The Renegades of Pern: Southern Strategy

Last time, Thella got boots, supplies, and a minion to go recruiting for her, while she also thoroughly demonstrated to us that she is no more fit to be running a Hold than the jokers that currently are running them. Which is not a compliment.

Speaking of…

The Renegades of Pern: Chapter Three – Content Notes: None to speak of

…Chapter Three opens with Mardra complaining to Toric about the incident where Piemur stowed away in a shipment to Southern and then snuck off.

(PP 11.04.06)

So we’ve stepped backward in time for this chapter. So hopefully these narrative threads will all converge in the right place and time and show us why we’ve been following all these people.

Mardra is unhappy about the shipment issues, so much that she slops her wine and then calls a drudge to wipe it up before the “fly-bys” come by. More insect life for Pern.

The actual viewpoint character here is Saneter, the Harper assigned to Southern by Robinton, who relies on him for discretion while briefing him about Southern Weyr and Hold’s past, and charging him with making sure he reports out any conflicts that develop in the area. (T’ron is T’ton here, too.)

We are treated to Sharra’s insight that Mardra fancied Toric, who wants nothing to do with her, and that rejection has hardened into a desire from Mardra to humiliate and demean Toric. Mardra complains that her fire-lizard queen saw someone sneak away and demands that Toric look at her when being spoken to, for which Toric moves his head fractionally.

After four Turns of dealing with the disaffected [time-skipped] Saneter found their decline increasingly painful to deal with. Mardra had become a raddled, blowsy old woman, constantly wine-sotted; and T’kul, stringy with age and potbellied, spent his time endlessly recounting spectacular Falls which he had seemingly charred with only his dragon Salth’s aid.
“Look at me,” Mardra repeated, command still ringing in her voice, her eyes piercingly intent on the holder. Again his head moved fractionally, and Saneter, judging by the furious set of the Weyrwoman’s lips, suspected that Toric had adopted his very disconcerting habit of seeming to look right through her. “She saw someone. Someone who shouldn’t have been there. Someone who tampered with that sack. Those were Crafthall tithes to this Weyr, and I hold you, all of you -” for the first time she glanced at all the other Masters who had been summoned with Toric “- responsible for any losses. Now hop it out of here!”
There was a murmur of righteous protest from the other Masters – farmer, fisher, herdsman, and tanner. Saneter, too, would have backed any retaliation. Craftsmen had the right to withdraw their services from a holder – and, by law, from a Weyr, though such an extreme action had never been recorded.

The narrative is very good at making sure we know who is heroic and who isn’t – people with complex motivations that are functional doesn’t seem to be part of the oeuvre here. At the same time, Mardra being chastised for drinking and T’kul for reminiscing is a bit incongruous with the part where they were both exiled to Southern for not getting with the program. Being excluded doesn’t give you many options on what to do with your life, y’know?

I’d also like to know where and what the code of laws is for Pern. So far, we know there was a charter, and some amount of lawmaking by the colonial government, even though their intent was basically to let everyone else be lord and sovereign of their own plots. I presume the laws of the various Holds and Weyrs, as they are created by their autocrats, are recorded in some form (the Records?) and promulgated in some way. I would also presume that the proceedings of the conclaves of the Lords Holder are also recorded and promulgated, so that when it comes time to remind everyone of the obligations they agreed on, there’s a written record to refer back to. But that’s only for the Holders. Is there a similar process for Craft proceedings and laws, and the decisions of the Weyrs and their Weyrleaders when they meet? Who records and enforces these laws and obligations? The Harpers? Since there’s no overarching system of government on the planet, it seems impossible to talk about laws that apply to everyone, even those steeped in TRADITION! (Tradition!)

The right of rebellion only works if the Holders or Weyrleaders actually respect that and the Crafters have sufficient power to break the functioning of the hold by striking. We’ve already seen plenty of goods at Gathers that lack the Craft stamp on them – there would probably be more than enough enterprising merchants willing to smuggle or funnel goods into a Hold that was currently under lock. Weyrs would just take what they wanted (as they are now, in this story) because, oh, right, mounted weapons of war and destruction. The only walkout we’ve actually seen happen so far was the Healer and Harper punishment of Tolocamp for not helping the medics during plague, and that only worked, really, because of the worldwide pandemic. While it would be interesting to write what consequence came of actually telling the Weyr that no Craft product would come to them, the conclusion is foregone, really.

The narrative has the grumbles of the Crafters, but the tanner points out the obvious problem – dragons – and everyone subsides. Saneter attributes it to the fact that “dragonrider inviolability was deeply ingrained in them all – even a renegade holder like Toric”, but it sounds very suspiciously like everyone came to the real conclusion and nobody actually wants to say it. The Crafters and Toric complain about being treated with less than the respect they deserve over things they don’t know about, and Toric shreds shade fronds in his fury.

Unfortunately, it looks like Robinton’s briefing was less than complete, because Saneter is distressed about loyalties and doesn’t understand why the Southern Weyrleaders want Toric replaced, which basically results in Saneter mentally declaring full loyalty to Toric against the Weyr. Toric declares, likely as a revenge, that anyone turning over fire lizard eggs to the time-shifted dragonriders is immediately subject to exile from Southern. Dragondrums told us that the trade of fire lizard eggs from the South was a very lucrative enterprise, and Saneter confirms this while contemplating whether or not to tell Robinton about this latest fracas.

The amount of marks offered for the contents of a gold fire-lizard queen’s nest was more than most holders earned over three or four good Turns. Granted, not that many gold nests were generally located, but the demand for the creatures always seemed to increase. […] He had also told Master Robinton that the [time-shifted] were exacting far more than a normal tithe, and that the deliveries did not occur at the customary times or by the usual carriers: it had been moon-dark last night. And he had not seen a single dragon active that morning. But why would Toric forbid his holders to sell fire-lizard eggs to the Weyr?
On the other hand, Saneter decided, a long account of that day’s incident, when viewed in a calmer frame of mind, was nothing to bother the already burdened Masterharper.

Even though this is exactly the thing that Robinton wants Saneter to report on. He’ll have a far more reliable agent in Piemur, now, but Piemur’s not ready to check in at the moment. Of course, we don’t really want to judge Saneter too harshly, as he’s stuck in a situation where everybody he’s supposed to be keeping tabs on is abusing him in some way.

The arrival of a ship at port brightens Toric’s mood, as it brings a family member with a Mastersmith designation, according to Sharra. Who is described as being valued for her ability to settle Toric down, and also for her healing skills, in that order. Glad we know what the priorities are, there.

Also arriving on the ship are many more holdless, who will be set to work expanding the available space for Southern Hold to grow into and to start up mines that Hamian, the Mastersmith, is interested in. Saneter points out to us that Toric is not supposed to be officially trading with anyone in the North, but ultimately decides not to report on that or the importation of people to the South.

Sharra collects messages from the Weyrs, and messages from family, who are not all going to come join Toric in the South. Sharra asks if being officially confirmed as a Lord would help, and Hamian says now isn’t the time for making a fuss, as Lord Meron is dying, and tries to turn aside the conversation to the people who came – a couple of Mastercrafters. Sharra gives him the side-eye about any insinuations that they’re marriage material, and Hamian reminds himself that “Southern Hold women marry when and where they choose.” If that dictate extended to everyone in the Hold, that would be a rather radical choice compared to the rest of Pern. Of course, that would also mean most women have a chance of providing for themselves, which doesn’t seem as likely.

During the welcome feast, Toric takes Saneter aside and asks him about the quality of the people arriving from the north.

“Any murderers in this lot, Saneter?”
“Only one,” Saneter replied, “and he claimed self-defense.” The harper was not convinced, having spotted the rather surly-looking fellow off to one side, shunned by other passengers. “Fifteen were apprentice-level, and two more got as far as journeymen in their crafts, and were turned out of their places for constant pilfering and theft; one was caught selling Crafthall goods at a third of their worth.”
Toric nodded. He was desperate enough to take any help to clear Southern lands, even to the extent of circumventing the Benden Weyrleaders’ restriction on any intercourse between the interdicted Southern Weyr and Hold. So Toric was smuggling people in from the North. Some desperate holdless folk heard whispers that he would not turn them away from the Southern shores, but he was getting too many useless folk for his trusted settlers to absorb quietly. He needed more skilled men, trained in hold and hall management – and he had to keep his illicit settlers from the [time-shifteds’] notice.
“Two were caught stealing unmarked herdbeasts. There are, however, some honest settlers,” Saneter continued, hurrying on to the good news. Four couples of good crafts, and nine singles of various backgrounds, some of them with very good recommendations. Haiman vouches for four of the men and two of the women. Toric, I’ll say it now and get it off my chest: you should apply to the Masterharper.”
Toric snorted. “He’d tell Benden-”
“And the Benden Weyrleaders, if you approached them with Master Robinton, would be the first to assist you. […] some young, eager, trained holder sons who know they’re not going to get any place north during a Pass would certainly see the advantages to coming south. Even if we have to sneak them in when the [time-shifted] aren’t looking.”

First, I can’t tell whether guild price-fixing is spread to be a feature or a bug of this Randian paradise. Either way, though, it seems to be an accepted thing at this point, and we’re probably supposed to believe that everyone with talent for creating ends up in a Crafthall somewhere, assuming they’re a dude. Like how everyone with am affinity for dragons is supposed to end up in a Weyr.

Also, must be nice to be able to go back to previous time periods and show off that the ideas you had earlier were totally planned out in advance by others, like sending all the second and later sons out to Southern to either survive or die and thus remove pressure on the North.

For as progressive as Toric might appear, he’s still more than ready to work everyone to the ends of existence, and Saneter thinks about how he still has some traditional views, including the belief that he gets to dispose of his sisters to marriage in whatever way he deems fit.

And then there’s a couple paragraphs about a dragonless man named Giron (who had been referred to earlier, in a skipped-over section, as G’ron when the accident that made him comatose and sent his dragon into suicide was talked about) who was supposed to go to Southern, dumping ground for the unwanted, but seeing dragons in the air caused him to run away from his escort into the hills. So now we know where Thella will find her Lieutenant, and also that he’s profoundly mentally ill from having had his draconic bond severed. But only after a couple paragraphs, we’re back to Sharra using a legit excuse of supplying numbweed to get out of the Hold and go do stuff. Ramala, one of the women of the Hold, goes along with her to help. Here’s how she’s described:

Ramala was a quiet woman, competent, perceptive, and gifted with all the attributes Sharra knew herself to be deficient in, especially patience. Ramala was not a pretty woman but she exuded am indefinable air that caused people to turn to her for advice and help. Sharra did not know much about Ramala’s past – except that she had been in a Healer Hall in Nerat before she came to Southern; the other woman had bought her own place in Southern, and Toric had seen such worth in her that he had invited her to join him permanently in his hall. Ramala never complained, but Sharra could quite easily see how she might like a short break.

Remember, though, that Brekke is in the North and is the one requesting the numbweed, or is might be forgiven for thinking that she had teleported and changed her name. Or that someone else’s genetic program successfully has been turning out clones.

Also, could we please not keep with the part where a woman can either be pretty or competent? There has to be a beautiful headwoman or Lady Holder somewhere running their place with competence and iron will. (Because Weyrwomen can be beautiful, but they generally don’t do day to day operations. And many Lady Holders that we’ve met still follow the dichotomy.)

Sharra packs and sails with others. And we have a mention of shipfish (this can’t be the first mention of them, can it?), who are “flipping and careering and generally making a show of themselves to the delight of the passengers.” So the dolphins survived, clearly, although the technology for communicating between humans and dolphins has been lost. There’s clearly going to be a long conversation between the two species once Pern recovers the technology to reopen the channels.

After a curse (and regret) of the time-shifted that put Southern in its current situation, Sharra goes off to get numbweed, discovers Piemur, and evaluates him as a potential candidate to hold under Toric while they gather herbs. Her opinion of him, once they’re done, is that Piemur is a missing Craft apprentice from a major hold that would work out exceedingly well as either her apprentice or as a shining example for Toric to hold up as what kind of person he wants in a Southern holder. Once they get back (and Sharra recognizes Menolly’s ship in the harbor on the way in), Sharra helps sneak Stupid in, Piemur sees the new drum and identifies himself, and there is the reunion at the end of Dragondrums. Which ends the chapter, with Toric disavowing the entire adventure and everyone at Southern thinking Piemur is a good match for the South.

To be utterly crude at this point, what was the actual fucking point of this chapter other than the material about Giron? If we wanted to spend time in the Harper Hall trilogy, we’d go read the Harper Hall trilogy. And the chapter stops at the end of the books, too, so it’s not like any new information has come, other than more details of the plan Toric put in place, a plan that was already known to everyone involved. This is a useless chapter and probably could be scrapped without issue. Out of the three chapters so far, only the parts that eventually cross with Thella seem to have any significance to the overall plot and advance the narrative. These flashbacks are building an entire chapter to insert one or two things that are likely to become useful later. It’s padding. So, for that reason, the whole chapter gets a whatfruit.

Cocowhat by depizan

See you next week, when we hopefully get back to the actual plot.

9 thoughts on “The Renegades of Pern: Southern Strategy

  1. Firedrake December 15, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    I think the idea is that perilous trick, “you liked that, so here is more of that from a different angle”. People who were nostalgic for Dragondrums?

  2. genesistrine December 15, 2016 at 6:07 pm

    Normally I enjoy multiple perspectives in a story – I’m very fond of the Chronicles of an Age of Darkness series, for example, which are all from different people’s perspectives during the same series of events in a fantasy world that eventually turns out to be SF, very like Pern in that respect. But the point of doing that should be to cast a different light or show a different interpretation of the events; to see how different people can interpret the same events different ways, show how something was misinterpreted or mythologised, or when someone outright lied but someone else didn’t realise.

    But there’s none of that here. I don’t think McCaffrey is capable of that. She can’t comprehend that there can be more than one interpretation of people’s actions. Bad people are bad (and braggy and boozy and boring); she can’t see through their eyes or give them their own point of view.

    Pernese law: some of the Harper Teaching Songs cover people’s rights – F’lar tells Lessa that if she’d paid attention to her Harper songs she’d’ve known she could have asked him to intervene as a dragonrider.

    Though I don’t think we ever get any details. For example, the drudge girl we saw earlier in this book being kicked out of a Hold after being accused of stealing A WHOLE LOAF OF BREAD – does she have any comeback? It doesn’t look like it….

    couple paragraphs about a dragonless man named Giron […] who was supposed to go to Southern, dumping ground for the unwanted, but seeing dragons in the air caused him to run away from his escort into the hills

    Worth noting the Lord Holder’s response to this: “Go across to the caves. Tell them to watch out for Giron. Let them know who he is and that if anyone does him any harm, they’ll answer to me – and to all the Weyrs of Pern.”

    Which… holy crap. I can’t help but remember the ambiguous fate of Kylara. Is that how the Weyrs look after their own once they’ve lost their dragons? The Pernese equivalent of so-called “care in the community”?

    And we have a mention of shipfish (this can’t be the first mention of them, can it?), who are “flipping and careering and generally making a show of themselves to the delight of the passengers.” So the dolphins survived, clearly, although the technology for communicating between humans and dolphins has been lost. There’s clearly going to be a long conversation between the two species once Pern recovers the technology to reopen the channels.

    I’m pretty sure this is the first later-Pass mention of them. And the really stupid thing is that there wasn’t any technology used to communicate – they spoke odd but comprehensible English, and presumably still do, since it was done with the same magic mutating technobabble used to make dragons from fire-lizards. The bell there was such a fuss about a book ago was just to call them if needed, or for them to call humans. As with so much else, the Pernese apparently just completely forgot about them.

  3. Steve Morrison December 15, 2016 at 9:57 pm

    (Gasp) stealing a whole loaf of bread? That makes her as bad as Jean Valjean! <runs off to report her to Inspector Javert>

  4. Firedrake December 16, 2016 at 3:50 am

    Genesistrine: “Bad people are bad (and braggy and boozy and boring)”

    And bawdy, though that isn’t quite the word; it suggests they might get some enjoyment out of it.

  5. WanderingUndine December 16, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    I think AMC’s Acorna series is better about showing actuall diversity of validated perspectives, and of peoples’ minds and personalities changing over time. But the major villains are still pretty obvious — mostly slavers, narratively-acknowledged rapists, literal planet-destroyers, and combinations thereof — and get relatively limited POV time, though I wouldn’t really want more time in their gross minds.

    (I really liked that series for the first five books or so, before they got into profligate time travel).

  6. genesistrine December 16, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    @Steve Morrison: and it’s without the slightest hint of irony or awareness:

    “Keita should have thought of that when she filched a whole loaf of bread. What does she think we are? Stupid? Rich enough to stuff her guts with more than she needs to do her work? Out she goes tonight. …”

    So it looks like drudges are starved too. Slight spoiler, but she turns up again offpage as Thella’s spy, with no more authorial sympathy that time.

    @Firedrake: Well Meron and Kylara got to enjoy themselves,, at least, but it doesn’t look as though any of the Southern Weyr lot are going to be allowed that.

    @Wandering Undine: I’ve never read the Acorna books, but aren’t they co-written? Maybe the other author had something to do with that….

  7. WanderingUndine December 16, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    Yes. The first two were co-written with Margaret Ball and the rest with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, with side material written by a few other people. Apart from Nimisha’s Ship, they and a bunch of Pern books are the only AMC works I’ve read.

  8. Brenda A December 16, 2016 at 7:44 pm

    I always enjoyed the alternate-view scenes in this book. In part because I read it before I read “The White Dragon”, so some of the scenes that will come up later were my first experience of them.

    Anne co-authored with a lot of people – helped some of them to get their start, apparently. The style really varies sometimes between them. I always notice it in the Brainship series and the Planet Pirates series.

  9. Firedrake December 17, 2016 at 11:51 am

    It’s a truism in publishing that “by X and Y” almost always means “Y did all the work, X lent their name to boost sales”. Sometimes X sets up the world and overall plot; very rarely they actually work together.

    In the case of McCaffrey, I remember that Powers That Be (1993, with Scarborough) was billed as “her first true collaboration”.

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