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.