Dragonsblood: Setting Up The Big Problems

Last time, Wind Blossom retrieved things she “lost” during the Crossing that will allow either them or their descendants to learn how to determine the origin of the dragon and fire-lizard disease and synthesize a cure to keep them all alive. In the future, nobody has answers or ideas, other than cryptic messages, and Arith has now caught the sickness. Even so, nobody seems to be doing a whole hell of a lot in trying to determine how to protect themselves against the sickness.

Dragonsblood: Chapter 16: Content Notes: Casual Ablism,

Firestone, dry
Dragons fly.
Firestone, wet
Riders die.

(Benden Weyr, Third Pass, Day 6, AL 508)

This used to be true, when everyone was using the volatile firestone that exploded on contact with water. But since C’tov discovered the safer firestone and Fire Hold has been mining it everywhere they can find it, this should be less of an issue. Unless wet firestone somehow doesn’t produce enough gas in the second stomach of a dragon for them to belch fire.

The chapter opens with the return of Kindan and Lorana. Lorana vaults off to find and comfort Arith about her sickness, while Kindan reports finding the records of the secret rooms at Benden Weyr, and B’nik has only the suggestion that those rooms, once built, have suffered from cave-ins that obscure them, and the assurance that they’ll dig them out if they can. Arith assures Lorana that she’ll be fine, and since Lorana’s around, Lorana should continue trying to find a cure.

We pop over to Ista, where J’lantir has been appointed as interim Weyrleader by Dalia and elected with unanimity by the Wingleaders, and now he has to fight Thread with a severely depleted fighting strength, and in terrible weather. Dalia is fighting showing emotion about the fact that there will be more dead dragons by the time Threadfall is done, because the reality is far different than what you read in the Records. There’s a quick pop back to Benden, where Kindan is diverted from his task of finding the cave-in spaces to be emotional support to Lorana, because dragons fighting Thread means Lorana feels it all and she might want someone there to comfort her. He provides Lorana with a massage and Arith with pats and scritches through the entirety of the fall and the deaths that come to Lorana. Then it’s back to Ista, where J’lantir has to deal with the casualties of the Threadfall.

M’kir’s left arm was in a sling, his shoulder heavily bandaged where Thread had gouged it, the left side of his head bandaged to hide the gaping hole that had once held a fierce blue eye.
[…everyone looks terrible and tired. J’lantir is staying upright mostly through force of will rather than any real reason to do so…]
S’maj was the only Wingleader left beside himself. B’lon was favoring his left leg, wrapped in a bandage placed over his now-useless flying pants–a long thin line of blood showed where Thread had eaten through it and into his leg, but the score was not deep.

Dalia then comes in with the casualty figures for the Fall, and it’s clear that Ista now lacks the fighting strength to do that again.

But before we can talk through the implications of that, we pop back to Benden and Kindan and Lorana, who are covered in dragon snot and have to get cleaned up before they can take Arith out to get a drink. Where they run into Tullea, who is still being written as someone who is jealous and lazy and indolent.

“Well,” someone behind them drawled, “now that the two of you have deigned to join the rest of us, perhaps you’d care to look for these special rooms I’ve heard so much about.”
They turned to see Tullea leaning indolently against Minith’s foreleg. B’nik was beside her.
“Arith was sick,” Lorana explained, turning back to catch sight of the young queen as she splashed back to the shore.
“All the more reason to search, then,” Tullea responded. “Unless you two are more inclined to cavorting?” She cast a disdainful look at Kindan’s bare chest. “And get some clothes on.”
With that, Tullea turned away from them and headed back to her weyr, B’nik following, stony-faced.

At this point, the narrative is just giving us grief, and letting us yell at all the characters everywhere that they are still not entertaining the weird, not-usual suggestions for causes of Tullea’s problem, because all the usual ones seem to not be working. Tullea can’t necessarily answer the question “are you time-displaced?” because she doesn’t know, but it’s still the most logical explanation for her sudden behavioral shift.

The part that immediately follows here, though, is good writing, and I wanted to highlight it, if for no other reason than to point out that the new author has at least an inkling of an idea of the female gaze and can use it.

“Tullea giving out to you, was she?” Kiyary asked, smiling evilly. “I can see why, too–your bare chest is enough to make a dragon swoon.”
Kindan, who knew full well that most dragonriders were, of necessity, more muscled than he, took Kiyari’s mocking in the well-intentioned manner it was delivered. “it’s all that hard work with my guitar,” he said, grinning.
“And those drums up on the heights don’t hurt either,” Kiyari responded, giving him a more thorough appraisal than when she’d been teasing him. “Come to think of it, maybe Tullea has a point.”

This is good writing. It helps to establish Kindan’s frame (lean and strong, rather than overtly muscular) as well as establishing, generally, that dragonriders are buffer than most people from their work.

Well, dragonriding men, anyway. I would absolutely love to see a Weyrwoman described as buff and muscular from all the work she does feeding and caring for her dragons, because, at least while they’re Weyrlings, it seems like queen riders do exactly the same things for dragon care as everyone else. So there’s plenty of opportunity for them to get strong and muscular as well.

There’s a brief intrlude where Lorana’s riding gear arrives, with metal caos for the steel studs engraved with her animal healer design. Lorana is very, very happy about this, and we get something that’s got a certain amount of gender-subversions in it, even though I’m not sure on which end to put the most subversiveness.

“And I love the brightwork, Kindan. It’s very well done.”
“A friend of mine,” Kindan told her.
“Well, please thank her for me.”
Him,” Kindan corrected with a grin. “But I’ll pass the thanks on.”

I think what we’re supposed to pull out of this is that dudes generally don’t do fine detail work on precious metals. Except, you know, that Mastersmith Fandarel has pretty well been a fixture of being a giant man with the ability to do detail work from the beginning of the series? And I personally would have expected dudes to do that kind of work right from the get-go, so perhaps the gender-subversion is that Lorana defaults to assuming the person who did the fine-detail work is a woman instead of a man. Either way, there’s something going on there.

Still frustrated at not finding any sign of the secret rooms, Lorana and Kindan decide to put the isolation plan into action and group all the sick dragons together. They can’t decide on whether to put them up at the top and hope the cold helps or at the bottom so they can’t infect anyone underneath them, so they ask B’nik about what to do. And B’nik isn’t any help, because he wants to make sure they use the right quarantine protocol rather than one that might end up infecting the whole Weyr. This might go better, except that Tullea is there, and in her infinite wisdom, she decides that Lorana should have to go looking for the secret rooms herself and not to use any more Weyr resources. And she orders Kindan to play for the Weyr tonight with some sprightly, happy songs. During this, Tullea “pressed a hand to her head, as though to ease pain,” which goes uncommented on.

Instead, once everyone is dismissed and Lorana’s alone, Salina appears to help Lorana find the secret rooms. With only a little bit of description of the secret rooms and their absence, Salina immediately twigs that the secret rooms are hidden behind rockslides and cave-ins and immediately goes to get help, because she immediately knows where to go. M’tal, once she explains what she wants to do, says to wait and snag Kindan when he’s done singing, because he’s miner-bred, and therefore either the very best to handle the situation or the very best to get help if the situation goes south. The two hear Kindan singing as they go toward collecting him, first with a change of “The Morning Dragon Song” (boy, there’s a call-back) to make it a gold dragon, and then Kindan decides he wants to sing the song he barely remembered in the Harper Hall Archives, which absolutely pisses Tullea off, and both her and B’nik tell Kindan to cease immediately. Kindan looks ready to pursue the point, but manages to demonstrate some small amount of wisdom and goes back to more traditional songs.

Which leads to Lorana wondering why she had that song about her, and her fear that everyone will see her as the person that brought the disease and hate her forever. Salina has a brief flash of anger at Lorana if it’s true, but it immediately dissipates when she realizes that Lorana stands to lose her own dragon. Because Salina has had that experience, and knows full well that nobody would deliberately do that to their own dragon, and so she pledges to help Lorana solve the problem of the secret rooms and the disease.

Kindan is remarkably upset for having made those particular decisions. For a Harper, though, he’s remarkably at a loss for creative words.

“Of all the stupid, ill-considered, blockheaded, unthinking–”
“Don’t stop,” K’tan told Kindan as the herper poured out a litany of self-contempt. “You forgot fardling.”
“–fardling, moronic, imbecilic–” Kindan paused, groping for more words.
K’tan shook his head sadly. “A harper at a loss for words when they’re so desperately needed.”

Well, apparently fardling doesn’t exist, but the other ones do, and point out that a lot of the words that we use for talking about our lack of smarts are generally ablist in nature. Remarkably, there are no slip-ups where religious terms can sneak in. Also remarkably, nothing scatological makes it into the list, nor anything related to dragons, so it seems like there’s a distinct lack of swearing involved here, despite Kindan being more than upset enough with himself that a long string of swears would be utterly contextually appropriate. But we don’t learn anything more about informal language choices on Pern.

Instead, K’tan and M’tal recruit Kindan to go look at the rockslide space that’s near the Hatching Ground. One that K’tan never went near because it wans dangerous as a child. That is, again, near the Hatching Ground, a space that just about everyone would be near or around at a large part of their lives. While the ability to miss something in plain sight while you’re concentrating on something else is a well-documented effect, certainly, given that it’s a hazard and it’s around the Hatching Grounds, why wasn’t it marked on the map of the Weyr? Plus, Kindan’s been here a long time – surely he would remember the presence of the rockslide? Or any of the other riders tip them off to it, especially since it’s “back by the way we used to come and look at the eggs back when we were candidates”? I’m very glad that Salina is the one to crack the mystery, because hooray for agency for women! But also, it seems like such a prominent feature of the pathway wouldn’t be forgotten so easily. But I’m probably thinking too hard about this, or have unrealistic expectations about these characters.

They dissuade Kindan from trying to excavate the space himself, so instead, Kindan calls on Camp Natalon and brings back Dalor, Renna, and several of the miners from the camp to excavate the cave-in. Once they see the space, Dalor is pretty convinced that this is the right spot to mine. Plus, Camp Natalon immediately acquits themselves as the right people for the job.

“Look here,” Dalor said, pointing. “You can see where the rock faces are formed. They must have hoped the two layers would never slip over each other, or they must not have realized what they were dealing with.”
“Slip?” M’tal, who had been following along, asked.
“Aye, my lord,” Dalor said with a nod. “There are two different layers here, see?” He pointed to the spot where the different colors were close to each other. “You can tell by the color. The layers can slip over each other, which happens when there’s an earth shake.”

An excellent explanation. Not a couple paragraphs later, after trying to figure out how much rock might need to be excavated, Regellan suggests that it’s only a meter or two if the rocks slipped at the layers, so that the roof was the only thing that gave out. Dalor compliments Regellan as “quite the thinker” and then sets his work crews to get things out, telling Kindan and M’tal to get out because they lack miners’ hats. It takes them about a day to get through to the door, and Dalor accidentally refers to M’tal as the Weyrleader in Tullea’s presence, which doesn’t make her happy at all.

Tullea marches in to the corridor, glow in hand, and starts examining the newly-opened space. And the narrative gives us another reason not to like her.

“This looks like a door,” she exclaimed. She hunkered down, peering to either side of it. “What’s this?” she asked, seeing a square plate to the left of the door. She pressed it just as Dalor, who had been watching her actions with growing alarm, shouted “Don’t touch it!”
Too late.
With a rumbling groan, the wall began to slide open and light flooded in from the other side.
Dalor raced to Tullea and pulled her back away from the door. Even as he did, she slumped toward the floor so that B’nik had to catch her other side to prevent her from falling.

Tullea’s just passed out from the “bad air”, thankfully, but I think this is supposed to be the feather in the cap of the way she’s been portrayed as impulsive and selfish as well. She doesn’t know what dangers are there, she doesn’t have protection, and what she did could have endangered everybody there if it caused, say, a second rock slide.

This seems like a good place to stop, as we’re about halfway through the chapter, and there’s a lot to be described coming forward that will hint at what is to come. Because we have now discovered the solution that the First Interval left for the Second. Assuming they can figure it all out.

And there will be more Tullea-bashing yet to come, and I’ve basically had my fill of it to this point. More next week.

4 thoughts on “Dragonsblood: Setting Up The Big Problems

  1. MadamAtom August 15, 2019 at 4:11 am

    I think what we’re supposed to pull out of this is that dudes generally don’t do fine detail work on precious metals. Except, you know, that Mastersmith Fandarel has pretty well been a fixture of being a giant man with the ability to do detail work from the beginning of the series?

    The ability, sure. But IIRC Fandarel never did anything for the sake of being decorative; I think that’s what Lorana is thinking of as “women’s work.”

    [pretend this font is smaller] (Now to hit Post without being able to see whether I’ve done the quoting right. Whyfor no Preview button, WordPress?)

  2. alexeigynaix August 15, 2019 at 9:50 am

    If that’s the intended reading, it’s still either a clumsy attempt at subverting gendered expectations or just plain weird. The distinction between art and craft, the distinction between pretty and practical, and the distinction between things men do and things women do? All look pretty similar!

  3. genesistrine August 15, 2019 at 1:35 pm

    @MadamAtom: no preview and no edit. Aaargh!

    We’ve seen one decorative Smith-made item: the fancy knife that a couple of dragonriders were trying to claim as tribute back in ‘Quest. And even though Fandarel was perfectly comfortable with women doing work they enjoyed and were good at there was no mention of female Smiths proper until Jancis turned up in um, book 10?, acting like female Smiths had been around all along, it’s just that no-one had *mentioned* them.

  4. MadamAtom August 16, 2019 at 4:16 am

    Fair points, both of you; thanks. (And pretend my first paragraph in the other post is block-quoted. -sigh/grin-)

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