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.