The Masterharper of Pern: On Assignment, Part Two

Last chapter, Raid fired Robinton and he took an assignment in Tillek, which also involved mediating a dispute with a solution that seems clever.

The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter XII: Content Notes: Ablism, sexism,

Robinton and Groghe arrive in Tillek and meet Lord Melongel, who Robinton takes a liking to, as he’s a bit of a polymath Holder who understands fishing, ships, lumber, forestry, and agriculture, while also being qualified to serve as a ship captain. Master Minnarden gives a warm welcome to Robinton, and asks if he can use his talent with helping people understand to get some of the slower students up to the same level as the others. He also wants Robinton to train the choral singers, train up some apprentices for drumming, and possibly compose a bit, too. Minnarden also believes very strongly in the return of Thread, although he’s apparently in the minority about whether it will come back. He tells Robinton to learn fishing, as well, and also gives Robinton a book to study.

“If you haven’t memorized the Charter, you’d better, and study some of the more common infractions.” Minnarden grinned. “That aspect of our jobs can be quite interesting at times…” He paused to sigh. “And at others, about as infuriating as dealing with the dumbest, most insubordinate, mentally deficient adolescent male.”

That’s some terribly ablist rhetoric of you, Minnarden. I think we’re supposed to believe him uncritically, having witnessed an incident that would be rather trying in the chapter before. To do so would also further accept the continuity change that insists the Charter has always been there and there are records of infractions and that the Harpers do a lot of the justice process as impartial arbitrators, even though it’s still firmly established that Lords are absolute in their domains. So I’ll guess that Lords can overrule Harper decisions, and based on last chapter, that perhaps members of the family or other higher-ranking holders act as reeves and bailiffs for Lordly justice that doesn’t rise high enough to warrant formal court. Which doesn’t make sense, not really, unless there’s a decree worldwide that Harper arbitration is binding and must be backed with the force of the Lord’s law, regardless of where they are. Which might make Fax’s exclusion decision make more sense, so that he is the only source of law and that nobody refers to a Charter that he would then have to enforce if they cited it. Fax doesn’t seem like the kind of person, though, that would respect the Charter, and then would make sure the objection never escaped his borders, like Chalkin attempted.

Still terribly ablist.

Robinton also meets Kasia, who has perpetual sadness in her eyes because she lost her lover to an accident right before they were to be espoused (married, but y’know, ostensibly nonreligious world). But Robinton crushes on her, because when she’s not terminally sad, she’s pretty and sparkly and merry.

And she also has an eidetic memory and a good voice, which I think is something Robinton is really interested in, given his own gifts.

Robinton is not the only person who wants to woo her, but he does at least have the sense to pause over her still being in grief. (Also because she’s older, but that’s not actually important.) He still sets out to cheer her up from her grief, however, so it’s not actually as many points as it could be.

Since she’s envious of his harp, Robinton contrives to have one made for her, asking the local Masterwoodsmith to keep him some good pieces and to do a little of the fancy carving work, while he tries (repeatedly) to carve the rest of the harp himself. This work is interrupted by things like fishing trips, where the narrative trips over itself by making Robinton express an opinion that I don’t think he would have:

The female sailors surprised Robinton. He was accustomed, being Harper-trained, to women having equal status as performers and composers,

Lying cat says retcon! (Rehash the problem of Menolly here.)

but it had never occurred to him that other Crafts had promoted women to positions of trust and responsibility.

Cocowhat by depizan

Did I not just mention, last chapter, that the Masterhealer, who has been a friend since childhood, is a woman? It should not be a stretch of the brain for Robinton to think of women being in positions of responsibility in other Crafts. Unless, of course, Robinton has internalized an idea that there are “men’s crafts” and “women’s crafts” and his surprise is not that there’s a woman doing Craft work, but that there are women doing Men’s Craft work.

Robinton also gets to meet shipfish, and discusses them with a surprisingly knowledge sailor, Gostol. Robinton deduces correctly that they sing, but Gostol dismisses it as just putting air through blowholes, as if that’s not singing because it doesn’t involve a larynx.

Gostol also says that the shipfish rescue sailors, lead them to good caches, and are generally considered good luck signs that get fed regularly from the fishers. (I smell a retcon. If I recall correctly, originally, the shipfish were considered unlucky to get in a net, and forbidden to hurt, but all the stories of them helping were considered unverified rumors, and so nobody really paid attention to them.)

On the trip, Robinton tries to cheer Kasia up as much as possible, and has a moment of “does she like me?” when she uses his nickname and leans into him some while there’s a docking test going on for another crewperson. And the two of them stroll after they disembark, occasionally brushing hands and laughing, and Robinton is pretty sure that they have a thing going on, such that

He didn’t think–he just caught her about the waist, pulled her to him and kissed her.
He hadn’t known he was going to before he did, and as she leaned into him, arms about his neck, he was thrilled that she didn’t reject him. It was the sweetest of kisses but far too short because, hearing steps coming down one of the halls, they broke apart.

Cue Robinton fantasizing about their espoused life together, from a single kiss he stole from her, without getting her consent, without asking, in the heat of the moment. To his perceptions, she seems to be responding well to his advances. What he needs is a sit-down and a come-to-Jesus type of meeting about consent, but this is Pern, so none will be forthcoming. And he does come back toward reality when he figures out that Kasia might not actually ascribe any deeper meaning to their kiss…and then starts to pendulum back and forth between “I’m not good enough for her” and “She’s totally into me” while he works on the harp, hoping to get it done in time for her birthing day celebration.

He does, but didn’t want to present it in public, so he gets another gift, tells her he has something he wants to give her in private, and then watches the other gifts come through, several of which are quite pretty and valuable. Eventually, there’s a quiet moment, and he presents the harp, and she’s stunned by all the work that goes into it. She also calls him Robie, which I had expected to be a nickname of mother and son, and that the name she would use would be Rob. Our perhaps Robinton.

Because this is Pern, and Robinton is a main character, and because he’s already been established as being tremendously sexy, even in his older age, of course Robinton has guessed right about her affections, and the two of them end up having sex (at least, that’s what the narrative implies to me) in the workshop where he presents her with the gift.

Kasia tells him that her sister, Juvana, approves of the matching. Her sister knows because Kasia has been talking about “Rob” nearly incessantly to her. Everyone seems to think it’s a good match for all of them, because Robinton is much more understanding and perceptive than her last lover was, and Kasia seems to be on board with the idea of traveling around the world with him. So they announce their betrothal, with the intent to espouse in the autumn. And Robinton is encouraged to send a message to his parents announcing the engagement as well. Kasia has picked up on the fact that Robinton doesn’t talk about his father, doesn’t mention him as father, and otherwise generally tries to avoid talking about his father, even though he has a lot to say about his mother on the regular. She also notes that everyone is singing Robinton’s songs, not Petiron’s.

Juvana has an interesting thing to say about how their relationship will proceed, though.

“I have already discussed this with Kasia and she will protect herself, which is her duty, until such time as you are settled enough to contemplate children.”
Robinton blushed. He and Kasia had not discussed the natural outcome of thir lovemaking, and he realized that he had been remiss in this regard.
Juvana went on. “I offer the suggestion that you should spend several years enjoying each other’s company, consolidating your new relationship, especially since neither of you need children to help in your professions.”

Juvana also goes on to give a blanket offer to foster any kids if it turns out that Robinton’s constantly moving nature makes it impossible for him to raise them, which is apparently an incredibly high honor to receive.

But I’m curious, again. When Juvana talks about Kasia protecting herself, what exactly is she talking about? Is it just not having sex with Robinton until they’re ready for children, or is there still some actual method of birth control that’s used and practiced on Pern? It would be fantastic if we could get a definitive answer one way or another. Augh.

Robinton is pretty overwhelmed that asking someone to espouse involves a lot of things that he’s not figured out were part of the deal. And then volunteers to go out on the long sweep of teaching so that he can get enough time to himself to compose a sonata for Kasia that’s threatening to stick in his head forever and ever unless he gets it out on paper.

While out on the tour, however, one of the cotholders has some terrible news for him coming out of the High Reaches.

“Once, twice, maybe, Harper,” Chochol said in his rough voice, pitched low so that not even the herdbeasts grazing nearby could hear what he said, “I would not worry. Anyone can come to a disagreement with his Holder. But there have been eight lots an they arrive scared of their shadows. Wounded, and the pretty ones have been badly handled.” He paused, indicating with a nod what he wouldn’t say about their condition. “Badly handled.” He emphasized the repetition with a second sharp nod. Then he pointed down the hillside, which was grassland with a few stunted trees. “Twice”–he held up two thick, work- callused fingers–“the women were sure that Lord Faroguy must be dead for such things to happen in High Reaches. Scared my spouse, that did. But we see anything coming up here and I tell her we’re in Tillek, holding with Lord Melongel, who’s a fair holder if ever there was one, and the time hasn’t come where one Lord’ll run over what another has owned since his Blood took Hold.”

We know, of course, that Fax will go on to do just that, breaking the social contract (and the actual Charter) in his quest to conquer and badly mismanage as much of the world as he can, but this is turning Fax into a retread of Chalkin, in terms of cruelty and brutality, if not rules-lawyering, and it looks like this Pass is going to let it happen again because of the autonomy rule. Which, if records were actually being preserved and kept, would point out that the Council of Lords has already once told a Lord to sod off (pound sand?) over Charter violations that were witnessed and reported to them. Including mistreatment of their holders and sexual violence. The author is asking us to watch the same story again and nobody has learned anything from the last time, which was in the last book, even if that book was theoretically several thousand years ago. After this report to him, Robinton is able to finish his Sonata for Kasia.

And she welcomes him back with open arms and there is talking and lovemaking in nearly equal quantity. Kasia tells him about how wonderful he is, over his own protests and worries that he’s essentially set himself up as the master negotiator based on good success on his first time around. I hear you there, Robinton. Expectations can be terrifying and follow you around all the days of your life.

Robinton makes his report to Melongel and talks about the reports he received from Chochol, which Melongel correlates with requests from holders for easement on tithes based on an unexpected number of dependents. Robinton speculates that Faroguy may be dead and nobody has been informed, which, if that is the case, is the first tactically sound move Fax has made all book – if nobody knows how is actually in charge, it gives Fax time to consolidate and expand his power. Melongel decides to provoke the issue by asking Faroguy to join them at Tillek’s next Gather, (which is the one where Robinton and Kasia will be espoused) and asks Robinton his opinion on Fax and whether Faroguy’s son, Farvene, would be able to keep Fax away from the levers of power. Their opinions are similar, and Melongel tells Robinton he wants him to sit in Court that morning with Minnarden and himself before dismissing him back to Kasia.

Robinton gripes about having to listen to the arguments and excuses and decide fines for infractions. Which seems to make the Harpers more bailiffs than arbitrators or mediators, although they theoretically derive their authority from the Charter and not the local Lord. That said, the local Lord is the person with the power to actually compel people, so it really does seem a lot more like the Harpers are not as independent as they say they are.

Robinton is also having doubts about his Sonata, and desperately would like to run a performance of it past someone with an ear to tell him if it will be any good, especially “the crescendo that was also an orgasm.” He is finally able to when his mother arrives, bearing a piece of work that Petiron wrote to be sung at the espousal. As before, it is a work entirely different than his usual oeuvre. Petiron is saying, perhaps, that he cares, in the way he can. Except he’s not there. It would be trivially easy for him to request time off for his son’s espousal, and yet, he’s not there. So he doesn’t necessarily care enough to stop work or travel.

Merelan reads the Sonata, plays it, and then gives Robinton a solid chiding when he says he hasn’t shown it to Kasia because he’s concerned it isn’t good enough. Merelan sends him away to do it immediately, which leads to an extended flashback of Robinton getting fitted for his wedding suit, where the tailor is trying to accentuate his body, but also jokes with Robinton about how he could not imagine Robinton showing off, not realizing that not showing off os Robinton’s survival mechanism for avoiding Petiron’s abuse and is showing up in all of his attempts to not gather fame and renown to himself because he still hasn’t resolved that part where drawing attention to himself brings negative consequences from his father.

The tailor convinces Robinton to buy more than just fine Gather clothing, but some shirts and pants as well, because they made his figure look good, even though Robinton is usually the sort of person to buy clothes off the rack for considerably cheaper. The long flashback done, Robinton copies out his Kasia songs for his mother to take back, and then realizes what time it is before landing in bed. Thus ends Chapter XII.

…it’s probably because I’ve been reading this series for too long that I cringe in anticipation of whatever tragedy is about to befall the couple at their wedding. We’ll find out next week.

15 thoughts on “The Masterharper of Pern: On Assignment, Part Two

  1. genesistrine April 19, 2018 at 1:50 am

    @Silver Adept: Lying cat says retcon!

    Retcon Cat is going to get a very sore throat in this book.

    …it’s probably because I’ve been reading this series for too long that I cringe in anticipation of whatever tragedy is about to befall the couple at their wedding.

    I would say it’s strange that both of us are assuming that Robinton’s not going to have a happy 20-year marriage followed by a no-fault divorce where they stay friends and she moves up to a small mountain hold to raise llamas before the beginning of DF, but… it’s not.

    If Kasia survives a whole chapter after this I’m going to be amazed.

  2. Brenda A April 19, 2018 at 12:36 pm

    Kasia is one of the few things I accept wholeheartedly as canon in this book. She is delightful.

  3. saidahgilbert April 19, 2018 at 1:26 pm

    They sell clothes off the rack? In this medieval world, doesn’t everybody have their clothes custom-made? Since when is there mass production?

  4. Silver Adept April 19, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    @genesistrine –

    None of us are particularly bullish about Kasia’s survival, or the marriage’s, and it’s terrible that we’re to this point because everything else has told us that we shouldn’t get attached.

    (Which is too bad, because she is unreservedly the best character in this book. The sweetest, nicest, wonderful character.)

    @ saidahgilbert –

    I can’t see it being mass-produced clothing, unless the weaver guild has a lot more clothing on hand, or produced, than I would have thought, in standard sizes. And they don’t have the automatic looms yet that would make it easier to achieve this.

    I think the author might have been inexpertly trying to allude that the tailoring that Robinton has been receiving is not up to par, but it really does suggest that Robinton goes to what’s offered and buys it, and there isn’t some sort of personalized tailoring. Possibly because he doesn’t want to spend the money on it, but there’s also a suggestion that there isn’t a whole lot made in his size, so he just gobbles up what’s available, assuming it’s close enough.

  5. WanderingUndine April 19, 2018 at 6:26 pm

    Urgh. Asking and receiving consent on-page/screen, for anything from kissing to sex, is so rare in fiction. It’s hard to find portrayals of intimacy that are explicitly consensual, realistic, *and* framed as morally good, leaving me with few examples to learn from. I know enough about the need for verbal consent to not be swayed when a guy rants that I’ll be single forever if I believe in it. But I don’t know how the process actually works, when the media seems to be saying it’s all about nonverbal signals, which are seldom discernible to me as a visually-impaired person. Pern sure isn’t helpful in that regard. /rant

  6. Silver Adept April 20, 2018 at 8:58 am

    @ WanderingUndine –

    Oh, yes. Romance tropes are traditionally not just about nonverbal cues, but that you can know that someone is interested in you on seeing them for the first time. And that the feeling is so mutual that you never actually have to ask, you can just get into the right romantic mood for it to happen.

    Consent, and especially verbal consent, hasn’t necessarily been a thing in mainstream culture’s romance (and still isn’t necessarily that much.)

    Pern has been extra terrible about consent the whole time, even when it makes gestures that it understands the idea and that there might be workable solutions to the terrible situations that work better for everyone. Ugh.

  7. genesistrine April 20, 2018 at 10:52 am
  8. genesistrine April 20, 2018 at 10:54 am

    I wish WordPress would let you preview before posting….

    Anyway, the link is https://i.imgur.com/ndCZ3HF.jpg if anyone wants to see a low-effort Retcon Cat. Though I think Pern is also badly in need of a Dubcon Cat….

  9. saidahgilbert April 21, 2018 at 7:34 pm

    Haha! Rather than calling it the Retcon Cat, we should just go with its original name: Lying Cat. After all, the retcon is a lie told to cover up mistakes.

  10. saidahgilbert April 21, 2018 at 7:35 pm

    The previous comment, I only meant to italicise “is”. Should have just use quotation marks instead.

  11. RogerBW April 22, 2018 at 3:31 am

    Now I’m thinking of “covering up like a cat on a tile floor”…

  12. genesistrine April 22, 2018 at 5:37 am

    Well, if we get strict about it, all fiction is lies told for entertainment! 😀

    I don’t have any objections to retcons as a concept, they can be fun. But the problem is what a powerful plot device they are – they’re so easily used to patch lazy writing, instead of fixing the issues that made them necessary in the first place.

  13. Silver Adept April 22, 2018 at 8:49 am

    In Pern’s case, the attempted patch job is only making things worse by trying to bring it into alignment with subsequent works. Which can’t be a first, but can be something pretty strange.

  14. genesistrine April 22, 2018 at 2:55 pm

    I’d put it more that ongoing patch jobs are trying to keep Pernese society in sync with modern social changes, but without actually admitting that there have been any changes. Presumably because Pern is a *cough* perfect social utopia and therefore can’t be admitted to have changed. Which is why we get the weird discordance between books.

    It would have been a perfect opportunity to show society shifting; more rights and acknowledgement for women’s work as the Ninth Pass goes on, with the past-set books an opportunity to cast the changes into relief, but McCaffrey is very much of the “there is no such thing as society” mould.

  15. Silver Adept April 23, 2018 at 7:55 am

    It seems really weird to try and elide that there is change in Pern, given that the point of many of the books is that there’s a conflict between this ideal and the actuality of life on the planet. If Pern were positioning itself as “all of our societies are imperfect copies of the Platonic form laid out in the Charter,” you could bring all of them together and embellish and provide detail without changing the core. But the insistence that society is always perfect and any flaws that are found are the person makes for situations like this one, where nobody supposedly changed anything to stop Chalkin from doing what he did, and nobody is doing anything to stop Fax unless he’s threatening them directly.

    There’s a lot more space to play in here, which might have the issue of making the dragonriders look bad in addition to all the other people. That also seems like a line that nobody wants to cross, even though other dragonriders are right now throwing Jora under the bus.

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