Last time, the history-erasing crew celebrated more success, the dragonriders took a vacation, and the most amount of screen time devoted to an actual gay couple had then mauled by lions. If you thought this couldn’t get worse, well, the narrative says “Hold my klah.”
Dragonseye: Chapter XVI: Content Notes: Toxic Masculinity, Consent Violations, “She Really Secretly Wanted It”
We last left P’tero recovering at Southern and feeling really horrible about how his actions led to the damage done to humans and dragons by the lions, and the fact that other people are being inconvenienced caring for him after his injuries. Because of him, several people have to stay longer in the South than originally envisioned, and they suffer consequences, too.
It was three weeks before P’tero’s wounds had healed sufficiently for the trip back. The makeshift infirmary had more patients since there were other hazards besides large hungry and territorially minded felines in the Southern Continent: the heat, unwary exposure to too much sun, and a variety of other injuries. Leopol got a thorn in his foot which had festered, so he joined P’tero in the infirmary shelter until the poison had drained.
Tisha and one of the Weyrfolk came down with a fever that had Maranis sending back to Fort for a medic more qualified than he in such matters. The woman recovered in a few days, but Tisha had a much harder time of it, sweating kilos off her big frame, to leave her so enervated Maranis was desperately worried about her. K’vin sent to Ista to beg a ship to transport her back North since he could not subject her to trying to climb aboard a dragon.
Her illness depressed everyone.
“You don’t really know how important someone is,” Zulaya said, having come down to reassure herself on the state of the convalescents, “until they’re suddenly…not there!”
Her remark sunk P’tero’s spirits. And Tisha was not there to jolly him out of his depression.
What is it about the Southern Continent that gives people firehead fevers when they visit? There doesn’t seem to be rhyme or reason to who is affected by it, but it airways seems to be there. And Leopol gets a thorn in his foot because Readis did, but this one isn’t crippling, because Weyrfolk care and because it’s not a clandestine mission in defiance of a parental ultimatum.
Also, because my good will meter is running a little short, I’m guessing that we’re supposed to infer that Tisha gets the worse of the fever because she’s fat. This is a case where the author might not know science that we do, because there’s at least a few things published in our day that suggest fat people are sometimes better equipped to ride out certain diseases. That, and we also have HAES and understand that fat-shaming is a thing. Not one jot of this means anything to P’tero, who is still stuck in guilt and shame about having caused the whole series of events.
M’leng was, and appeared in the shelter.
“How dare you be so self-centered?” the green rider said in a taut, outraged tone of voice.
“Tisha’s illness is not your fault. Leopol wasn’t wearing shoes when he was told to and so his infected foot also isn’t your fault. In fact, it isn’t even your fault that we picked that rock out of all the ones we could have picked. It was bad luck, but nothing more, and I don’t want Ormonth upsetting Sith anymore. D’you hear me?”
P’tero burst into tears. Just as he’d thought: M’leng didn’t love him anymore.
Then M’leng’s gentle arms went around him, and he was pulled into M’leng’s chest and comforted with many caresses and kisses.
“Don’t be such a stupid idiot, you stupid idiot. How could I not love you?”
Later P’tero wondered how he could ever have doubted M’leng.
Never underestimate the ability of your partner to help you out of a funk. But also, it can be very difficult to break a loop like P’tero is going through, when it is very easy for him to believe he is the cause of it and that he could have avoided the whole thing by doing all sorts of things that make perfect sense in hindsight but that would often have required ESP or experience to have done beforehand. If this sounds familiar, it’s the pattern that society often foists on the victims of crime, and especially women who suffer a sexual crime. There are things that women can do that increase their potential protection, but ultimately, it’s up to the person committing the crime to not do that, and more often than not, a victim would have had to see through an attacker’s front to the real person underneath. That’s not always possible, and there are lots of times where even being able to see what’s about to happen doesn’t stop it from happening anyway.
M’leng is doing the right thing in avoiding victim-blaming.
When P’tero gets back, his and M’leng’s weyrs have been repainted and given new fabrics. P’tero gets soft cushions for his bed and Z’gal and T’sen (another canonical gay couple!) gift him with a riding pad so that P’tero won’t bruise his ass riding around (because P’tero is determined to be back in fighting form by Threadfall). M’leng caps off the celebration by giving P’tero an Iantine-commissioned painting of the event, as described by M’leng, which means P’tero looks a lot more heroic…and both of them still have their clothes on. (Ormonth wants to know where he is in the picture, apparently able to see the picture in P’tero’s mind as he looks at it.) P’tero is…
“Wouldn’t you rather have it?” P’tero suggested hopefully.
“I’ve a copy of my own. Iantine did two, one for each of us,” M’leng said, beaming proudly at his lover.
So P’tero had to hang the wretched reminder of the worst day of his life on his own wall, just where he couldn’t miss it every morning of his life when he woke up.
“You’ll never know how much this means to me,” he said, and that, too, was quite truthful.
No one thought it the least bit odd that he got very, very drunk on wine that night.
…thoroughly embarrassed and definitely being pressured to go along with a narrative that he’s definitely not comfortable with, because it makes a better story. We should probably keep an eye out for signs that P’tero is not handling it well. I hope he and M’leng get to have a heart-to-heart about how the painting makes him feel, how the whole heroism narrative makes him profoundly uncomfortable, and that he needs reassurance that M’leng loves him all the same, even though he’s different now.
The narrative shifts over to K’vin, Zulaya, and B’nurrin making secret plans to go with and observe the Threadfall that will be blistering the Southern Continent. B’nurrin admits he wants to go because he’s “…scared [he’ll] be needing clean pants half a dozen times the first Fall [he has] to lead.” and eventually the two Weyrleaders make their pact. Zulaya then volunteers herself along.
“Well, queens’ wings fly a lot lower into danger than the rest of the Weyr does. Makes it quicker for me to change my pants, but that doesn’t mean I want to have to.”
Which sounds like a pretty solid boast from Zulaya, but also a little bit of trying hard to sound like the boys for what I have envisioned of Zulaya’s personality.
The narrative then whisks us away to Bitra Hold (Under New Management), where Paulin is showing the reinvigorated Jamson around. (Jamson’s only fault about his son’s management in his absence is that he voted to impeach Chalkin.) The narrative goes to several paragraphs of showing us how things have improved greatly in Thread preparation and grounds maintenance, before taking everyone into Vergerin’s office, which is similarly lavished with good descriptions. There’s also a mention of how Vergerin is paying for all of this – he found Chalkin’s stash hiding in one of the steps.
“It’s been a lifesaver, both to return unnecessary tithings and to buy in supplies. One thing Chalkin for do correctly was keep records. I knew exactly how much he had extorted from his people.”
Jamson cleared his throat testily.
“Well, he did, Lord Jamson,” Vergerin said without cavil. “They hadn’t even enough in stores to get by on this winter, let alone reserves for Fall. I’m still unloading what we couldn’t possibly use from what Chalkin had amassed.” He gave a mirthless laugh. “Chalkin would have weathered all fifty years of the Pass from what he had on hand–but none of his people would have lasted the first year, let alone have the materials to safeguard what they could plant out. Bitra being established after the First Fall, there were no hydroponics sheds, although the tanks are stored below.”
Jamson gave another snort. “And the gaming? Have you curtailed that?”
“Both here and elsewhere,” Vergerin said, flushing a little. “I haven’t so much touched dice or card since that game with Chalkin.”
“What about his gamesmen?”
Vergerin’s smile was grim. “They had the choice of signing new contracts with me–for I will not honor the old ones–or leaving. Not many left.”
S’nan barked out a cackle of a laugh. “Not many would, considering the hazards of being holdless during a Pass. You have done well, Vergerin.” He nodded an emphasis.
We are reminded once again that the difference between heroes and villains is that the narrative approves of the actions of one and disapproves of the actions of the other. The gamesters are over a barrel – they can either sign new contracts or be turned out (without references, presumably) into a world that is about to rain death upon them. It’s a false choice, and should raise some eyebrows about similarly of tactics between these related people. But no, so long as Vergerin keeps the company line, they won’t oust him.
This also continues to suggest that there are Bitrans stashed just about everywhere else in the world, running games and funneling their profit back to Bitra Hold proper. I can’t quite figure out the mechanics of the banking system that would be needed for it to work and not be rife with robbery, but then again, maybe Bitrans are the ones who do banking, too.
I’m also skeptical of the claim that Chalkin could have stayed fifty years without running out of food. Admittedly, a good prepper could probably make a go at it, but the technology level here doesn’t seem to support the idea of being able to preserve food for fifty years, unless someone has been studying the conditions and techniques used that can produce the jar of wine or oil that stays sealed for millenia in perfect conditions.
As for the visit, S’nan and Jamson gear up to inspect the property, wanting Vergerin to stay behind so he can’t influence the outcome, before the visitors notice that Chalkin’s portrait has been hung prominently in the view of exiting the office, and that Iantine has restored it to the original realistic idea he envisioned, where we are told that Chalkin had “close-set eyes, bad complexion, scanty hair, and the mole on his chin.” In case anyone wondered whether Chalkin looked evil as well as behaved that way.
Jamson harrumphed several times. “And Chalkin? How’s he doing?”
Paulin shrugged and looked to S’nan.
“He was supplied with all he needs,” the Weyrleader said. “There is no need to exacerbate his expulsion by further contact.”
“And his children?” Jamson asked, eyes glinting coldly.
Vergerin grinned, ducking his head. “I feel they have improved in health, well-being, and self-discipline.”
“They stood in great need of the latter,” Paulin said.
“They may surprise you, Lord Paulin,” Vergerin said with a sly smile.
“I could bear it.”
“As the branch is bent, so it will grow,” Jamson intoned piously.
Pious to what, exactly, given that Pern is still nominally areligious? But also, there’s a thread here that suggests there was more than just talking applied to the children to get them with the program. It comes back after the the three peek in on a lesson from Issony where the children are present and participating.
“Issony’s been right that those youngsters needed competition. The holder kids need no incentives: they want to learn, and Chaldon is determined not to let mere holders get better grades than he. Oh, there’s still whinings and pleadings and tantrums, but Issony has my permission to deal with them. And he does, most effectively.”
Now, if we recall the last major conversation about classroom discipline, many of them, Issony included, said that things only got better in the classroom when teachers could beat their students with impunity. While nobody is saying it outright, I think the context and the phrasing is enough for us to assume that corporal punishment is the method preferred and “effective” for keeping the children in line.
Which becomes even more horrible in the next paragraph, when that implication could be extended to Chalkin’s Lady as well.
“Nadona?” Paulin asked.
Vergerin raised his eyebrows. “She’s learning much the same lessons as her children, but she’s not as quick a study, as Issony would say. She has her own quarters,” and he inclined his head toward the upper levels. “She stays within.”
“And leaves you to get along with the real work?” Paulin asked in a droll tone.
Satisfied with the tour, Paulin makes to leave and the other two join in. S’nan is not fond of the idea of gambling in the Weyr or other gamesters loose to cause trouble at Gathers, but Paulin and the narrative regard S’nan as stuffy and otherwise old-fashioned, and we are supposed to as well, as if the idea of a leader having large debts that could be called in or used as blackmail material isn’t something for everyone to be concerned about with regard to the integrity of their government.
In any case, the narrative returns to a livid K’vin giving P’tero a dressing-down and suspension from his fighting wing for trying to get back into the saddle too soon, before he’s completely healed up. The evidence is in the riding pad he received, spotted with old and new blood from the reopening wounds. P’tero is dismayed.
“But…but…Thread’s nearly here!” P’tero cried in anguish, almost in tears with frustration and the fear of being unable to show M’leng just how brave he really was. Not mock-brave, like the lion attack, but real brave in selflessness in the air.
K’vin is having exactly none of this macho bullshit from P’tero and repeats his grounding orders before stalking off in rage. When his dragon tells him that P’tero’s dragon tried to stop it, K’vin demands that he be told immediately if there’s someone or some dragon not one hundred percent fit for duty. Zulaya’s queen tells him that she would never have let anyone get into real danger and he tells her off, too, as he heads to where Zulaya is. Having her queen spoken to that way sets Zulaya off, and the two of them look to have a hashing-out, except
Zulaya stared at him, surprised, for K’vin had never reprimanded her or Meranath, those she had to admit privately that he could have legitimately done so on several occasions she would be embarrassed to admit.
So Zulaya adopts a more conciliatory tone while K’vin continues to thunder on about how he needs every rider ready and not to have secrets withheld from him.
If you’re wondering about the tone shift, because Zulaya has not deferred to K’vin before and generally kept her anger in company, you’re not alone. But don’t worry, the author has a reason for this. You see…
He began pacing now, and Zulaya watched him, smiling with relief and pride. He was going to be a splendid Weyrleader, much better than B’ner would have been.
He halted, just short of where she stood, his eyes, brilliant with his anger and frustration, fixed on her face.
“What on earth can you find to grin about right now?” he demanded, suspiciously, for there was a quality in her smile that he’d never seen before.
“That you’re in full control,” she said, leaving her smile in place.
“Oh, I am, am I?” Then, as she had always hoped he would, he took her in his arms be began kissing her with the full authority of his masculinity and his position as her Weyrleader, without a trace of hesitation or deference. Just what she’d always hoped she’d provoke him to.
K’vin was still very much in complete control even very early the next morning, before dawn in fact, when Meranath told them that B’nurrin and Shanna were waiting for them.
Cocowhat by depizan
Cocowhat by depizan
Cocowhat by depizan
…it was all a test, you see, to bring out K’vin’s latent control and dominance so that he would be able to lead effectively. Y’know, to become the very thing he just shut P’tero down hard for. (And sensibly, too, I might add – bravado would likely get people hurt or killed in actual Threadfall.) Because Zulaya apparently wanted to groom K’vin into being the kind of Alpha Male Dom she wanted as a partner, and apparently didn’t get from B’ner.
This is terrible writing, from a craft perspective. You don’t have a character give someone grief for doing a thing and then get rewarded for doing the same thing unless you want the reader to notice the hypocrisy.
This change of Zulaya almost certainly relies on people having read previous books in the series, or relying on being properly Genre Savvy about romance tropes, to know that when someone behaves in this aggressive, dubious-to-nonconsensual way toward a woman, it’s what she secretly wants and she’ll surrender to passion and lovemaking and the partner that displays enough (toxic) masculinity to win her. There are spots of foreshadowing earlier, if you count Zulaya smiling when K’vin makes a firm decision after she has offered him an alternate choice to go along with his suggestion as foreshadowing this outcome, instead of any of the hundreds of other reasons why someone might smile at that point.
Let’s also talk about what a terrible plan this is! Zulaya intends to goad and provoke K’vin, who clearly has the hots for her, to the point where he doesn’t care about anything other than getting his way, regardless of the consequences. She wants him to override her consent and dismiss her suggestions as a sign of true leadership. In anything but a carefully negotiated kinky relationship, this is going to be a disaster, and it’s erasing qualities that will be good for K’vin when it comes to leadership, like taking advice from field officers and benching fliers desperate to prove their machismo to their mates. If it is supposed to be a part of a good kinky relationship, Zulaya never actually articulated this and found out whether K’vin wanted to participate before doing this to him. Consent violations and manipulative behavior do not a good play partner make.
And if this were the end of the chapter, or the book, then that would certainly be a note to end on, but no, there’s still more. Because now it’s time to go South and observe Threadfall before having to fight it.
But I’m going to stop here so that I can avoid filling page after page of swears about how all of this turned out. Back next week with more plot.