Last chapter, AIVAS finished telling the story of the colonists and what went wrong with them, and indicated that it held a solution to permanently ridding the world of Thread, if Pern was willing to return to a high technology world. The ruling Council of Pern is on board with the idea, and has busily been getting the AI up to speed about what Ninth Pass Pern is like.
All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter Two: Content Notes: Sexism and Patriarchy
Chapter Two picks up only a little while later, with lots of gawkers having come to see the strange machine with the moving picture show. And either a miracle or a failure of logistics happens:
Then she [Lessa], with Menolly and Jancis, found volunteers among the women to do the drudge work of washing down the walls of long-disused rooms and shoveling out the dirty ash that had seeped on around windows and doors. The largest room, which the women decided most have originally been intended for conferences, was prepared for that purpose again.
[…Lessa sends for furniture…]
All these were washed down, revealing bright colors that made cheerful accents in the otherwise bare rooms. The room farthest from all the activity was turned into a private retreat for the Masterharper, complete with a comfortable bed, a well-cushioned chair, and a table.
Oh, no, wait, nevermind. Because of course it’s the women who recruit only women to do the cleaning work. The men can’t be bothered to help with that. It is “nice” that Lessa, who spent years as a drudge hiding from Fax, is the one who spearheads the operation, and that Menolly, Master Harper and composer, and Mastersmith(?) Jancis are her lieutenants. Surely there are some apprentices somewhere that could be pulled aside and put to useful work so that they appreciate the drudgery.
Also, which Masterharper? Robinton or Sebell?
And then, insult follows injury.
“The only problem will be in getting him to use it,” Lessa said, giving the tale a final swipe with her cleaning cloth. She had smudges on her cheeks, across her fine-bridged nose, and on her strong chin. Her black hair was coming loose from its braids. Menolly and Jancis exchanged glances to decide who would tell her how dirty her face was. Jancis thought that the Weyrwoman’s disarray, as well as her energetic cleaning, made her suddenly more accessible. The young Smithmaster had always been scared of the famous Weyrwoman.
“Somehow I never thought that I’d see the Weyrwoman of Pern working like a drudge,” Jancis murmured to Menolly. “She does it with a vengeance.”
“She had practice,” Menolly said with a wry chuckle, “hiding herself away from Fax in Ruatha Hold before Impressing Ramoth.”
“But she looks as if she was enjoying this,” Jancis said in faint surprise. Actually, she was, too. It gave her a sense of achievement to return a dirty room to cleanliness and order.
So not only is Lessa the one organizing the cleanup effort, she’s enjoying doing the drudge work, as is Jancis. Because women are domestic, amirite? It’s not like that ten years hiding from Fax wouldn’t be a giant trauma scar for Lessa, unless dragon Impression is magic for your PTSD or something. And that Menolly would have scars from her treatment at Half-Circle and the Harper Hall. And likely Jancis, too, being the granddaughter of Fandarel and his efficiency monomania. She probably had to optimize everything before he would approve. That could make trauma, too.
But no, the women are enjoying themselves doing this work and happily volunteered to do it, and it helped Lessa get her anxiety out about the possible end of dragonriders and Thread. Actually, I’d believe Lessa doing it as a stress-buster much more than any other reason.
Maps get hung, Lessa passes an approving and silent judgment on Jancis as appropriate for Piemur and the AIVAS project, Menolly frets about trying to compose a song to explain all of this, and after Jancis goes out to get food and drink, Menolly frets that not everyone is going to be on board with the massive change that AIVAS represents. Lessa is dismissive of that, and suggests strongly that Sebell commission new Teaching Songs to promulgate the true origins of the settlers and Pern. Lessa is still enthusiastic about the prospects of life without Thread, and the narrative casually drops that Menolly is Harper Hall Master, which likely makes her Sebell’s second as well as wife and mother to his children. And also a rather meteoric rise to prominence in the Hall. I wonder how many of the teaching and other Masters were resistant to the idea of having a woman in charge of them at the hall. And I also now want to know what Menolly has done about the program of taking Holder daughters and trying to teach them social music skills. And what the gender percentage of Harpers is now that Menolly is in change of the Hall.
But we get none of that, as Jancis returns with food and klah, and talk returns to AIVAS and the work being done in building the workstations. Then comes the Benden Weyrleader, complaining that everyone insisted on getting talk time with the machine, to which Lessa sits him down firmly and makes him eat and drink while he complains.
F’lar gave her a rueful grin. “And you’re handling me as you usually do, aren’t you?”
Lessa gave him a look of mild indignation as she slipped back into her chair and picked up her half-eaten roll. “Reassuring you, dear heart.”
From Mnementh, Lessa heard an incredulous mental snort.
Don’t spoil the effect, she told the bronze dragon.
Not likely, Mnementh replied sleepily. The sun is exceedingly warm here in this Landing place.
I miss the Lessa that had manipulative abilities and mental powers. Because it would be a fun story of how she has managed to bend Benden, and eventually Pern, to her will, all while letting the Weyrleader take the heat and be the public face of it all.
Anyway, Sebell appears to take Menolly and get her on the access list. There’s an intriguing paragraph that would make a great fanfic prompt.
As he often did, Sebell wondered at his great good fortune to have won Menolly as his mate. He could not mind that part of her heart which was Master Robinton’s. Part of his was the Harper’s, too, along with his complete loyalty and respect; but Menolly was the joy of his life.
Because we have yet to really see what kind of relationships are considered proper and which ones aren’t on Pern, even though there’s plenty of possibilities to pick from.
Sebell passes by Oterel, Tillek’s Lord Holder, who grouses at not being able to get in and see the machine, and accuses Fandarel of nepotism, since Jancis is inside. Menolly gives as good as she gets at this point, which is a big change from the girl of Half-Circle Hold.
“If you were able to draw clear diagrams as she does, Lord Oterel,” Menolly said, “you would doubtless be in there.” She had disliked the testy old Lord of Tillek Hold ever since he had spoken out so vehemently against her attaining her Mastery.
Oterel glared fiercely back at her. Beyond him, Lord Toronas of Benden Hold covered a grin with his hand. “You’re impudent, young woman, far too impudent! You dishonor your Hall.”
Sebell gave him a long quelling look and then pulled Menolly into the small room.
And in front of the Masterharper himself. Given the way that the dragonriders and many of the Holders seem to hold their honor much higher than their reasoning facilities, I would have expected a stronger response from Sebell than just a withering look. Up to and including a knife fight. Menolly could have used the support at that point. Perhaps not something as formal as a duel, but an aloud musing to make sure that the master in residence at Tillek for the next cycle will be the most promising woman musician at the Hall, or some other thing intended to tweak Oterel for his rudeness.
As it is, the Harpers enter as AIVAS is giving final directions for an assembly. After the drafters leave (did nobody put more paper in the printer?), Menolly is added to the roster, with data on her duties as a composer and lyricist, her mate, Sebell, and their three children enough to get a good voiceprint. AIVAS asks for copies of her music, and reveals to her that it has an extensive collection of music in its data banks. Which will be left for the moment, as the more pressing needs of power and connectivity are handled.
The Lords outside are brought in and introduced, and Oterel gets to be pompous and disbelieving, Sigomal of Bitra learns that his Hold has a namesake, but not necessarily any details, Oterel gets his Hold’s namesake, and the other Lords present are asked to add their Records so that AIVAS has a more complete understanding of the history it doesn’t have. Wansor comes through with a question that he is reminded that he can scan in to get an answer before Toronas learns of his Hold’s namesake.
The return of Jancis, Piemur, and Benelek signals the end of the visit for the Lords, and as they go out, Menolly marvels at the way in which AIVAS seems able to handle each of them exactly the way they want to be manipulated. (For the third time in as many pages.) AIVAS pipes up and mentions Robinton suggested tact and flattery would be useful.
Boxes arrive and are scanned, and nothing really useful comes out of that segment except that apparently Mirrim and T’gellan got together as Weyrmates. Menolly approves, saying that Mirrim “had certainly bloomed and relaxed in the warmth of his preference,” which I give a significant side – eye at, even though there’s confirmation that Mirrim has not had her rougher edges removed. Perhaps sanded a touch. Still, Pern continues to rather ruthlessly put in heteronormatove pairings for any characters that might have had the potential to sit outside that mold and be happy. (Without becoming Bitran villains, or Thellas.)
After the boxes are distributed, there’s a conference called that pulls Sebell anyway, and Menolly, alone with the machine, asks for a sample of music, which turns up a recording of a song at Landing (after having to navigate the kind of music Menolly wants and give specifics) that leaves her speechless. It’s “Home on the Range”, which is apparently a tune that Menolly knows, even if not actually in that form. Which I’m willing to let slide a little bit more, since we can play music from a very long time ago, although we have to guess on certain things, since there’s no surviving record of how to do it.
The chapter ends with a parade of electronics arriving for inspection from the various Smiths (and Piemur) that have been working on them.