Last chapter, we set up a fundamental problem between Petiron and his family where Robinton does very well, but only gets cursory praise from Petiron, to Merelan’s quite intense anger. This won’t end well.
The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter III: Content Notes: Slut-shaming, sanctioned abuse, imprisonment, spanking,
First, however, we have to deal with Halanna, the new Hold daughter sent to the hall to study music. Who is naturally talented in her voice, certainly, but…
Halanna arrived, and created an instant impression on all who met her of an overly-confident seventeen-Turn-old young woman who found fault with everything at the Harper Hall, and especially the cottage where she was lodged.
[…she’s what we might call a diva…]
The only one who found her at all bearable was Petiron. Once he heard her sing, he dismissed Merelan’s remarks about her lack of discipline and a lack of general information about music that was close to illiteracy. He was jubilant over having a contralto with such a rich timbre and wide range with no “break” whatever. He immediately began to write contralto solos into the Turnover music he was currently composing. He discounted Merelan’s suggestions that the girl would not be able to “read” the contralto line, much less manage the tempi changes or the cadenzas.
[…Merelan uses every single bit of pull she has trying to teach Halanna the fundamentals of music, but getting written in by Petiron only inflates Halanna’s ego more…]
She sang Ioudly, completely ignoring any dynamic alteration for the appropriate performance of a song or aria, concerned only with showing off the power of her vocal equipment. “Soft” was an unknown quality.
Merelan asks for help from Washell, who dryly notes that if Halanna continues in this vein, she’ll kill her voice in a couple of Turns, and the problem will solve itself. Washell thinks that when Halanna botches Petiron’s composition, he’ll have much less infatuation with her. Merelan thinks that might make Petiron think of her as a poor teacher, but Washell had a plan.
Hold that thought in mind, however, while the narrative continues to make sure there’s nothing we’re supposed to like about Halanna.
Halanna was an accomplished flirt, and quickly isolated those whom she would favor–because of their rank, either from within the Hall, or from prestigious holds. She chose only the attractive journeymen and masters, of whom there were quite a few just then, back at the Hall either for reassignment or to take part in the Turnover rehearsals. Not only did she have a voice, even her worst enemies had to admit that she was a beauty. Blond hair bleached almost silver by the sun of Ista, a flawless tan that accentuated her light green eyes and white, even teeth, a figure more mature than that of most girls her age–and she knew far more than she ought of how to flaunt her sensuality. She did not obey the cottage keeper’s basic rules, deciding they were for children and not the daughter of a holder, though all the other boarders were the same rank, and some more prestigious than hers. She was caught time and again sneaking in late at night.
Then Halanna took a dislike to Robinton.
And there’s our nail in the coffin, everyone. It couldn’t have been anything else that might have signaled that the narrative might not like Halanna, but if she dislikes Robinton, then we know she’s bad. (Her dislike of Robinton is mostly contained to the same reasons Petiron didn’t like Robinton – she doesn’t like being overheard and she thinks he’s a distraction.)
Seriously, though, if you wanted to set up an anti-Menolly, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than Halanna. She seems to be the Harper equivalent of Kylara, and her primary sin seems to be that she’s sexy and she knows it, followed very closely by the part where she expects the world to fall at her feet and give her everything she wants. At this point, I’m starting to feel like the narrative has a serious case of A-Cup Angst, since everyone who’s had a canonically highly attractive body seems to have also been made a terribly slutty-slut villain of some sort. I think the author has a type.
Merelan eventually gets so fed up with Halanna that she passes her off to Petiron, who only needs a single lesson to realize the terrible truth about Halanna. Petiron believes his wife’s accounts of how difficult Halanna is to work with (Yay!) and sets to rewrite the part to match the actual skill Halanna displays.
Naturally, when presented with the changes, Halanna and Petiron have an argument that gets overheard by everyone, whether they want to hear it or not. And then…
Many allowed as how they had heard the crack of flesh hitting flesh. And it was true that the right side of Halanna’s face was darker than the left when she was finally allowed to leave the studio. But she did begin to sing in a much muted voice. And she continued to sing the music as written until she did so correctly, sometimes until she was hoarse.
[Halanna pops out and secretly sends a message to her father that she’s being abused.]
Petiron admitted that he had slapped her, to stop her hysterical ranting–to which everyone in the Hall had been audience. Any master was permitted to chastise a student for inattention or failure to learn assigned lessons.
So Clisser not only won out, it’s considered a best practice to beat your students. We knew that already, as far back as Dragonsong, but it’s still a terrible idea if you want them to learn and think on their own.
Also, because it must be said,
But we’re not done yet.
When MasterHarper Gennell and Journeywoman Healer Betrice interviewed her about the impropriety of her action, not to mention the content of her messages, she was defiantly tearful.
[Gennell tells Halanna she’s been a guest of honor to this point and that she will apologize to Petiron.]
“Apologize?” Halanna rose from the stool in amazement. “I am the daughter of a holder, and I apologize to no one. He’s to apologize for slapping me, or–”
“That’s enough out of you,” Gennell said, be turned to his spouse. “She’s to be quartered in an appropriate room and given only basic rations.”
That was more easily said than done. It took Gennell, Betrice, and Lorra to get her, screeching and struggling, up to the third story of the Harper Hall to one of the spare rooms used by messengers or overflow guests. She refused to eat the food supplied at mealtimes and actually emptied the first three pitchers of water until her thirst got the better of her histrionics. Since it took nearly six days before her clandestine message brought results, she got hungry enough to devour what she was given, though she refused to apologize or promise to remedy her attitude. Such interviews usually resulted in her hurling threats and promises of just retribution at those trying to talk sense into her.
There’s some confusion at work here, too, as to who actually outranks whom. If Halanna is the higher-ranking person, she’s not being histrionic, she’s right. And if she isn’t, then she’s still got a leg to stand on that she’s being mistreated. Because this is still sanctioned abuse and everyone is basically telling Halanna that she deserves it. She does not deserve to be abused. Summarily dismissed and sent back as a student who has no interest in learning, yes, but not physically abused. But the narrative certainly took its time trying to impress upon us that Halanna is such a clearly spoiled brat and terrible so that we might side with the Harpers doing the abusing instead of the person being abused.
Halamna’s father, Halibran, comes with a force of his sons and apologizes on behalf of his daughter, but it’s not accepted by Gennell. Halibran offers to take his daughter, who is apparently screaming out her window this entire time, home, but Gennell refuses this as well.
“With your permission, we shall continue to discipline her–firmly–until she realizes that such behavior gets her nowhere in either her relationships with others or in learning the lessons you asked us to teach her.”
Halibran was astonished; the brothers muttered amongst themselves.
“That is too fine a voice to be misused,” Master Gennell said, glancing up in the direction of the outraged cries. Strips of clothing flapped out the window and drifted to the ground. “Or abused. We have disciplined recalcitrant students before now. She may be,” and Master Gennell paused significantly, “unusually obdurate, but give me leave to doubt she is beyond redemption.”
Halibran asks what the secret sauce is, and Gennell tells him that if he tells Halanna firmly that there’s no way she’s going to get him to budge on the matter, she’ll give up.
It still takes them three days, and the narrative says that it’s exhaustion that does Halanna in. And it’s explicit that part of Halibran’s convincing of Halanna involves spanking her.
“He uses only his hand, and it’s more her pride that’s been offended than her butt end,” Ginia said. “If the issue is not forced now, she will become far worse in later years and end up disgracing her entire family and hold. That can’t be allowed.”
So Halanna is condemned to be broken into a compliant girl and then taught how to sing. It starts with apologies to Gennell, Petiron, and Beatrice, and Merelan would have been included, except Merelan refused it, since she would have to teach singing to Halanna, and she didn’t want an apology to be a point of contention.
“She brought it on herself,” Halibran said sternly.
“That does not require me to compound it,” Merelan said, lifting her chin to match his attitude.
“You are a gracious lady,” he said, relenting and bowing to her.
[Halanna gets her own room, and her father leaves her with instructions…]
“And, if you should decide this regimen doesn’t suit you,” her father said in so cold a voice Merelan shivered, “and attempt to run away from the Harper Hall, I will have the drums repudiate you across all Pern. Do you understand? You wanted to sing, you wanted to come here to the Harper Hall so you could improve your voice. Now you will do just that and nothing but that! Do you understand, Halanna?”
Having been given no other option but to submit, Halanna does. We’re supposed to believe it hasn’t actually broken her spirit, just that she doesn’t act out any more and Petiron is consequently disappointed in her performance at Turnover because she’s not performing to potential. Merelan counsels patience, and the chapter ends.
I don’t believe for a moment that Halanna brought it on herself. She’s supposed to be the poster child for an indulgent childhood producing a spoiled brat, but the Harper Hall (and Pern, generally speaking) starts at violence and escalates when it comes to raising children, teaching apprentices, and keeping women in line. Halanna is behaving the way someone who has been told she’s better than everyone else is behaving. There’s a rank system in place that she presumably has learned, but I suspect she only learned it in relation to other Lords and not in relation to the Mastercrafters. She’s been behaving, well, normally. It’s just that the narrative has a particular dislike for her overt sexuality and so it goes out of its way to make sure we see Halanna as deserving of abuse (she isn’t).
So far, we seem to be regularly getting worse, not better. And we still haven’t yet gotten Petiron to the point where he’s likely to abuse his own son to the point of a fracture.
Next week, chapter IV.