Last time, Fiona had to deal with a significant amount of death of dragons and riders, as several of her mentors took the one-way trip to hyperspace. The Weyrlingmaster stayed behind when his dragon died in his sleep, and was officially de-contracted in the ritual expression of grief. Fiona and the weyrlings and weyrgirls (specifically mentioned) ran through the first aid exercises meant to make them competent and instinctual about how to triage and treat dragons coming back with Thread injuries. About the only thing it seems to be helping with is making sure Fiona is too run ragged to think existential crisis thoughts.
Furthermore, rather than finding having a dragon to be freeing from obligations and social structures that insist she repress her emotions and always act like a proper lady, it’s become radically apparent that being a Weyrwoman is all of the things that would have been expected of her as a Lady Holder, with the extra terrible of knowing her emotions are contagious to the people around her.
Dragonheart: Chapter 10: Content Notes: Joke about underage boys being seen sexually
(Fort Weyr, morning, AL 508.1.13)
When you have to repeat the poetic lines from earlier, and furthermore, you’re repeating the less good stuff, that’s probably a sign of something. Like someone needed to hire a poet.
Chapter Ten starts with Fiona unnaturally perky about the possibility of Threadfall. Apparently, everyone at Fort is keyed-up about being able to hurt the visible menace, rather than suffering from the invisible one, and they’re chomping at the bit to get a Fall under their belts, since everyone else has already done one. Fiona and Cisca are both very nervous about who might not come back, although Cisca asks Fiona and Xhinna not to let her nervousness be known widely, because Senior Weyrwoman Who Sets The Example and all that.
Fiona doesn’t get to put her drill practice to work because when she tries to catch the first injured dragonrider, T’mar, she misjudges the distance, so she’s knocked out and concussed by the weight of the rider falling fully on her. After Kentai runs the concussion protocol on her, and grudgingly gives her the casualty report, Fiona checks in with Talenth, who apparently wasn’t worried because the mysterious dragonrider from before assured her that Fiona would be okay. The same voice tells Fiona she’s going to be fine and (presumably uses an Imperius on Fiona to) gets her to go to sleep.
When she wakes up, Kentai is summoned and more of the concussion protocol is put into place, which forbids Fiona from any klah, much to her and T’mar’s protestations. Kentai tests to make sure her pupils are reacting equally, but asks Fiona if she knows what he’s testing for and she tells him correctly. So Fiona is down for another day, although with Kentai learning that H’nez basically fought every other bronze rider weyrling in his class (and again, reasons why H’nez should never have been put on the leadership track at all) and Fiona promising she won’t leave Xhinna behind if she and Talenth decide they’re going one-way to hyperspace after hearing that Lorana was at Fort, looking through the records, but then had to leave abruptly.
And then, somehow, despite the fact that Fiona has been concussed and asleep, she wants to go see T’mar under the guise of seeing the injured riders, and Xhinna apparently can tell immediately that she’s at least in infatuation with T’mar (Xhinna refers to T’mar as Fiona’s boyfriend) and I’m paging back through the book trying to figure out where this sudden connection happened, because I can’t find any sort of indication where Fiona has suddenly seen T’mar in a new light, other than the crash-into-hello. Fiona is equally abrupt with T’mar when in his gratefulness that Fiona caught him and saved him from breaking his legs, he mentions that she should not risk her neck for him and Fiona comes to the conclusion that T’mar really only cared about her dragon.
Where have we seen mood swings like that before? Oh, right, with Tullea, but since we’re inhabiting Fiona’s head, the narrative lets her realize what she did and then apologize to T’mar for it, who waves it off and they talk about what Lorana found in the records before the topic comes to making promises.
“I wouldn’t be so quick to make such a promise,” T’mar warned her. Xhinna gave him a stubborn look and he went on. “No one ever says words with the thought that they might one day have to eat them.”
“You wouldn’t be the first,” T’mar observed mildly. “I’ve had to eat my own words countless times; that’s why I give you such advice.”
“How did they taste?” Fiona asked, surprised to see her humor returning.
“Awful,” T’mar replied with a grimace. “But I was always grateful after I’d eaten them.”
” ‘Be careful what you wish for, you might get it,’ ” Fiona repeated the old saying.
Later on, they’ll also quote “Don’t count your eggs before they’re hatched,” but at least that one makes plausible sense, given dragons and eggs and such. I’m less certain about wishes fulfilled, but I can see it being said to children that dream of being dragonriders, or Lords, or Crafters, as a discouragement or a a way of getting them to ask questions about how people higher on the social strata treat the people underneath them.
T’mar chooses not to say anything to Fiona and Xhinna about mating flights and his experience of them, and the next scene picks up with the casualty numbers from Ista and the council of leaders trying to figure out what to do with their own injured and dead, given that they now know some dragons are sick without the sign of the cough and so some dragons were lost without knowing it would happen. And, props for consistent characterization, I suppose, but H’nez continues to be an asshole.
“J’lantir,” H’nez snorted derisively. “The man lost his whole wing!”
“But we found out why, didn’t we?” M’kury retorted quickly. “And without them, we would have had even more holders die in the Plague.”
“Holders!” H’nez snorted once more. “Who needs–”
“I was a holder, H’nez, in case you’ve forgotten,” Fiona snapped angrily, her hands balled into fists under the table. “And without J’lantir, I wouldn’t be here. Think on that.”
“Actually,” Cisca added drolly, “perhaps it’d be best if you just think, H’nez.”
H’nez’s eyes flashed and he tensed in his chair, his anger obvious to everyone. Outside a dragon bugled loudly, answered by another higher-pitched dragon: Melirth and Talenth. The sounds seemed to recall him to his senses, and with some effort, he relaxed in his chair.
H’nez does apologize after having been put in his place, yet again, and really, I don’t care how good of a leader he is during Threadfall, he’s a fucking toxic liability and should be expelled. I realize that the book is published a decade before there’s any sort of widespread public discourse about toxic masculinity and people in positions of power behaving badly and needing to be truly called to account for it, but H’nez has done more than enough to get bounced in the here and now, even if you don’t take into account his past. So yes, reading through the lens of the now, rather than of the then, but it’s also objectively, fractally, terrible.
As Fort’s people try to work through the issues of flying light, Tajen suggests riding along with T’mar so that T’mar’s arm can continue to heal and Tajen can catch firestone sacks and otherwise do the heavy lifting. This makes Cisca suggest the possibility of having healthy riders work with healthy dragons, even if it’s not the Impressed pair. M’valer dismisses the idea immediately, with the same reaction as if someone had suggested M’valer willingly sunder his Impression bond. The suggestion isn’t shelved or adopted, mostly waiting to see how Tajen and T’mar do as a partnership.
Fiona ends up assigned to helping Weyrlings with their drilling requirements. Since she’s small, young, and inexperienced, she’s very nervous about it. Tajen and T’mar offer their counsel to Fiona, Cisca introduces the two seniormost weyrlings that generally run the rest of them, J’keran and J’gerd, and then basically leaves Fiona to sink or swim. Fiona manages to get the two of them to work in harmony by suggesting that those who speak too quickly need to think more and those who don’t talk at all need to speak up. She introduces them to K’lior, collects her key to the firestone shed, and then has to divide up the work for everyone, knowing they’re going to be hauling around full sacks of firestone. Xhinna arrives and relays another key piece of information – Fiona has to have someone count how much firestone is leaving their stores. Fiona nominally asks Xhinna to do the count, but Xhinna wants something more challenging – to join in filling the sacks of firestone.
“We’ve what–twelve weyrlings to fly firestone?” Fiona asked out loud.
“Eleven,” someone else called out. “V’lex was injured in the last Fall.”
“Thirty-three weyrlings to bag–”
“Thirty-four,” Xhinna put in stoutly.
“You’re not a weyrling!” one of the younger bys complained. “You’re a girl!”
“I’m a girl,” Fiona said warningly.
“Were you addled in your shell, D’lanor? She’s offering to help,” another weyrling put in, eyeing Xhinna with a combination of surprise and awe.
“And what will happen when you’re all in fighting wings?” Fiona asked.
“Well, there’ll be more weyrlings,” J’keran suggested cautiously.
Fiona realizes that figuring out who’s replacing them is her problem, not theirs, and while someone suggests V’lex as proper counter, a new young girl, named Terin, pipes up and says she’ll count. While the boys are skeptical about her (and her claim that her father was a dragonrider), Terin demonstrates aptitude with numbers quickly, by being able to calculate in rapid succession, having been told that the start point is 164 sacks to start with (one sack per active dragon) and each weyrling will have to have two more, the weyrlings will need 328 sacks additionally, which works out to about five sacks for each of the fillers to cover the starting requirement and then about ten sacks each for the weyrling reserves. Which then means they’ll have to be carrying about thirty sacks per weyrling. Given that each sack is two stone (28 pounds), (Also, imagine me giving the book the side-eye about how a weight measure that’s archaic by 21st century Terran standards somehow manages to make it all the way to far-future Pern, despite the fact that science had already standardized on kilograms for units of mass and weight for several decades when the book was written), thirty sacks is sixty stone (840 pounds), and that’s way too much weight for any one weyrling to carry by themselves in one trip. Given that, between a snatch and a clean-and-jerk, the Terran world record holder lifted 1067 pounds in September 02019, that’s not even a “maybe,” that’s a “no fucking way”. Fiona says they’ll have to do it in halfsies, which is still “no fucking way!” because that’s asking weyrlings, each and individually, to carry 420 pounds each individually, in the worst-case scenario.
On second glance, however, it seems like my initial impressions are completely wrong, because the narrative suggests that the weyrlings are running a relay where they fill their firestone sack, then run it out to the waiting wing of dragonriders, before running back and filling another. Transporting the weight one sack at a time is a much more doable operation.
“It’d be quicker if the younger ones just did the bagging and the older ones distributed,” Terin said, her tone reminding Fiona somewhat of Xhinna.
“Excellent suggestion, Terin,” Fiona replied, gesturing to J’gerd to implement it.
“Are you hoping to be Weyrwoman yourself, then?” J’gerd asked the young girl teasingly before hoisting a firestone sack and trotting off toward H’nez’s waiting wing.
“Don’t listen to him,” Fiona said to Terin. “He’s just annoyed he didn’t think of it himself.” The younger girl’s expression brightened.
If Terin continues in this manner, she’ll make an excellent headwoman when Fiona becomes Senior.
Fiona also watches the last sack of the initial thirty go from storehouse to waiting wings, and since it takes “several minutes” for a runner to get there “at a trot,” Fiona has Talenth ask the next wing to be loaded to locate themselves closer to the storehouse so things move faster. Which apparently ruffles the feathers of some of the bronze riders, according to Cisca, but Fionoa points out it’s better this way and Cisca agrees with her.
After seeing Cisca off, Fiona sends out for water. When it arrives, after making sure that the runner is assured that it’s new firestone, not old firestone, Fiona says it’s on her orders that everyone get a drink. And then, when they’ve brought enough to get all their full riders supplied, Fiona calls a rest break, makes sure everyone has food and gets fresh air, and then sets them back to filling the rest of the sacks so that the weyrlings can resupply the riders. After that round, Fiona wants one more round of resupply, and realizes there’s no way in hell that the weyrlings are going to be able to keep up the pace and requirements for an actual Fall, when they have to resupply the riders up to eight potential times. They’re starting on resupply three when Fiona puts F’jian in charge and goes to tell Cisca they’re going to need a lot more bodies if they’re going to keep up this pace. Fiona suggests more of the weyrfolk youngsters get detailed to firestone resupply, which Cisca accepts and suggests that by putting it more firmly in the weyrfolks’ hands, that will free Fiona up to do other things. Like accompany Cisca on Melirth to see if the weyrlings and riders are performing the firestone exchange maneuver correctly.
The maneuver was quite tricky, Fiona decided as she watched one of the fighting dragons catch up with a weyrling, come alongside, get the weyrling’s attention and then, with a heart-stopping flip of the wings, dive into a spiral to a position directly underneath the weyrling, near the firestone sack.
The load was transferred neatly from weyrling to dragonrider, and then the two veered away from each other, the wyrling’s dragon lurching slightly from the sudden weight reduction.
“Well done,” Cisca murmured in Fiona’s ear. Fiona nodded in agreement. “Watch carefully: the trick’s the same for the flamethrowers we’ll be using.
It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that the sacks are tied on to the weyrling dragon’s riding harnesses when they first leave the station. I’m guessing it’s something like saddlebags are on a horse, but that doesn’t really explain why there’s this spiral flip to get into the correct position. Presumably, it could be much more like a mid-air refueling of an aircraft, where getting in the right position is a matter of careful positioning. I’m also assuming that the dragons don’t get refueled while they’re in the middle of the Threadfighting fray, which would presumably make it easier to get a good approach for a resupply run and have both dragons maneuver to make it easy to release and transfer firestone. Perhaps in a pinch, a weyrling with good depth perception could drop the sack so that it could be grabbed in passing by the flying wing. There’s a lot of wasted and potentially dangerous motion involved in the resupply as it is described and observed, and even then, I can’t really picture what the maneuver looks like well enough to suggest improvements. Later on, as Cisca, Fiona, and K’lior are describing possible new ways of resupply, the firestone sacks are instead described as “trailing”, suggesting that the weyrling is actually letting the firestone sacks float behind them so that the fighting dragon can approach at a lower altitude and snag the goods for themselves. Which makes sense, then to get the attention of the weyrling, since the fighting dragon is about to imbalance them suddenly, and having warning makes that an easier thing to react to. It still seems like a lot of dangerous motion, though.
After seeing the weyrlings at work, Fiona gets to go home and collapse into bed, exhausted. Not half as much as Xhinna, whom Fiona insists should bathe first and then get some muscle salve worked in as well. (Fiona orders Xhinna not to put on her nightgown after she’s done bathing.) Fiona snuggles up after salving Xhinna and bathing herself, thinking it’s like they’re sisters and Xhinna’s warmth is just right to curl up to.
The next day, Fiona’s conclusions are repeated back to her, and she’s given the assignment to train with the weyrlings. The results of the experiment with Tejan and T’mar are encouraging, but not conclusive, because nobody really wants to test whether another dragon will let someone else’s rider drive them. There are more sick dragons, with deaths soon to follow. There’s hope that a cure will be found, now that the rooms at Benden have been. And Fiona suggests that perhaps one of the fighting wing’s dragons could carry the wing’s entire firestone resupply load when needed. K’lior thinks it will cause some loss of unit cohesion, but Fiona points out there’s always the possibility of injury or fatality punching holes in wings anyway. K’lior is willing to give it a shot. I think he should be more enthusiastic about trying it, given that they’re going to be using cobbled-together wings anyway, and so being able to fight when you’re one short somewhere seems like a thing that should have taken on some extra significance this time around.
Fiona reports to the younger weyrlings to learn the drill of flying in formation. Which is something that’s been skipped over pretty heavily in earlier books, so it’s nice to see a little bit of it getting put to use here. What the drill is, essentially, is the weyrlings assembling in the correct formation on the ground, without their dragons, and then being drilled on moving in the formation, including the arm motions and other parts that go along with the movements. They generally do it slowly, by themselves, until they have enough mastery that T’mar allows the weyrlings to do it by leading their dragons through the same exercises on the ground. At the break, Tajen looks at Talenth’s musculature, lets her fly and glide a little bit, and checks again, telling Fiona, and then Cisca and K’lior, that perhaps letting the current crop of dragonets do a gliding exercise once a day will help with their muscle development, so that when it comes time to fly, they’ll make the transition easier. Which seems like the sort of thing that someone who has expertise in dragons would already know through long practice and experimentation with it, but lost knowledge and Pern.
K’lior and Cisca both make an inappropriate joke.
“I suppose,” Cisca said carefully, “that if they [the weyrlings and dragons] drilled no more than once a day [on flying and gliding], it wouldn’t be too great an inconvenience.”
“And you could watch all the pretty youngsters,” K’lior teased her.
“K’lior!” Cisca growled back warningly. “They’re far too young for me, you know that!” She cast a sidelong glance at Fiona, “Though maybe for our junior Weyrwoman…”
Fiona blushed furiously, shaking her head in denial. Cisca’s eyes danced as she enjoyed Fiona’s discomfort, but then she took pity on the youngster and turned back to Tajen, asking, “Have you discussed this with T’mar?”
Because even if the whole thing is a setup to get Fiona to blush and stammer about the potentially cute weyrlings, they’re not very old, any of them, and it’s really not a good look on K’lior or Cisca to be sexualizing them in any way. Even if they’re going to be expected to take on more adult responsibilities, that doesn’t mean they’ve become adults. And not a few chapters ago, everyone was insistent that Fiona be allowed to enjoy a childhood of some sort, over Fiona’s objections. That’s apparently disappeared by this point.
Cisca and Fiona suggest that a single dragon, like a queen, could trail enough firestone to resupply an entire wing by him or herself, which K’lior is intrigued by, but is definitely not risking the senior dragon or any Weyrwomen on an experiment like that in a Threadfall condition. Cisca gives Fiona credit for the idea and for suggesting Xhinna as a second to help Cisca deploy the firestone.
The rest of the chapter is a time marker, as Lorana cries out and loses Arith because she didn’t know what she was doing with the potential genetic cures. Fiona hears it and has similar amounts of anguish from the event. But like all the other events that happen where dragons die, eventually the exhaustion of the body takes over and there is sleep.
So we’ve done a lot of drill and Fiona is slowly collecting people and power to herself, in slow but steady measures of making her into a Weyrwoman that will be able to smoothly step in and take over when the time is right.
And with Arith having gone, there’s still plenty of time before we make it to the solution that will eventually involve Tullea and new generations of immunity coming for the dragons. So we’ll keep slogging on until we get through this particular work. More next week.