Last time, Pellar and Arella broke up, because he didn’t love her and she does love him, but not enough to wait for him. The logistics and the message about trading for watch-wher eggs went out far and wide, and several entities are interested. Plus, High Reaches Weyr is extending its protection for their camp for when the Shunned arrive to try and steal the valuable eggs.
Dragon’s Fire: Book 1: Chapter 5: Content Notes: Spousal abuse, child abuse
What’s that large and ugly thing?
A watch-wher, who shuns daylight’s sting.
Night’s its friend, its dark ally
Only in the cold to fly.
Well, if songs like that exist, I’m surprised that the watch-wher hasn’t linguistically become a thing to be hated and feared and used as a euphemism for ablist and other commentary, both inside and outside communities that use them for their purposes.
This chapter starts with Pellar sending Chitter in to the camp to announce his return.
The fire-lizard returned immediately, eyes whirling with fear, and wrapped himself around Pellar’s neck, clutching tightly and painfully.
I’m going in, Pellar thought to his frightened friend.
Cocowhat by depizan
In what universe is that danger signal so blithely ignored? Pellar doesn’t ask about details, doesn’t stop to think as to why Chitter is behaving that way, doesn’t even consider the possibility that something is different now than it was when he left. Nope, Pellar just charges right in without a thought. Just like he didn’t change anything when Arella thought he wanted post-breakup nookie.
And then, for the extra cherry on top of this narrative excrement, we’re immediately reminded that Pellar is a tracker, and so should be hyper-alert to changes in his environment.
It was still daylight and so not at all hard for Pellar to spot Jaythen’s hiding place before Jaythen spotted him. He was sure that if he hadn’t he would never have avoided the arrow Jaythen sent whizzing his way. The arrow buried itself up to the shaft in the hard-packed dirt where Pellar had been walking.
It will be hard to hide in blue, Pellar decided, abandoning any notion of using his woodcraft to elude Jaythen.
So Pellar is still wearing his Harper Blue rather than having changed back into the clothes he left with. That makes him easy to see. But Pellar still hasn’t tried to ascertain why, having left on good graces, he’s coming back to getting shot at again. Or, for that matter, he didn’t think to beat a hasty retreat and possibly change clothes or send in Chitter with a slate message asking what’s going on.
I wonder if Pellar has chalked it up to “These people are nutters anyway, there’s no sense to this,” since that has apparently been his thought on the matter, even after living with them for a while and seeing they’re not. The narrative doesn’t tell us anything, because Pellar’s in a panic, but you wonder.
“Did you sell us out for finery?” Jaythen yelled at the fourth arrow missed. He threw his bow aside and pulled a long dirk from his belt. “How good do you think it’ll look when your blood’s on it?”
Pellar dodged again, only to find himself gape-mouthed in unvoiced pain. He looked to his left and noticed an arrow sticking out of his forearm. Someone else had shot him. He caught sight of Arella rising up from her hiding place, eyes streaming with tears as she notched another arrow and aimed for his heart.
“I trusted you,” she yelled at him as she shot at him.
So, Pellar is going to die for not heeding the warning signs. Jaythen spoke of betrayal, but Pellar isn’t smart enough to put one and three together and figure out why. Mostly because he’s trying not to die. Pellar is pretty intensely ashamed of the fact that he’s about to be killed, along with a lot more intense emotions, and that’s enough to connect him to Aleesk, who pops out of hyperspace and takes the arrow for him. The pain and worry that Pellar feels brings Hurth out of hyperspace, and while the camp takes aim at the dragonrider, Aleesk makes it known there is to be no shooting of dragons, so Aleesa calls off the attack. And then someone finally gives Pellar a clue about how monumentally he’s fucked up.
Aleesa looked over to Pellar, he eyes hard as flint.
“You played your game well, little one,” she told him, her voice broken. She glanced up at the dragon hovering above her. “Now they will kill my Aleesk and there will be no more watch-whers, just as they wanted.” She shook her head, tears rolling unchecked down her cheek. “I trusted you, I truly trusted you.”
There’s the thing you didn’t think about, Pellar — nobody in the camp has any reason to trust a dragonrider, and if the camp saw you arrive by dragon, they think you’ve sold them out. Pellar knows the dragons aren’t going to be harmful, but nobody else does. And Pellar didn’t think to send a status update with Chitter, like he has with Zist before, so that everyone can keep appraised of the business deal and what’s going down. Admittedly, Pellar is also still very young. It’s only been six months since the last chapter, so Pellar is at most fourteen, and I don’t know many fourteen year-olds, now or then, that would be able to think through all of those things. The responsible adults in Pellar’s life, especially Zist, should be more helpful.
Instead, Aleesk gets shot saving Pellar from a completely avoidable tragedy if anyone has just bothered to stop and think for a bit.
With the situation resolved about not shooting at dragons or Pellar, the information revealed that dragons see watch-whers as cousins, and the horror of Aleesk taking a hit as the last known gold watch-wher, Pellar passes out properly so that we can advance the narrative. When he comes to, it’s Arella in his bed…
It was then that Pellar realized she was lying next to him, her body’s heat warming him. Arella guessed his thoughts from his expression and smiled wryly at him. “Don’t go getting any ideas, Harper Pellar. There’s no mating flight for months yet. I am here because it was my arrow in your arm, and I owe you.”
Arella’s eyes were bright as they looked deep into his. He reached over and stroked her cheek. She leaned into it and then drew back again, all business. “Are you ready to earn your keep?”
…and it’s nice that she’s trying, but the narrative is very much herding her in the direction that she can’t help but be in love with him. Not helping things is that Pellar’s slate is broken, so he has to rely on Hurth to transmit his voice.
“I would have killed you for betraying the watch-whers to their deaths,” Arella told him softly. “You understand? Wouldn’t you do the same if someone tried to kill Chitter?” She turned her head toward the watch-whers’ quarters. “And she’s the last of her kind.”
Pellar stared at her for a long while before nodding slowly. Tears rolled down Arella’s cheeks and she grabbed his right hand tightly. Pellar clenched back, and pulled her toward him. Surprised, Arella looked up from her kneeling position and crawled forward until her torso was cradled between his legs. Pellar pulled her hand back more, drawing her head toward him, and kissed her lightly on the forehead. Arella let out a sob and dropped her head against his shoulder.
“Besides,” she sobbed against his chest, “you left me. I loved you and you left me.”
Pellar let go of her hand and wrapped his free hand around her back, hugging her tight against him. He patted her soothingly. He knew he loved her, too, and he tightened his arm, but even as he did so he closed his eyes and saw a small mound with a thin bundle of yellow flowers.
Tears rolled down his face, dropped onto Arella’s cheeks, mingled with her tears, and rolled with them into his stained blue tunic.
It’s been only six months, and now Pellar loves Arella? When he didn’t before? That’s awful fast to have a change of mind. And also, Pellar is still at most, fourteen. His brain isn’t finished cooking yet, and neither is Arella’s at sixteen/seventeen.
In any case, all the people arrive for their chances at the watch-wher eggs, and from the cavalcade of dragons, it looks like the camp is on Telgar lands, since no Telgar dragon is present.
Also, until I see the body, Halla’s alive, because she needs to gut Tenim and smile while he dies messily.
Speaking of Tenim…
he’s currently having it out with Moran because the deal’s going down for watch-wher eggs and he doesn’t know where it is.
“Checking,” Moran repeated firmly. “Halla’s report is from Crom; we’ve still Telgar to hear from, and Miner’s Hold to the east–who knows?”
“We don’t,” Tenim growled. “There’s a fortune changing hands and we don’t even know where.” He gave the harper a cunning look. “Think of the children you could help with that sort of money.”
Tenim smiled to himself as he saw his remark hit home. Oh yes, I know your loyalties, he thought, wondering how he could have ever thought of the older man as anything but a weakling.
Sure, it was true that Moran had found him, fed him, nursed him back to health when no others would do much as raise a hand for the son of a Shunned father and no one had time for his spineless mother. He never wondered anymore what had happened to her; the last he’d seen of her was the night she’d turned on his father and he’d struck her down. Tenim had learned not to argue with his father at an early age; in fact, at the same time that Tenim had learned that even if she’d had a will, his mother would never have used it in his defense.
Well, that’s depressing. And now there’s cycle of abuse stuff involved here, which makes Tenim more understandable and people can sympathize with his plight out here in the reading world, because unlike Menolly, Tenim doesn’t have a support structure coming in to save her from living in her own. There aren’t enough resources devoted to the problem, and there still seen to be no counselors on Pern, so it’s not like they could check Tenim in to therapy of any sort. Instead, he has to survive the best way he can, and that apparently means taking advantage of everyone that he can to make sure he has enough to live.
The way Tenim’s being played by the narrative, though, we’re not supposed to sympathize with him. Or, if we sympathize with the problems involved in his upbringing, we’re not supposed to sympathize with how he turned out. He’s still got it coming, from Halla, at least, and it will be a tragedy and a statistic.
Moran is potentially stuck in this cycle of abuse as well, because he wants to genuinely help people, it seems.
He [Moran] wondered again how he had come to this pass, how the boy he’d succored so long ago had turned into this sour young man, and again he remembered the many petty compromises, lies, wheedles, and thefts the harper had made to provide the next day’s food, to feed just one more helpless mouth, make one more small difference, only to find himself repeating the effort the next day, this time to feed even more mouths with even more theft and lies.
Which is how a person can end up doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. Given, however, that Pern has no government aid programs, no religious charities, no social organizations at all who concern themselves with the welfare of the least people and the Shunned, Moran doesn’t have any other options than crime. I suspect, on any other “civilized” world in the federation the colonists came from, they would look on this situation with horror. (Unless they’re all Rand worlds, at which point I question how they stayed confederated for long enough to pull that colony ship off in the first place.) So, Moran ends up doing the only thing he can, for charitable reasons. If only he had proper support from his guild, and all the people that guild could browbeat into supporting their local populations or finding other ways than Shunning as punishment for crimes.
This also complicates Tenim more, because we can’t really say that he had the opportunity to choose another path than the one he’s been forced to walk his entire life. With Thella, for example, we could at least deceive ourselves into thinking she had a choice as to whether to accept the role her patriarchal society picked out for her. Her choice to rebel theoretically meant she accepted the consequences of her actions, harsh and lethal as they would become. Tenim didn’t get that choice, and yet the narrative wants us to believe that he deserves his fate as well, despite having been born to a Shunned father and taken in by a man who has no other choice than to lie, cheat, and steal to try and take care of the children he cares for. It’s contradictory and difficult to hold in your head condemnation for the morally wrong actions Tenim takes and the knowledge of his upbringing and lack of other options to escape this situation.
The plot advances with Tenim stalking off to go steal the one egg he knows will be somewhere – Camp Natalon. The narrative spins back to the watch-wher camp, where there’s still one egg left to hatch, and Jaythen is apologizing for being a butthead about dragonriders. Pellar gets sent out to make sure that Kindan’s egg hatches correctly, even though that potentially means Pellar will be expected to bond to the remaining egg. D’vin reminds Pellar his own destiny is in his hands and suggests again that Pellar could be a dragonrider. Pellar denies it to them, then recognizes (remembers, really, it should be) that not being able to speak isn’t actually an impediment to the job.
Pellar encounters Cristov, who Pellar mistakes for Tenim and attacks before recognizing who it is, and decides to leave the care of protecting the watch-wher egg in Cristov’s hands. At least, during the daytime. Pellar will take the night shift. Which works until the egg hatches, and then, well, Cristov is unhappy to see Pellar go.
It was obvious to Pellar that Cristov was looking for a friend, a surrogate older brother, someone to train him in what was right and how to live in the world. Pellar was amazed that the boy had already decided that Tarik was no such guide, had decided to abandon the teaching of his father and look instead for some other mentor.
[…Pellar explains he’s going to be gone for a long time…]
“How will you recognize me? How will I recognize you?”
Pellar smiled and pointed to Cristov’s heart and then his own.
[…Pellar gifts Cristov a pipe and tells him to get lessons from Zist…]
“Okay,” Cristov promised. Pellar sealed up his pack and shouldered it once more. As he turned to go, Cristov said, “I’ll try real hard.”
Pellar turned back and grabbed the youngster in a big hug. Then, as quick as he could, Pellar vanished into the darkness.
Two hours later, Pellar stood again in the plateau clearing.
Hurth, I’m ready, he thought.
We come, The dragon responded immediately. You sound sad.
I am, Pellar responded. How many children on Pern, he wondered, were like Cristov–trying to do their best without example?
That’s the end of Chapter 5. And, frankly, I’d like to get my slash goggles out for this exchange between Pellar and Cristov. They’re both far too young to be making full decisions about who they want to spend the rest of their lives with, but this could just as easily read as a declaration of a bit of a crush from Cristov. Neither Cristov nor Pellar might understand that this is what it is, because they’re so young, but it is nice to think about. If only the idea that men and men might get together in romance and sexuality wasn’t solely restricted to the dragonriders and waved away as a byproduct of completely hetero dragon mating. Regrettably, out here in our world, at this time we’re still not that far from the decision that decriminalized gay men in the States and opened the door to allowing them to get legal domestic partnerships, then full marriage rights. We’re still too far away from when that seems to be a normal facet of life.
As for what Pellar says, about children without role models, that seems to be a pretty likely occurrence even in the world of children who aren’t Shunned. Parenting seems to be a rare skill among the Pernese, and that includes the fostering parents of the various noble children in addition to the members who aren’t as much of the nobility. Rand Land applies to the kids as well, and that’s, frankly, terrible.