Dragon’s Kin: A Training Regimen

Last chapters, Kindan got an egg and hatched it successfully. Tarik is entirely sour on it, but everyone else in the camp seems to want to try and help. Including Nuella, although it’s getting a lot harder for her to disguise herself as her brother because puberty is starting to arrive…

Dragon’s Kin, Chapter IX, Content Notes:

Walk, baby, walk, come you to me.
Soon, baby, soon, you’ll walk away from me.

That’s…depressing. Also, true, but still. I’m beginning to believe that most of these rhyme snippets we’re seeing are from the folk music traditions of Pern, since it doesn’t seem likely that these are creations of the Harper Hall. This means having to grapple with whether Yanus was just a fundamentalist and his belief that women shouldn’t be making music is extreme, or whether there’s a general belief that songs are the province of the Harper, or whether those snippets we saw in the later books about Robinton collecting and distributing songs are supposed to be the norm.

All the same, this seems a lament about how quickly children grow up and become adults, which seems a rather apt song to be singing for the people of this particular camp, given the disaster that caused more than a few young children to have to cut their childhood short so they can work in the mine.

The chapter proper opens with Zist complaining there isn’t a whole lot of written material in anybody’s archives about watch-whers and even less about the care, feeding, and training thereof. Despite, as has been pointed out repeatedly, whers supposedly being important enough to keep around all the way to the Ninth Pass. We could certainly speculate that every wher-handler throughout Pern’s history has been of the class that is either illiterate or not socially high enough to have access to writing implements and parchment, but if we do that, we also almost have to say there’s been an unbroken line of succession from, say, Wind Blossom to whenever the now is, and that succession line has been able to orally transmit everything someone needs to know about being a handler from the person who was a handler before them. It’s not impossible, but it is improbable. I am reminded of how Shankolin was about to learn the craft secrets of Norist, before Norist was exiled for his role in the AIVAS attacks. Oral tradition does seem to be very important on Pern.

And speaking of puberty, it has apparently come to Kindan, now that he’s twelve, and his voice is cracking and making it difficult for any sort of singing to happen well. Furthermore, now that Kisk is nearly full-grown, Kindan will start having to use her in the mines soon, which will end the Zist-Kindan partnership for good. This upsets Kindan a great deal.

Nuella, for her part, recognizes the new mine shaft is rather close to the secret passage that lets her traverse between Natalon’s house and the mine, and Kindan thinks it would be great training for Kisk (and himself, he realizes, after Nuella points it out) to navigate in the dark.

It goes about as well as planned, with Nuella and Kisk doing fine in the darkness and Kindan eating his shins a lot until he gets a little more used to navigating without his eyes. (Nuella also tells him to stop trying so hard to hear everything, which annoys Kindan more about how she seems to be able to understand everything in the dark and he doesn’t understand anything.)

Once he’s able to visualize the layout of the mine, including the new shaft, Kindan realizes it’s a good plan for being able to live and work without risking worker or coal to the voracious appetites of Thread (because Thread eats carbon-based everything, and coal is mostly carbon. The More You Know…)

“That’ll be a good thing for the next Pass,” Kindan said aloud.
“Only if the Camp is proved,” Nuella responded. “Otherwise it’ll all be a waste, like Uncle Tarik’s Camp.”
“What do you know about that?” he asked, intensely curious.
“Shh!” Nuella hissed. She added, in a whisper, “We’re getting near the end of the passage. I’ll tell you later.”

We’d like to know, too, thanks!

Regrettably, while being a lovely example of foreshadowing, this exchange also makes Tarik’s behavior make less sense to me. Yes, he might be bitter and jealous that Natalon is getting the chance where he failed, but that seems like motivation to make it succeed so there’s a place to live, rather than wanting it to fail and nobody having space to hang their hard hats. I suppose it could be “I want it to fail enough that I’ll get elected, and then I can magically make it prosper,” but that’s a fine needle to thread, and I don’t think Tarik has the skill for it. Or, at least, Tarik in the hands of this author collaboration doesn’t have it. Tarik reminds me too much of Toric and his supposed clever machinations to be any better than Toric about the delicate art of politics.

The theme of teenagers realizing what’s obvious to them is not to others continues, as Kindan successfully manages to talk Nuella out of leading them into the mines.

“And no one’s supposed to go into the mines without the shift leader knowing. What if there were a cave-in? We’d be trapped.”
“I suppose you’re right about that,” she admitted after a moment’s silence. “I hadn’t thought about it before.”
Kindan snorted, remembering how he had had to remind Nuella to put on a hard hat–there was a shelf of them behind the secret door into the passageway. Everyone who went into the mines was taught to wear a hard hat as a matter of reflex.

Kindan gets his in return when he slams into one of the curves of the secret passage face-first after forgetting to count his steps. And then gets admonished to listen before opening the secret door, so as not to give away its existence. The first Nuella smothers a laugh for, the second, not so much, but at least they remember to bring something to shield Kisk’s eyes with. That way, when they encounter a bright fire, they can keep Kisk safe and not in pain.

Also, it might be my twentieth century instincts interfering again, but when someone says “hard hat,” I think of strong plastics. Of course, helmets have been around for a very long time, and made it of metals and alloys. So I’m going to chalk it up to a vestige of language, point out that the strange anachronistic language seems to be everywhere, and move on.

There’s only a couple points of interest in the subsequent scene with M’tal ,and both have to do with watch-whers. The narratively later part is that watch-whers understand dragon speech, in much the same way they appear to understand humans sending them pictures and such. This is fascinating to M’tal, despite what he just says earlier (which is the other interesting bit):

“Apparently, watch-whers have become forgotten on Pern.”
M’tal frowned. “I don’t like that. They were clearly bred from the same source as dragons, so there must have been a need for them. We shouldn’t have lost that lore.”

No kidding. I can see, say, Wind Blossom trying to erase all her data in shame at not having been able to breed a better dragon, but watch-whers still exist, and they’re being bred, and they’re being kept as sentries at the very least, so someone should have that data, and even just as Harper gossip, somewhere it should be written down. Of course, if it is gossip, there’s no guarantees that it can be found easily and quickly, but what they think they know about whers should be written somewhere.

Nuella is incensed that she didn’t get to meet the dragonrider, but she substitutes an incisive probe into what happened as a poor second. Kindan notes Nuella has learned the art of good questioning (although he doesn’t make the connection that Zist does the same, and Nuella has been Zist’s student for a while now), and the plan is going to use Dalor as the person who knows what’s going on.

Nuella is sour that she can’t pass as Dalor any more because of their height difference. Kindan points out there are other aspects that are changing as well, which leads to Nuella confirming to Kindan that she’s crushing on Zenor (after earlier saying that the reason Dalor is going along with their plan is that she threatened to expose Dalor’s crush)…and then threatening Kindan over the disclosure of that knowledge.

At which point we get useful information about how the mine is laid out and how things are mined – things that Kindan and Dalor are likely to know, and Nuella seems to have picked up by being around everyone, given that she uses specific terminology (“the new street”) to describe the space.

“Streets” run the length of the seam (east-west), “avenues” the width (north-south), and the style of working the seam is “room and pillar”, where large pillars of coal are left behind to support the rock and prevent a cave-in. It’s also noted as the only practical method left with the tools and people available for the mining.

So naturally, they head for the newest street, which Kindan looks at dubiously because it has extra supports built in. Nuella tells him that’s Natalon’s way and that Tarik thinks it a waste of time and people to add extra support. Even though Tarik is also spreading rumor about how the mine isn’t safe enough based on all the accidents. And Nuella highlights this incongruity by mentioning that Tarik claims his own mine was too dangerous to work based on pockets of bad air. The narrative notes he time indicates she didn’t believe that claim at all.

Nuella, however, did bring them here to see if they could teach Kisk what bad air smells like, as Natalon is making a new street to probe whether the problem that killed Dask runs the entire western part of the field. Eventually Nuella and Kindan get in an argument about whether or not Nuella can teach anyone anything, just based on her having to help with raising the baby, and the argument is enough to mask the fact that bad air has infiltrated their space.

So they get to teach Kisk what (one of the) bad air smells is, and in return…

The watch-wher took a breath and let it out with a rasp. She looked up thoughtfully at Kindan and chirped, Errwll.
“Stale,” Kindan repeated, taking another breath.
Kisk took another breath. Errwll.
“You’ve learned a word!” Nuella exclaimed.
Kindan have her a look and was glad she couldn’t catch it. “I can’t see how you can say that errwll sounds like stale.”
“I didn’t say that. I said that you’ve learned a word. Now you know that when Kisk chirps ‘errwll’ she’s telling you the air is stale.”
A look of comprehension dawned on Kindan’s face. “You mean, she’s teaching me her language?”
“I doubt watch-whers have a language. Even the dragons don’t have a language–feet male noise for emphasis but they don’t speak. They don’t need to, they use telepathy,” Nuella said. “But that doesn’t mean the two of you can’t work out ways to communicate together.”

Nuella is wrong. All creatures that communicate have a language. That humans don’t understand it has nothing to do with whether it exists or not. But it is good that Kisk is making the same noise to indicate the situation at hand, so that Kindan knows which response to give to that noise.

The rest of the chapter is essentially everyone getting away from the bad air, since they’ve been standing in it the whole time and they’re starting to get a headache from it. Nuella thinks of this as a good discovery, Kindan reminds her that he knows this already because of rescuing her earlier, and Nuella gives him a sincere thanks for the rescue. And that’s chapter IX. Progress, it appears.

6 thoughts on “Dragon’s Kin: A Training Regimen

  1. genesistrine November 8, 2018 at 3:49 pm

    whether Yanus was just a fundamentalist and his belief that women shouldn’t be making music is extreme, or whether there’s a general belief that songs are the province of the Harper, or whether those snippets we saw in the later books about Robinton collecting and distributing songs are supposed to be the norm.

    And also how much social variation there’s been on Pern, both historically and geographically*. I know we’re constantly told that it’s perfect and stable and unvarying etc etc but for 2000 years? Gitouttahere.

    [*and over social stratifications…]

    I am reminded of how Shankolin was about to learn the craft secrets of Norist, before Norist was exiled for his role in the AIVAS attacks. Oral tradition does seem to be very important on Pern.

    Not only oral tradition, but also information control/”Craft secrets” – the absolute polar opposite of the scientific data-sharing paradigm. On Pern, you’re not going to learn important things about your profession unless your seniors decide to let you, based on whatever criteria they see fit or pure random whim, and we can guarantee that the penalties for passing those Craft secrets on are going to be full-blown Masonic figgin-on-a-spike stuff.

    It looks rather as though Kindan got his egg under false pretences; Aleesa may have thought he was much more a hereditary initiate into the Seekrit Knowledge of the (unaccredited and not-officially-approved) Wherhandler’s Craft than he actually is…

    watch-whers still exist, and they’re being bred, and they’re being kept as sentries at the very least, so someone should have that data, and even just as Harper gossip, somewhere it should be written down.

    If it’s a Craft secret it’ll be kept secret, and if it’s (as it seems to be) a secret of a folk Craft, a secret working-class Craft it may not be written down at all.

    Thread eats carbon-based everything, and coal is mostly carbon. The More You Know…

    … the more you wonder why any coal seams that reach the surface at any point weren’t all eaten away Passes ago.

    Not to mention how the coal got laid down in the first place.

    Nuella is wrong. All creatures that communicate have a language. That humans don’t understand it has nothing to do with whether it exists or not.

    I’d argue that it may not be a language even though it’s signalling, but that mainly depends on how you define “language” – my cat has noises that mean “feed me” and “I caught something come and see!”, for example, but I don’t consider them language even though he’s definitely communicating with them.

    If other whers use the same “word” to indicate stale air then yes, I’ll agree they’ve got a language, but if each separate wher and wherhandler have a different set of words then I think it’s more of an individual set of signals than an actual language.

  2. Silver Adept November 8, 2018 at 9:00 pm

    Yeah, the perfect and unchanging society bit didn’t fly for me earlier, and continues not to do so even now.

    I can imagine people believing that a folk craft is so unimportant that it shouldn’t even get a mention somewhere, but it’s more difficult to believe that there’s an entire craft, with potentially useful soldiers that might be used to overturn the established order, that’s just allowed to exist out there without someone keeping tabs on it. Perhaps I am paranoid about what lengths the Lords would go to.

    The carbon bits needed to make petrochemicals and coal do make a lot less sense when you put it that way, yes, if Thread devours everything carbon it can find.

    Is telepathy using language? Because whers seem to have at least the capacity for image communication like the dragons do, and so they might have a language if the dragons do by their own form of communication.

  3. alexeigynaix November 9, 2018 at 1:07 am

    I suspect telepathy uses verbal language (A) because we’re talking about McCaffrey here and I distinctly recall my first encounter with Pirates of Penzance was someone quoting it in telepathic communication in a Talents novel (2) to the extent that the individuals doing the telepathy think in verbal language.

    Whether this rules out the whers and dragons having a visual telepathic language, I couldn’t say.

  4. genesistrine November 9, 2018 at 1:52 am

    All the wher telepathy mentioned so far has been in pictures, FWIW.

  5. Silver Adept November 9, 2018 at 3:22 pm

    Including, we might add, Kindan communicating “we came from the world of tomorrow and hopped back in time to be here now,” in a single picture/movie that the queen understood and was surprised by. And, as we’ll find out in the next chapter, whatever dragons use to communicate telepathically with each other / Kisk. So if it’s strictly image- or movie-based, it’s a very complex set of imagery at work.

  6. genesistrine November 10, 2018 at 5:48 am

    Assuming that’s what the wher queen was surprised by, rather than “wow, a human’s trying to think pictures at me!” or “yeah, between is cold and scary!” or “big dragon!” or even “you got a ride from a bronze/a Weyrleader? You must be really important!” We’re not given any way of telling what she took away from the communication, or what she thought was important in it, which culd be very different from what Kindan intended.

    Going back to folk Crafts, I’d expect the Pernese authorities to take an interest in them too, but more in the way of “keeping an eye on the lower classes to make sure they’re not organizing against us” than any interest in their actual beliefs or knowledge. Though the Harpers would presumably want to pick up details that would let them fake being members or associates, but then again that might be more passwords and shibboleths than actual knowledge.

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