Last time, we confirmed that watch-whers see heat signatures, which is what makes them so useful in places like the mines or the night. Nuella also gave Kindan an earful about how much it’s going to suck when Kindan hits the mines on the regular, and Renna was brought into the fold as people who know about Nuella.
Dragon’s Kin: Chapter XI: Content Notes:
Watch-wher, watch-wher, guard us all,
With your dragon-summoning call.
It really feels like the pieces we’re getting that have to do with watch-whers are part of a single song, and all of them have hints at what they can do, so let’s see all of them all together, in order.
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.
Watch-wher, watch-wher in the mine,
Help save life, yours and mine,
Guide us in the darkest night,
With your keen unfailing sight.
Watch-wher, watch-wher in the egg,
Grant to me the boon I beg.
Watch-wher, watch-wher, guard us all,
With your dragon-summoning call.
Peeking ahead, there is still one more chapters that have watch-wher related material in their chapter calls, so we don’t have the full song. But that feeling I’ve had of them as chants or skip-rope songs seems borne out if wherhandling is a folk Craft, one that is noticed by the nobility but not actually one that gets documented by the same because they think of it as beneath them. At least until it becomes pertinent to them.
The actual chapter itself begins with the very tail end of Kindan’s summary of why Renna knows what she knows, and how Zist has climbed down from his original place of anger at the secret. J’lantir explains the reason for his long absence – M’tal thought it a good idea to train the wherhandlers that are in Benden’s care the same way that Kisk has been trained, but apparently they’re stubborn.
“Many of the wherhandlers could not believe their watch-whers could talk to dragons, and still others refused to believe that there was anything any dragonrider could teach them about their friends.”
Well, that’s interesting. Previously, the world seems to have been divided into people who respect the dragonriders at all times and evil people, but here we have a bit more nuance that there might be a rivalry between dragonriders and wherhandlers, although I’m sure the dragonriders would only think of it as a one-sided one.
So, with a failure under their belt, J’lantir has come back to collect Nuella and have her demonstrate the process, rather than trying to work from the written instructions. Nuella starts to give Natalon’s excuses as to why she can’t go, before Kindan determines the real reason. He feels fear through Kisk and correctly determines the source.
“Nuella,” he said sincerely, “you have never been afraid of anything.”
Uncontrolled tears spilled from her eyes. “They’ll talk! They’ll laugh at me and they’ll–”
Kindan grabbed her in a hug be patted her back awkwardly. “No,” he said softly. “No, they won’t.”
“But I won’t know where to walk. I’ll stumble and trip over things, and they’ll know I’m blind!” she wailed.
Kindan’s reassurances aren’t enough to pull Nuella away from her entirely valid and legitimate concerns about people making fun of her disability. Along with the further knowledge that nowhere else other than Camp Natalon will be any sort of accessible for her. This might be the first time where we’re treating Nuella’s blindness with the seriousness it deserves in relation to Nuella, rather than in relation to any other person who is not Nuella.
And then it disappears in a wink, as Renna rouses Nuella by pointing out how her blindness has never mattered to Zenor, since he never actually mentioned it in describing the girl he was sweet on.
If it doesn’t matter to you,” Renna continued fiercely, “and it doesn’t matter to my brother, why are you being so blind that you can’t see that it doesn’t matter to anyone else?”
And it works. I realize that the stressed word on the disability is a literature trope, but these days it seems like a cheap ablism shot.
Furthermore, there’s exactly no guarantee that Nuella isn’t completely right, and there are very few societies that I know of where a disability like blindness wouldn’t cause at least some heads to turn and tongues to wag.
But Nuella goes forward with the idea anyway, and she experiences hyperspace as a meditative silence in the cold rather than the terror everyone else seems to experience it as. She has Renilan and Resk to train, and two children, Lord Darel and Lady Erla, that work with the hold’s watch-wher, also in attendance. The agreement with Natalon is such that if the training doesn’t work for her, she heads back to the camp immediately. Nuella agrees with not wanting to fail repeatedly, and took this pair specifically because they were the most stubborn.
Things get off to a rocky start, sort of.
“She’s just a girl!” a gruff old voice exclaimed as M’tal led her into a large, echoey room.
[…Nuella orients herself and says hello to Renilan by guessing his scent…]
She heard the old man’s sharp gasp and figured that he was still a meter distant. Then she heard him walk slowly toward her and felt his gnarled hand grasp hers firmly.
“My wife lost the use of her eyes three Turns before she passed on,” he told her softly. He sighed. “She had the most beautiful eyes. Like yours, lass.”
Hello, intersections of something. But also, that suggests that Nuella’s blindness has always been easy to observe if someone can see her clearly enough. Maybe cataracts or some other thing are present?
So Nuella being a girl works against her, but being blind in a similar way to Renilan’s late wife seems to work for her. As it is, Nuella starts by getting Lolanth to say hello to Resk, and then moves slowly, trying to get the feel for Resk.
After a moment, she turned back to Renilan. “May I touch him?”
“I don’t see why you’re asking me, lass,” the old man said with a snort. “You’re practically touching him now.”
“Manners,” Nuella replied tartly.
Renilan let out a bellow. “Ha! Put me right in my place, you did!” he said, still laughing. “Very well, on your head be it. At least you seem to know what you’re doing.”
“Thank you,” Nuella said. “But could you please tell Resk that it’s okay?”
Renilan sobered up. “Ah, I see what you mean. Good one, lass.” To his watch-wher he said, “Resk, let the lass touch you, there’s a good lad.”
Which eventually leads to eyeridge scritches, and the eventual enthusiastic licks from Resk convinces Renilan Nuella might know what she’s talking about. And that she might be able to succeed where J’lantir had a month to try.
By walking them through a visualization exercise to see things how their whers see them, Nuella is able to get the humans to better understand how their whers see, and thus open up avenues of communication and understanding between humans and whers (and eventually, dragons). To show the completeness of the change in his attitude, Renilan starts referring to Nuella as “Lady,” which she will eventually be entitled to, but is currently just a sign of respect.
Nuella also points out that whers can talk to each other, like dragons do, and sets in motion a communication chain-ask where Resk asks Lemosk on how to talk to the Benden Weyrwoman’s queen, Breth, then asks her to talk to Lolanth, which J’lantir confirms as a successful chain.
“By the Shell of Faranth!” J’lantir shouted, jumping with excitement. “It worked! It worked! It worked!” He bounced around the others in glee.
Throughout the waking hold, heads turned and Lolanth and Gaminth bugled from their cliffside perches.
“That’s fine, J’lantir, but you’d better tell my Weyrwoman what we are up to,” M’tal replied drolly. He turned to Nuella and bowed deeply. “My Lady, on behalf of Benden Weyr, I thank you.”
Nuella blushed scarlet from her head to her toes.
And that is the end of the chapter, where the Weyrleader remembers to thank the person that has made his life easier by starting a network of watch-whers that can relay useful information to dragons and their riders. Whether Nuella will get actual credit for any of this is likely up to forces well beyond her, and I’d bet the official record isn’t going to mention her at all, because that would mean admitting a blind girl from a mining camp was able to teach everyone something. Given the reluctance we saw with the dragonriders wanting to admit Tai and Zaranth taught them something because she was a green rider, I can only imagine the cover-up M’tal will engineer, even if the wherhandlers know the truth.
Also, an oath that makes sense. (And that someone used earlier in the book.) Good to know at least at this juncture, the name of the first dragon hasn’t been lost to time.
There’s only a couple chapters left, so something has to happen soon to resolve all our plot threads.