Last time, it turned out that neither author is willing to write a Harper Hall that gives a damn about its students, by introducing us to Vaxoram and his incessant bullying of everybody not named Vaxoram, which is checked only to the point that the other apprentices fight back or get Vaxoram and his cronies in trouble. We’ve already had one potential near-fatality noted on screen, but nothing has been done to this point to actually deter Vaxoram, or get him out of the Hall, by expulsion or assignment, so that he will stop making a hostile learning environment for the other apprentices.
Dragon Harper, Chapter 2: Content Notes: Sexist Assholery, Discussion of Sexual Assault, Oxygen-Starving Toxic Masculinity
Time passes, until M’tal’s arrival interrupts a run, and Verilan and Kindan take a mud-slide from the dragon’s appearance. M’tal hauls Verilan, who is already getting sick from the wet and cold, bodily to the infirmary and directs Kindan to take the package he dropped off to a hearth to keep them warm. It’s a set of fire-lizard eggs, some fore Harpers, others for the Holders of Fort, and one egg has apparently already been promised to Kindan. After taking in the eggs, the headwoman notes the mud-soaked apprentices, orders them to the bath, tells them to throw out the boys if they’re still in there, and then notices the hesitation and tells them to go more firmly, assigning Kindan to make sure that Nonala isn’t harassed while they force the change in the baths. And also suggesting that Kindan and Nonala may have an attraction to each other, which becomes a bit more relevant in a short while after that.
Specifically, Vaxoram insinuates that Kindan has an attraction to Nonala as well.
“Are you going to wash her back?” Vaxoram asked, smirking vulgarly. He was rewarded with a scattering of chuckles. “Mind you, she’s still a bit young, but so are–”
“Shut up!” Kindan shouted, his eyes narrowed, fists clenched at his side.
Nonala tries to dissuade Kindan, but first he demands an apology. When he doesn’t get that, he demands satisfaction. Vaxoram dismisses that idea as well and says that all Kindan’s going to get is beaten up and he’ll stay quiet about it unless he wants everyone getting beaten up. Vaxoram punches Kindan hard enough to split his lip, but before the brawl can go further, M’tal arrives in the dormitory, calls a hold (which everyone immediately respects) and asks what the hell is going on here.
“I challenge Vaxoram,” Kindan said, his words slurred with blood and pain. “I call him a coward and a bully and a man who would use his strength to have a woman.”
There were gasps from the entire room, including M’tal and Nonala. Eyes locked onto Kindan. In front of him, Vaxoram’s anger was a palpable thing; the older lad’s breathing was ragged and outraged.
Kindan had issued the harshest possible condemnation of a man on Pern–that he would use his strength to overpower a woman.
“I demand the right of cold steel,” Vaxoram responded through clenched teeth, his eyes tight, beady, and glaring angrily down at Kindan’s bloody face.
“You shall have it,” Kindan replied, matching the taller lad’s glare. He caught the look of surprise in Vaxoram’s eyes and, deeper under it, a flash of fear.
Cocowhat by depizan
No, seriously, this cocowhat should instead be a cocowhat-meteor about to crash into Pern and annihilate the entire planet.
First, though, I have to pick my jaw up from the floor at the audacity of a Pern book to declare that a man using his strength to overpower a woman was the harshest possible condemnation of a man on the planet. We’re not even close to #metoo at this point, but also, for this to work at all, this book desperately hopes that you haven’t read any of the previous books in this world. Because the Benden Weyrleader of the Ninth Pass and his brother, the Brown Rider Rapist, come immediately to mind as people who should have rightly been condemned. Also Benden’s son, who very clearly initiated sex with a woman who was unable to give consent with him. And the fact that basically any member of the fire-lizard family, if attached to a person, causes them (and often, large swaths of the people around them) to engage in non-consensual sex where the men (and children!) are presumably using their strength while out of their minds to achieve their ends. Or, say, the likelihood of a woman being Shunned because she isn’t putting out for the local Lord Holder (or even trying to stop herself from the local mob). There’s no way this can be the harshest condemnation for a man. I have yet to see any men who were Shunned for rape. Or for anything approaching it. There’s plenty of other Shunnings and exiles for murder and other kinds of assault, but I have yet to see any man get any consequences at all for rape.
So, no, that premise is laughable, even if the challenge itself isn’t. But! We have an adult in the room, who can presumably see and hear that Kindan is talking after having been rocked at least once by Vaxoram, and so he’s probably not in full command of his faculties in issuing this challenge and accepting to duel with swords. Also, these are children. Surely someone can convince them not to throw their lives away on this. M’tal can put a stop to this with a word, and then, maybe, we can get some resolution, right?
“Are you sure of this, Kindan?” M’tal asked intently.
“Yes,” Kindan said.
“And if you prove your claim?” M’tal asked. In a duel such as this, if Kindan prevailed, he had the right to exact whatever penalty he desired, given the severity of the claim.
[…Kindan decides that it’s a bad idea to exile Vaxoram from the Hall, because Vaxoram would not be accepted back to his former home in such disgrace, which is yet another reason why Pern is a terrible place…]
“He’ll serve me,” he said.
“Never!” Vaxoram roared.
“Heard and witnessed,” M’tal declared, overriding Vaxoram. He looked at the older apprentice. “And what is your penalty?”
Kindan met Vaxoram’s eyes. He could see clearly that the older apprentice intended to kill him. He was pretty sure that if Vaxoram succeeded, he’d be asked to leave the Harper Hall anyway–no one would tolerate a killer in their midst. Something else flickered in Vaxoram’s eyes, then he said, “He’s to be banished.” He gave Kindan a gloating look. “For lying.”
“Very well,” M’tal said. “I’ve heard and witnessed both claims.”
What. Are. You. DOING?!, M’tal? Even if we accept that a child of Kindan’s age has any right at all to accept or issue a challenge and a child of Vaxoram’s age has the right to issue or accept it, there should be a large-scale effort made to de-escalate the situation by everyone involved.
I realize that at this point in time, Hamilton is a twinkle in the eye of Lin-Manuel Miranda, but since we’re doing this, it’s probably worth charting to see how well this follows the Ten Duel Commandments. Here’s a refresher.
- #1: The Challenge.
- Demand satisfaction. If they apologize, no need for further action.
Having played his part in setting this lunacy into motion, M’tal dismisses Vaxoram to tell the Masterharper of the duel and sends Kindan and Nonala to the bath. There’s a violation of the privacy code set out for the baths when Nonala enters before Kindan is in the tub.
The bath room was laid out with four large baths in the middle and a row of showers along each wall. When Kindan and the others bathed, by unspoken agreement they turned away from each other as they undressed and got into their baths, respecting each other’s privacy. They never spoke until they were safely in their baths, usually covered by bubbles. When they showered, they followed the same rules, keeping their eyes on the wall in front of them and being respectful.
And again I am struck by the communal bathing procedures of dragonriders (and plenty of others) who seem to have no problem at all stripping down in mixed company and having a swim together. It would be nice, of course, if we ever got a confirmation that dragonriders didn’t have a whole lot of hangups around nudity (possibly because of mating flights making it really hard to keep modesty if you wanted to) and that everyone else considered them weird perverts for it. But instead, we have to infer that Holders and Crafters have a different set of taboos around naked bodies than the dragonriders do. And yet, we have these communal bath spaces, probably built on the assumption that only boys were going to be Harpers, and so there would be no need for any of them to have any privacy while they bathed and used highly-technologically-advanced items such as showers.
In any case, Nonala protests she could have handled Vaxoram, but admits that it probably would have come at a cost, like being able to sing afterward (which is Nonala’s talent, remember). The hot coals come up to heat up the water, and there will apparently be more hot water coming, but Kelsa arrives first and deliberately stares Kindan in the eye as she strips off her outer layer.
“Shards, Kindan, you’re a mess,” she declared as she peeled off her outer clothes, her eyes still locked on his.
“And, uh,” Kindan said in embarrassment, “you’re not in your bath.”
Kelsa glanced down and back up at him. “So?” she asked absently.
“Kelsa!” Nonala growled. “You’re embarassing him!”
“I am?” Kelsa asked in surprise. She looked back to Kindan. “Well, I suppose if you’re going to let Vaxoram kill you–”
“I’m not going to die,” Kindan declared. Kelsa smiled at his fierceness and rushed over to him, kneeled down beside him, and planted a swift kiss on his cheek before he could even flinch away.
“Of course you aren’t,” she agreed, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him again. Huskily, she repeated, “Of course you aren’t.”
Then, without another word, she sprang up, shucked off her undergarments, and settled down in the next bath over.
Nonala glanced back and forth between the two, her glance somewhat wistful.
Kelsa caught her look. She turned to Kindan. “Kindan?”
“Yes?” Kindan said, turning to look at Kelsa. He saw that tears spangled her eyes.
“Kindan, I don’t want you to die!” Nonala blurted suddenly.
“What Nonala meant to say, Kindan, is that she loves you,” Kelsa told him. She nodded slowly. “And so do I.”
Kindna didn’t know what to say. He liked Nonala, he knew that. In fact, he loved her like a sister. Kelsa was different…sometimes he found himself thinking of her in ways that made his throat go tight. And then he realized–“I love you, too,” he said, glancing at both of them. He smiled, even though it hurt his lips. “You’re the best friends anyone could have.”
With a splash, Nonala sprang from her bath, grabbing a towel from the nearby hook and quickly tying it around her. She rushed over to Kindan, wrapping two wet arms around his neck and planting a warm kiss on his cheek before hopping just as quickly back into her bath.
I mean, confessions of love when you think someone might die within the next few days probably makes sense, I suppose. And frankly, I am all for Kelsa, Nonala, and Kindan being in a V relationship, if for no other reason than to give us some variety around here, but there’s a certain amount of…something that makes me think this is going to be more like a visual novel where the bold, boisterous girl and the shy, reserved girl are going to compete with each other to see who can get Kindan to want them exclusively, rather than sharing him together. (At least, assuming Kindan doesn’t have a walkthrough so that he can keep the relationship values sufficiently equal as to get the secret ending where they both agree to share him.)
Murenny arrives to the entrance of the bathroom to talk with Kindan about what has just transpired. Master Dellator is posted to make sure nobody messes with Kindan. Dellator is described as “a short, wiry man who moved with a limp–except when he was dancing or fighting, and then he moved like liquid fire,” because if we’re going for stereotypes, then we may as well hit as many as we can before we’re done.
Murenny also has the authority to talk Kindan or Vaxoram out of what they have set in motion.
“Did you want to talk to me about relinquishing the duel, sir?”
“No,” Murenny replied. There was a moment’s silence before he continued. “Who will be your second?”
“I will,” Kelsa and Nonala said in chorus. They glanced at each other, then Nonala said “You’re taller, maybe you should go first.”
- #2: If they don’t, grab a friend.
- That’s your second, your lieutenant when there’s reckoning to be reckoned.
And Murenny fails to be the voice of reason, instead sending Kindan on to the Masterhealer, Lenner, who is the only person on record to disapprove of dueling, before calling him back into his office, where M’tal is also waiting. Murenny apologizes to Kindan, saying that Vaxoram had a beautiful voice when he arrived, but it broke wrong in puberty and Murenny has basically been hoping for the last several Turns that Vaxoram would discover some other talent that would keep him happy. He’d been meaning to send Vaxoram back for a while, but Kindan’s arrival stalled him into thinking that perhaps Vaxoram would learn the error of his ways once people started standing up to him. And that with the appearance of Kelsa and Nonala, releasing Vaxoram because of his behavior might be seen as a prejudicial action.
“I’m sorry, Murenny,” M’tal interrupted, “but I don’t follow that.”
“Consider for a moment,” Murenny replied, “what would be the effect on your wings if you had female riders.” As M’tal made ready to reply, Master Murenny added, “Women riders in your fighting wings.”
“Oh,” M’tal said after a moment. “That would be awkward, wouldn’t it?”
“But I do not believe that talent should be subservient to sex,” Murenny said. “Our survival depends upon our children and it always will, but it should not be at the expense of the lives of the women holders and crafters.”
Hang on, I’m not sure I’m following completely, but I smell bullshit. Because if I am following correctly, Murenny just said that throwing Vaxoram out because he was bullying the girls would be seen as favoring girls over boys as apprentices? And that is somehow a terrible thing that would cause problems on Pern?
The comparison to women in the fighting wings, though, makes me think that Murenny believes that throwing Vaxoram out over his behavior would be seen as prizing the prettiness and eventual sexuality of the girls over the talents of the boys, and that would go over like a lead balloon with the sexist assholes that Murenny depends on to feed him apprentices. So that he can keep his Hall alive, then, Murenny is allowing bullying to continue and possibly is losing apprentices to it that he would have otherwise kept by showing Vaxoram the door.
That seems to be the case as Murenny suggests that Kelsa and Nonala will make excellent master harpers.
Kindan tried for a moment to imagine Kelsa as a masterharper and found the image difficult to merge with the ever-moving, hyperkinetic, graceful, and gawky girl he called his friend. Although, Kindan remarked to himself, if she wanted it, nothing and no one could stop her.
“But there are too many hidebound holders and crafters,” M’tal objected. “They’ll never permit–”
‘Given the way holders and crafters are so loath to yield apprentices to the Harper Hall, the time might be sooner than you think,” Murenny replied. He turned to Kindan. “And women won’t be respected as harpers in hold and crafthall if they’re not respected in the Harper Hall.”
Which is why you throw Vaxoram out sooner, rather than later, and tell anyone who isn’t on board with the idea that women will be apprentices and they will be respected to not let the door hit them on the ass on the way out. At least, if you’re really serious about this, Murenny.
Kindan takes in the speech and redoubles his determination to fight the duel, so that all the people who are bullied for their talents will be able to continue at the Hall. Which is pretty, but not particularly effective, Kindan. Murenny points out that killing Vaxoram won’t achieve lasting change. And says that Vaxoram has demanded the earliest possible date, which suits Kindan just fine, but only gives him a sevenday to contemplate his existence before fighting the duel. So we might be skipping a Duel Commandment or two, here, since Vaxoram was told to report directly to Murenny from M’tal.
- #3: Have your seconds meet face to face.
- Negotiate a peace, or negotiate a time and place. (This is commonplace, ‘specially ‘tween recruits. Most disputes die and no one shoots.)
- #4: If they don’t reach a peace, that’s alright.
- Time to get some [swords] and a [Healer] on site. You pay him in advance, you treat him with civility. (You have him turn around so he has deniability.)
Logistics of where everyone is and where they will be posted so they can be kept apart are discussed Kelsa and Nonala are Verilan’s guards in the isolation room, so if Vaxoram (also in the infirmary) managed to get past the Masterhealer with an intent to hurt Verilan, there’s an ass-kicking waiting for him before he gets to Verilan. Kindan and the fire-lizard eggs that M’tal brought are going to be sent up to the Hold so as to keep Kindan away from Vaxoram. And then, when the time is right, M’tal will come to take Kindan to Mikal to learn how to fight. (Kindan requested to go to Mikal because he needs to learn how to fight someone bigger, stronger, and with a longer reach than himself.)
M’tal also wants Kindan to know he’s sorry.
“I feel partly to blame,” M’tal said. “If I’d been a bit quicker, I would have heard him myself.”
Kindan furrowed his brow in confusion.
“And then he would have fought me,” M’tal explained.
“But you’re a dragonrider!” Kindan exclaimed, appalled at the thought of Vaxoram striking the Weyrleader with a sword.
“Which would have given me the right of weapons,” M’tal said with a grin. He held up his hands in a fighter’s style. “I wouldn’t have killed him, but he would feel it for the rest of his Turns.”
Kindan grinned back at him, imagining the look of horror on Vaxoram’s face as he squared off against the older, stronger, taller, and fiercer dragonrider.
Is there nobody on this planet, save Lenner, with an ounce of sense in their heads?! Shouldn’t someone just call it off and send Vaxoram packing? There are enough witnesses, and Murenny has more than enough evidence to do so, and he can take the hit to his reputation and make sure that his Harpers squash any rumors that might start about favoring girls for anything other than their talents.
But no, this duel is going to go forward, because the masculinity is so toxic it is choking off the oxygen to the brains of anybody around. And extra shame on you, M’tal, for thinking it would have been a good idea to force Vaxoram to fight you, a trained adult, for what he said, and believing that might have done anything to adjust his attitude toward everyone else. Especially since it seems like grievous bodily harm was definitely on the table for what would happen to Vaxoram.
Believe it or not, that’s the end of Chapter 2. If the rest of the book is like this, we’re going to set some swearing records.