Last chapter, Capiam developed a desperate plan to confer immunity to the plague by transferring blood serum from those who have survived it to those who are at risk for infection. Presumably, the antibodies will go across and be strong enough to fight off infection already in progress as well as prevent new infections.
Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Chapter X: Content Notes: Performance Masculinity
The chapter begins with Moreta awakening to Orlith saying she’s over the plague and on the mend, and that Capiam has developed the serum that apparently prevents the infection, as Orlith provides no details when Moreta asks whether it functions as a cure. We also get a tantalizing detail that Capiam has given the plague a name, one of the ancient names as befitting an ancient disease, but Orlith doesn’t remember what it is, with dragons not really being wired to remember names.
Matters of the belly come next, with Leri bringing breakfast and news to get Moreta back up to speed – Sh’gall is sick, Nesso is being directed, and Orlith ate in the morning after many days of tending to Moreta. Leri is skeptical about the serum solution, and has been basically instructing the dragons to provide support for their riders in the same way Orlith has for Moreta, acting as pain blockers, fatigue chasers, and otherwise preventing their riders from feeling the full effects of the sickness while their bodies rested.
We also have a textual codification of the caste system in how Leri lays out how the vaccine will be distributed because of the currently limited supply.
“So the Weyrwomen decided that the High Reaches’ riders must be vaccinated”-she stumbled over the unfamiliar term-“since we must all look to S’ligar and Falga. As more of the serum is prepared, other Weyrs will be vaccinated. Right now Capiam has the drums burning to find more people who have recovered from this viral influence. First dragonriders”-Leri ticked off each name on a finger-“then Healers, then Lords Holder and other Craftsmasters, except for Tirone, which, I think no matter how Tolocamp objects, is sensible.”
So we’re clear here – first dragonriders, presumably because Thread, then Healers, because sickness contacts, and only then do the nobles and guild leaders get theirs, except the MasterHarper, who presumably gets pushed to the front of the queue because of his role as the creator of society and history. No mention at all for the smaller holders, the normal people, and the drudges. Because they’re the little people, not worth thinking about or caring about. Must protect the people who maintain the social stratification first, after you’ve taken care of the mission-critical people.
During this entire book, we have had to basically assume that Sixth Pass riders don’t know about the time travel skills of their dragons, or else this whole plague thing could have been avoided through the use of a stealthy timeline change right at the beginning. Unless, of course, the alternative is worse, and the plague was coming anyway, which makes having a convenient blame helpful. Or that our top castes were okay with a mass death event and are only having panic of their own because they weren’t able to seal themselves in well enough to prevent their own infection.
Some of that darker speculation is put to rest, or at least Moreta isn’t involved, when Leri tells Moreta that her home Hold and all her family have died from the plague, no survivors, and the animals, too. To prevent her from grieving too hard, Orlith buffers the sadness with her own unconditional love, and then the drugged wine that Moreta drank helps with detaching her from her sadness, so that she can hear the whole litany without too much grief, including an outburst at how unfair it is and how it’s not okay that her bloodline, just established, is now going to be entirely wiped out, and then the wine drops her off at sleep with the dragons (Holth and Orlith) pushing her into it.
Meanwhile, at Ruatha, vaccinations are going on. K’lon and a healer, Follen, discuss the logistics of collecting blood, and K’lon describes the scene of arriving at Ruatha as something that might read from an apocalyptic movie.
The monstrous burial mounds in the river field, the wide circle of charnel fires near the race flats, the abandoned tents built on Gather-stall frames had indicated the magnitude of Ruatha’s attempt to survive. The sad tatters of the gaudy Gather flags, hanging from the upper tiers of the closely shuttered windows, had struck K’lon as grotesque, a mockery of the gaiety that was Gathering in the midst of the tragedy that had befallen the Hold. Bits and pieces of trash skittered across the forlorn dancing square and the roadway while a kettle swung noisily on its tripod over a long-dead fire, its ladle banging in time to gusts of the bitter-cold wind.
Pretty good description of devastation having visited the Hold.
K’lon sees Alessan, who is tending to his sister, showing signs of the stress of his Hold, and grimly aware of the stress and fatigue. And the lack of supplies.
“Medicines, first of all. We have no aconite, not a dram of febrifuge left, only an ineffective syrup for that wretched cough, no thymus, hyssop, ezob, no flour, no salt. Blackstone is almost depleted, and there have been no vegetables or meat for three days.” He handed the sheet to K’lon, a wry smile on his lips. “See how timely your arrival is? Tuero sent the last drum message this morning before he collapsed. I doubt I should have had the strength to climb the tower.”
K’lon took the sheet with a hand that shook only slightly less than the hand that offered it.
[…And then the recriminations begin. Alessan feels that his having held the Gather brought this destruction on himself, as K’lon hastens to tell him that the quarantine imposed here saved lives elsewhere….]
Alessan turned abruptly from the window. “You must bear to Lord Tolocamp my most profound condolences for the loss of Lady Pendra and her daughters. They nursed the sick until they were themselves overcome. They were valiant.” Alessan’s message was no less sincere for the abruptness of its tone.
K’lon acknowledged the message with a sharp inclination of his head. He was not the only one who would forever fault Lord Tolocamp for running from Ruatha. There were those who held the opinion that Tolocamp had been eminently correct to put the welfare of his Hold above that of his Lady and his daughters. Lord Tolocamp had remained secure in his apartment at Fort Hold while Ruatha suffered and died. Tolocamp would be spared the disease since he had vehemently insisted on being vaccinated despite the priorities set by the Weyrwomen and Master Capiam.
So, by the standard of the world that’s been established, Tolocamp is going to be seen as a coward by many, because he insisted on his own survival, and all the people here are going to resent him for that. If it were a matter of “he abandoned his daughters and wife to a plague that was likely to kill them and made no effort to help”, that could be an almost feminist reading. But there’s an equally insistent part of it that says Tolocamp upset the proper order of things, that he behaved above his station and got vaccinated by being a squeaky wheel. And that he did not behave with the stoicism required for someone of his station. So it’s really more about insufficient performance masculinity than anything else, it seems. Just like the rest of the planet.
The remainder of the chapter is K’lon trying to get away as fast as polite, so that he can go to his companion and snuggle against the new reality and its taste for death.