Last chapter, dolphin language went on the agenda, AIVAS demonstrated it could take care of itself, and the preparations to make the spacecraft a suitable base of space operations continued. Sallah Telgar was buried, and everything got situated for a meeting of the Lords Holder that looks to have a big set of debates on the agenda.
All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 9: Content Notes: Sexism, Patriarchy, Randian Paradise
The beginning of the chapter is a sweep over Tillek Hold, site of the Conclave, including the new harbor that Ranrel has put into place that can apparently easily handle the increased sea traffic, even as the ability for passengers to get off their boats is tested through needing to put as many small craft to work as possible.
We find out that Sharra is due up to the Yokohama, to work with Mirrim on getting the algae gardens started again, so that atmosphere can be pumped into the cargo bay and the rest of the ship, before there is a digression into all the new color and fashion on display, all sourced in one way or another from the AI through Master Weaver Zurg. Except Jaxom, who is wearing drab colors in last season’s fashion.
Politics is certainly underway before the Conclave between Jaxom and Sharra:
As it is, it’s just too bad the Craftmasters can’t vote on the succession.”
“They should, you know,” Jaxom replied. “They’re as vital to the smooth management of Pern as any Lord Holder.”
“Ssh,” Sharra said, though her eyes twinkled at his heresy. “You upset sufficient Lord Holders without suggesting that innovation.”
“It’ll come! It’ll come,” Jaxom said. “Once the conservative element among the Holders are replaced.”
And Jaxom would be the person for it, having been the Holder-rider hybrid, backed by the dragons. I don’t know if this is maturity or proximity to the AI that has brought this idea forth for Jaxom, but if the industrial revolution continues on Terran paths, soon enough the Crafts will buy into the aristocracy and then eventually dismantle it completely. Lytol might be the only person that knows that, though. Otherwise, it’s a good idea if you want a more democratic aristocracy.
Speaking of Lytol, the narrative shifts away from Jaxom and Sharra as they go mingle, to where Lytol is keeping Robinton on a short leash as they discuss the likely votes, and Robinton breaches the same idea of Craft involvement to Lytol, who grunts instead of his usual caustic denial. Robinton wonders if its Jaxom’s influence, of course, but I’m guessing it’s AIVAS.
Robinton pulls over Jaxom and Sharra, talks about the great fashion on display everywhere, dropping the fact that Lytol used to also be a weaver (what hasn’t he done?) and Sharra complaints about Jaxom’s dress. Robinton takes the opportunity to make a dirty joke.
“I’d chosen such a beautiful fabric, one of the new brocades in marvelous dark blue-green, and he never managed a single fitting.”
“I fear he fit in other things,” Robinton replied, unable to forgo the wordplay.
“Oh, you!” Sharra rolled her eyes dramatically, laughing.
A singularly lovely ripple of laughter, Robinton thought, grinning back at her. Zair, perched on the Harper’s shoulder, chirped agreement.
Okay, maybe it’s not a dirty joke, but it sure reads like one. And I’m also wondering whether to read that laugh as the kind of polite laugh one gives to someone who thinks they are funny, but aren’t, but also might cause you physical or societal harm if you don’t laugh. Because Robinton certainly can, and I wonder if he’s taking advantage of that. Who is going to call him out for such a thing, since he’s a beloved patriarch and far more likely to be believed than her?
(Just how many of the paying students at the Harper Hall have stories of Harpers, or even Robinton, doing inappropriate things to them?)
Then the doors close, the kitchen opens with refreshments, and the wait begins…
…for those not blessed by the narrative, that is, which jumps to Jaxom inside after detailing the briefing he received the night before where everyone warned him against getting provoked when the anti-AIVAS slurs come out. Jaxom is impatient for the old guard to get out of the way to embrace the new ideas coming through, but promises he’ll behave.
The Lords seat themselves in blocks depending on who they are supporting for the question of succession, and Groghe asks Jaxom’s opinion on Toric’s vote, which Jaxom says is basically going to be “against Ranrel” because Toric is pissed off at Hamian, Jaxom, and the dragonriders, who he considers all to have betrayed him in one way or another. Groghe thinks Toric is making too much of it, and Jaxom shrugs and says, essentially, that Denol has no legal ground for his claim.
“You tell him, then, Lord Groghe. As I understand the tradition of Holding, he doesn’t lose the island, no matter who’s improving it–it remains incontrovertibly his as part of his Hold grant. No one can usurp his title to it. Especially not someone like Denol.”
Groghe swiveled in his chair to face with some astonishment at Jaxom. “Are you sure of that? I mean, about the Holding? That no one can supersede his claim?”
“Of course I am,” Jaxom grinned slyly. “That sort of irrevocable grant is mentioned in the settlers’ Charter. And remarkably enough, Pern still operates, and enforces, the rules and restrictions of that Charter, even if half the world doesn’t know it. So, once given, a grant can’t be rescinded. It can’t even be ceded out of the Bloodline of the original grantee. When the last of the Bloodline dies, challenge decides the new Holder.”
Groghe smiled grimly at that reminder of how F’lar and Fax had dueled to make Jaxom the heir to Ruatha Hold.
Cocowhat by depizan
I want to see that Charter, now, for several reasons. Most trivially, at this point, I want to see the rules of inheritance. If Jaxom is speaking the truth, and the charter doesn’t have anything like “land passes to the oldest son” and is more like “passes to a child of the Bloodline”, then Lessa, Nerilka, and Thella all had valid claims on their Holds. Yes, a patriarchal feudal system that insists that “no penis, no power” stopped all of them from being able to pursue those claims, but their claims are valid. Imagine the potential cultural revolution when every daughter is equally as eligible for her home Hold and whatever Hold she marries into. And since two of the three women had better claims of primacy than Jaxom (Bloodline, but baby), and Larad (younger brother to Thella), those Holds could have been under their direction the entire time. It would have made Lessa a much more formidable power in the world as both a Weyrleader and a Holder. And Thella might have been a better administrator than Larad and made things even more prosperous, if much crueler.
Second, this idea basically would null Fax as any sort of legitimate anything, so long as there was a surviving member who could trace their Bloodline back to the Ruathan one. Again, Fax murders a lot of people and conquers others, but once he’s dead, his name should have been scrubbed from the records and his descendants revoked out of anything he had, unless they continued carving the bloody swath. The Bloodlines at this point have presumably had sufficient time to mix and dilute that just about anyone could make a claim to being of that Blood. (Presumably, there are rules that prevent “one drop” claims, but still…)
Most importantly, though, who gives irrevocable land grants in perpetuity that survive until every last member of your extended family in every generation is dead? It’s like the charterers were setting themselves up for the problem of “too many people, not enough land” in the pastoral society they envisioned. And with no way off planet, either, so no method of bleeding off pressure by sending out colony ships to nearby habitable zones. Were they imagining that the low tech work would keep the birth rate down? Or that they would keep sufficient tech to maintain excellent birth control?
They basically said:
Ah, but wait, there’s more.
“Toric was awarded those specific Southern lands in compensation for Holding during the [time-skipped’s] incumbency of Southern Weyr,” Jaxom went on. “If you’ll remember, the Big Island is within the borders of that grant. No act of Denol’s can alter Toric’s title to the Island.”
“Even if Toric’s not put his own holders there?”
Jaxom grinned. “When Denol first came South, he agreed to hold for Toric. He can’t disavow that. I’m sure he thought that because others had been granted the right to hold in their own names, he could simply cross the water and claim the Big Island. It doesn’t work that way.”
[…Groghe seems impressed…]
“Meantime, Denol’s been improving the place with every cot and shed he’s built, every crop he’s planted. In fact,” Jaxom said with a slightly wicked grin, “if Toric gave Idarolan the word, Denol’s marketable goods could be collected and sold north, and the profit credited to Toric!”
“Well, that would solve that problem, surely.”
‘Yes, but Toric’s not listening, and certainly not reading any messages from Landing,” Jaxom said ruefully.
Cocowhat by depizan
So, not only does the land grant last forever and can’t be revoked, anyone who sets up shop inside that border is immediately a full vassal to that person and can have all their goods seized and sold on the say-so of their landlord.
How many Lords Holder and other landlords have been “accidentally” locked outside during Threadfall again? With their families and every known member of their Bloodline? Because if that’s the only way to break up a Hold and make the land available again, it’s going to be murder to be an aristocrat in this society. Presumably, both Holds and Weyrs are supposed to take only what they are allotted by contract, but it wouldn’t take much for the characters with the military power to decide to abuse that a bit, like someone grabbing a jeweled knife meant for someone else and saying “tough, it’s mine, unless you want to fight me for it.” Or a lot, like Jaxom is suggesting (and Groghe is totally on board with).
This society needs Thread as population control, and also needs Thread to force the issue of how to actually live together on a planet with finite size and resources. Ugh.
Jaxom and Groghe return to who is likely to back whom in the election, with the oldest (Blesserel) basically getting Bitra’s support because he’s so far in hock to them that any other ascendance would mean a default on the debt, and some ready to back the middle son (Terentel) because they don’t like the oldest and don’t want to support Remerel (and by proxy, AIVAS). There’s some questioning from Larad about whether or not Sallah looked human in death, but Lytol calls the Conclave to order before Jaxom has to lie too much about what he saw.
Lytol is chosen to chair the meeting, even though he has a vote out of respect from the Lords Holder for his job as being Warder to Ruatha. After pointing out the ancientness of their process to stop snark from many sides, he calls a first vote, which is conducted in secret ballot with ink pens and tearaway pads. Are those quill pens or ballpoints or some other style? I’d love to know, I really would, because it would help me figure out just how much technology has advanced in the last two years. Obviously there had always been copying methods and ink, but Jaxom comments that everyone at the table is using “new products” to exercise their franchise, suggesting these pens are a cut above your standard quill.
Lytol shuffles the votes as they arrive, so as to preserve the secrecy of their originators, then opens and sorts them before announcing a split vote. The debate proceeds from there, with advocates for the first two sons to speak before a second ballot is cast – Ranrel just edges out Blesserel, but there is still one vote for Terentel. Groghe and Larad advocate for Ranrel as the only one who has both done honest work and that took interest in the running of the place while Oterel was dying. Sigomal and Sangel attempt to undercut the position, and Asgenar speaks for Ranrel to reinforce the good points. Toric jumps order to claim that Ranrel was expelled from the Hold, an expulsion Bargen says was retracted. Lytol puts the qibosh on that line of debate by pointing to the appropriate precedent:
“And the right of any male descendant to challenge the succession, no matter what bad feeling existed between father and son, has been upheld on numerous occasions.”
…yay, patriarchy. Way to exclude your competent administrators from holding actual power. But it’s not part of the charter, just precedent that it’s only sons.
Groghe needles Toric about father-son relationships, and a third vote is cast after nobody stands for Terentel. Ten for Ranrel. Lytol calls a recess to let the politicking happen, and while Jaxom stays out of any discussion, Groghe, Larad, and Asgenar go to work on the other candidates, telling Toric about his actual rights as Holder and discussing things with others. When back in session, another vote is called and Ranrel wins.
That matter settled, Jaxom updates everyone on the progress of the Plan, fields hostility, invites anyone who wants to go up into the Yokohama to see the planet for themselves, and promotes the increase in general welfare as proof that they’re going in the right direction.
Lytol held up the pad, the ink pen, and a sheet of the weather reports that Aivas had been producing for the past two Turns to the delight and relief of holders, major and minor. Then he pointed to the ornate clock on the wall, ticking away the minutes of the meeting, and to the new clothing in which Begamon was dressed, made from one of Master Zurg’s latest fine fabrics.
“I’ve also heard that you’ve new power to irrigate your fields and portable stoves to heat your orchards during frosts,” Lytol replied. “Not to mention the fact that your youngest granddaughter owes her life to Master Oldive’s new surgical techniques.”
“They’re things we can use, see, touch, Lytol.” Begamon waved his hand over his head. “Not something beyond our reach and our ken.”
Boy, that prohibition against surgery disappeared in a hurry, didn’t it? Presumably its effectiveness went way up with access to good technique, but it’s a bit odd that a deeply-held taboo disappeared, and yet there are some who are stubbornly holding out against the AI. A great example pops right up in Lytol’s next announcement, that the Craftmasters, save Norist, are in agreement on the construction of two new Halls – the Printers, loosely allied with the Harpers, to be housed in Landing, Ruatha, and Lemos (for better synch with Bendarek’s papercrafting), and the Technicians, loosely allied with the Smiths,
“I’ll say no to that one immediately,” Sigomal said, jumping to his feet. “That’s catering to the Abomination and–”
“There will be no vulgar epithets at this table, Lord Sigomal,” Lytol said at his most censorious. “Nor should I have to repeat that the Mastercraftsmen have no need of your permission. You have only to abstain from the purchase of any materials produced by a Crafthall which distresses you. Since it comes to my notice that certain projects of yours have benefited from new gadgetry of which only Aivas could be the source, you would be wiser to refrain from uttering such arrant hypocrisies in the Council.”
Gaping, Sigomal sank back.
[…Jaxom notes that this is the first time Sigomal has professed an allegiance on the matter…]
“We will be duly informed when the new Mastercraftsmen are chosen and the parameters of their professional spheres decided. Let me further remind the Lord Holders that such additions to the Crafthalls require no ratification by this Council since the Halls have, by long custom, been autonomous. This is a formal notification of intent.”
But of course, the Lords are over a barrel and they know it – unless they want to only purchase unstamped goods of questionable quality with no warranty or support should they fail, or employ only those that have been dismissed from the official Halls, which would probably involve censure if discovered officially.
There’s bitching about why more are needed (because everyone is overworked with demand), whether this is a Charter thing (it’s not, but it came about in the First Pass), and a reminder that Sebell and Fandarel sought the opinion of their peers when they didn’t have to, leading to bitching about how if Norist didn’t assent, it’s not really unanimity. Then more about his this is all very sudden and fast, and that soon enough, machine parts will be rusting everywhere…
And probably the Weyrs, too, since this is all their fault.”
“Lord Corman!” Trembling with outrage, Jaxom wrenched his arm from Groghe’s grip and sprang to his feet, his fists clenched. “You may not disparage the Weyrs in my presence!”
He was only barely aware that Lord Groghe had risen beside him and clamped both hands on his left arm, while Asgenar, also on his feet, was restraining him on the other side. Larad was loud in his protest, as were Toronas, Deckter, Warbret, Bargen, and to Jaxom’s immense surprise, Toric.
“Lord Corman, you will immediately apologize to this Council for that remark!” Lytol roared.
With ten Lord Holders on their feet in protest, Corman had no option but to apologize. When he mumbled a phrase, Lytol icily demanded that he speak loud enough to be heard. Then Lytol stared at each of the standing Lord Holders until they sank back into their chairs.
…you were saying something about a lack of superstitions, AIVAS? Where someone laying blame where it can accurately be laid is immediately shouted down and required to apologize because it insults the Weyrs?
Lytol swears the Holders to silence in the matter, asks for a vote on encouraging the new halls, gets enough yeas, explains how the new Halls will be built and staffed, deals with more bitching, and then asks for any other business. Toric asks who gets to be Lord Holder of Landing, and has the joint administration explained to him, asks how much ground that actually covers, is told, and then sinks back into his chair.
Lytol wisely adjourns the meeting, and then delivers the news to Ranrel of his ascension. Jaxom heads to Robinton and delivers his report about what happened and who the difficult Lords are, which confirms what Sebell is hearing as well. Sigomal, Sangel, Nessel, and Begamon. Robinton is happy to have identified the dissenters, but Jaxom isn’t sure. He takes comfort in knowing that the “dissenters are few in number, and all of them old.” And thus, the chapter ends.
Frankly, for a first look inside the Conclave, it’s rather parliamentarian. As if it were a House of Lords instead of a house of lords. Perhaps it is Lytol riding herd on them, but I would have expected a lot more petty things to come through and a certain stubbornness to set in, but apparently when someone they mostly respect is in charge, things go smoothly. And hey, no knife fights!
…and so the point of the chapter was to elect Ranrel and show us the inner workings of a rather polite Conclave. I got a lot out of it because of the Charter point, but a reader who’s here for the plot might wonder what the point was. Maybe something that required the presence of these characters will happen next chapter.