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.
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.”
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!