Last time, we went on a tour of parallels about the deaths of Emily Boll and Sorka Hanrahan, with the heavy implication that the story we have learned about how everything went wrong has actually been part of a bigger plan to help shepherd the colonists into their lower tech lives safely, despite the presence of things they have no immunity to, and will likely suffer greatly from. And the big fear is that the dragons or watch-whers will catch a mutated big of their own and die out, leaving everyone defenseless against Thread.
Dragonsblood: Chapter 9: Content Notes: Suicidal ideation, Sexism,
(Back to Bender Weyr, Second Interval, 507 AL)
Bound into the sky.
Between; beyond the eye.
Of course, I would also like less nonsense in the poetry, too.
Chapter 9 starts with Lorana getting found by Tullea, one of the Weyrwomen of Benden, and B’nik, someone who has an interest in her (and/or his dragon has an interest in hers).
“She’ll rise to mate soon,” B’nik told her calmly not a sevenday before. His eyes were clouded with an unasked question. Tullea knew the question but perversely decided to keep the answer to herself. Oh, she was pretty sure which dragon Minith would mate with, but she felt a sneaky thrill at the notion of keeping B’nik on tenterhooks. Besides, she thought to herself, it’s really the dragon’s choice.
Which it is, in the sense that the dragon’s mind seems to be the dominant one in the gestalt, once the tasks of making sure that she doesn’t feast on the flesh of her prey and that she stays outside of hyperspace are handled. But it also seems like the humans sometimes have a choice in the matter, if they like an eligible rider? How much of politics comes into play when jockeying for the Weyrleader position, anyway?
Also, I’m not on board with the characterization of Tullea being “perverse” about keeping her suspicions from B’nik. There are so few things that a woman is allowed to keep to herself on Pern, so it makes perfect sense to me that she would hold on to a secret for as long as she could.
The real reason for Lorana to be found, though, is to reintroduce Kindan to the narrative, this time as a full-fledged Weyr Harper at Benden. (Publication-wise, though, this book came out before we had fully finished with Kindan at the Harper Hall.) Kindan is given care of Lorana in conjunction with K’tan, the Weyr Healer, and there’s a short segment about why Lorana isn’t particularly bothered by the information that she was nearly dead from starvation.
“The Plague.” She remembered how hard she and her father had fought to save her mother, brother, and sister. And how, after battling for a fortnight, they’d lost first her sister, Sanna, then her brother, Lennel, and finally her mother.
After the fever had taken her mother, she and her father had cried in each other’s arms. Neither she nor Sannel had wanted to live. And then she’d caught the plague herself and her nightmares intensified to fill her waking days. The only pleasant thing had been her father peering down at her as he gently wiped her forehead or held her up and spooned down broth. She had wanted to go, to join her mother and siblings, but she couldn’t–the thought of leaving him behind was too much. And the fever had passed, and she’d recovered.
She sensed a motion or a change in posture from Kindan and looked at him carefully. His face had many smile lines on it, but it was carefully schooled; she could see the pain he was hiding and she knew that this man had seen people–many people–die.
Or Kindan is specifically remembering Koriana dying, but whatever. It hurts, and Lorana can see through the façade.
Lorana’s memories all come back in a rush, and she asks to make sure that Colfet is looked for, and is told there’s been no sign of her fire-lizards. In the next scene, at night, Valla (Kindan’s fire lizard) starts sneezing, so Lorana rouses Kindan by herself and finds K’tan’s dragon and asks him to send K’tan over. During the diagnosis, where everyone agrees they’ve never seen this before (except Lorana, who mentions Talith’s cough), Lorana mentions a herdbeast medicine. Kindan provides the paper and stylus, Lorana writes, K’tan assembles the ingredients and brews it up.
While the brewing happens, Lorana sketches Colfet and shows it to Kindan, who is impressed with the sketch, and the sketches she puts down of the variations in the bugs. He wants to know how good she is with colors, and Lorana points out she couldn’t afford colors, so she doesn’t know.
Valla’s not a fan of the brew, and Kindan leaves to go find him, and Lorana says if she needs to get a hold of anybody, she’ll go talk to K’tan’s dragon, which gets both of their attention, and K’tan mentions there’s going to be a Hatching soon. Lorana mentions that J’trel thought she would be a Weyrwoman because of being able to talk to any dragon, but nothing happens immediately.
It also turns out that Sannel and Lorana have been given more information about germ theory, proper quarantine, and sickness practice than some of the humans seem to have been.
She knew, from her work with her father, how some herdbeasts would get sick and pass the sickness on to others. She knew from bitter experience that people could also pass sickness from one to another.
Her father had taught her that the best cure for sickness was among herdbeasts was isolating the whole herd if one became ill.
“Even the healthy ones?” young Lorana had asked in amazement.
Her father had nodded. “They might be healthy today and sick tomorrow. That’s why the quarantine. We keep the sick from the healthy.”
“And if they don’t get sick?”
“Well, we leave the herd isolated long enough to be sure no more beasts are getting ill,” he’d told her.
When the first incidents of Plague had been reported, and worried rumors were flying thick amongst holders and crafters, Sannel had said confidently “This is a human illness. It may affect the herdbeasts, but it won’t affect the dragons or fire-lizards.”
Lorana knew that had something to do with the differences between native organisms and those transplanted from Earth. Could it be, though, that humans or herdbeasts could carry an illness that would affect fire-lizards?
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. It’s generally pretty rare across species that don’t share a lot of common genes, but it’s always possible that something that’s harmless to humans could be lethal to fire-lizards. Or, say, that ingesting certain prions from infected cattle could cross the blood-brain barrier and be very harmful to humans. Or that the zombie apocalypse is carried on mosquitoes. It’s entirely possible that humans are a disease vector for things lethal to fire-lizards and their family, and that fire-lizards and dragons are a vector for things lethal to humans.
I mean, I knew that genetics would have to be taught among the Beastcraft, and they would learn/know certain things about infection disease vectors, but how is it that the daughter of a Beast-herder knows more about these things than a Weyr Healer and a Harper that literally rediscovered things like barrier methods to prevent infection? As usual, the science on Pern makes no fucking sense.
Lorana is eventually entranced (perhaps aided some by feeling light-headed) by various pieces of glass set into the Weyr that reflect and direct light into the darker places. And, apparently, they form a network of light reflected from and to all sorts of places. I guess this was what M’hall was talking about when he said he was forced to polish the mirrors until they shone? Lorana follows the light out to the Weyr Bowl where she sees all sorts of dragons and fire-lizards cavorting. It’s a beautiful scene that she tries to catch on paper, but the beauty is also marred by the presence of some unmistakable coughs among the dragons and fire-lizards present. There are sick dragons and fire-lizards, and yet everyone seems to be going off the cultural insistence that dragons don’t get sick.
Lorana gets better. Valla doesn’t. Valla will eventually die, and so Kindan is bereft of yet another thing that he loves and cherishes to illness. But in the interim, Lorana gets an excellent drawing of the green sputum that Valla is coughing up, using colors that Kindan has brought. Kindan and Lorana share their stories of having Plague tear their people from them. We get the summary of Dragon Harper, with emphasis on Kindan being fourteen and all alone after the Harper dies to do the best he can.
“You must have been very brave,” Lorana said in awe.
“I was very tired,” Kindan said with a shake of his head. “I was too tired to be brave.”
“Very brave,” Lorana insisted.
“They needed me,” he said simply, his voice full of emotion. “I couldn’t leave them.”
“What about your family?” Lorana asked, trying to change the subject to something less painful for the harper.
“I have a sister still alive,” he told her. “My father and all my brothers are dead.” He grimaced. “Most died in a cave-in, the last died of the Plague.”
“My story’s not that different from many others,” Kindan replied with a shrug. “And better than some.”
Keep this sympathetic portrayal in mind for the next part, which is after Valla has died, and M’hall and K’tan make the hard decision to ban fire-lizards from the Weyr as potential disease vectors. Kindan is not holding up well from the death of his fire-lizard, despite Kindan having “survived the loss of a watch-wher, and he lived through the Plague.” (To his credit, K’tan says Kindan is holding up “As well as any,” so it’s decidedly ambiguous about how well Kindan is actually holding up versus what the expectation of his holding up would be, based on his survivor status. So, this is Kindan now:
“You must leave,” K’tan said to her.
Lorana looked up from her drawing of fire-lizards, eyes stricken. Behind him she could see Kindan, his eyes burning with hate.
“You killed the fire-lizards,” Kindan snarled at her. “You brought the sickness.”
“You must leave,” K’tan repeated.
Yes, I must leave, Lorana thought to herself. This is my fault. I must go into quarantine. Until…until…
Lorana woke with a start, sweating. She looked around, trying to place herself. It was late, dark. She had been dreaming.
Oh, well, nevermind then. Lorana’s still mostly keeping to herself, though, because she’s still an uncertain risk for fire-lizards and dragons. With this dream, though, she resolves to get out of Benden Weyr and quarantine herself until she knows she’s not dangerous.
Her plans are derailed quite firmly by the gnawing hunger in her stomach. Which turns out not to be her stomach at all, but a dragonet’s. A dragonet that has specifically left the Hatching Ground looking for her, which wipes out Mirrim and Path as being unique characters on that front. The gold’s name is Arith, and Lorana Impresses because she helps Arith get her claws untangled from her wings. And then, as the company Lorana is in, who have been chasing the dragonet, introduce themselves, Lorana realizes she’s meeting Nuella (who was worried for a moment that the dragonet was coming to Impress her) and M’tal, and that this Impression means she doesn’t have to go anywhere, to get away, or anything else, because now she has a home and a purpose as a gold dragonrider.
Plus, having a dragon helps to erase your worries and sadnesses.
All the pain, the loss, everything that had gone before in Lorana’s life was redeemed, erased, made nothing in the warmth of Arith’s love.
That’s some pretty powerful shit, man. It’s consistent with what we’ve seen and heard from other dragonriders about their Impressions, but all that tragedy and sadness in Lorana’s life gets wiped away by her new dragon? That seems pretty terrible, actually, if it were a human set of relationships — all your pain and suffering goes away, but at the cost of being utterly obsessed with someone and having them set a psychic bond to you for the rest of your life. If that bond ever goes sour, or the relationship does, that’s going to suck. (It never does, because this is Pern and the dragons are the best therapists on the planet, because they basically absorb whatever emotions get sent at them and don’t particularly care about a whole lot themselves past eating, sleeping, bathing, and spitting fire at Thread.)
Ten of the thirty-two eggs never hatched, Kindan tells Lorana the next day, which is an infinite percentage more than the zero stillborn eggs that have happened with Breth up to this point. We won’t know if any of them would have turned into a Ruth, of course, but given what Jaxom did was considered a severe breach of protocol, they probably wouldn’t even think of it. Nor are they necessarily going to open the eggs and see if there’s anything inside that could provide a useful clue through autopsy. What they are going to do, though, is have Lorana keep sketching any sputum that comes out so they can track changes, talk with other Weyrleaders and see if they have similar rates of stillbirth with their clutches, and otherwise pick Lorana’s mind about herdbeasts. When Lorana protests that dragons aren’t herdbeasts, Kindan points out that they’re not so different that the knowledge pools can’t cross over.
At which point I wonder why dragonriders don’t apprentice out to the Beastcraft, or whether the Weyrlingmaster should always be hired or Impressed from the Beastcraft, and why there isn’t nearly as much cross-pollination of knowledge as there really needs to be so that there are reserves of people who know what they’re doing when animals or people get really sick and there’s a worry that some significant amount of the population isn’t going to make it through the night.
Also, Lorana meets Tullea, and I swear the authors couldn’t have made her characterization “BITCH” any more than if they had decided to tattoo it across her forehead for everyone to see.
“Are you going to wait until she dies from hunger, or were you perhaps hoping that her keening would disturb the whole Weyr?” a voice from behind her demanded caustically.
Lorana spun around to come face-to-face with a woman not that much older than herself. The woman’s face had a pinched look, as if she had been caught in a perpetual sneer. Her blue eyes were pallid and her lips were pulled tight in a thin line. Blond hair was pulled together behind her neck.
“I don’t know where the Feeding Grounds are,” Lorana said apologetically.
“Peh! Some Weyrwoman you’ll make!” the other returned. “Didn’t bother to listen to the orientation, did you? Too high and mighty. Expect the rest of us to look after you, do you?”
“It’s not as though we all don’t have our own dragons to look after–”
[…Minith, Tullea’s dragon, helpfully directs Arith to the right place, and Lorana thanks her, which seems to wind Tullea up more when Lorana admits she can talk to all dragons…]
The look on the other rider’s face quickly disabused her. Trying to be civil–after all, the queen had helped Arith to the Feeding Grounds–Lorana stretched out her handand said, “I’m Lorana.”
The other eyed her hand dubiously but did not take it. “Tullea, Weyrwoman second,” she said, still looking like she’d just bitten into a bitterfruit. [Lemons! Limes! They exist! Why have they not been mentioned until now?] “Salina asked me to check on you,” she added in a tone that made it clear what she thought of that imposition.
“That was very kind of Salina,” Lorana replied, desperately trying to place the name, but failing. She knew she’d heard it before, but she was too groggy to dredge up the memory.
“You don’t know who she is, do you?” Tullea asked accusingly.
“Her Breth is Arith’s dam,” Lorana temporized, feeling overwhelmed by the other woman’s manner.
“Salina is the senior Weyrwoman,” Tullea snapped. “Don’t you know anything?”” She didn’t give Lorana time to respond before continuing. “Well, obviously you don’t. I can’t see what sort of help you’ll ever be. Perhaps it would be best if–”
Minith erupted in a loud disapproving roar, cutting Tullea off. Tullea looked up at her dragon, her eyes softening somewhat.
“Now look what you’ve done, you’ve upset her.”
“I’m sorry,” Lorana muttered. Silently, she said to Minith, My apologies, gold dragon.
Minith gave Lorana a pert nod, eyes whirling red-green.
This is my impressesd face.
Seriously, is there some sort of rule of literature or storytelling that if you have people in some sort of heirarchical order, whether de jure or de facto, that at least one of the people the protagonist will have to deal with will be someone whose plot purpose is to make life miserable for the protagonist? I’m fucking sick of Mean Girls politics showing up in this world every single time, and apparently everywhere as well, because it happened with Menolly and the Harpers. It probably would have happened with Kelsa and Nonala eventually, but they were the curiosities. And also, there’s Kylara and Brekke. Going back to the well of old ideas in new era does not mean that you have done wonderful storytelling. It means that you’ve managed to avoid growing and changing and making your world better, having had several decades of criticism to absorb and either respond to or ignore. Why don’t we have a Weyrwoman heirarchy where “junior” means “still responsible for stuff, but not the final decisions” and “senior” means “chooses the Weyrleader and has final say on the things that the Weyrwomen have jurisdiction over.” (Of course, what they Weyrwomen have jurisdiction over is far, far less than they should, despite being high-ranking officials in the Weyr.)
And what does everyone think Tullea’s problem is? She needs to get laid, apparently.
M’tal pursed his lips tightly before saying, “Tullea seems to–”
“Have problems dealing with people recently,” Salina finished.
“M’tal arched an eyebrow in disagreement. “Recently being the past three Turns,” he corrected.
“You mean she’s like that with everyone?” Lorana blurted and then clapped a hand over her mouth in surprise. The other three laughed.
“I’m afraid so,” M’tal said when he’d recovered, eyes still dancing with amusement.
“You shouldn’t feel singled out,” K’tan added.
“I’m sure she’ll settle down when Thread comes,” Salina said.
“Or her dragon rises,” M’tal added.
“Preferably when her dragon rises,” K’tan murmured.
“Her dragon hasn’t risen yet?” Lorana asked, feeling the beginnings of some sympathy for Tullea.
K’tan leaned in close to Lorana, to murmur, “We’re hoping that a mating flight will calm her nerves.”
“Or something,” Salina added, arching an eyebrow at K’tan.
Because the cure for whatever makes a woman bitchy (although, on Pern, it’s for whatever makes a dragonrider bitchy, so I suppose that’s an equal-opprtunity facepalm?) is to get her laid. Or, in this case, to get her dragon laid. And that seems to be exactly as far as anyone has investigated into this matter, assuming that it will work itself out once there’s either Thread to flame or mating to be had.
I’m pretty sure this is not seen as normal behavior for a dragon, and especially not for a queen dragon. And yet, the incuriosity of Pern persists. They assume that they already know the answer to the problem. Certainly not something they need to be concerned about, and especially not now, when they’ve already seen that dragon fertility might be affected by whatever this ailment is that’s being passed around. (I mean, it’s entirely possible the dragon is ace, or not interested at all in any of the dragons in the Weyr, but they should be trying to rule out biological causes and make sure the dragon is healthy before going on to other theories.) And they’ve had several years to investigate this phenomenon and try to determine what the cause really is, because whatever it is, if there’s no rising to mate, then they can’t test that as a solution and should look elsewhere. Why has the scientific method not survived to Pern? There are several professions and guilds on the planet that could use it, even if it were one of their closely guarded secrets. Argh. The patchworkness of what knowledge survives and what doesn’t is basically plot-driven, and all of these flashbacks to the First Fall era aren’t convincing me that there’s an overarching plot at all.
Getting back to the plot, Arith is apparently a prodigy of a dragon, according to K’tan, who may have observed the entire exchange without doing a damn thing to stop or divert it. Since Arith pops between and back and is making her own kills ahead of schedule, and K’tan says it’s not completely normal for Lorana to always know where Arith is, even when Arith is in hyperspace. Before K’tan can say more, Salina and M’tal arrive to talk to their newest Weyrwoman. Salina asks what it’s like being able to talk to all the dragons, and Lorana suggests it’s like constantly being a room with your best friends. Which sounds like hell if you’re someone who wants to have time alone in your own head (with, perhaps, your own dragon), but Lorana is apparently extroverted enough that this is good for her. Lorana swears up and down that she’s not eavesdropping intentionally, and mentions that the dragons do a lot of conversing among themselves that the humans really don’t know a whole lot about, if anything. Salina speculated on whether Lorana can talk to watch-whers, too, but Lorana says she’s never tried. (Also, it requires a completely different set of visualizations, as we know.)
Salina and M’tal are relieved to hear that Lorana’s experience with fire-lizards includes mating flights, so they don’t ahve to have an awkward talk with her about those things. Although it seems the dragons are filling in the gaps.
“Oh,” M’tal responded, his tone both enlightened and relieved. “So you’ve been through a mating flight.”
Lorana nodded emphatically, “Yes, definitely through,” she agreed, her eyes flashing with amusement.
“It’s a bit more intense when a queen dragon mates,” Salina cautioned. M’tal grabbed at her possessively and pulled her close to him. Salina smiled and curled against him, wrapping an arm possessively around his waist.
“So I’ve been told,” Lorana said. The dragons had just filled her in, and she couldn’t help but smile.
“The dragons told you?” M’tal asked.
“Well, not told, as it were, more showed,” Lorana admitted.
“When?” M’tal asked incredulously.
“Just now,” Lorana answered.
“Showed?” K’tan asked.
Lorana frowned thoughtfully. “Sort of like a flurry of images and emotions,” she reported. She caught the alarmed look that passed between Weyrleader and Weyrwoman and quickly added, “All very dragonish.”
M’tal and Salina looked relieved, and Lorana guessed that they’d entertained the notion that the dragons might have conveyed intimate details.
Which makes me wonder whether dragons have porn, or enjoy replaying their own and others’ memories of mating flights for enjotment. Or whether they have those images of their humans, and enjoy replaying those images and memories of the humans mating. Xeno-pornography would definitely be a booming business, if you could get more than just what was looking on screen as part of your experience. Also, given how much sexual activity happens in the Weyr, and the regular orgies, I am a bit unsure as to why M’tal and Salina would have much embarrassment on modesty grounds about themselves. It’s likely Lorana will be seeing them naked at some point, unless they manage to always get to privacy before the gestalt takes over and they screw like dragons, and Lorana has already pointed out to them that she’s familiar with the emotional states and other things that come with fire-lizard mating. It’s a difference of degree, as Salina points out, rather than of being completely new to the experience.
There is food, and conversation, but Lorana doesn’t pick up on the subtext until it becomes a little too textual, with Breth coughing rather loudly and apologizing for it, as to why everyone might be very interested in Lorana’s knowledge and sketching abilities.
There’s a segment here, but it essentially boils down to “D’gan
doesn’t care that one of his riders’ dragons is sick, seeing it as yet another challenge to his leadership, even as the Weyr Healer says it’s potentially the stuff that the fire-lizards have had. He insists, against common sense, that all his riders must fly their appointed training, without any assistance from the Weyr Healer at that exact moment.”
Why is that asshole still in charge at Telgar? By this point in time, he’s long since proven himself woefully incompetent at leadership, uninterested in things that he really should be paying more attention to, and he’s a terrible person, to boot, all ego and no substance. Why hasn’t he been murdered or run off on an errand somewhere when there’s been a mating flight, or had a conspiracy put against his leadership to make sure that he never gets anywhere near that kind of power ever again? What he seems to have going for him is that he’s a bully who’s not above being violent to his riders. But. Just. Why is he still here?
Also, the sick dragon and rider get lost in hyperspace because their Weyrleader is an asshole. We find this out after we’ve shifted back to Kindan, K’tan, and Lorana, as they try to puzzle out how long it takes for the infection to mature and how the illness progresses in the fire-lizards, since they seem to run a faster course with it, so they can figure out what the dragons will be like, too. All they get out of it is the idea that they should try to prevent any fire-lizard or dragon from warping themselves into hyperspace when they’re sick. Which is a nice idea in theory, but Breth proves to them that they can’t hang on to a dragon in practice, Lorana tries to follow Breth to her destination through hyperspace, even though it’s a very long trip, but she can’t hold on to the queen, and then she seems lost and can’t bring her consciousness back to her. Only after she bumps up against an “other” and is “rebuffed” by them does Lorana pass out.
And that’s chapter 9. The fan is just beginning to warm up for all the things that will be hitting it soon.