Last week, a wedding! And some interesting backstory for the new Harper, and yet more about a girl who lives to sneak out but isn’t actually allowed out.
Dragon’s Kin: Chapter III: Content Notes: Whatever the equivalent of fridging is for parents dying to make orphans, cave-ins, speciesism, dying animal companions,
Watch-wher, Watch-wher in the night,
Guard our Hold, keep it right,
When the morning sun does come,
Watch-wher, then your job is done.
Unless you’re in a mine, and then you might have quite a shift ahead of you.
Kindan is slowly adjusting to life without his sister – he’s become her, unofficially, in terms of waking everyone up and making breakfast and keeping the fire going. Danil is asking him to check in on Dask, as well. But otherwise, things continue as they have been. Well, except that Master Zist is a terrible teacher, berating his students for their shortcomings. Sula’s letters because she wants to bake, Kaylek’s maths because he’ll need to figure out how to prevent cave-ins. Only Kindan has apparently escaped, but it’s actually because he decided that he’s going to go all-in on trying to be the best student he can be at all times. Which paradoxically allows him to find diplomatic restraint and to help Kaylek with his maths.
The action slows down the first day that Kaylek is to join his brothers in the mine, in that Kindan accompanies his brothers to see them off, we see that Zenor is accompanying his father for today, and we are told that Dask has been very on edge recently, which makes nobody happy.
That’s your foreshadowing warning. It goes downhill from here.
The children in Master Zist’s class notice that something has gone wrong first, because it’s too quiet and the background sound they’re used to isn’t there. Then the children see coal dust coming from the mine shaft. Not too soon after that, the mine alarm sounds and every child old enough to be of help is running full-speed to the mine shaft, lessons forgotten. Zist, having not been informed by his predecessor about what to do in case of emergency (or much of anything at all about mining, it seems), keeps the younger children with him and starts to rehearse ballads with them to try and keep their minds off what is happening outside. The mine alarm sounding again crushes that hope, and then we shift over to Kindan, arriving at the mine to the sight of a very wounded Dask.
Kindan asks what happened, as Dask leads him into the shaft.
Dask gave him the sound for “bad air.”
“Why didn’t you warn them?” Kindan asked.
Dask made an annoyed bleek and then the sound for “fast.”
“It happened too fast?” Kindan repeated. The watch-wher nodded.
It sounds like anyone can learn to handle a watch-wher if they go through enough training to understand them and care for them. Which does make you wonder why they aren’t more widespread in later Passes, but that’s chronology questions that become thorny when your setting is chronologically earlier and your publication date is chronologically later.
Kindan concludes the cause was an explosion of gas, because that’s the only thing that could take Dask by surprise. Dask leads the rescue party to the right part of the cave-in be then begins furiously digging, ignoring his own wounds in an attempt to get to the trapped miners. Kindan can’t discourage Dask from this, and when he appeals to Natalon, we are fairly starkly reminded that watch-whers will never be seen as more than pets or equipment.
Natalon looked over at the watch-wher. “We need him here now, especially as he seems to know where our men are.”
“But…he could bleed to death,” Kindan cried, tugging at Natalon’s sleeve.
“Do what you can for him but don’t stop him, lad,” Natalon said. “Your father’s on the other side.
[…Kindan runs out and asks Margit, the healer, for bandages for Dask…]
“You want my good bandages for the watch-wher?” she demanded, affronted.
“If he bleeds to death before he finds your mate, it’ll be your fault!”
“Why, you impertinent little scut!” Margit responded, stopping at him with the towel she had in one hand.
Kindan swipes bandages anyway, and is trying to get Dask to slow down, but Dask hisses at him and digs harder until he breaks through to the trapped miners. Kindan is sent to shout for stretchers, and by the time he gets back, it’s too late for Dask.
Back in the shaft, Dask was lying in a lump, his big eyes fitfully gleaming. He didn’t even pick up his head as Kindan knelt beside him. The first of the rescued men was being hauled out on a stretcher as Kindan tried to staunch the ichor that streamed out of the neck gash.
“Oh, Dask, what have you done to yourself?” he keened as he felt the unsteady neck pulse.
Dask curled his neck, placing his head on Kindan’s lap and sighing sadly. Kindan began to scratch behind Dask’s ears, soothing the beast as well he could. And so, having led the rescuers to the trapped men, Dask finished his life.
Excuse me for a moment.
“We’ll get the dead ones out now,” Natalon said. He paused beside Kindan, patting his head kindly. “Your father’s neck was broken, lad. And your brothers are half buried under rubble. We’ll get their bodies before night falls.”
Kindan sat there a long time, holding the heavy head of the watch-wher, absently scratching ears that were turning stiff, his lap covered in green ichor, until Natalon returned for a final inspection.
“Still here, boy? Come, it’s nearly dark.”
“But Dask is dead, Natalon.”
Natalon crouched down beside the boy and saw his tear-streaked face. He mopped some of the tears from the coal-dust-smeared face and touched Kindan tenderly on the head.
“There’s a big hole not too far away from here where I will see he is buried, Kindan, but you must come with me now. It’s all over down here.”
Natalon had to help the grieving boy to his feet, ignoring Kindan’s repeated request to stay by the watch-wher.
“He made a good end, Kindan. He was a fine beast.”
Well, I can fairly clearly see the influence of the new writer, who has managed to convey the terrible disaster that happened, but also the utter callousness that everyone else seems to have toward Dask, and the way that Natalon is not helping with the grieving process, nor did he lift a hand when Kindan told him that his best hope for finding those trapped miners was bleeding out in his desperation to get back to them. So they’ve also earned this, too.
Zenor, we find out, survived. Because (to twist the knife) Kaylek shoved him out of the way of the rockfall. And Chapter III ends with Kindan holding Zenor’s hand all the way through the night, as they sleep. Margit, when she discovers this, covers Kindan with a blanket.
So, Natalon’s mine has no watch-wher, and has lost a significant amount of experienced hands to the disaster. Kindan has lost his family, except for his sister and a couple brothers. And because Pern has no social safety net, the mine will re-open soon and children far too young to be working that kind of job will have to.
I think this is the first time we’ve seen the details of the tragedies wrought by humans, and that our main character will become special not through his talents, but through his tragedies.
Well, I said I wanted a lower decks episode, didn’t I? Perhaps I am getting my wish, possibly with an author somewhat attuned to view terrible things are for the serfs of Pern.