[Mari Ness has a new post, as well, where the problem of temporal paradoxes is used as a frame to point out some of the more egregious wrongs of Pern society. It feels a lot more like this is the stuff that we are there for and that Mari Ness actually wants to talk about. For as little as my opinion matters, I approve of this shift in topics. It’s still going at warp, though. By the time we get done, we might be caught up with each other.]
Last time, Kindan fought Vaxoram and won, using all of the technique and psychological warfare that he had been taught by Mikal, which made Vaxoram Kindan’s servant until Kindan decides he doesn’t want one any more. And somehow, Vaxoram just accepts this and doesn’t try very hard (if at all) to get Kindan to revoke his servitude or otherwise be so terrible that he’ll just dismiss him to get out of his hair. But it’s been forty years since Weyr Search and Dragonflight, so perhaps the Lessa method of being such a pain in the ass that you can get someone to renounce their claim on you has fallen out of vogue in the intervening time.
Ah, and also, the fire lizards hatch, and Kindan gets one, as does the daughter of the Fort Holders.
Dragon Harper: Chapter 4: Content Notes: Bad Anthropomorphization,
Vaxoram gets sent back to the Hall with the news and that Kindan is staying the night to help at the request of Lady Sannora. (He asks whether Kindan trusts him on his own, and Kindan looks at him for a bit and nods a yes, because whatever magic that has Vaxoram willingly taking on this role is still in place.) Once Vaxoram leaves, he’s the subject of the conversation.
“That boy!” Lady Sannora exclaimed to her husband. “Did you see the scar under his eye?”
“He was fighting,” Lord Bemin replied, turning his head to eye Kindan thoughtfully. “There was a duel. He lost.”
“I don’t approve of duels,” Lady Sannora pronounced, her face set in a grimace. “What overmuscled cretin picked a fight with him?”
Lord Bemin raised an eyebrow in Kindan’s direction.
“I did,” Kindan said, meeting the Lord’s and Lady’s outraged looks steadily, though he felt the heat in his cheeks. “He had threatened to use his strength over a woman,” he explained. With a shrug, he added, “Several women, actually.”
“Why didn’t you kill him?” Bemin’s eldest son, Semin, demanded.
“Because, my lord,” Kindan replied, “I believe in second chances.”
Semin was surprised at Kindan’s response.
“And because it would have done more harm than good,” Issak chimed in from the other side. He inclined his head toward Kindan. “Master Murenny recounted your thinking to me.”
Was there a hint of respect in the journeyman’s eyes?
I’m very impressed at Sherlock Bemin’s ability to deduce the entirety of what happened between Vaxoram and Kindan by observing a scar and the behavior of the two boys with each other, but still look “outraged” when Kindan owns up to being the one who fought Vaxoram. This doesn’t improve Kindan’s standing, I’m sure, and Koriana asking for Kindan to sleep in the same room as her really doesn’t, but Issak is there as a chaperone, at least in theory, so Bemin assents.
As the commenters have pointed out, this is Kindan repeating a lie, or at least, something that we didn’t actually see on screen, since all we have was Vaxoram making a rude joke about Kindan and Nonala as a possible sexual couple. Unless we’re supposed to read that the constant bullying stream given to Kindan, Kelsa, Nonala, Verilan, and so forth, qualifies as threatening to use his strength over a woman. In a system less focused on toxic masculinity that thinks swords are effective methods of resolving disputes, a tribunal or other court proceeding would presumably bring the truth out with the witnesses. (Or it wouldn’t, and then you can have the swords, if you need to, but still…)
In the middle of the night, Koriana gets cold and her fire lizard hungry, so Kindan ends up sleeping much more proximal to her than propriety suggests, as in touching heads and knees. Vaxoram discovers them this way and immediately wakes Kindan and goes to town on making sure it looks like Kindan and Koriana have spent the entire night very properly apart. Since the second set of eggs, from a different clutch, are hatching, not too soon after propriety is manufactured, the rest of Koriana’s family arrives. Koriana’s two brothers are eagerly awaiting their fire-lizards, and Koriana’s taken it upon herself to personally aggravate Sannora as much as possible, given that “It was clear that Lady Sannora was unhappy with the thought that Koriana had spent the night in his [Kindan’s] presence.” Kindan muses on this very idea at nearly every exchange between Koriana and Sannora.
The hatching, however, goes extremely poorly, as Koriss, Koriana’s queen, hisses and squawks at both of those hatchlings, a bronze and a brown, as they leave their shells, and both of them disappear into hyperspace at the threat before the Impression can be made. The brothers are very unhappy about this, and Koriana winds both of them up further by being utterly unsympathetic to their situation. Before it explodes completely, Issak gracefully extracts all the harpers with a promise to report the whole thing to the Masterharper and send along any advice he might have about it. Issak takes on the duty of the report and sends Kindan and Vaxoram on, but not before obliquely trying to give some advice to Kindan.
“It wasn’t us and you know it,” Vaxoram replied. “It’s that spoiled Bannor and his airs.” He glanced toward Kindan. “And don’t be too certain his sister is any better.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Issak told him, holding out a placating hand. “You’re not a Lord Holder candidate, and Lord Bemin will trade his daughter to his advantage.”
“Trade?” Kindan repeated in outrage.
“She’ll go willingly, when the time comes,” Issak said to cool Kindan’s anger.
“It’s for the good of the Hold,” Vaxoram added, gloating over Kindan’s outburst. “You must understand, you’re a harper.”
“And harpers aren’t good enough?” Kindan demanded.
“Not for Lord Holders,” Issak agreed with a sad shake of his head. He said to Vaxoram, “Help him to understand.”
To be honest, it’s a bit refreshing for someone to come out and say plainly how little respect there is for women on Pern, in contrast to the poem at the beginning of the chapter. Plus, although I’m not sure anyone in this conversation actually realizes it, this is also a great look at why feminism has to be intersectional if it is going to be effective. If Harper (and maybe some Craft) girls are supposed to be respected everywhere but Holder girls are still expected to dutifully marry and bear children to the advantage of the men in their life, and dragonrider girls are expected to submit to the authority of whichever rider manages to catch their gold, then Harper girls aren’t going to get anywhere on a quest for respect, even if there are men championing them to the sexist society.
Selora doesn’t help, either, in how she explains why Koriss frightened off the other hatchlings.
“A strange thing happened, Selora,” Vaxoram continued as Kindan sat down, too lost in concentration on Valla to speak. “Koriana’s little fire-lizard–”
“Koriss,” Kindan interjected suddenly.
“–Koriss,” Vaxoram agreed with a playful smile, “frightened off the two hatchlings that came to her brothers.”
“Males, were they?” Selora asked, cocking her head shrewdly.
“Yes,” Kindan agreed, his eyes narrowing. “How did you know?”
“She frightened them away on purpose,” Selora said. “Didn’t want her siblings paired with her mistress’s siblings.”
“Why?” Kindan asked in confusion.
Selora started to reply by had a coughing fit instead. “You’ll find out in time, I’ve no doubt,” she said, a grin spreading across her face.
Because scientists in Pern have extensively observed fire-lizard behavior in the wild and domestically and have concluded that they behave with hostility toward hatchlings from other clutches because they want to keep their gene pool pure. Like, if it was another gold? I could entirely see some sort of “MY territory” display, because, as we have already seen, gold dragons in heat that get close to each other fight viciously over the potential mate pool. (And possibly gold fire-lizards, too?) But they’re not gold or green. Based on the fire lizard behavior we’ve seen so far, it would seem more likely for a gold to want to build as big a harem as possible so as to be able to drive off other golds. But instead, two candidates for generic diversity are scared off, apparently, because the gold fire-lizard doesn’t want brothers from another mother? This is pretty weird anthropomorphization, honestly. Like, maybe for Holders, because of things like lines of succession, blood purity, and primogeniture, it matters who you came from, but those concepts are pretty meaningless to fire-lizards. If, instead, it were speculated that Koriana is a person with an incest taboo, and everybody knows that fire-lizards influence sexual behavior among their bondmate, then it makes reasonable sense for Koriana to not want either of her brothers to have fire-lizards, because incest taboo. This is never hinted at or suggested in any way. I somehow doubt that Menolly, Robinton, and Sebell are the only ones to have discovered this aspect and explicitly talked about it. And yet.
The magic that is Vaxoram continues to be shown in a positive light, even though we’re seeing plenty of spaces where he hasn’t changed much internally, just externally. Or, rather, the narrative is trying to convince us that he’s changed internally.
Somewhere in that time [TWO WEEKS] Vaxoram moved from being a brooding, vanquished opponent to being truly dedicated to Kindan. Kindan could never point to the exact moment nor quite understand why, but there it was.
[…Nonala notices, and Vaxoram seems surprised by the revelation…]
“But why, though?” Kelsa wondered later when she was alone with Kindan, helping him oil Valla’s patchy skin. “Why has he changed?”
Kindan thought for a moment. “Master Murenny said that Vaxoram had come to the Harper Hall with a great voice as a child. When it broke wrong, he couldn’t find any new talent to replace it. He came from a small hold, Master Murenny said.”
“So he was afraid,” Kelsa guessed, nodding sagely. “And now he’s got something to do, guarding you.”
“Maybe,” Kindan agreed. Kelsa cocked her head at him questioningly. “Maybe there’s more to it. Perhaps because the worst has happened to him, he’s realized that he has nothing to be scared of.”
“Maybe,” Kelsa replied, but she didn’t sound convinced.
Instead, Kelsa asks about Kindan’s crush, Kindan says there’s almost nothing to the rumors, and Kelsa points out that rumors also say that Lady Sannora fell in love with a Harper who didn’t return her love, and Kindan guests correctly, after some prompting, that the Harper in question was Master Murenny, so Kindan was dealing with extra prejudice when it came to her daughter.
That’s the end of chapter 4, with us no closer to the real reasons for Vaxoram’s apparent change, and really, only Kelsa exhibiting any degree of skepticism about whether it’s a real change or a surface one. And it is happening so swiftly that it stains credulity. I mean, if “defeated by the protagonist” were that kind of magic, then Toric wouldn’t have continued to be a schemer well into a second book.
I’m also still really grumpy that we’ve closed off what would be a really good story about friendship and more to instead get this crap about pining for someone above your station, who is probably showing interest in you to spite her parents. Yeah, love is great, sure, and strikes where it will, but this sort of story has been done, repeatedly, and I see no new twist or interesting spin on it that would make it anything less than a tired retread.
More next week.