The Masterharper of Pern: On Assignment

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.


10 thoughts on “The Masterharper of Pern: On Assignment

  1. genesistrine March 29, 2018 at 8:12 am

    Somehow Fax managed to keep from his uncle the fact that his profits were obtained by whippings and threats of eviction.

    “Somehow”, eh? Well, the obvious solution would be that it’s the responsibility of the travelling Harpers to pass on news and rumours about things that would long-term affect the prosperity and profits on to the local Lord, right? Speaking truth to power and all that? Nudge nudge eh Robinton?



    But… am I right in reading that nobody does this because the Charter provides that whistleblowers can be challenged to a knife fight?

  2. saidahgilbert March 29, 2018 at 9:41 am

    It seems that this Charter is the only law on Pern. All other decisions, arbitrations, mediations etc. are determined by what is in the Charter or whoever is strongest either physically, politically or financially. Which means that a Holder is autonomous unless the whole world comes down on him. And the whole world would only come down on him if the other Holders are assured that they would remain in autonomous power. So I guess that means that Holders can pop up every few generations as a tyrant quite legally and the only thing that would stop them would be a much greater force than them.

    Huh. What a strange world. Even island governments didn’t work like this. I am reading Eric Flint’s 1632 series now and it seems that Germany in the 17th century was sort of like that with a bunch of autonomous principalities but what that led to was constant war. Why isn’t there constant war on Pern?

  3. Wingsrising March 29, 2018 at 12:55 pm

    “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.”

    I’ve thought that, too. From the sound of it, Robinton and Menolly are essentially composing the equivalent of pop music, whereas Petiron and Domick are composing classical music. It’s true that more people listen to and enjoy pop music than classical music, as someone once observed to Menolly, but that doesn’t make it superior to classical music in a musical sense, nor the people who write pop music more talented than the people who write classical music.

    And if Petiron is supposedly a bad composer who writes technically impressive but not actually good music, how did he get such a reputation as a good composer in the first place? It makes no sense.

  4. genesistrine March 29, 2018 at 4:14 pm

    @Wingsrising: I think we’re meant to take it that Petiron writes musicians’ music, which by and large only professional musicians and Holds rich enough to keep a band of professional musicians are in a position to develop a taste for. The average Pernese listening to it is going to be wanting something with a beat they can dance to or sing along with instead.

    Robinton and Menolly seem to write the equivalent of advertising jingles.

  5. Wingsrising March 29, 2018 at 5:15 pm

    That’s clearly the case with Domick. With Petrion I’m not so sure, the line about him not having half the talent of his son being a case in point.

    I had also gotten the impression that at least some of what we today think of as “classical” music was popular back in the day. Composers like Beethoven didn’t just write for orchestras, after all, but for string quartets, for piano (which somehow the Pernese seem to have lost), for things that people could play in their homes. Beethoven at least I know was quite popular with the general public during his lifetime, not just with the rich.

    And many of the Pernese do live in the major Holds, which in real life (if not in the books) I’m sure would have larger groups of musicians, and even ones who don’t live in the main hold tend to go to Gathers there.

  6. Silver Adept March 29, 2018 at 5:52 pm

    @ genesistrine –

    There’s no provision in the Charter that we know of that establishes dueling as a legitimate way of arbitration of a dispute, but it apparently becomes quite the tradition. So someone could speak truth and then be challenged for slander or something, I guess.

    @ saidahgilbert –

    I would normally say that the thing keeping the Holders in check is that a teleporting squadron of fire-breathing dragons is not something even the greatest Hold military power can stand up to. Everyone operates on the assumption that the dragons won’t interfere and that nobody should even want to gain territory other than what they have inherited or been appointed to. The word “autonomy” apparently has religious force or something.

    @ wingrising –

    I think the distinction is as genesistrine said. Petiron composes music that requires the players and singers to be skilled and that can’t be easily replicated. Orchestral and choral pieces (like, say, “The Planets”) that are mostly good to listen to and stirring, but that a person and a guitar can’t usually replicate by themselves. Later on (or in a segment I’ve glossed over), they also mention that Petiron likes to sow dissonance into his pieces as a way of trying to keep the listener alert – which might make him someone who is clearly musically talented, but terrible at turning out music that everyone likes start to finish.

    Robinton and Menolly compose earworms that are technically simple to play and sing, so that everyone has a handy corpus of songs, even if they’re a holder in the north 40 of their particular Lord’s territory. Which works way better when you’re attaching the standard education everyone gets about their rights and obligations.

  7. genesistrine March 29, 2018 at 5:54 pm

    I was thinking of the peasants and smallholders, who presumably make up a large portion of the population. But it’s hard to tell the population distribution of Pern – the closest thing they have to cities is the large holds, and they don’t seem to be more than small-town-sized from what I can tell.

    I don’t think we have enough data to tell though, so it could go either way.

  8. Silver Adept April 1, 2018 at 12:02 pm

    If Pern is like the agrarian feudal paradise it claims to be, there would have to be a lot of peasants and others tied to the land whose existence essentially depended on their Lord managing everything correctly and the weather being good enough to grow their crops. That would probably make them less likely to complain in a way that could be traced back to them, if their Lord should be the vengeful type. In theory, that’s what Harpers are there for, and there’s supposedly a Charter provision about being able to bring a last of grievances, but I can’t see that being enforced without outside backup, really.

  9. genesistrine April 1, 2018 at 12:52 pm

    Yeah. And note from Renegade that if you’re a peasant/smallholder there’s no inheritance rights and no rights of residence – your Lord can boot you out with nothing but what you can carry (and possibly not even that).

    (Thella reckons if she can run her abandoned hold for long enough she can claim it as hers, but this is presumably only an option if you’ve got noble blood/contacts/know the Magic Words, since nobody else seems a) aware of it or b) thinking of it. Seems to be another occasion where the sneaky use of the word “holder” conceals the difference between the hereditary landowners and the villeins.)

  10. Silver Adept April 2, 2018 at 6:53 am

    Yes. Very deliberate obfuscation going on there so that you don’t know whose rights accord to whom. So Thella thinks she can hold it and claim it and things will be recognized, but the narrative and all the other characters say it won’t happen, yet Jayge and Aramina get washed ashore on the Southern Continent, build themselves a house, and have all the Harper and witness help they need to have their land surveyed and codified in a deed. In theory, both Thella and Jayge should be able to make the same claim, but nobody is going to legitimize Thella because she refused to accept her place as baby carrier and instead thought rights should apply to all noble children equally. With that flagrant a patriarchal system in place, I’m pretty sure there are other places where what the Charter says is only enforced when it suits the ruling men in charge.

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