Last time, we dealt with a chapter that existed solely to move Jayge to Benden.
The Renegades of Pern: Chapter Nine: Content Notes: Honor Before Reason, Family Before Justice, Torture, PTSD
(Benden Hold and Weyr, Present Pass 13)
We stick with Jayge through the new Turn, who is now on his way away from delivering the horse, regretting not asking the name of the beautiful black-haired girl that had taken the horse. He’s having erotic dreams about her, but not the kind that are embarrassing. He figures that he’ll get another chance soon enough, before spotting a campfire and going to full alert, worried about Thella. His suspicion turns out to be correct, but Thella and her associate(s) have gone on before Jayge can get anything useful. Seeing some dragons, Jayge reminisces a bit before getting up to some assumptions:
Then it occurred to him to wonder why the dragons, known to be long-sighted, had not reacted to his presence, sprawled there as he was across the rock face. They had not seemed to be alert at all. True, he had not moved, but surely Thella and her companions were on the move! Were the dragons even watching out for her? Clearly not. Those dragonriders were so secure in their bloody Weyr, they did not bother to keep sentries, he thought in disgust. And what was to keep Thella from brazening her way right into the Weyr and making off with Aramina?
Well, normally it would be the social structure that makes dragonriders into reified demigods, but Thella has already shown more than enough signs that she considers the social structure to be in need of change, at least so that nobody can oppose her effectively. More practically, one notes that large organic death-dealers are often effective deterrents against smaller, more fragile attackers. Assuming that the dragons even needed to be called out to the fray.
As Jayge gets closer to the actual Weyr, he finds there are actually sentries posted, but he has to get into the tunnel that leads to the Weyr before any of them appear. They are unimpressed with his story of danger from Thella at first, but they do recognize the portrait of Readis.
“This guy was here yesterday. Kin of yours?”
Jayge was paralyzed for a moment with shock. “He’s in Benden?”
“Why should he be? He only wanted to deliver a packet of letters to Aramina, and she’s in Benden Hold.”
“And you told him that? You smokeless weyrling, you consummate dimwit.” Jayge was primed to elaborate on all the antecedents of all six guards when the oldest man suddenly held his spearpoint right against Jayge’s throat.
“State your business.” The spearman pricked the sharp point encouragingly.
Jayge, have you forgotten that you’ve been trying to keep Readis out of this to at least a small degree? So not everyone knows that Readis is aligned with Thella, and thus a danger. Which means maybe you want to tamp down on insulting everyone around you for not knowing what you know?
The second time around with the guards is more convincing, and Jayge gets sent in to talk to Lessa about Thella. The runner doesn’t like the tunnels, and Jayge hears sounds that remind him way too much of the avalanche that he had to deal with. In other words, Jayge, like so many other protagonists in these stories, has untreated PTSD about this incident and no counselor to talk to about it.
Jayge gawks at Benden Weyr before getting shown in, and as is consistent with everyone else, meeting Lessa is getting whammied with her Sith power.
As Benden Weyr was an amazement to Jayge, Lessa was only slightly less of a surprise. He could feel the force of her personality as strongly as he had felt Thella’s, but there all resemblance ended. Despite her slight stature, Lessa carried herself with authority, gracious but firm. She was more courteous to a trader than he had expected, and she had listened with such interest that he found himself telling her the whole story, from his first encounter with Thella and Giron, to that dawn’s surveillance, and his fears, assumptions, and anxieties – with one exception. He made no mention of Readis.
Cocowhat by depizan
Not that this is somehow incredible or unbelievable, but Jayge, you just lit into the outside guards about how Readis is dangerous and needs to be stopped, and now you’re in front of Lessa and you’re not telling her about him.
Lessa frowned just slightly, then leaned in toward Jayge, putting her small hand on his arm, strong fingers pressing in reassurance. “I do understand your concern. And I would prefer to have Aramina right here in Benden until she Impresses but … the girl does hear dragons.” She sighed extravagantly, then tilted her head slightly and smiled at him. Suddenly Jayge knew why so many people respected, even worshipped her, and he found herself smiling back at her, half-embarrassed by his reaction. “The conversations were driving her crazy.”
“Not as crazy as Thella could,” Jayge heard himself saying.
The conversation shifts to the Renegades, and much to Jayge’s surprise, Lessa has very recent sketches of Thella, some other man, and Readis. Jayge still has an irrational desire to try and save his uncle from Thella, and still has a willingness to see the similarities between Lessa and Thella. Lessa assures Jayge that Aramina is safe and sends him off to the kitchens to get food to go. Jayge has a petrifying encounter with Ramoth, who is much bigger than expected, but otherwise curls up for a nap, before getting his food.
And then heads back to Benden Hold so that he can stay close to Aramina and warn her about Readis. When he gets there he finds that Aramina is gone out to deal with an animal.
“You let her leave the Hold? Shards, man, you’re as mad as they are up at the Weyr! You don’t know what Thella and Dushik are like! You’ve no idea what they’re like! They mean to kill the girl!”
“Now, see here, lad, leave go of me. And I don’t take that kind of language from anyone.” Master Conwy pulled Jayge’s hands from his shirt. “You’re tired, lad; you’re not thinking straight. She’s safe. Now you come with me, have a bath and something to eat. She’ll be back shortly. Won’t take more than a few hours.”
During the bath, Jayge realizes the black-haired girl is really Aramina, and is a bit embarrassed at the erotic dreams he’s been having of her. He doesn’t have long to dwell on this, though, as Master Conwy appears at his bath to haul him out and apologize for not heeding his warning. Aramina has been kidnapped and everyone is looking for her.
Lord Raid apparently is skeptical of Jayge at first, despite Master Conwy vouching for him, telling Jayge to sit down even as he’s repeating what Conwy had already said. He effectually comes around to understand what Jayge was trying to say.
“What exactly did you mean by your remarks, young man?”
Jayge blinked to clear his eyes and tried to remember what he had last said. “I mean that if Aramina isn’t conscious, she can’t hear dragons. And if she can’t see where she is, how can she be rescued by them?”
“And how do you arrive at these conclusions?”
“Thella knows she hears dragons.” Jayge shrugged. “It stands to reason a clever woman like Thella would make certain Aramina had nothing to tell the dragons.”
“Exactly,” a cold voice said. Lessa was pushing through the knot of men around Jayge. “I apologize, Jayge Lilcamp. I didn’t heed your warning closely enough.”
This is interesting. Jayge is allowed to be right and the person who understands Thella better than the Lords and the dragonriders. This is momentous, in that one of the merchant classes is getting an apology from both of the aristocratic classes. In previous books, I think it would have been more likely for the attempt at kidnapping to have been laughable, Thella caught, and everything to have been resolved neatly. Instead, we now have Moriarty-Thella to the Holmes-Lessa, and I hope the game stays afoot in a good way.
Jayge’s conclusions about how to nullify Aramina’s abilities are borne out, as Aramina, when she contacts Heth, cannot see anything and is in a small space. Jayge and the search team he is part of are cheered by the news, but not much.
The act of kidnapping Aramina is the Moral Event Horizon for Jayge regarding Readis.
Bloodkin be damned, Jayge thought to himself as he tried to sleep – he was going to kill Readis, as well as Thella and Dushik, with his bare hands.
Because once the person you lust after is involved, all bets are off. That, too, seems to be a rule of Pern.
Also, standard complaint that the word dammed wouldn’t necessarily survive without the concept of hell and heaven and a judging deity, all of which Pern officially lacks. Although, being lost between might do as an appropriate substitute for damnation among dragonriders.
As it is, a rockslide in the third day of search hurts to of the people in his party. Because he knows it’s one of Thella’s modus operandi, Jayge stays to investigate while the others retreat to treat the injured. Even then, Readis is so able to surprise him and pin him so that he can’t shout for help.
“Always said you had the brains in the family, Jayge,” Readis whispered in his ear. “Don’t struggle. Dushik’s watching somewhere nearby. We have to get down behind him, go on from the other side, and get her out of that pit before the snakes eat her alive. That’s your aim, isn’t it? Nod your head.”
[…Jayge asks why Readis is involved in this plot. He denies it. Jayge is skeptical…]
“Thella has a way of making things seem rational. But throwing a young girl down a snake pit is not rational. Not rational at all. I think Thella went raving mad when the dragonriders attacked the hold. You should have heard her laughing all the way up that tunnel she made the drudges cut. I don’t think you’ll believe me, but I tried to stop her loosing that avalanche. Then I was stuck, trying to save Giron. He’s dead, by the way. She nicked his throat that first night.” Readis shuddered. “I’ll show you where the girl is, and I’ll help you get her out. Then I’m disappearing, and you bask in the glory of your heroic efforts.”
Jayge believed his uncle; believed the desperation behind the scoffing words. “Let’s get her out, then.”
I have to say, there has been some clear leveling up of the storytelling here compared to previous volumes. Thella is still Always Chaotic Evil, but she’s Competent Chaotic Evil. Readis seems okay with going along with a lot of things, but then helps Jayge out, so we’re not sure whether he’s a good person, a bad person, or just in it for himself. Jayge, a trader, might actually get to be the hero of the story, instead of a Lord, a Crafter, or a dragonrider. This is by far the best storyline of Pern I’ve seen in terms of just telling a good story. There’s a lot more missed about his this story could function in the greater world, but it’s still managing the plot and the action well.
Also, maybe I’m reading a bit too far into this, but I get the feeling that this seeming throwaway line from Readis about Thella’s ability to convince others of things should ping Jayge’s willingness to compare Lessa and Thella, and then ping back all the way to where Lessa was openly demonstrating her Sith powers, one of which was persuasion. It’s really too bad that idea wasn’t explored more in the earlier books, so that it could be put to maximum use here.
Finally, I don’t think Thella is crazy. I think she’s behaving in a consistently sociopathic and revenge-oriented way, so throwing Aramina down to the pit in spite so that nobody could have her and to begin the requisite psychological torture that would make Aramina more pliable and less willing to leave sounds entirely rational to me. Horrible, but rational.
Jayge and Readis manage to sneak the long way around Dushik and get to Aramina’s pit. Lowering a rope with a glow basket attached, the two manage to haul Aramina up out of the pit. As Jayge is trying to get Aramina away from the pit, a “black shape” attacks Readis and the two of them go hurtling into the pit, screaming all the way. After a little while, some of the depth of Thella’s anger reveals itself.
He turned to her to tell her to take the glow and go first. It was only then that he realized that she was not just slimy – she was naked. Her shivering was more from the cold than from reaction or stress, and she would tear the skin from her bones crawling up that tunnel. He stripped off his jacket and thrust her arms into it. It covered her to the hips. Then he pulled off his shirt and tore it into strips to wrap around her knees and feet.
Perhaps this is my cynicism showing through, but I’m somewhat surprised Jayge didn’t take a moment to ogle Aramina. Maturity in other writing, too!
In any case, as Jayge is trying to get Aramina out, Aramina is having a traumatic breakdown – she stood on the Hatching Ground, but no dragon came to her, the two strong men who came with her were effortlessly killed when she was kidnapped, and it’s all over her ability to hear and call dragons. Jayge wants her to, so that they can catch a ride, but Aramina is not having any of it – and nightmares, to boot. So that she doesn’t have to hear the dragons quite so loudly, or not as many of them, Aramina begs Jayge to take her to the Southern Continent. Of course, Thella, at least, is still alive, and is likely going to want to hunt Aramina until one or the other of them is dead. So it’s not going to be a cakewalk, but Jayge is definitely on board.
Well now, he might just do a bit of real trading and see if it solved Aramina’s problem. So long as he went, too. He had found her! He loved her! He would help her. The Weyrs and the Holds be damned. Hold and Weyr could not provide her with safety. He could and would!
And this is how the chapter ends, with Jayge very much overestimating his abilities to protect Aramina from Thella, who has repeatedly shown herself to be resourceful, crafty, good at disguise, and utterly intent on making sure that those who cross her are punished or killed.
Admittedly, I’m still not sure what the age difference between Jayge and Aramina is, but I’m also pretty sure that Aramina, from the last age marker we had in her, is of the age where most Pernese think she could be married off without incident. (She was, what, fourteen at last knowledge?) So there’s a big opportunity for way creepy behavior here that Jayge is still, remarkably, refraining from.
Since we’ve done something important with Thella, next chapter will definitely be all about Piemur and Toric.