Last time, we took a long ride on constructing and destructing firestone mines, and had a comparison between D’vin getting actual miners and treating them with care versus D’gan’s lack of feeling and insistence in using expendable Shunned until they inevitably make a mistake. Or get firebombed by Tenim, who thinks he has a brilliant plan to be the only source of firestone on Pern and make a killing in selling it. By the end of his last terrorist act, he’s got Pellar, Halla, and a horde of dragonriders gunning for his ass.
Dragon’s Fire: Book II: Chapters 8, 9, and 10: Content Notes: Terrorism, Revenge, Murder, Ablism, A Profound Lack of Genetics Knowledge, Unintentionally Standing on Someone’s Triggers
To flame the skies
Your dragon must chew
Or more for you.
And that’s something that the miners have to produce, one hundredweight for each Fall, for each dragon, for each time they go out. There’s no way that a single mine can produce that much material, and even more so if it’s volatile material that doesn’t like getting stored. And yet, we start the chapter with B’ralar and D’vin having a chat about keeping their own firestone mine secret, given the snit that D’vin is having about not having one of his own. They’re concerned about Tenim as a terrible person, and there’s a confirmation that this time, Tarik is well and truly dead, instead of being used as a guilt chip on Cristov. B’ralar also suggests that D’vin might be his successor as Weyrleader, and suggests that D’vin not do anything he might regret later.
Then we go back to Cristov, Toldur, and D’vin, who are discussing the fact that they need to ramp up production with more mines and more miners, but Toldur offers the sobering news that they asked the Masterminer for volunteers and got none. And also asked weyrfolk to volunteer for mines and got none from them, either. Why should they, given how clear it is that the life expectancy is nonexistent and the material itself is so volatile that even if they do it all right, it could very easily all go explosively or poisonously wrong? That same idea continues in a short scene where D’gan tries to find or insist that there be more workers for another mine, but there aren’t any Shunned in his territory to conscript into the mines, and the Holders seem to not be generating any new ones.
So, the actual plot itself kicks back up with Sidar and Tenim having a meeting.
Sidar points out that there’s a worldwide manhunt on for Tenim, and then mentions the mine in High Reaches, which punctures Tenim’s belief that he’s the only person on Pern with firestone and forces him to change his plan. It being Tenim, the plan change becomes murderous.
“I wouldn’t want that,” Tenim said agreeably. He slung his pack off his shoulder and fished in it for something. “Seeing as you’ve been such a good friend, I’ve got something for you. Call it a going-away gift.” He looked around and spotted a small jug. “In return all I want is some water.”
Sidar eyed him warily and backed away until he saw what Tenim had pulled out–a rock.
“It’s just a rock,” Sidar said. “Why should I trade water for that?”
Tenim threw the rock at him and the older man caught it reflexively. Tenim stepped over to the jug and filled a mug.
“No ordinary rock,” Tenim responded smoothly. “That’s firestone.”
Sidar eyed him warily and the rock speculatively. “It’s not worth my water,” he growled. “You’d best leave.”
[…There’s a little more banter while Tenim pretends to be sad at rejection…]
He [Tenim] threw the water at Sidar who grunted in surprise.
“And quite deadly,” Tenim added, stepping back as Sidar gave a strangled cry and lurched away from him. Tenim continued on as if nothing were happening, completely ignoring Sidar’s frantic movements. “It seems that if the gas doesn’t explode outright, it burns the lungs and the air in them. Death is quick, if painful.”
Tenim watched as Sidar’s desperate movements became more and more feeble and finally stopped. Shaking his head, he turned to go, only to turn back again for one final admonition. “You should have bought when you had the chance.”
Aerodynamics does not work that way.Which is to say that if there’s enough of the phosphorous gas to burn out Sidar’s lungs from the water exposure, there’s enough gas to burn out Tenim’s lungs, too. This sounds like a clever plan if and only if there’s no way that it won’t backfire spectacularly, which it should have. I can’t imagine that the firestone isn’t still emitting gas as Tenim stands there and watches Sidar die, which gives him even more reason to have his own lungs burned out completely. Tenim’s story should end here.
Instead, he leaves the dray of firestone, selects himself a horse, and heads toward High Reaches. Halla discovers his carnage and curses her luck before hitching a ride with traders who deliver gossip that D’gan is really looking for anyone he can to work the mines. The next scene is Pellar hitching a ride with a boatman who talks about D’gan offering bounties for any Shunned that can be found, before his tracking and wilderness survival skills finally fail him in a snowstorm and he asks Hurth for help. And then gets himself assigned to guard the new mine in High Reaches over the objections of just about everyone who knows him, and only if he promises to call in Hurth the minute he sees someone suspicious. The only part worth noting in all of this is this set of lines right here:
“Not everyone gets a choice.”
“How’s that? Isn’t it justice they do?”
“Justice is different from Lord Holder to Lord Holder.”
A chorus of assents passed around the campfire.
Of course, that’s dangerous thinking, I’m sure, if you ask the lords about that idea, but it’s completely true. And there’s got to be at least a few Lords that you don’t want to get caught doing anything around, because they’ll Shun at the whisper of a rumor and have brute squads on hand to do it without even needing to go before said Lord. There are probably some locations that are more favorable to trade. Or steal.
The plot, such that it is, then settles on Tenim, and this is how the narrative describes his thought process.
Tenim didn’t know whether he wanted to swear or laugh when he found the High Reaches firestone mine. There was Tarik’s brat digging firestone along with one of the other miners from Natalon’s camp! He’d get revenge for all the things the miners had done wrong and he’d have the honor of exterminating Tarik’s brat!
It’s also “infuriating” to Tenim to see how well the miners are being treated, as Tenim can apparently tell they’re living high on the hog, because of the house, the pumps, the rails, their clothes, and a dump for the stone so that someone else can do the bagging work for them. And the guards, but Tenim already has a plan to deal with the guards and get even the dragonriders to come to heel.
So, it’s okay to exact generational revenge on Cristov because Tarik had the bad sense to get caught when Tenim felt he had to do something about Natalon? And Tenim is still attached to the idea of selling firestone for an inflated price, and thinks it’s a good idea to piss off even more dragonriders than he already has. Like, for supposedly being a tactical genius, or whatever Plot Armor justification we’re getting for him, Tenim is going about things really, really, stupidly.
And even then, his plan succeeds, at least at the beginning, because the falcon attacks the dragon, and then the guards, and that apparently is enough of a distraction for Tenim to lob firestone at the mine while Grief tries to kill Pellar, except Pellar’s ready for the bird and kills it with his knife, which enrages Tenim and after Pellar is able to extract someone from the mine, Tenim tries to kill Pellar, but for the appearance of a knife, thrown by an unknown benefactor, (although it’s strongly implied to be Halla) that Pellar then uses to stab Tenim first in the chest, and then in the throat, for Chitter.
Personally, if Halla could float a knife into Pellar’s hand, I believe she could bury it in Tenim’s face/chest from that range and accomplish the kill herself, but can’t have girls killing boys that effectively or stealing Pellar’s thunder in that moment.
Tenim finally gets what’s coming to him, but another firestone mine gets destroyed in the process. And on we go to Chapter 9.
Dragonrider, this is true:
Others all look up to you.
Your hard work and bravery,
Keep Pern safe and skies Thread-free.
The viewpoint character at this point is Cristov, who was the person Pellar pulled from the mine before it went up completely. He doesn’t know the full extent of the damage, either to himself or to anyone else, because the healer, Sonia, tells him to stay down and says that if he’s lucky, in three sevendays he’ll be back up to getting on his feet. Before he falls back asleep, though, he realizes that Sonia’s not touching his ear, and he wants to know what happened to it. Before we get to that point, though, we switch over to D’vin and Alarra, Toldur’s mate, with D’vin
expecting Toldur’s mate to burst into distraught tears and crumple into a trembling wretch at the site of the burned-out mine and her mate’s tomb
and getting basically none of that. Instead, Alarra tells him
“I’m the mate of a miner, dragonrider; we share our burdens,” she told him. A smile twisted across her lips fleetingly. “If I’d been the stronger, Toldur would have had me in the mines.”
D’vin was surprised and it showed.
About a lot of things, the least being that he doesn’t get to play hero consoling the widow of the brave man. I’m all for a strong woman in these situations, but I also am going to be a bit something about the fact that we keep having a hell of a body count here with all the firestone and terrorism going on. Like, Tenim should have been killed several times over before now, and the narrative never really gave us a reason why he didn’t, even as his plans got more grandiose and less thought-out. They discuss the amount of injury to Cristov, and basically say that Toldur gave his life sheltering the boy from the blast. Alarra says she’s ready to stand in for whatever Toldur was doing and get to work mining firestone, but D’vin has the courtesy to at least say options need discussing first.
And then the narrative jumps away to D’gan, who is getting ever more intense about needing more firestone and more people to mine it with, and then to the Harper Hall, where Zist and Murenny are talking about that desperation as they await Kindan’s arrival. He’s right on schedule, which means Zist wins a bet, and Kindan is assigned to scour the Harper Hall archives and learn everything he can about mining firestone.
But the narrative jumps back to Cristov, who can now see the full extent of the damage, “the horrid mottled flesh that lined the left side of his head where hair and ear should have been, the burn mark where the exploding firestone had seared his flesh completely away.”
The first thing D’vin does is to say that scars make a dragonrider look distinguished. Sonia shrugs and says she looks at the heart, and Cristov points out he’s not a dragonrider anyway. But Cristov gets quite a salute from the dragons themselves, and thanks from B’ralar (who Cristov doesn’t realize it’s the Weyrleader until he looks at the rank knots) and is dragged to see the eggs even as he protests that what he should be doing is starting over again.
There’s a bit of Ancient technology mentioned (“mirrors guiding the light into the Hatching Grounds…Made of some sort of metal. The weyrlings are assigned to polish them when it’s dark.”) before Sonia and D’vin mention to Cristov just how much hope they have riding on this clutch.
“If it’s not a queen egg,” D’vin continued, “and Gairirth dies, then we’ll be queenless, like Igen.”
“Would High Reaches band with Telgar?” Cristov asked worriedly.
D’vin laughed, shaking his head. “I doubt that would be Weyrleader B’ralal’s first choice,” he said. “No, I imagine we’d barter for a queen egg.” His face grew grim as he added, “Doubtless that egg would come from Telgar and we’d be beholden.”
Cristov gave him a questioning look.
“We’d be beholden,” D’vin explained, “to open our mating flight to the bronzes of Telgar.”
Cocowhat by depizan
I’d like to believe that genetics is not quite a fully lost art at this point in time, but this doesn’t make any sense apart from someone thinking through the political consequences and no others. Because it’s essentially “we’ll give you some of our genetic stock, and in return, you have to allow us to potentially inbreed that stock because we’ve decided that dragon sex is the only way to establish political power in a Weyr.” Which, I suppose, has always been a problem, if any of the bronzes of a queen’s clutch stay at the same Weyr they were hatched at. There’s never been any magic but plot magic that suggests the breeding of dragons doesn’t result in some very inbred traits. It’s always just been the case that nobody who was from too close a line ended up breeding with each other, or that sons and daughters didn’t end up doing so, either. At least on camera, anyway.
The rest of the bit is Sonia and D’vin pointing out to Cristov that it would be foolish for High Reaches to send the sole surviving successful firestone miner back out into the field before he could train others, and that the Harper Hall had their best apprentice on the job of trying to find out more about firestone. Cristov recognizes it as Kindan, and has a small laugh about how Kindan is indirectly working for him before we go back to the Harper Hall, where Kindan and Kelsa are poring over the records. They discover a report about how firestone was discovered (by observing fire-lizards using the stone to spout flame), initially dismiss it as a story (“You’re right, that’s cracked,” Kelsa says.), before deciding to take it seriously, based on the fact that the colonists named them fire-lizards.
And on that bet, and the consequences that might come from another firestone mine somewhere in Telgar, they decide to go wake the Masterharper, which is srs bzns.
And onward to Chapter 10.
Those in need.
If only that were true. But that’s what we’re supposed to keep in mind as this chapter opens, because it’s all the way back to the wherhold that Moran has been stationed at while Pellar has been out exploring the world and finally achieving his revenge against Tenim. Aleesa is apparently feverish, and Moran says he has to go somewhere to get the proper medicines for. This makes Jaythen suspicions, because we’ve established well enough through Halla’s eyes that Moran is not the shining Platonic form of the Harper that the chapter poem wants us to believe. (Also, this poem and the one from Chapter 6 seem to be part of the same work, which makes me wonder where the Holder one will appear to complete the triple.)
There’s also the swift judgment that Aleesa is crazy, although Moran is at least trying to find a socially acceptable reason for it, rather than just declaring it and being done, as Pellar did.
Moran quickly determined that the self-styled Whermaster was more than a little crazed by a long life of trauma, not eased any by her association with watch-whers. But somehow he and Aleesa had found and kindled a strange sort of respect, bordering on friendship.
It’s still assuming facts not in evidence, though. Moran is also, despite having worked with the Shunend more, working on the assumption that the life that the Harpers and other more privileged people lead is normal and correct, and any deviations from trying to live that life, even if you have really good reasons not to, mark you as being crazy. Moran really should know better, if his backstory is anything like what we keep getting told it is. Like the narrative does in the very next paragraph.
Perhaps he recognized a kindred spirit, tormented by past decisions and indecisions, torn between high ideals and petty indulgences. Or perhaps it was Aleesk, with her strange looks and quiet presence. He learned quickly enough that Aleesk was the last gold watch-wher, and that Master Zist and even the dragonriders found the creatures valuable. After so many Turns spent fruitlessly striving to find an answer for the Shunned, or hope for their children, Moran found the issue of the watch-whers and their handlers to be an easier burden, and he was in need of a rest.
It’s interesting to me how the narrative lionizes Moran when we’re looking at things from his perspective, as if his own internal narrative has gained more power and respect, like the narrative allows him to narrate himself, a courtesy it doesn’t really extend to anybody else. It sets up the conflict as to who is to be believed, Moran’s own self-narrative of high ideals thwarted by petty indulgences, or the more pragmatic and much less rose-colored view of him and the world that permeates everyone else’s chapters. Why does Moran get the privilege of the benefit of the doubt for himself when nobody else does, despite being, perhaps, one of the most morally ambiguous characters in the story? Why does he get favored?
As it is, Moran heads out and makes reasonable time, before flagging down a passing dragonrider and trying to trade on his status as a harper to get him where he needs to go faster. The dragonrider, K’lur, doesn’t buy it and instead transports him to Crom to face Lord Fenner’s justice for trying to impersonate a Harper. (Because this is Telgar territory, and any excuse is a good excuse for generating more Shunned to work mines with.) There is something that is going to work in Moran’s favor, though, or at least make his story more plausible.
As he marched up the length of the Great Hall to the dias on which Lord Fenner sat, Moran noticed several people–even children–watching from tables placed alongside the walls. One of the children pointed at him with wide, surprised eyes. Moran paused, stunned. “Fethir?” Another child appeared familiar. “Marta?”
Rage, sudden and immense, filled Moran. He shook off his guards and raced to the end of the hall. “What are you doing with them?” he demanded at the top of his lungs. “Are you sending children into the mines?”
He looked around feverishly, recognizing the children he’d left with–“Where’s Halla? What have you done with her?”
After Moran has to be restrained for his outburst, they finally get it sorted as to where Halla went (after Tenim, who has been implicated in Sidar’s death by firestone gas), what the kids are doing here (Fenner’s wards), and that Moran is not actually going to be Shunned, despite K’lur suggesting that associating with them is enough to get someone Shunned, and D’gan needs more bodies for his firestone mines work. Having invoked Zist’s name to identify himself as the lost apprentice, Fenner sends word to the Harper Hall to see if Moran’s claim checks out, and passes along the additional message that Aleesa needs feverfew with it after Moran mentions that it’s a watch-wher that’s in danger. Narra is sent with the instructions to use the emergency signal three times when sending the message. Given that there’s no way Moran can get the medicine back, they’ll have to rely on dragonriders to get things to Aleesa in time. Thankfully, the Harpers can draw on more than Telgar to make this happen.
Moran is definitely not off the hook with Fenner, however.
“Your name came up not too long ago, as I recall.”
Moran raised an eyebrow. “My lord?”
“Yes, a poor man named Nikal swore a complaint on you,” Fenner said. “Said he’d paid you for a month’s Cromcoal and never got it.” Fenner paused, watching Moran’s face carefully. “When he told me you’d claimed to be one of my harpers, I felt obliged to fill his lack.”
“I had hoped–” Moran began, but Fenner cut him off with an raised hand.
“The issue will be between you and the Masterharper,” Fenner told him. “For which you should be grateful; I’ve Shunned men for stealing.”
“It was for the children,” Moran explained.
“You should have come to me,” Fenner replied.
Moran shook his head, confused, and momentarily lost for words. He licked his lips and winced. “They were Shunned.”
Marta came back at that moment with a wet washcloth. Fenner smiled at the child and directed her toward Moran. She handed him the washcloth and darted away, an action that spoke of no great affection for the harper.
Nikal made good on his promise, then. Also, I would like to know what this process entails and how one fomally swears out a complaint against someone, because it seems like this would be a large part of what a Lord Holder (or anyone else, for that matter) would be doing in court. And while Robinton had a part where he sat in on court, it really wasn’t elaborated much at all about how the process of justice actually works on Pern. The most complete account we’ve had so far has been Tarik’s Shunning and Halla’s justice hearing, and perhaps a small amount of when Shankolin and the other Luddites were exiled for attacking Robinton, but even then, it’s always seemed like it’s a given that there is a justice process on Pern, but nobody actually cares enough about what it is to help establish some characters as being good and others less so. It’s just the widespread acknowledgement that justice varies form place to place, and occasionally, apparently, the mob can do what they like as well without necessarily suffering repercussions from the Lord in question for usurping his prerogative.
Also in that quote, while I’m not surprised that Marta has no love for Moran, given that Halla seems to have been the only one who treated any of them with anything resembling affection, I’m very surprised that the narrative doesn’t launch into some sort of stirring defense of Moran’s ideals, given that Marta gave us the impression that she’s in Halla’s world, not Moran’s, and Moran is currently the viewpoint character. I mean, not too soon after that, Moran realizes he’s fainter than he thinks, and the narrative shifts away to Kindan, but this seems like just the right spot for the narrative to defend Moran against Fenner, even though it’s already been established that Fenner is one of the good people.
So the narrative darts out to Kindan, who is being awakened from his archive dive by the emergency signal and sent off to Murenny and Zist, who are joined by Mikal and the situation explained. Kindan and Mikal go off to the wherhold camp by dragon to deliver the medicine, and Kindan says hello to Aleesk, having figured out without prompting where her nest is. That relaxes the tension among the wher-group, who have been suspicious of the newcomers (again, with good reason) and allows Mikal to get to work with the medicines and cure Aleesa of her fever. Kindan, for his part, has taken a nap with Aleesk, and when Mikal comes into the lair, he declares it a good place and that he’s going to stay here with them. Because it has good rocks and crystals.
Which gets Kindan thinking, and he asks aloud whether or not Mikal knows of a different kind of firestone, and that it was a bit strange that nobody actually asked Mikal about this.
In an instant he knew why.
Mikal sank against the floor, his legs suddenly weak. Kindan moved to help but the old man waved him away. Feebly, he explained, “My dragon died from a firestone explosion.” He searched Kindan’s face. “Are you saying there is a safer firestone?”
“Maybe it was all used up,” Kindan said in a vain effort to ease the pain so evident in Mikal’s eyes. He had heard of the bond between dragon and rider, but he’d never thought it was so strong that tens of Turns later it would still cause so great a pain. This was nothing like the feeling he’d had when his watch-wher had bonded with Nuella.
Mikal’s look demanded more.
Which works really well as an example of how we can very easily stand on each other’s triggers, and sometimes without actually knowing the why and the how.
Plot-wise, however, it sparks a discussion where Kindan argues there’s a different kind of firestone, and that perhaps all the people who knew about that one ended up dying without passing the knowledge on — perhaps because they discovered the new firestone and it blew up in their faces. Kindan resolves to go, somehow, to the Southern Continent and see if he can’t find samples of the non-explosive firestone, bringing along someone with a fire-lizard to see if they’ll find and eat the mineral themselves and thus prove that there is a safer version that can do the same thing. As hope goes, it’s probably a longer-shot, based mostly on conjecture and reading various ancient Records just right, but it’s this kind of long shot that often results in the eureka moments sought.
And there goes Chapter 10, so we’re starting to move back toward the longer chapter format. We’ll call a rest here, and then see what we can do about finding the new firestone in a post-Tenim world next time.