Last chapter, vaccination! And recovery. And disturbing revelations about the totality of the destruction wrought. But also the fixing of things that are broken and the promise of new life. A carefully managed mood roller-coaster for the characters and the readers.
Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Chapter XII: Content Notes: Misogyny, dereliction of Healer duties, possible sexual or physical abuse
The chapter opens in Fort Hold, with Masterharper Tirone, Masterhealer Capiam, and Lord Tolocamp discussing the recently-arrived news that Orlith clutched twenty-five eggs at the end of the last chapter.
“Twenty-five eggs is not a generous clutch,” Lord Tolocamp said in exaggeratedly mournful voice.
Capiam wondered if the Lord Holder’s dose of vaccine had held some curious contaminant. The man’s while personality had altered. The charitable would say that he grieved for his wife and for daughters, but Capiam knew that Tolocamp had consoled himself rather quickly by taking a new wife, so his sorrow was suspect. Tolocamp had also made his losses the excuse for a variety of shortcomings, short temper, and dithering.
I’m not sure why Capiam thinks there’s been a change. The description here seems to be accurate for the pre-illness Tolocamp that was trying to get one of his daughters to Alessan and always looking out after his own interests, so much so as to violate a quarantine order and leave his family behind to potentially die. What may have changed is the openness with which Tolocamp operates, using his grief as cover to let his actual personality out. For those people that had poor opinions of Tolocamp, this reinforces their opinions. For those that didn’t, they’ll be patient enough over some period of grief, but then they’ll start realizing that the true colors have come out, too.
The discussion continues about the health of the Weyrs and some attempts at assigning blame for the swiftness of the spread of the plague, which Tirone cuts off with a very pointed demand to get back to the original discussion put on hold by the news of the clutch. If there were any lingering doubts about what the narrative wants us to think about Tolocamp, they’re going to be soundly put to rest here.
“Healers are not immune to the viral influence and they cannot work without medicines.” Capiam leaned urgently across the table to Tolocamp, who drew back, another habit that irritated the Healer. “You have a great storeroom of medicinal supplies-”
“Garnered and prepared by my lost Lady-” Capiam ruthlessly suppressed his irritation. “Lord Tolocamp, we need those supplies-”
A man look narrowed Tolocamp’s eyes. “For Ruatha, eh?”
“Other Holds besides Ruatha have needs!” Capiam spoke quickly to allay Tolocamp’s suspicions.
“Supplies are the responsibility of the individual holder. Not mine. I cannot further deplete resources that might be needed by my own people.”
“If the Weyrs, stricken as they are, can extend their responsibilities in the magnificent way they have, beyond the areas beholden to them, then how can you refuse?”
“Very easily,” Tolocamp pushed his lips out. “By saying no. No one may pass the perimeter into the Hold from any outlying area. If they don’t have the plague, they have other, equally infectious, diseases. I shall not risk more of my people. I shall make no further contributions from my stores.”
Well, maybe there’s one other explanation here. Tolocamp has survived a deadly outbreak that claimed the lives of many around him and many supposedly close to him. It may have also presented him with a rather stark picture of his own mortality and the reality that nobody gets out of life alive. That kind of mental scare probably produces some form of post-traumatic stress and, apparently, paranoia about disease vectors and infections. Someone irrationally concerned about these things might behave in this quarantine-and-hoard manner, thinking the only way to be safe is to be prepared against everything that could arrive and to prevent as many possible infection vectors as possible – what would be sensible precautions on the early stages of the pandemic, but is now the opposite behavior of what’s needed to transport and manufacture vaccine and treatment so that the pandemic is truly contained and vaccinated against. As people who have worked in public health know, though, working around and through bottlenecks, warlords, or other impediments like this can mean the difference between success and failure.
Unlike Terra, however, Pernese Craftmasters have extra leverage they can use, including one element that will surely trip the paranoia alarms.
“Then I withdraw my healers from your Hold,” Capiam said. He rose quickly.
“But-but-you can’t do that!”
“Indeed he can! We can,” Tirone replied. He got to his feet and came round the table to stand by Capiam. “Craftsmen are under the jurisdiction of their Hall. You’d forgotten that, hadn’t you?”
Capiam swung out of the room, so angry at Tolocamp’s pettiness that bile rose sourly in his throat. Tirone was only a step behind him.
“I’ll call them out! Then I’ll come join you in the camp.”
“I didn’t think it would come to this!” Capiam seized Tirone by the shoulder in an effort to express his appreciation of the Harper’s swift reinforcement.
“Tolocamp has presumed once too often on the generosity of the Halls!” Tirone’s usually smooth, persuasive voice had a hard edge. “I hope this example reminds others of our prerogatives.”
This mostly serves to remind me of how odd the justice systems are on Pern. Dragonriders answer only to themselves, and usually with martial combat, Crafters answer only, apparently, to those of higher rank than themselves, making Master Crafters basically gods into themselves, only answerable to the Emperor of the gods, the singular Mastercrafter, and everyone else answers to the Lords Holder, who answer to their own Conclaves, I guess. I’m surprised there aren’t more incidents of cross-class violence, like the fracas Menolly and Piemur were involved in during Dragonsinger, that have to be sorted out in some manner to find responsibility.
As it is, the withdrawal of the Crafts is the nuclear option for forcing compliance with their wishes. What remains is to see whether Tolocamp calls Capiam and Tirone on the issue, considering a Hold could theoretically do without both Harper and Healer without serious harm.
Or, it would be that particular scenario, were it not for interference from an unlikely position.
The speaker emerged from the shadow of a doorway. She was one of the three remaining Fort daughters, a big-boned girl with large brown eyes well-spaced in an intelligent but plain face. Her thick black hair was pulled severely back from her face.
“I have the storeroom keys.” She held them up.
“How did you?…” Tirone was uncharacteristically at a loss for words.
“Lord Tolocamp made plain his position when he received the request for medicines. I helped harvest and preserve them.”
“Lady?…” Capiam could not recall her name.
“Nerilka.” She supplied it quickly with the faint smile of someone who does not expect to be remembered. “I have the right to offer you the products of my own labor.” She gave Tirone an intense, challenging stare. Then she returned her direct gaze to Capiam. “There is just one condition.”
“If it is within my giving.” Capiam would give a lot for medicines.
“That I may leave this Hold in your company and work with the sick in that horrid camp. I’ve been vaccinated.” A wry smile lifted one side of her mouth. “Lord Tolocamp was expansive that day. Be that as it may, I will not stay in a Hold to be abused by a girl younger than myself. Tolocamp permitted her and her family to enter this hallowed Hold from the fire-heights yet he leaves healers and harpers to die out there!”
And he left my mother and sisters to die at Ruatha. Her unspoken words were palpable in the brief silence.
We saw Nerilka a little bit in earlier chapters, here and there, doing things and being a background character. If I didn’t know the next book would be called Nerilka’s Story, at this point, I might suspect that she’s moved into Hero of Another Story territory, given how much characterization she now has.
That said, the description we get of her when she is revealed from the doorway, and this entire exchange, makes me facepalm SO HARD. She’s bigger and plain with a functional but not pretty hairstyle. But she looks intelligent, and her big eyes are evenly spaced. So she’s not a looker, but she isn’t ugly, and because of that (and that she’s one of eleven daughters), she apparently smiles and gives her name like she expects nobody to remember her. And yet, she apparently has some iron in her will and clearly enough intelligence and guile to size this opportunity to get out from a bad situation. On this world, though, nobody probably has remembered her because she’s not pretty, even though she’s probably the best marriage prospect of them all, even before the plague. She and before-Harper Menolly would probably have a lot to talk about in their lives, suffering from active abuse from family and passive abuse from the society around them.
We also note that the unflattering description of Tolocamp’s new wife and daughters puts on a creepy old man vibe, like this was someone he’d had his eye on for some time now and jumped at the opportunity to make official under the cover of mourning his dead wife and daughters. The narrative is pretty clearly telling us what we should be thinking of Lord Tolocamp. (The PTSD-paranoia angle remains a valid one, but with No Therapists On Pern, there’s no way we’ll know how much this behavior is Tolocamp’s natural state and how much is brought on by the trauma.)
Finally returning to the action, Nerilka takes Capiam to the storehouse, where there are three drudges recruited to assist with the movement of medicine. What follows is a masterwork of manipulation, selective truths, and far more compassion shown to the household staff than seen in any book to this point.
“You are prompt, I see,” Nerilka said, nodding approval to them. “Father appreciates promptness,” she said to Capiam as she was separating the keys.
[…Doors unlocked, Capiam is able to appreciate the magnitude of the storehouses that Tolocamp is hiding…]
He had the impression of staggering resources and doubly condemned Tolocamp’s parsimony.
“Behold, Master Capiam, the produce of my labors since I was old enough to snip leaf and blossom and dig root and bulb.” Nerilka’s sarcastic voice was intended for his ears only. “I won’t say I have filled every shelf, but my sisters who have predeceased me would not deny me their portions. Would that all these hoarded supplies were usable, but even herbs and roots lose their potency in time. Waste, that’s the bulk of what you see, fattening tunnel snakes. Carry-yokes are in the corner there, Sim. You and the others, take up the bales.” She spoke in a pleasant authoritative time, gesturing to the drudges. “Master Capiam, if you do not mind-that’s the fellis juice.” She pointed to a withy-covered demijohn. “I’ll take this.” She lifted a bulky container by its girth strap. In her other hand, she swung a pack over one shoulder. “I mixed fresh tussilago last night, Master Capiam. That’s right, Sim. On your way now. We’ll use the kitchen exit. Lord Tolocamp has been complaining again about the wear on the main hall carpets. It’s as well to comply with his instructions even if it does mean extra lengths for the rest of us.” She covered the glowbaskets.
She set down the demijohn to lock the storeroom, ignoring Capiam’s expression, for it was apparent to him that she had gone to some pains to organize the unauthorized distribution.
Nerilka’s Genre Savvy extends beyond this point, as she is dressed as a drudge herself, adopts the appropriate walk and demeanor, and convincingly argues that she won’t be missed, points out her set of keys is an extra set that her stepmother doesn’t know about, that she has useful skills he needs, and that she can sneak back in at any time if needed. “Don’t look surprised. The drudges do it all the time. Why shouldn’t I?”
Sandwiched in the middle, though, is yet another reason why Pern is a screwed-up place.
The docility of the Fort daughters had been the source of ribaldry at the Halls whenever Lady Pendra had invited unmarried men of rank to the Hold. Nerilka, Capiam was chagrined to remember, was one of the oldest of the eleven daughters, though she had two full elder brothers, Campen and Mostar, and four younger. Lady Pendra had been constantly pregnant, another source of indicate comment among the apprentice healers. It had never occurred to Capiam – and certainly not to his shameless juniors – that the Fort Horde had any wits or opinions of their own. In Nerilka, rebellion was full blown.
This deserves a Whatfruit for sheer audacity.
Cocowhat by depizan
Beyond that, I salute Lady Pendra’s iron constitution! That many live children with no complications for her or the kids! Also, apparently, the secrets of dragon abortion never got to her. Still, that is an impressive feat of childbirth, one not usually matched in these Terran times, and made even more impressive with the continued suggestion that the technology level for the planet is still somewhere around the city-states, perhaps with a better understanding of some elements. Since, historically, childbirth is one of those things that tends to kill women, and Fax in Dragonflight was said to basically be trying to keep women pregnant until they were dead, with the assumption that he was frequently changing women because of this.
Getting back to my original point, though, Capiam exemplifies the attitude that most men take toward women on this planet (and, regrettably, a lot of men on our planet take, too), not seeing their women as anything other than a body with no head inside, and not making discreet inquiries of Lady Pendra about whether these children that she is constantly pregnant with are wanted children. You know, since abusers like to try and tie their victims to them, and children and pregnancy are one of the ways to bodily restrict a woman. And this “new attitude” of Tolocamp’s could very well be his actual personality showing through. With the way Nerilka instructed the drudges, it seemed pretty clear that the implications of doing something to upset Tolocamp were going to be dire. It’s quite possible this docility so roundly made fun of was the best survival mechanism available. Seemed to work out pretty well for Menolly, and for Lessa before her, and kind of, ish, for Brekke, too.
I’m really hoping, though, that Nerilka’s Story is not a retread of any of these stories, nor of Piemur or Jaxom. A new concept is definitely needed in characterization.
Plot-wise, Capiam makes it to the boundaries of the quarantine camp without incident and with all the medical supplies intact. Nerilka slips by the guards without any worry, even as they push Capiam away, ending his brief flirtation with the idea of disappearing from the Hall and going into the camps unnoticed as well. It appears such things are only possible by mythic rulers of Terra and women characters generally.
After seeing Nerilka off, the scene changes back to Moreta and Leri, discussing why the wounded but patched queen from the last chapter isn’t healing properly, with Leri sending Moreta out on Holth back to High Reaches to extract the necessary ichor from another dragon to spread it on the injured wing. The rider of the donor, Diona, one of the Weyrwomen, is too afraid of hurting her dragon to manage it (along with several other narrative cues, like not having a glowbasket ready to light the way, to indicate that she’s supposed to be a ditz / delicate flower), and Moreta discovers that the injured queen is badly dehydrated, interfering with the healing process, when everyone interpreted the feverish cries of the rider to be the rider demanding water. Moreta is pretty ticked off at this point about the inabilities of others.
Furthermore, the queen is bleeding out of an unnoticed to this point laceration. Which riles Moreta at herself for not doing a more thorough check on her previous visit and provides some reality check about how everyone on the planet is dealing with increased stresses and are functioning in roles they would not normally be engaging in. It’s a tragedy of errors in process, and so again, Moreta recruits the Healer for surgery as her assistant.
Useful information gleaned as Moreta directs Pressen, her unlikely assistant (again) – Pernese dragons have multiple hearts, and bleed green, instead of red. So ichor, in this case, is some sort of blood product, if not blood itself. Also, one can transfuse this ichor by drawing it from a point on the wing where veins meet bone, and then pouring it on the affected places, which will create the draconic equivalent of clots to assist healing.
After suggesting that Pressen should consider studying to be a Weyr Healer, noting the arrival of buckets of water and the increased response and vitality from the injured queen dragon after drinking, and leaving instructions with the Weyrlingmaster about looking after the injured queen, Moreta returns on Holth to Fort Weyr and the chapter ends.