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.
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.