Last chapter, Robinton and F’lon lost people dear to them, found other people who were compatible with them, and ascended to the most powerful positions they could obtain – Benden Weyrleader and Masterharper of Pern.
Petiron did not oppose the election of Robinton, but immediately afterward exiled himself to Half-Circle Sea Hold, so as to not be an impediment to the new head of the Craft.
The Masterharper of Pern: Chapters XVI and XVII: Content Notes: Fat-Shaming, Starvation, Ablism
The chapter begins with Robinton adjusting to his new responsibilities and perks, which include dragonrider transport from F’lon to wherever he needs to go. Robinton is still looking for women for the Hall, but he isn’t getting presented that many candidates to apprentice – they apparently have their eyes on boys more than a career in singing. This still does not make actual sense, mostly because I can’t see Pernese families wanting to provide dowry or otherwise for the espousal of all their daughters.
Robinton and F’lon are also making no headway on trying to convince the Lords that Fax is dangerous. At least one Lord posits that Fax holds High Reaches (and everything else, by extension?) totally legitimately, since no other men with better claim have come forth with it. Nip comes by later with news that Fax has made inroads into Tillek after Melongel was thrown from, and then crushed by, a horse that was poisoned to death. Nip suspects Fax, claiming that “Fax buys loyalty and service–with the added incentive of fear.” as a general philosophy, backed with systematically eliminating opposition and then espousing himself to the remaining woman so as to be Lord Holder legitimately, and I’m still not quite on board with that being as effective as it is, because it’s got enough moving parts in it that someone can grind the gears with a wrench. Lessa can’t be the only character who is performing sabotage acts against Fax.
Nip asks a question that Robinton answers without realizing the in he has to build a case against Fax, which is a detail that wouldn’t exist but for the last book.
“[…] He’s got many spouses now, more than a sane man would wish. Doesn’t the Charter restrict how many a man can have?”
“No,” Robinton replied thoughtfully, pinching at his upper lip. “Actually, it doesn’t deal with personal relationships at all–at least the usual variety, though it is specific in the violations–” Robinton paused. “–such as rape or other unwanted acts.”
Ding-ding-ding! Chalkin’s border guards were given the chop because they committed rape. I’d bet good money that the women that Fax keeps espousing did not do it under free and full consent, especially if their relatives were murdered to put them in a vulnerable position. And if they’re aren’t any other relatives to hold hostage, any of those currently pregnant women would be witness and evidence of rape and able to testify to that matter. Because even if Pern wants to define things narrowly, there has to be more than enough bad behavior by Fax’s soldiers and subordinates that they can be picked off, either one by one or in droves, by a force that the Lords authorize to arrest anyone who has evidence or testimony against them of that behavior. Once again, the Lords can use the Charter to stop Fax. They won’t, because timelines and because trying to backport the Charter is causing more continuity errors than trying to fix them, but they could.
Melongel dies before the year is out, Oterel is confirmed as his successor, and Silvina informs Robinton that she’s pregnant. She also refuses to espouse him, saying that their current agreement suits them more, and that Robinton still says the name of his dead spouse when he’s sleeping at night.
Most tellingly, in my opinion, is that Silvina admits to loving many harpers, although Robinton doesn’t know of any other partners Silvina is keeping, and that Robinton doesn’t deny when F’lon ribs him about being “enthusiastically welcomed by many holder girls for the pleasure he gave above and beyond the music he played.” So it seems like both of them are on board with polyamory, and Robinton appears willing to give Silvina the same freedom he takes for himself. Functional polyamory is not a thing I expected to see in Pern. (Is it really going to work this way?)
The Hall is also still shedding girls, to the point where Robinton is begging Halanna to come back and take a Mastery, just to help with the reputation of being a place for women and girls. Halanna turns him down. And yet we’re still supposed to believe that it’s attrition that’s causing the problem. Right now, I’m wondering if the harpers have a reputation for promiscuity, based on the enthusiasm they receive from the Master Harper, and that’s what is driving away all the women. It would set things up nicely for the cottage and Dunca.
Silvina gives birth, and Robinton gets to feel the joy of being a father…of a special-needs child, because apparently the umbilical cord wrapped around his son’s neck during development and starved it of necessary oxygen. And Robinton watches his dreams crumble all away as the son he’s going to have won’t have any of his legacy of brilliance of music. If I were going to call it foreshadowing, this is the part where we start to realize Robinton is going to be Petiron’s son after all, when it comes to parenthood. Thus goes Chapter XVI.
Chapter XVII starts with Nip returning, and this time he has an idea of how Fax acquires his new holdings.
“He visits his intended victim, all smiles and reassurances, compliments the man on his fine holding. Buys whatever the hold produces, pays over the mark for what he calls best quality. He asks how such yields are achieved on such poor, good, medium, excellent soil…under such trying, hot, cold, dry conditions…in short.”
[…and then, having bought their friendship…]
“Now, he’s very canny about how he insults the Harper Hall, especially if the hold in question has one, or is on a well-traveled route. But he is careful with his slanders.” Nip pantomimed a dagger being inserted gently in and then slowly twisted. “He gives examples of harper lies and exaggerations. So he plants the seeds of doubt. Then he invites the man and his family to come to his next Gather, and sometimes, if the gullible fool believes him, he offers to send men to tend the herdbeasts or the fields, or whatever, while the holder and his family are away.”
“So that his men become familiar with the place.”
“Exactly.” Nip took a sip. “One man and his family never did get back from that Gather, and so Fax has acquired Keogh Hold recently.”
It’s a pretty slick con, actually, which seems at loggerheads with the brash and insult-throwing Fax of earlier. Or the one who was dropping hints about what he was about to do to Robinton earlier. I’m okay with Fax being smart, strong, and ruthless, but it would help if that had been foreshadowed more, because the Fax we have to make comparisons with is definitely not painted in that way, and who appeared to have acquired holdings through brute force more than anything else.
All the same, Robinton chooses not to pay attention to Fax in light of the running of the Hall he has to do. He instead sends F’lon congratulations on a good mating flight, which prompts a visit. Robinton asks how it got done.
“First we starved the pair of them. I never thought a queen dragon could be so difficult. All the bronzes were needed to snatch anything she killed. She’d sneak out of the weyr at night to get something to eat.”
“Who? Jora or Nemorth?”
F’lon blinked and then howled with laughter. “Actually I meant Nemorth, but I think Jora probably had edibles secreted about the place, because we never did manage to get her down to a decent size. But Nemorth was our prime worry. Like rider like dragon can be all too true. But we succeeded in keeping her from doing more than blood the next time she turned bright gold. My, she was a nasty one in flight.” F’lon shook his head from side to side, with an odd grin on his face. “Simanith proved his worth. Caught her high and did her well.” Then he exhaled noisily.
Robinton was hard pressed not to laugh out loud, wondering how F’lon had managed his unwieldy mate on that occasion, but there were certain matters one did not discuss, even with such a good friend as F’lon.
Why is this suddenly out of bounds, Robinton? Because you think it would be embarrassing to have F’lon recount his tale of sexytimes with Jora? This is usually complete bro-fodder, swapping stories of having sex with the unattractive and laughing about how their low self-esteem made them not just an easy lay, but made them feel in love.
In our times, there’s an entire category of porn dedicated to bigger bodies. And classically, bigger bodies have been considered more attractive because it meant someone was well fed and likely able to bear children better. And Halanna was just described as being plump and happy and docile. Yet we’re supposed to see Jora as grotesquely fat, I guess, past the point of zaftig and into some other category, where F’lon and Robinton both clearly see it as a chore, and perhaps a favor, to do her in the mating flight. And, because Weyrleader solidarity, F’lon couldn’t pass it off on someone else, as had been explained to Debera in an earlier book.
I remember, though, that the lust passes from dragon to human, so I don’t see why anyone would consider it weird or somehow embarrassing that F’lon and Jora had sex. Surely they’ve done enough of their own of knocking boots with whomever is handy that nobody has high ground to judge someone else’s mating sex.
And furthermore, remember that Jora is afraid of heights, so the entire experience was probably highly traumatic for her. F’lon can certainly stand to be embarrassed for his views.
After F’lon leaves, Robinton is visited by the relatives from Merelan’s side, who bring him a gift – Sebell, who is his grand-nephew. And has all the musical skill that Robinton wishes his own son, “poor re[DACTED] Camo” had. Sebell apprentices to the Hall and essentially makes himself Robinton’s shadow and assistant. Sebell also takes a liking to Camo. Silvina finally convinces Robinton to stop mourning the son he wishes he had and raise the one he does (a thing we suspect is made much easier by having Sebell around, as kin, to pour all of that musical knowledge and pride into), and so Robinton starts to avoid being like his father to his son.
Then comes the Hatching day and here comes more fat-shaming.
a Robinton could not fail to notice Jora on the other side of her queen, a large bulk in a vivid green gown that did nothing to hide her obesity or enhance what had once been a pretty face.
[…Robinton bows politely, as is custom…]
Jora gave him a nervous grin, he fat fingers making wet creases in the stuff of her gown. He always tried to be nice to her, knowing that F’lon led her a difficult time.
So Jora is also the victim of bad tailoring.
Cocowhat by depizan
It’s beginning to sound a lot more like Pern is 20th century Terra, where fashion designers gave no fucks at all about bodies that were different from their ideal and clothing was mass-produced in ways that were meant to hug the body and expose any imperfections in it, because 20th and 21st century Terran mores said that fat bodies were shameful and didn’t deserve to look good in anything.
This Pern, however, is supposed to be an expy of Latin Christendom. There are published works on what fashion looked like in at least some part of that time. And some guesses, based on scraps and statues and art that survives, what clothing may have looked like in times earlier than that.
I’m sure, then, it comes to no surprise to any of you that for those time periods and the non-mechanized construction methods generally used, CLOTHING DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY!
The next sequence is Impression. Fallarnon impresses Mnementh first, and Famanoran collects the last dragon of the clutch, Canth. There’s another opportunity to fat-shame Jora, comparing her “cleaning the food from the overflowing plate in front of her” to Manora eating “slowly and with relish, as dignified as she had been as a young girl.”
The narrative and I need to have what is occasionally called a “come to Jesus meeting” about the way Jora keeps getting treated as ugly because fat and all the very crude stereotyping of her the narrative is engaging in so that we don’t think of her as anything but fat and piggish.
The narrative cuts back to the Fax problem, where Nabol is the next Hold to fail, and the Lord Holder of Telgar, Terathel, makes it a point to invite Fax to his Gather, so that he can talk to him very specifically about not pushing his troops into Telgar again, after a large force of Fax’s was forcibly evicted from Telgar by a larger force of Telgarians.
Then we get to see an interesting interplay of how rank works (after pointing out that F’lon, the Weyrleader, is of the same rank as a Lord Holder) and how Fax’s team works to openly defy social conventions.
He saw the beginning: a lad wearing Fax’s colors knocking into Larad, at F’lon’s side, and then irritably demanding an apology.
Larad was surprised and started to comply but F’lon stopped him.
“You knocked into Lord Larad, boy,” F’lon told the lad. “You will apologize to young Lord Larad. He ranks you.”
“I’m with Lord Fax, dragonrider.” The boy’s tone and sneer were contemptuous.
So, that’s three norms broken – deliberate contact, demanding an apology of someone of higher rank, and disrespecting a dragonrider (who is also of higher rank). What normally follows when norms are broken?
Robinton had not yet reached the little group when F’lon backhanded the boy, cutting his lip.
“You will keep a civil tongue in your head and you will apologize to Lord Larad, who is of Telgar Blood. I doubt you can claim even half-Blood rights.”
“Kepiru? Who gave you a bloody lip?” And a heavyset man, also wearing Fax’s colors and the shoulder knot of a captain–though those were generally reserved for ships’ captains–pushed through those watching the encounter.
Robinton felt the tension in the air as he reached F’lon.
“Now, what appears to be the problem?” he said in his best conciliatory manner.
Larad gratefully turned to the MasterHarper. He was confused and highly embarrassed.
Right. Norms attempt to reassert themselves, and in Pern’s case, that usually involves physical violence. As one might guess, however, this is a trap. Either they get the result of Larad apologizing and being confused at someone else’s aggression, or someone reacts to the incident and retaliates strongly. That always draws attention and often allows the instigator to play the part of the aggrieved.
“That…dragonrider–” The captain’s tone was as contemptuous as Kepiru’s had been “–has struck my young brother, insulting our Blood. The matter requires redress.”
“Redress from your brother to Lord Larad most certainly,” F’lon said, bristling.
[…Robinton is getting the feeling it’s a setup, and is doing his best to calm F’lon down…]
“Enough,” F’lon said, shaking off Robinton’s restraining hand. “It was as deliberate as the slurs on dragonriders.”
“Ha! Dragonwomen!” the captain said in a scathing tone.
The insult inflamed F’lon. “I’ll show you dragonwomen,” he said and drew the knife from his belt.
The captain’s knife seemed to appear with uncanny speed in his hand and Robinton’s fears increased.
Now that weapons are involved, any hope of a peaceful result are out, although Robinton tries (and gets cut on the arm and insulted by the captain for it). F’lon, of course, is too much of a hothead not to fight, and when he gets cut first, he only gets wilder, which gets him killed because he’s fighting an opponent that gives no fucks about his status and is more than willing to use every dirty trick he knows. Robinton orders the captain seized before he can disappear. Larad is very confused, and Robinton quietly communicates to Tarathel, when he arrives, that this is not an accident.
And for this massive breach of protocol, there is actually a legal punishment. (And it can’t be from the Charter, because it specifically mentions dragonriders!) Immediate exile is the sentence for deliberately killing a dragonrider if the are witnesses that observe it, and while R’gul hesitates because of no trial, C’gan is more than willing to step up to the task of taking the murderer out to exile.
Then Fax arrives and demands the release of his captain. Tarathel tells Fax to fuck off, as he’s in charge here and it’s very clear what happens in this situation. Fax demands again, this time with backup.
Robinton is not having it.
“Telgar! Defend your Holder!”
With a roar of protest, Fax and his men were overwhelmed as those around them grabbed at their arms and bodies, preventing them from drawing their weapons. Even R’gul and S’lel assisted while C’gan tried to keep a firm grip on the murderer. Suddenly the blue rider cried for assistance as the man sagged and collapsed, a dagger through one eye.
And the dragons bellowed with triumph.
One look at the hilt of that slender throwing knife and Robinton knew who had cast it. He marveled that Nip had been able to fling it so accurately through the milling crowd.
So Fax and his cronies are run out of the country, Robinton drums the news, and then he and Nip debrief and Robinton heads onward as fast as he can to Ruatha to warn them about Fax.
There’s a problem here, though. Specifically, why is Fax not dead? Or at the very least, not under heavy guard and house arrest by Terathel? A man he claimed responsibility for just committed and was convicted of murder of a Weyrleader. He and his entourage were subdued and presumably stripped of their weapons in the riot. They have very clearly violated the autonomy of another Holder to dispense justice according to the law, and then interfered again in trying to obstruct that justice from being carried out. They assaulted the closest thing this world has to a judge. If there are any laws about a Gather truce, those have been broken. There are so many charges that Fax can be brought up on, either directly or because of his failure to enforce order among his subordinates. It probably won’t be hard to find enough evidence to convince people that the entire thing, top to bottom, was a setup to provoke F’lon.
There is no Watsonian reason why Fax should be able to return to his own territory, much less leave Telgar Hold.
And the what the fuck continues with Lord Kale being dismissive of the account of F’lon’s death and Robinton’s plea for Kale to post sentries and harden himself against Fax. Ruatha is a small hold, now on Fax’s expanded borders. Fax has already shown an interest in expanding his territory well beyond his own. Repeatedly. And with events that are too unlikely to be repeated coincidences. I know that for plot reasons, terrible things are yet to come, but you can only surprise someone and take over their territory so many times before everyone else around you gets suspicious that you’re going to try them next. Especially if you’re small and nommable.
Robinton returns to the Hall after a night in a Ruatha, Nip comes by and reports bad things still coming out of Telgar, that Lytol is still trying to make his living in High Reaches, and that Bargen, the other son of Faroguy, is currently camped out in High Reaches Weyr and running raids and harassment against Fax.
Hey look, we have an heir! So everyone will get right to disposing of Fax in a convenient way. Then you can have each of the conquered holds reassert their independence, Bargen can take over High Reaches, and badda-bing! Peace in the land.
Of course it won’t happen that way, and the justification given this time is that harpers are almost as reviled as dragonriders in Fax’s territories. Except that’s essentially Fax’s rule, not Bargen’s. So Bargen would need to go in with a full cabinet in mind and possibly be a little heavier on the hand with administrating for the first few Turns, but it’s still doable.
And with that, we come to the end of the chapter. I’m starting to really get annoyed at all the missed opportunities to do Fax in, or otherwise justify raising an army or six and kicking his ass.