Last time, Kindan got flung into the Archives to find everything he could about outbreaks of flu, because one is definitely happening elsewhere. The Masters also tried to dissuade him from his pubescent crush on a Lady Holder-to-be, by pointing out that he’s essentially a kid from the wrong side of the tracks and it would never work. Which is true, but not what Kindan wants to hear, and he successfully parlays that into showing up where the shortcomings of Murenny’s “respect the women” argument is coming from.
And also, by some sort of magic, Kindan seems to believe that Vaxoram suffers from dyslexia and that might be some reason why Vaxoram is turning out the way he is.
Dragon Harper, Chapter 7: Content Notes: Corporal Punishment, textbook application of the Peter Principle, The Harper Hall Remains A Trash Fire
When sickness comes to craft and hold,
It is the healer, oh so bold
Who spends his hours in endless toil,
Working for illness and death to foil.
This could have been worded better, because the way it is right now, it sounds like the Healer spends all his time only for death and illness to frustrate him at any turn. I’m pretty sure that’s not what the writer of the poem had in mind for the heroic Healers, but in every Pern book I’ve seen so far with a mass outbreak of illness, the death toll is usually high and the Healers pull through it with a miracle of some sort. (Often found in the Records so they can re-learn a technique.)
The chapter opens up with Kindan, Conar, and Vaxoram in the archives. Conar is lamenting their needle-in-haystack quest, but Kindan and Vaxoram point out Resler, the Archivist, is always fast to beat anyone he thinks is slacking. Kindan’s diagnosis of Vaxoram continues:
Kindan noticed that once again, Vaxoram’s eyes hadn’t moved from the top of the Record. He made it a point every day to surreptitiously check on the older apprentice’s work, not having figured out yet what to do with his knowledge of Vaxoram’s problem. But that was for later, Kindan reminded himself.
Like, I realize that “not ruining someone’s honor” is a thing that Kindan has as a trait, but in this particular case, that means that he’s down a pair of eyes that could be scanning the Records. There’s got to be something else that Vaxoram can do that will be beneficial to the group other than staring at a singular Record and not making progress. And if Conar’s heart isn’t in it, that means that Kindan’s down to himself as someone who can actually do the work of looking through the records.
Why isn’t Verilan helping? Because Resler has him recopying the Record copies that Kindan nuked in the last chapter. That seems like an excellent job for Conar to do, with the artistic skills that he has. We know the Records aren’t going to be illuminated, or anything like that, but an artist’s hand needs the practice at lettering. Verilan helped set up the books, and gave Kindan general advice about hopping through time at big jumps first to see anything that looks like it might be ineresting, and then narrowing the focus once a good candidate is found. Verilan will make an excellent archivist. He should be helping here, especially when there are lives potentially at stake. Because part of the job is being able to find the stuff that you’re keeping records of. Kind of makes me wonder whether there are index volumes anywhere that could be of help in narrowing the search down. But that would mean reading and synthesizing rather than desperately just trying to preserve with recopying. More apprentices would be needed for that.
The way that Verilan makes it sound, the Harper Hall keeps copies of the records of the Holds, either by making copies and sending them on, or inheriting any records from the Holds that are older than fifty Turns, when the Holders send them on instead of destroying them. Conar (he of the Holdbred) doesn’t understand why they wouldn’t destroy them.
Cocowhat by depizan
I realize that the minutiae of the proceedings of the Holds is going to be dry reading (and Kindan notes almost immediately that it is exactly that), but for a world that relies so much on tradition and on what’s been decided in meetings and proceedings, and on proclamations, those Records should be sacrosanct, rather than destroyed. They’d have things like land deeds, craft contracts, business arrangements, harvest yields, tax revenues — basically everything that the officers of the Hold would need to conduct their business and investigate if anyone were not providing their promised amounts or attempting to change the terms of a contract without renegotiation. There’s going to be good and bad in it, and Kindan sees both.
The Records were a collection of the most boring things he’d ever read coupled with tantalizing sections that made Kindan wish for more. Why, for example, when the Lord Holder of Igen had first discovered his wells were running dry, hadn’t he started planting hardier, more drought-resistant crops instead of foolishly reducing his acreage and ultimately starving his entire Hold? What had happened that caused the traders to start charging Bitra Hold–and only Bitra Hold–a surtax on all goods delievered?
If it’s from the Hall Domaize days, it’s because Bitra was always trying to short them and be a pain in their ass, so they pay the “Bitra sucks tax.” And because the Lord Holder of Igen has no reason to look out for anyone but himself and his immediate family and vassals, so why would he assume it’s a drought when it’s probable he can feed the people he really cares about with less acreage? But these are things that should be routinely popping up in the copying and recopying and get sent out for information and investigation. Harpers are supposed to know stuff, and these things are important, so why aren’t questions regularly popping out of the Archives that need answers?
And as if to answer the question, the next section has Conar discover a discrepancy of Record – terrible handwriting and scribbling in his records at a certain Turn. Kindan verifies the bad handwriting and turns up a further discrepancy – a Lord Holder writing the records instead of the Harper and a nearly full-Turn gap in any Record at all. (We’re going to whistle and pretend not to notice that the Records are marked in years After Landing, like this series is, rather than in the “Pass” choronology that will dominate the later eons and not ask where the switchover happened between the one and the other, because it’s likely to cause headaches. Not that it’s impossible, because most of the world is not on a Julian calendar any more, but that it’s a major thing to have happen.) The same discrepancy happens in the Bitra records, and then in the Lemos records as well – a Turn that has basically vanished, and different people (or people with a markedly different hand) picking it up on the other end. The Harper for Lemos has a rather dire summary of what happened.
“I write this with great regret: We are a sadly reduced Hold,” read the first line. “Fields lie fallow, huts are still empty, or, worse, home to carrion that feed on unburied bones.”
Kindan’s found something important, and at this moment, Resler comes barreling in, and he has nothing but contempt for this discovery.
“I think I’ve found the plague,” Kindan said, his voice sounding loud and irreverent to his ears. He gestured to the Records. “I think I know when it started and maybe where.”
“You were supposed to be reading the Benden Records,” Master Resler repeated angrily, advancing into the Archive Room, grabbing Kindan by the ear and lifting him out of his seat. “Can’t you just do what you’re told?”
“Sorry, Master,” Kindan apologized, ducking out of Resler’s grasp and turning to face him, “but I thought I was told to find any Records of a plague.”
“In the Benden Records!” Resler growled in response, gesticulating wildly to the stack beside Conar.
“I found it there, too,” Kindan said. He gestured over to the Bitra Records. “And in Bitra, too, but the Lemos records seem the best so far.” He turned and snagged the Record from the table. “Listen to this: ‘Fields lie fallow, huts are still empty–‘ ”
“That’s the Record of a plauge?” Resler snorted angrily. “A proper Record would have dates, and times, and–”
“I don’t think they had the time,” Kindan interrupted as politely as he could. He gestured to the Record in his hand. “I think they were so shorthanded afterward that they could only press on with their lives.”
“That’s not the way of a harper!” Resler exclaimed. He glanced down angrily at Kindan. “Have you learned nothing since you left your mine?”
Kindan could feel his cheeks burning. “The Records of Benden were kept by the Lord Holder after the plague,” he said. “I think that shows that the times were such that–”
“Lord Holders don’t keep Records!” Resler chided prissily, his jaw jutting and his eye glaring.
“The Record was marked–”
“Such impudence!” Resler roared. “Go! Get out of my sight!”
Right. So the reason that nothing interesting comes out of the Archives is because the Master Archivist can’t see a well-reasoned argument based on sound archival methodology when he has it explained to him. Any actual archivist would be very curious to see why Kindan is coming to his conclusions, and what supporting evidence he has to back this up. He’s found the same pattern in three different Holds’ records at this point, which should be more than enough for Resler to give Kindan enough leash to see where his conclusion goes. But no, Resler is somehow uninterested in this charge because Kindan didn’t figure this all out magically by staying in his lane and reporting it out somehow. Or some other faux pas that I can’t actually see. I suppose it could be sloppy application of a Cassandra Truth trope, in the form of “the kid knows it exactly but the adults don’t believe him because he’s a kid and couldn’t possibly know better,” except that’s not what this is, either. This is Resler explicitly discounting Kindan’s conclusions because he looked at other people’s stacks for corroboration. There’s not much more I can say about this other than what the fuck? (And also, get annoyed at the authors for besmirching a close cousin of my current profession like this.)
Conar offers unhelpful advice to Kindan after the lot are dismissed.
“You aren’t much of a harper, you know,” he said as he fell into step with Kindan. “You’d think you’d know how to handle a Master by now.” He cocked his head at the silent boy. “However do you think you’ll manage a Lord Holder?”
“Maybe I won’t,” Kindan replied sourly, brushing past Conar and racing to catch up with Verilan, whom he spied at the entrance to the Dining Hall.
With you there, Kindan. And still not entirely sure what social norm or rule Kindan has broken. Was he supposed to present the discovery as his team’s work? (He could spin it that way as Conar starting the chain of thought…) Was he supposed to show it as something interesting and let the Master take credit for it? (Fuck that. The Masters have already been willing to let Kindan or Vaxoram die if the other willed it to be.) Resler doesn’t deserve any of Kindan’s credit for the idea and discovery of something. If Kindan needed, say, access to more Records and the way to get to those was to butter Resler up into thinking he was a great guy, then I could see where this advice might be practical, even if it rubbed Kindan entirely the wrong way on the merits. We encounter all sorts of people who hold power who have to be flattered and have their egoes massaged to get things done, yes, but Resler hasn’t been portrayed as that up to this point. He’s been mostly portrayed as a fussy librarian stereotype rather than an egomaniac.
And, of course, Kindan is still likely right on the facts, and that should take precedence, always, even though we know that in the real world it does not, and people who have the facts are often silenced or otherwise harmed because the facts they have are inconvenient, or because someone with power wants those facts disappeared.
As it is, Murenny asks to see Kindan and requests a report on his progress after a drum message booms through indicating the plague is spreading. While Murenny only asked for Kindan, Vaxoram, Koriana, and Conar work their way in with Kindan by refusing to leave. To his credit, Murenny says he’s not concerned with Resler’s feelings about how the Records are being handled, even as he cautions the assembled about actually mishandling them in some way. Kindan says he wants a look at Benden Weyr’s Records, but those records are at Benden Weyr, so Murenny suggests having Kindan send Valla with a message containing his request to M’tal.
Valla poofs off to do so, having been training at least in some way to pass messages between himself and Koriana before this (Kindan is still infatuated with Koriana at this point), and the crew heads back to the Archive Room, with Koriana positioned in such a way that she can “read over Vaxoram’s shoulder” and thus not undeniably tip him off that they know he has lexical difficulties.
That is, until she does it in nearly the worst way possible.
“That’s all right,” Kindan said. “Vaxoram will keep working.”
“But he can’t read,” Koriana declared, brows furrowed quizzically. “Didn’t you know?”
Conar gave a grunt of surprise and Vaxoram turned bright red, looking anxiously at Kindan.
“I meant to talk to you about it,” Kindan said slowly. For some time he’d guessed, which is why he’d asked the Masterharper about reading in dim light over a sevenday before. “Some people have trouble with letters. That doesn’t mean they’re dumb, some of the smartest people have this problem–” he didn’t get any further, Vaxoram ran out of the room.
“I’d better go after him,” Kindan said after a moment.
Koriana has already figured herself out for sleeping and/or working arrangments, and she suggests getting Kelsa and Nonala involved in the Records search, which Kindan thinks is a great idea, and wonders why he hadn’t thought of it before. (Because he theoretically had three people working on it the whole time, even if it turned out to only be one because one couldn’t read it and the other didn’t want to do it.)
Then Kindan heads out to talk to Vaxoram.
“Who else knows?” Vaxoram asked after they shared a long moment of silence.
“No one,” Kindan said. “I’d noticed only recently–with the Records–but I wanted to find a way to talk with you about it.”
“Why?” Vaxoram asked bitterly. “I’m stupid, I can’t read. There’s no way I can be a harper.”
I have to object here, and Kindan will follow this objection with some proof of his own as we continue, but written literacy doesn’t actually seem to be that important of a part of the Harper’s job, especially one out making the circuits. Teaching, singing, performing, listening to the gossip and reporting it back appropriately, being part of the court of the Lord Holder, yes, but writing? Not as much, except in this record-keeping part, and really, if this is supposed to be a place that’s reminiscent of 400-1400 CE on Terra, there’s probably a scribe or two that Vaxoram could borrow for the Records business with a claim that his handwriting is illegible and posterity needs Records they can read. Which is to say, there’s more than a few workarounds for this particular problem.
“You’re not stupid,” Kindan replied. “Master Murenny says that many people who have this problem are very smart–”
“Murenny knows?” Vaxoram asked accusingly. “I thought you told no one.”
“I didn’t,” Kindan repeated. “I only asked the Masterharper about the symptoms, I didn’t mention you.”
“He must suspect, then,” Vaxoram replied bitterly.
“He could think it’s Conar,” Kindan said. “Lots of people with this problem are great artists.” Vaxoram cast a sidelong glance at him. “Others are great with lyrics, particularly long ballads.”
Vaxoram snorted; he was most skilled with the long ballads.
“Master Murenny says that people can learn to work around this,” Kindan told him. “We can teach you.”
“Why would you?” Vaxoram demanded, his voice full of pain. “Why would he?”
“I think he would teach you because anyone with your problem is very smart and he values intelligence,” Kindan said slowly. “I want to teach you so that you can be a harper and stop hating yourself.”
Vaxoram turned to face him, his eyes picking out Kindan’s in the darkness. Kindan found no words to say but he could feel Vaxoram’s emotions.
I’m not sure what to think about this, for the most part. Like, there’s a storied trope tradition about a bully being someone who is hiding their own insecurities, and if you can manage to get past those, they stop being a bully and start being a friend. Maybe this is also some part of an explanation as to why Vaxoram accepted his spot as Kindan’s lieutenant so easily, so that it might draw attention off of him and his learning disability. That Vaxoram feels stupid over all of this is square on for how people feel about a learning disability in a world that doesn’t acknolwedge them much or provide accomodation for them. And there’s a good chance that Murenny may have figured some things out about how students learn, given how many of them pass through the halls and into and out of the hands of his teachers.
I still think it a wonder that Vaxoram was integrated into the group so easily and there haven’t been problems (at least, not noted on screen). I also think that Koriana demonstrated at heart that she lacks tact. Which might be part of why Vaxoram tells Kindan it’ll never work out between them. And then there’s an extended makeout session between the two that ends up with Koriana sleeping naked next to Kindan, who is also naked. Nothing sexual happens with them, and Vaxoram provides them both with an early wake-up so that nobody other than him sees the absolutely scandalous part of the two of them being unmarried in the same bed. That said, the two decide to try and convince everyone they fell asleep in the Archives and head toward the kitchen to try and put together something looking like breakfast and a story. Murenny catches them moving in the direction of the kitchens. Selora doesn’t buy their story (“You’d be a better harper than you are a liar.”) and neither does Murenny, although he waits until everyone, including Vaxoram, is breakfasting in his study before he lays into everyone about what they’ve just done. (There’s also a detail present that Murenny is pemananntly banned from the kitchens because he can’t cook to save his life and can burn water, which might seem to be comic relief before Murenny digs in.)
Murenny opens the topic by asking Vaxoram about whether he remembers dueling codes and the rights that a defeated duelist might have to re-challenge if the victor did something that was dishonorable and related to the reason they fought the duel in the first place. Kindan’s behavior, in Murenny’s opinion, might be the opening that Vaxoram needs to re-challenge. Vaxoram doesn’t, but Murenny really doesn’t need him to.
Murenny’s lips tightened in Kindan’s silence. “Were you hoping to convince us of a lie?”
“Yes, Master,” Kindan answered feebly, feeling totally ashamed.
“Then how can you hope to be a harper?” the Masterharper asked, his voice challenging.
Kindan could onlny shake his head mutely. “I don’t know,” he confessed finally. He felt torn between getting up then and there, packing his things and leaving the Harper Hall, or just leaving. He had never felt so dejected.
[…Vaxoram gets an earful for his role in this, and Murenny is unconvinced that the declarations of love from Kindan and Koriana mean anything at all…]
“Now you will never know how he would have behaved had you come to him honestly, with your heart open, and told him your true feelings.” He glanced toward Kindan. “Nor will you know how I would have responded, how I might have helped you.” He shook his head. “The two of you have betrayed each other as surely as if you’d fought a duel to the death.”
Murenny is angry about this for perfectly good reasons, I’m sure, but I would also like to point out that everyone not named Kindan or Koriana has essentially been dismissing their feelings out of hand as the equivalent of something not serious without doing much of anything to help them with their feelings. Kindan has essentially been fed the line “it’s not going to work, because you’re a Harper and she’s a Lady Holder” any time he’s tried to talk about how he’s having serious feelings for Koriana. (I still have serious misgivings about why a perfectly good polyamory plot got derailed for this lady-and-her-knight-trope bit, but we can set those aside for this argument.) Nobody has really tried to provide any sort of useful advice, something like “yes, you and her have feelings for each other. You can’t do much more than smile at each other because of your stations, but also, you need to finish your studies, Kindan, or you won’t be able to support her at all. If you still have these kinds of feelings for her when you’re a journeyman, we can talk further about what you’ll need to do this, but for now, we need you to focus on being able to make that a possibility in the future.” It’s not the best of pep talks, or even much of a declaration of support, but it at least would give Kindan something to work for, and be more consistent with the position of respecting women that Murenny claims to have.
Before too much chewing out can happen, though, Koriss returns with advance notice that Bemin is on the way with soldiers. And then there’s a hashing-out in the courtyard of the Hall where Bemin tries to control his headstrong daughter and finds out that not only is she pretty headstrong, she also knows several things about turning people’s words against them. This is set against the backdrop of several emergecy drum messages that proclaim plague in new places, and M’tal arriving with J’trel and his mate and children. J’trel is asking for sanctuary for the others against plague, which brings a lot of “but we’re not sure if they’re infected”, but it becomes immediately clear that nobody really knows who’s infected and where it came from and whether everyone here is also already infected just by the normal course of commerce around Pern. Bemin extracts a promise from M’tal and Vaxoram that Kindan will never be allowed to be alone with Koriana again (she does say what happened, but obviously at this point nobody is going to believe her or otherwise think that things are less terrible because there was no sex involved (assuming they did believe her.)) and the two of them fly off with M’tal while Murenny and Bemin head inside with the sanctuary-seekers to discuss all of these matters.
That’s Chapter 7. Last week’s discussion about queer relationships was slotted for next week, but we’ll press on to Chapter 8, instead.