Dragonheart: Answering Questions That Needed It (And Those That Didn’t, All The Same)

To recap: Fiona found a scamp named Xhinna in her Weyr and has decided to keep her on as her personal assistant. This has a lot of problematic implications, starting from Fiona’s presumably light-colored skin and queen rider status contrasted with Xhinna’s explicitly dark skin and back-of-the-kitchen-caverns status. While Fiona insists that Xhinna is not her personal drudge, and gave H’nez the high-class equivalent of the finger when he suggested that Xhinna was extremely well-suited to being a drudge, Fiona also apparently made it a game for Xhinna to be silent and accepting of orders around Melanwy, who suggested that Fiona “found a leash” for Xhinna, rather than standing up to her in the same way that she did with H’nez. Even though everyone admits that Melanwy is not all there mentally, there’s a reluctance to move her into retirement.

Dragonheart, Chapters 6 (still!) and 7 (finally!): Content Notes: Speciesism, classism

So, Fiona and Xhinna go back to Tannaz’s quarters, and Melanwy orders Xhinna to change the towels and get clean ones for Tannaz. Fiona says the better course of action would be to burn them, because they’re infected, and Melanwy dismisses the idea out of hand as a waste of supplies.

Melanwy’s expression abruptly changed to contempt. “Well, of course,” she sneered, “and we’ll just send to the holders for more.”
“Yes, we will,” Fiona responded through gritted teeth, anger coursing through her. “And you’ll address me as Weyrwoman!”
“You!” Melanwy repeated. “A mere strip of a girl, barely two months Impressed?”
“Yes, her,” a new voice declared loudly from behind Fiona.
Fiona was so angry that she couldn’t look back at Cisca–she kept her gaze locked with Melanwy’s, making it clear that young or not, she was not going to stand for such poor manners.
“You’re no better,” Melanwy muttered under her breath. “Should’ve been Nara.”
“But it’s not Nara!” Cisca responded sharply. “Nara is dead, her dragon’s gone between, and I am the senior Weyrwoman of Fort Weyr!”
There was the sound of dragons roaring in acknowledgement.

Well, shit, I guess sticking up for your own is definitely a Weyrwoman trait at Fort. Or, at least, sticking up for the office of the Weyrwoman when it’s being challenged by somebody, regardless of what their rank is or was.

Also, Fiona’s right, and that should have been part of the corpus of knowledge that Kindan rediscovered and then spread widely during the Plague Years – you have to dispose of biohazards properly. Which, in places where you don’t have effective sterilization, means destroying them so that you can be reasonably sure the infection doesn’t spread. Yes, it’s wasteful of resources, and the Holds are going to be salty about it, but the Weyrs hold the threat over them of “if the dragons die, you die,” so the Holders are going to have to suck it up and send more towels. They won’t have to be the finest of linen, since they’re going to be used specifically for dealing with infections and then they’re going to get burned, too, but they’re going to have to be made and sent.

Talenth asks if Fiona’s okay, and Fiona reassures her she is. And then, something that hasn’t been seen since, oh, the beginning of the original series makes a sudden reappearance.

“I’m sure Melanwy had just forgotten, Weyrwoman,” she declared, still staring at the old headwoman. She gestured to the archway to Tannaz’s quarters. “You’d best help Tannaz with her bath–we’ll take care of things here.”
As if in a daze, Melnwy nodded and turned to obey. Finoa was surprised the older woman hadn’t continued to argue: it was as if Melanwy had suddenly lost her spirit. In the night outside the weyr, dragons bugled again.
“You need to be careful when you do that, Fiona,” Cisca said quietly.
Fiona turned on her heel and found the Weyrwoman standing right in front of her. “Do what?” she asked, bewildered.
“Dragonriders can sometimes force people to their will,” Cisca explained. “Not many, and most not as well as you just displayed. It’s a dangerous gift and you can find yourself using it on others unwittingly. Later, Melanwy may feel that you forced her, stripped her of her will.”
“You mean,” Fiona asked with some fear, “I can make people do things they don’t want to do?”
“Yes,” Cisca said. “Dragonriders learn to recognize it and defend against it, but others…”
Xhinna had pressed herself tightly to the wall, her eyes going warily from Fiona to Cisca and back again.
“But,” Fiona began slowly after a long silence, “doesn’t everyone work to get people to do things they don’t want to do?”
“There’s a difference between cajoling and forcing,” Cisca replied. She waved to Xhinna. “You cajoled Xhinna into helping you; you forced Melanwy. Do you feel the difference?”
[…Cisca explains Fiona is going to have to learn when she’s using her power to lean on people, or she’ll always draw on it and never know whether anyone does something for her willingly or because she’s compelled them…]
Cisca must have guessed her thoughts. “You may have used the power before, but you wouldn’t have been nearly as strong as you are now that you’ve Impressed.”
Footsteps echoed and then K’lior walked in.
“Queen riders are the strongest,” he said, catching one of Cisca’s hands in his. “Bronze riders are next.” He grinned over at his Weyrwoman. “We learn to resist the power early on.”

They also mention that when Talenth rises to mate, Fiona will learn a lot of control over her power in having to use it to keep her dragon under control as well.

With Melanwy still whammied, Xhinna suggests that the towels could go to Ellor, who would make a fine headwoman. Cisca agrees, and Fiona sets to changing out the glows and otherwise cleaning and straightening the room, behavior she thinks the people at Fort would be surprised at. Fiona wants to think it’s because she’s maturing, but, according to the narrative, she knows deep down her behavior is to convince herself she’s not a monster.

Also,

Cocowhat by depizan

Talk about bringing something back from the early episodes. I know there aren’t all that many times where there are the dragon roars like that in the series, but if each of those times is when a Weyrwoman imposes her will on another, it should be pretty easy to know when the Weyrwoman is exerting her powers.

The way this is set up, it also seems like new queen riders go through this process of learning they have the ability to override the wills of others on the regular, and then learning how to control that impulse to use that power. For as much as K’lior talks a big game about bronze riders being able to resist and fight a queen’s ability, I don’t think he’s done a whole lot of disagreeing with Cisca to this point. More importantly, though, I’d be really interested in reading the story where the Weyrwomen essentially keep the entire Weyr in thrall in the name of having it run in its most orderly and efficient manner. Or because they want to run it in a self-serving manner. If both dragon queens and queen riders can impose themselves on others, somebody has to have tried it, right? Or are we supposed to think that’s what the Weyr under Kylara might have been, with as many people as she took to her bed?

Such a promising idea there that’s essentially going by the wayside because we’re still doing the “dragons are sick and need a cure” story from a different perspective. K’lior and Cisca talk about this incident with each other right afterward, and Cisca says it basically means Fiona’s going to be an awesome Weyrwoman, because she’s got enough power to overwhelm Melanwy. K’lior and Cisca finally decide it’s time for Melanwy to be officially retired from being headwoman and Ellor put in her place. That particular line of thought is shelved by the approach of the wingleaders for a conference about the approach of Thread. Each of K’lior’s wingleaders are given a description as they enter. H’nez is first, described as “bold, decisive, and unwilling to admit error. Not quite foolish, but given to moods.” That “unwilling to admit error” is something that shouldn’t put H’nez in any leadership position, but as we’ll find out, there aren’t enough mature bronze riders for there to be a bronze leading every wing, and so H’nez gets to be one by default, rather than by merit.
T’mar’s next, and it’s basically described as being the rider your rider could be, except for this mysterious affliction that’s taken him off his A-game. M’kury is described as one of K’lior’s weyrmates, and his hat is that he’s blunt in the extreme, which is a virtue K’lior wants. V’ney has the opposite hat, and is the person super-concerned with manners, which makes him great in the Weyr and things that are practiced, but noted to be slow to react to changing situations. M’valer and K’rall wear the “old guys” hat, and since they’re nearing 50, K’lior’s pretty sure they’re not going to make it through the upcoming Pass. The last two are S’kan and N’jian, and they’re the dragonriders-out-of-water, because they’re both brown riders in leadership positions, because of the lack of bronze riders to lead. K’lior privately admits that even if he had enough bronzes, he wouldn’t necessarily displace them as leaders, now that he’s seen them work. K’lior has very high praise for them.

In fact, K’lior admitted to himself, it was a pity that queens were almost always caught by bronzes, for those two brown riders would both have made excellent Weyrleaders.
“It’s not right, browns leading wings!” H’nez had complained when K’lior had first implemented his plan, and the grumbling had never ceased since. And no matter how hard K’lior or Cisca praised the brown riders or encouraged them, the resentment of H’nez, K’rall, and M’valer always kept S’kan and N’jian feeling unworthy.

I mean, in any other society there’s the possibility that the leader of the group might say “This is how we do this thing, and you can either be welcoming or you can leave.” But on Pern, where dragon genetics decide destiny, social order, and other such things that would make [your favorite white supremacist] have multiple orgasms, of course you can’t just toss out the bronze riders and subject them to competent leadership. It’s unnatural and wrong and explicitly goes against the genetic instructions encoded in the dragons by the Ancients. (Except, of course, that the protagonists are generally right when they promote brown riders to Wingleader status.)

M’kury asks what they’re doing here this late at night.

“I was already well into a nice beer and was looking forward to some–” He broke off with a meaningful glance toward Cisca.
“I’m not sorry to interrupt your revelry,” K’lior replied just as briskly, “particularly as you have made it plain to everyone how tender your backside was after the last time you–”
“All right!” M’kury broke in with a hand upraised, conceding defeat. “Forget I spoke.”
“Forgotten,” Cisca said, her eyes dancing. She wondered which poor weyrfolk was dealing with M’kury’s latest attentions–the young bronze rider seemed to have a different bedwarmer for every one of a sevenday.

A little bit of sex humor there. And being a bronze rider, as I recall, makes M’kury at least heteroflexible, if this particular jibe of K’lior’s about his ass being hurt from the last person he took to bed. Mostly because Pern has never said there are sex toys on the planet. There have to be, but it’s never been actually acknowledged, so the best we can get is that M’kury had a lover with a penis who took the penetrating role with him. Or that he really enjoyed getting flogged or spanked, which is also a possibility that would keep him only interested in women, if H’nez’s definition of being a bronze rider is the official one for all bronze riders.

Also, it’s nice to acknowledge there’s other alcohol in existence other than wine, because beer brewing is one of those things that happens a lot, at varying levels of sophistication, potency, and flavor, throughout Terran history, because turning water into wine, beer, or spirits is one of the earliest and still most effective ways of making sure most of the things water is carrying with it die and stay dead. And since Pern is an entirely new ecosystem, it’s going to take a long time before the humans can handle the native bacteria and other microscopic organisms through their own evolutionary processes. So, hooray, beer, not because I particularly enjoy drinking it, but because it’s something that would make Pern extremely weird if it didn’t exist.

Anyway, the meeting itself is to assign and disperse watchriders to the Holds to keep an eye out for either live Thread or the black dust that is frozen-dead Thread that will signify more active Falls coming soon afterward. H’nez gets the first assignment to go out and look, and he takes the other two older bronze riders’ wings with him to post. K’lior says the sick dragons are not to go out on this assignment, over H’nez’s objections that it’s not nearly as bad as he’s making it out to be. When it’s pointed out that the presence of dragons might make the Holders angry about the loss of their fire-lizards, Cisca silently relays to K’lior that he might want to choose differently, but K’lior makes it a point to tell H’nez that they should be extra-courteous, to the point of making sure they stop by and say hello at every hold, major or minor, and do their best to identify the people who will be helping with Threadfall as ground crews so that everybody gets familiar (and hopefully friendly) with each other. Cisca also mentions she’s setting Melanwy to look after Tannaz and Kalsenth full-time and putting Ellor in as interim headwoman. Having set everyone to their duties, K’lior dismisses the lot of them.

“Others,” Cisca chimed in with a grin to M’kury, “might want to carefully consider whether it would be wise to resume their activities.”
“No problem,” M’kury declared. “They’re both waiting for me in my quarters!”

And on that supposedly salacious note, Chapter Six is finally brought to an end.

Holder looks up to the skies
For signs of promise and demise
Thread will fall across the ground
Unless brave dragons do abound.

Or if knowledge could have been preserved in some way so that Tubberman’s grubs would spread far and wide and otherwise protect the ground from Thread. But losing important knowledge is a staple of Pern.

(Fort Hold, Morning, AL 507.13.23)

The first part of Chapter 7 is “Lord Bemin hears an alarm, goes out to see that it’s dragons, worries that Talenth is dead, but because H’nez is a complete dick to him, knows Fiona and her dragon is fine.” And Bemin gives his slights as good as he gets them, and then spends the night in the Harper Hall, where wager reward trade hands in front of him and Kelsa about how long Bemin was going to hold out (Nonala beats Verilan) and whether or not Bemin was going to say he loved Kelsa or not (he does, so Verilan gets his two-mark piece back from Nonala). Where we start getting useful information is H’nez overseeing the ground crews, and being relatively impressed with the speed and accuracy of the flamethrowers against the mock-Thread burrows. The leader of the ground crews, Stennel, mentions that they’d have been a lot faster off the mark if they still had fire-lizards, as they had them trained to spot burrows and summon help. H’nez is not impressed with this, thinking it a slight to the dragons that protect everyone from a deadly Thread rain. Stennel also helps us figure out the voraciousness of Thread and its spread pattern.

“According to the Records, if we don’t find the burrow in the first hour, then it’ll be too big to fight with the flamethrowers,” Stennel replied. “And then we’d have to get dragons to flame it.”
“Hmph,” H’nez grunted noncomittally.
“If we don’t spot it within eight hours, the Records say our best hope is to fire the whole valley around it,” Stennel continued with a frown.
“Fire a whole valley?” H’nez repeated doubtfully. “I’m sure whoever wrote that Record must have been in error.”
“It happened about ten times in the last Turn of the Second Pass,” Stennel persisted.
“Who told you that?”
“It was in the Hold Records,” Stennel replied. “I read them myself.” He stood a bit taller as he continued with a touch of pride, “I wanted to know, as best I could, what we were to expect, my lord.”

The pride I hear in Stennel’s voice is both in being a literate person who’s not part of the nobility, a feat unto itself, and in being able to interpret the records to get useful information out of them, which, given what we see of Records from the Harpers, is also a feat unto itself. It’s a well-deserved note of pride, and it also shows up H’nez’s lack of knowledge about what goes on at the Holds, not that he actually gives a shit.

Stennel also mentions that his ground crews are also his firefighting crews, and wildfires in high winds and Thread burrows have the same basic problem of being able to get out of control quickly, so what they’ve learned about fighting fires adapts well to fighting Thread. H’nez shrugs it off, as well as Stennel’s question about whether or not the flamethrowers can be adapted to the new firestone.

Wait, what?

“I’m sure glad they found the right stuff–although getting our stone is much harder now.”
“Harder?”
“Aye,” Stennel replied. “No one wanted to dig it before, when it was necessary for the dragons. Now it’s only necessary for the ground crews and no one really wants to go looking for it. Which is why the Mastersmith is working to see if he can adapt our flamethrowers to use the proper firestone,” he went on, shaking his head. “Last I heard, he hadn’t much luck, but I don’t get the freshest information all the time.” He cast an inviting glance toward the dragonrider. But if he was hoping for illumination, he would be disappointed.

So the flamethrowers aren’t using HNO3 as their fuel source, but the highly-volatile rock that gave dragons indigestion and that exploded violently if you whispered the word “water” around it? How does that work? There’s no reason for me to believe that Pernese technology has advanced to the point where it can use a solid fuel source in a controlled combustion reaction so as to produce a stream of flame that’s useful and that the entire contraption doesn’t messily explode in a chain reaction that backs up into the fuel tank and explode that (and the wielder) Propelling solid rock fire is bad, propelling lit gases from that solid fire is difficult to control, and I really can’t believe that they’ve somehow managed to liquefy the unstable rocks into a form that can be used as a controlled flame source, given how much trouble Tarik and company had just getting it out of the ground without it exploding, and the weyrling at the games who exploded the storehouse because they brought too much moisture in the air with them.

I have trouble seeing this situation work.

H’nez also proves again to us why he should be sent away to Telgar, because his attitude would most certainly fit in better there.

Why was it, he wondered, that holders were so easily iritated? They certainly weren’t properly deferential, not even the women.
[…and H’nez disappears back to the Hold…]
It’s always good to show the holders their place, H’nez reflected as he and Ginirth emerged once more from between, this time over the courtyard of Fort Hold. A group of holder women and children scattered as he guided Ginirth down for a landing. He spotted Lord Holder Bemin striding out into the courtyard from the Great Hall in response to the commotion and allowed himself a grin as he noticed Bemin quickly school his irritated expression into a bland look.

Gee, I wonder why holders are so easily irritated by the person that believes themselves their superior in every way by fiat and right and acts like it? It’s a mystery nobody will ever be able to solve. The narrative helps us out some, in that when H’nez is winding Bemin up again, V’ney appears a day earlier than his scheduled relief and tells H’nez in no uncertain terms to get home, because there are sick dragons that aren’t going to make it through the night. After H’nez departs, V’ney immediately sets to making up to Bemin, because he knows H’nez has done things to upset him.

“My lord,” V’ney said in the stillness that followed, “I’d like to apologize for any ill will H’nez might have engendered between your Hold and my Weyr.” He shook his head and continued, “He’s good with his riders and flies well–but he enjoys making trouble with everyone when he’s on the ground.”
“So I had noticed,” Bemin said wryly.
V’ney snorted. “You mean that you couldn’t understand why a dragon would choose to be ridden by an ass?”
Bemin’s lips quirked upward. “I hadn’t put quite those words to it, actually.”
“Then you’re a very tolerant person,” V’ney allowed.

And that’s the end of Chapter 7, with H’nez getting recalled and V’ney immediately beginning damage control. H’nez really is a better fit for Telgar than for Fort, mostly because he’ll have a kindred spirit in the Weyrleader there.

It’s probably not a good thing that it’s literally the plot of “dragons are getting sick and the Weyrs are quarantined” that’s stopping H’nez from getting bounced from Fort. (And I still maintain he really should have been bounced well before this point.)

More next week.

7 thoughts on “Dragonheart: Answering Questions That Needed It (And Those That Didn’t, All The Same)

  1. genesistrine October 24, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    Holy screaming crap we have a whole new horribleness on Pern. I’m… actually kind of impressed that that’s still possible.

    So this week we find out that the guy who’s “given to moods”, who ~somehow~ goaded a member of a traditionally duel-immune craft into a duel and killed him… has mind-bendy Sith powers.

    OK, forget “how do you deal with bronze riders who are arseholes”; *how do you deal with bronze riders who are murderers?*

    This isn’t *quite* as horrific as “hey watchwhers are intelligent and telepathic and fly and fight Thread but that’s all going to be forgotten about and they’ll be permanently chained up” thing because, y’know, *entire goddamned species*, but still, YIKES.

    I mean, in any other society there’s the possibility that the leader of the group might say “This is how we do this thing, and you can either be welcoming or you can leave.”

    But again, how do you *make* them leave if they don’t want to? They have a whacking great dragon that a) adores them and b) you can’t let wander off and live in a cave and eat stolen moobeasts, since then the Lords’ll start asking embarrassing questions about what the hell do they send you tithes for. I like that there’s some recognition now that some people are going to be arseholes and it’s no longer everyone automatically falling in line with the protagonists, but there should also be some recognition that this system has been going for 500 years at this point and they should, reasonably, have figured out a way to make people behave themselves that doesn’t boil down to the honor system with added “eh, if you *do* murder someone we’ll all pretend not to notice”.

    “Fire a whole valley?” H’nez repeated doubtfully. “I’m sure whoever wrote that Record must have been in error.”

    FFS. We have a jingle at the beginning of this damn chapter about Support Your Local Dragons, there was one a while back about dragon eye colour, and the bloody Harpers can’t get off their arses to make one about how much damage control is needed for particular levels of Thread infestation?

    So the flamethrowers aren’t using HNO3 as their fuel source

    They didn’t at the start, either; the agenothree sprayer was something Fandarel developed when he was trying to replicate flamethrowers with no models or plans. Though this was forgotten about halfway through the series and the two got confused.

  2. Silver Adept October 25, 2019 at 9:03 pm

    I’m not sure if it’s “they have powers of their own” or whether it’s “bronze riders are trained early on to shield themselves from the powers of gold riders,” but it’s still an eyebrow-popping affair.

    I don’t know how you get a bronze to behave, because this doesn’t seem to have been an issue until now, where we have bronze riders who step out of line enough that they should be disciplined. Presumably, the Weyrwoman, if she’s got a strong enough mind-whammy, could get an out-of-line bronze under control, but that seems like a temporary solution. Unless she used it at the specific time to get the dragon or the rider killed, and from how everyone reacted to Tullea slinging about “dragon-killer”, that’s probably more than crossing the line twice if anyone did something that actually got a dragon killed. But yes, there can’t be a system that’s gone this long without some measure of enforceable discipline against those who are going off-script. I might have headcanoned the “my dragon can order yours, and by extension, you, to behave,” but it seemed like there were small hints of that somewhere, here and there, or at least the threat of something like that, that could bring someone to heel. Maybe we’ll find out what the real recourse is in this book. Probably not, because that would mean admitting they had a problem, but it’s still a nice thought.

  3. genesistrine October 27, 2019 at 3:39 pm

    I’m not sure if it’s “they have powers of their own” or whether it’s “bronze riders are trained early on to shield themselves from the powers of gold riders,”

    K’lior’s “Queen riders are the strongest,” […]. “Bronze riders are next.” comment seems pretty unequivocal, even though it contradicts previous canon. (Though I suppose a workaround could be that there’s 1500+ years between the Third and Ninth Passes and bronzes learned at some point that they needed to pick candidates on the basis of character and psychological stability rather than purely on telepathic/mind-bendery ability…)

    And regarding what I said earlier: the bloody Harpers can’t get off their arses to make one about how much damage control is needed for particular levels of Thread infestation?

    Hell, Kindan hasn’t even bothered to write a ring-a-roses jingle about barrier nursing. Too busy singing about how awesome and gorgeous dragons are, obvs.

  4. Silver Adept October 29, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    Oh, right, pesky text getting in the way of my want for things to be less terrible than they are. Psi-powered assholes, joy.

    Clearly the Harpers have better things to do than record and transmit knowledge. It would be so boring to have to sing the songs of barrier methods and Thread burrows when there are songs to sing about the dragons.

  5. Firedrake November 1, 2019 at 5:18 am

    How does burning the entire surface of a valley help when you’re dealing with a burrowing infection?

    Too much modelling of Thread after the manner of crop blights, where sterilising the soil can do the trick.

  6. genesistrine November 1, 2019 at 1:27 pm

    The thinking seems to be that after it burrows and spreads it’s going to come out, eat everything on the surface and get huge, so if you clear all the surface vegetation it’ll starve.

    I’ve wanted to see what uncontrolled Thread does for *ages*.

  7. Silver Adept November 2, 2019 at 6:58 pm

    What genesistrine said. Wherever it was mentioned, it seems to be the common thinking that a burrow sucks all the organic carbon that it can get its hands on before engaging in unsustainable growth and destruction. If you remove the organic carbon from it, by killing all the plant life, then Thread starves to death instead of gorging itself on everything. Kind of Morton’s Fork, there, unless there’s some undiscussed side effect that poisons the ground that Thread has burrowed in for longer than it takes to regrow forests.

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