Last time, a night spent under the stars turned into an all-out brawl between Zaranth, Golanth, their riders, and a horde of big cats. Zaranth taught the rest of the dragons their telekinesis to get them to help fling the cats away, and Ramoth was able to deflect a killing blow through a snap amount of timing it. All four are resting up as we go to the meeting of the Council, which has much to discuss.
The Skies of Pern, Part 4, Segments II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI: Content Notes: Ablism, Toxic Masculinity, Sexism,
(Telgar Hold, 3.1.31)
Lessa stays the viewpoint character while she and her mate prepare for the suddenly very full council meeting, having to discuss an attack on the Printer Hall, a confirmation of a new Lord Holder, a different attack on dragons, and the proposal to make the Dragonriders of Pern into the Astronomers of Pern. There’s a nice detail about the “Telgar shield of white, bright red, and medium blue” to remind us that heraldry is still very much alive and well in this world.
Larad gets the elevator version of what happened, and Lessa stresses that the knowledge that has been used to heal everyone has a significant AIVAS component to it, so that anyone listening would get the hint. Lessa also notes the dragons have a significant color improvement to themselves, and is as gracious as she can manage when Larad’s wife, Lady Dulsay, suggests that it’s a burden to be at the council meeting instead of taking care of her son.
Also let slip, in a discussion of how Lord Sangel, all his sons, as well as several others of his line, all died in a plague, is that the Healer Hall has and has been using vaccinations! Presumably not in quite the same way they figured it out in Moreta, but that’s still a significant advance in medicine.
When the local-to-Telgar Weyrleaders arrive, Lessa asks if Larad and Dulsay have met them.
“Oh, yes. They arrived the very next day,” and Lessa was surprised to see Lady Dulsay blush. “Most respectful to let us know how the Weyrleadership had been decided.”
“Good of them to be prompt to introduce themselves,” Lessa said, suppressing a desire to grin. Why was it that holders were invariably embarrassed by mating flights? It wasn’t as if Dulsay and Larad hadn’t been very much attached to each other when they had formally wed.
As a characterization bit, this is useful for showing how much Lessa had internalized dragonrider values in the decades since she came to the Weyr from her hold. I don’t think it’s quite as nice, though, that it suggests dragonrider values don’t think all that hard about even the obvious consequences of their actions. Everything we’ve been told so far about Hold culture mirrors a lot of what Latin Chtistendom’s values were. They’re focused on making sure the Bloodlines stay (relatively) pure, that marriages are to political advantage, and that property rights can easily and cleanly be passed on to the next generation of nobles. To achieve this, sex has to be heavily regulated and controlled. (Which is what Dunca’s function was at the Healer Hall – a chaperone to try and make sure the marriage-eligible daughters of Holders didn’t become ineligible by having a fling with a passing Harper.) Right next door, however, are the anarchic hedonists that they pay tribute to. Dragonriders own no property (at least, while they’re in active service), have a small amount of military ranking as their social structure, and every so often, as the lusts of themselves or their dragons consume them, they participate in free sex with no regard to rank or Bloodline. They even decide who is in charge by sex. Furthermore, there’s a high probability that the holders have experienced those powerful sexual urges by proxy thanks to being close enough to a mating flight flying overhead. If they extrapolate that dragons and/or riders feel like that much of the time, you can imagine what a Holder might conclude is what goes on in a Weyr much of the time. And that’s without knowing whether the new Weyrleaders were being deliberately graphic to induce embarrassment in the prudes or not. Even people who know the mechanics of sex, and may have even had a significant portion of it themselves might be embarrassed if they heard or saw something pornographic (or a sex act) in a public. Or if they were suddenly all-consumed with lust, and when they came back to themselves, they were naked in a field and had very clearly had sex with whomever had been nearest to them at the time the lust started. So there are lots of reasons to be embarrassed.
The meeting itself gets underway fairly easily, but Toric is immediately ready to try and disrupt it by claiming he got no news of the attacks by the felines. Nobody wants to back him up on this complaint, and so he sits down. Larad is ready to start the agenda with the matter of confirming a new Holder at Southern Boll, but Kashman, the Lord where the Printer Hall is situated, wants to discuss the “anarchic behavior[…]of Lord Jaxom, Weyrleader N’ton, and Masterprinter Tagetarl who arbitrarily exiled twelve people alleged to be Abominators” first. Groghe reminds everyone present about what they’ve already agreed to, but it takes Sebell projecting his voice above the brewing argument before anyone feels like paying attention. Toric tries to get out of having to follow the agenda, but he doesn’t have as many allies as he thinks.
“Why don’t you just agree to the girl and let us get to the real issues?” Toric demanded.
“But she’s a woman!” Kashman protested. “There hasn’t been a Lady Holder, except in a temporary capacity for…”
“Not since Lady Sicca ran Ista,” Groghe said. “My grandfather had great respect for her. For that matter, all of us here, bar you who are new come to the Council honors,” and Groghe emphasized that, “know that Lady Marella’s been running Boll for the past five Turns since Sangel began to deteriorate. Lady Janissian has been her steward and she certainly proved her worth during the Fireball Flood. Those cousins of hers removed themselves and their belongings to high ground and stayed there without lifting a finger. Neither of them should hold.”
“For that matter,” Lessa said, “Emily Boll held those lands in her own right. As I see it, that Holdership has come full circle and about time.”
Lady Dulsay, Adrea, Master Ballora, and Palla were bold enough to second her.
Bargen of High Reaches (who has turned out to be Lord post-Fax after all) insists on the Council considering other male relatives of Sangel’s, but each of them is found deficient nearly immediately, and Toric irritably asks for a vote so they can get on with the meeting. While the votes are being cast and collected, we learn something we’ve always suspected, but hasn’t actually been confirmed until now.
“Holding began with Paul Benden. There’s nothing wrong with Fort’s Bloodline. But that form of inheritance is not in the Charter, you know.”
[The Benden Weyrleader] regarded [Lessa] in mild surprise. “No, actually, it isn’t. Holders and all those traditions came later.”
And those traditions managed to not only come in conflict with the Charter, they buried that Charter until it was unearthed with the AI. For as much as this timeline would like you to believe that the Charter has always been with Pern, there’s only a few ways where the vassalage system could have grown out of the Randian pastoral paradise envisioned by the colonists. Suppression of said Charter is one of the easiest.
Janissian is confirmed and invited to sit at the table, at a gathering hosted by Larad. How much Thella must be fuming from the afterlife, and even more so that there was an installed Lady Holder within the living memory of the Council members, by the brother that she was passed over for. Thella should have had her hearing, by rights, and at least have been formally removed from consideration for some reason, rather than been told “lol no, no girls allowed.” because there were other men in the line that would have had precedence over Janissian by rights of primogeniture.
Of course, if any of Sangel’s sons had survived, this conversation would not be happening, because then they could just confirm him, regardless of how God an administrator he would be, because son and Bloodlines.
I hope Janissian manages to pass her Holdership to her daughter.
Then the meeting turns to the business at the Printer Hall, and Kashman wants to know why the accused were not brought to him for justice. Lytol and Sebell remind him that Crafthalls are autonomous, and since the offense happened in a Crafthall, they do not have to defer to the local Lord Holder. Kashman wonders how people from so very far away were in the right place to pass judgment, which betrays that Kashman doesn’t know enough about fire-lizard messages, yet. Bargen closes the rhetorical door in Kashman’s face by pointing out the precedent already in place and that the correct procedure was followed for exile, then requests to move on to the topic of keeping the skies clear. The Benden Weyrleader begins to present the recommendations, to Toric’s (and a few others) outrage at being taxed more, before the dragons outside roar and restore order that way. Fandarel points out his Hall can’t make the telescopes needed, but withdraws his concern when told they’ll use the ones in the Catherine Caves. Jaxom and Larad point out they’ve already started the work on building their observatory spots, the entire council is abuzz about the Western Continent site, and the Benden Weyrleader sets Toric up to ask all the right questions about how the dragonriders will be able to support themselves, either with holds or by joining the Star Hall, in the After, and that lets the Benden Weyrleader point out that the dragons have a new tool in their box that they can use to divert objects that get too close to Pern for comfort. The rest of the council votes to approve and supply the idea, much to Toric’s aggravation. The rest of the segment is Toric wandering the grounds for an arranged meeting with Dorse that never happens, but Fifth is there and stands in his place. We learn that Toric is also curious about the circumstances of the deaths of Robinton and AIVAS, but the narrative cuts away to Honshu without revealing any details of the meeting.
Thankfully, it’s Tai (3.01.31) recovering that they’re focusing on, and Tai is getting significantly annoyed that everyone keeps treating her like she can’t do anything. However, she’s getting taken on a tour to see everyone else (not by walking herself, which would be too much strain, but being carried from place to place), in the order of Golanth’s rider, who seems cheered by her presence, Golanth, who still has a lot of healing to do, and Zaranth, who took the lightest damage and is healing very well. The other people there cheerfully admit that they’re taking Tai on the tour because both Golanth and his rider will believe Tai if she says that she’s seen the other and they’re getting stronger and recovering, which is an important part of both of them getting stronger and recovering. Her tour complete, Tai sits at the bronze rider’s side while the narrative shifts over to other places.
As it turns out, not every dragon has the knack for telekinesis, and those that do definitely lack the fine control needed to move things safely by themselves. In pairs they seem to be able to exert the necessary control, but it’s essentially learning how to cut paper into art when your life has been swinging sledgehammers. Plenty of not-dragonriders are hard at work setting up the new observatory sites. Plenty of others are trying to assemble everything they know about dragons. When the narrative hops back to Honshu, the focus is still on healing the dragons and riders.
Eventually Tai hits her limit of peopleing and heads out to be by herself for a time, slipping away from the very attentive medics while the other rider and dragon sleep. Her choice of a swim means a pod of dolphins comes by and clicks and plays and asks questions and eventually surround Tai as she sleeps in the ocean. When she comes back, she discovers Golanth’s rider out of bed and trying to get to his dragon. Eventually, and with help from Zaranth, Tai helps undo the stitches holding Golanth’s eye closed, so it will stop itching. And, as it turns out, Golanth has a small amount of sight in the damaged eye, which makes his rider, and Tai, weep with joy. Zaranth helps deposit the two back into bed, so they don’t have to walk all the way back, and the two of them talk about Tai’s adventure and have a peaceful sleep together.
At least, until they get discovered, but right before that, there’s the first time we see on page that someone offers Tai a choice. I don’t know if it’s because the Honshu Weyrholder is now “a far cry from the dashing, blithe, youthful Benden Wingleader” due to his injuries, or that he’s finally realizing what’s gone on in Tai’s life about choosing, and the ways he’s also contributed to her trauma and their injuries, but finally, he asks her consent.
“I’m going to insist that we occupy this room from now on. It’s big enough so you won’t be bashing into me. You’re a quiet sleeper anyway. I don’t think you moved all night.”
“They have to be somewhere,” they heard Keita shouting.
“That is, if it’s your choice, Tai?”
For a split second–wanting to throw her arms about him in an excess of relief–he didn’t know where it was safe to embrace him. So she demurely rubbed her head against his left shoulder. “I choose. I choose you in any condition and any way I get to choose you.”
I’m not fully sure this is a free choice, because Tai still has trauma to work through, but this is definitely the most consensual the Honshu Weyrholder, or any other dragonrider, for that matter, has been about whether or not their mates get to choose the relationship. It doesn’t erase the previous terrible everything, but it could be, with a lot of work, the foundation of a good relationship.
There’s a little more of affection and application of healing salves and suggestions that the Honshu Weyrholder get out and swim some himself, and a short bit of how being telekinetically moved by the dragons is much more teleportation rather than telekinetics, but essentially, it’s happy making up time for those two/four.
Which means the narrative can move forward and return to the subject that it started with – Shankolin, son of Norist, who now has the backing of Toric to go observe and plan the destruction of the Admin building at Landing. Which is a terrible idea if you’re Toric, but it’s also possible that Toric has been backing and bankrolling the faction since its inception, through intermediaries such as Dorse. If there’s ever evidence that can be traced back to Toric, like the notes that he’s personally written to get Shankolin in to see the remains of AIVAS, he’s sunk as a Lord, and likely on his way to exile as well. But Toric’s hat seems to be having ambitions that are way beyond his ability to execute, as well as routinely thinking himself the smartest in the room.
Shankolin, as he passes by Monaco Bay, dismisses the story of dolphins ringing the bell due to his inland upbringing. As if the narrative needed to establish again that he’s pretty resistant to new ideas. Arriving at Landing, he meets with his contact, who turns out to be Master Esselin, and Toric is apparently calling in favors with Esselin to get him to help Shankolin. Esselin destroys and buries the note Shankolin gave him from Toric and leads the Luddite leader into the AIVAS chamber, even as Shankolin recoils from things like lights that come on at dawn and an archive full of books. He’s plotting explosive destruction for the whole complex when he arrives at the AIVAS chamber and strides over the threshold to see the terminated computer.
That was as far as Shankolin got. From the opposite wall of the chamber two narrow shafts of light struck him on the chest at heart height. He was dead before he fell backward.
Not that we don’t appreciate a good deus ex machina, but praytell, if AIVAS is deactivated, then who’s running an upgraded defense protocol that can recognize someone from before and apply lethal force? Thankfully, after Lytol and D’ram arrive to see what happened, they speculate that AIVAS didn’t fully turn itself off, and that things like the self-defense protocols were still active, and recognized Shankolin as a threat. Pinch is notified and comes to confirm the death.
Pinch hoped it took a long while before Lord Toric realized that Fifth, too, was no longer available. Now, if he could just find Fourth and neutralize her, they might forget about Abominators.
Esselin did not recover from the shock he had received and died a few days later of a hemorrhage in the brain. Or so the Healer at Landing said. The incident was forgotten as quickly as possible and Tunge soon resumed his duty of keeping the Aivas Chamber neat and tidy.
And thank you for that chilling reminder of how easy it is for Our Heroes to be every bit as ruthless as their opponents. Since Pinch knows that Toric is involved, I’m surprised he hasn’t met a convenient end, like Esselin did. No doubt the Healer responsible did everything he could to save the Master who had been caught assisting an enemy of Pern. Brrrr.
The narrative leaves us on that beat to go back to Honshu, where a smart carpenter suggests building a ramp for Golanth to get up and down from while his wing continues to not be functional, and there’s a laugh about asking how much the dragon weighs. The ramp gets built, and in the noise of that, people have enlarged the beasthold to be a big enough weyr for Golanth to get in away from the rain, and that triggers the realization in his rider that their days of being dragonriders are over, and had been since the attack. And the realization that a grounded Golanth won’t be able to mate, either. The Benden Weyrleaders, arriving from conveniently off-screen, point out the problem of getting Golanth aloft is easily solvable when you have telekinetic dragons. Which allows him to squelch the bad mood and enjoy his dragon’s joy. Tai also reaffirms her choosing of the rider, to put the cherry on top of this sundae.
And the narrative flits away again to Southern Hold (3.23.31), because Toric is still a loose end. And it’s receiving a shipment of canines from a handler that identifies himself as Pinch. Said canines are muzzled, but also trained to hand and voice signals. Toric thinks they’ll be great to have his sons train, and maybe keep a pair for himself as guard dogs. And then ruminates, after a Runner tells him there’s no messages for him, about how Fifth kept his organization too secret to be discovered, how Dorse was worth every bit of his salary to cause trouble, that Kashman might be a useful ally against Jaxom, and that Esselin hasn’t given him any other messages.
He then notices Fourth is here to meet with him, and Pinch observes the two of them talking, stays a bit to help the sons train the dogs, then leaves instructions and sketches with Sintary before returning to the Harper Hall.
Back to Honshu, where the bronze rider seems to be settling in well…when he’s not thinking about all the things he can’t do now.
The facts that he would never lead a wing again and that Golanth might never fly Zaranth. That he didn’t like–especially since Zaranth was a young dragon and would need a good male to keep her company. He, [bronze rider], certainly didn’t wish to share Tai with another rider–any other male. She enjoyed being with him now, relaxed, eager, and he wasn’t going to have her response to him destroyed by some heavy-handed rider with no sensitivity for her marvelous, intricate personality.
I don’t know whether to classify this as progress or not. He seems to have finally made it to the spot where he considers consent to be important, as well as the part where both partners should enjoy themselves, but he’s still thinking of Tai as his to share or not share as he decides, which is still very wrong and makes me worry what he’ll be like if Tai and/or Zaranth take a fancy or want a fling with someone else. Not that the author or the narrative would allow it, since Tai is supposed to be the reward received for leveling up his humanity to his point.
The bronze rider does find inspiration from other sources, though.
Abruptly, another revelation occurred to him. Lytol, with his scarred and seamed face! He has been dragonless for Turns, ever since his brown Larth has died in a routine training flight at Benden: a training flight during which R’gul had allowed his dragon the chance to chew firestone and flame. Only Larth had caught flame in the face and so had Lytol. The dragon had managed to land his gravely wounded rider with the last breath in him. That should have been the end of the rider, as a person–a dragonless man.
Tradition said dragonless riders suicided rather than live without their dragon. But Lytol had defied that convention and had become far more than a dragonrider. He had been a Lord Holder for Jaxom’s minority; he had then turned his hand to help Master Robinton and D’ram to manage Landing as a major Hold to the satisfaction of everyone involved. Now, Lytol and D’ram, in addition to bearing blind Wansor company, had accepted yet another role for which they were unusually qualified: as wise consultants for the complex society of the planet. Briefly [he] wondered, even as his soul cringed at the thought: would he have had the courage to build a new life-lives, in fact–as Lytol had done, if Golanth had succumbed to his injuries?
[He] gave a snort of disgust for his self-absorption. The time he had wasted. As Tai had said, there would be a way. Lytol had made several, and the example of the man’s quiet heroism rebuked him.
Okay, almost inspiration. Or what passes for inspiration when filtered heavily through toxic masculinity, anyway. I’d bet the bronze rider would get a very different picture if he actually talked to Lytol about all of it. But he has to get over himself first, as when he has a setback later on, this is how his thought process goes:
“I forgot the cane,” he said through clenched teeth. The euphoria of his ride here on Golanth instantly dissipated. He glanced across the sands to the Hold, a long walk for a man with a lame leg. He did not want to fall on his face in front of Lytol or D’ram. How humiliating that would be. He was still incapacitated. His dragon was still injured. He would never again be what he had once been: the carefree self-indulgent bronze Wingleader from Benden Weyr!
So there’s still a lot of work to be done about accepting who you are now.
Before he has to think too hard about all of it, though, a set of dragons arrive to practice their lifting of Golanth and to see if he can handle the hyperspace hop. Which he can. And then we get Lessa reflecting on her son’s life, and the terrible possibility that it might have ended with the attack, and a short conversation with the Benden Weyrleader about the Luddite faction, where we hear yet more of how Our Heroes think about them.
“Such people are afraid of what they don’t understand, won’t understand. So they pretend to despise and reject it since they can’t and won’t understand. They retaliate by defiance and witless destruction. And claim they’re acting on behalf of people and for reasons those people don’t understand either. It may just be a sign of our changing times. And life on our planet is indeed changing.”
“For the better?” she murmured.
He tipped her head up with one finger and lightly kissed her lips. “Definitely for the better.”
And if you’re part of the upper economic stratum, yeah, things are getting better on Pern. But there’s all those people who aren’t, and they can see how new technologies can be harnessed to enslave them even further. Those people aren’t getting any consideration at all, and it’s unsurprising that they turn to destruction as a way of getting their voices heard. It doesn’t work, with the deck so stacked against them, but it’s one way of trying. I think the next several waves will not be about destruction but subversion. Perhaps a sympathetic Printer will run off a few copies of the equivalent of the 95 Theses and let them spread around. Maybe the Runners will join in as soon as they find out that radio will replace them fairly soon. There are plenty of people who might join up because they see the writing on the wall and they’re tired of enriching the few. I’m waiting for the book where the general population of Pern is in open rebellion.
After this reflection, the bronze rider and his dragon are conveyed to Cove Hold by telekinesis. It turns out that the dragon can handle the hyperspace part by himself at least, although the dismount of the rider is pretty rough, and the aforementioned long walk, where he’s supported by Tai in an unobtrusive way. Which helps him realize the way he is going to have to order his life now – with support from others. The components for remote control of the Honshu telescope are ready for transport, and the bronze rider asks if he can properly study astronomy so as to have work to do at Honshu for the rest of the Fall and After. Then there’s a long explanation to Erragon and Wansor about dragon telekinesis and the suspicion that AIVAS wanted the dragons to push the wandering planet out of orbit, and the possibility that the cometary disaster could have been averted with a push to change its own orbit before impact. (Time-traveling dragons, we note, could avert the whole thing, but I guess we’re supposed to not question what would happen if they did do any of the things they’ve speculated about changing in history.) They ask for a northern array of weather satellites to help feed telemetry to the Yokohama, and point out that dragons can now lift things into orbit without an issue and can help position them, at least for the fifteen minutes they can hold their breath. And that’s the end of the book.
So we’re rapidly headed toward a story of Schizo Tech kind of world, where the peasants have to work the ground by hand and the elites will have radio technology and weather satellites at their disposal. I can’t see that diminishing the appeal of the Luddite faction any, especially as the disparities become more obvious.
Also, we’re hurtling pretty close to the point where stories about dragonriders are going to lose their appeal. There won’t be any more Thread, it’s unlikely dragons are going to corner the market on transport, and astronomy is only exciting when there’s something bearing down on the planet. But even then, the dragons can just move it away. What happens now?
There’s apparently one more short story before we get to that answer.