The Masterharper of Pern: Espousal Bells

Last time, Robinton got engaged to a daughter of the Lord he’s serving under. And also heard very disturbing reports of women being assaulted in Fax’s neck of the woods, which he duly reported and was told nothing would happen.

The Masterharper of Pern: Chapters XIII and XIV: Content Notes: Natural Disasters, Spousal Deaths, Dragon Deaths, Suicidal Ideation,

It’s Espousal Day! For Robinton and several other couples, to be done at the Gather today. Which would sound a lot like having people get married on the day the priest is going to be there, except the Harpers are the priests, and so there’s a reason for it, but nobody says.

Robinton is looking good in his clothes, still a bit annoyed at having to sit court, and smiles when healer Clostan has mock horror for Robinton having to play for the Gather, even though he’s getting espoused.

Lord Melongel conveys Lord Faroguy’s regrets at my being able to attend the Gather, but the message is off, subtly.

“Now that’s the oddity. I’ve known Faroguy a long time. Had many messages from him, and he always inquires after Juvana. She spent a Turn with Lady Evelene, you know. Odd that he didn’t this time.”
Robinton felt a surge of concern. “If he is ill, could the message have come from someone else?”
“Farvene would have asked, too,” Melongel frowned. “Well, we’ve enough to do today without adding other problems. I see you’ve finished your meal so we’d best adjourn to the Court Hall. We’ve a full morning.”

And he just leaves it there, without either Robinton or Melongel even making a gesture at the possibility that Robinton already heard about – Fax is in control and sent that message off to deflect suspicion. That’s terrible characterization.

(I also note Melongel uses the familiar address for Faroguy, so perhaps Lords are exempt from having it drilled into their heads that business about “always Lord [X], even in your head.”)

Robinton and Melongel head toward the court building, which means going through the Gather, already in progress. Robinton notes “official crafthall and independent booths were doing a good business.,” a detail that has been curiously lacking at other descriptions of festivals, and that opens up a completely new line of questions that I would love answers to. How does one get an independent booth – is it just a matter of paying in enough to get a space? Does someone need to have achieved sufficient guild rank in their craft before they’re allowed to go independent? Is there a conglomerate of discount goods providers or a trading company that offer materials that don’t have the guild stamp but are good enough for the common people? And how regularly do they come? Is there price-fixing? Or is there a significant overt or subtle campaign from the guilds to only by guild goods in the same idea as “Buy American” or other such things? So many questions.

Before he gets to court, the family Robinton helped at the wall appears long enough to give him a carved wooden bowl as an espousal gift, the quality of which makes Lord Melongel sit up and take notice. Robinton then gets excused from court because F’lon has brought Kasia’s parents and Robinton needs to meet them properly before marrying their daughter. Things go well, although Juvana and F’lon keep talking about Robinton’s composition abilities and the popularity of his songs, much to Robinton’s annoyance and chagrin (because popularity is bad because it gets you noticed. Note the trail of trauma.)

Juvana and F’lon both tease Robinton about the fact that he’s going to have Melongel as a brother-in-law, and that they like him because that thought did not cross his mind until they pointed it out. Eventually, they go get the harp Robinton made for Kasia and that puts Robinton on familiar ground when they ask him to play some on it.

There are six couples set to be espoused at the espousal ceremony. Robinton and Kasia go first, and while we don’t get the exact text, we do get a summary of what the vows are like on Pern.

[…]he announced his intentions to be a loving, kind, considerate spouse, caring for her all his life, nurturing their children, and providing for the family.
[…Kasia repeats the vows, with a broader grin and a wink on the part about children…]
“We have heard your promises, Robinton and Kasia,” Melongel said, stern in his capacity as Lord Holder.
“And we have witnessed them,” Master Minnarden said while the other craftmasters murmured their traditional response.

I would have liked to see the actual text of the ritual vow, but that’s just me. I also see this sly reference to the “heard and witnessed” that will eventually bring Fax to a duel that kills him. It adds more questions, though – who needs to be present for a thing to be officially witnessed? Do they have to have rank? Is it necessary in writing as well? For a place that claims it has no lawyers, there are all these hints of an extremely well-developed legal system.

Merelan has advice for her son.

“Be as happy as I have been with your father,” Merelan whispered for his ear alone, and when he tensed, she held him slightly away, giving him a hard, long look. “For we have been happy…together.” And he realized she spoke the truth: that it had always been he who had the problem with his father. “You’ve the heart big enough to love an entire world,” she added. Then she released him.

Cocowhat by depizan

That’s terrible advice, given carelessly and clearly damaging to Robinton’s psyche. Because, as he does, it encourages him to see himself as the problem, the thing that kept his mother and father from happiness. That’s completely false. There’s got to be better advice you could give, Merelan, perhaps remembering that rough time where you spent a year at Benden because of Petiron’s behavior.

The party continues, and Robinton is ready to punch out F’lon for his continued teasing, but manages to avoid it through his mother starting her singing set. Kasia eventually suggests that F’lon is putting up a front because he’s in love with someone. Robinton asks Simanith if he knows, but Simanith only knows F’lon is concerned about Larna, and not the why. Robinton leaves it, though, because he has a spouse and a night with her, before they steal off to sail on their honeymoon.

Which is ruined after a few days by a giant storm that threatens to capsize the boat, which they manage to sail through and find shelter, but then comes the greater task of keeping Kasia warm and feeding her soup and then trying to figure out how to get somewhere that she can get a Healer because she’s not warming up at all. Robinton is not confident in his sailing skills, but Kasia is able to guide him in the instructions and they do eventually find another ship to rescue them. Which is Captain Idarolan’s ship, in another case of namedropping. And that’s chapter XIII, essentially – another potential disaster at sea for Kasia, and everyone at least back to land safely. This being Pern, however, I won’t turn off the disaster alarm until everyone is certain they’re healthy and there’s no sign of sickness or plot-induced fridging.

Which is why when Chapter XIV opens with Kasia still having a nagging cough, I’m not feeling good about the direction this is going. Then there are blizzards, for which Melongel opens up his storerooms to feed the hungry, and a fever ripping through the classroom to “the old aunties and uncles,” for which both Robinton (the dubiously healthy) and Kasia (the clearly sick) volunteer as nurses. Kasia gets sick with the fever, and the remedies that help others don’t seem to be helping her, in the same way that they don’t always help the aunties and uncles with “no stamina.”

Just before dawn on the fifth day of her burning fever and hacking cough, when Melongel and Clostan had joined the vigil, she opened her eyes, smiled at Robinton leaning over her, and, with a sigh, closed them. And was still.
“No, no. No! No! Kasia! Joy can’t leave me alone!
He was shaking her, trying to rouse her, when he felt Juvana’s hands pulling him away. He clutched Kasia to him, stroking her hair, her cheeks, trying to coax life back into her body.
It took Melongel and Clostan to pull him away from her, while Juvana arranged her on the bed. And Clostan forced a potion down his throat.
“We did all we could, Rob, all we could. It’s just sometimes not enough.” And Robinton heard the pain of the healer as plain as he felt his own.

In another call-forward to Menolly, Merelan sings the funeral rite and Robinton flings the harp he made into the water on the last note.

In “Things that piss Silver off mightily,” I don’t like being right when I worry someone is about to be fridged. Because Kasia’s entire existence in the narrative is to get over her grief, fall in love, marry, and then die to give Robinton the pain of a decreased spouse on top of his other traumas. She exists to be fridged.

As one might expect, the death of his spouse puts Robinton into a terrible depression. And, when F’lon comes to visit, the likelihood of some strong drinking. F’lon, however, has come to both express his grief for Kasia and to share his own grief for the death of Larth that turns L’tol back into Lytol. F’lon offers Robinton a quick and permanent solution to his grief.

“Couldn’t be simpler,” the dragonrider said drolly. “We go out to Simanith, he takes you in his arms, we go between and Simanith opens his arms”–which F’lon demonstrated with an upward flourish–“and only the two of us go on to Benden. Simple.”
“Yes, simple,” Robinton said, thinking almost wistfully of the cold black nothingness of between where one felt nothing, heard nothing, was shortly nothing.
Tears filled his eyes and his heart seemed to burst. He’d been cold so long now. It would be simple…but…it wasn’t simple.
“No, it isn’t simple,” F’lon said gently, and Robinton realized he had spoken aloud. “There’s something in us humans that clings to life even when the most beloved one we have leaves is. Lytol couldn’t go when we gave him the option. He was badly burned and too full of fellis and numbweed to be able to decide. And when he could, he decided to go back to High Reaches with his family.”
Robinton gave a start. “That’s not a wise be for anyone to be right now. Much less a…former dragonrider.”
F’lon shrugged. “His choice. He needs his family right now. I saw your mother is still here.”
“Yes, she’s been wonderful. Everyone has.”
“So, let’s get on with life, shall we?” The kindness in that soft gentle suggestion reached and thawed the cold “nothingness” Robinton had been enduring.
“Thank you, F’lon,” he said as he rose. “I think I’d better eat something, be you look as if you could stand a good meal, too.”
Indeed, F’lon looked haggard as well as weary, but at Robinton’s suggestion, his smile flickered. Stretching an arm across the harper’s shoulder, he wheeled him to face the door and then accompanied him out of the room and down to the warm kitchen to ask for a meal.

Everything is not okay for Robinton, as Tillek contains memories that can’t easily be evaded, but at least the crisis has passed.

If you are feeling like the nothingness, or that life would be better without you, and you are in the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be called at 1-800-273-8255. For queer youth, The Trevor Project is at 1-866-488-7386. There is also the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860.

There are also likely resources more locally for you, and if you are not in the States, there are resources and helplines for you. There are people that can help. And talk.

And the Bastard grant us… in our direst need, the smallest gifts: the nail of the horseshoe, the pin of the axle, the feather at the pivot point, the pebble at the mountain’s peak, the kiss in despair, the one right word.
-Bujold, Paladin of Souls

Because sometimes that’s what we need. One right word, or something equally small, placed correctly, that turns things back from the brink.

Or sometimes it’s cold logic, knowing that the reason you might go for dying won’t actually fix the problem, because you can do the maths and realize that even if you could get your optimum result, it wouldn’t solve the issues. That kept me alive until things could get better.

Robinton throws himself into his work to try and keep the memories at bay, which means he’s present when it’s confirmed that Lord Faroguy is dead (because another badly drummed reply to their inquiry raises major suspicions, and they send a runner to confirm things), that Farvene, the heir, has been killed in a duel with Fax, and Bargen, the next son, cannot be found. Which means Fax rules in High Reaches, because the Council to elect a new Lord Holder has to be convened at the request of an heir, and there have been no requests. Robinton attempts to persuade everyone around him that Fax’s ambitions are greater than just High Reaches, and that the Lord Holds need to act, now. Melongel trots out “autonomy” and Robinton fires back that illegal possession does not entitle someone to that protection. Melongel points out they can’t prove it. Minnarden and Robinton press Melongel to see if he can’t get an alliance going, it at the very least spread the word to the neighboring holds to guard their borders against Fax. Robinton volunteers for reconnaissance, but Melongel tells him no, and that Gennell has arranged the necessary personnel for infiltration.

So Robinton goes on tour again, and when he comes across the border holder he talked to before, there’s way more refugees than the last time.

“More coming in all the time,” Chochol told Robinton in a lugubrious voice, shaking his head at the terror that drove them from their holds. “Someone ought to do something about that man. They say he’s got six, seven spouses, all of ’em pregnant.” Then he chuckled and his droll face lit up. “Can’t seem to get himself a son.”
Robinton laughed, too. “We don’t need more of his ilk.”

I realize that black comedy is a normal reaction to seeing a tragedy, but I can’t see the humor value in a fertility joke at this point. Especially with the knowledge that those six or seven “spouses,” since I can’t see anyone freely consenting to betrothal, are going to be in pregnancy and childbirth until they die of it. Someone most certainly needs to do something about this, and since the Lords won’t act…if only this story had been set post-Furiosa.

Coming back to Tillek is coming back to a giant pile of memories, and Melongel notices it enough to gently dismiss Robinton from his post and send him back to the Hall. That takes care of Chapter XIV, but it also sends Robinton back into danger. I hope Gennell has an assignment ready for him when he gets back.

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9 thoughts on “The Masterharper of Pern: Espousal Bells

  1. genesistrine April 26, 2018 at 5:08 am

    Farewell, Kasia, too good for that world.

    (I also note Melongel uses the familiar address for Faroguy, so perhaps Lords are exempt from having it drilled into their heads that business about “always Lord [X], even in your head.”)

    Makes sense, they’re social equals after all.

    when he tensed, she held him slightly away, giving him a hard, long look. “For we have been happy… together.”

    I’d like to think that’s actually her trying to convince herself she hasn’t been a victim of sunk cost fallacy all these years, but given the relationships this author seems to approve of for her characters….

    Either way, that’s a terrible curse to put on her son’s marriage. “May you upset your wife by being as shitty to your son as your dad was!”

    F’lon is concerned about Larna

    Oh look, we found F’lar’s mum. And of course his dad has speshul feels for his mum.

    Lytol … decided to go back to High Reaches with his family.

    That’s interesting too. Was Lytol Searched? Or was his mother or father originally from High Reaches and stayed in touch with their family?

    confirmed that Lord Faroguy is dead (because another badly drummed reply to their inquiry raises major suspicions, and they send a runner to confirm things), that Farvene, the heir, has been killed in a duel with Fax, and Bargen, the next son, cannot be found. Which means Fax rules in High Reaches, because the Council to elect a new Lord Holder has to be convened at the request of an heir, and there have been no requests.

    OMFG AHAHAHAHAHAHA the Charter has no provision about what to do if a roof falls on all the living heirs?! Or they all eat bad seafood at a party? Also, what about the kerfuffle about Meron’s successor? Who requested everyone stick their noses in then?

    I love Fax, he’s the asshole Pern deserves. He’s using all their stupid rules against them to get what he wants. Go Fax go!

    It’s also interesting that the message was badly drummed – does that mean Fax has his own badly-trained drummer? Isn’t comms drumming a Harper monopoly? Don’t they have any clout to demand that guy be replaced with one of theirs, or to ignore messages from unauthorized senders?

    if only this story had been set post-Furiosa.

    If only. But McCaffrey would be flat on the side of Immortan Joe. Keeping his population safe and secure in a dangerous environment!

  2. saidahgilbert April 26, 2018 at 11:12 am

    When I googled “post-Furiosa”, I got Imperator Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road. Is that who y’all are talking about?

  3. genesistrine April 26, 2018 at 12:47 pm

    Yes. the situation with Fax desperately needs someone who’s conspiring with his wives to escape!

  4. Silver Adept April 26, 2018 at 2:58 pm

    Yep, that’s the right Furiosa. And Fax’s women could totally use a plot lifted wholesale from Fury Road at this point.

    @ genesistrine –

    Another way to look at it as a curse is “Don’t have kids, lest they get between your happiness with each other.” No matter which way you make it a curse, it is one.

    It could be Merelan recognizing her own situation, but it’s unlikely, considering that the narrative essentially says that once Robinton gets out of sight, things go back to the way they were, with all the happiness that goes along with it. So Merelan is supposedly happy in her gilded cage.

    I don’t know what Lytol has for family, but I think he’s been referred to relatively consistently as being from High Reaches, so presumably he has family there.

    Fax is very much a character tailored to exploiting every loophole or oversight in Pern, and he’s even more ridiculous for having done it because he’s no longer the first, chronologically, to do it. I would like to believe the Charter has had amended into it rules of succession as soon as a family died out from plague, but apparently not.

    I’ll bet someone got involved with Meron because Fax was too fresh on their mind and they finally had the power to insinuate themselves into the discussion. Or to potentially threaten to pull out all the Crafts if things didn’t go their way.

    Drum code can be learned by anyone, and much of the nobility knows it, even if they don’t let on officially that they do. If there were a Harper monopoly to exploit to force someone to let them in, it would be the monopoly on education, in my opinion, but the Harpers don’t have force to back those threats with. If the dragonriders decided to play Marshal Service to the Harpers’ Little Rock Nine, that would be different. But the Harper Hall itself lacks the ability to do these things by themselves.

  5. genesistrine April 26, 2018 at 3:27 pm

    Lytol’s been presented from DF onwards as having family in High Reaches (and as hating Fax for unspecified awfulness happening to them), but we’ve never had more details. I’d far prefer to read Lytol’s backstory than Robinton’s, but then again I probably would have hated it if AMC wrote it….

    I’ll bet someone got involved with Meron because Fax was too fresh on their mind and they finally had the power to insinuate themselves into the discussion. Or to potentially threaten to pull out all the Crafts if things didn’t go their way.

    It would be nice if Fax were the triggering experience for Robinton’s eminence grise status; he decides to make sure this crap never happens again and sets up his spy-Harpers and subtle-political-pressure skills.

    Re drum code: what’s to stop Harpers simply not relaying messages from scab towers? And the Harper monopoly on education is all very well, but we’ve already been told that Fax for one is perfectly happy to leave his peasants uneducated. A comms blackout might get his attention where a teachers’ strike wouldn’t.

    But then again, since so many people understand drum code Lords and anyone else who wants to send confidential messages presumably uses the runner system anyway….

  6. Wingsrising April 26, 2018 at 5:39 pm

    Lytol definitely gets my vote for most interesting character in “modern” Pern and I wish we’d had more of him.

  7. Silver Adept April 29, 2018 at 9:59 am

    I would like to see more Lytol as well, although I’m pretty sure this author would have done a terrible job of it.

    I think a comm blackout would also suit Fax just fine, because that would mean no news got in or out that he didn’t personally see or approve. Fax is building a really good fascist state in his area, and everyone else seems unperturbed by it. Probably because they think it isn’t their problem, until it becomes their problem.

    Drum code seems built for speed and for not letting the peasants know what’s going on while their betters talk. Runners are confidential, but slow-ish.

  8. WanderingUndine May 3, 2018 at 2:37 pm

    Thank you for the PSA about suicide prevention resources, and for talking about how sometimes we can hold on by cold logic and/or “one right word, or something equally small.” The truth of it brings tears to my eyes. Sometimes what I held onto were words not always directed at me personally — words of support and solidarity on Ana Mardoll’s website, or a sentence voiced by a fantasy character, or a podcast host telling the world at large (post-2016-election) “I’m here if you want to talk. Please stay with us. Don’t go anywhere.” Lacking internet and helpful literature, Robinton is fortunate that someone in his life could be what he needed.

    I can hardly imagine how awful he feels here, though. Not only is his beloved wife dead, she died after being weakened by the storm and sickness on their honeymoon. Does he blame himself, thinking of how she would have still been alive if she hadn’t married him? I don’t know, as I stopped reading the book somewhere before this point.

  9. Silver Adept May 3, 2018 at 9:00 pm

    There’s not a whole lot of thought or recrimination on that topic, mostly because everyone is hustling Robinton off to be places and assignments once he gets out of his depression, and, as we see, there are more than a few women who are willing to fill the sexual void. The author doesn’t seem interested at all in looking after Robinton’s mental state when there are accolades and assignments to heap on him.

    You’re welcome for the resources and I’m sorry that things got bad enough that you can recognize the feeling.

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