The last couple of chapters were essentially devoted to showing us how awful Chalkin is as a leader and how easy it should be to oust him from his position.
At which point I remind everyone that the Charter says only people of the Bitran Bloodline (so, only those who can prove their lineage directly to Avril Bitra) can replace Chalkin.
Dragonseye: Chapters VIII and IX: Content Notes: Crimes Against Humanity (Rape, Torture, Executions, Exploitation)
Chapter VIII returns to Iantine, who is continuing his sketch practice, this time as a group of traders arrives at Telgar Weyr and everyone essentially pops out to see them and what goods they have. Iantine mentions the ox-type beasts pulling the carts were bioengineered by Wind Blossom, which might be the first time in any Pern novel that anything other than the watch-whers (and how much everyone hates them) are attributed to Wind Blossom. So, she couldn’t recreate the dragons, but she seems to have been quite successful in other ventures. The narrative hasn’t told us this until now, preferring that we stay fixated on her great failure. I doubt the narrative would do the same for Benden or any other man.
These traders are again Liliencamp troops – did Joel just start a monopoly company that handles all the nomadic traders or something? (Narrative says later that he’s not the only, just the first.)
The traders have been setting up shelters along their routes so that they can avoid being burnt, and Leopol passes along the closed Bitran borders news. Iantine sketches and lets on another reason why the assemblage of dragonriders might be a better model than the Hold system.
Iantine had never given any thought to the support system required to serve a Weyr and its dragons. He had always assumed that dragons and riders took care of themselves from tithings, but he was acquiring a great respect for the organization and management of such a facility. In direct contrast with what he has seen at Bitra, everyone in the Weyr worked cheerfully at any task set them and took great pride in being part of it. Everyone helped everyone else: everyone seemed happy.
Wait, everyone? There’s nobody grumbling about having to carve meat or empty the privies or otherwise do things they might find distasteful? Although, the back of my head suggests that even the Weyrs have drudges, so perhaps the things the dragonriders truly don’t like are handled by people Iantine doesn’t see (or chooses not to).
To a person like Iantine, raised in Holds, this cheeriness at doing the work might ring an alarm bell, as if the dragonriders are a cult not only with weird sexual practices, but with mind control powers, too – and there he could connect with the fact that mating flights flying overhead often resulted in indiscretions. Iantine is grateful for the rescue, of course, but it seems like he should be a bit more suspicious of how perfect everything seems to be.
We are also told by the narrative that the dragons have been keeping themselves relevant in the Interval by starting a transport company, one that will be coming to a close as the dragons are instead used to fight space destruction. No word on whether they charged for transporting things, and Iantine treats the idea of dragons as cargo planes with the same disgust Sean did while he was alive.
As Iantine is sketching the scenes around him, Debera surprises him by commenting on the quality of the work. In turn, Iantine surprises her by remembering her name, although he credits Leopol for the knowledge. Iantine shows her a sketch of herself and Morath and she’s instantly charmed by it. And doesn’t have anything to pay for it with (much like Iantine, who earlier laments he didn’t have anything for the traders). Iantine gives Debera the sketch, and eventually tells her that she can help in trying to bargain an extra pad of paper off of the traders for him.
Iantine is also alert enough to notice that dragonriders have a tell when they’re communicating – their eyes unfocus just a bit. I wonder if anyone cunning will try to use that in a later book as the point where they attack a dragonrider.
As it turns out, Debera is related to the traders. Who are happy to talk with her, and have heard of Iantine, as well, and so Master Jol takes a look through Iantine’s sketchbook and agrees to ship him up some paper, after Leopol insinuates himself into the conversation and talks about all the commissions that are being lined up for Iantine. Iantine’s protests about not having money are met with the reassurance that he has credit with the traders and two offers to buy finished sketches in watercolors (which Jol [like Joel, amirite?] Liliencamp happens to have and will provide) so that Iantine can square his debts immediately. Jol heads back to deal with a question, but one of his subordinates drops off paper, pencils, ink, and pens for it for Iantine to get started. And thus ends chapter VIII.
Chapter IX shifts us back to Paulin, who did not get nearly as unanimous an approval for removing Chalkin as he had hoped, and am annoyance at the lack of preparations and the general lack of spirit in Bitra.
Paulin also has opinions about hereditary nobility.
And who would succeed to the hold? A consideration that was certainly fraught with problems.
In his response, Bastom had made a good suggestion: the appointment of a deputy or regent right away until one of Chalkin’s sons came of age; sons who would be specifically, and firmly, trained to hold properly. Not that the new holder had to be of the Bloodline, but following the precepts of inheritance outlined in the Charter would pacify the nervous Lords. To Paulin’s way of thinking, competence should always be the prime decider in succession, and that was not always passed on in the genes of Bloodlines.
For that matter, Paulin’s eldest nephew had shown a sure grasp of hold management. Sidny was a hard worker, a fair man, and a good judge of character and ability. Paulin was half tempted to recommend him up for Fort’s leadership when he was gone. He had a few reservations about his son, Matthew, but Paulin knew that he tended to be more critical of his own Blood than others were.
Of course, there’s always the problem that the regent will just never let go of the strings until he has a proper puppet in place, which is essentially what is being proposed here. It’s okay, though, because these are the good guys who believe in what we, as the reader, already know to be true. Sovereignty is always tricky, especially when trying to intervene in another country about their own practices and about a threat that is currently just in the abstract.
Their Harper descendants don’t have any trouble or qualm about manipulating succession in their own favor, of course. Anyone who strays from the orthodoxy is brought back into line relatively quickly. Only those that can keep the Harpers out can hold on to their power for a little while.
Paulin also realizes that accessing the genealogy is going to be more difficult, now that the computerized records and databases aren’t present as he gives a rider the message for M’shall about the impeachment polling.
(Random note: Crom Hold should be more properly CROM hold, as an acronym of the founders.)
M’shall bursts into Paulin’s office not too soon after the message is dispatched, with further news that Chalkin is not only seizing the lands of those that disagree with him, he’s herding those that want to leave info pens at the border and leaving them exposed to the ice storms that Iantine had caught the beginning of earlier in the book, and some of the people there have been used for some sort of target practice. Paulin and M’shall are convinced the situation warrants immediate action, as well as having to give a thought to how to protect any aid while not giving Chalkin the opportunity to claim he’s being interfered with.
Paulin felt nauseous. That sort of thing was straight out of the ancient bloody history the settlers had deliberately left behind: evolving a code of ethics and conduct that would make such events improbable! The planet was settled with the idea that there was room enough for everyone willing to work the land that was his or hers by Charter-given birthright.
Which only works until you run out of land, of course, which depends entirely on the fertility rate of the population and whether it not you inherit all the ancestral lands as well as your own. This problem was going to happen anyway, and Thread only exacerbates it. Chalkin happens to be someone who doesn’t particularly care about looking good in front of anyone else, so long as he has legal justification for doing what he’s doing. If and when Thread falls on his subjects, Chalkin will be inconvenienced, certainly, but he’s still not going to care enough to want to protect anyone but himself, his family, and his wealth. He’s a dictator trying to get others to make concessions to him so that the biological weapon doesn’t kill his subjects.
M’shall formulates a plan to provide some aid and dragonriders that won’t give Chalkin reason to claim the Weyrs aren’t neutral, and K’vin gets the short explanation when he knocks and enters, also very hot under the collar about Chalkin’s behavior. Paulin would love to show the currently-objecting Lords what’s going on in person, but the Chair can’t act without the unanimity he needs. (The two holdouts are apparently powerful enough that their objection counts.) So the two Weyrleaders go off to enact their plan, and bring Iantine along to sketch the scene. Which is what you might expect in a situation where people are nearly-naked in the cold, huddled together for warmth, with listless children, dead old people, and guards who are sheltered, warmed, wearing jewelry that isn’t theirs, eating animals that aren’t theirs, and everyone but the guards with a sign of violence done to them on their bodies. The Weyr rescue the people and take them back, and Iantine continues to draw what he saw, stopping only for a bit to eat (and even then, needing reassurance that all the refugees have eaten, too) and then a bit to sleep at the end.
Zulaya comes back from her rescue mission pissed.
“I knew he was a greedy fool and an idiot, but not a sadist. There were three pregnant women at the Forest Road border and they’d been raped because, of course, they couldn’t sue the guards later on a paternity claim.”
“Are the women all right?” K’vin asked, appalled by yet another instance of the brutality. “We arrived at the North Pass just in time to spare three lads from…very unkind attentions by the guards. Where does Chalkin find such men?”
“From holds that have tossed them out for antisocial behavior or criminal activities, of course,” Zulaya replied, almost spitting in anger. “And that blizzard’s closed in. We moved just in time. If we hadn’t, I fear most of these people would be dead by morning. Absolutely nothing allowed them! Not even the comfort of a fire!”
I’d say these were flagrant violations of the rules of war, except there isn’t a war going on, just a despot secure that he can abuse his subjects and nobody will step in and intervene from the UN. This is a step up from the usual mode of operations of Bitra, but it is more evidence that Bitra, such as it is, should probably have collapsed long before this point.
Methods of vengeance are discussed by K’vin and Zulaya and dismissed, and the two interview a refugee couple.
“Not to take our sow, though,” his mate said, her expression rebellious. “We needed that ‘un to make more piggies to meet the tithe he set.” Like her man, she is a stress on the pronoun. “Took our daughter, too, to work in the hold when we wanted her land grant. Said we didn’t work what we had good enough so we couldn’t have more.”
“Really?” Zulaya said, deceptively mild as she shot K’vin a meaningful glance. “Now that’s interesting, Holder Ferina.”
[…the dragons have known all along, apparently?…]
“But he says we got it wrong and we ain’t had no teacher to ask,” the man was saying. “An’ thassa ‘nother thing–we should have a teacher for our kids.”
“At least so they can read the Charter and know what rights you have,” Zulaya said firmly. “I’ve a copy we can show you right now, so you can refresh your memories.”
The two exchanged alarmed glances.
“In fact,” Zulaya went on smoothly, “I think we’ll be someone read you your rights…since it would be difficult for you to turn planes with bandaged hands, Brookie. And you’re not in much better shape, Ferina.”
Before getting into the latest of Chalkin’s offenses, I will note that in the society Pern models itself on, literacy is not a widespread goal for the population, and legal literacy would be even less so. Situations such as this would be commonplace, and the people would essentially have to rely on the understanding that if Chalkin taxes his people so much that they can’t survive, there won’t be anyone to tax next year. If Chalkin breaks the contract, this is the result, assuming he’s not deposed and killed. In Terran history, the various churches and denominations of Christianity were nominal checks on the abuse of this power, as priests and prelates could incite insurrection or plea with another nation to invade and conquer them to get this horrible ruler off their back. The dragonriders, though, are sworn to not interfere in Hold duties, so they can’t officially fill this role, much as they would be very good at it.
That said, stealing daughters in a world that uses children to expand land is generally a no-no, and the refusal of a land grant is likely actually spelled out as a Charter offense that Chalkin could be brought up on for impeachment.
After the Telgar Weyrleaders send out for help to get a copy of the charter and someone to read it, the action shifts over to the reading of a message from Chalkin, intended for Paulin, about how dragonriders are derelict in their duties, because he has apparently been flying a red-striped banner, indicating the need for a dragon to take an urgent messenge, for several days now and no dragon has come to see him, even though they have been close enough to see the banner. On top of that, Chalkin adds:
Not only have they been interfering with the management of this hold, but they fill the minds of my loyal holders with outrageous lies. I demand their immediate censure. They are not even reliable enough to perform those duties which fall within their limited abilities.
The Holders and riders listening are all unimpressed, and quite upset, at Chalkin’s accusations, especially in light of how he is treating his loyal holders. As it turns out, some of the guards involved in the incidents the dragonriders intervened in are being held in custody so that they can give testimony to what happened. The Holder and the Weyrleader decide it’s a good time to visit the holdouts and explain to them what’s actually going on, as well as visit Paulin and deliver the message. Thus ends Chapter IX, with yet more reasons to make an example of Chalkin and cement him firmly in our minds as not just an unbeliever, but an awful, evil person aside from his heterodoxy.
Could we have a villain in a book that isn’t over-the-top? Just someone who doesn’t agree and follow the line, and who otherwise is acting reasonably in line with that belief? In this time period, it would be perfect to have someone filling the role, and the book actually being about presenting the best evidence for and against?