[Mari Ness’s new post is about fire-lizards. And a small (very small) bit about the situation at Southern, the attitudes of the time-shifted, and the kink-shaming of Kylara. Mostly, though, it’s fire-lizards.]
Last time, Kindan found a strong indication that plague had struck the planet in fairly recent history, and when trying to explain this to the Master Archivist, Kindan got dismissed and belittled at every turn, and everyone else seems to think this is somehow Kindan’s fault. Kind of like how 20th-21st century Terra blames the lack of women professionals at high levels (or at all) on the women themselves for not presenting themselves appropriately for the pleasure of men, insisting they get credit for their ideas, rather than allowing them to be stolen by the men around them, and then blames them for letting themselves be erased rather than face such a hostile work environment.
Nobody is giving Kindan useful advice on his crush on Koriana. Murenny is livid that the two of them slept in the same bed without their clothes on, but without having sex, and has basically insisted their relationship is done because of this and that Vaxoram, should he want to, could re-challenge Kindan to her fuel because of Kindan’s behavior. Lord Bemin concurs, but he wasn’t exactly sanguine about the idea in the first place. This is so in a place where being too close to a dragon, or dragon kin, can cause uncontrollable lust. (Yet, this persistence about virginal women. Like, there’s some serious hand-wave going on, such that our characters only find themselves hit by the whammy when the plot needs it or everyone involved is consenting. But you saw that in greater detail and profanity last week.)
Dragon Harper, Chapters 8, 9, and 10: Content Notes: Gross Incompetence, Student Abuse
Harper, to your word be true
Holder, crafter[,] you also hew
To honesty, integrity, and respect
All others without regard to intellect.
I swear, the authors are trolling their audience, especially the long-reading ones. Do we not have multiple examples of lies, misdirections, falsehoods, and tricks bring played by Harpers (and others) being classified as good by the narrative because Our Heroes did it? Seriously.
This chapter starts with the arrival at Benden, and M’tal, after showing Koriana the records room, lights into Kindan about his behavior as soon as they are out of her hearing as they gather supplies. Vaxoram defends Kindan as having done nothing wrong (again) to M’tal, adding that Kindan and Koriana were never out of his sight. This would have been useful to say in front of Bemin, except that “Forsworn, [he] could not provide witness to Lord Bemin.” Which makes sense in one way (your servant is going to cover for you, because their life/job depends on it), but also points out there was an apprentice dormitory full of potential witnesses as well. Including Kelsa and Nonala, who would have been pretty alert to strange things happening near them, given their stated interest in Kindan. But anyway, the first day of research is fruitless, and the Weyrwoman (Salina) pops up to send them to bed right after Koriana nods off for a bit at the end. And also indicates it’s far too late at night for the formalities.
Day two dawns with use of “the necessary” and showers, and a short but non-illuminative conversation between Kindan and Vaxoram ostensibly about Koriana.
“I thought you loved her,” Vaxoram repeated [for the third time in three paragraphs].
“I do,” Kindan said, his heart fluttering. He regarded Vaxoram shrewdly and slowed almost to a stop. “So why did you do it?” [second repetition]
Vaxoram stifled an abrupt response, his face taking on a suffused look.
“Is there somebody you love?” Kindan asked softly, comprehension slowly dawning. “Is that why you did it?”
“That’s not why I did it,” Vaxoram said tensely.
“But there is someone,” Kindan said. He realized that would explain much of Vaxoram’s behavior: He was trying to impress someone.
“It doesn’t matter,” Vaxoram snapped, abruptly stepping forward. “I’m as good as Shunned.”
And the conversation turns to remedies for Vaxoram’s illiteracy.
I’m flabbergasted at the idea that apprentices who wash out end up Shunned, and while Vaxoram is probably exaggerating, I don’t know to what degree, given the strong emphasis on “everyone must work.”
But also, here’s this hint that Vaxoram is interested in someone. If it’s another apprentice, then we’ve hit the trope of “he pulls your hair because he likes you, be proud of the attention,” and that trope can die in a fire with no way of resurrection.
And also, it’s possible that the person Vaxoram is interested in is another apprentice not named Kelsa or Nonala. Maybe Kindan, and that’s the real reason why Vaxoram has been so at ease with his servitude? I would enjoy that outcome, even if it means a terrible trope.
In any case, the three make no headway until they discover a characteristic gap, and the realization that the last plague like this killed a generation, and they were lucky that Thread wasn’t imminent. Kindan and the others realize every Weyr needs to sit this one out, because if they bite it, then there’s no Thread defense. So the boys rush to the drum tower and rattle off a four-alarm emergency message. Only to be told that’s not the communication method that will work, because there’s been no drum relay for weeks. Dragons, on the other hand, are fine, and the message gets relayed that way, and everybody shifts to quarantine protocol immediately to try and reduce the likelihood of spreading the flu and endangering more dragonriders.
That ends Chapter 8.
With yellow and black over hall and hold
Perils and pains do then unfold
Harper, crafter, holder pray
That you may live another day.
Pray to whom, exactly, on this nominally areligious world? On what supernatural being’s mercy do you throw yourself? (The dragons, of course. They’re the only ones not mentioned.)
Chapter 9 begins with the terrible realization that quarantine is in effect at Fort and the Harper Hall. After a short conversation with J’trel and Murenny-by-drum, M’tal takes Koriana home and Resler (who is in charge by dint of all the more senior Harpers being dead or disabled) sends the other apprentices to the Healers to help. After checking on other named cast members (and the implication that it is, in fact, either Kelsa or Nonala that Vaxoram is interested in) Masterhealer Lenner sends the two to the Archives to do more research. Vaxoram is reluctant, but Kindan presses on. And apparently is pissing off everyone right and left by giving orders to get people to do things, even to M’tal, without thinking about the niceties. When, in this situation, it’s pretty clear that people need a leader to get them doing what is necessary for a shot at survival. Kindan may be a brash kid, but he’s saying and doing and getting people to move. They can bitch about hurt feelings afterward, if they survive.
So Kindan tells Vaxoram to get light, any light, so they can continue researching, and Vaxoram returns with a torch.
You know how this ends. The two of them get in a disagreement about what records are important, the torch gets dropped and a large part of the Archives goes up in flame before the bucket brigade can put it out. The thing that sparked the conflagration? A strange rhyme claiming to lead to a stash of Healer knowledge, offering a cryptic hint to where a thing was and what the password is, and it mentions a Healer lass – something Kindan has never heard of.
The fire is out, and Chapter 9 ends.
Do dark deeds pay;
Do harsh wounds flay.
Which is very interesting to set as the backdrop for Kindan being thrown out of the Harper Hall by Resler for this latest problem.
Kindan didn’t pause as he cleared the archways of the Harper Hall. He didn’t glance back. He didn’t cry, although that took an extreme effort of will.
Gone. All his dreams were gone.
Banished. “And never come back!” Resler had shouted, still hoarse with rage.
Doomed. “You’re to go to the Hold, help as you may,” Resler had said, pointing toward the Harper Hall’s arching entrance.
“But Master Lenner–”
“Doesn’t need your sort of help,” Resler replied. He shook his head furiously. “For almost five hundred Turns we’ve preserved the Records and in ten minutes you’ve destroyed a quarter of them. Never in the history of Pern has there been greater treachery.”
Providing the contrasting opinion is Vaxoram.
“You’ve got to keep going,” Vaxoram said quietly, nudging Kindan in the shoulders. Kindan turned back angrily, but Vaxoram ignored his look, nodding toward the ramp up to Fort Hold. “Keep going.”
“How?” Kindan asked in misery.
“One foot after the other, one day after the next,” the older apprentice replied. “It will get better.”
Kindan stopped, turning to face Vaxoram bitterly, demanding, “How do you know?”
“Because you taught me.” The answer was so simple, so sincere, that Kindan could not doubt it. Vaxoram bent his head and added, “That fire was my fault, not yours.”
“I could have stopped you,” Kindan said.
“Then it was our fault,” Vaxoram replied. He nudged Kindan gently, turning him toward Fort Hold. “And that’s our destiny.”
“To die in Fort Hold?”
“Maybe,” Vaxoram answered. “But at least your girlfriend’s there.”
Kindan said nothing, he could could think of no response. But, unconsciously, he picked up his pace. Behind him, Vaxoram’s face lit with a brief smile.
Another shared intimate moment. Also, Resler is staggeringly incompetent, but we already knew that.
The two get in and are immediately thrust into helping the makeshift hospital run, including corpse disposal, sheet changing, and all the rest. The Healer, Kilti, calls Resler an idiot before putting the two newcomers to work. And it’s pretty clear everyone is going to get infected.
And then Kilti does something that I have yet to see: he apologizes after striking Kindan over his mistake.
“So are they still looking in the Records?”
“No,” Kindan confessed.
“They’ve stopped?” Kilti barked in surprise. “They can’t! That’s our only hope.”
“There was a fire,” Kindan told him with a sinking feeling in his gut.
“A fire?” Kilti repeated, aghast. “The Records, how are they?”
“We lost as much as a quarter, no less than a tenth,” Kindan told him.
“A quarter?” Kilti gasped. “What happened? Who started it?”
“I did,” Kindan said.
Without warning, the healer took two quick steps and slapped Kindan hard across the face. “Do you know how many you’ve killed?” Kilti roared at him.
“It was not his fault,” Vaxoram called from his position nearby. “I started the fire.”
“So they sent you here,” Bemin said sourly.
Kilti started to say something more in his anger, his be still poised for another blow, but then he shook himself and lowered his hand. “I’m sorry,” he said. “That was uncalled for.”
“I don’t think so,” Kindan said. “Millions will die because of me.”
“Millions will die,” Kilti agreed. “But you don’t own all the blame by yourself.” He shook his head. “I shouldn’t have hit you, it was wrong.”
“I deserved it.”
“No,” Kilti said with a sigh. “No, you didn’t. You made a mistake, right?” Kindan nodded. “Mistakes shouldn’t be punished, shouldn’t be condemned.”
“But there’s nothing I can do that will make up for it,” Kindan protested.
“Yes there is,” Kilti corrected him. “You can live.” He gestured to the listless holders in their cots. “You can live and save them.”
Kindan needed to learn under Kilti. Instead of the Masters who have been essentially punishing him for making mistakes this entire time. And I think this is the first time I’ve seen an adult apologize for striking someone, especially a child, in all of these works to this point. That’s a long time to acknowledge that perhaps beatings aren’t the best way to discipline and instruct.
I’m going to stop at this point, because we’re about to get into the section that is the actual healing bit, and I would like to swear appropriately, rather than as an afterthought at the end of an already long post. Maybe there should have been some stronger reaction for Resler giving Kindan the boot but nobody getting rid of Vaxoram, but it’s entirely in-character for him and I guess I just can’t muster anything other than a dull “of course” about the torch and the entirely preventable fire and how it’s yet again Kindan trying to exercise independence and control of his own life and everyone else, including the narrative, pushing back hard and punishing him for it.