The last chapter involved sneaking supplies out where they would be useful, with Capiam unable to do much more than gawk at how one of Tolocamp’s daughters could pull off this kind of ruse. Moreta also went back to check on a patient and discovered (and fixed) complications in their healing, giving us some insight into the nature of the dragons.
Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Chapter XIII: Content Notes: Grief, loss, unintentional triggering, dragon-influence
The beginning of this chapter has Alessan working fields with a plow and the remaining runnerbeasts he has, the prize racers that he had been breeding in defiance of his father’s wishes. It’s a bleak set of responsibilities for him and the Hold, as again, time marches on.
The land had to be tilled, crops sown, the tithe offered, the Hold fed no matter how the Lord Holder managed to accomplish those responsibilities. He came to the edge of the field and wrestled the team into the wide arc, turning back on the furrows. They were uneven but the earth had been turned.
[…There’s a Harper in the distance…]
Alessan had drummed for heavy plowbeasts and been told that no one had any to offer. Neither threats of withholding nor doubling the marks brought better results.
So nobody wants to give or sell anything to Ruatha to help them get their Weyr tithes or the people in the Hold fed. I would think their associated Weyr would have something to say about that. Assuming there are enough healthy and immunized riders and dragons to go out and intimidate the lesser folk into sharing. Even if it were entirely true that there are no runnerbeasts to be shared. Especially since it’s Sh’gall in charge at Fort – he would flip out entirely at any chance that a Hold wouldn’t be able to make the tithe.
Unfortunately, Alessan seems to believe that he’ll have to go it alone against other Holders that will be paranoid their great stocks will just die from the plague that affected the runners before it harmed the humans. Tuero, the Harper, convinces Alessan to send him instead, and while he doesn’t return with lots of beasts, he does come back with confirmation that everyone’s afraid of plague reoccurrence. Which apparently means, according to Tuero, Alessan could trade runner serum for runners, should it be the case that immunity can be transferred in the same way. Because Alessan has an entire stock of those that survived the plague. Alessan says “Why didn’t I think of that?” and plans immediately to make his Hold prosperous enough to fulfill their duties. He needs an expert opinion, and since the Hold that would normally have that is asleep, Alessan says to consult Moreta, indicating that he paid attention to her backstory instead of treating her as a disposable object, like other Lord Holders. So he and Moreta have a face to face meeting, instead of message by drum. Orlith is brooding, and there’s a joke about how nobody would steal a queen egg before Alessan arrives and he asks about runner inoculation. Moreta says it should have been obvious that it was possible and is incensed that it hasn’t happened yet, giving Alessan free rein of the storerooms to collect whatever he needs.
Then Alessan does something stupid, although he probably thought it was noble or an obligation.
“I did not come,” he said with a wry smile, “with an expectation of bounty. I can, however, return your gown.” He took out the carefully folded gold and brown dress and presented it to her with a courteous bow.
She managed to take it from him but her hands trembled. She thought of the racing, the dancing, her joy in a Gather as one should be, her delight in the perfection of that Gather evening as she and Oklina had made their way to the dancing square for an evening she would never forget. The pent-up frustrations, angers, suppressed griefs, the mandatory absences from Orlith that she thought of as betrayals of Impression, the whole accumulation burst the barrier of self-control and she buried her face in the dress, weeping uncontrollably.
Because that’s what Moreta needed at this very moment – a reminder of the event that set off all of the pain and suffering that has been the contents of this book. Way to go, Alessan. Perhaps some time after this has passed, you can return the dress, but now it’s just going to be a trigger.
As Orlith crooned supportively, Moreta was taken into Alessan’s embrace. The touch of his arms, fierce in their hold, the mixed odors of human and animal sweat, of damp earth, combined to free her tears. Abruptly she felt the heave and swell of his body as his grief found expression at last. Together they comforted and were comforted by each other’s release.
Yep. Catharsis is a lot like that, one big ball of emotion unbound and rushing out until it’s done. Having a supportive friend or partner there can really help with making sure it all gets out instead of being bottled back up as soon as it looks like someone else is watching. If this were everything that happened here, and both of them went back to business, it would be a lovely scene and very appropriate.
Instead, we get this.
His hands tightened and he pulled her toward him again, bending his head to one side so that she could evade him if she chose. Moreta tilted her head and accepted the kiss, thinking to put the seal of comfort to their shared sorrow with that age-old benison. Neither expected their emotions to flare to passion – Moreta because she had stopped thinking of relationships outside the Weyr, Alessan because he had thought himself spent from his losses at Ruatha.
Orlith crooned serenely, almost unheard by Moreta, who was caught up by the surge of emotion, the flow of sensuality so remarkably aroused by Alessan’s touch, the hard strength of his thighs against hers, the sensation of being vital again. Not even her girlhood love of Talpan had waked such an uninhibited response, and she clung to Alessan, willing the moment to endure.
Slowly, reluctantly, Alessan raised his mouth from hers, looking down at her with incredulous intensity. Then he, too, became aware of the dragon’s crooning and looked, startled, in the queen’s direction.
“She doesn’t object!” That amazed him further, and he was sensible of the risk he had taken.
“If she did, you’d know about it.” Moreta laughed. His expression of dismay swiftly altering to delight was marvelous. Joy welled up from a long-untapped source in her body.
I call shenanigans! Or at least that Orlith is actively putting influence on both of them to get together, whether because she thinks Moreta needs sex to take her mind off her grief or because Orlith is a queen on her eggs and this wants to make sure everyone around her is happy, too, or some other reason. The emotional swing there is pretty intense, and I think it’s more believable if we take Orlith’s behavior to be the draconic equivalent of “Kiss the Girl”. Plus, that way it makes sense for Alessan, who has been about proper behavior for most of this book, to suddenly realize after the fact that he risked Orlith’s displeasure.
Nothing happens past the kiss, though, as the return of Tuero with supplies gets Alessan and Moreta to both separate and talk about the runnerbeasts as if it were the only conversation they had.
Points to Alessan for giving Moreta an out on his intended behavior, although some vocalization would be better. With potential dragon influence, though, the rest of that sequence of behavior has to stand as possibly him, possibly not him.
Alessan heads back, leaving Moreta, possibly still under Orlith’s influence, to sink down to the couch and wonder how much of that conversation Holth and Leri heard. I’m sure it will be “all of it” in a suitably gossip way. And that’s our chapter.