Last time, it turned out that Fort was also concerned about the behavior of their Weyrlings. Unfortunately, while they’re not incurious, they also inexplicably think that it’s just a weird thing, rather than wondering whether their weyrlings are part of a future time-displacement plot. Fiona had an offscreen shouting match with Lord Bemin that Tannaz thinks was the best thing ever (while also being able to get in a comment about how hot Cisca is), and the dragon fatalities commenced in other Weyrs.
Dragonheart: Chapter 4: Content Notes:
Their lungs melted,
Their breath turned green,
Sick, listless, ailing,
Dragons fled between
(Fort Weyr, AL 507.13.12)
(Hee! I was right. Thirteen months! (As was pointed out in the comments from last week’s post.))
Also, that’s the kind of poem you tell as a nightmare for Halloween, or something. Not as evening entertainment for the masses.
The chapter opens with Fiona realizing she’s way overslept and popping out into the Weyr Bowl to see what’s going on. The eerie silence unnerves her greatly, and she’s relieved when she finally sees Tannaz about. Who promptly sits her down with a basket of rolls and butter and tells her to eat, before giving her a pitcher of cold klah to draw a mug from and drink. Having done so, Fiona feels remarkably more human again. Cisca arrives not to shortly afterward and also consumes rolls, butter, and klah to make herself feel the same thing.
Apparently, this complete numbness is an aftereffect of feeling the death of a dragon, and with three of them happening in such quick succession, everyone’s been hit particularly hard. And although Fort hoped they might be able to close off the Weyr and prevent the spread of the disease, it’s too late, as one of their own dragons starts coughing. Which summons an emergency meeting of the Weyrleaders and Wingleaders. H’nez plays the grumpy old man who wants action now, but Fort is hindered in their ability to do much because he’s responsible for them being a person down.
“You know why we’ve no Healer, H’nez,” M’kury growled. “It’s because you goaded old Sitarin into that duel.”
H’nez’s jaw worked angrily.
Cocowhat by depizan
I knew that dragonriders were not the smartest hatchlings in the clutch, but shouldn’t there be a rule forbidding involving Healers in duels? Because you need someone to stitch people up afterward, and I somehow doubt the Healer Hall is going to be all that eager to send another person out to a Weyr where they have the chance of dying if they piss off the wrong dragonrider. Even if they weren’t already very short-staffed from the Plague Years, if I were the (likely interim) Masterhealer, I would not send out someone to those knuckleheads at Fort any time soon. And now Fort needs someone who knows something about dragon anatomy and health because of the sickness that’s coming. Way to go, H’nez.
The update is courtesy of Lorana, whose ability to bespeak dragons directly is the same as Torene’s (who is apparently a legendary figure because of this). The only affected dragon so far is the Weyrlingmaster’s, and he quarantines himself and has T’mar (the one who’s been acting weird, remember) take over the instruction of the Weyrlings. Someone suggests fitting the dragons with masks like the humans got during the plague, and while H’nez thinks it ridiculous, the others would go for it, if they felt like they could manage it. K’lior advises caution and demands that anything in relation to the disease be immediately reported to him or Cisca, and the meeting adjourns. Fiona is sufficiently stunned by all of it that she sits there until everyone else leaves, including H’nez, who harbors a grudge about who’s in charge that he says aloud in Fiona’s presence. Only the call of needing to oil the itchy dragon gets her up and moving.
Once she’s done oiling Talenth, Tannaz recruits Fiona to help check on the dragonriders and make sure they’re all doing okay. Fiona quips that it’s like taking care of the sick aunties and the old uncles, but Tanaz is not going along with it, even if she does relent a little and say it’s probably a little like such things. Understandably, Fiona isn’t entirely sure what to do.
“What do I say to them?” Fiona asked, working to keep a whining tone out of her voice.
“You know how they feel,” Tannaz said, her voice turning softer, warmer. “Probably more than most, since you lost your fire-lizard.”
Fiona bit her lip, then shook herself fiercely and nodded for the Weyrwoman to continue.
“So talk to them about how they feel, how you feel. Don’t lie, but be positive.” Tannaz put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed firmly. “You are a Weyrwoman now.”
Something in the other’s tone made Fiona realize Tannaz was bestowing upon her a gift, not weighing her with a burden. Tannaz must have seen it, too, for she let go of the young girl and told her brusquely, “Off you go, now!”
Of course, Fiona doesn’t know where she’s going, but when she turns back to ask, Tannaz shouts down the corridor with the right place to start.
I’m not entirely sure that Fiona, at thirteen, knows what whining sounds like, but I’m willing to give that she doesn’t want to be seen as whining to Tannaz. I also think the author shorts us on Fiona’s thought process of how she comes to the realization that being asked to talk to the dragonriders is not a burdensome thing, but a position of honor and pride and something to do as a Weyrwoman. Tannaz could have given her a nice logical reason to latch on to, like “Soon enough, these riders will be yours, and it’s a good idea to get to know them early on so they’ll follow you when it’s your turn to be Senior.”
That would have been nice, really, because Fiona has an immediate panic about whether or not she can actually do the thing because she doesn’t have a clue what to actually say.
I can’t do this, she thought miserably, stopping one pace before the entrance to the Weyr. I’ve only thirteen Turns!
[…Fiona thinks about telling everyone her Impression was a mistake, but the thought of giving Talenth up is far too terrible to contemplate…]
Kindan had no one, Fiona chided herself, and he was your age when the Plague struck. He saved you and everyone at Fort.
Well, she corrected herself, tears filling her eyes, almost everyone. He couldn’t save Mother, or my brothers, or even my sister, the girl he loved.
But he saved me, she remembered, and thought of the tales her father told her of Kindan’s bravery. With those in mind, along with images of her own Impression, she lifted her head and stepped forward.
I can do this, she thought, and she called out, “Hello?”
I would expect Fiona to name her mother, brothers, and sister, rather than just referring to them that way. Koriana especially, since she supposedly was the love of Kindan’s life before she died from the plague. Bemin would have called them by name, so there’s no reason to believe that Fiona doesn’t know them. But also, Bemin is doing a significant amount of downplaying his own role in both how much he hated Kindan before the Plague stripped him of his family, save her. I would like to hear how Kindan tells the same story, and how much he would choose to include about how terrible Bemin was about it to Fiona. If she’s in the Weyrwoman mode she was in the last chapter, he might give it to her straight, no chaser.
As it turns out, the first rider she sees, L’rian, knew Lady Sannora, has heard the rumor that she was sweet on a Harper, despite being a Lady Holder, and regales Fiona with a half-hour’s worth of stories from his life. He intuits the reason for Fiona’s visit, and says that he’s ready to go when his dragon does. Fiona wants to know about his loved ones, but he says he’s seen most of them go on from life, so he doesn’t have any regrets. Fiona says that they’re going to need all the dragonriders they can to fight Thread, and when he makes a lewd remark about how they can talk after she’s had her first mating flight, she turns it into a promise (“heard and witnessed!”) that he’ll stick around long enough to talk with her afterward.
Fiona talks with several others for less time, but takes note of who’s talking, the stories they have of the spicy firestone, and which of them are trying too hard to project that they’re fine.
Fiona had been in her father’s company long enough to note those who spoke with a forced heartiness–she’d heard the same tone in prideful holders who had over-farmed their lands or were afraid to admit other shortcomings. Often the neediest Fort holder was the one least likely to ask for aid. Lord Bemin was constantly visiting the smaller holds, always on the pretext of preparing or collecting tithe, but even with only thirteen Turns to her, Fiona had noticed the times when her father had ordered some of the guards to help out with a planting or a fencing, or had sent back to the Hold for some special spices or tubers.
“I’ve so many tubers in our root cellars that I’ll have to get rid of them or let them rot,” she recalled him saying to one farmer whose entire crop had been ravaged by tunnel snakes. “Would you do me the favor of taking some?”
Or, “My men have grown soft on this trip; would you let me put them to work in that field over there?”
In Fiona’s case, she uses the understanding of her father’s indirect methods to suggest she’s hungry, even when she’s not, as a pretext of ordering up some food and making sure the dragonrider she’s seeing has eaten that day.
I also think this is the first time I’ve seen or heard a Lord Holder do anything of this sort, sharing his labor and largesse with his vassals, and taking care to do so indirectly for the ones that would never accept direct help because of their pride. It makes Bemin into a better administrator, and someone who might actually understand how vassalage feudalism works. It makes me wonder whether he was this way before the Plague ripped through his Hold or not. I can totally get behind Bemin deciding to be a much better ruler because he saw the Plague as a punishment for his attitude and effectiveness, even though Pern nominally lacks a God that would send plague as punishment for bad behavior. Bemin before and Bemin after Plague, from those that knew him well, would be a fascinating comparison, should anyone ever decide to do it.
After she completes her rounds, Tannaz flags Fiona and says everyone is supposed to pitch in at the kitchen for the feast tonight. Which makes Fiona the head cook’s apprentice for the night. When asked about whether she sings or dances, Fiona says she’d rather learn how to swordfight, based on stories of Nerra of Crom who apparently learned how, but Bemin never let her. Kentai, the Harper, catches her meaning, and says that Weyrwomen are generally taught bow skills, which segues into a story about how Cisca once put on a demonstration with flaming arrows that nearly set the weyrling quarters on fire.
Zirana, the cook, is cooking in the Southern Boll style and speaks mostly in single words and short sentences, which seems like there’s some sort of something going on here, but I can’t quite put my thoughts on it. Southern Boll style turns out to be stir-fry, compared to the stews that Fiona is used to, and the Igen style that Tannaz promises to teach Fiona when Zirana’s done. (There are also pernooms, funguses native to Pern that are presumably close enough to mushrooms that people got lazy with the naming.) There’s all sorts of things thrown in, including soy sauce (“From soya bean,” Zirana says when she adds it), onions, garlic, ginger, pernooms, and eventually, sliced wherry meat strips.
After showing Fiona how to make three dishes, Zirana tells Fiona to make her own dish. Which she does. Zirana approves of it and then tells her to go serve it to the Weyrleaders and wingleaders. It’s apparently tradition to make the youngest Weyrwoman cook the food for the head table without telling her that’s where it’s going. Cisca, when she stops by, is very surprised that Zirana let Fiona cook, but Ziana points out that Fiona learned more than enough by observing the kitchens from a young age.
When it comes time to serve, Fiona is again a bundle of nerves, and envisions herself tripping and shattering the serving dish, putting all her effort to waste. A voice not her dragon’s tells her in her head she’ll do fine, and she does.
It really is good! Fiona thought, amazed. Tannaz, who was still watching her, chuckled, saying, “What, did you think Zirana would let you serve something that wasn’t good?” Fiona’s look answered her and the Weyrwoman continued, “You’re not at the Hold anymore. You’ll be treated with respect, but no one will lie to you.”
Which is a pretty interesting juxtaposition to have here. Dragonriders believe they’ve managed honesty for everything, and they can also provide respect in that environment to everyone. We might also note that Fort doesn’t have a Healer because the Healer was killed in a duel that he was goaded in to. That makes me think that dragonriders’ honesty is much more like the people that believe they’re being the most honest by proclaiming social conventions to be so much bullshit and that everyone is always acting in self-interest, even if it looks like they’re being nice to someone else.
Tannaz makes a crack about Melanwy forcing Fiona to make three dishes before she’d let her serve, and Melanwy agrees with her, having appeared while Tannaz wasn’t looking. And she gives them grief about things and weyrlings performing before it becomes apparent she has some form of dementia, as she switches to being confused about where she is and what she’s doing. Kentai goes smoothly with it and leads her off to play drums for the performances. Fiona compliments him in his absence, and says that Holds have plenty of people who are addled, and who would rather not have been alive because of that. Melanwy is still headwoman out of pity and out of the fact that when she’s lucid, there’s none better, so Tannaz and Cisca are taking turns learning the craft of running the place from her in those moments where she can impart her wisdom. Fiona offers to help, but Tannaz and Cisca both think it’s a bad idea, given how much Melanwy talks about and is interested in morbid things these days. Fiona presses her case an says that learning would be more important than troubling subjects.
“You made your case.” She frowned and added, “Still, I don’t think it’s fair to rob you so young of your youth. I have a motherly duty–”
“Pardon, Weyrwoman,” Fiona intrrupted, her throat hard, her face hot, “but I lost my mother before my third Turn and, with her, any chance of a proper childhood.”
Cisca gave her a look that was part affront, part surprise, but Fiona met her eyes squarely. “I’m young, I know, but I’ve had to grow up fast and I don’t think I know how to stop.”
[…Cisca is unconvinced, but K’lior manages to convince her to drop it with a gesture Fiona can’t interpret, not having seen her mother and father interact…]
“Don’t be in such a rush to grow up,” Tannaz murmured as the plates were cleared.
“I can’t really tell you when I ever really thought I was a child,” Fiona responded. But in her heart she recalled all the times when she’d been with Kindan and wondered–until the fruit dessert that Tannaz and Ellor had made was served, and she enjoyed it so much that she completely forgot the previous conversation.
I’m not sure what to think about this exchange, because it feels like I want to criticize it for saying that without a mother, Fiona couldn’t have had a childhood, while at the same time knowing that Bemin probably started in early on the training for his last surviving child on how to be the perfect Lady Holder, since she was all he had left and the last opportunity for his bloodline to continue. Which would put Kindan in the place of being someone who saw her and treated her as a child (because she was one) without any of the extra pressure of having to be the survivor of the Plague (which she also was). So, make your own conclusions, maybe, about all of this? It still feels wrong, even though it’s probably more accurate than usual.
Fiona has to leave to handle Talenth, and then comes back to a conference of the Weyrleaders, where she gets to sit on Tannaz’s lap, apparently, and listen to all of them talk about the new sick dragons and what to do about them. K’lior seems blithe about the arrival of a new Healer before things get too out of sorts, but Fiona reminds them of something that the Weyrleaders apparently haven’t known or considered – med school on Pern takes just as long as it does on Terra.
Fiona chewed her lip before confessing, “Father said we didn’t be enough spare hands to send them to the Halls for eight Turns of learning.”
The others looked at her inquiringly.
“That’s how long it takes to train a healer,” Fiona told them. “Four Turns in the Harper Hall, four more in the Healer Hall.”
“Why so long?” Cisca asked.
“Why not just teach healing?” Tannaz added.
“Kindan said that a harper learns a lot of healing,” Fiona replied. “The extra turns at the Healer Hall are to learn even more.”
And because everyone else has been hammered hard by the Plague, nobody else has necessarily been sparing people to the Halls, either, so now it sounds even worse that their Healer is dead from a preventable duel.
I still want to know why becoming a healer requires for years of study with the musician-diplomat-lawyers first, before they can go on to graduate studies at the Healer Hall proper. All the first aid and such they could learn from the Harpers could easily be taught at the Healer Hall as well. On some world where science and knowledge had been better preserved than Pern, I could see the necessity of four years of undergraduate coursework at the College to lay the foundations before going on to med school. As it is now, the world needs field medics with their herbals and the ability to set bones, so if there were enough remaining doctors, they could train up a corps rapidly and then set to replenishing the ranks where possible, eventually phasing out the medics for proper doctors.
After the conference, everybody goes to bed and the chapter ends.
Exchanges like this continue to develop the line that the dragonriders, at least the ones that are Weyrbred, are so insulated from the rest of the world that they’ve no real idea how it works. Given the status of the Weyrs as the elites of Pern, this tracks. It also paints them in a negative light, in that everyone else, including Lords Holder, are the “little people” who should only be bothered with as much as they continue to keep the Weyrs supplied in people and goods. It’s a marked difference from earlier works that would have fallen all over themselves to portray the Good Guys Weyr as infallible in all the ways they could. A little bit of reality is starting to seep into the fantastical setting, and it’s nice. Fiona is helping re-tether them to at least some version of reality, even if it is the one of lords and ladies, rather than of the actual peasants. If this was what the author meant about tempers and such back in the beginning of the work, it’s tepid and mild to say the least, but small progress away from the idea of “the dragonriders can do no wrong” is better than no progress.
We’ll see how things continue next week.