Monthly Archives: January 2019

Dragon’s Fire: Play More Games

Last week, we saw the fallout from the mine incident, and then we saw that Cristov, for the most part, isn’t going to suffer for the actions of his father. We took an extended look at why Tarik’s trial was not nearly as fair as it needed to be, and we spent some time at the Pernese equivalent of the Olympic Games.

Also, Moran is here, he’s much less sympathetic than he was before, and Halla got told to stuff herself silly by Cristov, who provided the money for the feast. Halla is supposed to be spying on Cristov at Moran’s request.

Dragon’s Fire, Book 2: Chapters 3 and 4: Content Notes: Character Death, Prisoner Abuse

Dragonmen, your beasts must learn
When to flame and swiftly turn.
Keep the burning Thread away,
Live to fight another day.

The setting is High Reaches Weyr, and we follow D’vin and Hurth through the pep talk, whose sole purpose is to indicate High Reaches odds concerned with their firestone supplies and their volatility. Then we hop back and forth between D’vin and Lord Fenner’s box to watch the competitions, which mostly consist of “Thread” made of rope being flung from queen dragons up above and single sets of riders flaming the entire pattern to ash. Any bit that gets through uncharred results in disqualification. After each group runs, the queens spread out farther and repeat the process, making it a longer course to run in the same amount of time, until there is only one rider left that succeeds.

All this time, it’s explicitly noted that the training exercises are harder and more numerous than the actual thing is supposed to be, which has the added benefit of assuring the people on the ground that the Weyrs will be able to do their jobs when the real thing happens. (We’re told this reassurance is why the Games happen at all.)

The only real thing of interest to note during all of this description is that an older Istan rider seems to be able to run the course with uncanny speed and accuracy, arriving at the right points to destroy the clumps almost before they get there. D’vin thinks it’s years of training, but since we know that the secret of time-warping dragons isn’t as well-kept as we think, it’s entirely possible someone is doing some very fancy localized time displacement to produce the speed.

After four rounds, however, there are still three dragons left and there’s no more “Thread” allocated to the singles, which leaves it up to Fenner to decide. He enlists the box to help, but it’s a unanimous vote among them all, in agreement with him, so no trouble.

At the break, D’vin comes down, says hello to Fenner, and asks where the bubbly pies are. He caught a whiff on the way down and would like to get some in the break. Cristov volunteers Halla by name, which freaks her out entirely because he remembered her name, and he knew she was there, when she was supposed to be close enough to listen, but not to be seen.

Also, bubbly pies are way more expensive in the second pass than in the Ninth.

A miner half-mark entitled her to four, so she paid for two and got a quarter-mark back.

And we are again forced to try and figure out the relative values of the various Craftmarks, when a half from the Miners in the Second Interval is less valuable than a 1/32nd from the Harpers in the Ninth Pass. I can’t imagine the economics that would allow for that – I would have expected inflation to run it the other way around, so that Halla gets them cheap and Piemur has to suffer.

Cristov offers to accompany the petrified Halla so that she’s not alone with D’vin. She knows her freakout isn’t quiet, and Cristov isn’t helping.

“No wonder I recognized you! You look just like him! It’s been ages since I’ve seen him!” He looked around wildly. “Where is he?”
Halla’s face fell and Cristov’s expression changed. “He’s all right, isn’t he?” he asked. “He had the cast on his leg when we met, but he’s all right?”
“The break got infected,” Halla murmured.
Cristov stopped dead, grabbing Halla in alarm. “Where is he?”
Halla pointed to the cemetery. “He died not long after he met you,” she told him. “He’d hoped to see you again.”
“I’m sorry,” Cristov told her miserably. “I never knew.”

I realize we’re supposed to see this as Cristov being crestfallen at losing a friend and not knowing about it, but again, there’s a little bit more in this that I want to say that Jamal might have been a first crush for Cristov, who wouldn’t have had the language to express what his desires were, nor be in a safe space where he could examine those feelings and come to terms with them. Unless, perhaps, he were lucky enough to be born in a Weyr, or Impress a dragon.

Tarik, of course, wouldn’t want anything other than the finest of toxic masculinity for his son. This is probably why Cristov asked for the pipe lessons to be secret, because Tarik had a very strong idea bout what kind of miner his son would be and what knowledge his son would need to be that miner, and none of that Harper stuff to interfere. Plus, out here in our world, men-looking folk playing woodwind instruments sometimes have to weather invective from their peers about their sexual orientation. So, there’s ample reason to believe that Tarik would have tried to beat the music lessons out of his son as somehow unmanly.

Maybe Dala could have helped Cristov come to terms with his feelings, but it would have had to have been somewhat secret to avoid tripping Tarik’s wrath and ignorance, and that makes the assumption that Dala would be willing to help on that matter. She’s shown as having differing opinions about things and encouraging Cristov to make up his mind, but that’s not the same thing as being supportive of having a potentially gay son.

D’vin, in the other hand, is making Halla much more nervous the longer they talk.

“How are you getting along, then?” D’vin asked. His gaze took in the state of her clothing, and the gauntness of her frame.
“I’m making do, my lord,” Halla said, dipping her head in an apparent gesture of respect but really trying to hide her eyes from the dragonrider’s probing flame. To change the subject, she looked up again and pointed. “There’s the baker, my lord.”
“Thank you,” D’vin replied, picking up his pace. Sonia’s words from months back echoed in his head: I swear, D’vin, you’d take in every stray that crossed your path!
The baker was so pleased at D’vin’s patronage that she sent to the tent next door for fresh berry juice and set a special table out in front of her stall just for them.
Neither Halla nor Cristov were used to such deferential service, but D’vin did everything he could to make them feel at east, while praising the baker’s and juicemaker’s efforts loudly to the bustling crowd.
Halla watched the dragonrider surreptitiously, surprised at his easy ways and the manner in which he dealt with the merchants. It was clear to her he knew his praise would help her sales, and that he didn’t overdo it–he said just enough to ensure that both vendors would have plenty of custom for the rest of the Gather.
Cristov watched neither of them. Instead, he explored his last memories of Jamal. Memories of a Gather three Turns past.
“Cristov?” D’vin’s voice startled him.
“My lord?”
“Was he a good friend?” the dragonrider asked softly.
Cristov shook his head. “He might have been,” he said, “but we never got the chance to find out.” He looked up. “My father didn’t approve of him.”
Cristov didn’t notice the startled look Halla gave him but D’vin did.
With a sigh, D’vin got to his feet. “We’d better get back–the next event will start soon.”

And there’s that ambiguity again, as to whether it would have been just friendship for a boy who wasn’t allowed to have any that weren’t approved by his father, or whether Cristov had an interest in Jamal, an interest he might also have for Pellar, but he lacks the necessary components for understanding, and also lacks mentorship from a responsible adult about those feelings, even if he could articulate them into some sort of coherent form.

Chapter 3 leaves off at this point, and Chapter 5 will bring us back to the Games, but Chapter 4 has to happen in the interim, and it’s specifically situated at “Firestone Mine #9”, and here’s the rather ominous rhyme that accompanies:

Shunned from Hold, Shunned from Craft,
Steal the grain, steal the haft.
Take without returning too
And it will be Shunned for you.

Because that’s the sort of thing you need in your nightmares, that someone’s going to come along and paint an S on you because you borrowed something and forgot to return it, or someone else thinks you’re not contributing enough to justify what you’re taking.

One page into this chapter and I understand why the previous eight firestone mines have exploded. The Miner Formerly Known As Tarik, as part of his sentence and Shunning, has been sent to work Firestone Mine #9, and is awoken by having water thrown in his face, threatened with the stocks, and had his head bashed with the water bucket when he tries to give a little of the harsh treatment back to the foreman, Gerendel. The Turn before this assignment has apparently been drudge duty in the minor holds around Crom.

Proving that he’s got rocks in his own head for splashing Tarik, Gerendel reminds everyone about the reasons why spitting isn’t allowed in the mine.

“But we’re it in the mine,” Maril protested.
“If we were, you’d likely be dead,” Gerendel said. “I don’t want you thinking you can spit anywhere lest you forget when you’re in the mine.” He turned to Tarik. “You remember that, firestone’s fickle with water. If it doesn’t explode, the fumes’ll kill a man.”
[…Tarik tried to get away from this fate on his first night there, was caught, and thrown in the stocks…]
In the two months since then, Tarik had been in the stocks twice more, and beaten, once, in the middle of the night. He was certain that Maril had been one of his assailants.
But neither Maril nor Gerendel frightened Tarik as much as the mine.

And with good reason. Gerendel says it will only be a matter of time before this one explodes, too, but because the Shunned work the mines, nobody cares, either. For extra horror points, Gerendel notes Tarik is the first miner exiled to this space, before dismissing the idea that Tarik might have any special skills that would help with the mining.

And the final cherry on top is that, since everyone who arrives and departs does so by dragons, there’s a good chance that Gerendel isn’t lying when he says the nearest dwelling is three days’ march away. Tarik has been handed a death sentence, and nobody cares, and at this point I wonder how many of the Lords and dragonriders know how their most important mineral is obtained, and the quality of the workers employed for it. If there were actual miners employed, maybe the mines wouldn’t have exploded so much. Of course, that would also mean having to make relatively safe mines.

Tarik manages to get himself put in the stocks again before the shift begins for this :

Tarik hefted his pick, eyeing the back of Gerendel’s had thoughtfully.
Maril shouted, pointing at Tarik, and Gerendel wheeled around.

Over his protests that he did nothing, of course. Tarik is to get water and no food for his time in the stocks, and while Maril is assigned to make sure he actually gets water, all Maril does is mine. It takes Renlin, the cook, coming over at the lunch break before Tarik gets any water at all, and after lunch, Maril is equally unwilling to give him a drink, at one point demanding that Tarik beg for the chance. Tarik refuses, choosing his pride over what would likely be humiliation and no water. Maril leaves the bucket seemingly out of reach and continues to mine.

Tarik thinks he might be able to get to the bucket.

Tarik eyed the bucket, eyed the mine entrance, and paused. If he didn’t get the bucket, if it tipped over, what then? He was close enough to the mine shaft that the water from the bucket might flow to the entrance. Of course, he reminded himself, there was a deep gutter dug in front of the mine to carry any water away–water in a firestone mine would be disastrous.
[…Tarik tries for it, but only manages to kick the bucket over…]
Everything would have been all right, if Maril hadn’t emerged from the mine at that moment. The water had lapped over the wooden rails the cart ran on: Maril, pushing from behind, didn’t see the stain of liquid and was taken off guard by the sudden change in resistance of his load. His pushing jarred the cartload, and a few pieces of firestone fell off the cart.
Tarik’s voice was too dry for more than the hoarsest of shouts. “Run!”

…this seems like an engineer or a miner would be been very helpful in the construction of this mine, because “water should never be allowed near the mine” and “rails that lead to the mine are close enough to the water gutter that water can slosh onto the rails from the gutter” sounds exactly like the kind of problem someone who actually knows what they’re doing can spot and fix during construction. (Or possibly move once they notice, if for no other reason than self-preservation.

Which brings me to the point I couldn’t quite find the handle on before. Since Tarik is the first miner that’s been Shunned and sent to the firestone mine, shouldn’t they be picking his brain aggressively about how to make things so that they don’t die easily? Maybe not the foreman, since he doesn’t seem to care at all about anybody’s lives, but the dragons need firestone, and even if they’re Shunned and looking for a way out, surely everyone else there wants to have a shot at living long enough to make an escape?

Yet everyone seems to be much more interested in hurting Tarik and trying to make him feel humiliated than using his knowledge. “Too stupid to live” is not a phrase I’d use lightly, but it applies here so, so much. Because what happens next was eminently preventable, even if all the people there are inveterate shitheels.

Maril didn’t hear him. He leaned over instinctively to retrieve the errant stone just as it fell into the water and burst into flame.
In an instant, the disaster was complete. The fire startled Maril, who leaned backward, tripped, and, struggling to stay upright, tugged the cartload of firestone back toward the mine. The cart of firestone caught flame even as it rolled back over Maril’s leg and into the mine, gaining speed on the slope.
A huge ball of flame, taller than a man, burst out of the side of the mountain where the firestone mine had been. The blast caught Tarik and threw him, still in the stocks, backward like a straw doll.
The flames licked the nearby trees, withering their limbs. And then the fires subsided, leaving the mine shaft a huge, black smoking hole in the side of the mountain.

That’s certainly an evocative explosion. And I think it’s probably safe to say that Tarik is dead from that explosion, too, along with all the others. Because of a poorly designed mine system and a great indifference to the lives of the Shunned in punishment. It’s unlikely that the narrative is going to dwell on this all that much, though. There’s more exciting things to get to, like the next part of the dragon games.

I’m just really annoyed that Tarik is the one getting sacrificed, when Tenim has already more than earned dying in a terrible fire with nobody around and he doesn’t have valuable skills and information to give to the miners about their survival.

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Deconstruction Roundup for January 25th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is recounting old wounds to someone who needs to hear about them.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Ana Mardoll: Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorium Press

Fred Clark: Slacktivist

Froborr: Jen A. Blue

Ross: A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are stuck in the middle of a temper tantrum being thrown by one party that nobody else seems to be able to stop. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragon’s Fire: The Consequences Of Our Actions

Last time, Chitter was torn apart by Grief and Tenim attempted the mine collapse that Nuella and Kindan would eventually thwart. Pellar is presumed to be dead. Tenim is still at large. Where does that leave us?

Dragon’s Fire: Book 2: Chapters 1 and 2: Content Notes: Really Nice Act Of Kindness, Implied Suicide, Socially-Sanctioned Murder

Miners, dig in streets so black,
Find the coal, bring it back.
When cold winter comes to stay,
Your warm coal keeps chills away.

(Camp Natalon, 494.1 AL (same month as the last couple chapters))

Tarik. From Cristov’s point of view, from slightly after the rescue is complete. As he comes out of the mine, Cristov sees his father’s face.

Instead if smiling at him or giving him any sign of recognition, Tarik turned his head sharply away from his son, as though disowning him.
Cristov felt his face burn in shame, even though he knew it wasn’t right, that he was the one who should be ashamed of his father.
As he watched, Masterminer Britell and two miners he didn’t recognize approached his father.
“Tarik, I think you should come with us,” Britell said. “There will be an investigation.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Tarik growled angrily.
“Precisely.”

Cristov thinks about following, but Toldur stops him, and then the narrative jumps forward to the point in time where Tarik is on trial.

“Miner Tarik,” Britell said to him. “I have heard evidence that you did purposely steal the wood intended to shore up your mineshaft and that you did purposely mine the pillars of your shaft. Will you explain what you did with the wood and the coal?”
“Who said I did any such thing?” Tarik demanded seeking out Natalon among the crowd and glaring at him. “It’s all lies–”
“Among others, miners Panit and Kerdal,” Master Zist’s voice cut across Tarik’s outburst.
A vein bulged in Tarik’s forehead as he tried to jump out of the grasp of his guards, lunging toward Panit and Kerdal.
“You’re dead!” he shouted to them, struggling against his guards. “Dead!”

Here’s a place where I have I yet again complain about the lack of judicial system on Pern. There is legitimate grief about how the adversarial system currently employed in places like the United States is flawed and does not often lead to justice, but it does often provide for a method (even if it’s not always successful) for a person to protest their innocence, raise issues with evidence collected and the trustworthiness of the witnesses, and attempt to convince persons who are theoretically nonpartisan about the case of that innocence, under the auspices of professionals (who are also supposedly sufficiently detached from the people in the case) charged to execute their duties as zealously as possible.

Tarik is likely going to be convicted of the charges against him. There’s eyewitness testimony, there’s evidence of the sabotage, and someone can probably trace where the wood and coal went and who profited from it. But we don’t know if Panit and Kerdal, who were some of Tarik’s closest lieutenants, agreed to testify against him to avoid being charged with the same thing, and what evidence they provided and whether that testimony and those offers were done according to procedure to make sure that everything is on the up and up. The way it is now, Tarik is being convicted in a kangaroo court, and there’s no actual justice done.

This trial is exactly the sort of thing that trained legists are needed in Pern for, and for one other aspect that is just about to appear.

“Would you answer our question?” Britell said.
Tarik looked nervously around the room. He opened his mouth to speak but decided against it, shaking his head. [emphasis mine]
“Very well,” Britell said. “Miner Tarik, it is our conclusion that your actions did severely endanger the safety of the mind and directly caused the death of two miners. Further, it is our conclusion that you took your actions repeatedly, in full knowledge of the dangers you were creating and against the direction of Camp Natalon’s leader. Your actions were taken, we believe, for your own gain.”
[…Cristov’s mother isn’t taking it well…]
“Beyond that, whet the mine did collapse as a result of your negligence, you purposefully refused to allow any rescue attempts to the extent that you struck a cold unconscious to prevent him from attempting a rescue,” Britell continued, his voice harsh with repressed rage. “There is also some question as to whether your orders to pump air into the mine after the shaft’s collapse were not an attempt on your part to ensure that there would be no survivors.”
“That’s not so,” Tarik protested feebly. He raised his head to look Masterminer Britell in the eyes. “I didn’t know, I swear!” [emphasis mine]

Tarik is looking around, as if he were trying to see if someone is in the room, after threatening his assistants. And he did protest innocence on trying to finish off the people trapped down there. And if, say, Tarik had a legist with whom communication was private and privileged, and that would do their professional best to find any reason to exculpate, or at least introduce a reasonable doubt that he was responsible, Tarik might have been able to flat-out tell him about Tenim and the extortion and threats he’d received and try to use that information to broker a cooperation agreement against Tenim, or put Tarik in the Pernese equivalent of Witness Security. Which, yes, would pervert some amount of justice, but it would at least name all of the conspirators, even if it would take quite a while before Tenim could be found and brought to justice himself.

Because the consequences of what happens are basically irreversible. And by doing things this way, they make it exceedingly easy for Tenim to get away with what he’s done.

“Your actions indicate a disregard for the lives of others,” Zist said. “As such, it is our opinion that you should be released from the company of men.”
“Shunned?” Tarik cried in disbelief.
Cristov’s eyes went wide. Beside him, Dara let out a moan.
“Shunned and Nameless,” Masterminer Britell said.
Nameless? Cristov thought in despair. His father’s name would be taken away from him, never to be spoken again. Beside him, Dara collapsed.
“Furthermore, for the rest of your days you will work at the pleasure of Lord Holder Fenner,” Britell continued.

Cristov doesn’t get to see the rest, because he’s trying to revive and help escort his fainted mother from the hall. Toldur says that miners take care of their own, but Cristov rightly wonders exactly how long that protection is going to last. And thus ends the first chapter.

Of all the things I’ve seen someone get Shunned for, if Tarik really were the kind of person that did all the things that he was accused of doing, on his own, with the reckless endangerment and manslaughter counts (at minimum) that come with that, Shunning would seem like an appropriate punishment, at least in this society that doesn’t seem to have much of a conception for jails. And yet, Tarik is being told that he will be engaged in forced labor as a nameless person for the rest of his life. He’s being enslaved, which does actually sound like a punishment from various societies, although if I’m recalling correctly, such things had a fixed term instead of a lifelong sentence.

No, wait, that doesn’t make any sense at all. Let’s try this again. In theory, Tarik is being sent away from civilization and having his name excised from the history of the planet. He’s being made into an un-person. Yet, he is also being sentenced to a lifetime of forced labor at the discretion of the local lord, where, presumably, he will need to have some designation and/or contact with society. Having peeked ahead, I see how they resolve this particular contradiction, but at this particular blush, they’re doing two different things in the same punishment. Is Tarik supposed to be sent away from everyone else and exiled because he’s just that bad of a person, or is he supposed to be made into a permanent slave and forgotten that he was ever anything or anyone else?

Let’s start Chapter 2, which wants to provide an excellent example of the Mood Whiplash trope in its rhyming couplets:

Gather, gather, gather!
Frolic play and laughter!
Juicy bubbly pies to eat–
Gather day’s the best all week.

And we’re back to the All-Weyr Games, but it’s 495.4 – it’s been a year and three divisions since Tarik was sent away from human society.

Cristov is here at the games because the Masterminer has sent for him. Although he’s still really self-conscious that they’re all staring at him because of what his father did. But he’s supposed to see the Masterminer and others on the platform for honored guests, so he goes, with Toldur as his backup.

And then it feels like the authors got confused about who gets what characterization for a bit, because, well, Halla’s being told by Moran that Cristov is her target. It turns out to be just (just) to follow Cristov and report back what’s said to him and around him, but, well, take a look for yourselves.

“He was Jamal’s friend,” Halla objected when she caught sight of her prey. “I remember him. About three turns back, just when Jamal broke his leg.”
“He was, and his father helped us, too,” Moran agreed. “So there’s no reason he shouldn’t be your friend, too.”
“But–”
Moran silenced her with a finger to his lips. “Go, if you want to eat tonight, he told her. When she still looked rebellious, Moran added, “If you want the young ones to eat tonight.”
Halla glared at him, her jaw set, weighing the alternatives. There were none, and Moran knew it. Moran controlled the food, the wealth, and all the secrets.
[…Halla had been relieved to see him, since he’d brought back the children to Aleesa to leave them there, and they’d gathered a new group of children…]
Halla could do what he said or suffer the consequences. When Jamal had been alive, Halla had held hopes that they might escape from Moran somehow. But the fever that had seeped in through his broken leg and sapped him first of strength and then of life.
She’d been all of eight when he’d died . With Jamal dead, there’d been no one but Moran–she doubted he was a real harper–to look after her. And now, when she was nearing twelve Turns, there were other young ones to look after–and perhaps save.
Halla knew that Moran had followed the same reasoning, had tied her to him out of her pity for the young ones just as he had tied her brother Jamal to him out of Jamal’s worry for her. And even so, Halla couldn’t imagine leaving the young ones to deal with Moran alone. She, more than any, knew what he was like–she’d expereinced it after Jamal’s death; the harper off at all hours of the evening, her never knowing if the harper would return, and, if he did, whether he would come with enough food for them or none at all and him drunk instead on the marks that he’d begged for their food.
“Just follow him,” Moran told her. “Listen to what’s said and report back to me.”
Halla nodded and headed off after her quarry. When she looked back, Moran had disappeared into the crowd. Probably looking for some wine, Halla thought, wondering if she’d have to deal once again with the harper’s drunkenness later than night. She felt herself chill at the thought.

Admittedly, everything we’ve had about Moran to this point has been from Moran’s point of view, from Harpers who would be sympathetic to him, and Tenim, who may or may not be a reliable narrator, but this description of Moran sounds much more like Tenim than the bleeding-heart and slightly not-competent Harper that we’ve become accustomed to seeing him as up to this point. If this has been a confidence act, then we’ve been fooled along with everyone else (he is Harper-trained, after all) and that’s just the sort of thing that’s good for a Harper, but it is equally possible that this section was originally written with Tenim at the helm and then revised to be Moran instead and the bits that would make it more Moran-y, like the coming back drunk instead of with food, sprinkled in.

We also, however, have no reason to believe that Halla is wrong in any way about this, and there’s been a narrative push to make her into perhaps the single character in the Shunned side of everything who sees everything clear-eyed and exactly as they are. We already know she’s competent, if overwhelmed, at managing a bunch of the children. She also had a standing offer with Trader Tarri to go travel the world with her, which seems a bit odd that she didn’t immediately go chase that as soon as she’d rendered her aid to Pellar and helped disguise Moran’s tracks. But not so odd that I’m going to fault her for it, because abusive and co-dependent relationships, where someone’s desire to do good can be weaponized, often look very strange to outsiders, who wonder why anyone stays with a person they know is bad for them. There are a lot relationships that are terrible and toxic and stay together because there are children involved. If Moran has stepped up his game, or let his true self out now that Tenim’s gone, then Moran’s got something coming himself. Especially in the cold feeling that Halla gets about Moran being drunk.

As it turns out, Halla’s not that great at staying out of sight, because Cristov recognizes her almost immediately, if hazily, because she looks familiar enough that he remembers Jamal. Cristov says Jamal was his friend, and because she looks cold and starving, Cristov borrows a half-mark piece from Toldur, gives it to Halla, and tells her to go to the bubbly pie vendor, buy as many as that half-mark will buy, and then eat them all herself. Halla takes the mark and scampers off. Cristov apologizes to Toldur for giving away his piece, and Toldur tells Cristov there’s nothing to be sorry about.

Now, if bubbly pies cost the same in this time as they did in the Ninth Pass, Halla would be able to get 6 pies for a 1/32 piece, which means Cristov is asking Halla to buy 16/32 worth of pies, or 96 pies. If they’re one-bite or two-bites, then that seems, well, doable. If they’re anything bigger than that, though, Halla has the possibility of being very sick from eating all of that sweet stuff all at once. Or having to deal with the potential logistics of having that many pies. If there are enough of the children around and they’re also hungry, those 96 will disappear in a flash, and everyone will have the momentary happiness of hot, flaky pastry, and there will be no leftovers to have to worry about carting around.

Cristov meets the Masterminer and the Lord Holder on their stand, and there’s a really big awkward moment as things get off to exactly the wrong foot by the Lord Holder, Fenner, telling Cristov that he looks like his father. And then asks about his mother.

Cristov gave Toldur a bleak look, but the Masterminer answered for him. “I’m afraid Dara had an accident. She’d not been well since…”
The Lord Holder looked nearly as embarrassed as Cristov felt. “I’m very sorry to hear that,” he said after a moment. “She was always such a kind, vivacious lady. She will be sorely missed.”
“Indeed,” Britell agreed.
“She died of shame,” Cristov said, startling the older men around him. He remembered his mother’s eyes that day, when Tarik was Shunned. He had seen the life go out of them slowly in the days before the trial, as her hopes dwindled.
When the sentence was read, she had been the first to turn away from Tarik, even before Cristov had turned his back on his father. He had seen her eyes and the tears spilling from them, and he had seen her heart harden and wither, and he knew, even before Tarik was sentenced to the firestone mines, that if the sentence had Shunned Tarik, it had killed Dara.
“I wish she hadn’t,” Britell replied gravely.

I don’t think it was an accident that killed Dara. Especially not with the way that Cristov points out how much shame was involved after the Shunning of Tarik. It sounds like the sort of accident someone might have by drinking too much fellis juice in their klah, or mixing fellis and wine in the wrong kinds of proportions. That kind of thing that everyone can nod and say that it was accidental, when it was nothing of the sort. Mental illness brought on by trauma, with no societal way of being able to work through it or otherwise find something worth living for.

There is help out there, if you’re feeling like the only way to get away from the pain and the shame is to do what Hamlet was considering to himself. (Rather than what he was planning on doing to Claudius.)

There’s a little bit of talking about the Games, but then the discussion turns to firestone, and we learn a little bit more about this mineral as it exists in the Second Interval.

“No mine lasts too long, either,” Toldur added.
“Why?” Cristov asked.
“They blow up,” Lord Fenner answered with a shrug.
“If the gases don’t suffocate the men first,” Masterminer Britell added mournfully.
“But we must have it,” Lord Fenner said. “Without firestone, the dragons could not protect Pern.”

Firestone has been described as a phosphine-bearing rock, but if it’s highly volatile and releases deadly gases, that makes it…a phosphine-bearing rock, as The Other Wiki points out phosphides have a tendency to give off phosphorous gas when exposed to a little water and get violently reactive when that gas is ignited. However, with more information coming, we might be able to narrow down the rock in question. White phosphorous, for example, ignites when exposed to the air.

The people at the box watch the arrival of dragons, and the narrative shuffles away to a holder named Nikal demanding coal from Moran, which was apparently promised to him some time ago and hasn’t been delivered. Moran claims a problem with his supplier, and Nikal threatens to spread the world about Moran as a cheat in seven days if the coal isn’t delivered. Nikal grew up with a Shunned father and mother and is apparently trying to hold down a plot of land for himself and go legit.

I suspect Moran’s supplier was Tenim, and with Tarik out of the picture, my opinion of Moran is further tarnished by his scheme. Perhaps Halla had the right bead on him after all.

The dragons, apparently, have choreographed entrances in which they unfurl the banners of their Weyrs. All the Weyr banners are supposedly diamond shaped, and Benden’s is in deep red with the II of being the second Weyr. Fort’s is earth brown and black, Ista uses orange and black to recreate their volcano, and High Reaches uses fog, black, and the blue and bronze dragons themselves to recreate their badge, black mountain crags on blue.

This is the first time I’ve heard about Weyr heraldry in any detail, even though I had basically assumed that coats of arms were present for all the Lords, all the Guilds and their halls, and probably a good many of the minor holders, too. I’m not sure whether to be thankful that there haven’t been detailed heraldry discussions before or slightly annoyed at it.

In any case, in the box, Masterminer Britell and Lord Holder Fenner admit that they’ve been giving Telgar Weyr more firestone than they should be.

“That would be enough for Telgar to get four times what the others receive,” Fenner said, “but we’ve also discovered that Weyrleader D’gan was appropriating firestone for his Weyr directly from the mine itself.”
“He was stealing?” Cristov asked in amazement.
“Not so much stealing as, perhaps, taking more than his fair due,” Lord Fenner said judiciously. “But we’ll sort that out now that we’ve discovered our error.”

I appreciate the diplomacy on display there, Fenner. It’s a bad idea to annoy the person in charge of your safety from the airborne threat, especially when they’re mercurial like D’gan. Especially when they have dragons.

I do have a question or two, though. Given that firestone has only ever been depicted as a mineral that Weyrs need, why is a Holder talking about the supply like it’s something he needs to be concerned with? Shouldn’t the Weyrs be directly supervising the mines, with the Miner’s Guild making sure any members of theirs that are present are taken care of appropriately? If there’s some other purpose that firestone is put to other than as dragon food that makes it worth a Holder’s time to mine it, I want to know what it is. Otherwise, the Weyrleaders can fight among themselves about proper supply. (They can think it beneath them all they want, but it’s still true.)

Kindan, now clad as a Harper apprentice, relays D’gan’s request to open the Games, and Fenner gives Cristov the honor of waving the flag to get it started. Cristov realizes he’s being honored, and feels a lot better about his prospects for the day, and that finishes Chapter 2.

Next week, the All-Weyr Games!

Deconstruction Roundup for January 18th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is making difficult choices for complex reasons.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Ana Mardoll: Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorium Press

Fred Clark: Slacktivist

Froborr: Jen A. Blue

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are concerned about the ways in which so many people seem to be doing nothing in the face of existential threats. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragon’s Fire: The Plot Wears Thinner

Last time, we spent a lot of fragmentary passages reducing the cast through murder or disappearance, and now Halla, Pellar, and Moran are each at Aleesa’s camp, which can’t be good for Aleesa’s feeling of security right now.

Dragon’s Fire: Book 1: Chapters 7 and 8: Content Notes: Pet Death

Aleesa’s Camp, AL 494.1, and this fragment, which sounds much more like the song we had from the last book:

Watch-wher, watch-wher in the night,
Keep us safe from fear or fright.
Watch-wher, watch-wher guard our Hold,
Keep us from those cruel or bold

Which…isn’t going to help much if the cruel and the bold are the Lord Holder or any of his family. Also, we can probably say the Ruathan watch-wher was certainly trying to achieve this before Lessa called him off in the first book.

The fragment is also entirely misleading, as the grand majority of this chapter happens away from any watch-whers, and involves a deception about one of their eggs.

The action itself begins with Moran waking up after knocking himself out trying to get to a warm fire. Halla and Pellar are also there, the latter having set Moran’s broken leg that he acquired in the fall. Knowing that Tenim isn’t far behind, Pellar has a plan ready to draw Tenim’s attention to himself by making it look like he’s got a watch-wher egg. That gives Moran time to heal and draws heat off of Aleesa’s camp. And also conveniently leaves a Harper in the camp, as Pellar promised. Halla is taking the kids to safety somewhere near the closest Hold so they don’t freeze. And the plan seems to be going accordingly, with the glimpse we get of how Tenim puts together the clues that have been left for him.

But if Moran was carrying so many marks, why didn’t he simply buy his passage? The answer came to Tenim as quickly as the question–because neither he nor Moran were willing to risk that there wasn’t someone else eager to take their hard-won marks. Just as Moran had decided he’d no further need of that useless Conni. Tenim snorted as he remembered her ranting and raving when he caught up with her at the tavern.

Given what Tenim did to her daughter, I have to wonder if there’s a silent murderous component to “caught up with.” It’s certainly not out of character for Tenim to do terrible acts of violence to someone over a perceived or actual wrong. Also, it’s very interesting how Tenim thinks that everyone else is as thievery-inclined as he is. (He may not be wrong, given what I have heard about the difficulties of keeping property when in homeless situations.)

When he picked up the harper’s trail again, he found signs that Moran had stopped at last. A fire–a day old. Some rocks gathered around. Something placed near the fire. What? Tenim wondered and peered closer. He sifted among the ashes. Sand? Why would the harper be carrying sand? And keeping it warm?
With a curse, Tenim sprang up and broke into a steady trot. Moran had found a fire-lizard egg or, better, a watch-wher egg.
One day, if he could catch up with Moran before Crom Hold, he’d have more than a fortune. He’d have a winter’s worth of coal, or the same amount in marks.

As genesistrine pointed out, transporting that coal is a pain in the ass. Presumably Tenim would have to hire in a Trader caravan to move the stuff, and then, at that point where the coal gets sold, collect the money, presumably minus the trader fees for the transport and brokerage, which Tenim might try to steal back. And all of that assumes that the traders don’t recognize him by description or sight and just put him to the local Lord’s justice. It’s a bad plan, but Tenim has been doing really well on bad plans to this point, so he doesn’t really have a reason to stop, I suppose.

The narrative follows Pellar as he gets through Crom Hold and re-meets Trader Tarri, who is headed back to Camp Natalon and lets Pellar hitch a ride with her. There’s travel, and watch, and warm klah (accomplished by leaving hot stones in pots so the drink doesn’t freeze) and then a small bit of Tarri telling Pellar he’s going to have to sleep naked if he doesn’t want to freeze (from the moisture in his clothes). Pellar, in response, manages to strip out of his clothes while still in his sleeping bag. Tarri points out she’s not quite that deft, and so Pellar obliges her by looking the other way (and falls asleep before she gets done.)

Then we get more of Tenim, who has used his money to buy information and learned the truth that he hasn’t been following the harper, and there’s a good chance the egg isn’t real, either. But Tenim recognizes Pellar by description and feels he owes him a debt of revenge.

So this “lad” had decided to pay him for a fool. Moran would have to know, would have been in on it, Tenim was certain. What was the harper to the lad that he’d go out of his way to protect him? Why would the lad risk his life for a broken-down man who claimed he was a harper but spent most of his time stealing?
[…Tenim has thoughts…]
He’d find out soon enough: he’d been close behind the traders all day and he knew they’d stopped for the night. The lad might not talk, but when Tenim was done with him, he’d wish he could–and he’d ask tell Tenim all he wanted to know. And, after that, well, no one who made a fool out of Tenim lived to tell it.

And speaking of acts of violence in relation to real or perceived wrongs, here we are with a perfect example.

I can’t really envision how Tenim thinks he’s going to achieve this, but I suspect Tenim doesn’t really care about the information part as much as the killing part. Because he’s also brought Grief along and given him a specific mission to, as we’ll find out, kill Chitter to prevent him from interfering with his plans for Pellar. Which basically involves knocking Pellar out from behind just as Chitter tries to warn him of Tenim’s presence.

Chitter was too late. A hard fist landed behind Pellar’s ear and he stumbled in pain. His last sight was of Chitter and claws and a beak–and ten the air was filled with shrieking and green ichor. And then he was falling into the steam, cold water engulfing him.

And that’s the seventh chapter.

Chapter 8 is very short, and is primarily the fallout from the attack. Chitter is dead, mangled by Grief,. Zist and Tarri suggest Pellar might be dead, based on the wreckage of where he fell and that he’s been washed away. Mikal, the ex-rider we met at the beginning, gets a short scene of hearing the drums and then trying to blot out the sorrows of hearing of the death of his student.

And then we switch to Tenim and find out that while he’s crowing at the success of his attack,

Pellar is only missing, not dead. Which makes two verses in a row that are partially misleading.

Wail at night, cry by day,
Never right, always fey.
Make the cairns with rocks piled high,
To mark the spot where loved ones lie.

Tenim has come back to Camp Natalon, only to discover that we are now at the point where Zenor has told Natalon about Tarik’s unsafe mine practices and Natalon has benched Tarik in response. Tenim is understandably unhappy at the prospect of all of his schemes having fallen out from under him, leaving him penniless and in charge of nobody.

“Natalon’s as good as sacked me. I’ll never find work after this.” He [Tarik] shook his head dejectedly. “His own uncle, and he throw me out.”
“You’re no use to me if you’re thrown out,” Tenim said, eyeing Tarik thoughtfully. The older man was too much in his cups to recognize his peril.
“I should be the master here,” Tarik grumbled, “not him. I’ve Turns more experience in the mine, helped train him, too.”
Tenim’s murderous look altered subtly as he listened to Tarik.
“Where’s Natalon now?”
Tarik quirked an eyebrow at him, saying querulously, “In the mine, my shaft, shoring up the joists, of course.”

So Tarik ends up playing sentry while Tenim causes the mine collapse that Nuella and Kindan will be able to rescue everyone from, and the only thing left to note is that the end of this chapter is the reason why Cristov goes to help Kindan.

In the kitchen, on the table, he spied the grisly remains of a brown fire-lizard. The memory of stroking that fire-lizard’s cheek woke an anger in Cristov that he had never before felt. He turned in his heel and strode out of the cottage.
He was going to get his axe.

There’s the end of this chapter and the book, so we are finally starting to move forward in the timeline past what we have already experienced from another point of view. It does finally answer the question why the narrative chose not to call Tarik an attempted murderer, even though all of the characters in the mine at that point would have every reason to, and they didn’t, either.

They’re are a few parts of each of these chapters that are important for the plot to come, but there’s a lot of filler in here, too. We probably could have stuck with Tenim and his murderous thoughts in the entirety of the chase, since he’s the one actually directing the action at these points, and basically not done any of the segments that cut away from him all the way through until we get to Cristov, confirming that Chitter is dead and that he’s got to get his axe and get going.

I also reiterate that Natalon had very good reasons to sack Tarik long before this particular incident, at least when it looked like Tarik was responsible for the chimney cave-in, or for sowing discord among the miners, or many other reasons involved. Tarik is presuming his familial relations are a get out of trouble free card, which they never have been. But Natalon has his own problems, and maybe he believed that sending his uncle out in the next trader caravan to go back and find work somewhere else would ruin his image be Dalor’s marriage prospects.

In a perfect world, Tenim would have been trapped by his own cave-in, and there will be some other villain for this second book. But, no body, no proof. Tenim is likely to be back.

And so will we, next week, with the second part of the story.

Deconstruction Roundup for January 11th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is now back into the working groove.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Ana Mardoll: Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorium Press

Fred Clark: Slacktivist

Froborr: Jen A. Blue

Ross: A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are concerned about the ways in which so many people seem to be doing nothing in the face of existential threats. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragon’s Fire: It All Comes Undone

Last chapter, we re-interleaved a bit with the previous book, as Kisk-Nuelsk hatched and Cristov and Pellar had a bonding moment over making sure that the watch-wher was safely brought into the world.

Also, Pellar’s return to the watch-wher camp resulted in both Pellar and Aleesk getting shot, because everyone assumed his return on dragonback wearing Harper Blue meant he had sold them all out to the people they hated the most, even though that wasn’t the actual case. But nobody sent any word ahead informing the camp of this, which is excusable for Pellar, because he’s still at most fourteen, but much less so for the adults around him who would presumably know better.

Dragon’s Fire: Book I: Chapter 6: Content Notes: Child Death, Murder Most Foul, Attempted Murder, The Consequences of Bad Decisions

(Camp Natalon, 493.10-494.1)

Pipes for playing, pipes for song,
Pipes to help the day along.
Pipes for laughter, pipes for joy,
Pipes for sorrow, pipes for boys.

Well, this looks familiar. The first couplet seems to be very related to the “Harper, Harper” snippet from the last book. The second part seems to be something to add on to it, although I am looking askance about the idea that pipes are a gendered instrument for boys. Because this has a long potential call-back from the idea that “tuning isn’t for girls” that caused so much of Menolly’s grief in her duology. Of course, since it’s boys all around, there isn’t going to be that particular type of issue, but it’s still grating how much women are prevented from doing things that should be doable by all of the people in the world.

The action starts with Cristov asking for pipe lessons, as Pellar told him to. Zist is initially hostile to the idea until Cristov presents the pipe that Pellar gave him, and Zist realizes who it’s from and immediately defrosts. It’s also here that we learn that a “pipe” is a recorder by the names of the Ancients, which means that musical instruction on Pern is much the same as it is on Terra, because recorders are one of the beginning instruments to teach to very small children, given that it requires no special embrochure or technique to play, and it’s small enough for small hands to make music with it. Cristov asks for secrecy from Zist about the lessons themselves, and Zist agrees to this, then says that the first lesson Cristov will have to go through is breathing. Which Cristov knows will be a beast because Kindan and Zenor both complained about breathing lessons from their time with Zist.

The narrative flips us back to Tenim…

…who is talking with Tarik about the egg that was purchased from Alessa. The problem being that since it’s a hatched egg and bonded to Kindan, there’s no value any more in the watch-wher. Tenim is significantly displeased about this.

Tenim’s journey had taken two more days than he had planned: profitable days, to be sure, considering the increased bulk of his well-hidden purse, but perhaps not profitable enough to make up for missing a chance at the egg.
“Hmmph,” Tenim snorted in disgust. “It’s no good to me now.”

Tarik then puts a bug in Tenim’s ear that finding a gold egg would be worth a significant amount more, and manages to get Tenim set to try and find the gold watch-wher. Tarik fervently hopes it’s a mission that Tenim won’t come back from.

Moran, for his part, has rounded up the children and is attempting to get away before Tenim can come back, although he doesn’t say as much. Halla, however, can read him well enough to know the truth, although she thinks she’s assigning her own feelings about getting away to Moran. And she can tell when the kids are going to need food. The narrative calls it “a sign of Halla’s forced maturity that she thought the way she did.” Halla is, after all, less than ten and in a leadership role for these kids.

At a sound from behind them, Moran stopped and turned.
“Perri,” Moran says in a tone that was equal parts exhaustion and worry.
Halla half turned and warned, “There’s no more feverroot.”
Moran rushed back to the fallen youngster. Perri had been bitten by a tunnel snake when he was playing at the outskirts of Hold Balan–or that’s what Halla guessed, for the toddler had never been much of a talker and refused to say anything about his injury. The wound had festered in the past several days, and he’d walked through the night in a half-fever.
Some noise or sigh caused Halla to stop and turn all the way back to the others. Instead of trudging after her, they were grouped in a semicircle. Moran was kneeling in the center.
As soon as Moran lifted his head up and looked at Halla, she knew. She sighed, too tired for anything else, wordlessly passed Nalli back to Moran, and grabbed at the handle of the shovel that hung down from her backpack. She was getting too good at digging graves.
A half hour later they trudged on, Halla more grimy than she liked, and only a few withered yellow flowers for the mound she left behind. She’d liked Perri, he’d just started to smile.

And the terrible things about this is that all of this poverty and misery is preventable. It’s deft writing to pull at the heart like this, with children dying from what is presumably preventable injuries and infections, if the people with the ridiculous amounts of wealth had even the slightest shred of empathy for the plight of others. If the new author was looking for a way to write an indictment of the world set up by the old one, the last two books have been stellar at doing so. I doubt that’s the intent, because that tends to mean less successful collaborations, but the effect is quite good.

Moran himself is suffering from what probably sounds familiar to anyone who is battling an impossible structural problem but themselves and without resources.

They look to you, Moran thought to himself as he led the group of children away from yet another grave, and you let them down.
How many graves did that make? He wondered idly and realized with dull relief that he couldn’t remember. This isn’t how things were supposed to be, Moran told himself. I was to find the Shunned, to set up meetings, to help them, Moran recalled. He had always wanted to make a difference, have ballads composed about him, make up for his unknown origins. Instead, somehow, he’d found himself only surviving one crisis to fall into another, never seeming to find the right place, the right answers, and always coming up with more complications. Every time he’d sworn that he’d locate the next harper, report in to the Harper Hall, something had happened to change his mind. He wanted to report his success; he could not bring himself to report failure. And so the Turns had passed. Turns, and Moran’s dreams had gone from saving the Shunned to simply finding food enough for those waifs he’d found along the way. Worse still, at times he’d squandered their spare marks for drink, or an evening’s comfort. Always, at the time, Moran had told himself that he deserved it–the drink or the warm company–and after, seeing the mute looks of the hungry children, had sworn never again. But again and again, he would give in to his base desires. With such dismal failures, how could he face Murenny or Zist?
He shifted Nalli on his back, looking hopefully back at Halla in hope of a trade. Her face was streaked with tears.
Moran swore at himself for his selfishness and trudged on.

If I were looking for a good description of what burnout mixed with depression was like, this passage might be my candidate for ur-example. Moran, like many missionaries, went out with the confidence of a simple reconciliation and returning of the Shunned, or at least setting up a way of taking care of them, and then, like all battle plans do, it all fell apart when reality ensued. Crushing poverty has long since had its effects on him, and he’s been in it long enough that he’s thinking like someone who is in poverty, prioritizing short-term benefits over long-term thinking, and then getting mad at himself because he’s still human and occasionally, creature comforts are what keep us from losing our grip on sanity. (Also, I note confirmation that the oldest profession continues to be so on Pern, so it’s likely that sex work is also operating under the threat of being Shunned if found out…or for refusing someone they can’t actually afford to.) Moran feels bad about it, because he’s still looking after children and the money could have fed them, but every parent needs a day off here and there, or a night out to remind themselves that they’re not just taking care of children.

It seems easy to shout at Moran and tell him to just go to the Harpers and have them take him and his children back, but that requires admitting that he can’t do it on his own, and that’s one of the hardest things to admit to anyone, including yourself, when you’ve gotten into a terrible situation. Plus, all the stuff he’s already done and would have to admit to is getting in the way. Whether he’s going to have to admit to himself that he’s a victim of systemic abuse or a perpetrator of a million petty and not so petty crimes that would sully his reputation as a Harper, he going to have to admit to failure. (He was set up to fail, and that he’s gone on this long is a miracle by itself.)

The first step, as some person named Bill said, is to admit that you have a problem. Whether that problem is “someone is abusing me,” “this relationship has come to an end,” or “I can’t save everyone,” it’s still a hard first step to get there, and there’s a lot of recrimination that happens afterward once that step gets made. And then the next step, and the next step after that, until you’ve finally come to terms with what the problem is and what can be done about it. In Moran’s case, there might be a lot, but he’s going to have to enlist the help of the Harpers to do it.

The plot continues on with a short interlude of Pellar returning back to the watch-wher camp, where Pellar continues to develop into his adult self as he spends time there, which strains certain relationships with the people around him. Arella and he are sleeping in separate beds, but close to each other. Polla is described as flirting with him, but also that she has a “grin more gap than teeth.”

Polla had flirted with him, but he’d ignored the offer woman, just as he and Arella found themselves ignoring each other–although with increasing difficulty. Some of the older girls Pellar had been teaching started flirting with him, too. Pellar politely redirected their attention, while he worried about what might occur the next time Aleesk rose to mate. His best hope was to be far away before then.

Despite the assurance from before that mating flight things were not relationship contracts, we note, because Arella turned out not to be only casually interested. If there were more proof that the mating flights didn’t end up in romantic entanglements, it seems like a mating flight orgy would be the appropriate way to satisfy all of those flirtatious requests without actually getting attached to anyone. Assuming that Pellar made it much closer to adulthood and consent by that next time.

As it is, the narrative settles into a longer chunk following Halla, who has immediate suspicions about two women who have joined their merry band of children.

Halla didn’t need for Conni to part her hair to guess at the big blue “S” that had been painted there with bluebush ink. Young as she was, Halla had a good idea of what had caused Conni to be Shunned by her Lord Holder, and liked neither the way that Conni looked at Moran–like a tunnel snake ready to pounce on its prey–nor, worse, the way Milera slavishly emulated her mother. And while Conni might be a few Turns past her prime, Milera had just gone from child to woman.
Halla had been around Moran too long not to guess that there was more to the harper’s acceptance of the two than just the kindness of his heart.

And so here begins the story of CinderHalla, as Conni and Milera manage to get into the group by offering to share their food…and apparently their bodies as well, much to Halla’s disapproval. But the food only lasts a meal, and Conni and Milera start to treat Halla as if she were their personal slave girl without losing any of their noses-in-the-air attitude about running the place.

I find this juxtaposition of the death of one of the children, Moran’s admission of his various vices and faults, and then the appearance of these two characters who are essentially there to be sexy and have their otherwise terrible selves ignored in favor of the fact they’re willing to put out extremely fascinating. The narrative is doing some pretty serious groundwork here to immediately run back any sympathy we might have for Moran from his self-confession of faults. It’s treating him the same way that it’s been treating Tenim — think terribly of this person for the actions they have committed, even as we demonstrate in their backstories that they’re basically human beings caught up in a terrible system and weren’t really given that many options to do actual good in their lives. From another angle, we could easily dismiss all of that under the rubric of “intent isn’t magic” and focus solely on the actions being taken by both men, and we would be justified in doing so. I think that ignores the institutional and systemic problems with Pern that give rise to these scenarios in the first place (and that Moran is essentially trying to deal with grief and depression), but it’s a legitimate take to have.

Halla has no illusions that neither Conni or Milera want the children around, but tolerate them for their food-gathering ability while the two women secure passage and other favors by doing sex work. There’s an entire “nice for the person they’re sleeping with, entirely mean and icy to Halla” segment with Milera while Halla’s fishing that ends in Halla having to gut much of her catch (of three fish) to feed Milera, because Milera’s the one in good graces at the moment. It’s basically a wicked stepsister routine, and there’s no point in quoting any of it. The end of the partnership is essentially that Milera steals their houseboat captain’s purse while he’s asleep, except he wakes up and raises the alarm not too soon after, and Halla ends up in the middle of a mob that wants to brand her with the S of the Shunned, despite the protestations from the actual victim of the crime that she didn’t do anything at all, until someone in Harper blue rescues her from the crowd. It’s not Moran. It’s Tenim.

Tenim very much wants to know where Moran is. Moran has essentially hidden Conni and escapes with her from the angry mob, but Conni wants to ditch the children as soon as possible. Moran doesn’t, and manages to convince Conni not to do so long enough to get through this particular segment, with Moran regretting that he let himself be fooled by a “voracious talker, stalker, and menace to all.” The action kicks back to Halla, who announces proudly that she’s found the missing kids and Moran. Tenim has found Milera.

Halla nodded, keeping her expression neutral. It was obvious that Tenim valued the pretty girl more highly than he did the missing youngsters–or herself.
During the day’s searching, Halla had found herself several times looking in a still pool of water or a shiny pot. Her reflection did not displease her.
She was still young and the features of her face were not fully formed, but they were serviceable. Probing brown eyes looked out from behind dark brown hair that could do with a wash. Her nose was straight and thin, her teeth were mostly white and strong, her lips were thin–perhaps they were too thin and that was the trouble, but she liked her smile. She had to admit that her eyes danced mischievously when she smiled, but she didn’t think that was such a horrible thing.
No, Halla decided, where she was most lacking was in the curves that Milera and, more so, Conni so proudly displayed. Halla couldn’t quite remember if she had ten or eleven Turns–Moran had insisted on teaching her to read and count, while Tenim had insisted on teaching her to hunt and track–but she was certain she’d have to be older and better fed before she’d develop any curves of her own. Anyway, she wasn’t even sure that she wanted such curves; it seemed to her that they would make running more awkward.

And she’s ten. Or eleven. But this jealousy makes a certain sort of sense, given that Halla is seeing what the boys are paying attention to, and it’s not her. At least, not right now, since we remember that Tenim still hasn’t tried to make good on his threat. Given what Halla seems to want to do with her life, she’s probably not going to develop the hourglass figure that everyone seems to want, because the athletic build doesn’t generally do a whole lot with the reserves of fat needed for curves. Older, yes, better fed, yes, but also a lot more idle than Halla is ever really going to be. Plus, with as food-insecure as she’s been for her entire life, there’s a good chance her puberty is going to be awkward at best.

As things go, the Tenim-led crew comes across a caravan of traders and hitches a ride with them. Since they’re all kids, and Halla managed to avoid the mob, when they’re checked for the mark of the Shunned, they all pass. (Halla knows for the truth that if she had been marked, Tenim would have thrown her out to make sure that he could get on the trader transport.) It turns out the trader caravan is Tarri’s, who we have seen a few times before in these books, and Halla warms up to Tarri almost instantly, and not just because Tarri understands that Milera is trading on something that won’t stay with her forever.

“You might even be trader blood. I’ve seen your features before. Or Boll blood–they get swarthy down there.”
Swarthy? Halla thought to herself. She’d never heard the word before.
“Your skin tans faster than the others, Tarri continued. “Some find your dark hair and eyes very attractive. When you get older, your features will sharpen and you’ll be glad you’ve got strong legs to run from all the men chasing you.”
Halla snorted.
Tarri shook her head and patted Halla consolingly. “And when you’re old, you’ll still have that great skin, lithe figure, and flashing eyes, while Milera will be a sagging, toothless, lardy mess.”
Halla could never imagine herself as old, but she could easily imagine Milera as toothless and lardy.

Because one of the standard things to get women to bond is to be catty about other women and their looks over time, clearly. Also, swarthy to me means someone of darker skin and complexion, suggesting yet again that there might be a better diversity of skin tone on Pern than even the authors were intending.

Halla has a minor BSOD when Tarri offers her half of her bed, which includes sheets, and gets a big enough pan to serve as a bath for Halla when Halla protests she’s not nearly clean enough for sheets. Tarri even offers to let Halla sleep in. In the company of such luxuries as towels, baths, Tarri washing and styling Halla’s hair, and a whole half bed to herself, Halla has her best night sleep ever, sleeping in until well after noon. She wakes up to an argument, where it becomes clear that Tenim and company have stolen from the traders and disappeared in the night. Tarri is trying to convince Veran, one of the other traders, that Halla had nothing to do with it.

“For the last time, Veran, she didn’t have anything to do with it,” Halla heard Tarri say. “She was asleep here with me.”
“If you say so,” Veran replied. “But what’s to say that she wasn’t hoping to steal from you, too?”
“She wasn’t.”
“And what makes you so sure?”
“Because I asked if she’d like bangs,” Tarri replied.
“Bangs?”
“You know, hair cut across her forehead,” Tarri said with a hint of exacerbation.
“But she didn’t have the mark of the Shunned,” Veran replied. “Why would it worry her?”
“That’s not the point,” Tarri said. “If she were living with people who were Shunned she would have known immediately what I meant and would have reacted differently.”
“So you’ve reached your judgment on a hunch,” Veran declared.
“As have you,” Tarri responded, her time gently chiding.

First, no, Tarri did not ask about bangs. We’ve skipped that section for quoting, but at no point did Tarri mention bangs. She just said “do your hair” to Halla. So that’s a thing the editor should have caught, or the author made explicit, or mentioned that Tarri knew she was fibbing slightly. The second bit, about both of them making assumptions, is entirely true. Halla has been traveling with the Shunned, and just had a giant scare about getting marked and before that, knowing how plenty of women hid their marks behind their hair. It just happens to be that Halla knows she’s not marked and has the same “weakness” for comforts that Moran does. Which is why Halla volunteers to go find the group that stole from the traders. “Because I don’t like walking, I like running even less, and I hate the thought of spending an me time worrying that someone might brand me Shunned,” she says.

We get confirmation that Jamal (from the very beginning) died from the infection from his broken leg and that Halla has no idea who her parents are. Veran is confused as to why Jamal couldn’t get treatment. Since they were unknown, Halla explains, they couldn’t get service.

“A trader, then–”
“Traders want marks,” Halla said. “Or trade.” Her tone when she said “trade” made Tarri blush.
Veran blustered at her words. “We traders–”
“–were happy enough to see that girl yesterday,” Tarri interjected. “At least the men.”
Veran weighed her words; from his expression it was obvious that he couldn’t argue with them but he didn’t like the way they set on his mind, either.

Point, Tarri and Halla. At least Veran doesn’t try to argue over what is pretty clearly true. He tries to go after Halla on a different tack of thievery, but Halla admits up front that she has stolen, even though she doesn’t like doing it, and Tarri backs up her justification for doing so.

It turns out that Tenim and Milera were the only ones who left and did the stealing, and it finally comes out that Zist has had the word out for Moran for Turns, although it apparently wasn’t a worldwide communication, and that they are concerned for what will happen to the Shunned when Thread comes again. Halla asks for the traders to adopt the children, which they will do, and Veran admits there’s some trade between traders and Shunned. “Most of the Shunned were sent out for good cause,” he says as a caveat, because we still can’t have people complaining the system itself is wrong and needs to be fixed, not even to themselves or among sympathetic ears.

As a final gift, Tarri and Veran trade the truth (“Traders don’t trade in lies,” Tarri says as a warning) about Halla, Moran, Tenim, and her life for a pack full of provisions so that Halla can go after Tenim and Milera. We get a statement that Conni got her Shunning not for selling her body, but for the murders of her lovers that followed shortly after, and Halla is essentially bid welcome to any trader fire on Pern from Tarri.

And then, some useful wordcraft, in the form of the textual equivalent of a Gilligan Cut.

“Fair trade,” he [Veran] said, offering the pack to her.
“Thanks.”
” ‘Fair trade’ is what you say,” Tarri corrected her.
Halla smiled. “Fair trade.”

—[Scene Change]—

“Fair trade,” Tenim said as he left the body by the gully. Milera had been a pleasant diversion, but she’d been a fool to think she could stab him while he was sleeping. She’d gotten closer than he’d liked; his shoulder was sore and hot where the dagger had scored.

I like this juxtaposition, even if I am a little eyebrow-raising that Tenim would use that exact phrase. It’s not quite natural enough for me to think of it as anything other than a contrivance, but it accomplishes the right idea with a bit of clever wordplay. I probably would have done it myself, honestly, if given the chance.

Tenim justifies his lethal response as self-defense, proving stopped clocks are still occasionally correct, and feels good about having stolen from the traders, taken Milera’s money and supplies, and is making good time on Moran and Conni, on whom he intends to revenge himself fully.

Scene changes again, this time to Moran and Conni, and Conni is getting drunk, after having gotten them both thrown out for being rude to someone that was putting them up. That said, there’s a good chance that the kids he left behind will get adopted and fostered out, and Moran, while cursing that Conni has brought him terrible fortune, has a hope spot that he might be able to return to the Hall, once he gets free of Conni. When Conni passes out from drinking, Moran relieves her of her money and then disappears.

He chooses poorly about where to go, but he follows a pair of bright lights in the sky to a camp, but he loses his footing, slides down a hill and then cracks his head on a rock and it knocks him out. The narrative cuts again to Pellar, who has noticed a trail heading to the wherhandler camp and is busy obliterating it when Halla catches up to him. After a quick establishment of trust and names, Pellar and Halla follow an urgent message from Chitter to get back to the camp, both of them working on creating a false trail because Halla knows Tenim is coming for Moran and will do what he can to steal and hurt whatever he comes across in the process.

And there’s Chapter 6, with several of the spilt storylines reconverging on the wherhandler camp, and Tenim, who continues to evade the death that will eventually catch up to him, for plot reasons, on the way there.

It will be nice to not have these fragmentary scenes bouncing all over the planet, at least.