We’re still in Chapter Four, which a prodigiously long chapter, even by Pernese standards. Last time, we had to confront the reality that watch-whers also have mating flights, and their urges are apparently equally as wide-band broadcast as the dragons are. Which meant that Pellar ended up with Alessa’s daughter, Arella, and with her, managed to broker the scenarios by which the watch-wher camp would be able to care for itself and have the eggs get scattered to people that will take care of them.
Dragon’s Fire: Book One: Chapter 4, Part Two: Content Notes: Sexist assumptions, “Nice Guy” sexism
After agreeing to be the Harper for the camp, Pellar sets out to carve himself a drum so that he can communicate with the Harper network. Arella takes an interest in his work, and in him, while Jaythen seems to only grow colder toward him. Pellar desperately hopes for a wherry to fly into one of his traps (and here he says that “wherhide” would be an excellent drumhead, so I guess that’s talking about wherries rather than watch-whers), but what he gets instead is a fight to the death with a wildboar, where Pellar’s knife and Jaythen’s arrows do their best to kill it without suffering too much injury themselves. They do, and Pellar claims the hide for his drum. Jaythen warms up to Pellar after their shared defense, and Arella, in preparing the hide and the meat, makes sure to splash plenty of blood on Pellar, so that she can drag him off to the bathing caves. She’s got something in mind, but Pellar begs off because of his injuries from fighting the boar.
After that, Aleesa gets her first lesson in reading after asking Pellar when he’s going to start arranging for the delivery of the promised year’s supplies.
“You know I can’t read,” Aleesa told him curtly, sliding the slate toward Arella. Pellar grabbed her hand, caught her eyes, and shook his head slightly. Gently, he pulled the slate back and carefully drew three small ovals piled on top of each other. He slid the slate back to Aleesa and gave her a challenging look.
“Eggs?” Aleesa said, glancing at the drawing. Then she glanced up at the letters above. “That says eggs?”
[…Pellar demonstrates the singular form, so as to explain one of the purposes of the letter s…]
“You want me to write the letter?” Aleesa asked. Pellar nodded. Aleesa frowned, then bent over the slate, carefully sliding the chalk on the slate. She muttered to herself as she drew and finally looked up, holding the slate toward Pellar with a sour look.
“Mine doesn’t look as good as yours,” Aleesa said.
Pellar held up one finger.
“You’re saying that it’s my first?”
Aleesa pursed her lips, but Pellar’s face burst into a smile as he danced his finger up and down in front of her and cocked his head invitingly. He held up two fingers, then three, four, and finally five.
“You want me to try five more times?”
Aleesa’s lips thinned rebelliously, and Arella smiled at her and mimicked, ” ‘Five times to learn, Arella.’ “
It’s unorthodox, but it works, and Aleesa picks it up so well that in ten weeks, she can read sentences off of Pellar’s slate just fine. And there’s a plan – Pellar is going to go out away from the camp and drum a message about trading watch-wher eggs. He’s leaving because Jaythen said if there’s something of value to trade, there’s something of value for the Shunned to steal.
We note the narrative isn’t helping if it wants to portray at least some of the Shunned as sympathetic, a thing that comes back to bite the narrative in the ass almost immediately. Arella, apparently, has fallen in love with Pellar, even though it was only supposedly for the mating flight, and she’s not happy that Pellar is going through with this plan.
Pellar tells Aleesa why he’s not settling down – he’s Shunned, as best he can tell, because his parents were. (But he’s special because he was adopted by the Harpers.). What he tells Arella, though, is that he’s not in love with her. She tells him in reply that as soon as this plan is done, she’s leaving to find her fortune in the world, since it’s not going to be with him. He presents her with a small drum that she can use to call him for an emergency, and the two share a kiss. “Not the kiss of lovers, but the kiss of friends who once had been.” As breakups go, by Pernese standards, this is downright wonderful.
Also, it’s worth mentioning how the drum presentation happens. Arella and Pellar have broken up, and Pellar wants to present the gift to her, but he’s been hiding it in his bedchamber. Arella, seeing where they’re going, is initially rather resistant to the idea of heading there — they’ve just broken up and now he wants some benefits to their friendship? Nuh-uh. Pellar “waved aside her objections with a hand and begged her with his eyes to wait.” And Arella does, suspiciously, according to the narrative.
Not three paragraphs later, Pellar uses his slate to tell her about the drum. This could be someone forgetting what they are writing, and/or background sexism on display, but I think it’s ultimately going to end up as a foreshadowing event and is supposed to give us insight into Pellar’s character. Pellar has the means to communicate with Arella, but he doesn’t use it to stop the misunderstanding once it starts, and instead leans on their shared past to get Arella to trust him long enough to prove his intentions were good. He seems to understand why Arella has a problem, but he dismisses it because he knows that he’s not going to try anything with her, and so that’s not important. This attitude is going to bite him in the ass in a big way in the next chapter, and I can’t quite figure out how it’s survived in the atmosphere of mistrust he’s been in, and also he lives on a world where dragon-kin can basically override human emotions and desires with their own. There’s obviously protocols in place, at least here at the camp, about consent and what it means to have your body overridden, and yet we still have this instance where Pellar dismisses a valid complaint without actually trying to resolve it or see it for more than a second from Arella’s perspective. (Lack of consent has always been a consistent theme in Pern, but here it sticks out pretty sorely.)
Plot-wise, after giving Arella her drum, Pellar sets out, hits his drum message to Zist, sends Chitter with a longer explanation, and then seeds his tale among the people he thinks will be most responsive to the idea of trading for an egg, even at the steep cost the chance comes with. He’s eventually intercepted by D’vin, sent by Zist to assist Pellar on his mission, and Hurth, his dragon, tells Pellar that he has a lovely voice to talk to both dragons and fire-lizards with and compliments him on his imagery for coordinates.
Pellar also receives a suit of clothes denoting his status as a full official apprentice Harper, which delights Pellar, because
Even though Master Murenny and Zist had said he could be an apprentice, he had always been half-afraid far they didn’t mean it, that maybe they were just humoring him–until now. Proper clothes! He really was a harper!
I have several is to say about this, and most of them would be beeped on network television, so, instead…
Pellar has been doing things that risk his life for Zist and Murenny, and they haven’t accepted him on as one of their own formally yet? What kind of terrible people and parents are they?
Pellar gets changed into his new clothing.
He was surprised to notice that his trousers and tunic both contained several large pockets–not standard.
D’vin, alerted by Hurth, turned and told him, “Master Murenny told me you’d wonder about the pockets. He said to tell you that he expects you to carry more burdens than most.”
Pellar looked surprised.
“He also said that he was sure you’d be up to them,” the dragonrider added. “From the little I’ve seen of you, I’d say he underestimates you.”
Or, perhaps, someone realized that carrying a writing implement and slate around all the time means you need more storage space to put out all in. But this will also probably have some sort of plot requirement later.
Popping over to Camp Natalon, Hurst needs a place to land out of sight and wonders why Pellar wasn’t Searched to be a dragonrider. When Pellar points out the need to talk, Hurst reminds him that he can hear Pellar just fine, the implication being that a dragon would be more than adequate for communication between a rider that can’t talk and everyone else who needs to hear them. I like that the dragon has considered this, at least, and that we’re continuing to be in dialogue about how telepathic bonds to dragon-family creatures could make a person with a disability able to function just fine in the society around them. Not that such things will happen, because the supply of such things is tightly controlled, but that it could.
The place where Hurth can land is the graveyard from before, and Heh wonders why Pellar has such a concern about small mounds of dirt. His mind provides the answer, and Hurth provides some insight.
Dragons go between to die, Hurth responded. He sounded sad and somewhat confused. I suppose earth is like going between for people.
Pellar was startled by the comparison and stunned by Hurth’s astute observation.
The dragons always understand more than they let on, and especially as the books continue. Hurth is right, in his own way.
Zist charges Pellar with funding a way to get Alessa to accept protection from dragonriders when the Shunned arrive to try and steal from her, and Pellar suggests Telgar as the Weyr to ask to take them there (first, at least.) Then it’s the end of chapter 4, and Pellar is on his way back to Alessa’s camp, having given the plan and secured the promise of a Harper for the camp as well, so that Pellar can continue on his journey doing something else instead of being at the wherhandler camp.