Last time, we spent a chapter proving that the watch-whers are not, in fact, a useless failure of an experiment, but a vital part of the Thread-fighting apparatus, specifically bred to eat Thread at night when the flashy dragons aren’t able to see.
We also learned that Kitti Ping, at least to Wind Blossom’s perspective, was an abusive mother, and that Wild Blossom is passing this problem on to her own daughter.
Also, it was very strongly hinted that the dragons of the current Pass are about to fall victim to something that has evolved to attack dragons and make them sick.
Dragonsblood, Chapter 3: Content Notes: Plotting Rape, Suicide
(AL 507, Half-Circle Sea Hold)
Wide ship, tall ship,
Tossed on a raging sea.
Fair ship, brave ship,
Bring my love back to me.
This feels like a song, for once! Not as sophisticated as some sea shanties I’ve heard, but something I can imagine actually being sung outside of the Harper Hall, by someone other than a child.
The chapter begins with Lorana scrambling up the mast and sketching the sunrise. When someone calls up to ask about the weather, she calls it back and everyone groans. Lorana doesn’t understand, so we get a charming piece of old Terran lore that has somehow survived all these generations.
Baror shook his head. “The old saying goes ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; Red sky at morning, sailor take warning.’ There’ll be a blow for sure, but I already knew that.”
Lorana had heard from others day Baror had broken his arm years back and was convinced he could tell when the weather was going to change by the way it ached.
And also, a sailor with a weather arm, in case you needed more stereotype in your diet.
I talked about the improbability of “women are bad luck for a ship” last time, but I realize that we’ve never really gotten a good look at just how “Parallel Earth” the planet is supposed to be. The assumption we’re supposed to make is essentially “Like Earth, Except Where Noted.” There’s a different calendar system, though, which would suggest the Gregorian calendar and divisions of time didn’t translate exactly. So there’s a different revolution period. Pern has two natural satellites, instead of one, so that would mean tidal forces and the rotation period are likely different. And while Rukbat is described as a G-type star, The Other Wiki tells us “G-type star” is an imprecise categorization that contains anything from red-hot to white-hot stars and our conception of Sol’s color is strongly influenced by the way Terra’s atmosphere scatters light depending on the relative position of Sol in the sky.
And there’s Thread, which has to have an influence on the weather patterns, and life forms that have adapted to the regular intrusion of Thread, which might do the same. And also, there are humans (and possibly humaniform ETs?) and their climate-influencing technologies like coal forges and furnaces, cows, horses, mines, and the like, that have been going for at least 500 rotation cycles at this point in the narrative.
Which is to say, Pern is nothing like Terra at all, and we don’t my have a reason to believe that stereotypes like a weather arm or advice like “Red sky at morning” are actually useful on Pern without the narrative providing justification. I would think the Pernese would be more frightened of any red sky situation, given that the presence of the Red Star in the sky means Threadfall is on the way.
Which is, admittedly, me being grumbly about a lack of thought with regard to the world that’s been constructed. The MST3K Mantra or Bellisario’s Maxim could certainly be applied here, but it would be nice to know how all this ancient wisdom supposedly survived in a world that hasn’t been described as close enough. And it’s always Terran wisdom, not Cetian or Eridani.
Anyway, the narrative continues with Colfet breaking his arm and Lorana helping to get him below to set it. Well, Lorana helps, but it’s because Colfet refuses the sensible assistance the captain is ready to give Lorana.
Tanner looked alarmed. Catching sight of a seaman coming up on deck, he called, “Gesten, Colfert’s broken his arm. Help him down below so that Lorana can go ahead and get set up.”
“No, it’s all right!” Colfet called back, putting his weight on Lorana, who nearly buckled in surprise. “Lorana’s a stout lass, we’ll manage. Besides, the weather’s picking up–you’ll be needing all hands to trim sail.”
Getting the large seaman down below to get cabin was much harder than she’d figured, but Lorana felt that she’d proved herself “one of the boys” by doing so.
A couple paragraphs later, Lorana blushes under the intensity of Colfet’s gaze, and the whole sequence, bar the first time Lorana tries to set the bone and misses the mark, Colfet seems to be trying to flirt by looking at her drawings (which are in high demand, and also, Lorana finds Captain Tanner nice to look at). After blithely assuming she could support his weight so he could have alone time with her. And her going along with it because she thinks it will help her standing with the boys. (Which is to say, Colfet has really tanked his possibilities, in my opinion, but my opinion doesn’t count.) It’s a nice example of workplace sexism and how sometimes women can’t say no to the situation they’ve been maneuvered into.
Thankfully, there’s no sexual assault, and Colfet is genuinely glad to have his broken bone set and bound properly. He also has some advice for Lorana: hop off after this stop, because Baror hates women and dragonriders in equal measure, so Lorana will be persona non grata.
“Baror doesn’t like women,” Colfet interrupted. “You know that.” He paused and leaned in closer to her. “He doesn’t like dragonmen much, either. And for the same reason.”
Lorana looked intrigued.
“His first wife ran off with a dragonman,” Colfet told her. “I can’t say as I’d blame her–he was never much to look at, and his idea of romance would bore a fish.”
Lorana made to comment, but Colfet held up his good hand to forestall her.
“I suppose he might have changed his mind,” Colfet went on, “if only his second wife hadn’t died in the Plague. He blamed the dragonriders for not helping soon enough.”
Colfet nodded. “He found a third wife, but she hounds him unmercifully. I think that’s why he was so happy to go on this voyage. Still, he’s no reason to think kindly of women or dragonmen.”
I can’t tell of this is being played for empathy or comedy or just as a straight justification for misogyny. It could be any of them, and the context around isn’t helping any. If this is supposed to be “poor Baror, look at the suffering he’s gone through. The women in his life were unfaithful, dead, and a harridan, respectively” then the crack about how his idea of romance would bore a fish is out of place, because it’s a justification of why his wife would run off with the more sexually adventurous dragonrider. If it’s supposed to be “laugh at Baror, because the best he can hang on to is a shrew,” then the account of his second wife dying is out of place, because that evokes empathy.
This would read way better as “why Baror hates dragonriders and those associated with them” by keeping the first two wives and cutting off the third. That would even work for “hates women and dragonriders” with just those two, but then it’s “and now he’s married to a shrew, so he hates women because of her” and it’s out of place. At least one of these accounts is out of place for trying to find a throughline of making Baror a consistent character. He doesn’t have to be consistent, sure, but it helps.
And if he were consistent, it would be easier to find a thing to hang on to as “Pern is still a terrible place, even to men.” Because there’s a lot bad stereotype at work in Baror’s character and justifications. He’s ugly and unimaginative, so his wife ran off! He hates being cuckolded by dragonriders! And I want to know whether there were sex rays involved, and whether she had a choice to say no to the dragonrider that propositions her, assuming he did. And if she did, I want to know why she married him and whether being a lover of a dragonrider is a better station than a fishwife, so it was a mercenary decision as much of anything…yeah.
Wife number two dying and the dragonriders taking the blame makes sense, so there’s two reasons to hate dragonriders — Baror had his pedestal shattered again. Presumably, he loved her.
And what happened with wife number three? Like, there’s the very real possibility that he’s been taken advantage and is being abused, even if not physically, and he’s decided that it’s fine because he doesn’t deserve anything better, since better keeps getting stolen from him. And he’s stuck in a toxically masculine society that thinks it weak that he’s not the one doing the abusing and controlling, or thinks the solution is simply breaking the relationship and turning her out on her ear. (It’s hard if you love them, because love always believes you can work it out. And abusers are very good at making it seem like you even thinking about breaking it off is a terrible offense that means you don’t love them any more and you’re going to make them suffer because you’re a cruel and heartless person.)
It’s a complex character if you spend as much time thinking about things as I did. If not, it’s another woman-hating grunt with stereotypical reasons to do so. I suspect the latter was meant more than the former.
The ship docks at Half-Circle after several ships try to chase and overtake them for fun and fail. They pay mooring and watching fees (which seem to be highway robbery, based on Colfet’s reaction, but Tanner pays) and Lorana takes Colfet to the Hold Healer. The Healer looks over her work and says he’ll recommend Lorana to the Healer Hall if she wants to go, doubly so when Colfet talks up her drawing skills. The sailors and Lorana get food.
The perspective shifts to J’trel arriving at Half-Circle and having questions about the design of the place and whether that might make it vulnerable to Thread. He nearly gets run over at the Hold entrance by people hauling stones, insulted for being old, then blamed for the insulter, Genin, tipping their wheelbarrow when Talith gives the entire group an angry bugle for the slight.
Everyone around Genin tells him that it’s a terrible idea to provoke a dragonrider, but Genin is too provoked to stand down, and J’trel is determined to teach Genin a lesson.
It is a question of honor, J’trel said. Thread comes soon. Holders must respect dragonriders. Talith accepted the answer reluctantly, taking station and circling watchfully high above the crowd.
The fight itself is short and brutal. Since Genin knows he’s Shunned, no matter what the outcome is, he tries to grab J’trel to break his spine. J’trel gouges his eyes, kicks him in the groin, then in the chest, and that’s it. J’trel finds out where Lorana is while he’s still in a snit (and still very hurt from the fight) and goes over to say hello.
We do a quick shift to Baror, still grumbling about how it’s “not right” for a woman to be aboard a ship, which becomes a plot to…
“She’s a bit plain for my tastes,” Baror grumbled.
“She’d keep you warm at night,” Minet said suggestively. “Especially if you were the captain. She’d have no choice then.”
“My missus would skin me,” Baror grumbled. Minet knew that all too well. He was convinced that getting away from his wife was half the reason that Baror had agreed to this voyage.
“Your missus would skin you only if she found out,” Minet said, his eyes glinting. “As you said, it’s bad luck to have a woman aboard a ship. And accidents can happen.”
…rape Lorana while she’s out to sea with them by taking the captaincy from Tannner, and then also deal with J’trel, by causing “accidents” to anyone who would get in the way, then forcing Lorana with the captain’s authority.
Because we can’t let characters stew in complexity, or be ambiguous, or get hurt by their society and want to hurt others, or anything like that.
I do like the “petty” stakes for this, in the sense of “not trying to overthrow the social order,” not in the sense of “the rape of a woman is not important”. And yet, Baror could just be a greedy cuss, rather than having this plan spark off because dudes want to revenge-rape a woman. Not everything has to revolve around sexual assault.
J’trel sees Lorana, delivers some beaded harness gifts that proclaim Lorana to be an Animal Healer-in-training, to her “bzuh?” She learns from Grenn that J’trel was in a fight, and also that J’trel may have killed the man he fought. Before we can explore whether this is actually the case, Baror appears and plies J’trel with wine loud praise about his fighting ability, and quiet “commisseration” about Genin’s death until J’trel is too drunk to do much as Baror convinces Lorana to come with him because the ship is about to sail. Before she heads out, Lorana hears Talith cough and tells J’trel that it sounds worse than before. Baror leads Lorana so that she doesn’t see the crowd gathering around Tanner, who has been knocked at least unconscious by Baror.
Baror wondered if he had killed Tanner with the blow, but he didn’t really care.
Really? Baror has gone from husband at least nominally worried about consequences from his missus to a killer that doesn’t give a damn? That easily?
I don’t think the new author is any better at building believably evil characters than the old one was.
The end of the chapter is J’trel waking up from passing out from the drink, Talith’s breathing sounding strained, and both rider and dragon apparently agreeing that they are old, tired, and done with life, having discharged their duties to notify next of kin. J’trel tells Talith to give Lorana his love, assuming she will be able to carry on without them, and then the two take a one way trip to hyperspace together as the last action of the chapter.
I am entirely okay with assisted death decisions, but I usually like them to have been thought out and decided on with more than just a “we’re old, and it’s time, isn’t it?” because part of the reason for dragons and their riders bonding so tightly, as I understand it, is so that neither of them will ever have thoughts of disappearing like that while they’re bonded to each other. Even if we had a bit more about how Talith and J’trel have been thinking about what they’re going to do after they get done, and coming up blank, and maybe having had a discussion between themselves about whether the time was right, that would help this decision feel less like an author needed to get rid of a character and couldn’t figure out a good way of doing so.
And now, I sort of want to see how a rider-dragon partnership happens when the bond of the dragon isn’t enough to overcome depression or suicidal thoughts from happening, but it is enough to make those things less intense or less likely to be acted on, or otherwise sort of like being on meds that work for you.