Dragon Harper: Plus ça change…

Last time, we set up an obvious time warp plot and then went through the Hatching where Cristov Impressed his bronze. What might perhaps be the most important thing out of all of those chapters is that everybody has issues and they’re not getting resolved any time soon.

Dragon Harper, Chapter 2: Content Notes: Sexist Assholery, A Hostsile Learning Environment, Actively-Negligent Adults

They waited for their hatchlings
Lined up in the sand
They waited for the younglings
To leave hand in hand.

I’d like to say this is part of the same work from Chapter 1, but they’re very clearly not. And so we continue to get disconnected fragments, at least for the moment. It’s a nice change of pace that they’re topical, though.

The chapter starts at High Reaches Weyr, the morning after, and mostly serves to remind Kindan that M’tal wasn’t drunk, and was serious, when he said he’d send for Kindan when he was of the appropriate rank. And for Kindan to be a bit wistful about the possibility of being a Weyr Harper. Or possibly a dragonrider. Which are both much higher aims than he had when he started on his Harper journey. And for us to discover yet another of Kindan’s issues.

M’tal growled and rushed toward Kindan, grabbing him in a great hug. “Don’t think you’ll get away with that!” he said and held Kindan tightly. For a moment Kindan tensed, then relaxed, realizing in a burst of clarity that M’tal truly appreciated him. Kindan also realized how much he missed the rare hugs that his father, Danil, had given him. M’tal was taller and more lithe than his father but, still…

Oh, right, as if I needed reminding that we live on a world that is toxic in its masculinity for the most part. Because I’m pretty sure that Cristov would have similar feelings about hugs from his father and whether that was appropriately masculine. I’m annoyed, mostly, that in the hopes of creating themselves a pastoral paradise, they didn’t rather firmly insist and enshrine that gender roles of this sort were not allowed, but then again, given who the people were that went on this trip, I suppose it was inevitable that their own prejudices would be reflected and passed down over time.

In any case, M’tal reiterates his promise, D’vin drops Kindan off, and we’re at the Harper Hall. And we’re going to spend a significant time in these next few paragraphs because, well, as much as I’d like to toss off a one-liner and be done with it, “The Harper Hall is still a trash fire” doesn’t fully capture everything that’s happening.

Kindan hadn’t liked Vaxoram [the seniormost apprentice at the Hall] when they first met, and the feeling was mutual. Vaxoram had made it a project to torment Verilan, the youngest apprentice.
Verilan was extraordinarily talented at scribing and researching in the Records. Kindan knew it was only the boy’s young age that held him back from walking the tables and becoming a journeyman. Even the prickly Master Archivist, Resler, had a soft spot for Verilan, and Kindan suspected that Verilan felt the same affection, the two being kindred spirits.
That respect irked Vaxoram even more, as his own handwriting was a point of shame for the entire hall.

Okay, so we’ve set ourselves up with a fairly classic “jock bullies nerd” situation here, with extra emphasis on the jock not having one of the necessary skillsets for being a writer and archivist. Given how much Harpering is oral tradition and instruction through song, writing can (theoretically) be a specialized skill. Not all the monks were scribes, after all.

Unlike many situations where one person bullies another, though, Kindan is not having it.

When Kindan first found out about the bullying that Vaxoram had condoned or even initiated against Verilan, he took action. He was careful not to be caught, but soon those who were tormenting Verilan found themselves tormented–with extra chores and duties. Kindan had even managed to get Vaxoram caught and given a week’s extra duties.
Of course, while the bullies were never certain who was getting them back, trapping them in their traps and arranging for their pranks to be discovered, they suspected Kindan and unleashed their full wrath on him.
For the next three months, Kindan had felt every day that he should just leave the Harper Hall. But he hadn’t, because he was certain that if he did, Verilan would be the next to suffer.

And, I’m sure, despite the ample evidence presented, the masters have yet to see fit to expel Vaxoram or otherwise redirect him into some other thing. Or possibly even promote him up a rank just so they can send him to the farthest reaches of the planet and tell him that’s his circuit, and perhaps hope that there’s some maturity that comes with having to walk a lot, sing a lot, and listen to other people’s problems a lot.

Things changed for the worse with the arrival of Nonala, the second girl apprentice in twenty turns.
The first girl apprentice had been Kelsa, a talented songwriter who had arrived nearly a full Turn before and had quickly become Kindan’s second-best friend after Verilan. Kela was prickly, blunt, and gawky, but those traits were overshadowed by her honesty and kindness.
She was also shy, at least initially. So when she first arrived at the Harper Hall, she had been all too willing to accept the suggestion that she should sleep with the kitchen staff.
“After all,” she had said reasonably to Kindan when he’d questioned her, “it’s not like there are other girl harpers.”
“I don’t know,” Kindan said mulishly. “It seems to me that if you’re an apprentice, you should sleep in the apprentice dormitory.”
“Vaxoram wouldn’t like that, I’m sure,” Kelsa had replied, grimacing. “And I don’t need to upset him any more than I already have.”

And also, I’m annoyed that Menolly is being recycled in this way. And also that the Harper Hall still seems to believe that women are an oddity as apprentices in this earlier time. And furthermore that Kelsa is being put through unnecessary problems because nobody sees fit to do something about the toxic boy they’ve allowed to assume a position of authority for.

Mostly that Vaxoram’s an asshole, and that we are again going through a story beat sequence that’s basically “asshole bullies in the Harper Hall that make life miserable for the apprentices that are already there.” If this turns out like Piemur’s story, someone’s going to have to get almost-killed before anyone decides to do anything about this.

It turns out that Kelsa’s universally-praised talents in songwriting are matched by Vaxoram’s utter inability to do anything of the sort, so we continue to set the situation up in such a way that Vaxoram is bullying people who are more talented than him at certain Harper skills. I want to know what Vaxoram is actually good at, rather than just what he’s not.

If Kelsa were any less talented or more arrogant, Kindan might have agreed with the senior apprentice that a girl didn’t belong among harpers…but her songs were just too good.

Also, Kindan’s a sexist asshole who might very well believe in “bros before hos.” Like, this is a pretty classic example of tokenization of Kelsa, where she has to be exceptionally good at what she does just to be considered “good enouugh” to join the boys. It’s not like this is a problem in the past, either, and I’m sure that the reading audience can pull a dozen more examples out from their search engine results without having to think too hard about where it shows up in real life and in literature as well. But, since Kindan doesn’t outright hate Kelsa, they turn into friends against Vaxoram.

And when Nonala arrives, Kelsa gathers the apprentices and puts a plan into place where they section off two beds with dividers so that the two girls will have appropriate privacy. Vaxoram is unhappy with this, as are the older apprentices, who apparently don’t like having to change their lifestyle to accomodate girls. And thus the escalation begins.

Vaxoram, failing to convince the Masters to provide the girls with separate quarters, had tried to shame and scare them into demanding it on their own–or better, to ask to leave the Harper Hall.
It started with silly pranks, water left on the floor just outside the canvas partition. When Nonala tripped and banged her head in the middle of the night, Kindan moved his bunk close by and kept a wary eye out for further pranksters.
It soon escalated to outright harassment, with the older apprentices actively preventing both girls from attending classes. Kelsa bore up well under the strain–tough and wiry, she merely elbowed or pinched her way past the offenders. But Nonala was a milder sort, and the glares and jeers of the older boys were hard on her.

Right, so there’s a potentially fatal thing, there, averted because Nonala had the luck not to hit anything sharp on the way down and die from a prank. And yet, apparently even with the outright blocking of their way to the classes, the Masters do nothing about the bullying.

There’s a bit where Kindan holds Nonala’s hand at night as a gesture of solidarity, and then where Nonala ends up avoiding being tripped by someone and instead mashing his face into the dirt. Since Nonala’s got support, nothing happens from it, although Kindan recalls having defended himself against the same thing, and it was the bad luck of his assailant, deciding to try it right after the first dance lesson (and the person who teaches dance also teaches defense, so I’m guessing some form of akido or possibly capoeira is part of their defense). So Nonala ends up not getting bullied quite as much, because she’s demonstrated that she has enough allies that it’s not worth the effort to try and get her out.

Have I mentioned yet that the Harper Hall continues to be a trash fire yet?

After this lovely recounting of all the terrible things that have happened, Kindan dashes off to Murenny to deliver his report and is directed to get breakfast from the kitchen before he enters. (This annoys Kindan, because Kindan was so sure he was quiet on the approach, and yet Murenny knows he’s there all the same.) And then, after he’s required to eat and drink, Kindan is allowed to give his report. (We get a nice nugget of information that traditionally, apprentices are expected to be apprentices for three to four years before being invited to walk the table. If it’s always this terrible and bully-filled, I wouldn’t be surprised at an atrocious attrition rate of apprentices. And probably some bullshit excuse about a Harper needing to be tough enough to do the job.) Murenny nods, makes a remark about how he’ll expect B’ralar to join his Weyrmate soon, and that, even though he doesn’t mean it, sends Kindan into a bit of a funk about Kisk-Nuelsk and what it might have been like to have Impressed a dragon, and then some further Impostor Syndrome about his own Harper skills.

His days were filled with feeling overwhelmed by his classes and his various inadequacies; he had neither Kelsa’s [orig: Nonala’s] skill at crafting song, nor the fierce dedication to the dry, dusty Records that made Verilan’s eyes bright with excitement. Oh, he could thwart silly pranks from older apprentices and he gave as good as he got, but that was hardly a harperly calling, and beyond that, Kindan could think of no talent in which he had a gift.

Except perhaps his ability to play drums (not to make them) and the proficiency that he has with drum code, we find out, but Kindan’s not sure that qualifies for anything, and he’s also got an additional problem.

Vaxoram took great pains to taunt Kindan on his failures. Kindan sometimes wondered if Vaxoram didn’t gloat over the lackings of others to distract himself from his own weaknesses, but the older apprentice’s relentless ways never gave much time to consider the ramifications.

Vaxoram is, apparently, good at two things. One:

Two: the narrative says he’s good at fencing, where “good” means being bigger, stronger, and having a better reach than anyone else. The instructor criticizes Vaxoram for his lack of subtlety and suggests he could learn a thing or two from Kindan. Which aggravates Vaxoram sufficiently to switch his sword from one hand to the other mid-lunge and then whack Kindan on the head from the side he wasn’t expecting. The instructor them proceeds to point out that using your off-hand is no guarantee of anything, if your off-hand is someone else’s main hand, and uses his own left hand to thrash Vexoram thoroughly.

The narrative says it’s Kindan’s determination to be a Harper that’s keeping him at the hall, otherwise he would have left a long time ago because of Vaxoram.

We’re going to stop here, because while there’s not much left in the chapter, there’s a big action yet to come, and it’s going to end up taking a significant amount of time, words, and probable swearing, to cover.

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11 thoughts on “Dragon Harper: Plus ça change…

  1. genesistrine March 14, 2019 at 4:25 pm

    […] To leave hand in hand

    a) Ugh, I can’t stand the plunkety-plunkety rhythm of that. It’s so *dull*.

    b) Dragons have hands now?

    “The Harper Hall is still a trash fire” doesn’t fully capture everything that’s happening

    Even “the Harper Hall is even more of a trash fire” doesn’t cover it. “The Harper Hall is a trash fire of colossal, horrifying, mind-destroying, ever-expanding proportions” might come slightly closer.

    “jock bullies nerd” situation here, with extra emphasis on the jock not having one of the necessary skillsets for being a writer and archivist.

    The weird thing is that as we find out very shortly this jock has *none* of the necessary skillsets for *being a Harper*. Why is he still there at all, let alone as boss apprentice? Rich parents?

    (He apparently got in originally because he had a good voice before it broke, but it “broke badly” – is that a thing? Surely you can still sing if you’ve been trained to, even if your voice isn’t soloist-quality? But then again, if he’s got no other Harpering skills and isn’t worth keeping as a soloist why’s he still there?)

    Vaxoram, failing to convince the Masters to provide the girls with separate quarters, had tried to shame and scare them into demanding it on their own

    Why *haven’t* they demanded it on their own? Not that I want to sound like I’m blaming them, but there’s obviously not a Rule that all apprentices have to sleep in the dormitory if no-one cared that Kelsa was sleeping with the kitchen staff until Nonala showed up. Kelsa even makes a crack about her and Nonala getting one of the empty journeyman’s rooms, and why on earth not? Put a bunk bed in and declare it the girls’ dorm. But apparently there’s no adult with the job of making sure the apprentices aren’t murdering each other, and the job of headwoman seems to have disappeared (note also that there doesn’t seem to have been one at High Reaches Weyr, since as soon as the old Weyrwoman dies the Benden Weyrwoman gets sent for to deal with the guests etc, which is just plain weird – the old Weyrwoman was pretty much bedridden, so *someone* was dealing with the day-to-day management – but who?).

    If it’s always this terrible and bully-filled, I wouldn’t be surprised at an atrocious attrition rate of apprentices. And probably some bullshit excuse about a Harper needing to be tough enough to do the job

    The haemorrhoid on this shit sundae is that 2 books ago we were getting the “harpers are lay psychologists/therapists” crap from Zist, but there’s no sign of any of that here, either taught to the apprentices or practised by the masters.

    there’s a big action yet to come, and it’s going to end up taking a significant amount of time, words, and probable swearing, to cover.

    I’m expecting a page full of “surrounded by assholes!” and “fuck yous!” with a couple of words between each. Oh my *god* it’s bad. The fedora is strong in this one.

  2. Silver Adept March 15, 2019 at 9:58 am

    I think they’ve always had claws with dexterous digits, so close enough to hands.

    We’ll see Murenny’s reasoning as to why he hasn’t sent Vaxoram home, even though, presumably, they could continue to teach him to be a passable singer once his post-pubescent voice has stabilized. It boils down to “home wouldn’t take him back, and it would look like the Masterharper was showing favoritism to girls over boys.”

    There is a headwoman, but she doesn’t have nearly as active a hand as the other ones we’ve seen so far.

    It seems like the last psychologist thing happens because Harpers are also judges and advocates, and so they have to pick up many of the skills necessary to get people to open up to them as part of the job they’re going to be doing. It would be *nice* if they had at least a smidgen of that training at the Hall, but that doesn’t seem to be on the coursework.

  3. genesistrine March 15, 2019 at 3:12 pm

    close enough to hands

    I… think you’re being too generous to doggerel, TBH.

    “home wouldn’t take him back, and it would look like the Masterharper was showing favoritism to girls over boys.”

    a) why was he still there even before the girls showed up?

    b) just letting girls *in* is going to be seen as favouring girls over boys. Why is Murenny so scared of public opinion? He’s the bloody Masterharper; he’s supposed to be *forming* public opinion. He’s in charge of all the propagandists, opinion-formers and influencers on the *planet*.

    Not to mention that keeping Vaxoram *in* was showing favoritism to him over more talented potential students. Strange how that’s not a consideration, isn’t it. I wonder what the difference might be?

    As for the psychology thing, Zist was teaching Kindan that when he was his apprentice; there doesn’t seem to be any sensible reason why that’s not taught and all of a sudden all the apprentices are learning to *fence* instead.

    (Well, actually the reasons for all this are going to become blazingly obvious in the second half of this chapter. The Harper Hall in this book has been entirely set up so Kindan pna hafurngur uvf UNAMB FGRRY ntnvafg n sbhy vafhygre bs z’ynqvrf naq Qrsrng Frkvfz. It’s the cringiest thing I’ve read for I don’t know how long and I applaud Silver Adept for taking it on because I reckon it could kill a reader through sheer mortification.)

  4. WanderingUndine March 16, 2019 at 10:31 am

    @genesistrine: Agreed. Those rhyming lines match each other in syllable number and ending-syllable, unlike in some poems we’ve seen here. But the natural stress/meter patterns don’t match.

  5. Silver Adept March 17, 2019 at 9:02 am

    I don’t know poetry will enough to know how well or poorly these things are plunking or soaring, so it’s probable I’m being kinder than I might otherwise be.

    Further in, it seems to be that Murenny is worried about accusations of favoritism because the Harpers (and Healers) aren’t apparently getting as many apprentices as they would otherwise, because the planet is gearing up for Threadfall and all hands are needed at home to gather and prepare and otherwise secure their spaces for the fifty year rain of death. By which I am mentally substituting “they need all the boys,” because I’m pretty sure there are plenty of families with what they perceive to be excess girls that would happily let them be the Harper Hall’s mouth to feed. (Although it’s never actually clear what the criteria are for recommending someone to the Hall for training.) Murenny could very easily engage in subtle encouragement or unofficially tell his Harpers that if they see any child that looks unhappy with their lot in life, strongly suggest they might do well as a Harper or Healer and get them sent over.

    And then fix the bullying problem in the apprentice ranks so that more recruits actually make it to journey status. Because I’m still not sure what Vaxoram is supposed to do other than be the chief bully and impediment to everybody. (At least until what happens in the ROT-13, anyway, but that question still applies even after that event.)

  6. genesistrine March 17, 2019 at 4:18 pm

    I’d’ve said my poetry crit abilities boil down to “ugh” or “ooh I like that!” and my knowledge of meter/prosody etc is basically “they exist”. Maybe growing up round singers made me sensitive to rhythm?

    Yeah, I’ve got to the bit where Murenny and whoever-it-is are explaining that the Harpers and the Healers are overworked and understaffed and that’s why usefull stuff’s being lost in the archives. But we’ve already seen the Harper Hall treatment of girl students (“They will be treated EXACTLY THE SAME AS BOYS no favouritism! and when they drop out because of bullying, harassment and lack of support well that just proves that girls don’t have what it takes to be harpers so there”*), and in the bit later where Kindan reads a reference to a “healer lass” he can’t think of any female Healers, so both Halls are very obviously not bothering with *half the population* and then whining about not getting enough recruits. Stupid pricks.

    (*though we do find out later that while traaaaditionally new apprentices are shown round by the next-most-recent apprentices that’s been changed so no-one suffers the terrible indignity of being shown round by a GIRL the horror the horror.)

    Re Vaxoram, obviously he’s an apprentice in the Bullycraft.

  7. WanderingUndine March 17, 2019 at 9:14 pm

    I don’t really know much about the technical details of poem types and vocabulary. I’ve written poetry a lot more than I’ve studied it. But when I read them aloud, the lines don’t all match each other in the pattern of words that are normally stressed in speech, at least in my experience. We have “They WAITed FOR their HATCHlings” and “They WAITed FOR their YOUNGlings” — those match. But the other two would naturally be “Lined UP in the SAND” or “LINED up in the SAND” but not “Lined UP in THE sand,” and “To LEAVE hand in HAND” but not “TO leave hand in HAND” or “To LEAVE hand IN hand.” So they can match each other in one way, but not the other pair of lines. That’s often fine, but here it somehow jars the rhythm too much for my taste.

  8. genesistrine March 18, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    It may just be a function of my accent but no stress patterns sound really right in “to leave hand in hand”, not to mention that the whole thing isn’t particularly interesting. It might have more emotional weight if the listener had actually been to a Hatching, but as it is it doesn’t capture a moment or anything, it’s just a big pile of meh; they are standing there waiting. Yay. How exciting and educational.

  9. alexeigynaix March 18, 2019 at 6:20 pm

    I’m hearing both “lined up in the sand” and “to leave hand in hand” as iamb then anapest: da DUM da da DUM.

    Any attempt to discern scansion that indicates prepositions are stressed syllables more often than adjacent nouns/verbs/adjectives are? Probably a failed attempt. Not always, because sometimes poets use metrical stress for emphasis. (“How MAny are GOing TO St. IVES?” is how I think that scans; there are multiple answers to the riddle, but if you’re playing the trick-question variant, getting the right answer relies on spotting that preposition.) But stressing “to” over “leave” and/or “in” over either “hand”, as with a couple of WanderingUndine’s versions—no, there’s nothing conveyed by that emphasis I can identify.

    … I’d fix it to “all lined up in the sand” and “to leave all hand in hand”. Iambic trimeter quatrain. Done.

  10. genesistrine March 21, 2019 at 4:22 pm

    It does sound prettier, but it still has the problem of what is it *about*; where’s the interest.

    I’m imagining it as the refrain of a disaster/warning song now:

    little Fredi herderboy
    running for a green
    didn’t pay attention
    got stomped on by the queen

    little fisher Mandicar
    thought he’d get a blue
    now they got him shovelling shit
    what you gonna do?

    All very Gashlycrumb Tinies….

  11. MadamAtom March 22, 2019 at 7:56 am

    I can make the rhyme work, but as a song, not a(n unsung) poem. Which I guess makes sense.

    They WAITed FOR their HATCHlings [beat]

    [beat] LINED up IN the SAND [beat beat]

    They WAITed FOR the YOUNGlings [beat]

    To LEAVE [beat] HAND in HAND. [(implied) beat beat]

    A decent tunesmith, which I am not, could probably do good things with it.

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