[Mari Ness wonders why The White Dragon waits so long before letting all of its plot out, why everyone keeps picking the wrong reasons to tell Jaxom to shove off, and is disappointed that this first trilogy ends with more of a Bronx cheer than a fanfare.]
Last time, we saw the effects of the first Fall of the Third Pass, and things went disastrously for everyone, because nobody had apparently decided that casualties were a thing that happened.
And an asshole continued to be an asshole.
Dragonsblood, Chapter 13: Content Notes:
(Benden, Third Pass, 4th Day, AL 508)
Dragonrider, watch for sign
Char the Thread, make it tame
I know we’ve complained about the quality of the poetry here, but this is terrible. I can’t even figure out what it’s supposed to be, much less anything to say about how effectively it does it.
This chapter opens with M’tal declaring they’re going to run training exercises with mixed wings, and every so often, one of the riders is going to be “injured” to the point where they be to leave the battlefield and everyone else has to pick up the slack. None of the sick dragons are flying. There’s a little grumble about how that realization is a day late, and a persistent grumble that Tullea doesn’t seem to be helping anyone at any time, despite being the Weyrwoman now (and the traditional person to examine Records, rather than Lorana and Kindan, who are.)
It takes them most of the morning before M’tal feels “cautiously confident” they might be able to handle the next Fall.
The narrative hops back to Kindan and Lorana in the archives, and someone has finally put up an answer to the question of why there aren’t fleets of apprentices copying Records, despite obvious signs of disintegration.
“Spoken like someone who never spent days copying old Records,” Kindan responded. “Do you know how boring it is, day in, day out, copying musty old Records?”
Lorana allowed herself a slight smile. “I imagine there would be a lot to be learned,” she said.
Kindan shook his head. “No, not really,” he said. “Most of the Records are repetitious. There are only so many ways you can record crop yields and rainfall. Occasionally there’s a note of a wedding or a birth but–honestly–you’d think whoever wrote those Records was numb! Not a single joke, no songs, nothing but dull, dry facts, Record after Record.”
Data points are pretty compact to copy, and don’t take up much room, I would have thought, and also, I would have expected shorthand and other space-saving ideas to develop quickly so as to make that pain less. Or, again, for someone to have sensibly summarized the dull dry facts into something useful, like “the average rainfall for the First Pass during the wet season was this many millimeters per day” and paying more attention to things that were strong variances in the pattern. Because, for the most part, they don’t need that level of detail to be copied exactly. The trends are important, the data less so. Songs and jokes might also get compressed some, on the mistaken assumption that, say, all Harpers will understand if you say, “Key of C, tempo allegro, 12-bar blues” and then just write the lyrics and where the key changes, rather than copying out complete sheet music.
When faced with more information than you have storage and time to copy, decisions have to get made about what gets kept and what gets compressed and what gets discarded.
In any case, the two have been using a “sandglass” to time how long between calling dragons to drop out of the practice run, and after selecting one more dragon, Lorana suggests they start not at the most recent, but the oldest Records to see what can be found. It’s a good plan, and Kindan acknowledges it, even as he dreads it, but nothing comes of it, and Lorana’s good humor disappears into frustration.
“Musty, old, useless Records!” she swore.
Kindan gave her a shocked look.
“I’m sorry I ever suggested we start with the oldest ones,” she apologized, stifling a sneeze. “My nose is running and my eyes are watering with all this dust. The writing’s barely legible and I’ve probably missed something important because it’s buried in a mass of gibberish!”
And now I wonder how these Records are organized. Because it would seem likely that “The Annals of Benden Hold’s Crop Yields” would be in a different volume, or at least signposted differently, than “The Exploits of the Dragonriders of Benden Weyr”. What it sounds like, though, is that we have a single volume called “Benden” or something like that, where records have been thrown together on the page without even the rudiments of an organization system, no headings for pages, no navigation aids, no date markers, just solid blocks of text that you have to read every word of to find the needle in the haystack.
In a society that prizes literacy and has at least some idea that they want to preserve things for next generations. I’m not saying they have to be perfect at organization, but it’s been a running gag since the beginning of the series that any time someone has to go through the records, they’re always disorganized, disintegrating, and otherwise useless, unless the plot demands that character get lucky and spot the right reference in a book. There are enough times that this happens that someone, somewhere, has to have developed a system to keep the Records straight and easily accessible, even if it is their personal system and nobody else necessarily knows it, and presumably has written that system down in a Record somewhere.
I realize I’m giving this way more thought than the authors have, collectively, but it is a truth of humans that once there’s enough information that some of it has to be referenced, rather than remembered, organization systems are sure to follow. It would be a better plot for the volume that’s needed to be misfiled, rather than the information needed being a single line in a random work.
Right after Lorana swears, Salina arrives and offers to continue while Lorana takes a break to care for her dragon, get food, and otherwise not be devoting all of her waking time to this problem. Salina quips that this is the sort of thing the Weyrwoman is supposed to do, or so she’s heard, and Kindan decides (wisely, in my opinion) he’s not going to say that those grumbles are talking about Tullea instead of Salina.
The next Threadfall has M’tal more confident (and better prepared) except for one giant spanner in his plans – Minith and Tullea appear, which causes problems in the carefully planned wings as, as we saw before, bronze dragons start following their instinct to protect a queen rather than what they need to do for Thread. Tullea insists she’s doing her duty as the Weyrwoman, and M’tal eventually has Lorana explain to Minith that she needs to not be there, and the chaos subsides after the queen disappears.
That royally ticks Tullea off, and she’s ready to give Lorana a knuckle sandwich, but that Arith appears, ready to protect her rider, and Salina shortly after. Lorana explains why she ordered Minith back at M’tal’s insistence.
“I’m sorry, Tullea, but M’tal explained that if Minith were injured, she might not mate.”
Tullea’s eyes widened as the words sunk home. “I was doing my duty,” she said dully. “I’m supposed to take on the duties of the Weyrwoman.”
“When they’re is only one mature queen,” Salina told her, “those duties do not include flying against Thread.”
[…Tullea acknowledges this, but insists again that Lorana has no right to order her around. Lorana shrugs it off and heads to her next patient…]
“This isn’t over,” Tullea growled at Lorana’s back.
“If you’re interested in a Weyr woman’s duties, Tullea, now is a good time to start,” Salina said from behind her. “There is numbweed ready and those who need it.”
Tullea’s hands clenched at her sides and she turned sharply to glare at Salina, but the old Weyrwoman merely gestured toward the Lower Caverns.
And the narrative continues to portray Tullea as someone who can’t do right by anyone and is determined to make every situation worse by being a part of it. In Kindan and K’tal’s conversation in the next scene, K’tan says that Tullea used to be charming to the point where is strongly implied he slept with her, but this was before she Impressed. (There’s also a bit that says Kindan was considered to ascend to a Mastery, but he turned it down to stay at Benden, but I note only because we had so much trouble figuring out what Kindan was actually good enough at that would warrant his promotion in the last book.)
Nobody considers Tullea’s behavior strange enough to have wanted to investigate it then, or to continue to wonder and request examination by the Weyr Healer to see if there is something they can detect that would indicate what’s going on with her abrupt personality shift. It very much snacks of “wimmins be bitches, amirite?” and not wanting to do much examining of someone who will eventually be a Weyrwoman. Plenty of comments have talked about the lack of curiosity on Pern, and here’s yet another example of it.
As was also pointed out before, Tullea might be the senior queen, and Lorana the junior, and Breth gone, but that should mean there are a couple more queens around, right? Unless, and this is reaching back very far into memory, someone decided that three was the maximum number of queens in a Weyr based on the early books instead of the later five or so, at which point everybody’s accounted for.
K’tan wants to know how the other Weyrs fared in their Threadfall, but since Weyrs are autonomous, and some of them don’t feel like sharing, Kindan hatches a plot to send an innocuous-seeming message to Zist so that he can get more information without having to be too obvious about it.
While that echoes, M’tal calls his war council and wants to get an update on his fighting strength. He wants B’nik to lead the next Fall to give him practice and experience at leadership, since it’s extremely likely that B’nik will be taking over once Minith goes into a mating. To that end, he wants B’nik to know what sort of reserves they have, given that the casualties from the last Fall have cut in to their strength again. B’nik says he’s up to the task, even with the projected casualties and sickness that K’tan suggests.
Then things resolve at the Harper Hall, where Kindan’s message comes through – he wants Zist to “trade him news about the Weyrs.” Zist takes his meaning and rouses Masters Jofri, Verilan, and Kelsa (you go, girl!) to discuss the request and its ramifications. Verilan has come up empty so far in searching for previous instances of sick dragons, fire-lizards, or watch-whers. The narrative trolls us again about the shoddy state of the Records.
The Master Archivist shook his head. “They’d much rather be copying your songs than dusty old Records that mean nothing to them.”
“I suspect that in the days to come, your apprentices–and all the students at our Hall–will find their interest in preserving our old Records increasing,” Master Zist said.
Verilan nodded in agreement. “These times do make us appreciate the need to preserve our history.”
…because we haven’t made it startlingly obvious how a classification system and summaries would have to be invented of they didn’t already exist. Rote copying is for sacred texts that have to be done correctly or the magic smoke gets let out. “The Masterharper’s Guide to Planet-Wide Anomalies” should already have any such events. Or something.
Kelsa is charged with both looking into songs to see if any of them sound like they were composed about or in response to sick or lost dragons / fire-lizards and composing a song so that other Harpers can collect the information Kindan wants.
Now that we know what Kindan asked for, we pop back to the Weyr, where Tullea is storming M’tal’s quarters, demanding to know what sort of shenanigans are going on.
Tullea’s nostrils flared angrily. “You will not make B’nik lead the Fall!” she shouted. “You’re trying to get him killed so that your dragon will fly Minith!” She drew herself up to her full height. “Well, it’s not going to happen! I’ll not let it happen, no matter what!”
Lorana and Kindan are drawn by the noise. Lorana volunteers herself to go get some food. Kindan suggests lacing the wine for Tullea with fellis to knock her out, a suggestion B’nik confirms as Lorana meets him in the way down. B’nik is chagrined by Tullea’s outbursts, but manages to calm Tullea down significantly with a well-placed hug after Tullea expresses a heartfelt concern about B’nik’s well-being. Tullea’s behavior is offered an explanation, by Salina, that’s not “she’s a raging bitch” for once.
“Stress does strange things to people,” Salina murmured when their steps faced away.
“She wasn’t like this before,” M’tal muttered, looking puzzled.
“She said she’s always tired, always edgy,” Salina commented. She looked at Kindan. “Could it be something in her diet?”
[…Kindan demurs to K’tan, and suggests Lorana might know a thing. Lorana says that sometimes the animals just go off their feed for no explicable reason…]
“We’ll, Tullea’s been ‘off her feed’ for the past three turns now,” Kindan commented sardonically.
“I think she’s just scared,” Salina said sympathetically. “And who can blame her? These are very worrying times.”
Salina, unsurprisingly, turns out to have a reasonable explanation, as the only one of the lot who has gone through what Tullea has. And yet, despite everyone knowing that things have been strange for a long time, nobody seems to have been investigating or otherwise working on trying to solve the issues that Tullea clearly has. (Grumble. Therapists. There should be therapists.)
And Tullea tells B’nik something, when they’re alone together that should set his hair on end, assuming he knows everything there is to know about dragons and their abilities.
“I never used to be like this,” Tullea continued. “I feel pulled apart, dizzy; I can’t concentrate. I feel out of control all the time, B’nik. And it’s been like this for Turns.”
B’nik nodded sympathetically.
“I want me back,” Tullea cried. “I want to be who I was, not angry all the time.”
She looked into his warm eyes and told him her deepest fear: “And if I lose you, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that.”
I mean, there’s an amount of unhealthy dependence here, if you think Tullea’s in her right self at this moment, but now, I’m wondering how you can check, discreetly, to see if someone is existing in two places at the same time. J’trel told Lorana at the beginning of the book that being in two places at once produces irritability, and we saw how spending significant amounts of time in the same place as your past self is very unhealthy to your mental state. And it’s been going on for so long, it probably would have ruled out most of the causes they would look for. A brain chemistry change, being twice in time, or an Impression that went off seem like the things that would most obviously cause a strong personality shift. Two of them can be potentially checked for with the level of tech and time travel Pern has.
The rest of the chapter is Kindan, Lorana, and K’tan trying to figure out the method of the disease spreading, with several hypotheses suggested about how based on data that dragons lower down are more likely to be infected, and that more dragons have gotten sick since the quarantine went into effect. Lorana eventually recalls that isolation was the first step toward stopping diseases from spreading in herdbeasts and calls M’tal back to discuss things further. She also suggests a field trip to Fort Weyr to examine their records for anything interesting, following a pattern Lorana and Kindan found in their own search. M’tal says no, because they can’t risk infecting Fort. And the chapter ends without a full set of data for us to draw or own conclusions, and with Lorana not pushing M’tal on the visit to Fort while they wait for Zist to come back with information.
We’re nearly halfway through the book, so things should start resolving soon, right?