Last chapter was basically going to the Weyr and seeing what there was to see, having Falloner give Robinton the tour, and otherwise taking an interlude.
Problem is, Merelan is planning on going back to the Harper Hall. Where Petiron is. Who Gennell sent a composition from in an attempt to get her back.
The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter VIII: Content Notes: Child Abuse, Bullying, Hazing, Neglect, Demeaning Women to Raise Men
As much as I would like to believe this missive from Gennell is a plea that Petiron is entirely out of control and will she please come back and help him, if that were the case, it would make things be terrible if she came back for him. But it would be awesome if it were the case and Merelan said no.
For now, however, Merelan just writes that she has to serve out her contact at Benden Hold, so that she can train the Weyrsinger more and so that she can have pull enough to get a good journey-level Harper to Benden.
She also wants to take Maizella back to the Hall with her, thinking that it will be good for her. And that she might have a singing partner in Halanna. Which sounds like a rather interesting way of doing things. Unless Halanna is supposed to be the older woman to scare Maizella with “I used to be you, until they beat me, starved me, and refused to let me go until I became the woman I am now. And I’m MUCH HAPPIER NOW THAN I WAS BEFORE. (Quickly! Run while you can!) But otherwise, I can’t see a reason to put two headstrong people together.
Maizella’s parents were delighted to think that the Mastersinger even suggested the idea for their daughter. That was after Lady Hayara gave birth to a son.
“I’d have preferred another girl,” she admitted to Merelan when she and Robie dutifully visited her. “It’s so much easier to just marry them off suitably than have to worry about all the rivalry among boys to succeed. I mean, I know that Raid will make a good Lord Holder, but…”
Falloner had spent one evening explaining to Robinton why it was better to be in Weyr or Hall because, if you were a male in a line for succession in a Hold, you had to guard yourself against jealous brothers and cousins.
“But don’t the Lord Holders all get together in one of their councils and decide?” Robinton asked and got a snort for his ingenuousness.
“Sure, they decide, but it’s usually the strongest one they pick, the one who’s survived long enough to present himself as a candidate….”
The casualness that Hayara has about marrying daughters off makes me upset in behalf of all the daughters married off into politics or other alliances without any thought of whether they want to be part of it.
Also, primogeniture is a terrible system when you have more than one son and a limited amount of land. And there seems to be a very causal attitude toward the idea of brothers killing or hurting each other to make sure they’re the only one that can be named as successor. Which would make Pern more terrible than the actual Terran period it modeled itself on, as Terra tends to stash younger sons into the priesthood (here, the dragonriders choose that themselves) or the military (and there’s no real inter-Hold warfare going on, so there’s no options there).
Pern is such a terrible place to live. Unless, perhaps, you get lucky enough to be part of the 1%. (The parallels to our Terra are prescient. And also terrible.)
The narrative essentially continues on to the point where Robinton and his mother go back to the Hall, with Maizella coming to study for a year with them. (Didn’t know it was a limited time contract. I’d always assumed that the women were there until they were sent back or they completed their course of study.) There’s also an idiom here that I don’t have a good reason to believe survived, “stepping on no one’s toes,” but the linguistics of Pern have long since been absolutely beyond logic or consistency.
When they get back, with Spakinth showing off by appearing much closer to the Harper Hall than C’rob would have ever wanted (Merelan pleads mercy), there’s a fucking welcome back chorus for them
Grinning, she waved at those gathered on the steps. Then she began to clap again as a chorus from the second story assembly sang a loud musical welcome.
We’re glad you’re home
We’re glad you’ve come
We welcome you
With Heart and voice
And hope you’ll never leave.
Cocowhat by depizan
Run away, run away, run away!Especially since someone (although Petiron is not immediately visible) has arranged for this rather creepy song to be song, as well as all these other people, Masters and other familiar people, to be there waving to her. (Including Silvina, who we know will be Robinton’s headwoman when he’s in charge of the Hall.) Merelan is apparently delighted by all of this, enough to ignore the part in the lyric that says they don’t want her to leave again. She does have enough presence of mind to tell Robinton not to mention the melody Petiron wrote, unless Petiron mentions it first. Because Petiron did not send that melody to her, Gennell did.
As it turns out, Petiron is not there, because he was out helping another Hold have a Gather. He was certain that he would be back in time, so nobody sent word to delay Merelan until he could be present for her.
Merelan asks if Halanna went. She did. The others ask about Maizella, and Merelan describes her thus:
“She’s a well-behaved young lady,” Merelan said, chuckling as Master Gennell’s obvious apprehension eased. “I’d scarcely inflict the Hall with another…” She cleared her throat and suggested that Robie might like to finish his drink with his friends.
Charming. Although that can be read as either “ha, ha, like I’d do that again” or “zOMG, you think I would intentionally inflict that on all of you again?” I can be charitable for Merelan in this one.
It takes Petiron a few days to get back, and there’s an actively hurt horse with them. But there’s been a change in Merelan, one big enough that Robinton notices.
He couldn’t understand his mother’s reaction. She’d worried about Petiron not being there, and now she didn’t seem to care that he was safely home.
I can guess. Merelan is probably pissed off at Petiron. At minimum, pissed at him for not being there for Robinton (and herself?) when they returned from the Hold and being unpleasantly reminded of all the reasons why she left in the first place. I suspect that inquiring about Halanna suggests that Merelan may also suspect that Petiron took Halanna for romantic or sexual reasons as well. Either of these reasons by themselves would be enough to cause an “out of cope” error, but together, they’re probably causing a full on “nope, can’t be bothered to expend energy or care on this” situation.
That Petiron doesn’t immediately come to see his family once he gets back doesn’t help. And while we’re not treated to the entirety of the angry shouting match that ensues, due to Robinton, our viewpoint character, shutting a reasonably soundproof door and then reinforcing that idea with a pillow wrapped around his head, we do get a little of his internal monologue, and it is entirely the monologue of an abuse victim trying to figure out the way to please his adviser.
Even Lord Maidir was nicer to him than his father was. Why couldn’t he please his own father? What had he done wrong? Why couldn’t he do something right? He probably oughtn’t to have said that he could take Londik’s place. But he could. He knew he could. His mother had said that his voice was every bit as good as Londik’s, and he was the better musician. And she didn’t just say things like that to make you feel good–not about professional matters.
This is the part where I get sad that the cycle of abuse is really hard to break. And we’ve already seen plenty of Robinton being abusive and cruel in his adult years. Still not a matter of excusing Petiron. Just that it’s going to be so hard for Robinton, because he’s going to grow up in the worst parts of an abusive parent and a school that will drive him to his limits.
The narrative picks up again with a bone of contention between the parents – Petiron insists that Robinton audition for the role that Londik is leaving behind, because that is the procedure and Petiron doesn’t want to be accused of favoritism. Merelan points out, quite rightly, that Robinton has been working with all the masters who will be auditioning him and that they could all honestly pass him through without the audition, because they already know his capabilities.
He has to audition in front of his dad and mom for this, which should be a serious conflict of interest. Even if they are the highest-ranking people there in their disciplines, they should be recused from this so as to not have any thought of impropriety or nepotism.
Robinton nails the audition, including sight-singing a composition of his father’s after one pass at it with his eidetic memory. He can do the trills, the runs, the complex tempo shifts, and the interval leaps that will grate on the audience’s ears. (Which, if I haven’t mentioned this enough by now, sounds like terrible music composition, the kind of thing someone creates to display their own ego and skill, and not to make music that will be remembered or re-sung.)
Everyone applauds and seems convinced that this is satisfactory. Petiron is stunned that his child of ten could do what just happened, but rather than congratulate his son or offer any sort of praise, Petiron says that Robinton needs to be more careful with his dynamics when he’s sight-singing. This threatens to set Merelan off. Gennell intervenes with Petiron before that can happen, telling Petiron he’s wrong on the matter of dynamics, and then shutting him down on the idea of teaching his son, because Petiron teaches journeymen, and his son is not old enough to even be an apprentice. So Robinton will continue to get special lessons from his mother, as well as his regular classes for children of his age. (Gennell gives Robinton a wink after this, one that Petiron doesn’t see.) Gennell then heads off with Petiron, telling him about how Igen wants a repeat of a program done last year, and how it would be a good spot to debut Robinton.
Then one of the other masters comments on how Gennell doesn’t miss much, even if he doesn’t always seem to be paying attention, and the moment we could have had about how everyone has to keep cleaning up after Petiron’s incitements and won’t someone please teach him how to social in ways he can understand is gone. Because Petiron was just an asshole to his son, his wife was about to tell him off about it, and someone else just had to intervene to make sure things didn’t explode messily in front of the son who just did something spectacular and rightly should be praised for it.
Robinton, for his part, resolves to memorize the piece that was mentioned by Gennell from last year’s show so “that way, he wouldn’t annoy his father.”
Fast forward until Robinton is twelve, accepted as a Harper apprentice, and getting ready to go live in the dormitories with the other apprentices.
If Robinton did not realize until he was full-grown how deftly the Harper Hall conspired to save him from his father’s perfectionism, he was consumed with relief when “protocol” required him to join the other apprentices in their dormitory the day after his twelfth birthday. Instead of being on better terms with his father after two Turns of solo work, he seemed to annoy Petiron even more, no matter how hard he tried. In fact, it got so everyone noticed, and the other singers made a point of telling him how well he did, loud enough for his father–who gave him only a nod now and then–to hear.
He knew his transfer upset his mother, and yet he was positive it would make things a lot easier for her. It was only too obvious that his father couldn’t wait to see the back of him. And in his case wasn’t the same as that of the other apprentice lads: he’d lived in the Hall all his life, so he wouldn’t be homesick in the dormitory. Although he would miss his mother’s loving care, he was earnestly looking forward to leaving the family apartment.
Not wrong. Things probably will improve in the household without him there, since he’s been a point of contention between both parents since his birth. His mother won’t have to be constantly on guard against his father. Things will be filtered through to Petiron appropriately so that he doesn’t crush his son with negligence and abuse.
But it appears there’s been a tiny lapse, right at the end, as Petiron asks to see some amount of music that he sees Merelan putting into Robinton’s bag, and is able to follow the chain all to the point where Petiron realizes that Robinton has composed all the things that are being used by the masters and clamored for by the apprentices. And wonders just how much has been hidden from him.
“You hid from me the fact that he has perfect pitch, has a good treble voice, and has been writing music?”
“No–one–has–been–hiding–a sharding thing from you, Petiron,” Merelan said tensely, enunciating every syllable and using a swear word that shocked Robinton as much as it did her spouse, who recoiled from her controlled anger. “You–simply–his not hear, and did not see. Now, act the father for once in your life, and carry this carton to the dormitory. It’s much too heavy for Rob.”
[…Petiron leaves, and Merelan offers a final apology…]
“Wait a minute, dear.” She turned back to him, her face drawn with sadness and despair. “I shouldn’t have said that. I shouldn’t have lost my patience with the man. But I can’t keep on saving his self-esteem, catering to his enormous ego, and always at your expense, Rob.”
And then Robinton goes to live with the apprentices.
This apology is genuine and heartfelt, and very much too little, too late. Because Merelan has been doing just that, even though she’s also been giving Petiron the business about his parenting, and she did leave Petiron for a bit. But it’s hard leaving someone you love, even when you have the evidence of their abuse in front of you. It’s even harder to do if you don’t have really good support, demonstrated good support, a plan, friends, and a way to get back on your feet. And then even harder if it’s a place like Pern, where an unattached woman with a child could easily be denounced, smeared, or otherwise stripped of her way of making a living on the say-so c her abuser.
It’s really fucking hard to get away from someone. Believe someone when they express doubts and show your support for them. If you can, indicate to them what you can help them with if they are making sounds life they need to leave. And then, follow through on it if they go. Because desperation will kick in, or they’ll decide it’s the right time to do it, and they’re going to need that help.
Robinton gets settled in before the obligatory hazing begins.
He kept a suitable expression on his face when the head apprentice, a tall well-built lead from Keroon named Shonagar, rattled off what was expected of first-year apprentices, how they were the “lowest” of the “lowly” in the Hall, and the traditions of their new status. He also told them about the necessity of spending a night alone in the Weyr to prove their bravery.
“Harpers run into all kinds of problems and difficulties. This isn’t just singing songs to folks in a hold in the evenings. It can be a dangerous life,” he said, thoroughly solemn, “and you have to prove, now, that you can take it.”
[…Shonagar says there will be no exceptions…]
Robinton had rehearsed with Shonagar many times–Shonagar was a good second tenor. More important, he was fair-minded and really did keep good order in the apprentice dormitories. Though his position as head apprentice was not an official rank, Master Gennell encouraged his leadership. Shonagar would allow no bullying or improper behavior in the dorms.
Cocowhat by depizan
Shonagar, the one who beats Piemur when he’s a master and doesn’t actually do anything to stop bullying going on among the apprentices, even when confronted with the evidence that it is going on? That one apparently doesn’t tolerate bullying or improper behavior. And also, the narrative is telling us this right after Shonagar starts hazing the new apprentices and tells them about the initiation they have to pass. Which is an open secret, sure, but that’s the definition of improper behavior and bullying. That this is written in a time where collegiate fraternity life has hazing as a tradition and stereotype, and that can go to pretty terrible extremes, is not an excuse for the essential wrongness of the action.
Robinton ends up volunteering for the first night in the Weyr when everyone else doesn’t go, and while it’s dark and cold, Robinton has studied the plans of the place (and told others to do the same). So he goes exploring, finds a warmer spot and has a seat before going too far into the darkness. And mentally thanks Falloner for showing him around Benden Weyr, so that he’s not totally lost and scared. So he goes to sleep and gets woken by the others looking for him. Shonagar threatens him with violence to not say anything to the other apprentices.
Still want to tell me that Shonagar doesn’t tolerate bullying in the Hall? Because this is much more like the Shonagar we met from Piemur’s perspective.
The last thing I need in this tale of spousal and child abuse is a narrative trying to gaslight me about bullying. Especially since the previous books set in the Hall were also about child abuse and bullying that was normalized and accepted. The narrative expects us not to remember what it has already done. (Which, admittedly, might be easier when you have a few decades in between these novels, rather than a once-a-week airing of grievances.)
Robinton intends to follow the letter of Shonagar’s threat and not talk to any of them about his night, but he will show the other apprentices that he’s slipped matches and tinder into their pockets before they leave.
Robinton becomes a favorite among the apprentices for advice and comfort, as well as a tutor for the slower students. But he still can’t get anything from Petiron about doing well.
Halanna and Maizella were also soloists, but though Petiron remarked favorably on their performances, he had not so much as a nod for his son. The apprentices, being as astute as they were, did not fail to notice this. But if any complained, he’d shrug and remark that his father expected him to be note-perfect.
Robinton learns drum code, which is how he learns of the laying of a clutch, and hopes that dragonriders come to Search him, but nobody comes, the dragons hatch, Falloner, who becomes F’lon, gets his bronze, as does a weaver, Lytonal, who becomes L’tol, (and then Lytol), and his idea of being both dragonrider and Harper fades out. So he throws himself into his life at the Hall, and it suits him, and his mother smiles more, and things seem better for a while.
And then his voice cracks a little past thirteen, and there’s no saving his treble self from puberty. His mother takes it in good grace, jokes that his father is going to accuse him of doing it on purpose to screw up the performance for the Equinox, and then make sure that the replacement is up to standard in time. Merelan says this with a chuckle, but I don’t think it’s actually a joke. That’s probably what Petiron will do, in all seriousness.
Robinton has an important question for his mother — what will he do when he’s in journeyman composition and has to do assignments for his father? His mother dodges the question, and time passes, where his father sends him to the back of the chorus and his mother instructs him in how to use his new baritone voice. And if willing to be a bit more critical of Petiron around him.
“[…] Don’t you dare belittle what you do so very well. Far better than he ever could. The only real music he ever wrote–” She stopped, pursing her lips in irritation.
“Was the music he wrote while we were in Benden.” Robinton finished the sentence for her. “And you’re right. Speaking quite objectively as a harper, my father’s compositions are technically perfect and demanding, brilliant for instrumentalists and vocal dexterity, but scarcely for the average holder or craftsman.”
So things are back to being more harmonious because Robinton doesn’t have to hide and Merelan doesn’t have to hide him, and Robinton progresses because his father never gets the opportunity to determine what is his and apply his impossible standard to it unless it’s something Robinton has to be physically present for.
And F’lon comes to visit, long after Robinton heard about his Impression. The dragon attracts attention, and the two are as old friends, even in front of the hall where everyone is. F’lon confirms that S’loner decided not to Search and thinks that Robinton would have made a good rider. Also of note is that dragons’ mental voices tend to sound like their riders’ audible ones. There is hospitality, and Robinton tries to ignore Petiron’s scowl at him and not to remember all the stories of fathers doing things with sons that the other apprentices had told.
Also, his mother is ailing and this causes Robinton no small amount of distress. And Maizella mentions that Merelan fainted after a performance, and the healers want her to take a sabbatical somewhere warm. Robinton doesn’t get the chance to convince her, though, because Merelan collapses after singing another of Petiron’s compositions at the Equinox ceremony. That gets Petiron on board that his wife needs rest. Robinton, of course, is ready to blame himself for all of this, because when you’re continually being neglected, or abused, you tend to try and focus on the things that you think you can control, like yourself…
“You mean, after giving birth to a big lug like me?” Robinton demanded. He had overheard his father complaining that having a child had seriously damaged her.
“You weren’t all that big at birth, for all of you now,” Lorra said in her droll fashion, “so don’t cover yourself in midden dung in guilty reparation. You have never been at fault.” She cleared her throat, realizing that her emphasis implied she knew who was. “Merelan’s always lived on nerve. It’s the energy she uses to sing and perform at the level she does that drains her so. But there comes a time in a woman’s life when she isn’t as resilient as she was in her twenties.”
…even when it’s entirely the truth that this is a situation of of your control, or that someone else can do a lot more to make better than you can. Still traumatized, Robinton is. And significantly so at the prospect of losing his mother.
What’s not helping is that when Merelan returns, Petiron focuses on her and excludes his son, to the point where he even doesn’t casually insult the baritones, who Robinton unofficially leads and whose section members are trying to do their very best as a way of shielding Robinton from Petiron.
Gennell eventually calls in Robinton near the end of the term before he’s supposed to go into composition and tells him that he’s passing him out of composition. Everyone knows that Robinton knows the material, and they’re not going to subject him to his father as a teacher, but that leaves a term-long hole in his schedule that has to be filled. Robinton suggests being an itinerant teacher for that term, and Gennell denies him while hinting that there’s a really good story that we’re not getting because we’re doing Robinton: The Early Years.
“Not that all those unassigned holdings would accept a harper if I had one to send them,” Gennell said drolly. And when Robinton looked apprehensive, he added with a sigh, “There are some holds that profess not to require the services we provide.”
“I find that hard to believe,” Robinton said, appalled. Not want to learn how to read, write, and reckon? How could people get along in life without such basic skills?
I do not find this hard to believe at all, and I really want to see what goes on in these remote, Harper-less holds. We had a peek in Chapter I that many of those places hold the idea that Harpers are evil people who steal away children from the community. Those same communities are probably like many of the land-tied peasants whose entire lives would be performed mostly without the need to read or write or do maths, and most likely, they aren’t concerned with the cult of the dragonriders past the point that riders exist and will protect them.
They don’t need Harpers. But I want to spend time there and figure out the whys and how life on the fringes work.
Gennell does note that Robinton likes teaching, and promises to set him to a Harper that needs an assistant to help teach, if Robinton promises in return to keep writing catchy tunes and ballads. You know, like that girl we met much earlier in the series who also had the uncanny knack for catchy tunes and endless composition and who was frowned upon by her father for doing so.
Robinton is very happy at the prospect of being able to get out and stretch his wings and not have to deal with Petiron’s constant disapproval and the tension that was always there between Petiron and Merelan. Robinton also is happy to have been clued in on the possibility that the journeyman promotions might be happening soon. Soon turns out to be that very night, and twelve apprentices are promoted up, eleven from their final years as apprentices, and one from the third years – Robinton himself. As Gennell puts it:
“However, when the fundamentals of our craft have been well and truly learned, I insist that we hold no one back from the rank they are entitled to by knowledge and ability, and in this case, rare talent.”
Oh, hell no.
If that sounds familiar, it should. Let me pull up the relevant quote from Dragonsinger.
“However, when the fundamentals of our craft have been well and truly learned, I insist that we hold no one back from the rank they are entitled to by knowledge and ability, and in this case, rare talent.”
And in both cases, wild applause happens, including from the masters.
Cocowhat by depizan
The narrative has just pulled off its greatest theft yet – it has stolen Menolly’s story away from her and given it to Robinton. Instead of being a pioneer in the Harper Hall who walks the tables early and is their first girl journey-rank ever, Menolly is slotted in as the girl Robinton, only replicating his feats at the Hall and being the second ultra-talented composer of earworms and catchy tunes. Menolly’s accomplishments have been cut out from underneath her and made lesser, and with the retconning in of other women at the Hall, she no longer has a place of pride or uniqueness for anything she’s done. Menolly’s story, coming from a Sea Hold and persevering through adversity, has been appropriated for a dude who has had the benefit of being at the Hall all his life. Menolly deserves better than this.
The last useful thing is that we are told Petiron slipped out at some point during the celebration, and Merelan stayed, and Robinton thinks this is as it should be. Because this is how it has been for his entire life. And that’s Chapter VIII.