The Masterharper of Pern: Damage Control

Last chapter, Robinton was again warned away from trying to change Fax’s attitude toward education, and tragedies struck Benden Weyr in succession as an old Weyrwoman died and then the Benden Weyrleader and Lord Holder of Benden were killed in a dragon accident.

The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter XI: Content Notes:

The chapter opens with Robinton returning to Benden and checking in with Maizella. Lady Hayara has already taken a sleeping draught for her grief, and Maizella is about to do the same. Raid has taken charge, which Maizella thinks is too soon after the tragedy, and has requested Robinton drum out the news of the tragedy. And then Robinton has to man the tower all night to manage the replies and the messaging and the requests for dragon transport until someone can relieve him and he can get actual sleep.

That said, there is a really impressive response that organizes to bring food and help in the kitchens and provide people to talk to the family with. When F’lon wakes Robinton later, he lets him know that Fax tagged along (apparently grinning from ear to ear, despite the tragedy), that Gennell is asking for him, and that the other people of the family may not be all that happy with Raid taking charge. And that Robinton should bathe before dealing with any of this. Which he does, and then leaves F’lon to sleep while he goes out to do his duty.

Robinton reports in to a gathering of Masters (and it is only now that I fully notice Masterhealer Ginia is she, which suggests there’s another possible retcon going on there, although the Healer Hall has been much more all genders than the other halls, even in the past books), and there is some debate about who will lead Benden Weyr now as well as more skepticism about the return of Thread, before the Masters are summoned to a council meeting. Raid inherits Benden officially, and the Masters want to speak with any remaining bronze dragonriders, so they send Robinton to find them.

The riders are listening to Manora’s account that S’loner was having arm pains a lot (classic sign of cardiac issues in cis white men), and that Maidir wanted to go home, so S’loner used it as an excuse to get away. They report that back to the council.

Then we get to see Fax twirling his Snidely Whiplash mustache, as Robinton notices Lord Faroguy is clearly not well and Fax comments into Robinton’s ears about how he’s certain there will be another need for a council. While there are no specifics told, if I were Robinton, and especially because Robinton doesn’t like Fax, I’d tell Gennell about what I heard, just in case it becomes relevant and I need a witness or two to back my statement. But for now, Lord Faroguy is convinced to go see the Masterhealer, and Robinton is advised to make sure F’lon and Fax do not meet each other, lest tensions flare into more violence.

Robinton lets F’lon sleep and gets some of his own, before F’lon wakes him and then stalks back to Benden, having missed his opportunity to confront or whatever he planned to do. Robinton sees the Masters and gets sobering news that Faroguy has “a disease of the blood for which there is no cure for a man his age.” Which makes me wonder what it is, and if it’s Terran or Pern-native, and also, based on the way that Faroguy is described as wasting away, pings ever so faintly of HIV as the cause. Or that Faroguy has been poisoned in some manner. We’ll never know, as Robinton turns the discussion to Fax and his refusal to admit Harpers, with Gennell taking the information under advisement and telling Robinton to keep him informed.

And then Raid takes over Benden. And seems to be able to run it capably, if bluntly. Robinton tries to soften the edges where possible, until Raid calls him in to his office and fires him from being Hold Harper.

“I am Lord Holder and what I say is how things will be. I do not need you soothing down disgruntled holders or denigrating my efforts behind my back.
[…]
I hearby release you from your contract.” Raid tossed a pouch of marks across the table to Robinton. “I shall request a replacement from the MasterHarper. Without prejudice, of course, since you have discharged your duties with efficiency and energy.”
[…]
“You may drum that bronze rider friend of yours to convey you back. Give this”–he fielded a little roll of hide to join the pouch–“to Master Gennell. You do not suit me as Hold Harper.” Then he rose to his feet, to indicate the meeting was over.

Blunt, certainly, and probably perceived as very rude for not couching it or softening the blow, but also very direct, which can be a good thing in a leader.

Robinton heads up to the tower to request a dragon, and Hayon, after getting the truth, remarks that Robinton did quite a bit to soothe ruffled feathers, and that the rest of the family will miss him. F’lon arrives, gives Robinton a small amount of grief about getting canned, saying Robinton would be better employed elsewhere anyway, and takes him back. Gennell agrees with that assessment, essentially, and offers Robinton his pick of six locations to go next. Robinton picks Tillek, for the additional bonus of studying for his Mastery under someone who regularly attends court. Because “Applications of the Charter and the Precepts of Arbitration and Mediation, advanced aspects of the Harper Hall’s purview” is on his class list for Mastery.

This is the point where I crow ever so slightly and point out that there are lawyers on Pern, as I have always suspected. They’re Harpers, as I have also suspected. They just don’t do adversarial courts that much, and are instead arbitrators and mediators, because they are supposed to be impartial. So yes, the legal profession survived, it just got folded into Harper duties.

Accompanying Robinton to Tillek is Groghe, and the two are supposed to settle an issue over a broken fence between one of Grogellan’s herders and Melongel’s foresters. Both blame the other for not fixing the fence when a storm blew trees into the old stone fence and wrecked it. Robinton defuses the feud by saying both sides will build their side of the wall and provide mortar to make sure it sticks. When they both complain, Robinton says it will be interesting to see who can build their side first, tapping into their bickering and competitive nature. (This sounds like a folktale. Is it?) And then, to prove his point, Robinton says he’ll sing songs from on top of the fencepost between the two lands. He goes off to bed down with one side, Groghe with the other.

The description of the cot is rather interesting:

The main room was obviously where most interior work was done, but it was separated into sections: one for the women’s tasks, another for the men’s, with an eating area and well-made chairs at near the fireplace.
[…]
“I’ll show you where the bath is,” [Valrol, a son of the holder] said, and Robinton murmured thanks, rummaging in his pack for his towel, soap, and a clean shirt.
The bath was actually heated by some connection with the hearth, so it was not the cold wash that he could have expected.

Oh? Do tell about these “men’s” and “women’s” tasks, Robinton.

Also tell me where you’re getting travel soap and a towel from, given that what we had before was soapsand and possibly furs to dry off with, and what this engineering marvel is that allows for warm bath water without also dumping smoke into the space is. I’m very curious to know how these amenities made it all the way out to the frontiers. Is there a curious Smith around somewhere, or an engineer in the making? We find out that one of the daughters has been turning out exceptional woodcraft (in Robinton’s opinion), so perhaps she constructed the device? There’s so much here I want to know about, and yet will be denied again, because the author has no interest at all in making the details stick, much less be consistent.

Robinton sings that night, and it seems to do good in mending attitudes as well as fences, such that everyone is ready to go at the wall in the morning. Robinton leaves songs behind and an instruction to get the families singing again, which will help them stay good neighbors, along with the wall.

And that’s Chapter XI – Robinton still unable to get anyone to act against Fax, and then getting fired and reassigned, stopping along the way to fix a problem. For as much time as we’re spending outside the cities of Pern, we’re still not getting a whole lot of information about how this part of the world works. They exist to be a set piece in the plot, and then we’re on our way again to the city. Makes me wish the author had written a book about people who aren’t mobile and yet still manage to have adventure and the like. I think a lower decks episode would be quite illuminating.

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9 thoughts on “The Masterharper of Pern: Damage Control

  1. genesistrine April 12, 2018 at 3:20 pm

    Silver Adept: it is only now that I fully notice Masterhealer Ginia is she, which suggests there’s another possible retcon going on there

    Well damn my eyes I never noticed until you said that. The Healer Hall exists in this time period. In spite of the fact that by the time Menolly gets to the Harper Hall the Healer Hall is going to be reduced to Oldive in his cupboard.

    Robinton not only stopped women being Harpers, he killed off the Healer Hall. God DAMN.

    Faroguy is described as wasting away, pings ever so faintly of HIV as the cause. Or that Faroguy has been poisoned in some manner.

    It would be nice to think Pern’s finally getting as scheme-y as it should be with the inheritance system we’re told exists, but my bet is it’s a natural disease that Fax is going to take advantage of, much as I like the idea that he’s smart and varying his takeover techniques according to circumstances. Poison, strategic marriage, assassination, provoking duels….

    what this engineering marvel is that allows for warm bath water without also dumping smoke into the space is.

    Some kind of hypocaust system, perhaps?

    I think a lower decks episode would be quite illuminating.

    Don’t we all. We’ve had traces of them before, but always from the POV of a character who’s essentially slumming and will soon be rewarded by queen dragons/gold fire lizards/social status etc.

  2. Brenda A April 13, 2018 at 1:02 pm

    Yeah, you can make a pretty long list of retcons like that in this book.

  3. genesistrine April 14, 2018 at 8:36 am

    I’m just going to blame them all on Robinton’s off-page machinations. God I want to read the book where he makes Masterharper-of-Pern Pern into Dragonflight-Pern.

  4. Silver Adept April 14, 2018 at 9:25 am

    @ genesistrine –

    Much as I’d like to blame Robinton for killing the Healers, there’s a segment later on in this book where Ginia is begging someone to have an appendectomy to save their life, but the wife refuses to let the Healers do surgery on him because it would be violating his body, which has somehow become anathema without explanation or obvious shift in attitudes. I think we’re supposed to eventually chalk it up to the malaise of ignorance that’s going around with more and more people distrusting Harpers or refusing them, but the narrative can’t be bothered to actually draw a linkage anywhere or point to a thing that’s turned opinion or a charismatic person who is preaching an anti-Harper gospel. It’s a sudden “everybody believes that you can’t cut a person open, that’s taboo!” that has no antecedent.

    As for Fax, there will be some description later on about how Fax obtains his holds, and the plan itself is pretty good, in terms of “Fax is cunning and adapts plans to the people he wants to get rid of.” It makes things all the less believable that Fax is the only one with the chutzpah to think of these things, much less actually do them.

    A hypocaust system makes sense. And would be the kind of fuel and labor intensive thing needed out away from the cities.

    There’s just so much going on in Pern that we don’t see, because we’re too focused on the nobility and the merchant classes. Or people who used to be part of those classes before they had to put on a disguise for a bit. One of those things that we need is a story, short or otherwise, that is the Deep Space Nine of Pern – fixed location, various people interacting, as much focus away from the command staff as possible.

    But that might take worldbuilding, and the author seems very uninterested in that at this point.

  5. genesistrine April 15, 2018 at 5:58 am

    The surgery ban is really weird – it came up before in the AIVAS books, but I’m not sure it’s ever been established when it started. But the Healers do a lot more than surgery, so even if it’s a comparatively recent thing it shouldn’t have closed down the whole Healer Hall; they should still be training people in, eg, first aid, herbalism, bonesetting, nursing, obstetrics, medical diagnosis, possibly even vaccination if that’s survived from Moreta’s time. Etc.

    The Healer Hall ought to be set up like the Harper Hall, with various specialist/research Masters training journeyfolk and apprentices, but instead the Ninth-Pass-era Masterhealer works out of a room in the Harper Hall with no apparent trainees or support structure, and a sideline in making face cream for the Hold ladies. Not that I want to deny a man his hobby; maybe dermatology’s his thing, but the whole situation’s just… bizarre.

    Worldbuilding, hah.

  6. Brenda A April 17, 2018 at 11:58 am

    I think the Harper and Healer Halls are both based at Fort Hold. Oldive’s office isn’t in the Harper Hall, but it is a short walk away through the same complex.

  7. genesistrine April 17, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    You’d think in that case there’d be some mention of other Healers or apprentice Healers hanging around, though, especially in the Menolly/Piemur books. Piemur cracking his head open a short walk from the Healer Hall in particular should really have had them swarming around him showing their apprentices how to diagnose concussion and whatnot.

  8. Silver Adept April 18, 2018 at 2:04 pm

    You’d think that would be the case, with the way that the Harper apprentices get to to stuff, that the Healer apprentices would manage to get plenty of practice diagnosing and helping out, but recall being very sweary about the ways in which the Harper Hall didn’t seem to care at all about the health of its apprentices, even with the Healer Hall right there.

    So maybe we’re just supposed to believe that the Harpers kept everything in-house and as hushed-up as possible, so that the Healers didn’t know about it too much.

  9. genesistrine April 19, 2018 at 1:43 am

    Oldive as the only Healer allowed on-site, because Robinton knows he’s down with facilitating and covering-up the occasional torture session (as we saw at Nabol)?

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