Last chapter, business and a party, and also Iantine sexually assaulted Debera, who had to make an appeal to Morath’s innocence to get him to stop. But they’re still dating.
Dragonseye: Chapters XV and XVI: Content Notes: Fat People As Comedy, Gay Men Assaulted
This chapter opens with Clisser taking stock of all the singing and music done over the last few days, both the new suite and the not-mentioned until now Teaching Songs and Ballads, which are earworms. The Duty Song, we are told, will make sure everyone remembers what their Charter rights and responsibilities are, and Clisser spares a thought for all the students doing manual copying by thinking he should suggest a printing press be created by Kalvi. Which he then dismisses because presses need paper, and the word forests are going to be vulnerable to Thread. (Shows how much he remembers about papermaking, though, because Terran history reminds us that wood pulp is not the only thing that you can transform into paper.) Mostly, though, Clisser concerns himself with groundcrew assignments and waiting to hear how the curriculum was taking.
We, instead, are treated to Iantine having a laugh and a marvel at the size and splendor of his quarters in Benden, compared to what he had received at Bitra, as Lady Jane shows him around, makes explicit comparisons to Bitra, and then leaves him to himself. The things Iantine notices about Lady Jane are that she seems very fluttery, and that she wears almost no jewels except her wedding band.
Then we jump back to Telgar Weyr, where K’vin and Zulaya are having a discussion about everything that’s been observed and reported so far on the Weyrlings and their romantic behaviors. K’vin’s concerned about Iantine and Debera, but Zulaya waves him off by pointing out that for as much as they are besotted with each other, they stayed in public places. Jule, on the other hand, has apparently already taken another rider to bed, before her dragon is going to start having flights. The chief concerns Zulaya has are not trying to push the Weyrlings into fighting sooner than absolutely necessary, and trying to figure out how to retire the older fighters without offending them or provoking them into doing dangerous things to prove their worth.
Eventually they settle on the idea of taking their fighting wings south under the pretense of looking for artifacts and checking on the spread and penetration of the grubs. K’vin worries that the grubs will replace the dragons, but Zulaya points out the obvious psychological benefits of dragons charring Thread, even if the grubs are a useful second line of defense. On the day of the excursion, the narrative stops to engage in making fun of Tisha’s attempts to get on a dragon.
The morning had its moment of humor: getting Tisha aboard brown Branuth had been a struggle, involving not only Branuth’s rider, T’lel (who laughed so hard he had hiccups) but four other riders, the strongest and tallest.
[The dragon tries to see what’s going on and gets a cramped neck for it.]
“Stop that and get up here, T’lel,” Tisha was yelling, her thick legs stuck out at angles from her perch between the neck ridges. “I’ll be split. And if I’m split, you’ll suffer. I get should have said I’d come. I should know better than to leave my caverns for any reason whatsoever. This is very uncomfortable. Stop that guffawing, T’lel. Stop it right now. It isn’t funny where I’m sitting. Get up here and let’s go!”
Getting Tisha aboard Branuth had taken so much time that everyone else was in place and ready to go by the time T’lel did manage to get in front of Tisha.
“Not only am I being split, I’m also being bisected by these ridges. Did you sharpen them on purpose, T’lel? No wonder riders are so skinny. They’d have to be. Don’t dragons grow ridges for large people? I should have had K’vin take me up. Charanth is a much bigger dragon…why couldn’t you have put me on your bronze, K’vin?” Tisha shouted across the intervening space.
K’vin was trying to preserve his dignity as Weyrleader by not laughing at the sight of her, but he didn’t dare look in her direction again.
I’m thoroughly displeased with this idea that Tisha is a comedy figure because she’s a larger woman who needs assistance to get into a dragon that is too small for her. Why can’t K’vin take her on his bronze? She’s the headwoman of the Weyr, so presumably any questions about whether she’s high enough in rank to be accorded the honor should be settled. It would make things easier for everyone. I’m also skeptical that there aren’t stools or ladders people can use to mount dragons and that nobody has engineered a method for someone to sit side-saddle on a dragon, because there would have to have been a Lord Holder that complained loudly about how riding “split” was immodest and would provide views of his wife or daughters that nobody but her husband should be entitled to. This comedy routine shouldn’t be present because it’s making fun of someone because they’re fat. But also because the conspicuous absence of basic technology in this regard is unbelievable.
The trip south goes without incident, and everyone immediately procrastinates on their duties to go have a romp in the sand and the water. Tisha gets off of Branuth by way of water landing, and everyone essentially strips their clothes off and goes for a swim.
The narrative decides that we need to go see characters that have until now only been mentioned in passing (I believe): P’tero, blue rider, and M’leng, green rider, who are weyrmates and both confirmed to be men. The two of them ask permission to go off and lounge, and eventually both end up shirtless and pantsless while their dragons are off hunting herdbeasts. P’tero has designs for their privacy, and waves off a warning of a strange smell from his dragon as just new smells of the South.
And then the lions attack them. I’ll spare you the narrative part, but the gist is that both riders are hurt pretty badly, their dragons return and fight the lions, then more dragons arrive, led by Zulaya, and rip the lions apart in a fury. P’tero and M’leng pass out or are knocked unconscious, and that ends the chapter.
Nobody dies. Which is about the only grace I’m willing to give to this scene. As an earlier, younger reader, I wouldn’t have noticed that the first time there are confirmed gay dragonriders on camera, about to have a romantic interlude, they both get mauled by lions, which both conveniently stops the author from having to write gay sex and affection and probably makes a lot of homophobic fans very, very happy that the narrative has finally condemned what it had been trying to bury and not draw attention to in setting up a society where promiscuous dragons would result in gay orgies happening in the regular.
I was ready to give at least a little yay for representation on screen, finally, after all this time, but no. No cookies at all when you put a gay couple on screen only to have them be seriously injured, and especially not in a chapter where you’ve spent time previously making fun of fat people. (Yes, this isn’t actually a surprise to the people that have been following along with the comments made by the author about her understanding of gay men, but it’s the first time those views have intruded solidly in the text. I would prefer the clinical medical language that minimizes the gay population of Weyrs to this.
We’re going to intrude in on Chapter XVI for a bit, because after having written the characters getting attacked and hurt, the author turns around and writes in a rather good description of the guilt and embarrassment that follows from such an incident.
The shame of being attacked, of endangering M’leng, of being responsible for injuring nine dragons–when K’vin had particularly warned everyone to be careful–was almost more than he could bear. M’leng might say that P’tero saved his life–although he had to have his shoulder wound stitched–but P’tero knew that was incidental in the sequence of the attack.
And as more details come in about what happened, the embarrassment grows. Because a makeshift camp has to be set up to make sure the injured heal before returning. Because it requires fetching medics to stitch people up and tend to them. Because they had set themselves up on top of the place where a den of lions were, thank you Ted Tubberman.
And it’s not helping that there’s a narrative being deliberately circulated that’s untrue, at least in P’tero’s eyes.
He worried endlessly that M’leng would no longer live him, with such a scarred and imperfect body. M’leng, however, seemed to dwell so on P’tero’s heroism in protecting him with his own body that the blue rider decided not to mention the fact that it had not been entirely voluntary. M’leng had been unconscious from the moment of attack and had a great lump and a cut in the back of his head as well as the wound on his shoulder.
Zulaya had arrived to see P’tero trying to remove the claws from M’leng’s body, so there was little the blue rider could say to contradict the Weyrwoman’s version.
Tisha, coming to give him fellis early one morning, found him in tears, positive that he had lost M’leng with such a marred body.
“Nonsense, my lad,” Tisha had said, soothing back his sweaty hair as she held the straw for his fellis juice to his lips. “He will only see what you endured for his sake, to save him. And those scars will heal quite nicely, thanks to Corey’s neat stitching.”
The reference to the skill of the Head Medic almost reduced him to tears again. He’d caused so much fuss.
Tisha continues to reassure P’tero that everything is fine, and the dragonriders needed a lesson in their own vulnerability, and that the ostensible mission of the trip south succeeded. I’m going to cut off here, because what follows on from this involves more people and also is a catalyst for something else I’m going to shout about next week.
P’tero is written excellently here, based on my own experiences of being so embarrassed that nothing else can penetrate, even as others try to put a more positive spin on it. And also the same about having done a thing that might have saved a life, even though to you it didn’t seem noteworthy or heroic at all. P’tero would like very desperately to know that M’leng still loves him, despite his flaws, and also would like to be left alone, thank you, so as to have a proper processing and worry about everything that happened. If Pern had counselors, P’tero wants to see one who will help him work through his feelings and come to acceptance, instead of trying to spin him a new story and get him to accept what he knows isn’t true.
And if he had someone to talk through things with, maybe what he’ll get up to next time wouldn’t have happened.