Last chapter, we finally learned The Plan – detonate starship engines in a crevice on the wandering planet do as to permanently alter its orbit and stop Thread forever. Nobody has thought about what to do with the ships after their engines are removed, yet, and they may not for a while.
All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 15: Content Notes: Suicide, Attempted Homicide
This chapter starts with anticipation of the journey. Jaxom is nervous that he’s doing this with the Benden Weyrleaders, as opposed to his previous jaunt to grab the missing egg and the spontaneous EVA. Sharra’s unexpected arrival threatens the plan’s timetable, and although Jaxom tries to get her to talk, she doesn’t say anything about why she’s there. Since the conspirators don’t want to talk about their upcoming journey in her presence, the action is stalled, which gives Robinton the opportunity to unveil a new song, with music composed by Menolly and words by a Harper named Elimona. Given name conventions of Pern, that suggests that Menolly is now confirmably not the only woman in Harper blue. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if Master Menolly is the only Master with women students.
We are then treated to the song’s lyric, which Jaxom links to the political situation at hand as he listens.
A heart that’s true in harper blue
makes song from heart’s own fire,
and though betrayed, is not afraid:
in danger, leaps up higher.
No world is free of minstrelsy,
nor noise, nor rage, nor sorrow.
A harper must discharge his trust
before he asks to borrow.
My Harper Hall is free to all
who serve with song and playing.
But you who’d hide your song inside
are very sadly straying.
Will you withdraw beyond the law,
lie safely in your slumber,
while dangers shake your world awake
and Death makes up his number?
Did harper here betray those dear
he’d feel more than my tongue.
If place you’d earn, you’d better learn
more music than you’ve sung.
For if you die, while safe you lie
hailed in your selfish bone,
no chant will come, no harper drum,
and you’ll lie long alone.
Get up, take heart–go, make a start,
sing out the truth you came for.
Then when you die, your heart may fly
to halls we have no name for.
Before getting into the content, a couple of useful meta bits. First, this is essentially outside content that’s made it into an official work. The acknowledgements section credits Elizabeth Moon for having come up with the text of the poem that is credited to Journeywoman Harper Elimona.
Second, this is the first time, I believe, that we’ve had the full lyric to any song at all, rather than just having them be referred to by name and having to fill in the gaps ourselves. I’m sure there a perfectly good reason outside Pern as to why this is happening – reference materials, the popularity of fan communities, the presence of a compact disc of songs, perhaps, but inside this world, we haven’t been treated to so in depth a view of the songs before. I wonder what it is about this point in time where the author has decided the full lyric needs to be shown. It could be as simple as “I saw this poem, and it was inspiring, so I included it.”
Which leads nicely into the content – this is pretty clearly a propaganda piece of some sort exhorting the world to get behind the AI’s plan and do their part to contribute to the destruction of Thread. Not getting to hear Robinton and Piemur sing and play it, I can’t make any meaningful commentary about how effective lyric and music work together, but given that it’s Menolly at the helm of the music, I’m sure the tune is catchy and an earworm. Which is too bad, because these lyrics are crude. The background I have makes me wince at the use of “minstrelsy,” given its long association with racism and blackface performances in the States.
The frame of the song is, essentially, a Master Harper calling their subordinates to be brave and speak truth, rather than hide in their office or the hall, with the threat that their names will be forgotten to time of they don’t get on board. As an allegory, it’s not bad, but it’s also very…Terran? There are no references to dragons, Thread, or other unique things of Pern. Rather than Death being involved, Thread would have surely been a better invocation? There’s plenty of gruesome imagery that can be invoked, and the mention would probably produce the right shudders among the listening audience. (That would mean modifying the poem, though, and that would probably make for difficulties.)
I also take an issue with the assertion that the Harper Hall is open to everyone, as that’s facts not in evidence, or not enough evidence through demonstrating that there are lots of women Harpers at the Hall and / or as journeypeople by name or incidental contacts. The tightness of the cast works against the Harpers in this case, and there were two books dedicated to the institutional sexism of the Hall. It would take a lot to move the needle there.
After singing the new song, the Harpers pick up other tunes and singing, and Jaxom enjoys the entertainment, even though it’s not actually helping relieve his anxiety that Sharra is here and hasn’t told him anything about why yet. Eventually, everyone retires for the evening and Jaxom continues to try and keep Sharra away from the real plan. We learn that Jaxom has written letters in case things do go lethally wrong (a solid precaution – and also fascinating reading, if you ever get the chance to see letters written for contingencies, such as ones written in case the moon mission failed).
Jaxom also keeps Sharra off the immediate plan by telling her the long-term one (couched as AIVAS “call[ing] our bluff that the dragons can lift anything they think they can.”), and then seducing her.
His post-coital sleep is interrupted, however, with warnings from both Meer (one of her fire-lizards) and Ruth about an intended intruder. Jaxom slips out of bed and then catches the knife-wielding assailant in a hold. Jaxom gets slashed for his troubles, and retaliates by breaking the wrist that holds the knife. This downs the attacker long enough for reinforcements and light to arrive, showing the intended assailant is a dragonrider.
One of the time-skipped, in fact, mentioned as the rider that brought Sharra in at the beginning of the chapter. Ten points to all theories that suggested a dragonrider would be needed for killing Jaxom.
Jaxom stared down at the old rider. “Blame?”
“You! I know who it was now! It was you–and that white runt that ought to have died the moment it was born!” Outside, Ruth roared exception to the insult, then thrust his head through the window. “If it hasn’t been for you, we’d’ve had our own fertile queen! We’d’ve had a chance!’
[…Jaxom boggles that someone else knows…]
“So it was you who cut the riding straps?” Jaxom demanded.
“Yes, yes I did, and I’d’ve got you. I’d’ve kept trying until I did. Nor wept if your woman’d did that morning. Save Pern from more like you and that abortion!”
“And you, a dragonrider, would seem the death of another?” D’ram’s scorn and horror made G’lanar flinch–but only briefly.
“Yes, yes, yes!” His voice climbed in fury and frustration. “Yes! Unnatural man, unnatural dragon! Abominations as vile as that Aivas thing you worship.” G’lanar’s eyes glittered; his features were contorted.
“That’s enough of that,” F’lar said, stepping forward purposefully.
“It is! Enough!” Before either Jaxom, who had stepped back from the man, or F’lar, who was moving toward him, could act, G’lanar plunged his dagger into his own breast.
No, he didn’t. Not unless he could get down to the floor where his knife was (the wrist with the knife in it was broken, presumably that means he dropped the knife), pick it up with his off hand, and then stab himself with it with sufficient strength to pierce his chest, all before anyone, human, dragon, or fire-lizard, could stop him. Essentially, nobody took the knife far enough away from G’lanar, despite his status as a threat, and even gave him enough room to be able to perform an action that would take several seconds to complete, despite the fact that he is still a threat. That’s…highly improbable. Not just because all of his targets are still in the room, meaning that Taking You With Me is definitely an option, but because it would seem like a basic tenet to remove the weapons from the vicinity of the threatening person.
This sounds suspiciously like a cover story. “Oh, no, he somehow got a knife and killed himself!” Because dragonriders don’t kill each other, and it would be quite the stain on the Aivas project for it to be known that they murdered someone with an objection to technology.
I also don’t fully buy that it’s about the egg grudge, but then again, time-traveling dragons. Should be easy enough to observe the incident when the egg gets stolen back and figure out who was responsible. And grudges do last for a very long time if you want them to. “Sic semper tyranus” and all that.
Most problematically, though, this plot is a wasted opportunity. Yes, there’s a tangential reference to the AI, but what’s coming through most strongly here is that Jaxom ruined the time-skipped’s ability to keep their own way of life at the top of the pile in the new time, and so revenge is sought. It wouldn’t be that much more difficult to extend the chain out a few more links and really tie in both the idea that everyone is experiencing upheaval if their sacred traditions and methods, and that the clear similarity between all the leaders of this heretical faction is that they are unnatural. An intelligent machine, a tiny and iridescent dragon, a man who has one foot in each of the aristocratic and priestly castes, three old men ruling together, dragonriders that believe in the end of Thread, a girl Harper, a girl green dragonrider, and so on. It would really help underscore how far we’ve come from when the Benden Weyrleader was the narrative’s epitome of TRADITION. There needs to be more connective tissue between this plot and the worldwide Luddite rebellion underway. This should be a “zOMG they even have dragonriders!” moment.
Instead, it’s treated as a vestigial element, where the dragonriders put down inquiries of the dragons to say whether or not their riders are in accord or not. D’ram takes the body to have it given proper funerary rights.
The next day reports no traitors from the dragons. There is a little possible flair of “How bad is the PR on this?”, but it’s essentially going to be sold as a single old dragonrider having a fit of insanity so as not to give credence to any of the rebellion’s ideas. And from there, it’s space suits for everyone. Lessa is, of course, so small that the smallest of suits is still too large for her and adjustments need to be made. Jaxom and the Benden Weyrleader find it funny. Lessa doesn’t. All three study their target image, to try and fix it in their minds so that the dragons will go there. And manage the jump perfectly well in about thirty seconds, popping out above the chasm in question, slowing to a stop eventually on the world that rains Thread, so that they can study various formations and possible places to set the engines down. With three suitable sites marked and the air supply running low in the dragons, all three pop back to the Yokohama to shed the space suits, and then back down to the planet to sketch out their pictures for others to use. And to refresh themselves and their dragons.
Jaxom checks in on Sharra, sees she’s gone, remembers she was also going up to the ship today, and then goes off to bathe Ruth. And that’s the chapter. Equal portions of “the trip to the Red Star to scout locations”, “the song Menolly and Elimona made”, and “the attempt to kill Jaxom by a dragonrider”, which should have been a much bigger fear than it was.
Now we have all the pieces in place, except for the test of whether the dragons will warp with the engines. Once enough materials are manufactured, the Plan will be ready.
So what’s going to try and get in the way now?