Dragon’s Kin: The Fine Art of Negotiation

Last time, Kindan was moved out of his family house for someone else, and came to reside with Master Zist, who has begun training him in the ways of the Harper, based on the recommendation from the previous Harper. There’s also some connection between the two that I’m hesitant to articulate yet, because there’s no evidence to support it, other than the way Zist has behaved this far about Kindan’s mother.

Dragon’s Kin, Chapter V: Content Notes:

A baby’s laugh, a mother’s sigh,
Sweet things make a day go by.

The action returns with Kindan telling Master Zist about the incoming trade caravan. Zist manages to avoid being caught out on his own ignorance of what this means by turning it into a task for Kindan to figure out how to get everything done so that the camp will be ready to welcome the traders. Kindan, for his part, succeeds admirably at the task by insinuating that he’s on orders from Zist to ask for the preparations, before heading to the mine to deliver the news to Natalon himself.

Zenor is the person working the air pumps that keep the miners from suffocating while they work, and he’s grumpy about not getting any action, at least until Kindan points out the position of trust he’s obtained by working the pumps. Zenor gives Kindan a sack of glows to take with him and lowers him down to the mine itself.

We might note that Kindan is not suffering any symptoms of PTSD, trauma, or terrible memories in any of this, nor is he having flashbacks or any other sign that being in the place that killed most of his family and the watch-wher is affecting him psychologically in any way. I find this highly improbable, given the magnitude of the trauma.

While he’s down there, Kindan studies the shoring of the mine shaft and reflects a bit that there aren’t enough people in the camp to cut trees to make more shoring. There’s no indication that Kindan has any feelings about whether more shoring would have saved anyone. Kindan delivers his message, puts the responsibility of assigning the new apprentices on Zist and Swanee (the camp supplier), using the same phrasing that Zist used to sidestep his own responsibility (“it would be an interesting challenge”), and goes to leave. Natalon offers to walk him back, and then asks Kindan pointedly how many coal drays (so it is the carts, and not the creatures, as was pointed out in the comments of an earlier post) the traders had with them. Kindan isn’t sure, and thinks it was four. Natalon says they have enough coal for five, almost six, and so if the traders came with six and not four, there’s a problem.

The camp could supply many of its own needs–lumber, coal, meat, some herbs and greens–but they needed flour, fabric, finished metal goods like pickaxes, spices, all the little incidentals that made living more than just drudgery.

Wait a minute. You’re telling me this mine camp doesn’t have a Smith on-site, despite the clear need for someone to do repair work, and that it doesn’t mine anything but coal for export? Despite also being in a remote location that traders only visit so often? There’s a supply chain assumption here that doesn’t make any sense at all. I would expect the mine to be much more self-sufficient and trade for luxuries and city-made stuff, not for basics like pickaxes.

Those goods had to be paid for, and coal was the way the camp paid for them. Traders preferred bagged coal, dry and ready to sell. They charged a penalty for wet coal, and another penalty for loose coal.

And where, praytell, is the camp getting the cloth / bags and the bindings for the coal so that the traders can have their ready-for-market material already set to make pure profit with? Probably from those same traders, so their “penalty” for coal that will dry by the time it gets to market and again for loose coal sounds much more like a company store line, with people taking advantage of the people who can’t get their goods except through trader caravans. I presume that money (in marks) is available at this point, but apparently the mine doesn’t get out have any of it?

If the caravan had only brought four coal drays, then the camp could only buy goods equal to that amount. But if the caravan brought six coal drays and Natalon only had enough for slightly more than five, there might be a bigger problem: No trader made a profit hauling half-filled wagons or, worse, empty ones. The trader could well decide to move on to another Camp in hopes of getting a full load. There’d be another caravan along soon that’d take what bagged coal Camp Natalon had, but it’d be at least another month.

[No, really, WHAT.]

In what universe does this even pretend to make sense? The setup presumes that there are other Camps nearby that can fill coal orders, and that Camp Natalon will be entirely passed by if they can’t fill everything up immediately. Like the traders move back to their base immediately after collecting a load and then set out again to the next camp to do the same thing. That’s extremely inefficient, as opposed to taking out the number of drays you need to visit a cluster of Camps and fill up and sell goods, and then maybe send the full ones back while the empty ones continue on to the next camp. The traders presumably should know about how much each camp will produce in the time between visits, and bring with them enough to haul what’s going to be available.

And this also assumes that each of the traders charges/barters the same as each of the others, which, unless all the traders are part of a guild or monopoly company, is ludicrous. Camp Natalon should know which trader companies will give them six drays worth of goods for six drays of coal, and which ones will give them five drays of goods for six drays of coal.

None of this makes sense. Which suggests nobody really thought about the economics of this whole they were writing it. *sigh*

As it is, Kindan and Natalon discuss what to do with regard to filling that sixth theoretical dray, which Natalon scolds Kindan for not actually counting, and they both conclude it will mean getting the trader to stay an extra day for enough coal to be bagged and loaded. Which Kindan also foists off on Zist to make happen. Zist, for his part, is happy Kindan set things in motion, is not happy at all that Kindan put Natalon’s problems in his lap, and realizes he’s going to have to bargain with the traders because Swanee is too honest to be effective.

“Traders are honest in their own way, too: They’ll always give you what you pay for, but they don’t go out of their way to be sure to give you their best price. That takes bargaining. Traders love to bargain.”
From the glint in Master Zist’s eyes, Kindan got the impression that the Harper enjoyed bargaining himself.

So Zist dumps responsibility for the entertainment of the night into Kindan’s lap, since Zist is no longer being Harper, but administrator.

This conversation also leads into a discussion about lies and secrets. Kindan feels like he lied to Natalon and the others because Zist didn’t give him explicit instructions for what he said. Zist suggests this is being a good subordinate by accomplishing the things that were desired, even without explicit phrasing and permission.

“A subordinate does walk a tender line between lies d truth. A subordinate is supposed to guess what his leader wants and guess correctly.” He wagged a finger at Kindan, eyebrows crunched together in warning. “You don’t want to be wrong when you’re my subordinate.”

I’d argue, at least from Kindan’s perspective, that he already guessed wrong three times while acting as a subordinate – the number of drays, the arrangements for the apprentices, and the trader negotiations, as all three have had negative consequences for Kindan, even if they might have been the right things to do in the broader narrative.

Kindan shrugged in weary acceptance. “But what about at the birthing? You didn’t ask me to see to it that Nuella was present, and we fooled Margit and Milla. If that’s not a lie, it’s certainly stretching the truth.”
“That was a difficult situation,” the Harper agreed. “You did well, by the way. Lies and secrets are related, Kindan. Secrets breed lies. Because Natalon wants to keep Nuella a secret, for reasons that I’m not allowed to tell you, you had to create some deceptions.”

Welcome to the world of grownups, Kindan. The world is not so black and white anymore.

Kindan offers possibilities as to why Natalon might want to hide Nuella, confirming that she’s both a girl and blind, but Zist sees through the ruse, offers no information, and tells Kindan to keep his conjectures to himself.

“So when is a secret a bad thing?”
“A secret’s a bad thing when it can be used to hurt others, or when it hides a hurt,” Master Zist said quickly. “You’ve an obligation, again as a harper, to expose a secret like that when you find it.”
“What sort of secret is that?” Kindan asked, mentally running through the small list of secrets he’d discovered about other people.
Master Zist made a sour face. “I once knew a man, who when he’d taken too much wine would lose his sense and temper. When he did that, he’d beat his children.” His lips tightened. “That’s that sort of secret.”
Kindan shivered at the thought. “So a bad secret is the sort of secret that when people know it, they can help?”
Master Zist considered his words before responding. “I suppose you could say that,” he replied.

I can feel the pull of the new author here, given that this is the first time that I’ve seen an explicit condemnation of child abuse. Even so, it’s couched in someone being an angry drunk. It’s progress, most definitely, but it’s a far cry away from a blanket condemnation of abuse of children (which the Masters of the Harper Hall have done with abandon, along with the seemingly accepted practice that beating your own child for disciplinary reasons is entirely okay) or a condemnation of abuse in general (which the dragonriders are definitely very guilty of on screen). It is better than it was. There’s still a long way to go.

Less heavily, Zist seems to have noted that Kindan has a tendency to use Exact Words and that he needs to be careful about what he tells Kindan, because the way he says it will be equally as important as the point he’s trying to make.

The traders arrive, with six drays, and Kindan ends up with the responsibility of fostering the apprentices for the mines that have come with the traders. He deftly foists four on Tarik’s house, having sweet-talked Dara with tales of the status she would gain in the camp, while knowing Tarik would be much less pleased, because he loved privacy. Two go with Toldur, and one with Norla when Kindan suggests that he’ll be working opposite shifts from Zenor, so Norla will always have an adult to talk to. (Norla, we recall, is managing the crèche and therefore might not have all that many opportunities to talk to someone that can converse back.)
Having settled the newcomers, Kindan returns to get ready for the party, to find Nuella crying in the study because Zist missed their scheduled lesson and she’s worried it means Zist isn’t happy with her. Kindan fills her in on what’s been going on in the camp today. Nuella is surprised the head of the trader group is a girl, and we can see the touches of the new author again.

Nuella sniffed. “I heard Milla say that a girl could be a baker or a mother, but that was all a girl was good for. She was complaining to Mother about it.”
“I can’t understand why Milla would complain,” Kindan said without thinking. “She’s a pretty good baker.”

That’s the first time I’ve heard gender stereotyping come out of the mouth of a woman, and the fact that Kindan’s reply is noted by the narrative as being thoughtless feels like the influence of at least one author trying to pull Pern closer to the sensibilities of the audience reading it by at least giving lip service to the idea that such stereotyping is wrong. Perhaps this is a reaction to the terrible way that Mirrim has been treated up to this point, even though this is set well before Mirrim?

Nuella details the worries everyone in the house has about whether or not the new child is going to turn out blind like Nuella is, as well as expressing her happiness that Master Zist keeps all the furniture in the same place. Kindan remarks that he gets yelled at when he moves the furniture (presumably without knowing the reason why until he deduced Nuella is blind and that she visits on the regular).

“He’s [Natalon] afraid we’ll be shunned,” she said bitterly.
“Shunned? But you’ve done nothing wrong,” Kindan said, wondering why the ultimate punishment–expulsion from society–could even be considered.
[…Nuella corrects Kindan’s assumption that it’s that kind of shunning, while indicating that Natalon’s mother was also blind…]
“My father’s afraid that people will wonder what’s wrong with him, if his children are blind. And they won’t trust him. And he’s afraid no one will marry Dalor.” With a catch in her voice, she added, “He doesn’t think I’ll ever get married.”
[…Kindan points out the absurdity of the plan to keep Nuella secret, and she agrees with him…]
“And what a choice bit of gossip she’d [Milla] make of you,” Kindan replied.
“She would, indeed,” Nuella agreed, adding bitterly, “And then Uncle Tarik would spread the word throughout the camp. ‘If he can’t make decent children, what sort of miner can he be?'”
Kindan considered her words carefully. He could see Tarik saying such spiteful things, and he could imagine there would be someone who would listen. Certainly Tarik’s cronies would. And they’d repeat the gossip. And, if anything went wrong, like the bad air in the hold, there’d always be some who would start believing the gossip.

Another strong case for why Natalon has all the excuse he needs to throw Tarik and all his cronies out for just the suspicion of sowing dissent and gossip in the camp, much less any of the other possible suspicions he could toss onto him.

But let’s unpack these statements about how Nuella’s blindness will somehow reflect terribly on Natalon, in contravention of every patriarchal impulse and reality that Pern has put forth. I sense the hand of our new author here, but he hasn’t done enough in text to set up the possibility that Natalon could be blamed 5 it, because the only two people that we know for certain have this blindness are Natalon’s mother and Nuella. The blindness seems to have skipped a generation, and we don’t know if any of Natalon’s sisters have the same affliction, or any brothers do. Based on the evidence we do have, it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that the blindness will only ever affect women in the bloodline. (I’m not sure how, if at all, the genetics for that would work, but in the three generations that we know, only women have been afflicted.)

Furthermore, given that Pern is supposed to model the time period and scientific advancements of Latin Christendom, there’s no way that I can think of where they would place the blame on Natalon. Given that it took a rather long time after Henry VIII kept killing his wives to figure out that whether a daughter or a son is born is based on the sperm and not the egg, I can’t see the toxic patriarchy of Pern suggesting in any way that a man’s genes might be the reason for a disabled child. It would be far more likely (and consistent) for all the blame to be laid on Natalon’s wife. I’m sure Tarik could find a way to spin that into something about Natalon’s ability to make good decisions (“He married a woman that produces defective children! He can’t be trusted to make life and death decisions about the rest of us!”) or some other way of calling into question Natalon’s ability to lead, but it would likely all be through Natalon’s wife, not Natalon himself. (At least where children are involved.)

In any case, Nuella was hoping to get to come out, but the cave-in happened. Here we finally acknowledge that it was traumatic for Kindan:

Kindan felt his throat tighten as he remembered all that had been lost in that cave-in. Master Zist had kept him so busy that it was only in his sleep–his nightmares–that he remembered the past, and his family.

I’m not sure this is also realistic, but I don’t have childhood trauma.

Kindan and Nuella discuss how Zenor came to make her acquaintance and how much Nuella has been helping them both out (her blindness has, naturally, enhanced her hearing and smell accordingly), and they both decide to make Nuella up to look like a trader girl so that she can go out among the Gather attendees for the evening. As it turns out, Nuella can also play pipes, so Kindan gets an extra person to play some songs when he goes to listen into the crowd.

It’s as he thought – everyone else thinks Dara did great by fostering the apprentices, but Tarik (and Dara, because Tarik is terrible) are not happy about the lack of privacy that comes with it.

There’s a small scare when Natalon enters, but he doesn’t stay long, and a longer conversation between Kindan and Zenor about exactly how daft Kindan is to put Nuella on the stage. Kindan asserts that the disguise will be enough to keep her safe. He’s wrong, as Natalon and Jenella have a strong impression about, if not outright recognize, Nuella on stage, but Kindan provides a convenient excuse to not have to acknowledge it by pretending the girl is a trader.

There’s singing from Kindan, accompanied by pipes from Nuella, that results in some thunderous applause, and then Kindan hands off Nuella to Zenor for dancing while Zist picks up his fiddle to provide music. The Master has an opinion on the dancing:

“They’re too young to match, and you’re too young to be matchmaker,” Master Zist whispered in Kindan’s ear when the song was over.
“They’re friends,” Kindan replied. “And at a Gather the only thing they can do together is dance.”

Kindan goes out to listen, and hears Panit, one of Tarik’s men, talking down watch-whers (despite having been saved by one) and not thinking it a big deal that the apprentice that had a watch-wher didn’t show up with the traders.

Afterward, we hear of the successful negotiations between Zist and the traders for the extra day, and the narrative teases about why Natalon doesn’t jettison Tarik, and why Tarik hates Natalon, but neither Kindan nor Zist had any insight into it, so nothing happens. Instead they talk about why the apprentice with the watch-wher didn’t come to Camp Natalon.

“From what I gather,” Zist continued, “and she [Trader Tarri] was very circumspect about it all, it seems the apprentice in question decided that his Master’s wrath was less troubling than life in this Camp.”
“The only thing I fear more than my Master’s wrath is death,” Kindan said with an apologetic look at the Harper.
Master Zist laughed. “Yes, and that was exactly Trader Tarri’s observation.”
“So you think the apprentice was afraid of dying in the mine?”
“Or losing his watch-wher,” Master Zist remarked.

I realize that this is supposed to be read as a bit of jokey exaggeration, except Kindan didn’t seem to be joking, Zist has already demonstrated he can be a terrible person, and by this point, we’ve already seen callous attitudes toward the lives of apprentices and watch-whers. If Zist’s laugh is anything but serious, he’s misread the situation entirely.

The chapter closes out with the presence of even more trader caravans, the new apprentices getting set to build a new mine entrance, Zenor grumbling that he still isn’t actually able to go into the mine, and Kindan realizing that he and Zenor are drifting apart because their lives and schedules have become radically different. He’s also spending and enjoying more time with Zist and Nuella as a Harper apprentice. And spending more time doing these things that makes him happy.

There is one bit that needs addressing:

Sevenday after sevenday, caravans rolled in at all hours of the day, loading up with coal and heading back out again to Crom Hold, or farther to Telgar, where the Smithcraft made the steel that rimmed the wheels of the drays, formed the bodies of the pot-bellied stoves and ovens that Milla so loved, was turned into plowshares, dragon’s tack, and countless other things that could only be made from steel.

And again, I don’t understand why there isn’t a Smith in the camp, because there’s clearly a need for steel for both miners and traders and someone to craft the steel into usable things. Coal-fired furnaces that can help forge steel are clearly a thing, but why is the nearest steel a caravan away in Crom or Telgar? I don’t think the miners can wait that long if their equipment breaks, especially not in winter.

It is nice seeing logistics being thought about, because the dragonriders were generally uncaring about the hows so long as the tribute arrived, but Camp Natalon doesn’t even seem to have all the necessary personnel.

More next week.

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8 thoughts on “Dragon’s Kin: The Fine Art of Negotiation

  1. Wingsrising October 18, 2018 at 12:54 pm

    “No trader made a profit hauling half-filled wagons or, worse, empty ones.”

    Yes, and that’s why hauling all your empty wagons to another camp in hopes (no guarantee) they will have more and not less coal seems to make no sense, especially if you can get a full load just by hanging out for another day. Presumably it would take at least that long to get to the next camp, and traveling tires humans and animals and risks damage to wagons, as opposed to spending the same amount of time resting and doing little chores/repairs while waiting for the last wagon to be filled.

  2. Silver Adept October 18, 2018 at 5:04 pm

    Exactly. Not to mention there are goods on those wagons that the traders want to sell to the miners for their coal. If they are an efficient trading company, they’ve brought six drays’ worth of goods for the coal they intend to cart out.

    And that still assumes the trade companies go straight back to Crom or elsewhere to unload their coal and pick up new goods, rather than having a circuit where they stop at multiple camps and change their goods for coal and then bring a big haul home to change it out for good.

  3. genesistrine October 19, 2018 at 3:28 am

    You’re telling me this mine camp doesn’t have a Smith on-site, despite the clear need for someone to do repair work

    It may be that they can’t afford one – we’ve not been given any idea of how this camp works economically. We’re told Zenor has to work to support his family now, but we’re not told whether he works for money (Minecraft marks?), as an obligation because his family has a share in the mine and can’t afford to buy themselves out after the disaster, out of obligation because otherwise his family’s going to be kicked out, or what.

    Harpers apparently have to be paid for, if Smiths do too then this experimental mine may not be able to afford one. (And apparently couldn’t persuade the one who married Sis to move in.)

    “A secret’s a bad thing when … it hides a hurt,”

    Like, say, a blind child being kept cooped up with (supposedly) no social interaction so dad doesn’t have to put up with rude remarks about his genetics?

    It would be far more likely (and consistent) for all the blame to be laid on Natalon’s wife.

    Especially since it’s been previously mentioned that she has a history of losing babies in childbirth. It’d be much likelier to be spun as “he should have married someone who’d have healthy heirs (and daughters to marry off) and since she can’t he should dump her and find someone else”.

    Natalon and Jenella have a strong impression about, if not outright recognize, Nuella on stage

    And it’s amazing more people don’t, since she’s supposed to look enough like Dalor to pass as him when dressed as a boy.

    “So you think the apprentice was afraid of dying in the mine?”

    So… Natalon’s mine is already getting a bad reputation for danger/carelessness/riskiness?

  4. Silver Adept October 19, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    I’m surprised that a Smith wasn’t rolled into the startup cost of the mine, then. But there’s also no explicit indication that this mine isn’t a legitimate one, so they wouldn’t have a convenient excuse for not having bare minimum requirements. Mostly I’m still boggling at the idea that everyone is entirely okay with being out in the frontier, with passes that close from snow and inclement weather, and that their only line to necessary goods is whether the traders feel like going through the passes or not.

    It’s true that it’s not explicitly called out why Zenor goes to the mines. It would be helpful if we knew.

    If Harpers have to be paid for, then why did anyone approve changing out the lower-ranked (and presumably cheaper) Harper for a (much) or expensive Master? If Zist took a big pay cut to come out here, why? Is there more to his relationship with Kindan’s mother than just master and student?

    I still don’t know why they’re hiding Nuella, honestly, given that there are already plenty of people that have met her and are cool with her. And since Tarik seems to be our antagonist and likely head saboteur, he already knows.

    I suspect that we’ll find out that Tarik-and-cronies have been talking to the traders to spread rumors about the supposed unsafety of Camp Natalon. Which they will then have to unspread when they assume control, if that ever happens.

  5. genesistrine October 19, 2018 at 2:23 pm

    I’m surprised that a Smith wasn’t rolled into the startup cost of the mine, then

    Me too, but I guess a low-budget startup might decide it could get by without one in the proving stage?

    I’m pretty sure it was mentioned in an earlier book that Harpers are salaried, but as to who pays them…. Maybe, given the emphasis on childrens’ education it’s the responsibility of the local Lord Holder (which kind of fits with Fax banning them). But who knows.

    Nuella: her parents have been hiding her since she went blind? How has that been managed? No-one’s ever remarked that they’d heard they had twins what happened to the other one? And, as you say, Tarik’s Natalon’s uncle so how come he doesn’t know they had twins? Did they just put it about that Nuella died?

  6. Silver Adept October 21, 2018 at 10:14 am

    It would make sense that the Harper is paid out of the local Lord’s funds, but that has to create some interesting conflicts of interest for those Harpers, given that they are supposedly also part of their own guild’s worldwide spy network.

    As for Nuella, I don’t know how they’ve disappeared her. Maybe she was supposedly sent off to a school somewhere else, so that nobody has any reason to believe that she’s here, and then she just doesn’t leave anywhere that she can be seen until whenever? But that has to be exhausting, and she has to hide from her own family or extended family, and I can’t imagine any child of any age not trying their very best to get out from that kind of restriction as soon as they can. And possibly to try and make friends or talk to people so that she still gets raised and socialized and instructed in the ways of the world. It desn’t really make sense at all as to how they’ve accomplished this. (Maybe everyone knows, but pretends and maintains the facade for Natalon’s sake, just waiting for him to actually admit it so they can stop pretending?)

  7. genesistrine October 21, 2018 at 3:12 pm

    Not to mention the conflict of interest that they’re supposed to act as unbiased arbiters when necessary.

    “Oh, little Nuella’s gone to study at the Harper Hall”? Maybe not, since a pertinent question would be “How are you affording the fees?” Fostering seems to be an upper-class Hold/Weyr thing, but I daresay, “oh, she’s gone to live with her auntie in Wherever Hold because we wanted her to grow up somewhere nicer than a mining camp,” would do the job.

    Which would have been a perfectly sensible thing to do anyway (assuming suitable relatives/friends/charitable organisations*) rather than the “keep her in her room all day” thing. What do they think she does all day? It’s obvious no-one checks on her, since no-one notices she’s missing….

    [*on Pern? Ha ha yes I know. No charity in Randtopia!]

  8. Silver Adept October 23, 2018 at 1:01 pm

    Fostering with family members would be an easy way of doing the thing, since it’s explicitly stated that other family members have been blind, so they would probably be more familiar and more accessible than trying to keep Nuella inside and out of sight. I have no idea what they expect her to do all the time.

    (Yes, no charity in Randland, unless an individual woman decides she wants to be charitable to the undeserving.)

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