Nerilka’s Story: At The Bottom Of The Night

Last chapters, Nerilka found a new home in Ruatha, helping create lifesaving serum and taking on many of the tasks of keeping the Hold running with its skeleton crew. Nerilka seems ready to make her home at Ruatha, and might be ready to admit to herself that she has feelings for Alessan, even though she’s convinced that she’s not pretty enough for him to notice. The tragedy of Moreta happened at the end, sending Oklina and Alessan both into very strong grief. It is here we pick up again…

Nerilka’s Story: Chapters X, XI, and XII: Content Notes: PATRIARCHY, abandonment, sexual pressure,

(3.24.43-4.23.43, then 3.11.1553 Interval)

Chapter X starts with the aftermath – B’lerion mentioning new rules and discipline imposed on riders to avoid a repetition of the issue, Tirone’s Ballad of Moreta’s Ride being altered, at the insistence of the Weyrleaders, so that Moreta is on Orlith, rather than Holth, and Desdra telling Nerilka about the secret of draconic time travel as the explanation of why things didn’t add up on the serum distribution. Telgar Weyr suffers an undisclosed punishment because the other Weyrwomen are convinced that Telgar’s actions caused Moreta’s death.

And then there’s Alessan. Who comes out of his fellis-induced sleep extremely unhappy at being drugged and without any sort of lessening of his grief. He wishes that he had been chosen as a dragonrider, so that he could just commit suicide, instead of having to live on, entirely aware that Rill will be one of many people tasked with making sure he stays alive.

Which pisses Nerilka off royally.

“You may not want to live, Lord Holder of Ruatha, but you don’t have the right to die!”
“Ruatha is no longer sufficient reason for me to live!” he told me in a bitter, intense, angry voice. “It’s tried to kill me once already.”
“And you have fought to save it. No one else could have done so much, with so much honor and dignity.”
[Alessan remains unconvinced…]
“As your holder, Lord Alessan, I require that you have an heir of your Blood to leave behind you.” I surprised myself with the vehemence in my voice, and he frowned as he looked up at me. “Unless you want Fort or Tillek or Crom Blood to hold Ruatha at your defection. Then I’ll mix the fellis for you and you can quit!”
“A bargain, then.” With a quickness I hadn’t expected from a man lying abed so wracked and spent with grief, he was upright, extending an implacable hand to me. “When you are with child, Nerilka, I’ll drink that cup.”
I stared back at him, aghast that my rallying words had evoked such a response from him, stunned that he misconstrued what I had said and applied it personally to me. Then I realized he knew my name.

Busted. It appears that the disguise that Nerilka thought was excellent wasn’t fooling anyone with a reason to know who she was. And now she’s blundered into a deal with Alessan to have his kid before he exits the mortal plane.

Alessan tries to convince her that it’s a sound idea, Nerilka won’t believe that and asks Alessan how he knew (Suriana, it turns out, sketched Nerilka with regularity while alive. Perhaps the idea that they had a crush on each other is not so far out of the team of possibility?)

Then there’s this:

Then he snapped his fingers impatiently. “Come, girl, it is not so bad a bargain, to be undisputed Lady Holder of Ruatha, and no Lord to abuse you forever. You can’t be afraid of me? I never beat Suriana. Surely she told you that I was a good husband to her.”

Pern. The kind of place where men expect cookies for not being assholes. And the kind of place where after making what is essentially a suicide pact, a man expects to have sex with the woman he made it with. Alessan is apparently persuasive at this, and Nerilka would have had sex with him, were it not for Tuero entering.

The more we learn about the culture of the Holders, the more I’m wondering whether this is supposed to be either a parody or someone trying to out-Gor Gor. Because this entire setup of “men do whatever they want with the women in their life” just doesn’t seem sustainable.

Anyway, Alessan goes to the business of the Hold with renewed energy, surprising everyone, who think he’s taken a turn for the better, instead of trying to get his affairs in order to pass on the Hold. The matters of state take time and effort and are pretty successful, including Alessan announcing that Tolocamp gave his blessing for Nerilka to be his wife. Well, not really.

Much later, I came across that roll, wedged in the back of a coffer. Tolocamp’s actual words were: “If she is there, take her. She is no longer kin of mine.” Alessan need not have spared my feelings, but it proved in yet another way that an essential goodness of spirit was imprisoned behind that emotionless facade.

Later on, after events that we’ll talk about in a bit, Tolocamp sends this blessing:

“Ruatha Hold swallows all my women, and if Nerilka prefers Ruathan hospitality to move, this is the end of her as my daughter.”

DARK HELMET: How many assholes do we have on this ship, anyway?
[BRIDGE CREW all jump to their feet and raise a hand]
BRIDGE CREW: YO!
DARK HELMET: I knew it! I’m surrounded by assholes!

And so you are, Nerilka, and always have been. Tolocamp is apparently so incensed at the idea of his daughter doing anything at all that he’s willing to disown his daughter, which might be even a few steps beyond Yanus’s constant physical abuse to Menolly, although it’s been pretty heavily implied that Tolocamp beat his children that much as well. If Tolocamp is supposed to be a comparison to Yanus, with Yanus coming out as the tame one, well, that’s just a sign of how absolutely screwed up things are on the planet.

Everyone else is surprised at this revelation of “Rill” actually being a prestigious daughter of Fort. And Alessan basically rushes them into the marriage right afterward, since there is a Harper and witnesses present. Oklina is concerned that there won’t be a ceremony or celebration or anything else for Nerilka, but Alessan convinced her that they don’t have the money to spare, and so Alessan gives Nerilka “a gold marriage mark from his pouch and repeated the formal request that I become his Lady Holder and wife, mother of his issue and honored before all others in Ruatha Hold.”

Of course the marriage vow explicitly says that Nerilka’s duty is to be wife and mother and put on a pedestal. Because that’s all that Lord Holders see women as – baby factories and trophies. Unless they’re Searched, then they become companions for dragonriders and mothers and have to stay alive so that more dragons happen. No wonder everyone is so shocked at Fandarel employing women in his Craft – he’s doing something unheard of in the society.

The marriage contact is a coin, interestingly, instead of a jewel, despite the presence of jewels, which arrive along with a small dowry chest full of marks from Uncle Munchaun. It seems like such a thing would be easy to lose or hide, should a Lord Holder decide he wants to step outside his marriage. Then again, from what we’ve seen and heard, it seems like an affair, even one that resulted in children, would be no biggie.

The news of her marriage brings a final satisfactory snark from Nerilka about her previous life.

Uncle added with great satisfaction that Anella had been infuriated by the news, having been certain that I was hiding in a sulk somewhere in the Hold. Finally she had complained bitterly about my continued absence to Tolocamp, who, indeed, hadn’t realized I was missing until that moment.

And is still willing to disown his daughter for having disobeyed him anyway. Tolocamp, you’re more than an asshole, you’re a Platonic form of asshole.

Now properly Lady Holder, Nerilka turns to the business of repopulating Ruatha by absorbing and choosing the holdless and younger sons from other places, rebuilding the supplies through ruthless fiscal management, and falling in love with Alessan, taking some happiness every time she has a period to prove that she won’t have to uphold her end of the bargain. As the day of Oklina’s candidacy approaches, Nerilka and Oklina both have to sew appropriate clothes, and Nerilka thinks she can occasionally see flashes of Alessan’s depression easing. Thus ends Chapter X.

Chapter XI is the day of the Hatching. Everyone in the Ruatha party realizes that this day is going to be sad. As does everyone else in attendance – what would normally be a joyous affair is strongly muted. Not everyone knows that Orlith and Leri had already fulfilled their suicide pact earlier that day, but being on the Hatching Ground is a reminder of Moreta’s premature demise.
As the assembled dignitaries arrive, newly promoted Masterhealer Desdra is with Capiam, the two of them apparently a couple. Anella tries to put as much distance between herself and Nerilka. Then the humming begins, and all eyes are on the dragon eggs as they hatch. Bronzes, blues, and insight into Alessan follow, as Nerilka realizes that if Oklina gets the queen, it would reinforce the pattern of Alessan’s life that loving and caring for things means losing them. When the queen egg hatches, it goes straight for Oklina, who welcomes Hannath with open arms and according to the same formula as all Hatchings have, with a proud declaration of the dragon’s name. Nerilka is overjoyed at this, but it takes Alessan a very long time and a lot of expression of grief and pain before finally opening enough to explain his pain.

And as is customary with books that end with Hatchings (Which is more than a few of them, now that I think about it), there’s the musing on the cyclical nature of life and death, joy and sorrow:

“Today is Oklina’s joy day. Nothing, not even old sorrow, should mar it. Nor, honorable Rill, will I require that cup of you.” We had started down the tiers and he was watching his steps, so he did not see how near I came to tears again with this new pressure of joy in my heart. “There is too much to be done at Ruatha, now we have lost Oklina to the Weyr. I could not have stood in her way as my father did in mine. Now I am relieved that I did not. I had come to Fort Weyr to understand that lives end, and lives begin.”

Which is eminently practical all by itself, but when you’re in the middle of depression, any reason is a good one. And thus, Nerilka’s narrative ends, and all that’s left is for Nerilka to tell us what has happened in the aftermath.

That’s what Chapter XII tells us – G’drel is Weyrleader at Fort, and Wingleader Sh’gall isn’t heard of much, if at all. B’lerion flew Hannath on her first flight, and two sons have been the result of that. Nerilka has been busy in the baby-making department herself, but it’s really creepy the way she describes it:

…for I have fulfilled the first half of my original bargain with Alessan five times: four strong sons and a daughter we have named Moreta. Alessan will not have me overbear, though I keep telling him that I am happiest pregnant and never suffer as others have from being in that condition.

Really? That has a seriously Stepford vibe to me, coming from the daughter that hated being part of the Fort Hold Horde, in a society that still doesn’t seem to have a lot of technology for helping make pregnancies less life-threatening, and that happily derided a woman that was in her Hold mostly for sex and babies, instead of any other reason. I don’t like the implications that babies make strong women more submissive or happy about being pregnant.
The children, apparently, are thawing Alessan with their antics, especially the daughter, and so he’s slowly starting to come back to enjoy races and humor, and his wife. They’re well-matched for each other, and Alan publicly acknowledges her contributions and effort, a thing that warms Nerilka’s heart forever, since appreciation is the thing that she’s been wanting for all her life. So the story that started with tragedy ends with happiness, and Nerilka wishes the same happiness to others in the last line of the book. All’s well that ends well, even if the underlying society still clearly has issues that will take generations to deconstruct and then replace, after generations of work to bring awareness.

The appendix offers drawings and maps to give visualizations of where things are and what Holds and Halls might look like in the exterior and interior. They’re not as helpful as one might think, because they don’t really provide a lot of mapping of the internal cave system.

Next, we spin the chronometers back even father in time, all the way back to the very first Pass of the Red Star, to Dragonsdawn.

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9 thoughts on “Nerilka’s Story: At The Bottom Of The Night

  1. WanderingUndine May 19, 2016 at 5:07 pm

    “[I] never suffer as others have from being in that condition.” What’s that supposed to mean?? I’ve never been pregnant and hope I never will, but I know that it’s intrinsically uncomfortable. Even if Nerilka doesn’t get nausea or dangerous complications, there are things like heartburn, constipation, reduced bladder capacity, and the strain on legs and back of carrying around a heavy thing. Not saying that people can’t enjoy their pregnancies, but this sentence seems like an improbable “I’m so special.” Maybe McCaffrey has a pregnancy fetish.

    Just realizing how often the designated villains of these books, aside from Thread are Lord Holders (Fax, Meron, Yanus (?), Trollocamp) or women who make sexual decisions for their own benefit (Kylara, Anella). Plus the various children who bullied the younger protagonists. Adult dragonriders seem to be coded “good” most of the time. The series is named after them, don’tcha know. Ugh.

    I’ve started keeping track of cocowhats for the Pern Deconstruction:

    Moreta: 4
    Nerilka’s Story: 2
    Previous books: Probably a lot more, but I didn’t count

    Dragonsdawn! The first Pern book I read, the only one I reread, and thus the only one which I remember well and am at all attached to. So I’m eager for its upcoming deconstruction, but a little nervous.

  2. WanderingUndine May 19, 2016 at 8:35 pm

    I did always like the line in the last chapter which goes something like “It is not the shadow of Suriana or the dream of Moreta that he hold in his arms and loves, but me, his wife.” Either that’s true or she contentedly believes it is — a feat for someone who had always thought nobody would ever love or marry her.

    I think Alessan is portrayed as an exceptionally nice, likable, and responsible Lord Holder. “Have my baby or I’ll kill myself” would generally be considered a jerk move, but hey, she’s happy with him now, right? And he cares about her health and won’t let her “overbear”…even if that’s still a man dictating a woman’s reproductive choices. Cookies for basic decency, as you said.

  3. depizan May 19, 2016 at 10:27 pm

    He wishes that he had been chosen as a dragonrider, so that he could just commit suicide

    Is this because it’s socially acceptable for them to commit suicide, but not for other people, or have the people of Pern literally forgotten all other suicide methods?

    “When you are with child, Nerilka, I’ll drink that cup.”

    I don’t understand this at all. Dude is suicidal with grief and doesn’t consider his duties as Holder to be a reason to live…but he’s willing and eager to make a bargain to leave an heir behind? Why does this matter to him? Sometimes the people of Pern are truly alien to me.

    (If it were some sort of game of emotional manipulation chicken that they got tangled up in, it would boggle me less, but this is just…weird. It’s almost like the grief is a put on to get her to marry him. But maybe it reads less bizarrely than it excerpts?)

    And then it all descends into further weird and creepy. Ah, Pern, you’re such a lovely planet, and never fail to make me Team Thread.

    (I’m also vaguely irked that the nicest male character so far ended up as awful as all the rest. I shouldn’t be surprised, of course, but still, it’s annoying.)

  4. Funaria May 19, 2016 at 11:54 pm

    @ WanderingUndine
    I’ve only been pregnant once, but Nerilka’s line there does ring true to me. I had very minor back pain at the end, and swollen feet a couple of times, but for the most part I had no discomfort from the pregnancy. I’d go so far as to say period cramps every month are more discomfort than being pregnant – for me, at least.

  5. Silver Adept May 22, 2016 at 10:51 am

    Must be time for a reread to collect your whatfruit counts. You can probably just skim the tag and see how many times it has appeared.

    Not only are adult male dragonriders coded good, they often are responsible for some of the worst acts of evil in the series. The narrative tries to cover for them and justify their actions, but the dragonriders do a lot of really bad stuff.

    It really is rather bad that the nicest, most considerate Holder still turns out to be, well, a Lord Holder, but I guess we give points for character type consistency?

    Nerilka, I note, finds love not because she’s pretty, at least according to her account, but because she was able to help Alessan back from his suicidal self. And so she’s able to accept that love for herself.

    As for Alessan, he’s supposed to be the gentle Lord Holder, and one with an eye toward making sure his duties are complete, even when he’s ready to give up completely.

    it’s not “have my baby or I’ll kill myself”, it’s Nerilka saying “you can’t kill yourself until you’ve had a baby, unless you want your rivals to have your Hold.” and Alessan replying “Fine. Have my baby so that I can kill myself.”

    So Nerilka manages to push the one button that still works on him – duty to his Hold to bear a child and continue his line. So he makes that suicide pact with Rill so that he can finally feel free of all his obligations and kill himself. Whereas, were he a rider, he could just go into hyperspace and not come back.

    …no, it still doesn’t make much sense, other than I suspect his grief was looking for a way out and Nerilka happened to be convenient.

  6. WanderingUndine May 23, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    Oh, right, it was “Have my baby so I can then kill myself.” Could have gone badly for Ruatha if he had gone through with that. But he didn’t, so it’s all good.

  7. genesistrine May 29, 2016 at 6:14 am

    Am I the only one finding Alessan’s behaviour horrifyingly gross and manipulative then?

    For the “happy ending” we’re coming back to the first-person viewpoint problem again – how reliable is Nerilka as a narrator? Who’s she writing for? (And whoever that is, I find it hilarious that she’s writing the Terrible Secret of Time Travel down so anyone rummaging through the Ruatha Records can find it. Though evidently no-one did, and her journal just mulched down with the rest of the Records.)

    Is Nerilka kidding herself about the love? The The “not overbearing”, after all, could just be a good stockbreeder thinking about his human stock. Is she writing to convince herself?

    As for Alessan’s bargain; that’s one of the most horrifyingly manipulative things I’ve ever heard. If someone told you, “my boyfriend says he’ll kill himself unless I x” you’d tell them to get the hell out of there ASAP, get help, this is not right, and Alessan ups the ante to “I’ll kill myself unless you let me impregnate you (and then I’ll kill myself anyway FY)”.

    That’s… just…

    RUN. AWAY. NERILKA WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU THAT YOU’RE TOLERATING THIS.

    Oh right. In love. And parents who stomped all over your self-worth.

    Ugh.

  8. emmy May 29, 2016 at 7:39 am

    The behavior is incredibly creepy out of context but at a guess (since I don’t have the book I am guessing from the description) we are supposed to take it that he is not in his right mind at the time he issues those statements? He’s in grief and shock, he’s not thinking clearly.

    The scene reads differently if you take it from the perspective of ‘I want to control my romantic partner’ versus ‘I want to die, as soon as possible while causing the least disruption to the people around me’. which seems to be what they’re going for.

    Also, from the quote, Nerilka was the one who brought bargaining into it.

    >“As your holder, Lord Alessan, I require that you have an heir of your Blood to leave behind you.” I surprised myself with the vehemence in my voice, and he frowned as he looked up at me. “Unless you want Fort or Tillek or Crom Blood to hold Ruatha at your defection. Then I’ll mix the fellis for you and you can quit!”

    It seems like she’s saying “If you hate your Hold that much, fine, I’ll help you die right now, but if you’re a decent person at all you should have an heir first!” to which his reply is “Fine, if you care that much about my Hold, YOU help me have an heir and THEN I’ll die.”

    He doesn’t love her or want her, he doesn’t want her to love him (since that would both be salt on his broken heart and make his desired death harder to accomplish), he in that moment just wants to make a business arrangement to settle the Hold’s succession so he can quit ‘honorably’.

    By the time of the Hatching, he’s apparently coming around enough to realise that he just can’t do it.

    So it doesn’t look like he’s ever trying to use it as a controlling threat over Nerilka in that way.

  9. genesistrine May 29, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    Maybe. Another possible interpretation is that he’s taking her comment to its limit to get her to back off – “you say I’ve got to leave an heir? Fine. You gimme one then. Put up or shut up,” and expects to get his face slapped rather than Nerilka leaping at the chance as she does.

    It’s still massively creepy though, and has this weird fetishisation of “Ruathan Blood”. Given the size of the noble genepool they must all be closely related anyway, so the Fort or Tillek or Crom Blood could probably furnish a cousin or three even after the pandemic, or the Weyrs could go for the Jaxom Solution and put a steward in place until Oklina has a child. Nerilka seems to be trying to present it as the Only Solution, when it’s really not.

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