Last chapter, Robinton got to talk to dragons. Halanna was shuffled off to the “good girls” department, and Merelan continues to hide from Petiron that his son is a genius and that she’s enlisted the entire Hall to train him so that Petiron doesn’t break him with his inability to be a father around him.
The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter V: Content Notes: Neglect
Chapter V opens with Petiron rummaging through Merelan’s desk looking for blank sheets to write on, finds copies of Robinton’s compositions, glances over them, and then continues to rummage for the sheets. Merelan is ready to tee off on Petiron for invading her privacy and for his callous disregard of the composition, whose author he doesn’t know.
“Well, no need to get huffy,” he said, suddenly noticing her stiff posture and angry glare. “I’ll get more at lunch.” He started out of the room be then turned back. “Who did write those tunes? You?” He smiled in an effort to appease her anger. “Not bad.”
She was so angry at his condescending smile and tone that she blurted out the truth. “Your son wrote them.”
Petiron blinked in astonishment. “Robie wrote those?” He started back to her worktop, but she moved swiftly from the door to stand in front of it. “My son is already writing music? You are helping him, of course,” he added, as if that explained much.
“He writes them with no help from anyone.”
“But he must have had some help,” Petiron said, trying to reach around her for access to the drawer. “The scores were well-written, even if the tunes are a trifle childish.” Then his jaw dropped. “How long has he been writing tunes?”
“If you were any sort of father to him, paid any attention to what he does, ever asked him a single question about his classes,” Merelan said, letting rip all her long-bottled up frustration, “you’d know he’s been writing music“–she stressed the word–” for several years. You even heard the apprentices singing some of the melodies.”
“I have?” Petiron frowned, unable to understand either of his mate’s shortcomings: not telling him about his own son’s musicality and out of informing him that apprentices were learning songs written by his own son. “I have!” he said, thinking back to the tunefulness he’d heard from Washell’s classes. Of course, the songs were suitable to the abilities of the age group but…He stared at Merelan, coming to grips with a sense of betrayal that he had never expected from her, his own spouse. “But why, Merelan? Why keep his abilities from me? His own father?”
“Oh, so now he’s your son, instead of mine,” Merelan snapped back. “Now that he shows some prowess, he’s all yours.”
“Yours, mine, what difference does it make? He’s what–seven Turns old?”
“He’s nine Turns old,” she snarled, and stalked out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
Petiron stood staring at the closed door, the echo of the definitive slam ringing in his ears, the hand that held the clean sheets held up in entreaty.
“Well, I never…” And he sunk back against the worktop, struggling to cope with her attitude and this incredible revelation about his–no, their–son.
I have to break this up, or it’s going to be a phenomenally long quote, but we’re in the middle of the narrative actually showing us everything coming to a head with Merelan, but also about to tell us how far off Petiron is from the conception of parenthood. He definitely has not been a present parent. He’s shocked at the age, and resolves to look more closely at the sheets of music.
Even if they proved only to be variations, that was creditable enough to require some special tutoring to hone a perhaps genuine gift up to a good professional standard. Why, his son could be a journeyman!
And Petiron misses the point, but also doesn’t believe in Robinton’s talent. And now that the truth is out, we’re getting insight into how Petiron sees his family.
But however did a man relate to his son until the boy was old enough to understand his father’s precepts and philosophies? Able to accept his father’s training?
Petiron decides to train his son as his own apprentice, but he can’t find the music he wants to reexamine, and as he calls for his son, there’s no response. Searching the room, he discovers the instruments that Robinton has been learning.
Now Petiron began to feel a righteous anger. Merelan was behaving in a most peculiar fashion. First by her silence over Robinton’s ability and then by letting someone else train his son…
Petiron is ready to go find his wife and son, when Gennell stops him and calls a meeting, using his position as Masterharper to get compliance, before telling him what’s gone on – Gennell has assigned Merelan to Benden Hold, at her request, for a year contract and gives Petiron a dressing-down for his complete lack of involvement in his son’s life, while the entire rest of the Hall has been trying to nurture Robinton’s talent.
Petiron rose indignantly. “I’m his father–have I no say in this?”
“Until a boy child is twelve, it is traditional for him to be in his mother’s care unless fostered to a family.”
“This has all been conducted with precipitous and unnecessary haste,” Petiron began, clenching and unclenching his fists, trying to control the rage that was boiling up inside him. Not only were his paternal rights being denied, but why was his spouse, usually so understanding, suddenly rejecting him?
[…this was not sudden at all, Petiron. Merelan had the option for a while but decided to accept it and flew away on a Benden dragon after she stormed out on you…]
“If it is a mother’s right to have her child until he is twelve, then I shall not interfere with her maternal instincts,” he said so harshly that Gennell flinched. “At twelve I shall have him.” With that, both promise and threat, he turned on his heel and stalked out of the MasterHarper’s workroom.
There’s a statement I’ve heard about authors writing particular characters, namely that they can produce the very best example of [Z] by not trying at all to write [Z], having focused entirely on [Q], instead. I’m not sure the author was trying to write a proto-MRA character that refuses to own up to his own shortcomings and abusive mindset, but the author has wrought a beauty of one here. And has not also narratively set him up as the poor man who didn’t know anything and his shrew of a wife just took the child without warning. Petiron thinks this, but the narrative doesn’t. (At least at this point.)
This is also in rather stark contrast to how the narrative handled Halanna. She was the shrew and everyone agreed it was a good idea to slap her around and imprison her into she learned that all men were her superiors, regardless of her rank. Here, because Robinton will be the most beloved man in Pern when he grows up, the narrative can’t just paint Merelan as a badmeanwrong woman, because she still has to raise Robinton right.
Until Petiron gets him, anyway, and I really am not looking forward to that part of his upbringing. Here’s where I wish there was a family court or some other entity that you could plead your case before to have a marriage dissolved or custody awarded in some manner so that we don’t have this situation where Petiron is going to get his son back, likely as an apprentice, and then take out an his frustration and anger at Merelan on his son.
Or that Merelan could send Robinton with a plea to Gennell to never put Robinton in a class with Petiron. It would take out conflict, certainly, but it would also remove many of the avenues Petiron has to abuse Robinton.