Last chapter, Moreta proved that it was possible to travel forward from the known present into the future, removing the last known obstacle for dragonriders to control the timeline presumably anywhere they can reach. Now with sufficient supply of everything needed to accomplish simultaneous vaccination of humans and animals, it’s time to recruit dragonriders for the task and put it into action.
Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Chapter XV; Content Notes: Classism, toxic masculinity
Moreta’s first stop is Benden, where there is gossip about other Weyrs, but mostly advice and confirmation about which riders are the ones to ask about who has sufficient experience and control with time hopping to be useful to the plan. Ista takes some convincing, although Moreta gets to see the son she had with D’say, M’ray, as she tries to convince him to join up. This gives Moreta a little hope about her bloodline, in that it continues through the other children she has had. Igen is happy to help out, even though the Weyrleader is stuck in a deep depression that people think will be cured by the end of the plague and a good mating flight.
Telgar, however, orders Moreta, M’barak, and Arith grounded well away from the Weyr, as M’tani has quarantined the Weyr from strangers, which includes riders from other Weyrs. Moreta can get no headway with C’ver, the sentry, who mocks her and tells her she’s not welcome, period. Incensed at the discourtesy, Moreta vows to never lift a finger to help Telgar and continues on to High Reaches, where she is “twice and twice times twice welcome”. B’lerion informs her of having taken Desdra and Oklina to Nerat for more needlethorn, before Moreta is beseeched to check in on Tamianth, the dragon whose major surgery she did when she was here last. Things look good, and it seems that Pressen took Moreta’s advice about being a Weyr Healer seriously.
While Falga is examining the plan, Holth relays to Tamianth that Moreta has unfriendly guests.
“Could that be why Tamianth tells me Holth now informs her that Raylinth and his rider have arrived, in great agitation, at Fort?” When Moreta nodded grimly, she added, “M’tani would have none of it?”
“The watchrider made Arith land on the Rim.”
B’lerion cursed with real fervor, all langor gone.
“If I’d been on Orlith, that squatty mildewed brown of C’ver’s would-”
“Consider the source,” Falga said earnestly. “A mere brown rider! Really, Moreta, save your wrath for something worth the energy to spit at. I don’t know what has got into M’tani over the last Turn. Maybe he’s battle-weary from fighting Thread for so many years. He’s gone sour totally, and it’s affecting his whole Weyr. That would be disastrous enough in ordinary times, but this plague has only shown up his deficiencies. Do we have to force a change there? We’ll take up the matter later.
[…logistics of who will help Moreta from High Reaches. As we resume, B’lerion is now speaking instead of Falga…]
“Of course, T’grel’s not the only rider who’s dissatisfied with M’tani’s leadership. I told you, didn’t I, Falga, that once those Telgar riders had had a taste of real leadership, there’d be trouble.” He smiled winningly at Moreta. “I actually do defer to Sh’gall’s abilities. He may be a dull stick in other matters – oh, no, you can’t fool your old friend B’lerion – but he is a bloody fine Leader! Don’t waggle your finger at me, Falga.”
Pern continues to be a place where, if there weren’t any therapists, it would be necessary to invent them. Someone has to have thought of the practice of mental Healing, because this world is pretty crapsack for anyone not a Lord, rider, or Crafter. And, as we keep seeing, there are plenty of people at those levels that need help in coping with disasters or the pressures of their positions. Even if it’s always a crude practice, the planet needs counselors, instead of dragonriders sneering at each other and then thinking about staging a coup of leadership when one of theirs has issues. It’s not coincidental, I think, that the responses to Sh’gall, Tolocamp, and M’tani freaking out about plague have all been basically the same – anger, disapproval, derision, with the idea that they’re just not tough enough to handle it like Real Men(TM). If we can figure out on Terra that the social construction of Masculinity that relies on men being perennially tough and non-emotional is contributing to men dying earlier and committing acts of violence against themselves and others, surely on Pern they can follow suit, especially for the men that are pair-bonded with living weapons.
In any case, we are rather starkly reminded of the strength of the caste system of the dragonriders, despite none of the riders, except perhaps the queen candidates, getting to choose what color of dragon they have. I’m not sure what the official handwave about this is, other than an insistence, true or not, that dragons choose their riders, but it seems like a pretty bad bargain to get “Congratulations! You’ve just joined the mounted class, the highest of classes, but at a rank that makes you front line fodder and that will give you no real respect in that class!” Then again, considering what happens in the other classes, and to them by dragonriders, maybe it’s the best of bad bargains.
Still, if a brown rider isn’t worth frustration on Moreta’s part, then I wonder what they think of the blues and greens. Oh, wait, I don’t have to wonder, I just have to read a little bit further.
“Good fellow, K’lon; and I don’t say that about just any blue rider.”
That’s B’lerion talking, by the way, so we have an idea about what position the blue riders occupy in the minds of the bronze and gold riders.
When Moreta gets back to Fort, we get the rest of what Telgar thought about the visit. And a thought of what the green riders are, too.
Orlith was awake on Moreta’s return to Fort Weyr because Sh’gall had roused her while looking for Moreta. He was pacing up and down in front of the tier and whirled belligerently at her when she entered.
“M’tani sent a green weyrling,” he cried, fuming, “hardly more than a babe, to give our watchrider the most insulting message I gave ever received. He has repudiated any agreement made at the Butte, a meeting at which I was not present.” Sh’gall shook his fist at Moreta and then in the vague direction of the Butte. “And at which arbitrary decisions were made, which I cannot condone, though I’ve been forced to comply with them! M’tani has repudiated any arrangement, agreement, accord, understanding, undertaking. He is not to be bothered – bothered, he says – not to be bothered by problems if any other Weyr. If we are so poor that we have to beg and Search from other Weyrs, then we do not deserve to have a clutch at all.” Sh’gall ended up swinging his arms about like a drum apprentice.
Moreta had never seen him so furious. She listened to what he had to say but offered no response, hoping he would vent his rage and leave. Having repeated himself at length on his displeasure with her shameless venture for the Weyr that had resulted in such an insufferable message from M’tani, he ranted on through his usual grievances, about his illness, about the puny size of the clutch. Finally Moreta could bear no more.
“There is a queen egg, Sh’gall. There have to be enough candidates to give the little queen some choice. I applied to Telgar Weyr as I did to Benden, Igen, Ista, and the High Reaches. No one else thought my appearance or my request importunate. Now leave the Ground. You’ve upset Orlith sufficiently for one day.”
Orlith was visibly upset as Moreta ran across the hot sands to her, but not, Moreta knew very well, by Sh’gall. By Telgar Weyr. She paced in front of her eggs, her eyes wheeling from red to yellow and orange as she recited to her rider a list of the damages she would inflict on bronze Hogarth in such detail that Moreta was torn between laughter and horror. A mating dragon could be savage with the drive of that purpose, but a clutching dragon was usually passive.
Clearly everyone considers the sending of a young green rider to be a most grievous insult. I’m guessing they’re the very lowest on the list, which is why Sh’gall is so riled up, aside from all the other reasons that boil down to “shit keeps happening that I don’t approve of.” Which is at least consistent for him, but calls into question B’lerion’s previous statement that Sh’gall can lead people. If he falls apart like this or throws tantrums every time it doesn’t go his way, there’s no way he’s going to be the leader of his own Weyr, much less unofficially in charge of all the Weyrs. There’s way too much unconstrained testosterone in these groups…Unless he’s in charge because he beats everybody up that crosses him.
Good on Moreta for telling him off, and good on Orlith for demonstrating a knowledge of anatomy and what to do with it. As it turns out, Holth and Leri want in in that action, too. But there’s still enough volunteers to make the plan when it’s time, so the action skips up to the next day and over to Ruatha.
The day of the plan dawns, with Ruatha’s tired centrifuges and bottles upon bottles of already-generated serum stacked carefully. Alessan and his senior staff discuss the plague and its effects, as well as the state of the current herd, before the herders hop off to see if there’s going to be a birth tonight, and others head toward bed, the Benden white wine working on them. Alessan has apparently offered Tuero a permanent post at Ruatha as the Hall Harper. I suspect that if Robinton were to trace his line, he would find Tuero in it, because, well, the list of demands is ridiculous:
“By the first Egg,” Alessan protested, “you’ve already got me to agree to a first-storey apartment on the inside, second tithe of our Crafthalls -”
“When you’ve got them staffed again -”
“Your choice of a runnerbeast, top marks as a journeyman, and leave, if you wish, to take your mastery when the Pass is over. What more can you ask of an impoverished Lord Holder?”
“All I ask is what is fitting for a man of my accomplishments.” Tuero humbly put one hand on his heart.
“So what is this final condition?”
“That you supply me with Benden white.” He spoiled the gravity of his pronouncement by hiccuping and gestured urgently for Alessan to fill his cup. He sipped wine to stop the spasms. “Well?”
“Good journeyman Harper Tuero, if I can procure Benden white, you may have your just share of it.” He raised his cup solemnly and Tuero touched his to it. “Agreed?”
Tuero hiccuped. “Agreed!” He tried to swallow the next hiccup.
Tuero has both Robinton’s avarice for stuff and fondness for Benden white wine, which is still apparently the best stuff on Pern.
With the wine drank, Alessan and the rest head to bed, Alessan wondering in a wine-induced haze whether Desdra is hitting on Oklina, resolving firmly to repaint the Hall, taunting Tuero about never knowing his source of Benden, and receiving news that the mare gave birth to a male foal. (Who we hope survives and can be vaccinated due to the herd immunity.)
There’s also a tease of the readers and the drinkers that Rill, one of the women present, looks familiar to everyone. She also ends up being the person that tucks Alessan and Tuero into bed in their drunken stupor. Alessan tenderly, Tuero much less so.
Then it’s time to fly the mission. Moreta is glad there’s Fall to disguise the real activities of the queen riders today. She’s on Hatching Ground duty today, while Leri and others do the hauling. Moreta is concerned about Leri’s continued flying, and thinks it would be good for Leri to retire to Ista after this run. As if Moreta could convince her of that.
Mostly, though, it’s Moreta at the feeding grounds, looking for good things for Orlith and approving of hunts of wherries now and roundups of stray runners after the plague threat is over, and generally having a good relaxing time, with occasional status updates from Orlith.
Until, of course, something gets in the way. Namely, that M’tani is forbidding his bronze dragons from joining the combined Thread fighting crews. Since part of the plan hinged on vaccinating Telgar’s areas while attention was directed at the Fall, using locals to the area, this is a serious monkey wrench in the plan, bringing Benden’s Weyrwoman to discuss strategy. Others can cover much of the lost territory, but the Keroon Plains would go unprotected, and that would ruin the plan completely. Unless Moreta finds a dragon and covers it herself, that is. Holth is volunteered for Moreta, and the two hop over to Keroon to pick up the vaccine. Then, it’s several runs to various beastholds to deliver the vaccine, timing it such that she reappears to collect a new set every hour, even though the runs themselves take much longer.
The strain of the runs is becoming apparent in both dragon and rider.
And each jump Holth made seemed just that much shallower. Twice Moreta asked the dragon if she wanted to rest. Each time Holth replied firmly that she was able to continue.
[…time ticks and Moreta is getting annoyed at how long it’s taking…]
All during the last round, she kept the sun at a midafternoon position, feeling the strain of timing it in her bones, in Holth’s heaviness. But when she asked Holth if they should stop, the dragon replied that she wished Keroon had a few mountains instead of all these dreadful plains.
[…they deposit the last of the vaccine…]
She watched him go, numbly aware that Holth’s body was shaking under her legs. She stroked the old queen’s neck.
“Orlith is all right?” She had asked that question frequently, too.
I am too tired to think that far.
Moreta looked at the midafternoon sun over Keroon plain and wondered with a terrible lethargy exactly what time it was.
“One last jump, that’s all we have to take, Holth.”
Wearily the old queen gathered herself to spring. Moreta gratefully began her litany.
“Black, blacker, blackest-”
They went between.
Back to a hero’s welcome, too a necessary drink, and to the knowledge that you’ve helped save the world. We’re right near the end of the chapter, so there’s not much more to be done but wind things down, right?
…where an I going, and why does this look like a handbasket?