Dragon’s Fire: Too Chipper By Half

Last time, we saw the beginning of an All-Weyr Games, where people admitted to supplying Telgar with too much and pointing out D’gan’s been stealing more for himself. Cristov frightened the hell out of Halla by recognizing her and asking her to help out in finding D’vin bubbly pies, and a design flaw in Firestone Mine #9 meant Tarik’s attempt to get himself water got everyone in the mine killed.

Pleasant, right?

Dragon’s Fire: Book II: Chapters 5 and 6: Content Notes: Child abandonment

A silver swath falls from sky,
Dragon and rider rise in high.
Practice fighting Thread with flames,
‘Tis the purpose of the Games.

We’re back at warp speed through the relay portion of the games. Same idea, queens throw clumps of “Thread,” wings go through and flame it. If more than one team succeeds, the queens spread out further and do it again until there is only one winner.

Or we would be, except we’re first treated to Kindan describing how oxygen deprivation works for dragonriders, and Toldur reminding Kindan and Cristov that it can happen in the mines as well.

The narrative makes an interesting decision to stay with Cristov’s understanding in a limited perspective, rather than an omniscient one.

The cave-in at Camp Natalon had been Tarik’s fault. He had skimped on the planking for the tunnel his shift was digging. Natalon had discovered this and, in the process of trying to repair the faulty tunnel, had been caught with most of his shift in the cave-in. Kindan Toldur, and Nuella, Natalon’s blind daughter, had defied Tarik’s order that no one go in the mine. Cristov remembered the shocked look on Kindan’s face when he’d arrived with his axe to help.

Except Kindan knows Natalon was alerted to it by Zenor after he and Nuella were walking Kisk around. And while we haven’t seen it on screen, it’s probably a safe bet to assume that Tenim deliberately caused the cave-in, but nobody on the platform knows about Tenim. Because Halla disappeared as soon as she got the opportunity.

Cristov remembers a conversation he had with Jamal about Impressing a dragon. Jamal wanted a bronze so he could become a Weyrleader. Cristov isn’t really aiming that high.

Cristov imagined how he’d feel, his face splitting wide in surprise and joy as a dragon–his dragon–spoke telepathically to him and told him he would forever have a friend, a champion. He tried to imagine how his father would react–and could only see him frowning.
“It’ll never happen,” he had said firmly, turning away from Jamal. “Father says I’m only fit to be a miner.”
And now Tarik was Shunned, be Cristov stood next to the Masterminer and Crom’s Lord Holder not knowing what was in store for him, and Jamal was nearly three Turns dead.
Cristov locked his eyes on one of the high-flying bronze dragons and tried not to be envious of his rider.

What Cristov could really use is a friend, but has hasn’t been able to make one, really, because Tarik has interfered with it up to the point where he’s no longer in Cristov’s life. I also realize that social mobility is almost nonexistent on Pern, but it seems like if he wanted to, and the opportunity was there, Cristov could have changed guilds, were it not for Tarik.

The competition continues, and it turns out to be D’vin’s terrible luck that his weyrling gets caught at mine #9 when it blows up and killed in the same explosion. Hurth mentions firestone “burns wrong”, D’vin remembers what kind of games he was playing with his life when he had to be the weyrling to fetch stone, and Cristov worries about how anyone can work with that difficult a mineral, but the Games continue without much thought spared to the weyrling and dragon that were just killed, narratively and otherwise.

And speaking of narrative shift, guess who is here?

Tenim is in the narrative long enough to use the cover of the explosion to steal a jeweled dirk meant for D’gan. He thought it would be a good idea to keep it for himself and possibly make some money on it, but then he sees Cristov and decides Cristov deserves to be punished for all the trouble Tenim had to go through to frame Tarik for stealing the coal and the wood by leaving all of that coal and wood behind to be found. Because Cristov is the one to blame for helping save Natalon and ruining the plan. (More evidence that Tenim was likely responsible for the cave-in.)

What Tenim’s plan turns out to be is to plant the dirk on Cristov so that after it’s been discovered stolen, Cristov will be blamed for the theft and Shunned. First, though, we get a peek into something that Cristov does very well.

Cristov frowned at that, while trying to do the math in his head. First place was worth five points and second place worth two, so Telgar would earn three and a half points if they tied with Benden. Add that to the five points Telgar already had for winning the wing event and Telgar would have eight and one half points. Ista had seven points and Benden would add three and a half to its two points, so neither would beat Telgar. Satisfied, he nodded in agreement.
“Did that without moving your lips,” Britell said to Cristov with a smile. “I’m impressed.”
Cristov turned red with embarrassment.

So it turns out Cristov has a head for figures, which, if I recall correctly, was something that either Tarik or Natalon mentioned would be important for a miner, because calculating space and the necessary widths and thicknesses of supports as well as the sizes of rooms is important. Mental math without needing to talk it through, even to yourself, is a prized skill.

Tenim’s plan works far better than it has any right to, as the discovery of the dirk sparks immediate calls for Shunning from the assembled crowd. Tenim is leading the charge, and Halla gives him pushback.

Halla heard Tenim shouting, “His father was Shunned, Shun him, too!” She followed his voice to spot him standing right before Lord Fenner’s stand, urging the crowd on and Halla knew that Tenim had planted the dirk on Cristov. Tenim glanced her way, smiled, and nodded evilly. “Speak up if you want to join him,” Tenim told her.

Hang on, how close is Halla for Tenim to ten her this and not have that draw a reaction from anybody? I’m having trouble with the blocking here.

“He’s innocent!” Halla shouted, but her small voice was lost in the crowd. Desperately, she strode forward to the steps and shouted once more, “He didn’t do it!”
Tenim’s gleeful look vanished from his face and he slipped back into the crowd. Even if she couldn’t convince others, he didn’t need Halla pointing the finger at him.
[…it looks like D’gan is going to give summary judgment, but D’vin steps in and appeals to Fenner…]
“My lord, I happen to know that this lead was here on the platform for the entire Gather, except when he accompanied me on your request. Is that not so?”
“Well, yes,” Fenner replied, glancing uncomfortably at D’gan, “yes, he was.” To D’gan, he explained, “Cristov and Toldur were invited to attend by Masterminer Britell.”
“And why was that, miner?” D’gan demanded.
“I asked that they be here cause they are being promoted in rank,” Britell replied. “Toldur to Master and Cristov to journeyman.”
“Is it your habit, then, miner, to promote thieves?” D’gan asked in a vicious tone.
“No, it is not.”
“Yet am I correct in remembering that this lad’s father was just recently Shunned?” D’gan continued.

Cocowhat by depizan

Plot-wise, D’gan is only going to be dissuaded from his leapt-to conclusion by the explosion of mine #9, so I guess that earlier explosion that killed the weyrling was at a storage shed or something else. It wasn’t particularly clear what happened, but we’re back on the timeline now. The chapter then closes with Kindan asking Cristov if his father is at the mine, right after Britell says there were no miners at the mine, so Britell is at least taking the nameless part seriously.

Back to D’gan. I realize he’s a terribly powerful bully with an entire Weyr of dragons behind him, but the Masterminer and a Lord Holder (and an apprentice Harper) vouched for Cristov’s presence, except for one errand where another dragonrider was present the entire time. There hasn’t been a moment where Cristov had been out of sight of a credible witness, and yet that doesn’t seem to have pinged to D’gan at all. A first-year law student could credibly defend this case, much less someone with their juris doctorate. But, since there are no lawyers, and D’gan is arguably the Emperor of Pern, nobody seems willing to tell him to go get bent, even as he disrespects the authority and gravitas of a Lord Holder, the Masterminer, and another dragonrider. If for no other reason than not to give the peasants a reason to agitate for change in the Weyrleadership, he really shouldn’t be doing this.

D’gan is long into the space of being a bad leader and that his subordinates should be getting ready for him to have a firestone accident of his own. If he can’t understand even the basics of how this makes him look, he’s going to get replaced by someone with more savvy.

So let’s hit Chapter 6.

Dragon fly, dragon flame,
Dragon char, dragon tame.
Rider watch, rider fight,
Rider aim, rider right.

I…can’t make heads or tails of what this is supposed to be, or mean, or where it would fit into a song or rhyme. I got nothing.

Chapter 6 starts essentially with D’gan seeing the mine is destroyed, meeting Tarik, the sole survivor of the blast (where D’gan accuses Cristov of taking his dirk to Tarik), and tasking Tarik with mining a hundredweight of firestone by morning, by himself, with a shovel, and without any food, if he wants to live.

D’gan doesn’t trust records about how long previous firestone mines have lasted.

Privately, D’gan wondered if the old Telgar records hadn’t been altered to disguise some earlier mismanagement. He knew that such things happened. He certainly saw no reason to leave records over which his eventual successor might gloat.

We also find out that not only are the Shunned used to mine the seams, they’re used to find the seams, and there’s a similar lack of care about their welfare in this task as there is in the mining.

After giving Tarik his impossible task, D’gan returns to Crom.

With gratifying speed and precision, his wingriders formed silently behind him and D’gan strode off briskly, heading back to Lord Holder Fenner and the others who were still on the platform. Waiting respectfully, as they should, D’gan noted to himself.

Cocowhat by depizan

His face tightened when he caught sight of Tarik’s brat. The brat had blond hair and blue eyes, while Tarik had both brown hair and eyes, but the shape of the face was the same.
Same vapid look, D’gan thought to himself. Same whining ways.
With a nod to himself, D’gan decided that the boy was as guilty as the father. Justice would be served.

“There were no survivors,” D’gan said. “The mine was totally destroyed.” He let that sink in before adding, “It looks like a miner caused the explosion. Sheer carelessness, overturned a water bucket. We won’t be getting any more firestone.”
This last he said with a sly look at D’vin and a sharp cut of his eyes to Tarik’s brat.
Only the Shunned worked the firestone mines. Why not arrange to have two miners and two mines? The idea appealed to D’gan not just for its redundancy but also for its efficiency–if both father and son died in the mines, then D’gan was doing all Pern a favor, weeding out a bad bloodline. And if they survived, Pern would benefit from the protection their labors helped provide. Yes, he told himself, a good solution.

This is an exemplar of the concept of a fractal wrong, as each new terrible thing adds complexity and augh to it until it’s a multi-faceted What. The. Fuck.

He’s told a son his father is dead, and is planning on pinning the blame on him for a crime he very clearly did not commit based on his distaste for that same father, without bothering to show down enough to listen to facts or consider tune politics of his decision, so he can greedily go after more firestone for his own purposes. D’gan shames and guilts Cristov into volunteering to work a firestone mine (which is likely to kill him swiftly) as reparations for his father’s reputation (which, by the way, is still nameless and Shunned) and for something Cristov did not do. And none of the adults around him, including those with power, are doing a fucking thing to divert or stand up to D’gan for this behavior.

This is so monstrous an action that D’gan’s own dragon rebukes him.

D’gan nodded absently, savoring the look of misery on the brat’s face. He should be ashamed, he thought, with a father Shunned.
He is not bad, Kaloth remarked from up on the fire-heights, punctuating his thought with a low rumble.
It’s for the good of Pern, D’gan responded, wondering what in the name of the Shell of Faranth had prompted his dragon to make such an observation.

It’s because you’re an asshole, D’gan. So, to recap at this point,

Right after this, after all of this has already been decided, D’vin decides at the very last minute to do something about the situation, and claims Cristov will come work for him in High Reaches. Kindan helpfully supplies that there are known firestone deposits in that space, and Toldur volunteers to supervise Kindan at his mine. D’gan, while frustrated at his inability to personally revenge himself on Cristov, assents to the arrangement.

And then they finish showing everyone who won the All-Weyr Games. Perhaps I haven’t been paying that much attention to this point, but in rapid succession, characters note that dragons leaving for and arriving to hyperspace make sound. Which means dragons create sonic booms every time they disappear or reappear, either as air rushes to fill the void or air is displaced by a dragon mass. My brain is now thinking of all the ways this can be weaponized by dragons with even an approximate sense of place. And perhaps this might be another reason why the Weyrleaders try to train everyone to respect a minimum height before warping. You can avoid putting yourself into something, and you can also avoid flattening a Hold or a hold by giving yourself enough cushion for the shockwave to dissipate before it hurts anyone.

The narrative pops over to Firestone Mine #9, where Tarik has achieved two hundredweight of firestone by…picking up the pieces blown clear by the mine. Which Tarik manages to parlay into getting himself his own firestone mine, with him at the head, which is apparently what he wants, since he seems pretty happy that D’Gan is taking him to go find it and then set it up. He could just be happy that he’s not getting summarily executed or left to starve, of course. After that, it’s back to Tenim

Even though he had two purses filled to near bursting, Tenim’s earnings weren’t enough. Especially if he was to share them with Moran and the harper’s starving brats. Sure, Moran had fed him and reared him ever since he’d found him, but the price had been paid; he was ready to move on. Large numbers attracted attention, and too many might remember him with Milera.
No, it was best, Tenim decided, to finally part ways.

Which will make a lot of people, including Halla, slightly relieved that he’s left. Given what Moran has been doing with the children, this isn’t an ungrateful child leaving home as much as it would have been earlier on in this series, but I suspect everyone is a little bit safer with Tenim gone rather than with him around.

Tenim, for his part, notices signs of departing dragonriders, figures out it’s related to finding a new firestone mine, and sets a new plan in motion to get his hands on as much of it as he can and to sell it to the other Weyrs for a premium, since D’gan is stingly with allotments. As a plan, it sounds great, but I don’t think Tenim has fully thought through the consequences of trying to get involved in dragonrider business. But, then again, there’s also no narrative reason for Tenim to think he can’t pull it off, given his run of successes so far.

I still want Halla to be the one that guts him like a fish, but I suppose I could relent that honor to someone else if it means Tenim bites it ignominiously. And speaking of Halla, she reports to Moran that Tenim’s gone as soon as the kids finish checking in with her so that she knows Tenim hasn’t come back.This upsets Moran significantly, because he apparently needs Tenim to be protection and muscle for the smaller children and he thought he could keep him under control by controlling the purse strings. Moran worries Tenim might have decided to seriously go after the watch-wher hold, and resolves to stop him from doing so, tossing Halla a sack of money and saying he’ll be back in a sevenday. And his reasoning for leaving them with her?

Halla was still a child, Moran told himself, glancing down to meet the challenge in her upturned eyes. Her brown eyes blazed at him, full of determination.
A child, yes, Moran thought to himself, but she’s been mother to so many that she’s a child only if measured by Turns.
A part of Moran shrank at that assessment. Well, no matter. He would not let Tenim’s greed destroy the dragons’ cousins.

There’s at least one small part of Moran that’s telling him what kind of a shithead he’s being by leaving the small children with Halla, but he justifies it with “well, she’s done it enough before, so she can do it again.” Dude, listen to yourself and think for a second what that means you’ve done to Halla. She’s never going to have had a childhood because she’s had to be a more responsible adult than you are. The only saving grace in this is that you gave her enough money, presumably, to last the sevenday that you think you’re going to be gone for. But it’s Tenim, so that money isn’t going to last.

We’re going to leave it here for now, because what happens next is going to need its own post, and also because I’ve done enough swearing for this particular post. Halla is currently stuck with a group of small children and a purse full of money, because Moran believes he has to go try and stop Tenim. And he believes that Halla is mature enough to handle the mothering duties because of her experience. At some point, things have to get better for her. Or perhaps this time, when she’s gone from Moran, she’ll stay gone from him and decide she’d rather adopt into Trader Tarri’s group. Bleurgh.

7 thoughts on “Dragon’s Fire: Too Chipper By Half

  1. Digitalis February 7, 2019 at 2:33 am

    I mostly liked the first half of this book (Sort of? I like Pellar and the whers, at least.) but it all falls apart in the second half.

    D’gan’s such an asshole it drives me crazy. It makes me wonder how a sociopath like him even managed to Impress a dragon in the first place.

    (Below: Spoilers for Dragonsblood)
    Gur guvat gung obguref zr zbfg vf gung UR TRGF NJNL JVGU VG. Ur’f fgvyy Jrleyrnqre va Qentbafoybbq, sbhegrra lrnef yngre, fb nal ercrephffvbaf ur fhssref ng gur raq bs guvf obbx boivbhfyl pna’g or gbb onq. Ur’f yngre punenpgrevmrq nf “fubeg-fvtugrq, ohg jryy-vagragvbarq naq n tbbq jvatyrnqre.” Uvf riraghny “qrngu” vf cerfragrq nf n gentvp nppvqrag, abg gur fbeg bs chavfuzrag ur qrfreirf sbe gur penc ur chyyrq va guvf obbx.

    Na hasbeghangr pbafrdhrapr bs ergpbaavat n punenpgre sbe n cerdhry, boivbhfyl, ohg fgvyy n tynevat synj, vzb.

  2. MadamAtom February 7, 2019 at 8:38 am

    So back in The White Dragon, there was a sonic boom every time someone went between with that stolen queen egg? -checks earlier post- Including when Jaxom and Ruth brought it back directly to the Hatching Ground and then popped out from there? You’d think that would’ve damaged the eggs. Good continuity, authors. -eyeroll-

    The gibberish rhyme makes sense to me if I pull it apart and reorder it. This might be a stretch, but if I’m right, it’s pretty bad even for Pern.

    rider watch/dragon fly
    The dragon is just transportation; the rider finds the Thread and figures out how to approach it.

    rider fight/dragon flame
    rider aim/dragon char
    These two say the same thing: The rider is doing the real fighting by pointing the weapon; the dragon is just a flamethrower.

    rider right/dragon tame
    The overseer is not to be questioned.

  3. genesistrine February 7, 2019 at 3:29 pm

    while we haven’t seen it on screen, it’s probably a safe bet to assume that Tenim deliberately caused the cave-in

    It’s heavily implied at the end of Book 1. But how’s he supposed to have done it? He’s not fool enough to risk himself by going in there and kicking a prop or something, and he’s not an expert on mining anyway. So he… somehow? … managed to cave-in just the part of the tunnel between the miners and the exit, without getting squashed himself and without being spotted by anyone coming in to help when he was on his way out?

    We also get Tenim had learned quickly enough that his final plan had been ruined by Cristov, when the boy had helped save Natalon, but I genuinely can’t figure out how come he’s fixated on Cristov as the rescuer when it’s Kindan, Nuella and Nuelsk who got the miners out.

    What Cristov could really use is a friend, but has hasn’t been able to make one, really, because Tarik has interfered with it … it seems like if he wanted to, and the opportunity was there, Cristov could have changed guilds, were it not for Tarik.

    Tarik spent a lot of time stamping on Cristov’s self-esteem and self-image. The odd thing in that is: “Father says I’m only fit to be a miner” when I’d expect Tarik to be all about how awesome mining is and their Proud Family Heritage of Mining and the Manliness of Mining.

    it turns out to be D’vin’s terrible luck that his weyrling gets caught at mine #9 when it blows up and killed in the same explosion

    It’s worse than that – the weyrling blows up in midair; it’s not related to the mine explosion. Maybe they teleported to just the wrong spot at just the wrong time and a water drop ended up in the firestone bag?

    But anyway, more proof of how horrifically dangerous firestone is.

    “Yet am I correct in remembering that this lad’s father was just recently Shunned?” D’gan continued

    That was *more than a year ago*, D’gan. A year and 3 whatever-the-subdivisions-of-a-year-are.

    (And it’s very strange to me that the breakpoint between books 1 and 2 isn’t the timehop of a year – the first chapter of book 2 is Tarik’s sentencing, and then we get the timehop at the beginning of chapter 2. *Why?*)

    If for no other reason than not to give the peasants a reason to agitate for change in the Weyrleadership, he really shouldn’t be doing this.

    They don’t get the option. His dragon banged the boss queen dragon so he’s in charge. That’s the TRAAAAADITION. No-one can, apparently, conceptualise that a bad weyrleader shouldn’t be allowed to lead.

    Why not arrange to have two miners and two mines?

    Not that D’gan isn’t an asshole of stupendous proportions, but… why not? Why not more that two? Why are all the other Weyrs letting this stupendous asshole run the only source of the most vital mineral on Pern? Especially given that even *Tenim* knows D’gan is shorting the other Weyrs?

  4. WanderingUndine February 7, 2019 at 8:07 pm

    That has to be one of the highest reaction counts for a Pern deconstruction post.

    And yet I still see Ann McCaffrey, or Pern specifically, in recommendations of great female authors. Including one as an example of “media created by women” recommended to men to help them understand women better and be more feminism-oriented and less gross toward women with regard to dating/sex. Riiiight. Stories full of glorified rape and misogynistic stereotypes will help entitled asshats behave better. *facepalm*

    More humorously, I recently saw Pern in a “Describe your favorite book in six words” Facebook thread, described as “Planet periodically attacked by killer spaghetti.”

  5. Silver Adept February 8, 2019 at 11:25 am

    @ Digitalis –

    Pellar and the whers is a good story, even if it has some terrifying elements to it, like underage sex and an insistence that Aleesa is insane without any facts to back that up. But things are going to get worse. Way worse.

    As for D’gan, I’m beginning to think of him and Telgar as this era’s Benden, who can get away with anything they want, but without the excuse of “We brought your asses forward in time to do your duties, so you can follow us.”

    @ MadamAtom –

    Continuity seems to attempt to be consistent in the series it exists in, but nobody seems to have given a damn about making things consistent between series and especially not authors.

    And I think your interpretation of the poem makes plenty of terrifying sense.

    @ genesistrine –

    What happened in the mine is a giant handwave that doesn’t make any sense. The only way I can see Tenim getting focused on Cristov is if, say, Tarik wouldn’t shut up about how his kid betrayed him and helped Kindan and Nuella and such, and Tenim took the wrong idea from it.

    I agree that book two should have started after the sentencing, because that would have been the right breakpoint for it.

    And that there should be more mines, since Pern was theoretically supposed to be founded on those independence ideas and such.

    I have yet to figure out how Wingleaders and other members of a Weyr don’t decide to make sure that there are “accidents” such that bad Weyrleaders find themselves unable to continue their duties and someone else has to take over.

    @ WanderingUndine –

    There seems to be one chapter in each of the works where all the wrong seems to get concentrated, and perhaps in this one, it’s this particular chapter that contains all the terrible things, auuugh. But yeah, this is probably a higher reaction count than many, because D’gan is just that much of an asshole.

    I think Anne gets recommended because she became popular in an era where overtly female names were nearly nonexistent in the genre, and there’s not really a desire to move forward, because that would mean acknowledging that there are women, minorities, and especially minority women who are doing great work and winning awards in the genre. These books are terrible, but they’re part of the time period where the genre was safely white and male and so they can be recommended safely as being “edgy” or “feminist” without actually having to engage with all of the criticism of the genre that started when publishers started letting others in.

    I do like that six-word description of Pern, though.

  6. genesistrine February 13, 2019 at 3:19 pm

    @MadamAtom: not to mention that the sonic booms must cause a lot of air disturbance, so during Threadfall every time a dragon teleports in or away the Thread’s suddenly being blown unpredictably around….

    @SilverAdept: As for D’gan, I’m beginning to think of him and Telgar as this era’s Benden, who can get away with anything they want, but without the excuse of “We brought your asses forward in time to do your duties, so you can follow us.”

    Maybe he’s being allowed to get away with it because he’s asshole enough to keep the firestone mines running when they’re so dangerous the Miners refuse to get involved in any way and the only way to keep them running is with slave labour. That way the other Weyrleaders and the rest of the planet gets to pretend they don’t know about the forced labour, terrible working conditions and deaths and can act shocked, *shocked* I tell you! if anyone ever forces them to confront it.

  7. Silver Adept February 19, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    I don’t know. Seems more like Pern is mysteriously unified in their thoughts that “if you didn’t want to be enslaved to the firestone mines, you shouldn’t have gotten yourself Shunned,” Even though there are clear examples and lampshade hanging where it becomes obvious that people get Shunned all the time for bullshit reasons. I think the narrative wants us to believe that everybody who ends up in the mine deserves to be there and deserves to suffer the terrible deadly inevitable fate that comes with it.

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