The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall: The Ford of Red Hanrahan

Having spent a couple weeks on the seas with Jim Tillek and his flotilla of cargo ships accompanied by dolphins, it’s time to take a look in on the Hanrahan clan and how they are integrated into Landing society.

The Ford of Red Hanrahan: Content Notes: Foolhardiness

The story opens with Red consulting with Benden about how to take care of the horses correctly, since the cave systems at Fort are causing thrush from wet bedding. Red suggests moving them to sandy-floored caves near Fort Weyr, now five hundred dragonriders strong, giving us a clue that this story is somewhere in the future after Dragonsdawn. After Red finishes all his justifications, Benden says he’s okay with them moving out, surprising Red.

Paul Benden indulged in a rare laugh, which made the big vet realize how much Paul had altered in the past nine years. Unsurprising, when one thought how many burdens he had assumed since Emily Boll’s death from fever three years earlier.

We also learn there’s a new settlement, South Boll Hold, named in Emily’s memory, and that Benden is very much in favor of spreading the colonists out as far and as fast as possible.

Red knew that Benden feared another of the lightning-swift fevers that had decimated the Hold three years before.
[…Benden explains that he won’t risk any colonists to Thread, even though he needs to have more settlements as fast as possible…]
The old, the very young, and pregnant women had been the most vulnerable, and before the frantic medical team could develop a vaccine, the disease had run its course, leaving nearly four thousand dead. Nevertheless, the living had been immunized against a resurgence. Though all possible vectors – food, ventilation, allergies, inadvertent toxic substances from the hydroponics unit – had been examined, the trigger for its onset remained a mystery.
The fever had caused another problem: a large number of orphaned children between eight and twelve years. These had to be fostered, and although there had been no shortage of volunteers, a certain amount of reshuffling had had to occur to find psychologically suitable matches of adult and child.

Ah, another mysterious fever that ravages the known world. Although, in this case, a proximity epidemic makes much more sense than the virulent flu in the Sixth Pass going worldwide.

Additionally, I like the origins of the foster system coming out of the necessity of raising the orphans and then transforming into the more feudal system we see later on. Two paragraphs after the quoted bit, the original isolation wards for the fever patients have been transformed into classrooms, workshops, and dormitories after three years, which is also the origination of the Crafthalls, it looks like. This history feels more organic than other stories of the past of Pern, perhaps because it seems like many of the things we think of as historical traditions with great rituals and ceremonies usually started with a couple people getting together and trying to solve a problem they had.

Returning to the story, Benden asks who Red is taking with him, and that leads to a recounting of the great success of his line, both with him and Mairi and with Sean and Sorka. “The regiment” will be accompanying a full grouping of people going to the new place to help support the operations of the Weyr and its dragonriders and to establish a full suite of operations in its own right. Benden approves of the team and compliments it on the diversity of both professions and ethnic makeup, and then pops his eyebrows at one of the requests.

Paul continued reading, then looked up in surprise. “An airlock door? What’re you going to use that for?” he demanded.
“Well, it isn’t going to be used for anything else, and it’ll make an impressive entrance: also impregnable,” Red said. “I took the dimensions last time I was down in the storage cellars. Ivan and Peter Chernoff dissected the frame panel, too, which fits in the opening as if meant to be there. Seated it in some of that hull-patching compound Joel couldn’t find another use for. Peter even rescued the floor and ceiling bar holders. A spin of the airlock wheel, and we can drive home the lock bars top and bottom so that nothing can get past that door once it’s closed. Cos Melvinah called it a neat bit of psychological reinforcement.”

That sounds familiar. Maybe Menolly noticed something very similar in the Harper Hall during a Threadfall, maybe, because it was different than the barred door of Half-Circle Sea Hold? Another nicely dropped piece of mythology.

As it turns out, not only is Red moving out, so is Ongola, with a good site selected, but that requires finding a way over or through a mountain range. And there needs to be more spreading out, because the cramped quarters are causing temper flare-ups as well. Benden’s justice had been the thing keeping it all together.

We find that Mairi, Red’s wife, has just had her ninth child, which, according to her, means she has three more to go, and according to him, means she’s done. He has apparently ensured this, as well, meaning there’s still enough knowledge and tech to cause either vasectomies or tubal ligations, despite the failing power packs. When Benden asks Red about a name for the new Hold, he shrugs and says they’ll think of something.

As Red leaves, we find that he has plans both for his modified oxen and for breeding three strains of horses – a plow-horse, a racer, and a long-distance endurance grouping, to basically be the horses of Pern, building himself an empire where everyone buys his horses because they’re the best. The word buy seems rather telling about how far into some form of feudalism we already are from the pseudo-socialism of Landing.

The last thing of note is that the fire lizard population has been dwindling as the queens and others go South to mate and lay eggs, with only some of them returning to the north.

As Red gets underway, he reflects that the Aivas interface is still intact, despite all the volcanic ash and eruption that has, at this point, completely covered the original Landing settlement, and that knowledge helped Ezra Keroon die in a peaceful sleep from the same fever that killed Boll and so many others. Red considers naming his new Hold Keroon in Ezra’s memory, before an issue with his wagon train requires his attention and stops the reverie. A note from the site mentions a higher than usual river height from recent rains, and that makes the double meaning of the word “ford” suggest what the danger will be in this story, since “ford” refers to both the place where one crosses a river and the act of crossing the river, and in literature, these are usually made extra perilous because of floodwaters. If Red wants to cash in on his business dreams, he’s going to have to think smart.

The issue at hand is that some of his beasts are developing sores related to their harnesses not being flexible and softened enough to be used. After a long delay in making sure all the animals are cared for, the party continues on, and at their stop point for the night, Red softens the harnesses more to see if that won’t help.

The rain continues and intensifies the closer the train gets to the chosen ford, and by the time they get there, they can see that the river is higher than usual.

“We’ve reached the river, Dad,” Brian yowled from the darkness ahead. “And it’s in spate.”
Red groaned. He’d wanted to make the crossing as much because the land on the other side was his as because the farther bank was a better site for an overnight camp. He briefly considered waiting for daylight, but discarded the idea almost immediately. The flatter land on this side of the river was already under an inch or so of water. If the river was this high now, then by morning the water world be too high for the wheels of the smaller sleds. They might float away downstream of they got loose. And this was the best ford within klicks – if he could find it in the murky darkness.
Now, so close to his own private place, he was loath to let high water bar his way.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve played enough Oregon Trail and other games where trying to ford a river in the middle of a flood is a Total Party Kill without a saving throw, but this seems like a very bad idea for a group that is mostly unversed in how to do it to attempt. There’s supplies still in the wagons to try and wait for the river to go down some. If need be, Sean or Sorka could be politely asked to airlift the party over the river, as a favor, even though Sean never wants to use the dragons in that way.

Red, so far, had always been portrayed as a person not likely to take large risks with animals, so that he seems hellbent on getting over the river feels rather weird.

In terms of plot, Red borrows a lantern and tries to find his marking stones that showed where the ford was, but the river is already too high for him to see them. Brian asks about undercurrent, which makes Red even more impatient, rather than being willing to spend some days waiting on the river. He and Brian both step into the river on their horses and manage to find the ford and start crossing, with Red giving instructions on what to bring back from the new settlement once they get across – lots of light to show the way, and lots of rope to tie everyone securely against the currents. After both men get across, narrowly avoiding falling off the ford each, Red gives Brian his lantern and sends him off to the new Hold, while he comes back across the river and supervises setting up some lanterns as beacons of where to enter the river, and then spacing riders with lanterns along the way as he sets up a rope line across the river for everyone else to follow. After another near-miss, Red starts everyone across the river, realizing that there’s basically no room for a mistake when it comes to the largest wagons.

Things go well for the most part, except the dogs need to be tied on to avoid being swept away, and the goats don’t seem to want to be on point, but the fire-lizards can keep herding the goats. Until…

Suddenly, without any warning, and before the goats had started climbing out on the far side, Snapper and the other fire-lizards let out a racket of dreadful sounds and disappeared.
“What the hell?” Red said, totally surprised and vastly irritated by the abrupt abandonment. Snapper had always been reliable… He pushed King forward to deflect the lead nanny from yet another wayward plunge and was relieved to get the little herd safely out of the river.

So far, so good, but the river is rising quickly and the oxen teams are refusing to go into the water. At least until Sean shows up (and Carenath spooks the horses, as always) and lends the sheer terror animals have of dragons as a better motivator than the fear of the river. Red and Sean manage to get everyone across, even though some of the smaller sleds have to be roped on to prevent them from floating away and taking the oxen with them.

Sean and Red have a chat on the other side – with the fire-lizard behavior, Red is suspicious, and Sean sounds very choked up about something. Mairi asks about Sorka, and is reassured she’s fine. Sorka is described thus:

Although Sorka, queen Faranth’s rider, was pregnant again, she generally had no more trouble with parturition than her mother did

Which has been the running joke about the Hanrahan clan – they seem to be hyperfertile and yet able to birth all of those children. For a colony world, I suppose that’s not a bad thing, but before the colony, I would wonder about whether Mairi had seen a doctor about her ability to get pregnant so easily and readily.

Sean informs Red that there’s Threadfall coming in the morning, and the reason for everyone’s emotional distress:

“Alianne died in childbirth,” Sean sniffed, rubbing his nose and eyes, giving way to the misery he had bottled up. “Chereth…went…between. Like Duluth and Marco.”
[…hugs all around…]
There had been many injuries, some serious enough to end the fighting abilities of six dragons, but only four deaths: actually an astounding record, of which Sean as Weyrleader had every right to be proud. But the loss of a queen magnified the tragedy. No wonder Snapper and the others had disappeared. They had gone to the Weyr to mourn.

There’s a little about the profound grief that riders go through, and presumably, that dragons go through, on the deaths of their partners, but the grief of everyone else around seems to get elided as to what happens with dragons and riders when they lose their own. The strong telepathic bonds would seem to magnify the emotional content of grief, just like everything else. I wonder whether depression is a common occurrence after a death in the Weyr.

Red and Mairi make the final crossing and Red is persuaded to lie down for a bit, which turns into a nap that lasts long enough for the train to arrive at the new Hold. Red’s unhappy at missing out on seeing his new Hold for the first time, and insists on getting all the animals into their barns before he thinks about sleeping again. His animals are safe, and so Mairi manages to get him to bed. When he wakes up, he realizes that there was a lot more that needed to be done than he saw, and that annoys him again that he was told to sleep whole others did work. The night’s dinner has conversation about the dead queen rider, because death in childbirth is apparently still rare, and how Sean got the ox teams to move across the river, but it ends with music and dancing after the food.

Red then sets to the work of making a cave system and adjoining land a Hold, boring, planting, herding, finding seams of coal, and the rest, using his off time to develop more detailed maps of the land that was theirs, to see if there are more places that the population can expand into, and to possibly site craft halls and places where his sons could have their own land. Nothing about daughters, of course, with the assumption that they’ll be paired off to someone else’s land unspoken but clearly present.

Red also benefits from the talents of good engineers that have developed heating systems for warming the caves and that can set up and maintain a solar power system for heating water, making hot baths and hot washing possible. (Although not explicitly said outside of Red himself, I strongly suspect those two items improved morale significantly – hot baths and warm homes make things much better.)

Everything proceeds apace, proving that you can start and make success in a Hold in a hurry, right up to the day that the airlock door is ready to be fitted into place. The only thing missing is a name. Keroon was discarded, Hanrahan Hold dismissed immediately for the feudal implications thereof (and yet, that is exactly where things end up, and the author knows this), and Red is still thinking about it even as the guests arrive and the cooking is underway for the feast that will accompany the momentous occasion.

Almost all the guests, anyway, as Benden sends ahead a message that he can’t find the ford and Red goes out to meet him and show him the way across. Benden, Ongola, and a full retinue, including the daughter of one of Red’s horse-breeding rivals, are all there and end up safely ensconced in the new, still doorless, Hold.

Once safely together, we get some more worldbuilding and mythology explanation.

“Sorka and Sean said they’d be here to watch the Dooring and join us in the feast. And…” Red paused, looking from Ongola to Benden. “Once we get producing, I plan to send the Weyr a tithe of all we grow and make. They’ve enough to do without having to forage for food, as well.
[…Benden lets on about how much help the dragonriders have been to keeping Fort stocked…]
“Still and all, they shouldn’t have to scrounge for provisions,” Red said. “The Hold should supply the Weyr that protects it.”
“I shall tithe from my holding, as well,” Ongola said, his deep voice making his words a solemn vow.
“Alianne’s death has certainly made all in Fort aware that we’re along a great deal from these young men and women,” Paul went on, “and they’ve meet the challenge magnificently. I had a chance to discuss support personnel with Sean, and he’s suggested that we send him some of the older fosterlings to take over maintenance and domestic chores. They’d be available, too, as candidates for the new eggs. I got Joel to spring loose enough supplies so additional personnel won’t be a burden on the Weyr’s resources. They’ve got space, we’ve got too many warm bodies…” He gave a wry smile. “Alianne’s mother is staying on, to help rear the grandchildren. She’s widowed and says the place needs a firm hands in its domestic management. The queen riders don’t have enough time, especially if they’ve a broody queen.”

So in a very short span of conversation, we have the Search, the Hold tithe, and the headwoman’s position established. Which, I’d guess, is to make things seem less like the reality of the dragonriders holding such great power that they can demand any sort of setup they would like to have and more of “a grateful populace thanks their heroes by making their lives easier.” That the two of these are very close to each other is usually not lost in any population that has a military force.

Also, I think Red’s use of the word tithe here is significant, as I think it implies that the mythology of the Dragonriders of Pern is already so well established that they’re thought of as religious figures. Most of the definitions I find in a quick sweep specifically call out religious or spiritual contexts to the products offered as a tithe, and indicate tithes are often used for the maintenance of the clergy and the performing of religious actions. What’s really happening is the beginning of a protection deal or a mutual defense pact – the Holds pay in their fees, and in return, the dragonriders protect them and their holdings from Thread. This could easily be structured as a business transaction, especially if one wanted to haul out stereotypes of Sean Connell’s Traveller heritage. Yet we are already in religious territory here, even though the colonists profess no religion. I find it very interesting that at any point in the future of Pern the dragonriders aren’t treated as gods walking along men, at least in an official capacity.

All that’s left for the plot is for the door to be put in place and ceremonially tested, which happens without issue, and for the Hold itself to be named.

“Admiral, Commander, Weyrleaders, one and all, be welcome to-” He stopped short, a grin suddenly broadening across his face as inspiration seized him. “Be welcome to the Hold of Red’s Ford. In the old language, Rua Atha.”
“Ruatha!” Mairi cried out in her clear voice, her eyes looking up to his for his approval of that elision. “Oh, that’s a splendid name, Rua Hanrahan!”
“To Ruatha Hold!” he shouted.
“To Ruatha Hold!” was the roar of acceptance. And for the first time on the heights of Ruatha Hold, the dragons of Pern lifted their heads and bugled in rejoicing!

So, yes, we did just spend several pages on the origin story of Ruatha Hold. It seems like this would have been a chapter in another book, but that there’s no real story to connect it to. And there’s not really a major conflict in it, either – Red fords the river, without incident, and then builds his Hold.

That this story also contains several major parts of the mythology is a bit interesting – before reprints and collections, finding short stories would mean having the luck or the skill of getting the right magazine at the right time. People looking for the complete story of Pern could end up massively disappointed. It doesn’t seem wise to put those things into the short story sequence.

Join us again week for The Second Weyr.

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17 thoughts on “The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall: The Ford of Red Hanrahan

  1. genesistrine September 29, 2016 at 3:21 pm

    (Excuse me a second…) Bolding begone!

    How come Red has to ask permission to move while Jim Tillek is unilaterally getting to keep his ship in a cave?

    And another mystery plague? You’d think the medical personnel would put extra emphasis on vaccination techniques and training in case another mystery plague came along….

    And poor Red. All this effort to breed distinct strains of horses, but we know that they’ll just end up being undifferentiated runnerbeasts to later generations…. We do get a mention of planned herd dogs though, at least.

    You didn’t comment on green fire lizards being too “shatter-witted” to remember they’d bonded with humans and well as being terrible mommies to their eggs, just in case we’d forgotten that some colours are more ~*special*~ than others.

    I did get a snigger out of the convenient solution that they dip dried animal dung into so the fires aren’t pongy. God forbid this noble LARP contingent suffer from smelly campfires.

    What poor soul has to do the dipping, though? Have we discovered Drudge Zero?

  2. genesistrine September 29, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    Curses. Let’s try again….Expellibolding!

  3. WanderingUndine September 29, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    This is also where the elimination of surnames first got proposed, during the naming of Red and Mairi’s infant.

  4. Apoidea Theorem (Bisatser) September 30, 2016 at 1:55 am

    I also notice that gender roles are, again, holding firm. It has to be a woman who oversees the domestic management – when the queen riders don’t have the time to do it, obviously one can’t expect any of the *men* to step up, can one? It’s lucky they have this spare woman lying around waiting to be picked up.

  5. Firedrake September 30, 2016 at 8:09 am

    A note on publication: The Dolphins’ Bell had come out the previous year in a small-press chapbook edition (Wildside Press, same title); Rescue Run ditto in August 1991, and in Analog. (And they both came out later in Wildside/SFBC special editions.) But the other stories had their first publication here, and even those two had their first wide circulation here. So this isn’t the usual case of “key detail is in a short story which few people will get to read”; it’s “here is a New Pern Book, sold through all the usual channels, which happens to contain short stories rather than a single narrative”.

  6. depizan October 1, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    how much Paul had altered in the past nine years.

    leaving nearly four thousand dead

    The timeline is escaping me here. Six thousand people settle on Pern. Eight years later, there is Threadfall and some die (though how many wasn’t clear) and shortly after that, there’s a frantic evacuation from a surprised volcano. Nine more years have passed and the six thousand original colonists have grown in number enough that nearly four thousand dead can be counted from (mostly) “The old, the very young, and pregnant women.” and is NOT (or is not treated as) a massive colony survival threatening disaster. Is this plausible? How fast do human populations grow? We know that children were brought over, so it’s not as simple as going “well, there’s six thousand people so they can have three thousand babies a year, not counting twins and the like.” (And not all pregnancies result in live births. And not everyone had partnered off during the first eight years. And it isn’t clear that they limited the colonists to people who were still capable of having children.)

    … Wait, even if they were producing offspring in huge quantities, most of those offspring are either not adults yet or are barely adults. It’s only been seventeen years since landing, right?

    (Also, given how dim the colonists are, they’ve got to be losing a LOT of people to accidents.)

    An airlock door?

    I continue to be super confused by these colonists and what tech they do and don’t have access to. Is this supposed to mean that in their frantic evacuation, they scavenged things from the ships and took them with them? (Airlock doors, totally necessary. Household goods, totally unnecessary. Whut.) Or, more puzzling still, does this mean that their replicator-dealie was something that they were able to take with them in the evacuation. (If so, and if it’s capable of fabricating airlock doors, I have further questions about the hats as Thread-prevention devices in that previous story. If it can make airlock doors, surely it could’ve made a boat roof or actual protective suits that covered the entire body, so that no one had to worry about Thread to the face.)

  7. genesistrine October 1, 2016 at 3:15 pm

    @depizan: And it isn’t clear that they limited the colonists to people who were still capable of having children

    They didn’t – Emily Boll for one; there’s a mention somewhere in Dawn to the effect that she’s dating but not planning on having kids.

    Though given Theo I suppose that could just mean she’s in her late thirties and obviously far far too old to have babies.

    If it can make airlock doors, surely it could’ve made a boat roof

    Reading back it looks like they made extruded plastic sailcovers and shutters as well as the hats* – it’s very vague, but I guess they have something like a 3D printer? And then presumably they all floated around until the Thread wiggled off the decks afterwards?

    The thing that amazes me about this-period Pern is how boring it is. We have all-devouring space horror falling from the skies, volcanic eruptions, ragtag fleets sailing stormy seas and the most interesting thing that’s happened to a character on-page is a few cracked bones in a storm. There’s no feeling to any of it – how can any writer manage to make it so undramatic?

  8. Firedrake October 1, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    Current annual world population growth rate is about 1.1%, so 4,000 would be around 4,700 by 17 years later.

    The normal percentage models won’t work in this case (because there hasn’t been much time for the new children to become fertile), but:if you assume the fertile women among the colonists are constantly pregnant with one child each then they could have had twenty-two children each by the 17-year mark. If they’re 1/3 of the 4,000 total population, there could be 30,000 children about the place. Say those children start breeding about age 15, you might add another 2,000 or so of their offspring.

    But even in this model you certainly don’t have any old people to spare.

  9. genesistrine October 1, 2016 at 5:15 pm

    We get some figures in this story: Mairi and Red have 9 children total; Sorka’s had 5 (in spite of betweening I guess); her eldest is 9 so say a baby every 2 years, and her brother’s had 4.

    But if the plague preferentially hit pregnant women that should have knocked down the growth rate quite a bit.

  10. depizan October 1, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    @genesistrine

    <i.it’s very vague, but I guess they have something like a 3D printer?

    A 3D printer that can make airlock doors? But not anything that could’ve helped them avoid Thread in a safer way than floating in the water with a hat on your head and hoping to god none blew into your face? Instead of “powers as the plot demands” it’s “3D printing as the plot demands.”

    There’s no feeling to any of it – how can any writer manage to make it so undramatic?

    Because it’s all…narrative fiat. Take Red crossing the river, here. The story raises the question of whether there will be problems and Red acts OOC in wanting to rush to ford now rather than wait until the river goes down, but nothing actually comes of it. People’s actions in these stories are of no consequence – either in the sense of having the consequences they should or in the sense of affecting events at all. These aren’t stories, they’re McCaffrey shuffling cardboard cutouts around to make the back story. :\

  11. WanderingUndine October 1, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    Personally, I found this book *more* interesting than most of the series, aside from Dragonsdawn. Not always in a good way.

  12. emmy October 2, 2016 at 5:28 am

    They definitely didn’t print the airlock door, I’m quite sure there was a reference somewhere to the doors having been salvaged and stored in the common-goods-warehouse when they were disassembling the shuttles, long before the volcano evacuation. IIRC it was called out in the text with a “well, I’m sure someone somewhere will have a use for them” little note to indicate they would come up again later.

    Now, why they bothered to take those doors with them to the north when they had so much else to shift, I don’t know.

  13. genesistrine October 2, 2016 at 5:32 am

    @depizan: it’s an actual airlock door; there’s a bit where Red’s thinking he doesn’t know which shuttle it’s from so he’s going to say it’s from the one his family landed in. They did apparently go back to the volcano later and check the AIVAS interface was still working (come to think of it why weren’t they consulting AIVAS in Dawn no don’t tell me I can guess) so apparently they decided to dismount an airlock door and drag it back with them while they were there because eh, won’t we feel stupid if we want one later and we left it here guys.

    @WanderingUndine: was it the colony setup stuff you liked? I love a good colony setup novel myself, but I can’t think of any recent ones – maybe I’m going to have to reread a few Andre Nortons….

  14. depizan October 2, 2016 at 4:55 pm

    At…at least they dragged it back with them for no reason after the frantic evacuation. *grasping at straws*

    I just…these people…my brain…

  15. WanderingUndine October 2, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    Maybe. I like wilderness survival stories more than politics and “romance.” These books have all three, but the other Pern books have less of the former.

  16. genesistrine October 3, 2016 at 10:29 am

    @depizan: well, I’m just guessing that they brought it later. Could have been before. Or during, instead of silly girly household stuff like pots and pans and whatnot.

    My sympathies to your poor brain….

  17. beappleby October 5, 2016 at 4:22 pm

    One other important point that I don’t know if you caught – Alianne’s death was the first time that a dragon suicided because its rider died. The few other deaths, like Marco and Duluth, happened together. So not only was her death a shock, but the loss of her dragon as well came as a total surprise.

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