Runner of Pern: A Comedy of An Error

Last time, we got Tenna to Fort Hold for a Gather by having her get run off the runner traces and into sticklebush, which required several days of healing to get Tenna back on her feet. She’s currently making the rounds with Rosa and the man Rosa intends to date, Cleve, and has had decided which person is Haligon out of two that could have fit the bill based on the descriptions given.

Runner of Pern: Content Notes: Background Radiation Sexism

I stopped at that point because we’re about to meet a Pernese custom that hasn’t been mentioned before now. And that would definitely have influenced my reading of earlier books if I had encountered it before this point.

“There he is!” Rosa said suddenly, pointing across the square to where a group of young men were surveying girls parading in their Gather finery. It was a custom to take a Gather partner, someone with whom to spend the occasion–which could include the day, the evening meal, the dancing, and whatever else was mutually decided. Everyone recognized the limitation and made sure the details were arranged ahead of time so that there wouldn’t be a misunderstanding of intent.

Oh, really? It’s a social custom for people to pair up for parties, with an expressly negotiated agreement of what that responsibility will entail? That sounds both highly regressive (what if you don’t want a partner? Do men get to refuse, but women have to accept a partner or be thought someone of low morals?) and moderately progressive (negotiated limits on dates!) for Pern. It feels like an author having had two decades of experience and fans putting this in here.

I also have a sinking feeling a lot of those agreements aren’t going to be respected by the end, or that someone in no state to consent will be pressured to do so.

The “he” spotted in this case is Haligon, and Tenna spots a perfect place to cause embarrassment and muck his clothes.

Tenna went right up to him, tapped him on the shoulder, and when he turned around in response, the arch smile on his face turned to one of considerable interest at her appearance, his eyes lighting as he gave her a sweeping look of appreciation. He was looking so boldly that he did not see Tenna cock her right arm. Putting her entire body into the swing, she connected her fist smartly to his chin. He dropped like a felled herdbeast, flat on his back and unconscious. And right on top of some droppings.

Nice punch. As Tenna heads back, another “lad in brown” stops her and asks her what the hell is going on. She explains that it’s revenge for Haligon pushing her into sticklebushes, which stops the somewhat mirthful look on the other lad’s face cold when she shows him the healing injuries.

“I’m sorry to hear that.” And he sounded sincere, his expression somber. Then he gave his head a little shake and smiled at her, a trifle warily, but there was a look in his eyes that told her he found her attractive. “If you promise not to drop me, may I say that you don’t look at all like most runners I’ve met.” His eyes lingered only briefly on her bodice, and then he hastily cleared his throat. “I’d better get back and see… if Haligon’s come to.”

Of course, when Tenna gets back, she finds out that she flattened Horon, Haligon’s twin and a bad man in his own right, and was explaining herself to Haligon. The other girls don’t consider it a bad thing that Horon got knocked out, and they brush off Tenna’s worry when she sees Haligon headed to the runner station, because

“Torlo would love to remind him of all the harm he’s been doing runners.”
“Even if they weren’t as pretty as you are,” Cleve said.

And there’s that word again. Everyone seems to think that Tenna’s pretty, but nobody seems to have the presence of mind to keep it to themselves.

Tenna has business still, in acquiring her leathers, and there’s a piece at a tanner’s that she has her eye on, in nice emerald, a good color for a runner for her area. (Apparently, runners like to match their leather colors to the colors of the soil and ground around them, so the Southern Boll runners like red-browns.) The tanner quotes her nine marks as the price (which is the highest price I’ve heard at a Gather to this point, given that Piemur could get lots of bubbly pies for an eighth mark,) and everyone agrees it’s robbery at that price. And Tenna can’t afford it anyway, because she’s only got four. They look for other leathers that might suit for shoes, but don’t really find anything as spectacular.

Tenna is ready to give up and settle for something when Lord Groghe approaches them, asks for some time at a free table, orders drinks, and apologizes to Tenna in a low voice that won’t travel past the table. Groghe says Haligon is reckless, but he doesn’t knowingly cause injuries, and that Torlo had informed him about several other near-misses. Tenna accepts the apology and asks Groghe to make sure that riders stay off the runner traces.

“I have been well and truly told off, Runner Tenna.” He smiled back at her, his eyes dropping for a split second to her bodice. “You’re a very pretty girl. Blue becomes you.” He reached over and gave her hand a pat before he rose. “I’ve told Torlo the incursions will cease.” Then in his usual booming voice, he added, “Enjoy the Gather, runners, and the wine.”

Does Tenna have some sort of curse on her that every person around her has to tell her that she’s pretty? Because this is well past ridiculous, especially given the description Groghe gets a few paragraphs later.

“But Lord Groghe’s a fair man, even if he usually thinks women are half-wits. But he’s fair.” Then [Rosa] giggled again. “And he said how pretty you are, so that helped, you know. Haligon likes his girls pretty. So does Lord Groghe but he only looks.”

I would like to make a cutting remark here about only looking, but as far as I can tell, it’s accurate.

Haligon joins the table by unrolling the emerald leather that Tenna had her eye on in front of her and sincerely apologizing for the trouble he caused. And then, after getting her apology, asks her for a dance.

Tenna pretended to consider. But she was secretly thrilled, for despite their first encounter, there was something about Haligon that she found very attractive.

And here’s where I start I steam up a tad, because we’ve left the Comedy of Errors and are much more into the territory of Much Ado or the Taming of the Shrew, and I want, just once, for someone to go through the story without ending up falling in love with someone, even though she’s pretty.

Haligon asks if Tenna will be his meal partner, and she accepts.

Tenna returned to the station long enough to put away the beautiful leather. And long enough to get many requests for dances and to be supper partner from other runners who congratulated her.
“Told ya so, dinnit I?” Penda said, catching Tenna’s arm as she was leaving. The woman was grinning from ear to ear. “Pretty girl’s always heard, ya know.”

The word reappears. And again on why Tenna gives Golly first dance with her.

as much because he didn’t expect to get any dances from such a pretty girl as because he asked her first

…and I’m just…rgh.

In any case, Haligon joins Tenna for the next dance, a slower one, “despite the fact that half the male runners at the Gather were now crowding about for a chance to dance with her.” He pulls her in close, and they talk about why she runs and he continues to apologize for his actions as he realizes the severity of what he’s done. There is one more comedy moment where Tenna asks if Haligon paid asking price for the leather, and Haligon refuses to say how much, even though everyone knew how much Haligon needed that leather as apology.

After dancing, Haligon takes Tenna to the shadow of a deserted stall.

She smiled to herself, rehearsing a number of deft rejections if she needed them.

Okay, so she’s not fallen that far for him. That helps some, although there’s a fair amount of kissing going on despite this rejection preparation.

They kissed quite a bit between dances. He was far more respectful of her person than she expected. And said so.
“With the punch you can deliver, my girl,” he answered, “you can bet your last mark I’m not about to risk my brother’s fate.”
He also found other chilled drinks for her to drink instead of more wine. She appreciated that even more.

Which makes me upset – he’s not respecting her as a person, he’s respecting the fact that she can knock him out with a punch. I suspect that in any other story, Haligon is not nearly as gentlemanly as he’s being portrayed here. And so the continued problem of men not respecting women on Pern continues. We can probably thank Groghe and his attitude toward women for that.

Haligon and Tenna do the toss dance, which we finally get details about – apparently, the idea is for the men to throw their partners high enough in the air for them to do a full rotation before being caught. (Kind of like in pairs figure skating or ice dancing.) Tenna and Haligon are a good enough team that Tenna can turn a couple rotations in her dress and execute a finale that leaves Tenna only a little bit above the dance floor when she’s caught by Haligon.

Torlo then tells Tenna she’s on the list to run in the morning, so Tenna calls bedtime and Haligon asks her if she’s wanting to see him more in the future, when he has his own holding and is going to try and breed “runners…beasts, that is.”

“I might.” She smiled up at him. This Haligon was more of a temptation to her than he knew.
Now he smiled back at her, a challenge sparkling in his eyes. “We’ll just have to see, won’t we?”
“Yes, I guess we will.”
With that answer, she be him a quick kid on the cheek and ducked into the station before she said more than she ought right now after such a limited acquaintance. But maybe raising runners–both kinds, four-legged and two–in the west wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

And, story. That’s the end, and my hopes for Tenna staying a childfree career runner are pretty much gone. There was so much promise there.

But, then again, the narrative was doing its utmost to tell us that Tenna was pretty as a way of making sure we knew what kind of story we were really in, and that there would be romance before all was done. So I suppose I shouldn’t have gotten hopeful about it.

And, here at the end, I guess I haven’t actually learned a whole lot more about the world than when I started. Just a look in on a runner and the way that runners work. And a romance.

Well, I guess that means we’re on to another novel, The Skies of Pern, next. Which is putting us close to the point in time where Pern turns over to a new person.

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9 thoughts on “Runner of Pern: A Comedy of An Error

  1. Firedrake May 31, 2018 at 2:00 am

    I wonder whether the Gather-partner thing might be, in part at least, an excuse/explanation for Moreta going off with Alessan at that Gather…

  2. Wingsrising May 31, 2018 at 4:01 pm

    We learn a little bit more about Tenna’s fate in Skies — should I share, or not?

  3. Digitalis May 31, 2018 at 4:24 pm

    So did Tenna ever apologize to Horon for punching him for something he didn’t do? Or are we supposed to forget that because someone else said he was a bad person?

  4. Wingsrising May 31, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    Nope.

    Also it seems like assault (of a holder’s son, yet) is somehow not a crime on Pern…

  5. genesistrine May 31, 2018 at 5:30 pm

    I bet it is if you’re not ~pretty~

  6. Wingsrising May 31, 2018 at 5:37 pm

    Heh. Yes, probably.

  7. Brenda A May 31, 2018 at 7:03 pm

    We’ve seen the toss dance once before – Moreta and Alessan dance it at the Gather before all the tragedy starts.

    My main peeve with this story is a timeline issue. I don’t know if you remember back in “The White Dragon”, Lord Groghe tells Jaxom about his son, Horon, who is about the same age – very early teens – a decade into the Pass! I also don’t like that Silvina seems to be the same age here as she does much later in “Dragonsinger”.

    I never noticed that persistent repetition of “pretty” before, but I will now…

  8. Silver Adept May 31, 2018 at 7:29 pm

    We’re supposed to believe that Horon earned his knockout based solely on the look that he gave Tenna and his reputation of past behavior that would warrant getting him knocked out. It probably extends that any woman could flatten Horon and a lot of people would shrug and say he deserved it. Horon, of course, could demand whatever recompense or charges he wanted and probably get them, but apparently he doesn’t follow-up on it. Maybe somewhere off-camera he complains to Groghe and Groghe laughs it off or otherwise says that it’s a natural consequence of being who he is.

    @ Brenda A. –

    If there’s description of what the toss dance entrails in Moreta, I skipped over it the first time.

    I find Silvina’s character to be in that sort of perpetual middle age matron whose true age is never pinned down, but also didn’t suffer getting old until the plot needs to replace her. She apparently enjoys what she does, and that lets her fade to the background.

    I didn’t remember the timeline issue, but at this point, we’re dealing with at least two disjointed timeliness and interpretations of everything, so I’m not surprised that there are issues with ages and characters between books and stories. Someone is mostly working off their own memory or what feels right for the story right now.

  9. WanderingUndine June 1, 2018 at 8:49 am

    Blargle. I had also hoped for one romance-free story here (or anywhere), a perpetual hope eternally disappointed.

    This is only the second Pern story, after The Littlest Dragonboy, to elicit no reaction images.

    I know it’s possible for someone to get tossed in the air and twirl around before being caught, because I’ve seen it in the Olympics. But it’s hard for me to imagine actually doing so or underetand how it’s done.

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