Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Comfort the Afflicted

Last chapter, Alessan had to deal with the reality of enforcing a quarantine when others want to go back home, or at least anywhere but here. For now, the peace is holding together.

Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Chapter VII: Content Notes: Patriarchy


The narrative structure of this book appears to be intentionally switching between the perspectives of the main characters and replaying the same day from all perspectives before moving forward. For this kind of style to work, each perspective has to contribute to the narrative so that a complete picture only appears after all the points of view have been gone through. The last time we saw Moreta, her part consisted mostly of going around and talking to people and repeating the message on the drums. Alessan, as we saw, has to deal with fallout and logistics.

The narrative has cycled back around to Capiam, the Masterhealer, who awakens with a horrible headache, partially in response to the drumming, but mostly because he might be infected with the plague. As he goes for fellis juice to help numb the pain, he realizes that his heartbeat has sped up and he’s starting to sweat from the strain of sitting up, standing, and walking to get and prepare the medicine. This does not bode well for the Healer.

He had had too much experience with sleepless nights and tight schedules to chalk up his condition to such things. He groaned again. He didn’t have time to be sick. He ought not to have contracted the damnable disease. Healers didn’t get sick. Besides, he’d been so careful to wash thoroughly in redwort solution after examining each person.
Why didn’t the fellis juice work? He couldn’t think with the headache. But he had to think. There was so much to be done. His notes to organize, to analyze the course of the disease and the probability of dangerous secondary infections, like pneumonia and other respiratory infections.

Proper washing is a good thing, but it seems like somewhere along the way, the infection prevention mask would have made a most useful appearance. Especially to a profession that had explicitly name-checked viruses in the beginning of the book. They could look like the hooked bird beaks of Terran history, for all we care, but it seems like they should be there, at least for the doctors.

Also, throughout this chapter, Capiam seems remarkably sanguine about the possibility that he could be dead in four days’ time, and for someone who has a headache and fever that is apparently interfering with his ability to think. I’m sure that some part of medical training, especially for people who would be joining an organization like MSF, is about the possibility that the protocols might fail, or that the situation is potentially bad enough that they might die, but Capiam seems to have an astoundingly iron will for someone confronted with this disease.

Desdra, a journeywoman, comes to check in him, informs him that the incoming messages are a flood all asking for him and to ask if he needs anything to help him combat the disease. He leaves her instructions about nobody coming near him and about making sure nobody who has a chance of infection comes back to the Hall, since Capiam appears to be the only person infected at this point.

I find it more of the background misogyny that the person sent to check on the Healer is a woman, but perhaps the majority of Healers are women (who are then headed by a man, because again misogyny).

Anyone who was at either Gather and returns here -”
“Which was forbidden by your drum message -”
“Some wise-ass will think he knows better … Anyone who comes is to be isolated for four days.
I shall keep notes on my symptoms and progress. They will be here…in case…”
“My, we are being dramatic.”
“You’ve always maintained that I’d die of something I couldn’t cure.”
“Don’t talk like that, Capiam!” Desdra sounded more angry than fearful.
[…discussion of sleeping apprentices…]
“Tell Fortine, will you, Desdra, that sweatroot has no effect and provides no relief. In fact, I think it is counterproductive. That’s what they were using in Igen and Keroon for the first stage of the illness. Tell Fortine to try featherfern to reduce fever. Tell him to try other febrifuges.”
“What? All on the same poor patient?”
“He will have patients enough for the different remedies.” Capiam spoke from wretched certainty. “Go, Desdra. My head is a drum tower.”
Desdra was cruel enough to chuckle softly. Or maybe she thought she was being sympathetic? One never knew what reaction to expect from Desdra. That was part of her charm, but she’d never make Master on the strength of it. She spoke her mind and sometimes a healer had to be diplomatic. She certainly didn’t soothe Capiam. But he was relieved she was in charge of him.

Okay, we really need to have a discussion here. Just how advanced is the knowledge of healing in the Sixth Pass compared to the Ninth? Pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses? Febrifuges? The Sixth Pass has still had almost 1500 years to forget things and their terms or develop new ones. Yet we continue to have an apparently mostly static language that, at most, seems to be borrowing from German’s ability to smash together words to generate new ones. I can’t really believe that, and the presence of a word like “wise-ass” completely wrecks it. As far as we know, Pern has no donkeys (plenty of asses, though, and they all seem to be in charge), so there’s no reference frame for any sort of ass, wise or otherwise. Linguistic drift should have removed the word by now, and some other phrase (“Some herdbeast that thinks he’s a runner”) should have taken its place. And all of these lovely Latin and Greek words of medicine have also survived, instead of being replaced by more local equivalents. Healer records would have to be extensive for this to happen, and if they are that way, what sort of cataclysm happens between Sixth and Ninth Pass that the Ninth comes out so impoverished in knowledge?

Second, it appears the trend of “People in power who live near or in the Harper Hall are sexist, misogynistic assholes” dates at least back to the Sixth Pass, as Capiam puts on a fine show of “Desdra will never make Master Healer if she keeps being straightforward and honest about her opinions on matters” right next to “I’m glad the person taking care of me won’t try to bullshit me about anything” without noticing the glaring double standard there. If they were talking about her bedside manner, like “she always tells the truth in the most direct fashion possible, without taking into account what will get her patient to do what she wants”, then I can see Capiam’s objection to her manner. But he can’t criticize her for a no-bullshit attitude and then be glad for her no-bullshit attitude in the next sentence.

Plot-wise, Capiam lays down (“lays supine”) to try and get the symptoms to subside. The headache lessens, the heart racing doesn’t, and so Capiam gives himself a couple drops of aconite and manages to get to sleep. While he sleeps, the action shifts to Moreta, who is being roused from sheep by Orlith, concerned because Holth is upset, which has been precipitated by Sh’gall barging in on Leri and unloading his hysteria about the plague on her, because it kills the elderly first, while Leri says she needs to get information from the ground crews about who is stuck and who isn’t. She says she won’t get unnecessarily exposed, which Moreta confirms to Orlith, because she won’t actually get off Holth to do it. Considering the size of Pern dragons, it sounds logical.

Anyway, it’s a shouting match between Leri and Sh’gall when Moreta arrives, and she immediately fans the flames by accusing him of interfering with the queens’ wing and upsetting Holth and Leri. Seeing (and hearing agitated dragon rumblings) that things are about to spiral out of control, Leri reins herself in and then gets Moreta and Sh’gall to focus by drawing on the fact that she was senior Weyrwoman for twenty years and using her commanding voice to get them off the distractions. Leri gives instructions about the Threadfall tomorrow, inquires to the status of the two sick riders, and points out that the Weyrs still need Hold tithes and ground crews with Thread about. With one final tweak to both of them about how Leri is the expendable rider, she sends them both off to settle their dragons and everyone else while she continues her search of the Records.

And gives Moreta a neck strap for a riding harness that needs mending so that she has something to do. Which puts her in contact with dragonriders that need reassuring…and orders.

…We may have Fall tomorrow but I want no heroes. Headache and fever are the symptoms.”
“Then K’lon had the plague?”
“It’s possible, but he’s hale again.”
A worried voice came from the eastern side of the cavern. “What about Berchar?”
“Caught it from K’lon, more than likely, but he and S’gor have isolated themselves, as you are probably aware.”
An uneasy stir rippled around the cavern.
“He was fine ten minutes ago,” Moreta said dryly. “He’ll fly Thread tomorrow. As we all will.”
“Moreta?” T’nure, green Tapeth’s rider, rose from his table to speak. “How long did this quarantine condition last?”
“Until Master Capiam rescinds it.” She saw the rebellious look on T’nure’s face. “Fort Weyr will obey!” Before she finished that injunction, the unmistakable trumpeting of the queens was heard. No lesser dragon would disobey the queens. Moreta thanked Orlith for the timely comment.
[…orders distributed for the riders…]
An approving applause capped her restatement as she sat down, signaling that the discussion was at an end. Nesso stepped up on the dais with a plate of food.
“I think you should know,” she said in a low voice, “that all the drum messages sign Fortine as sender now.”
“Not Capiam?”
Nesso shook her head slowly from side to side.” Not since the first one this noon.”
“Has anyone else noticed that?”
Nesso sniffed in offended dignity. “I know my duty too, Weyrwoman.”

…aaand drum code gets a little stranger, in that everyone drumming apparently has their own signature measures, which means extra complexity for anybody who supposedly knows drum code. Yet Alessan complained a few chapters ago that drum code is too public for things like a quarantine demand, which suggests that enough people do understand drum code for it not to be the apparently complex thing that it is. I still can’t make heads or tails of the idea of what drum code is or how it sounds, and how Fandarel can adapt it for the distance writer.

Also, what’s the definition of a “lesser dragon”? Because if queens can control any other dragons, tell me again why the women aren’t running the place by basically telling the other dragons what’s going on? Presumably that control then also extends to the riders of those dragons, because big angry things make humans crunch and taste good with ketchup. I suspect, however, that bronzes are excluded from the “lesser” definition and only the browns, greens, and blues are bound by this thing with the queen dragons. That way the patriarchy of Pern remains undisturbed. (Also, I know that dragons will divert to keep the queen safe, but I think this is the first time we’ve seen this other ability. It was foreshadowed with Menolly’s fair and how Beauty kept them all in line, but there’s no guarantee an ability like that survives the transition from fire lizard to dragon.)

After this revelation of signatures, the action returns to a waking Capiam, who is missing a message to Telgar Weyr, but that’s all he knows because the disease symptoms are making it impossible to think, much less contemplate writing down his symptoms and their progression. And so the chapter ends with this basically useless paragraph, instead of in the potential hook of the reasons why Fortine is taking over the drum messages. It removes the potential suspense of Capiam being dead or severely incapacitated, more than we’ve already known from this chapter. The paragraph that ends this should be the first one of the next chapter that stays with Capiam for a while. Blargh.


4 thoughts on “Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Comfort the Afflicted

  1. Beth January 28, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    I’d imagined the drum code as basically Morse code, with messages being spelled out letter by letter, especially when the “distance writer” comes into play. Piemur’s story line completely ruined this possibility, so my new headcanon is a dual-system: there’s a basic set of letters/punctuation which is widely known and can be used to spell out any message that could be written down. There’s also an elaborate system of “drum shorthand” which uses single measures for whole words or concepts, allowing trained drummers to send and receive complex messages more easily and quickly (thus Piemur knowing “old” and “dragon” but not “old timer”…and he couldn’t spell it out because it might get intercepted?). The catch is that an experienced message-sender and an inexperience message-receiver wouldn’t work well together, but since I’m imagining things, the sign for “repeat message, spelled out this time” is the first single-sign one learns.

    Tons of people know the letters and maybe a few major idea-signs (like the hold names or the to/from designations), and fewer know the entire baroque system. So, with the quarantine information, you have lots of people picking up on the “there’s yet another message from Healer Hall” and “they’re spelling out a lot of medical terms, so this isn’t routine stuff”, and figuring out from that that something’s going wrong. And the patricians start worrying that they don’t control the flow of information–though that begs the question of how Moreta and her peers intended to enforce a quarantine if they’re worried about the rabble having *knowledge that there is a quarantine.*

  2. Firedrake January 29, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    The way I’ve envisioned it is compatible with that, I think: something like a codebook, like the original Unicode, where “conclude negotiations at once, or break off” would be sent as “associo”. So every drum apprentice learns how to spell stuff out, but the more advanced operators would know more codewords and could send messages more quickly, and anyone who didn’t recognise the words could still relay the message but wouldn’t be able to decode it.

  3. genesistrine January 29, 2016 at 5:37 pm

    I assume drum code’s meant to be Morse-ish, but I do love the thought of elaborate drum riffs instead.

    Fabadaba ba-dum :dribble: fatoom-tish!

    Listening harper: holy yolk! There’s been a record catch of fish at Igen, the High Reaches reports that they just saw a cloud shaped like a hoppybeast and the Benden Weyrleader has a nosebleed!

  4. Silver Adept January 30, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    The reverberation problem is always the one that gets me. The message drums are always big boomy ones. I would assume local geography would get in the way of clean understanding. Any mountain, cliff, or other feature would cause the drum message to echo and possibly interfere with the original. Unless, for some reason, the Harpers have developed some form of echo cancellation chamber where they keep the message drums. If that’s the case, then technology has advanced significantly past the point of where we’re supposed to believe Pern is at this point.

    The idea of both a spelling and shorthand version of the code is interesting. It would certainly help explain how all these messages are getting sent…

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