The last two chapters were meant to give Robinton unnecessary pain, while advancing the Fax plot and slipping in the accident that made L’tol Lytol.
And F’lon talked Robinton out of his grief enough to get him functional again, before Melongel sent him back to the Harper Hall to get away from the memories.
The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter XV: Content Notes: Parental Death
The problem with that idea is made abundantly clear when Robinton gets back and hears someone playing his Sonata. Tracking it down to the source, he finds Merelan, Petiron, and instrumentalists playing it. This, understandably, sets Robinton off completely – his love song is being played by someone he hates. Merelan pleads with him to allow Kasia’s memory to live on in the song.
And for once in his life, Petiron is not an asshole.
Then his father cleared his throat. “The Sonata is the best music you’ve ever written,” Petiron said, without a trace of condescension in his voice.
Robinton turned slowly to look at the Mastercomposer.
“It is,” he said, and turning on his heel, he left the room.
Forgiveness requires much more than finally acknowledging ability, Petiron. But you finally figured out how to give a compliment to your son.
Robinton can both acknowledge the skill of the practice and not want to be anywhere near that music, so he takes a trip out to try and get the memories out, but they won’t go away. So it’s a good thing when Gennell has an emergency and Robinton has to go to the South Boll area to take over for a harper with a broken leg. Merelan tells him the sonata got a standing ovation when played before he goes.
Robinton, at South Boll, gets a few hints that grief might be passing, in that he attracts the attention of Laela, who is determined to “lift the sadness from his eyes” (which Robinton swore to do to Kasia), and who Robinton finds quite attractive. Laela is apparently a free spirit who gives her attentions as she will. Robinton is also reminded of a beat he started while trying to stay alive and awake at the ship during his honeymoon, and some notes start to coalesce in his head, as well. So composition seems to be returning.
Then F’lon comes to visit to announce the birth of his son by Larna, Fallarnon, who will grow up to be the Benden Weyrleader we know and…follow through the books. And two days later, Larna dies. (Robinton learns this by message.) Robinton sends his condolences, although he’s jealous that F’lon has a son to remember her with.
Eventually, Robinton makes it back to the Hall, and corners the Masterhealer about his mother’s health, receiving assurance that she’s being looked after, and that Merelan eating well but losing weight is a concern for her as well. And will go to Keroon on assignment, with a list of places not to go to, because those places are not welcoming to Harpers and consider the songs told to be lies. I still want to see this place, and not from the perspective of the Harpers themselves, because it would be fascinating. But there’s only ever hints and mentions.
Before leaving, though, Robinton meets a person that doesn’t officially exist (whom he has seen before when with Chochol, but was told to forget), who goes by the name Nip and reports directly to Gennell. Robinton asks about a Harper who didn’t manage to escape Fax and is told he died in the mines. Both Nip and Robinton swear their revenge against Fax.
Robinton does his best to deal with doubters, copying out the Charter to leave behind so that people could see it, and runs into Nip again, dressed as a runner, who lets him in on how Gennell always knows where not to send a Harper – the spy network that Nip is part of. Nip also mentions that runner Station Masters are the people in the know, if Robinton ever needs to ask.
After Keroon and then Nerat, Robinton returns home to find his mother very clearly on her way out of life. Ginia has done all she can do, and fought to keep Merelan alive so that Robinton could be home for it. Petiron and Robinton keep her company, together, in her last days.
The end was unexpectedly peaceful. He held one of Merelan’s hands and Petiron the other, and she managed a feeble smile and a press of her gaunt fingers. Then she sighed, as Kasia had done, and was still. Neither man could move. Neither wished to relinquish the lifeless hand he held.
It was Ginia who gently unwrapped their fingers and laid first one hand, then the other across her frail chest.
Petiron broke first, sobbing bitterly. “How could you leave me, Merelan? How could you leave me?”
Robinton looked up at the man who was his father and thought that Petiron was taking Merelan’s death as a personal affront. But Petiron had been possessive of her all her life. Why should he change at her death? And yet, Robinton felt immense pity for the man.
Robinton is not likely wrong, but that particular phrasing is the same he used for Kasia, and that a lot of people use for the person they lost.
Also, before someone touches off the fireworks that are about to happen, I might note that grief has us say and do terrible things to each other. Sometimes it’s saying what we don’t actually mean. Sometimes it’s finally saying the things we’ve been meaning to say all along.
“Father…” he is, rising slowly to his feet.
Petiron blinked and looked at his son as if he shouldn’t be there. “You must leave. She was all I ever had. I must be alone with her in my grief.”
“I grieve, too. She was my mother.”
“How can you possibly know my pain?” The older man clutched at his chest, fingers digging into fabric and flesh.
Robinton almost laughed. He heard an inarticulate sound come from Ginia and held up his hands to answer for himself.
“How could I possibly know, Petiron? How can you say that to me? I know far too well how you must feel right now.”
Petiron’s eyes widened and he stared at his son, remembering. Then his sobbing renewed, his spirit so devastated by Merelan’s death that Robinton, moving without thought, came around the bed and took his father in his arms to comfort him.
Petiron never wrote another note of music. Merelan had been his inspiration. Her death altered him as she could have wished he had altered during her lifetime. He and Robinton never became friends, but Petiron became easier in his son’s company. Master Gennell remarked on how much grief had mellowed the man.
Heartbroken, instead of incensed. I’m surprised, frankly. Losing the only thing he cared about did quite the number on Petiron.
Not soon after this, Betrice dies of a heart attack, and Halanna reappears, “now a sedate and plumply happy spouse and mother,” to ask of she can sing for the funerals of Merelan and Betrice because “[i]n spite of what a nasty child I was then, it was those two who finally stuffed some sense in my conceited head,” and I’m immediately off of grief and straight back into anger, because there was a lot of abuse that happened long before any “sense” came around, and Halanna still believes she deserved it for being who she was. I’m also giving the author a stinkeye for portraying Halanna as happy and fatter in her domestic bliss, daring us to notice that her attitude changed significantly once she both accepted the role the patriarchy had laid out for her and in losing the body that turned heads when she was younger. Halanna might be the most happy person on Pern, through her own choosing, and completely content with her life, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and there’s not nearly enough of that here for me to accept the claim.
So Halanna sings, and it’s good, and Gennell asks Robinton to find more women for the hall, because there aren’t as many studying at the Hall any more. Halanna sings, Maizella sings, but not as many. Which makes the second extraordinary claim in as many pages, because we’re supposed to believe that women just stop coming of their own accord, and there’s no shift in the Hall or the world outside that would account for this.
Time passes, and Robinton ascends to his Mastery, still being sent out a lot on assignment. F’lon has his second son, Famanoran, by Manora, who is fostering his first son. He complains about a queen dragon with no interest in mating because her rider is afraid of heights, and that nobody in the Weyr wants to take him seriously about the danger of Fax, who Robinton refuses to title since he hasn’t had the formal confirmation.
“Oh, he’s busy.” F’lon’s grin turned wickedly malicious. “Still can’t get any male issue, and he’s plowing any pretty girl he can find. Isn’t safe to be female in High Reaches any longer. And his dueling? Ha!” He raised both hands again. “He’s got a grand way to rid himself of any who’d oppose him. He insults a man to the point of a fight. And he always wins. Then he puts in those oafs and dimwits of his in any prosperous hold…and continues to encroach wherever he can.”
My suspension of disbelief is being sorely tested in this chapter. Mostly because someone who pillages across the countryside, kills and insults people and rapes women has a tendency to end up dead. Fax can delay this problem with competent lieutenants and administrators that can keep his holdings running, but he apparently doesn’t have that. There should be enough blood feuds and the Pernese equivalent of assassination contracts out on Fax that someone has to get lucky. Possibly even those “pretty girls” he is apparently trying to get pregnant. Someone might even offer themselves to him for a night, only to stab him through the head with a needle, knife, or other thing. There should be more stories about how Fax is obscenely lucky to avoid dying so much.
Time passes, and F’lon gets his wish to be Weyrleader of Benden. More pressing for Robinton is a rash of Harpers being attacked and beaten on their way to or from their assignments, as well as an increasing number of holds that want them only for music or not at all. One is beaten so severely that talking will be painful and he will never play again with the same skill due to his broken hands and fingers. Robinton rides out with an escort of five bruisers to bring Evenek, that Harper, back to the Hall. Lord Grogellan is appalled at the treatment and makes a formal protection promise. (We also find out Ginia’s assistant is Oldive.)
Gennell starts sending Robinton out more frequently, often as his representative, everywhere he can go, before finally admitting to Robinton the reason for doing so: he wants Robinton to succeed him as the Masterharper. Robinton protests that he’s much too young, but Gennell says they need someone young. Robinton says that are others to take the job. Gennell says they endorsed, or at least didn’t actively oppose, Robinton. Gennell says he’s had Robinton picked out for the job since he saw the young Robinton talking to the dragons. Robinton realizes how well he’s been snookered, but the conversation ends with the birth of a small baby girl at Ruatha. Hello, Lessa.
A couple days after that, Robinton witnesses Grogellan’s wife Winalla refusing to let Grogellan have an appendectomy, because it’s “barbaric” to cut into him. Ginia and Oldive note that it’s much more like removing tonsils, which happened to Winalla when she was young.
Because Grogellan gets no surgery, he dies in intense pain later that day. Groghe is elected lord of Fort. Not soon after, Fax forcibly conquers Crom. And yet, the only things the Lords do is drill their own border patrols, despite clear evidence of a massive breach of autonomy and the Charter. There’s no trial in absentia, as what happened with Chalkin, and nobody seems to be able to find the honking precedent or the right section of the Charter to justify mobilization and pushing Fax back. Even if you could only get them to sign on to brushing Fax back to the borders of High Reaches, that would be sufficient action to point out that they aren’t going to stand for that particular issue. And if Fax complains, they can hash it out properly among peers.
The next winter, Gennell dies, and there’s an election scheduled for spring. Nobody wants to leave the Hall without a leader for that long, though. Robinton tries to get away from it all by hanging out in the kitchen, where Silvina, now headwoman, helps keep him in good supply. And, apparently, in good sexy times, since she’s apparently “quite willing to bed him whenever he stopped long enough at the Hall to renew their friendship.” But then the drums stop for a moment, and it’s official – the Masters Harper have elected Robinton to be the MasterHarper by unanimous decree. Then there’s the party.
And then comes the morning. Robinton is hung over, but Petiron is in his office.
“As one of your first duties as MasterHarper, Robinton, I wish you to assign me to a post,” his father said in a stiff and formal tone. “I think you will do well in this office. I wish you the best, but I feel that my presence here in the Hall might cause you embarrassment…”
There’s a little back-and-forth about how necessary it is, but Petiron insists and Robinton knows he’s right. Petiron picks for himself Half-Circle Seahold, a place that Robinton exclaims is the “back end of nowhere” and Petiron justifies as being a place that hasn’t had a harper in six turns. Robinton acquiesces, even as he worries about the fact that Half-Circle is extremely isolated. And that’s chapter XV, with deaths and elections and a self-imposed exile.
Pern is terrible, and the politicking is yet to come.