Last time, we spent a full chapter rehashing Dragondrums from the perspective of the Southern Hold, so that a few paragraphs could be spent on how Giron got away and we could see that there are dolphins (“shipfish”) around there.
Oh, good. This chapter has Thella.
The Renegades of Pern: Chapter Four: Content Notes: Abuse, Murder
(The time marker for this chapter is rather vague, just Present Pass 12. Presumably, this is after 02.04 in Chapter Two.)
The action picks up with Thella and seventeen raiders arriving at their destination. Paragraph two mentions Asgenar’s foresters, so we can situate our temporal marker as toward the end of the short story we just read. If this is also a filler chapter, that’s going to end poorly. Thing is, the blurb at the front of the book is Giron’s threat to Aramina, so we’re going to have to go through it.
Also, by the end of the second paragraph, Thella has threatened all the people she is with by flipping a knife idly and saying she’ll feed anyone to Dushik that steals anything other than the target stuff. Considering what kind of patriarchal nightmare Pern is, maybe this is necessary for continued survival, but it doesn’t inspire a lot of feelings that Thella is a competent leader.
Readis, from Chapter One’s trader group, is Thella’s contact that informs her of caravan movements. (Jayge was a decoy protagonist.) The narrative tells us Thella has no compulsions about stealing Craft messages from their sleeping couriers, and that she understands drum code, since she’s a Holder daughter. This further cements the idea that drum code is really meant to be a way for aristocrats and crafters to communicate, rather than some sort of trade secret for the Harper craft.
Thella outlines the plan, involving using the Threadfall scheduled for today as cover, then sneaking in and stealing their beasts when the ground crews go out. She also commits a capital Pernese sin by referring to Asgenar without his title, a disrespect of tradition she encourages in her men as well. Even though she used the title earlier in the plan. Some habits need encouraging, I suppose.
Thella has also fully graduated from “woman who wants a fair shake and some autonomy” to “evil villain” or at least “thrill seeker”.
And to think that once she would have settled for having a Hold of her own, to be acknowledged by the Conclave as a Lady Holder in her own right. So much had changed since she met Dushik. She had found far more to excite her: the thrill of planning and executing a raid, and taking exactly what she had set out to acquire, but no more. Success inspired her to set more hazardous goals, more difficult puzzles. […Dushik snores…]
Since that Gather day she had found a fast more satisfying challenge: choosing victims instead of being one. When she and Dushik had returned to the Gather tents to hire some carefully selected holdless men and women, she had already begun to plan. There would be many laden runners and carts leaving the Gather, and if it all went well – and why would it not? – not all of them would reach their original destinations. She and Dushik would choose what they needed to supply her mountainhold – and the desperate holdless who hovered on the edges of Igen’s Gather would bear all the blame.
Yes, we can be pretty sure at this point that Thella holds no higher ideological purpose than revenge and living the good life away from the society that wanted to dispose of her as a useless woman in a world of men. And that she’s more than willing to use other people in the same lot as she had a scapegoats, having learned practically nothing from her time spent as one of the Holdless.
Right about now is when I complain about how we’re still seeing Pern from the perspective of the aristocracy. This seems to be a function of the world that’s been built – all the really properly common people are tied to the land, slaved to a household, or wandering the world on trade routes. Yet we can’t seem to sustain the perspective of the common person and make the narrative work. Even a “disgraced” aristocrat like Thella hasn’t had to adjust her perspective on everything because she has turned out to be scarily competent at being a raider and leader.
Then again, if we see who she idolizes, perhaps get competence is not very surprising at all.
Four Turns earlier one of her men had brought her a copy of the Harper Records on Lord Fax’s activities in the Western Ranges. Now there had been a man whose vision and grasp she could admire! A real pity that the man had died so early in what had promised to be a spectacular Holding. With cunning, he had outrageously taken over seven holds. Several times she had used his surprise tactics, scaling the heights of well-positioned holds and coming stealthily in through upper windows just at dawn, even the watchwher’s night vision was useless. He had probably been tricked into the duel that killed him. Or good judgement had deserted him – no one challenged a dragonrider. Dragons had unusual powers, and they did not let their riders get injured. She still hoped to learn exactly what dragons did for their riders, apart from going between and fighting Threadfall. Giron would not talk about Weyrlife – yet. she would have to encourage him.
The most depressing part of that harper account was that no one had attempted to take charge of what Fax had so ingeniously secured. Ruatha Hold had been given to a baby, Meron had taken hold of only Nabol, and the other five had been reclaimed by Bloodkin of those Fax had supplanted. Then Meron, who ought to have learned more from Fax, had become enamoured of Thella’s half-sister, Kylara. Well, Kylara had not been very smart in Thella’s estimation: she had lost her dragon queen. And Meron was dead, too.
So, yeah, Thella is supposed to be a villain, and I think we’ve overkilled that idea by now. Also, what’s the point of making Thella and Kylara part of the same family by marriage, unless we’re supposed to conclude that some people are just genetically disposed to villainy, or to attempted feminism. Because at this point, Fax’s name is still likely spoken with a spit and a curse, as well as Meron’s.
What I still don’t know, even as we are treated to this fawning over Fax’s techniques and ambition, is why other Holders or their children haven’t tried it themselves. It clearly worked, but for the intervention of the dragonrider, and Thella isn’t wrong that Fax got tricked into it. Even in this era, surely someone should be able to invade their neighbor without permanent consequence or immediate retribution. Younger sons, especially the kind that would go off to Southern, should be particularly prone to trying to invade just off the border so as to make a Hold for themselves.
Thella’s thoughts drift to the question of trying to acquire fire-lizard eggs, since they would be very helpful in detecting sweep riders and other dragons in the vicinity that might spoil an otherwise perfect raid by being in the wrong place at the right time to observe and then pursue them. She remembers she decided they’re not worth it, because they’re too loud, based on meeting some at a Gather at Bitra.
The next few paragraphs are about the various members of Thella’s crew and their strengths (and weaknesses) before it’s time to move out. Thella has to threaten a few people with her whip to get them to move while Thread is ahead of them and moving away, and the delay kindles Thella’s rage. Thankfully, the plan appears to go smoothly after that, and we get to see the first incarnation of Thella, Lady Holdless, at least by her own reckoning. The grain she is after is stolen without a hitch.
The next scene is Asgenar telling T’gellan that the raids his holders have been suffering are too organized and planned to be random attacks from just the holdless. Thella is too good at what she does not to attract attention from anyone who cares to look and see that the pattern points to a hold supplying itself by raiding others. Asgenar resents this, as do his tithed Holders. T’gellan suggests turning loose the holdless that Asgenar suspects aren’t part of the raids and asking then to keep an eye out in the caves for anyone suspicions. Asgenar is wholeheartedly in favor of this plan, and is okay with converting some holdless to vassals to make it work. Then, the various Lords of Thella’s operating space convene with Robinton, who has been receiving the reports of the stolen goods so as to make restitution. Robinton suggests sending in one of his better journeymen to try and find the group of raiders, and then the narrative informs us this has already happened. The Holders agree to this plan.
Robinton is anticipated, though, as we find Thella’s agent in Bitra reporting on the meetings and that the communication towers were busy, but not using a known drum code. There are more dragonriders around, as well, and that gets Thella to decide to go to ground for a while. Readis reporting on the personnel at the meeting and warns Thella that Harpers, and especially Robinton, are srs bzns and not to underestimate their abilities to find and spread information. Thella isn’t having any of it, at least not for now.
Then we switch over to Piemur seeing Haiman. I guess that’s why the last chapter was needed? Haiman is giving Piemur permission to explore and survey for Toric, including potentially seeing mines and ruins along the way. Haiman thinks he has a better route to deliver ores from the mines to ports, but he needs to build some paths and know what the land and rivers are like. Piemur is along to record it all.
Piemur has also done reasonably well with his responsibilities in the south.
He had been diligent, too, because Toric was a totally different personality than Master Robinton, Master Shonagar, or Master Domick and his drum tower masters. Piemur had felt Toric’s hard hand once and took great care not to feel it again. He knew that the Southerner was very ambitious, far more than anyone – except possibly Master Robinton – knew.
[…the Southern Continent is vast and beautiful…]
Soon Piemur’s first loyalty to the Harper Hall was going to come into abrupt conflict with his sneaking admiration for Toric’s ambitions. Or the ambitions of someone like Lord Groghe, who had that mess of sons to settle, or Corman, who had nine. If they found out how much good land was available, they might even defy Benden’s orders. Saneter kept telling Piemur that Master Robinton was well-informed of all Toric’s doing, but Piemur was beginning to wonder if Saneter really knew!
If by well, we mean “works under the threat of abuse from Toric”, that is. And from what we experienced in Dragondrums, getting beat is nothing new or exciting for Piemur, based on his experiences in the Harper Hall.
I’m not quite understanding why everyone seems to have this admiration for Toric, too the point where their other loyalties are compromised. He seems to be a bog-standard greedy Lord Holder who’s not above using whatever is at his disposal to get his way, including threats, intimidation, and abuse. This shouldn’t be any sort of special power or ability to influence people. Of course, since Pern is supposed to be a Randian paradise, perhaps ambition is prized as a universal good, even when that ambition has lots of very negative things that go along with it.
The last part of this entire bit is Piemur seeing “two huge spotted felines” sunning themselves on an island. So Ted’s work still survives and thrives many generations later.
Before the chapter finishes, though, we switch back to Thella getting information that one of the people in the caverns can hear dragons, and this would be just the thing Thella needs to avoid the dragonriders without the need for noisy fire-lizards. There’s a bit of casual leering in a digression from the describing:
“The ma’s still a looker, got big -” Hastily he caught himself, realizing he spoke to a well-endowed woman. “Fax did like a good piece to warm his furs. If the ma was Ruathan Bloodline like she claims, it could be in the Blood for the girl to hear dragons. The Benden Weyrwoman’s Ruathan, you know.”
Because we needed to be reminded at this point that Thella is conventionally attractive, and therefore evil? Because she’s already been tied in pretty firmly with the family of Kylara thing.
This is a pattern, still – conventionally attractive women are almost always villainous, and women who aren’t manage to be heroic or protagonist-y. There’s a blinkered spot in the writing here.
The chapter finishes with Thella learning the details of Aramina and where she is, then having Dushik kill the “deaf” man informing on Aramina. “If deaf men could tell tales, dead men would not. Dushik obliged her, as always.”
And that’s how the chapter ends, with Thella violating another of the Evil Overlord’s requirements by killing an underling that has provided highly useful information because the smell was getting to her. She’s not going to be a successful anything if she keeps killing the competent ones.