Last time, the dreaded Threadfall returned to Pern after a long Interval, and we got to experience it from the perspective of a terrified wagon train, who were attacked and then abused by birth the dragonrider that helped them and the Holder that took them in after Thread destroyed nearly everything they had. This continues to be in the vein of showing us how people end up holdless or enslaved and ready for rebellion. Being Pern, however, the other shoe, where we find out how evil the people organizing the holdless are, has yet to drop.
The Renegades of Pern: Chapter Two – Content Notes: Sexism, Attempted Murder, Murder
That’s a ten Turn timeskip, by the way, and so if Jayge or any of the members of his train never show up again in a plot-important manner, that first chapter was a complete waste.
Because Chapter Two starts with Thella, who is already well into her plan to live holdless and free and raiding various Holds for supplies. And, as it turns out, to build her own Hold, where she hopes to attract others to work for her. The arrival of Thread threw off her timetable by a full Turn, and we are told that Thella did not do well with failures, and suffered a deep depression at being thwarted by nature. She appears to have recovered nicely by this point, however.
I’m also going to flag up now that Thella’s ambition of having a Hold to herself is not an immediate disqualifier for being a hero of the proles, nor, necessarily, is her stealing from the Holds, but the narrative is likely not going to be sympathetic to her, so we should keep an eye on how it characterizes her actions.
Thella lucked out into finding her Hold – all of the previous residents had perished before she arrived, but they left their furniture and accessories behind. Thella knows that sometimes people die from plague, but she is willing to take the risk. There’s some about the logistics of Thella’s frustration and bad luck, but also some useful data.
But the hold could have been completely reestablished and hers! Hers! If she had just had the Turn or two. The ancient Contract Law of Pern gave her that right. She could have insisted that the Conclave of Lord Holders permit it, once she could prove her competence. Her father had told her, in answers to discreet questions, that anyone could form a hold, so long as it proved to be self-sufficient and remained well managed.
I’m sure that this is true…if you’re a dude. Because Thella has already been thrown out by the Bros of the Conclave for trying to assert her birthright, I somehow doubt that she would somehow be accepted as one of the peerage just for demonstrating that she has the same capabilities that they do and is part of the bloodlines. There’s really no way that Thella would be able to be a Lord Holder – or the Conclave would basically give her Hold away to the first dude that could make a claim on her, whether she consented or not. Sorry, Thella.
Also, the narrative is starting to help with turning us away from the idea that Thella is heroic and more toward the idea that she is someone’s trope of a woman that is universally described as negative. First, it talks about her quest for boots and clothes, because her foot size is pretty unique, and then we get into other logistics.
She took only new trousers and shirts, of course – not even in extremity would Thella of Telgar wear used clothing.[…]These supplies, along with the food she took, were after all no more than a modest portion of the tithe due a Lord Holder’s family, so she had no compunction about her acquisitions; she merely did not wish to be seen – yet. But boots…boots were another matter, and she might have foregone principle to get decent boots.
A journey to Igen Hold for a Gather would be the best way to end the footwear problem and satisfy one or two other minor needs that would fulfill the rudimentary requirements of her prospective holders. Perhaps she would be able to hire a likely herdsmen, preferably one with a family to supply her with drudges. They could camp in the beasthold section and not interfere with her privacy.
So, now it’s not so much about surviving to stick it in the eye of those that want to marry her off as it is establishing her own hold to give herself the lifestyle she’s accustomed to, just without a man to do it with? That’s not un-feminist, I suppose, but the part where she wants to hire someone and then use their family as her unpaid servants and give them no protections against her…yeah. I think I have to abandon the idea that Thella is secretly a hero of the people, much as it was nice to have it for the first few chapters.
The narrative continues with Thella’s journey to the Gather, trying not to be seen or interact with others, and her breakfast there, where she feels she is overcharged for a bad mug so that she can have a drink. It stays in her head through much of the day until she picks a rock up and chucks it behind herself at the vendor that sold it to her, striking and breaking many of his wares. Having revenged herself (and who would be willing to sell themselves into her service with a temper like that?), Thella heads to get her boots. She nearly has another fit when passed off to a journeyman, but the deferential attitude of her cobbler soothes her, and Thella has a couple pairs of boots and a third on the way. She notices that there’s a large gathering of the holdless just outside the formal Gather, including a large aloof man that has some money to spend. She hides her purse a bit more securely, and muses on how appropriate it is for everyone to be worthy of the shelter being provided to them against Thread, essentially endorsing the exploitative practice of Holders during Fall. Since she expects to be one, I suspect. If she had no expectation of being on the top, I would hope her attitude would shift sufficiently.
Also, I realize that the book promises us only the Renegades of Pern, but it would have been nice to have a viewpoint character for the whole book that wasn’t from the aristocracy. Thella is still trying to be an aristocrat, even though she doesn’t have all the means yet. It would be so much better to have, say, Jayge, who has never been part of the societal system, to help us with the outside perspective and critique of the system. Thella wants to replicate it. Jayge wants revenge against it. His story is the one I want told, so, so much more. Or Thella’s quest to dismantle the system instead of replicate it.
Thella continues to study the holdless, thinking she can exploit their fear to get them to come to her hold and have at least shelter. She hears about Lessa’s time hop and gets very pissed off about the presence and attitude of the time-shifted dragonriders not being properly deferential, nor Benden riders being too eager to please.
Thella collects her boots, and then goes to find a place for a nap while the heat rages on. Then wakes up to someone trying to cut the purse of the person next to her, stabs them in the thigh with her knife, causing them to flee, and then chastises the possible victim for having their purse displayed too obviously. Who then flirts with her and offers her money for her companionship for the evening. Thella thinks it’s a good idea, while planning to knock the man out and rob him of his purse and more. She spots the big man again as he snags a piece of meat that’s fallen and runs off with it to consume it.
The person she thinks of as an easy mark turns out to be running a con to get women drunk, lure them away from the Gather, kill them, and take their money. Thella, trusting her suspicions, ends up shoving the mark into the path of the killer’s blade, and then she overpowers the killer. With her weapon ready to kill him, he tells her about the plan, and basically begs her to either kill him or offer him shelter in a Hold, which he will repay with great loyalty. Thella accepts.
It’s Dushik, the man excluded for fighting, and he gratefully accepts the task of finding loyal people among the holdless for her. Thella has her first vassal, and thus ends Chapter Two.
Well, the narrative has definitely removed any hope we had of Thella being a great person getting a raw deal in the stories. Which annoys me, because it’s right there as a possibility. Perhaps not as easy to do in 1989. Or in a world that has been little more than contemptuous for women who have tried to go beyond their assigned role in life. But it’s right there, all the same.