Last time, Capiam developed a plan to mass vaccinate both people and animals so as to prevent the flu from having another outbreak, and went to Moreta to get dragonriders to distribute, since Alessan had a successful test of animal serum. To make this plan work, though, the principal players have to jump into the future to harvest needlethorn so that they have enough to ensure sterility. This is quite dangerous.
Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Chapter XIV, Part Two: Content Notes: Actual, Honest-to-Prime Consent!
Here’s the description we have for the future time hop:
“Facing northwest, the Red Star is horizon, Belior half full ascending, and the quarter horn of Timor mid-heaven. You will please concentrate on how Ista looks with those ging trees in bloom. Think of them as now and in Ista, and the heat of autumn and the smell of those rotting rainforests.”
Good to know there’s names for these moons. Didn’t know they had them before this point.
That said, this is a pretty interesting thing. The picture being described has reference points for the big Sky bits, but assumes that the sky surrounding them is either familiar to Moreta or isn’t important enough to throw off the attempt, as apparently part of getting a good visualization is in the non-visual sensory aspects as well.
In any case, Moreta firmly holds the picture in her head and Nabeth, B’lerion’s dragon, appears over Ista at the appropriate time. To make sure that there’s no more possible misinterpretation, Capiam asks whether this is the future, and Moreta gives him an affirmative. After a short lesson from Moreta on how to collect needlethorn, with a warning about fine hairs on the plant that cause inflammation, suggesting that needlethorn is in the same family as stinging nettle, the crew gets to work harvesting. Half collect needles, half use the leaves of the nearby ging to wrap and transport them in. Alessan needs extra help figuring out how to harvest and wrap the needlethorn, and he tries to turn it to an intimate moment with Moreta. Moreta turns out to be very willing, but B’lerion’s encounter with the fine hairs previously warned about interrupts the moment, and the two turn back to their work, although Alessan tries to be intimate (and takes some wounds of his own from needlethorn for the trouble) and Moreta curbs his worst excesses, but they do share kisses and caresses, and the “delightful friction of his proximity” excites her.
Then comes B’lerion and Oklina with a request for food, and Capiam and Desdra join in soon afterward. Interestingly enough:
He [B’lerion] had stripped to the waist, and Oklina had tired her shirt up under her breasts, leaving her midriff bare.
Capiam, too, had stripped off his tunic, which was now detailed over his shoulders. He was very thin, his ribs showing plainly.
“I know it’s hot,” Moreta began adroitly, “but none of us can return to Ruatha suffering from sunburn.”
Capiam exhibited a leaf he was using as a fan. “Or heat prostration.” He raised his eyebrows in satisfaction with the filled nets. “We left ours back a bit. I rather thought we should rest, as is the custom on this hot island, during the hottest part of the day.”
Everyone agreed that that was a sensible idea.
So there doesn’t seem to be any sort of great taboo about showing skin on Pern. Not that there would be for men – as solidly patriarchal as the planet is, there’s no reason to believe that shirtless men would invoke any sort of taboo. But bare midriff Oklina doesn’t appear to be invoking any reprimand from her brother about staying covered for modesty reasons.
In gathering food, Alessan gets an excuse to go shirtless himself, climbing up trees to collect nuts. In reclaiming his tunic, he runs his hands up the back of Moreta’s, who is surprised to find Alessan has quite soft skin and a nice smell.
Lunch is relaxing, with B’lerion providing the entertainment involving making fun of his disability (he’s one-handed, so does that mean he only gets half credit for his work?) and telling “an extravagantly funny take at the expense of Lord Diatis’s reputation”. Alessan wonders why things are the way they are:
“He sings a good descant, but B’lerion always seemed to be the epitome of a bronze rider.”
“Why, then, is he not your Weyrmate?”
“Orlith chose Kadith.”
“Do you not have any say in the matter?” Alessan was irritated for her sake. From remarks he had made during their morning’s work, she knew that Alessan didn’t like Sh’gall and wondered just how much their new relationship would strain Ruatha’s dependence in Fort’s Weyrleader. She was struggling to find an honest reply to a question she had evaded in her own heart, when Alessan contritely covered her head, his expression pleading with her to forgive his rash remarks. “I’m sorry, Moreta. That is a Weyr matter.”
“To answer you in part, B’lerion is always like that,” she said. “Charming, amusing. But Sh’gall leads men well, and he has an instinct about Fall which is predecessor, old L’mal, considered uncanny.”
This makes sense in all the right ways. The leader for peace is not the leader for war, although it’s still not entirely clear what the Weyrleader needs to be doing during Threadfall. It sounds as though he should be acting as Spotter Supreme to make sure all the wings are at their correct levels and to direct the queens on where to catch what gets through, but it also seems like he’s supposed to be leading the charge against Thread. In any case, it seems like the Weyrleader is really there to put on the brave face and lead the dragons to potential injury or death. Which is an important skill for them, but that seems like it could be done as a title like Supreme Dragonrider, without also handing over the political power and the Weyr operations to them, as well. Then again, as noted, boinking dragons is not a good basis for a system of government.
To take naps (or not), the pairings split off again after lunch, which is perfect opportunity for Alessan and Moreta to get a bit of boinking of their own in. But the sequence has two threads to it – Alessan and Moreta, and Oklina and the possibility of a gold dragon.
Then, taking a deep breath, he pulled Moreta against him and kissed her deeply and sensually, his hand deftly stroking her to arousal. “Come on, Moreta, I’m not chancing another attack by those needlethorns.” He led her from the ravine and toward the cliff. “What I’d like to understand is why that blue dragon of M’barak’s is sniffing around Oklina. I could understand Nabeth with B’lerion entranced by her, but Arith… would it have anything to do with that queen egg on the Hatching Ground as Tuero suggested?”
“It might, but Fort Weyr would not deplete your bloodline by Searching Oklina, Alessan.”
“This will do. Let’s just throw down some ging fronds,” Alessan said, hauling on the nearest at hand. “I won’t have you bruised, either. That would be almost as hard to explain as a sunburn or heat prostration.” Moreta helped him arrange a bower, all her senses suddenly awake, wishing that Orlith, not Nabeth, were on the Istan ledge. “About Oklina, now, since I’ve been reliably informed” – Alessan paused to grin at her, his light eyes sparkling vividly with merriment – “that she already has dragonrider blood in her…” Then he turned briefly serious. “If it could be understood that her children would return to Ruatha, I would not stand in Oklina’s way if she had the chance to Impress a dragon.” He dumped his last handful of frond on the ground with a decisive gesture and pulled Moreta into his arms. “I’m not my father, you know.”
“I wouldn’t be in a rainforest with your father.”
“Why not? He was a lusty man. And I intend to prove that I’m a suitable heir for his reputation!”
She was laughing as he laid her down on the sun-dappled frond bed. And he proved himself as lusty – and tender – as any woman could wish a man. For a shining moment at the height of their passion, Moreta forgot everything but Alessan.
The heat of the day did overcome them briefly, and they slumbered in each other’s arms until tiny insects sought the moisture of their bodies and made them uncomfortable enough to wake.
…is this the first time in seven books where we have consensual sex between adults without the influences of any dragon or fire lizard, and the narrative doesn’t indicate its disapproval? Because it seems like it is. No mating flight, no snark, nothing. Alessan even indicates a desire to not be rough with Moreta. Not coincidentally, this also reads like the most passionate and satisfying sex that’s been had in these seven books. Perhaps even here, some of the message of “consent makes your sex hot” is getting through. Narratively, though, the story has gone out of its way to show us that Alessan is kind, empathetic, and genuinely concerned with the welfare of his people and his guests, in contrast to Tolocamp’s selfishness. So in addition to the Exceptional Women on display (Moreta for the dragonriders, Nerilka for the Holders, and Desdra for the Healers), we have an Exceptional Man who does things in contrast to the other Lord Holders. I…suppose we could call it an improvement, if we’re feeling generous, but the larger pattern still exists of Exceptional People as protagonists and main characters.
The strain of worry about Oklina resurrects some of the questions we asked during Dragonflight – while we know the new queen rider stays and raises the dragon, what happens to the other candidates? The youngest stick around in case they get another shot, but those who will be considered too old to Impress most have a life somewhere. Why don’t they go back to their Holds and resume the life left there? (Not that it’s a great life at all.) Is there an assumption by Holders that any woman who has been around dragonriders is tainted in some manner? Whether in philosophy about sex, or no longer being able to fetch the virgin bride price (because, presumably, if you stay long enough, you’ll be subjected to the wide-band broadcast of dragon mating and won’t be able to help yourself), there’s something about going off on Search that makes it not possible for a candidate to return home. In a subversive world, and a good headcanon option, those candidates are quietly hustled to sympathetic Crafthalls to learn a trade and become independent women, with the option of remaining with the Crafts or coming back to their Weyrs and taking up the Craft roles the Weyr needs.
Alessan has a point, though. Lords Holder are pretty obsessed with bloodlines and lineages, and the easiest way to avoid a civil war over Ruatha is to make sure the line continues. If both Alessan and Oklina are having kids that would be recognized as part of the Holder class, that’s a higher percentage chance of the line surviving and war being averted. So he both wants and doesn’t want Oklina to be selected as a candidate.
After their siestas, the group regathers for dinner, where B’lerion and Oklina show off the results of their skills at finding food, including Oklina pointing out that she learned a useful skill about fishing from Dag and that B’lerion used it to catch several. Which is an opportunity for the narrative to give Alessan the same reaction Capiam had to learning how much Nerilka knew:
“It was B’lerion’s idea, you know,” Oklina said. “He actually tickled the fish to catch them.”
“Did he teach you how?” Alessan asked.
“No,” Oklina replied with admirable composure. “Dag did. The same principal [sic] works in our rivers as Ista’s.”
Moreta could not resist chuckling at Alessan’s expression as he sank beside her.
“On more mature reflection, I think she deserves to be in a Weyr,” Alessan said in a severe undertone.
Running gag for this book: men constantly surprised that women have brains in their heads instead of fluff. Which is a joke you can make once in a while, but as a universal constant, gets old fast.
While others are ready to go back immediately, B’lerion squashes that idea in favor of the reality that the group will still need to finish the day they started.
“Sleep” – he pointed his finger sternly at Moreta – “for you have to mend dragons after Fall in another four hours. You can’t do that effectively after the day you just put in.” He flipped his hand toward the carry-nets lying in the shadows. “You, Alessan, will have to vaccinate and escort those priceless brood mares and foals of yours down from the meadows. I do not see you permitting anyone else to head that expedition. Desdra and Capiam, you will be returning to the pressures of expanding this vaccination program to include runnerbeasts. So we shall finish our meal and then we shall sleep.” He allowed the sibilance of the word to emphasize his meaning. “When Belior has risen, Nabeth will rouse us, won’t you, my fine fellow?” B’lerion thumped his dragon’s neck. “And we’ll all be the better for the time spent here.”
Well, there goes the possibility that B’lerion wouldn’t be a good leader in war. When he needs to, B’lerion is apparently very good at managing people and making sure they do what they need to. It certainly sounds like he is great Weyrleader material, but the narrative apparently needed Sh’gall, who has been anything but an effective leader in this crisis time. More drama is not always good drama.
Upon their return, Moreta is greeted with two very anxious queen dragons – they tried to reach her at Ista, but in their own time, and they could not find Moreta. Before that avenue is pursued, though, the preparations for the vaccination have to get underway, and Alessan, having taken an aerial look at Ruatha Hold, dispatches Oklina to find some able bodies and spruce up the place. M’barak returns with the glass bottles and a few extra hands, declaring the need for hurry since there’s still Fall in the day that was interrupted. Once unburdened of glass and passengers, Moreta hitches her ride back to Fort, where Leri grills get about where she went and why she was out of contact and how difficult it was to keep both queens under control. Moreta gives Leri a complete rundown of the plan Capiam came with, provoking Leri to declare a need to flay K’lon because Capiam knows about time travel. After reassuring her that it’s not necessary to get after K’lon, Moreta reveals the rest of the plan regarding jumping into the future to get the needlethorn and then visiting Weyrs under the guise of looking for queen candidates to recruit riders for the mass vaccination and time travel. Leri is basically incredulous and angry at the risk being taken, but she does see the planning in place.
Leri gave a little chuckle at Moreta’s cunning. “My dear, you’ve the makings of a superior Weyrwoman. Just shuck that bronze rider and get someone you’re happy with. And I do not mean that light-eyed Lord Holder, with his convenient stashes of Benden white. Though mind you, he’s a handsome lad.”
The call to battle ends the chapter, but it seems like everybody at Fort realizes that the Weyrleader match is a poor one at best and is wondering when Moreta will dump Sh’gall in favor of someone else. If we had any information about what the mating process is like from an experienced Weyrwoman, instead of the only description coming from Lessa, who knew absolutely nothing about it, then we could put to the test some of those claims that suggest the queen rider may have some choice or direction with regard to who gets to mate with her gold.
…then again, queen riders exercising choice in their mates and partners has a pretty poor track record so far. As does queen riders who don’t get to exercise choice, at least for the riders themselves.
There’s one chapter and an epilogue to go, which means it’s time for the competent Moreta to die in a tragic accident to provide manpain to the male characters, Alessan, K’lon, Capiam, and so forth, right? That way, we can get the Ballad that has been sung in the future about her.