Last time, we took a sprint through the end of Tenim during yet another successful firebombing (stabbed by Pellar, assist Halla, although there’s some part of me that suggests that if Halla can put a knife in Pellar’s hand with a throw, she can bury it in Tenim’s head equally easily, and it would have been much more satisfying to see that happen that for Pellar to stab him repeatedly), Cristov recovering from the firebombing in a Weyr, Aleesa getting sick and Moran leaving to find medicine, at which point he’s picked up and delivered to Fenner for justice by being someone who looks like they could be Shunned, and Kindan basically grabbing a speculative thought that there might be firestone that isn’t terribly volatile and running with it until something happens to actually disprove it.
He hasn’t found anything yet.
Dragon’s Fire, Book II: Chapter 11: Content Notes: Child labor
In your Hold you are secure
from perils that the dragons endure.
‘Tis your duty, ’tis your due
You give to them, they shelter you.
Which makes me wonder if any Hold ever refused to give their Tribute and was summarily left for Thread to devour by the dragonriders. It doesn’t seem like they would, because they know what kind of devastation that wreaks on the area, but it would be an interesting Record to discover.
This rhyme also seems to have links with previous chapters. Someone with more fannish patience than I should probably go through these and see if they can be assembled into a single song, or a few songs, so that we can read them as they would have been sung or taught. I suspect it would say a lot about Pern as a society.
Plot-wise, Kindan’s got allies and might behind his idea of a non-volatile firestone, as the chapter opens with Cristov in a meeting with Aleesa, Mikal, Kindan, D’vin, Murenny, Zist, and B’ralar about the idea and who would be logistically necessary to go to the Southern Continent and find the appropriate firestone, should it exist.
There’s also an accurate, if perhaps unintentional, portrayal of how visible disabilities do a lot to make the disabled person feel unwelcome.
Of all them, Kindan made him feel most uncomfortable. However he tried, Kindan could not quite keep his eyes from Cristov’s injuries. If he hadn’t been so obviously understanding and sympathetic, Cristov might have hit him.
If Kindan had looked a bit smug, Cristov probably would have. But Kindan looked even more apprehensive than Cristov felt.
Perhaps it’s a sign of maturity, or perhaps one of mindreading, that Cristov doesn’t see Kindan’s expressions as pitying rather than sympathetic. I have seen from many a person who deals with disability on a regular basis that wanting to pop someone in the nose because they’re pitying you for your disability is a pretty common thought. Kindan can’t help himself from staring, and that can’t be all that helpful for Cristov’s mental state.
B’ralar approves the expedition to find the magic firestone, and Cristov and Alarra proclaim they’ll be the ones to mine it. When Kindan points out that two people is not nearly enough to mine enough, even if they do find the stable variety, Murenny, Zist, and Mikal suggest that if the Shunned knew they weren’t condemning themselves to an explosive death, they might willingly work the mines in exchange for a reversal of their status. Moran’s name comes up as the (still only, WTF) harper who was sent on the task of understanding the Shunned, and now that he’s resurfaced, Zist thinks he can put his Journeyman to use once again.
The narrative switches over to Halla, who, well, is having feelings.
Halla tracked Pellar down at last, ready to pummel him for departing their hidden camp without leaving her the slightest message. It had taken her over an hour to find the first sign of his trail and another two to find him. She was hungry, hot, irritated, and—she hated to admit it—relieved at finding him.
Hang on a second, I was with you until the end, there. But this same idea continues on as Halla recounts having dragged Pellar away from the explosion, and then finally figured out that Pellar needed to write to communicate, not that he had lost some ability to speak from the explosion. (And then, on her return of finding him something to write on, he’s written a message in the dirt with a stick.)
Halla’s relief had been so great that she had cried for the first time since she’d been with Lord Fenner of Crom. She was surprised and grateful when Pellar wrapped his arms around her and held her tight while she cried out all the fears and horrors of the past weeks. But she also felt a bit uneasy; with Lord Fenner, Halla had felt that she’d been with someone like the father she’d never known, but with Pellar she felt more like she’d come home–and it scared her.
Um, exactly how long have Pellar and Halla known each other? The narrative this time around suggests it’s only been for a little while, a few weeks at most, and it didn’t seem like Pellar and Halla spent all that much time together previously to this. In fact, Pellar was chasing Halla, to some degree, wondering about her and who she was, and they had only a small amount of interaction. Why has Halla developed feelings for Pellar that are anything other than “this jerkface that I pulled out of the wreckage that gutted Tenim and that keeps trying to disappear on me?” Pellar and Halla hide from Shunned who have come to loot the remains of the mine, and have a fight about whether to call down the dragonriders on them. Pellar opposes it because it’ll mean the same fate for them as this mine had, and Halla can’t budge him on it.
The first thing that might be a sign of something that works for friendship happens after all of this.
He turned at the sound of her approach—which irritated Halla to no end as she could have sworn no one could hear her—and grinned, holding up something cupped in his hands.
It was yellow. No, they were yellow.
“Yellowtops!” Halla exclaimed in surprise. Then she remembered her worried hours of searching and shouted at him, “You went looking for yellowtops?”
[…Pellar nods, and then leads Halla to the place where he’s going to use them…]
Pellar’s eyes met her just as Halla leaned up and kissed him.
“It was you!” she said. “You were the one.”
Pellar nodded. She kissed him again and grabbed his hand, dragging him after her as they made their way down the rise to the neat graves set in the dale below.
Wordlessly they stopped and knelt in front of the mounds. After a moment, they leaned forward and carefully placed the small yellowtops on each grave.
One was Toldur’s, one was Tenim’s, but Halla could not tell which was which. Nor did she care; in her mind, the dead were clear of all debts.
There are two issues here. One is that I’m pretty sure that it was Pellar who was trying to figure out the mystery of the strange girl who placed flowers on all the graves in Camp Natalon and along the way, and Halla was the one finding the flowers and putting them there. Pellar did one of his own, sure, but he’s been chasing Halla the whole time, so if there’s anyone exclaiming “It was you!”, it should be Pellar doing so to Halla. In writing, of course, because he doesn’t talk. Someone has forgotten the events of what happened in this book. And is now using them to justify Halla falling in love with Pellar because he went looking for flowers. Had it been Pellar plucking the flowers and explaining to Halla that he knew she left them at gravesites and he wanted to do the same, this could be a very nice start to a friendship that could blossom into love, but Halla’s forming a bond very quickly with him. Far quicker than anyone has a reason to. (Would someone check and see if a mating flight passed over their heads at this point?) So, no, I’m not buying Halla falling in love with Pellar this quickly. Getting attached to him because she’s had a childhood of insecure attachment and having to develop as a skill the ability to get close to people so that she can feed herself and the small children in tow, absolutely. Love? No.
Second, I can’t really buy that Halla is willing to forgive Tenim, the person that threatened to leave her to die of expsoure, and that promised he would take sexual revenge on her for the “favor” of cutting her down, among probably many other offenses that we haven’t seen on camera, because he’s dead. Maybe, perhaps, if she had stuck him herself or otherwise took his life, but she didn’t do that. She provided Pellar with the knife so he could do it. She presumably witnessed Tenim’s death, and that may help keep her warm at night knowing that he’s in the ground, but Tenim’s traumatized Halla far too much, implicitly and explicitly, for her not to hold a grudge against him for a long time to come, even if the rest of her life turns out to be hot baths and friendly people and otherwise being able to heal and let the scars and the vigilance fade a little bit over time. If Pern had, say, qualified and competent professionals who could help someone who has gone through as many traumas as Halla has and help her situate them in their proper context and healing, then perhaps, with a lot of time, she can let Tenim go, but she’d not going to do it just by placing a flower on what might be his grave. I have an ex who I am probably going to have a grudge against for the rest of my life, even if many of the things that were terrible about being with her are replaced with happier memories, because some changes are permanent.
The narrative hops over to Zist, Moran, and Fenner discussing that Halla went off to try and make good contact with the Shunned before trying to track Tenim to the firestone mine, before explaining to Fenner about Kindan’s discovery and Moran volunteering himself to go find Halla. We pop over to the Southern Continent, where Cristov has just arrived and is feeling very nervous about the place that the Ancestors had to flee from. There’s some dragon antics and food and naps and spotting fire-lizards and a little bit of reasoning about what the firestone in question would need to look like in terms of size, weight, and otherwise, and with a little digging from Hurth, a suitable specimen is found. It looks like sandstone, and when cracked open, has a blue-green crystal inside. They feed the crystalline specimen to the dragons, and eventually, both of them can burp flame appropriately. It appears to be a slower-acting firestone that allows for flaming with less effort for longer times. To make sure it’s a non-reactive firestone, Cristov takes one of the specimens with exposed crystal and heaves it into the ocean, waiting for the Pern-shattering kaboom that never materializes.
There’s a quick scene between Pellar and Halla where Pellar is trying to convince her that they need to go north so that they can help the dragonriders get more firestone. Halla is understandably unhappy about this prospect, given that she wants to settle down with Pellar and stop running.
“Go on then, get killed. See if I care,” she cried, and ran away from him into the dense underbrush. She didn’t go far and crumpled into a heap when she failed to hear Pellar coming after her.
I don’t need him, she thought. I can survive on my own.
After a moment she asked herself, then why do I hurt so much?
Pellar sat in silent thought for a long time after Halla had run off. Then, with a sigh, he stood and walked off purposefully in the opposite direction.
You don’t need him, Halla. Assuming that he has any feelings at all for you, he’s going to drag you back into things that you didn’t want to participate in. Go find the Traders and live comfortably and happily with Tarri and put him out of your mind.
She won’t, of course, because it’s Love, but we can hope for just a moment that the characters will behave like people rather than plot pieces. There’s a short bit where Moran gets dropped off to go talk to the Shunned again, and then we go back to Halla and Pellar. Halla is mad that Pellar left, but she discovers a pair of yellowtops twined together, and then another, and then another, and so on, following the trail he’s left behind until she finds him, sleeping in the open, and realizes that he believes that she’ll be the person who watches over him through the night. So she snuggles up to him.
For a moment, Pellar was awake. He wrapped an arm possessively over her, drawing her tight against his stomach; then he fell asleep once more.
Though her back was against him she knew he was smiling. She smiled, too, and closed her eyes peacefully., a feeling she hadn’t felt in Turns overflowing in her heart. She had only one name for it: home.
I mean, I suppose it’s not out of the ordinary for characters with demonstrated psychic powers and dragons to also spontaneously manifest straight-up magical abilities, but Pern has always tried to make itself the product of some sort of science fiction realm.
There’s not really any reason for why Halla is crushing so hard on Pellar. But they’re having spats and sleeping together non-sexually and are basically behaving as if they have a big backstory and are well-established at this point, so I guess we’re just supposed to take it as reality that they’re a couple now.
The narrative moves forward with Cristov trying to find the right kind of stone for his work, eventually causing a rockslide that puts Alarra out of commission, and then causing a rockslide of his own that knocks him out. But Halla and Pellar arrive, having heard the slide, and get him out of it.
Pellar nodded and bent over his face, clearing the smallest dirt away. He pressed his ear close to Cristov’s mouth and then looked up at Halla, alarmed. Then, to her surprise, he leaned over again and parted Cristov’s lips, put his own mouth over Cristov’s and blew a death breath.
“Pellar,” Halla exclaimed disgustedly. “Eww!”
Pellar paid her no attention, looking instead at Cristov. He repeated the movement. This time Cristov coughed and sputtered.
I wonder why Halla thinks this is gross. Is it because Pellar is doing something while Cristov has a dirty mouth? Or is she making some sort of commentary about what she thinks about the prospect of the two sharing a kiss? The world will never know, unfortunately.
Anyway, with Cristov revived and ordered not to move, he is frantic to know whether or not he found his firestone. Halla happened to have pocketed a shiny stone on the way in. When she shows it to Cristov, he nods enthusiastically that it’s the right firestone, of the “doesn’t explode when submerged” variety and they need to tell the Weyrs immediately. So Cristov gets bundled back off to the Weyr infirmary, where Alarra is annoyed at him for finding the firestone before she could get back out into the field and Sonia tells them both that they’re going to have to sit and rest long enough to heal up, rather than trying to stomp back out and keep mining.
About now is when I’m going to mention that for the last few chapters, there have been hints and suggestions that Cristov should stay at the Weyr, and that there are possibly other things he can do other than mine. We’re not quite to the point where they’re telling him flat-out that he should stand as a candidate for Hatching, but we’ve gone from Cristov remembering his childhood dreams to ride a dragon to seeing the eggs to Sonia almost not being oblique about it.
Sonia turned back to face Cistov, eyeing him cryptically and saying, “There are other ways to serve Pern, you know.”
Cristov grimaced. “This is the one I know.” He remembered his father’s sour comment from Turns back. “It’s what I’m fit for.”
The look Sonia gave him was pitying. “If you say so.”
In case we needed any more evidence that the things we say to children will mess them up for a lot longer than their childhoods.
There’s a quick time-skip, as in four days, as D’vin brings Cristov back to the place he found the firestone, and Pellar and Halla give him the whirlwind tour, which now consists of three mines all running at top capacity, and all the necessary support structures that go with it, because Pellar, Halla, and probably a big bunch of dragonriders and harpers, like Moran, spread the word of finding firestone that didn’t explode and the need for workers to work the mines, and the Shunned responded in droves. There are farmers and launderers and miners and a plan’s been mapped out by Pellar and Halla, and they’re asking for Cristov’s advice on how to further proceed. Cristov is floored at the progress.
“No,” Halla said, “the Shunned.” She took in Cristov’s stunned expression. “They can work here without shame and without fear. This is their hold.”
“Their hold?” Cristov repeated in surprise. A hold for the Shunned—how was that possible?
“If they work,” Halla said. “If they don’t, they can leave. We feed their children, but if the adults don’t work, they don’t eat and they don’t stay.”
Which is better than starving to death, I’m sure, and it turns out that Pellar can summon a wing of dragons as needed to impress upon the people here that the deal they have is a really good one and they don’t want to upset the firestone cart. Still, I’m sure the authors think they’ve found the perfect solution to avoiding taking on the people who really deserve to be Shunned by promising essentially only hard work in exchange for being able to live when Thread falls from the sky. It’s not perfect, at all. But it does seem to have found at least some way that the people who do get Shunned can find a way to survive under the auspices of a legitimate organization and by doing work that is essential to the protection of the planet.
There’s also a useful and terrifying tidbit sandwiched in with all of Cristov’s amazement at the swiftness of construction.
“Some of the Shunned were telling me that holder children don’t start working until they’re twelve Turns or more,” Halla remarked as they walked toward the shaft entrance.
“That’s silly,” Cristov said. “What do they do with all their free time?”
“I don’t know,” Halla said. “The youngsters here all work.” She gestured toward the camp outside. “They want to learn a craft before they marry and, by twelve, they’re already courting.”
Pellar handed Halla a slate he’d been writing on and she read, “Harpers don’t marry until they’re older.” She glanced back at Pellar. “What’s older?”
“Sixteen?” Cristov guessed, glancing to Pellar for confirmation. Pellar made a “go higher” gesture with his free hand. “Eighteen?” When Pellar nodded, Cristov exclaimed in surprise, “Miners are lucky to live thirty Turns. We usually mate much earlier.”
I mean, the life expectancy for your average peasant wasn’t all that great, even if for the lords it was signfiicantly higher by not having their bodies wrecked by all the manual labor. Still, being married at twelve and dead at thirty sounds abominable to me. I suspect a lot of that life expectancy comes from mining things that are volatile and likely to try and kill you, either by dust or explosion or any other potential disasters like cave-ins. This tells me a lot about how well the supposed pastoral-medieval experiment that was Pern has succeeded, in that life expectancies have gone back to approximately what they would have been in feudal areas of Europe. And still were in plenty of poor places long past that.
The kids get instructed by Moran, who seems to be a competent Harper so long as “We keep an eye on his drink,” according to Halla. D’vin’s return warrants a call of a Hatching, and everyone thinks that Pellar should go fill the last spot for candidates, because a hatchling without a rider just warps themself into hyperspace. Pellar refuses to go to the hatching, insisting that he’s needed at the mine more. Or with Halla more. Either way, he’s not going anywhere, and Halla very unsubtly hints that Cristov should go instead. Cristov demurs, considering it an honor beyond his station, and then insisting there’s work to be done at the mines. Pellar and Halla shoo him off, and Halla gives him an extra taunt just to make sure that he goes.
“Are you afraid, then?” she taunted. She grabbed him and turned him toward the dragon. “There’s your future. Go on, Impress! Impress a bronze for us all and show them at High Reaches. Show them what to expect from Fire Hold.”
She gave him one final push and turned away, walking back to the waiting crowd of miners.
Head held high, Cristov walked to his future.
Which leaves us just to do the Epilogue.
Dragon’s fire way up high,
Light the way, protect the sky.
Dragon’s flame, burning bright,
Char away the Thread mid-flight.
Because apparently there’s still one more question that needs answering, and C’tov, rider of bronze Sereth, can finally get it, three Turns after his Impression. (Damn. I really was hoping for a blue. I guess we’ll never know now, then, what C’tov’s inclinations were.)
Halla has grown “tall and graceful”, Pellar “tall and broad”, so much so that Cristov feels “nearly dwarfed” by him. There’s still a moment of ambiguity, as
He took a moment to grab Pellar and pull him into a deep hug, putting into his motion all the gratitude he felt for the other’s selflessness Turns gone by. Strengthened by the warm embrace, he pushed Pellar away and stared deep in his eyes. Then he turned to Halla. “Would you let us talk alone for a moment?”
But it’s not about C’tov confessing his feelings for Pellar, it’s about why Pellar turned down the opportunity to get a bronze dragon, since he could have brought Halla with him. And really, there would have been someone to look after the Shunned at Fire Hold.
Pellar held up a hand again for patience, then raised the other and grabbed them together, going down on one knee–pleading.
“Whatever you want,” C’tov told him fervently. “Always and forever.”
[…Pellar asks to talk directly to Sereth…]
Pellar, and C’tov was surprised by the warmth of his dragon’s tone when referring to the mute harper, says Halla is his voice; that he is her song; and only together can they make music. The dragon paused for a moment. The music they make is compassion, and their song is for all Pern.
And that’s it. Which is a nicely poetic way of ending things, but still doesn’t really give us any answers as to why the pairing happened in the first place. Or, for that matter, whether or not C’tov, had he not become a dragonrider, would have been perfectly happy with a mine and possibly the company of a strong miner as his partner in life. I don’t think I’m reading this as queerer than the text is presenting, but it would have been nice for Cristov to be confirmed as leaning that way before he became C’tov and received enough mitigating and complicating factors in the form of Sereth that we won’t actually know. Thbpth.
Much of the hope that I had that fresh blood would help this series is gone, given the first two books of this sequence. There’s still one more that could salvage the partnership and the series, at least to this point, but I’m not holding out much hope. Especially because the series synopsis already means that I have some swearing to do. I didn’t notice it then, but Kelsa has the feminine ending for it, which means that in this book, we’ve established already that Menolly is not, in fact, the very first female Harper, she’s the first of her era, and possibly of a long time after a period in which women were forbidden from it, but she’s no longer the special character that she’s always been.
There will likely be swearing. Probably about how there managed to be such a great gap that Menolly was considered special. And likely other things, but I’ll hold on to that for when we get into the next book and the time is right.
See you next week for the beginning of Dragon Harper, where we go back to a very familiar place on Pern so that we don’t have to spend all of this time worldbuilding and actually having to care how the rest of the planet, aside from lords, Harpers, and dragonriders, actually live.