Dragonheart: Facing Reality

Last chapter, Fiona spent a significant amount of time reassuring and talking to others at Fort Weyr to make sure they weren’t ideating or otherwise neglecting themselves, before being put on dinner duty and cooking up something that would be served to all the people at the Weyrleader’s table, as a Fort tradition. Tannaz didn’t tell Fiona where the food was going, because that’s also apparently Fort tradition. Fiona got to meet the headwoman of Fort, who is suffering from dementia, and at the end of the day, participated in an impromptu conference indicating more dragons have become sick and are getting sent to the quarantine zone.

Dragonheart: Chapter Five: Content Notes:

Eyes green, delight
Eyes red, fright
Eyes yellow, worry
Eyes closed, no hurry.

(Fort Weyr, The Next Morning, AL 507.13.15)

Fiona oversleeps. And then starts hearing a dragon cough, and is worried that it’s Talenth. It isn’t, it’s Kalsenth, Tannaz’s dragon instead. Cisca sends Fiona to the kitchen to collect a decoction passed along by Lorana that’s supposed to help with the cough. They manage to get the dragon to swallow the whole bucket-full that’s been crafted for her. Fiona has to then oil and feed Talenth, and when she returns to the kitchen to look for Cisca, Zirina directs her into one of the back hallways. Fiona manages to find her way to the stores, where Cisca and Melanwy are having a battle over getting more of the herbs out. Melanwy doesn’t recognize Cisca and keeps challenging her authority to order anything. Fiona manages to navigate Melanwy’s inability to remember things by identifying herself as a daughter at Fort Hold and spinning a story that the Weyrwoman has promised Fort some of the stores for a sickness. Which works – Melanwy and Fiona collect all the things on Cisca’s list (the only ones we know about are echinacea and ginger) and get them out of the stores, and then Fiona escorts Melanwy back to her own quarters.

After coming back to the kitchen, Fiona asks Cisca whether what she’s experiencing is normal.

Fiona tried to fix the names of the riders, the dragons, and their colors in her head but found, to her annoyance, that she couldn’t.
“I used to be good with names,” she said, frowning. “I know all the names of every holder in Fort Hold and all the heads of every hold minor or craft–”
“Don’t worry,” Cisca assured her. “You’ll learn them all in time.”
Fiona contented herself with a sip from her mug and another bite of her roll. She was surprised that she was so hungry until she remembered that she hadn’t eaten at all that morning…which brought her back to the issue she’d been avoiding. “I seem to be in such a muddle all the time,” she confessed to Cisca. She met the Weyrwoman’s eyes. “I didn’t use to be like this.”
Cisca picked up on Fiona’s unspoken plea. “I don’t think it’s the illness,” she told her.
“But you’ve noticed?” Fiona persisted. “Is there something wrong with me?”
“If there is, you’re not alone.” The speaker was K’lior, who was striding up to them.

There’s a short discussion about how neither Cisca nor K’lior think that Fiona can’t handle her dragon and her responsibilities, and while they expected a certain amount of tiredness from raising a dragon as a teenager, they’re still keeping an eye on everyone affected to see if things change.

Cisca also mentions that K’lior drills his dragonriders in mixed-wing configurations, so that every rider can work with every wingleader without issues. Supposedly, it’s so the riders don’t get bored with their training exercises. Fiona accepts this and compares it to when Bemin switches the posts that the guards have. I’m also a bit blink-blink at this, because mixed-wing drills means that when the dragons start dying, K’lior shouldn’t have too much trouble at all restructuring his wings on the fly and they should have fewer Thread-related casualties, compared to any of the other Weyrs. And also, why hasn’t this idea spread from Weyr to Weyr, so that all of them do mixed-wing drills and thus Benden doesn’t end up in such a terrible situation where they suffer great losses once they start having holes in the formation? Like, this might be an ass-cover from the previous book for things making no sense, but what it does is make the dragonriders look like they hoard knowledge and secrets in the same way the Crafts do. Except that the dragonriders have a shared set of purposes: Fight Thread, Get Tributes, Oppress Everyone. They can be competitive at the Games, but it seems like the sort of things that will make for less Thread casualties would be shared freely. Lots of dragons are a good, and get plenty of tribute, at least in their opinions.

Cisca and K’lior suggest going out to the Holds under their jurisdiction to collect more herbs to help with the dragons. Fiona asks if she can go out to Fort, leaving unstated “so I can see and talk with my father.” K’lior and Cisca give their assent, and Fiona, after taking a hyperspace warp, walks up to the gates, gets recognized (although Fiona’s annoyed that she can’t remember a guard’s name), and is sent on in to the kitchens, after being told Lord Bemin isn’t there at the moment.

Fiona raids half the stores of Fort for echinacea, ginger, cinnamon, comfrey, and hyssop, which Neesa shrugs about, but Marla, one of the new kitchen helpers, is reduced to squeaking about how much is being taken and to what purpose it’s being put to. Neesa and Fiona have a small chat about Fiona’s tiredness and the unnaturalness of that tiredness, and then Bemin returns, having announced his return with a “loud shout” that “Fiona…recogniz[ed] the voice of Lord Holder Bemin in full rage.”

Fiona goes to talk with her father about what’s upset him so.

“Weren’t you at the Harper Hall?”
“I was,” Bemin snapped.
“Are you and Kelsa arguing again?” Fiona asked, her eyes dancing.
Bemin sighed and seemed to deflate where he stood. Fiona was surprised to see the worry lines around his eyes.
“She’s not upset about her gold?” Fiona wondered. Kelsa had Impressed a gold fire-lizard a number of Turns back and was quite attached to her. Fiona was certain Kelsa’a loss of Valyart had hit her hard. She also recalled that Kelsa and her father had made jokes about which bronze would fly when Valyart mated.
Even though she was the Lord Holder’s daughter, or perhaps even more because she was the Lord Holder’s daughter, Fiona had spent a lot of her youth with the herdbeasts and animals of the Hold; more than once she had helped a ewe birthing a lamb, or a herdbeast with a breech birth, so reproduction held no secrets for her.
And so it wasn’t difficult for her to take in her father’s stance and his bellowing, and came up with a shrewd guess: “Kelsa’s pregnant, isn’t she?”
“We were talking names,” Bemin said by way of confirmation. “Kemma if a girl, Belsan if a boy.”

Bemin tells her that he wants to raise the child in the Hold, especially if it’s a boy, and that Kelsa wasn’t having any of it. Fiona tells her father to stop being a ninny about the kilometer’s distance between Hall and Hold, and then bounds off with her herbs.

I’m having a few thoughts about this. Because Kelsa was very young when she was at the Hall at first. It’s been twelve years since then, so it’s not like I have to wonder about whether Kelsa’s of age for a relationship, it’s just that the story about Lady Sannora was that she was sweet on a Harper (Zist) but noting happened. And then there was how much Kindan was very sweet on Koriana, but again, the Lady Holder-to-be couldn’t really behave poorly with a Harper (so much so that it was a scandal they slept in the same bed without any sex happening.) And now we have widower Bemin, and he’s gotten the Song Master of the Harper Hall pregnant. I sincerely hope it was consensual, but I also wonder whether Kindan knows, and what his opinion on the matter might be. Especially since Fiona holds Kindan in a certain amount of respect and awe and possibly even infatuation of a small sort.

This seems to be the sort of situation that, on some soap opera or programming designed specifically for melodrama, would blow up the messiest, most dramatic way possible so that Kindan (and Fiona) would be entirely pissed at Bemin for what he’s done to Kelsa. Especially since Kindan was denied his chance at the Fort Hold person that he wanted. (And because it still seems like it’s a May-December Romance, and while I’ll believe Kelsa if she says that she fell in love or if she says it was supposed to be friends with benefits or any other relationship characterization Kelsa wants to provide, I’m having trouble figuring out why a high-ranking Harper like Kelsa wants to sleep with Lord Bemin at all. She seemed very interested in proving that she was a Strong Independent Woman Who Needs Not Any Man. It’s a story we’re probably not going to get, which makes me lean toward the idea that it’s not as good news as Fiona thinks it is, because this is Pern.

All that’s left in this chapter is for Fiona to get back, oil Talenth, and for both of them to get worried about what happens if Kalsenth doesn’t actually get any better.

Brave dragons, fly high, fly true
Gold, bronze, brown, green, and blue.

(Fort Weyr, Seven Days Later, AL 507.13.22)

Chapter Six starts with Tannaz telling Fiona not to bother with any more of the herbal drink, as it isn’t helping Kalsenth at all, and hasn’t for the last three days. As Kalsenth has gotten worse, so has Tannaz, because the link between them has Tannaz popping awake when Kalsenth coughs, or when any other dragon coughs, and it’s probably not helping much that Melanwy is hanging around, trying to take care of her and her dragon, even if much of the time, Melanwy thinks Tannaz is Nara, the previous Weyrwoman. Cisca, Fiona, K’lior, T’mar, and Kentai have an impromptu conference in the kitchens about the ineffectiveness of the herbal concoction and the general feeling of helplessness the riders have at their dragons being lethally sick. T’mar is unhappy that Kindan seems to be the one leading the effort to save the dragons.

He’s no healer,” T’mar persisted rebelliously.
“No,” Kentai responded agreeably. “he’s not. But it was Kindan who thought of the ways that helped the Holders during the Plague, and Kindan is the only one who has bonded with a watch-wher he Impressed a fire-lizard.”
“I trust Kindan,” Fiona declared hotly. “He saved my life.”
T’mar be her a surprised look, then lowered his eyes and muttered, “He’s no dragonrider.”
“But Lorana is,” Kentai responded. “And it is her herbal we have been using.”

There’s a real resistance here to acknowledging expertise, however fragmentary it is, that doesn’t come from a dragonrider, and I’m going to gleefully appropriate it for a context I’m guessing the original author may not have intended to say this is a perfect example of how anyone in our Terra who doesn’t look like a straight white man gets their expertise questioned and their ideas dismissed (or stolen). Kindan had to improvise barrier methods against infection, a method to determine flu status without touching someone, and a way of getting a starved population enough nourishment to recover. And he’s also had experience, at this point, with all three forms of dragon-like life forms, and bonded to two of them. While it’s entirely possible that Kindan is entirely wrong about everything, the appeal that T’mar is making should be swatted down swiftly. It won’t be, though, because I suspect Cisca and K’lior share that sentiment, even if they wouldn’t be so gauche as to state it aloud. But because Lorana trusts Kindan, they can, too. Because she has the correct status so that Kindan can be believed.

T’mar grumbles at the logic, and accidentally breaks his klah mug while trying to get himself caffeinated. Fiona swiftly offers her mug for T’mar, but he brushes it off to go get another, and interestingly enough, Cisca calls him to the carpet on it. “Are you sure you want to do that? It’s never wise to turn down the favors of a Weyrwoman.” Cisca says. T’mat immediately apologizes to Cisca, and then, with a quick nonverbal prompt from Cisca, to Fiona. Fiona accepts, so we don’t get to see what kind of consequences befall those who aggravate a Weyrwoman. For bronze riders, it might be “Good luck ever becoming Weyrleader,” but presumably it also would affect other dragon colors as well. Perhaps, since the Weyrwomen are in charge of things outside the battle, pissing off a Weyrwoman makes you a gong farmer for some significant time? (Or, possibly, gets you sent off to another Weyr?) There’s obviously a power dynamic going on here, but we don’t get to see anything more about it.

Instead, the narrative makes sure everyone is fed and caffeinated, and Fiona reveals that once she sat by one of the old people in the Hold while they died, when she was almost twelve, (making her about fourteen right now) as a way of explaining that wait and watch and hope doesn’t mean just sitting around doing nothing. T’mar re-evaluates Fiona based on this story, and that Fiona chose that duty willingly based on her feeling of duty, the narrative tells us, and Cisca and K’lior think it’s a good idea to have someone near riders with sick seasons at all times.

As the kitchen fills up with people, Fiona realizes that there are a lot more kids there than she envisioned a Weyr having.

“You’re wondering, why so many children?” T’mar guessed from Fiona’s expression. Fiona nodded.
“The answer’s simple,” Cisca replied with a mischievous grin. K’lior must have kicked her under the table, for the Weyrwoman started and stuck her tongue out at him. She turned to Fiona. “Given that there can be up to five hundred dragonriders in a Weyr, and that each of them is expected to do his–”
“–or her,” K’lior interjected.
“–duty to the Weyr,” Cisca continued with a scowl for her Weyrleader, “you’d expect there to be upward of a thousand youngsters of various ages.”

Cocowhat by depizan

Not the numbers, but this expectation that dragonriders will do their duty to the Weyr and make babies. First, with whom? I thought it was a significant feature of Pern that blue, green, and brown riders are generally not het in their partner preferences. If the line now is that brown, green, and blue riders are bi, then that’s something worth stating outright. Second, though, because the narrative has been focusing on all the people at the top, whether in Weyr or Hold, there’s only been allusion that, say, the head cook has a kitchen staff, and the headwoman presumably has additional departments and drudges that report to her about the upkeep of the space. Somewhere in there, if each of those 500 dragonriders are supposed to make two kids each, there needs to be some significant number of women who can and want to carry children to term in the Weyr. Because otherwise, it sounds like the dragonriders as a whole rely on the sex rays from their dragons to coerce women, wherever they exist in the Weyr, into having sex with them, and then some other form of persuasion to get them to keep and give birth to the kids. Which is entirely in keeping with Pern as it has been shown to us so far.

Also, I can’t imagine a single Weyr Harper having to instruct all thousand of those kids himself in a one-room schoolhouse sort of situation. Where is Kentai’s staff? Or Kindan’s, for that matter, if Benden’s child numbers are approximately the same as Fort’s. The apprentices are all at the Hall, the Masters might be faculty at the Hall or possibly, occasionally, stationed somewhere else in the world, but it always has been presented as the idea that there’s a single journeyman or master harper at each major hold and several of the smaller camps and holds. In small places, a single harper could probably handle teaching and performance duties as well as any court obligations and such, but for exceedingly large places, there’s no way the harper could handle all of it themselves without mainlining caffeine in dangerous amounts. Fort Weyr needs a phalanx of harpers just for the teaching duties, even if Pernese education only goes to the equivalent of middle school. Where are they? (“The Plague” is convenient at this point in history, but I would then expect the Hall to say “Field Harpers, if you have a promising candidate or five, and they sound interested, dub them your apprentices, and if any of them show promise for the Hall, send them on when it’s time and gather more.” As Zist did with Kindan. Ish.

The narrative tries to make this seem like less of a daunting problem, but it doesn’t get rid of the issue completely.

” What happens to them all?” Fiona asked. “Where are they now?”
“Some are taking lessons,” Cisca said, gesturing in the direction Kentai had taken. “Some are helping with the weyr.”
“And some are doubtless getting into trouble,” K’lior added with a grin.
“Doubtless,” Cisca agreed. “And several are probably at this very moment on the Hatching Grounds, looking around and dreaming.”
“I doubt it,” K’lior declared. “I suspect it’s a bit too early for that.”
“What do they do when they grow up?” Fiona wondered.
“Some become dragonriders,” K’lior said. “Some stay on and work at the Weyr: some become weyrmates.”
Most weyrmates work at the Weyr,” Cisca corrected him.
“Some learn a craft and become apprenticed,” K’lior went on.
“We’ve three in the Harper Hall at this moment,” Cisca pointed out proudly.
“And two at the Smithcrafthall,” K’lior reminded her.

Three? I would expect thirty, not three. And similarly for the Smiths, and plenty more in the other professions because it’s pretty explicit that the dragonriders don’t do any work that isn’t directly related to their dragons. Someone has to produce food, raise beasts, make clothes, do leatherwork, metalwork, entertain and teach, and so on, so that the dragonriders can get the best value out of their tributes from everyone else. Perhaps not the entire complement of children, but I would expect most of the ones of apprenticing age are apprenticed out to the various crafthalls or are otherwise employed under the direction of someone who has received craft training.

The whole thing wraps up in a way that shades this from “Cisca and K’lior are justly proud of the accomplishments of the children of the Weyr” to “Cisca and K’lior don’t pay attention to what they are saying and how it could be unintentionally hurtful to others.”

“But you’ll never find Weyrfolk unwilling to help,” Cisca added, “if you ask for it.”
“I think I should check on Tannaz now,” Fiona said, feeling a bit out of sorts–the Weyrleaders were going on about how great weyrfolk were, and while she knew that holderfolk were every bit as kind and good, she didn’t think it would be wise to point that out. Besides, no one had offered to help her since she’d been in the Weyr; she’d done all the helping.
As she rose from her chair, the bronze dragonrider she recognized as H’nez approached their table, saying “More dragons coughing this morning, aren’t there?”
Fiona was glad to leave, she liked him even less for that comment than she had before. As if K’lior wasn’t doing everything he could!

Fiona has every right to be aggravated at this. She’s been doing just as much, if not more, work as Weyrwoman than she would have been as a Lady Holder, and without the support structure (or ability to order other people around) that being Lady Holder would normally grant her. Maybe the Senior Weyrwoman gets that, but she’s the most junior of them, and nobody is offering to help her figure out her duties and what she’s expected to do, or help her through them. She had to learn on the fly, and more often than not, by doing something she’s not supposed to.

Also, why hasn’t H’nez been shuttled off to some other Weyr, before the plague hit, given what kind of asshole he’s being? He thought he should be Weyrleader. Fine, but he’s not, and he’s deliberately sassing the Weyrleaders to their faces. Ship him off to Telgar if he wants to behave that way. He’s more than overstepped his boundaries with Cisca and K’lior. He goaded the Healer into a duel and killed him. There’s no reason he should be in any sort of leadership position at all.

Fiona, upon returning to her own Weyr, catches someone inside, and has a full-boil rage at her about Talenth. But we’ll get to that next week.

4 thoughts on “Dragonheart: Facing Reality

  1. genesistrine October 10, 2019 at 3:01 pm

    (the only ones we know about are echinacea and ginger)

    Well, at least they weren’t pernchinacea and pernger. Though how Earth remedies are supposed to have the same effect on a completely alien metabolism as they do on Earth-origin mammals…

    what it does is make the dragonriders look like they hoard knowledge and secrets in the same way the Crafts do. […] They can be competitive at the Games, but it seems like the sort of things that will make for less Thread casualties would be shared freely

    We’ve seen how competitive A’hole of Telgar is; I don’t have any trouble seeing that as a common attitude in Weyrleaders/bronze riders. They have 200 years at a time of competitive Games and only 50 years of co-operate-or-die; I can see that fostering a culture of competitive bro stupidity.

    [Kelsa] seemed very interested in proving that she was a Strong Independent Woman Who Needs Not Any Man.

    I’d handwave it as she’s gone for FWBs with him specifically because there’s no chance of marriage between them so no pressure, and no possible accusations of favouritism or abuse of authority that might be an issue if she had an affair with a junior Harper.

    Still a bad idea on her part since it should’ve been blatantly obvious that he’d want any offspring raised in the Lord class even before Fiona Impressed. Heir and a spare….

    Also it’s peculiar that Fiona’s puzzled by the guard sniggering about Bemin and Kelsa when a few pages later she knows perfectly well they’re banging.

    Re lack of appreciation for Kindan by dragonriders, you’d expect a bit of appreciation for him finding the good firestone that doesn’t blow dragons and riders to smithereens in midair as well!

    blue, green, and brown riders are generally not het in their partner preferences

    Brown riders are canonically bi, though I’m pretty sure we’ve never actually seen that on the page. But we’re never told how many riders there are of each colour, that I remember at least.

    and then some other form of persuasion to get them to keep and give birth to the kids

    Lack of contraception and abortion is a pretty effective form of “persuasion” in itself.

    I would expect most of the ones of apprenticing age are apprenticed out to the various crafthalls or are otherwise employed under the direction of someone who has received craft training.

    Well, yes. And the weirdness of this comment:

    “And some go to holds,” Cisca added.

    “I can’t think of any who came to Fort,” Fiona said.

    “You probably wouldn’t,” Cisca agreed. “They usually come as pairs or groups and prefer to stake out new lands. You wouldn’t see many of them at the Hold proper.”

    a) Even after the Plague, how much “new land” is there after 500 years of the populatio of Pern doing their “duty”?

    b) How are Weyr-raised people going to be any good at farming/holding/whatever? They might have learned some basic animal management from dealing with future dragon dinners, but a Weyr doesn’t produce anything itself except dragons.

  2. Silver Adept October 11, 2019 at 12:29 pm

    Somewhere in the Way Back, which means I’m not going to go digging for the reference, I seem to recall someone commenting on how some plants took in the new environment, but others had to be grafted on or hybridized to work on Pern, so there’s a good chance the name stayed the same, but the plants are significantly different enough that they’d get a new Linnean classification.

    That’s a good explanation for Kelsa, shame the author doesn’t even provide that much. And I think we’re supposed to treat any issues like Fiona’s confusion and clarity as side effects of the time plot that hasn’t yet been introduced, but that she’s showing all the symptoms for, and not any sort of authorial error.

    I share your confusion about how riders somehow manage to set up a stakehold and succeed at farming and livestock and all of those things. They don’t really have the skillset for it.

  3. genesistrine October 11, 2019 at 1:29 pm

    I think we’re supposed to treat any issues like Fiona’s confusion and clarity as side effects of the time plot that hasn’t yet been introduced, but that she’s showing all the symptoms for, and not any sort of authorial error

    It would be nice to think that, but I haven’t run across anything that makes me think the author’s capable of that amount of meta….

    I share your confusion about how riders somehow manage to set up a stakehold and succeed at farming and livestock and all of those things. They don’t really have the skillset for it.

    What presumably happens is they try for a year or so, nearly starve, and either end up back in the Weyr or drudging for whoever’s willing to take them in.

  4. Michael I October 14, 2019 at 6:06 am

    “What presumably happens is they try for a year or so, nearly starve, and either end up back in the Weyr or drudging for whoever’s willing to take them in.“

    You don’t understand. If ordinary mortals can do it, obviously it will be easy for Dragon Riders to pick up all of the necessary skills.

    🙂

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