Last time, the narrative right Menolly’s story looked much better on Robinton and gave it to him, Petiron continued to be an asshole, and the massive Harper Hall conspiracy to keep Robinton’s contact with Petiron to a minimum continued all the way through Robinton’s promotion to journeyman and subsequent assignment to High Reaches Hold.
The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter IX: Content Notes: Dealing with trauma
Chapter IX begins with Merelan suggesting that Robinton ask F’lon to take him to his assignment in High Reaches. Robinton thinks it would be seen as showing off, Merelan thinks it would be good for his reputation.
There’s another change at this point:
He hadn’t so much as laid eyes on his father since the night before, but that didn’t surprise him. He was now separated from his father, both as parent and teacher. His relief was intense, his concern for his mother immense. She seemed so frail, and her hands trembled a bit as she wrapped his pipes and put them in one of the packs.
We also find out that Gennell deliberately promoted Robinton while Petiron was out of the hall, which makes Robinton cringe and worry even more for his mother, who believes that Petiron will get pissed, and then go back to composing.
The arrival of a dragon indicates that F’lon has been asked to take Robinton to High Reaches anyway. Three Masters appear to get his baggage and put it on the dragon. And then Robinton is off, and Master Lobirn is unimpressed with him. And very unimpressed with the compositions of Petiron. And also uses Robinton’s compositions quite a bit, although he doesn’t know that they’re Robinton’s. Robinton’s patient demeanor helps him win over Lobirn, even as he gets the slow, the young, and the duty of going out to the far-flung holds and talking to them, as well as leaving them music to use when he’s not there. It keeps him busy, but it also means that Robinton occasionally gets close to hurting himself when he’s distracted trying to compose and isn’t paying attention to the road. But at least he can sing and play loudly without any fear.
It’s different than the Hall, and because this book is a parade of names, Robinton meets a young Holder at High Reaches named Fax, and Fax is, being a villain, already exactly the way he will be when Lessa meets him much later.
Even on his first encounter with the young holder–a question of who took the steps first at a landing where several halls met, Robinton felt uneasy in the man’s presence. Fax was aggressive, impatient, and condescending. A nephew of Lord Faroguy, he had recently taken Hold of one of the Valley properties, which he ran with a heavy hand, demanding perfection of all beholden to him. Some craftsmen had asked for transfers to other holdings.
Robinton heard unsettling rumors about Fax’s methods, but it wasn’t for a harper to criticize–or to take precedence over a holder, so he had courteously allowed Fax to go first. All he got for his deference was a sneer, and he noted that Fax, who had been striding with urgency to get somewhere, now slowed his pace deliberately. What that proved escaped Robinton completely, but it did give some of the rumors more credibility than he had originally thought.
One evening Fax went out of his way to get Robinton on the wrestling mats: not with himself but with one of his younger holders.
This is one of those things where it would be good to know how inheritance works. Because if there’s a way to do things on a trial basis, or if someone is merely regent rather than lord, it should be no trouble at all to yank Fax out of his position or give him a severe dressing-down for the way that he’s handling things. Or approve transfer requests of anyone who wants to leave and note the reasons why. Or exercise some other sort of check on him to remind him that even those who have absolute power in their own domain still have to interact with others. Like having Craftmasters pull their people out in protest over treatment. Fax is already being a bully and is likely not being a profitable holder. But this is probably more of the same bullshit that stopped Chalkin from being tossed out for his actions, because the sovereignty of the lord is so sacred that even human rights abuses can’t move the Lords to action.
And then the narrative chooses to tell us exactly why Fax stays in power, after the Harpers all unofficially agree to take some self-defense lessons.
In any event, Fax did not request a harper for his holding. That was his decision and his folk would be stinted by the lack, but only Lord Faroguy could require his holders to provide education. Since Fax’s holding appeared to be so much more profitable under his management, Lord Faroguy had little reason to question his methods. Somehow Fax managed to keep from his uncle the fact that his profits were obtained by whippings and threats of eviction.
Cocowhat by depizan
IN WHAT UNIVERSE IS THIS PROFITABLE. (Outside the extremely short term.) Fax is terrible at this ruling thing, and his mistakes start with the decision to keep the Harpers out. Who is responsible for telling all the peasants that their lot in life is to serve their lord unquestioningly? Harpers. Who then gives the peasants the hope that they might be raised from this drudgery through the intervention of dragonriders, even if it’s got less odds than winning the lottery here? Harpers. And who are the people that will best testify on your behalf of someone accuses you if doing something you don’t want to admit to? Harpers. They’re your best friend if you want to stay in power. Fax should be sweet-talking them, rather than being a dick toward them. What I wouldn’t give for a villain that understands politics.
I can’t see this kid turning into the Fax we had at the beginning of the series without seriously figuring out how to get his act together. (Then again, that Fax expelled all the Harpers from his conquests, instead of trying to corrupt them to his side or, as is being presented here, never having asked for them in the first place. Yet another retcon at work.)
The narrative sends Robinton up to the drum heights, where, lacking better things to do, he composes a song for the miners and slips it into the rotation. It does extremely well, but it also tips his hand to Lobirn, who figures out in short order that Robinton composed all of the music that he’s been using and most of the stuff coming out of the Hall. Lobirn is nonplussed at this discovery, but getting the truth out of Robinton about when most things he uses were composed seems him into a howling fit of laughter. Once Lobirn calms down, he explains the revelation and the reason why it’s so damn funny
“The joke’s on Petiron! That conceited, condescending, consummate composer hasn’t half the talent of his own son!”
Which is only true if your desired end result is catchy tunes and songs that are easy to teach and remember to others. That’s very much a Harper goal, and so in that regard, Robinton is miles better than Petiron. But that shows a lot of the subjectivity that’s involved in determining talent. Fax, I suspect, wouldn’t think Robinton is any better than his dad, because Fax believes in main strength and cruelty.
Anyway, the narrative gives us yet another sign that Robinton is still struggling with the abuse from his dad.
However, this respect generated an unexpected side effect: it made him realize all the more keenly the relationship that Petiron had been unable to give him. In order to abate his bitterness, Robinton began mentally to refer to his father as Petiron, rather than “father.” Maybe one day he could forgive the slights and the terrible hurt Petiron had inflicted on him–but not yet. Meanwhile, in his growing pleasure in Lobirn’s continued good favor, painful memories of striving for an acceptance that had never come began to fade.
That kind of dissociation is to be expected from the trauma that’s been inflicted, and if, say, there were counselors on Pern, they might be able to help him get through the trauma, instead of leaving him to work it through himself, and to figure out how not to be re-traumatized every time Petiron is around. It’s good that he’s building healthy professional relationships with others and that they are telling him that he’s doing well, and hopefully he can manage to continue doing just that.
We also get to see more of Chalkin’s legacy.
“Fax does not wish his holders to be educated, Rob,” Malian said, crossing his hands behind his head and tipping his chair back. “Simple as that. What they don’t know won’t hurt them–because they also won’t learn their rights.”
[…Robinton is agog at this…]
“But he’s denying them their rights under the Charter!”
“He denies there is a Charter, you mean,” Malian put in.
“The Charter also guarantees that a holder has autonomy within his holding,” Lobirn pointed out.
“But his holders have rights.”
“Don’t be so naïve, Rob. That’s exactly what he’s denying them access to,” Mallan said, dropping his chair to all four legs for emphasis. “And don’t go putting your head in that snake’s pit. You’d never match him in a fight, and you come on strong to him on that point and he’s every right to challenge you. And be sorry that he just happened to break your neck!”
Robinton turned to Lobirn for support, but the Masterharper shook his head.
So there’s a lot there. Yet again, instead of being something new that nobody had dealt with before, Fax has been transformed into a Chalkin retread. With what we know now, there should be Records on how one deals with the recalcitrant.
Secondly, that’s a serious retcon to say that these Harpers know about the Charter (and in a little while, there will be an even more egregious retcon that says the original Charter is preserved between glass somewhere,) instead of the Charter being a thing that only was rediscovered with the unearthing and subsequent communication with AIVAS. In that same part that talks about the preserved Charter, it is also apparently taught as a Teaching Song, first in simplicity and then in complexity.
Cocowhat by depizan
The casual attitude of Mallan toward the denial of education is pretty out of character from the mission of the Harpers. Yes, there is an unstated threat that anyone who points out that Fax is denying Charter rights will then have to fight him (on the grounds of “challenging his autonomy”, I guess) and will likely die in the subsequent duel. And also, in an unquoted portion, Lord Faroguy is not apparently insisting on education for those people. (Which makes sense and doesn’t – the opportunity to bilk the peasants is tempting, but it also means that you can’t have them do anything that’s any sort of complex at all, unless you’re willing to spend the time showing it to them repeatedly.)
The obvious response is “Surely the Charter would have provision to penalize anyone who failed to provide basic education.” But the narrative has us covered there.
A holder was not doing his duty by his people to deny them this information.
On the other hand, there was no provision made to punish holders who did not disseminate the information contained in the Charter. This was one of the shortcomings of the document. When Robinton had queried that in class, Master Washell had responded with a snort and then the notion that it must never have occurred to the writers of the Charter that anyone would be denied such rights.
Cocowhat by depizan
Absolutely not. There is no way that both “there are no provisions in the Charter about how to punish someone who fails to inform someone of their Charter rights” and “the Council of Lords did not pass legislation / make a decision in the aftermath of the Chalkin incident to ensure that nobody would ever be denied knowledge of their rights and responsibilities under the Charter, autonomy be damned” are both true. If you want me to believe that the Charter always has been passed down through the ages (it hasn’t), then you can’t also assert that after the betrayal of one of their own that almost gave Thread a foothold, the remaining Lords didn’t act to prevent it from happening again. And they could point immediately at the “autonomy” clause as the problem. (At least, not if you want consistency…)
It would be possible for the Lords to have fixed things, and then those records get lost or improperly preserved in writing or song, but I also suspect that Chalkin was the first in a line of problems that Fax is now picking up, so there would have been even more opportunities to come up with solutions and preserve them. Unless there’s deliberate “forgetting” going on, by would require complicity on the part of the Harpers, who have a vested interest in transmitting the history and culture of Pern to the next generation, so that’s…unlikely.
On the other side, most constutional documents don’t spell out punishments if people don’t teach this information, but they’re usually backed by a significant corpus of law that will more than happily spell such things out. Pern’s charter canonically has punishment for rape in it. So I would believe very strongly that the Proceedings of the Council of Lords are written down somewhere and copied from generation to generation as well, and therefore there should be a corpus of law that has developed just from having to deal with questions and enterprising individuals over the 2500-year history of the planet. Even if there were several Black Death type events in the history of the planet.
Ugh. Robinton hopes that the knowledge will still get through to all of the holders anyway, from have people willing to teach, and that closes out Chapter IX. It’s a mess. Then again, it has been a while since the originals, so maybe we aren’t supposed to notice this so easily.