sh’gall’s leadership? Does he have a creepy habit of dropping in at other Weyrs when head queens are just about to rise in the hope of “accidentally” joining in the mating flight?

    Or is this a sign that Sh’gall’s really controlling?

    (The other odd thing about that is that 2 Passes from now it will apparently be completely unobjectionable – except to F’lar – for Mardra to keep a coterie of young bronze riders around her. Which makes me think that yes, Moreta’s caution is more due to Sh’gall’s jealousy.)

  6. genesistrine January 1, 2016 at 5:01 am

    Oh – FWIW I don’t think Moreta’s an expy of Kylara in the slightest; compare them looking in mirrors for example. Kylara is “must scowl pretty, damn dress hem is uneven”, while Moreta’s hidden self-criticism: “shoulders too broad, legs too muscly”. And the thought of Kylara avoiding chatting up any male in case it calls T’bor’s leadership into question is… well, ahem. Kylara’s so notoriously predatory Robinton even sends in cute Harpers to distract her at one point. If it was her with Alessan she’d probably already have pounced. Moreta’s not predatory at all.

    If Moreta and Kylara have any relationship in their author’s mind I’m afraid that it’s Moreta is Good Kylara; how Kylara should have behaved if she wasn’t a Selfish Bad Person.

  7. Jude Austin (@JudasFm) January 2, 2016 at 6:40 am

    >>the whole thing reminds me far too much of Jaxom and Corana from the last book – she can’t really say no because of the power differential

    I’m really not sure how B’lerion and Oklina could even remotely compare to Jaxom and Corana, to be honest.

    Jaxom is a Lord Holder. Not only that, he’s Corana’s Lord Holder, and (presumably) has the power to throw her and her family off his land if she displeases him. We’re not explicitly told that he WOULD do that, but it’s reasonable that Corana wouldn’t know either way and wouldn’t be willing to take a chance.

    B’lerion, on the other hand, is a bronze rider. Not a Weyrleader, so not in a position of any political power on Pern. Oklina is the sister of the Lord Holder of Ruatha. Even if Pernese society denies her the right to defend herself, her brother’s not likely to be too happy about it. Not only that, but her brother is extremely good friends with a Weyrwoman (not B’lerion’s, but even so) and politically Oklina is in a far stronger position than poor Corana ever was. If she tells him “No,” realistically they both know there’s not a whole lot he can do about it.

    On a slight side note, there is such a thing as harmless flirting. We know B’lerion gets around a bit, but it doesn’t automatically follow that he goes all the way with EVERY woman he happens to speak to (plus, the whole political thing; a charm and a dance might very probably be as far as he’s willing to go with the Lord Holder’s sister, although I haven’t read this book for so long I forget what happens in the end).

    Also, Jaxom barges in and takes Corana. Corana attempts to fight him off before giving in, and Jaxom apparently brackets submission with consent. B’lerion doesn’t. He flirts with Oklina, but at no point does he drag her protesting onto the dance floor. She’s charmed by his attentions and she goes with him willingly. That might make her naive, but it doesn’t make B’lerion a rapist.

    It’s true B’lerion does grab Moreta at the beginning, but he doesn’t strike me as forcing her; his comments strike me more as banter between two good friends. The fact that Moreta doesn’t explicitly give him her consent doesn’t automatically mean he doesn’t have it (I have several close male friends; I never gave them my consent to give me a friendly hug, but we’re close enough that I don’t mind when they do it) and when she pulls away from him, he lets her go without any fuss and takes it in good part, so he accepts “No” as an answer. We also know from the text that they’ve known each other for many Turns, so it’s likely not the first time they’ve danced together. Compare Jaxom’s reaction when both Corana and Sharra try to get away from him, although IIRC he is feverish when he grabs Sharra.

    If Oklina had also told him “No,” honestly I can’t imagine B’lerion trying to force her (although he might try and persuade her to change her mind). Based on what I’ve read here, he’d head off and find a more willing partner. Make of that what you will, but at least he’s one of the few Pernese males who cares enough to get a strange woman’s consent instead of assuming it.

    Okay, that came out longer than I expected. Sorry; I didn’t mean to prattle on; I just got a little carried away there 🙂

  8. boutet January 3, 2016 at 1:35 am

    I thought that Moreta’s changed mind over B’lerion going for Oklina is from her changing the way she was thinking about it. First she seemed like, “ugh, this guy,” and then “ugh, he’s looking at Oklina, she doesn’t know what she’s getting into.” And then, “Oklina has a probably not-lengthy life ahead of her, marrying someone she doesn’t choose and having lots of babies. She might as well enjoy a fling with this flirt before she’s completely locked away.” So I think it works for her to “ugh” at B’lerion first and then later conspire to keep Alessan from swooping in and “rescuing” Oklina.

    I read it as more support of Oklina having a fling rather than support of B’lerion getting a shot at Oklina. “this Gather day would have been long forgotten. Or, perhaps, better remembered for B’lerion’s attentions” seems like a very grim, “hopefully she can have this one happy memory if she doesn’t forget it entirely when faced with her future.”

    It’s a forgone conclusion that Oklina will be put to a kind of sexual servitude to “‘strenthen bloodlines” so Moreta prioritizes giving Oklina an opportunity for a maybe pleasant sexual experience over keeping her virginal until then. And Moreta has a sexual history with B’lerion so presumably she’s aware of his behavior to his lovers.

  9. Laurie January 3, 2016 at 7:53 pm

    I’m probably reaching here, but I sortakinda read Moreta’s description of ‘B’lerion is kind’ as being ‘B’lerion is a normal horndog dragonrider, but if Oklina says no, then he’ll stop.’ The fact that he didn’t ask for her (Moreta’s) consent was more because of the history between the two – since there is history, he felt that he could take liberties.

    Oh, and it did state in the narrative that he’s been assigned to different Weyrs, so just because he’s at High Reaches now doesn’t mean he has always been there.

  10. Nothing January 4, 2016 at 7:46 am

    Outside of his proclivities and sleaziness, B’lerion might very well be “kind,” for a Pernese person. He might be one of those people who would do just about anything for you and be a great friend, but a terrible romantic relationship unless you’re okay with his womanizing ways. His lack of concern about consent is more than a little concerning for the sake of his partners, but beyond her bitterness about his romantic behavior, Moreta seems to begrudgingly like him. He might be less sleazy in the bedroom, but this is McCaffrey so I wouldn’t assume so.

    Basically it’s hard to read him, other than we are meant to think he is sexy and possibly charming while, to modern readers, he just seems slimy. Moreta even considers hooking up with him again, or so it seems!

    I think here is a good place to remember that McCaffrey does not seem to believe raping someone necessarily makes a person bad–at least not in writing. Whether she thought the same of real people, we may never know. Hopefully she knew better in real life; however, most of the rape scenes in Pern involve the popular ’60s-or-so “say no but really mean yes because good girls pretend to resist” trope. We do know characters are not real, and it’s pretty clear who Anne did and didn’t mean to be a bad person, from her tone and from her protagonists’ reactions. Whether or not the reader agrees is up to us, and from our side of the timeline, some of the things Anne wrote look pretty terrible!

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