Last time, Fiona, at the behest of an unnamed gold rider, hopped back in time, so as to inspire her weyrling cohort to do the same, because this was already a thing that had happened in the gold rider’s past, prompting me to grouse that solutions involving time travel tend to aggravate their underlying narrative problems rather than fix them. Fiona is speculating this unnamed gold rider is herself from the future, ensuring her own past, but the narrative does not confirm this.
Dragonheart: Chapter 12: Content Notes:
A sea of sand,
Harsh clime for man.
Mountains rise high,
Igen Weyr is nigh.
(Igen Weyr, Morning, AL 498.7.2)
This is where I wish more forms of poetry than song lyric survived in Pern, because this chapter’s really feels like it wants to be a haiku or some other, more minimal, form that doesn’t have to adhere to a rhyme scheme.
“Sea of sand,
Igen Weyr’s skies.”
Maybe something like that, instead.
Instead, the chapter opens with the arrival of Fiona and Talenth slightly ahead of the weyrling crew, where the sun is beating down hard on them, but also, someone has conveniently left a tent of supplies to get them started. Fiona surveys what she sees, and after thinking this place could be her home, realizes that she’s the Senior here, at least compared to the weyrlings, and starts giving orders to the weyrlings to go clean out various parts of the Weyr, while keeping an eye out for tunnel snakes.
“Tunnel snakes!” J’nos blanched. “I don’t know how to handle tunnel snakes!”
“If you find any, let me know,” Fiona told him. When the brown rider’s eyes bugged out, she explained, “I used to hunt them back at my father’s Hold.”
Fiona was surprised and pleased by the hushed exclamations of the other weyrlings as the news spread.
Apparently, this bit of knowledge makes Fiona Little Miss Badass, while also making the conversation she had with Nuella, and the earlier references to Fiona’s proclivities around tunnel snakes have a reason for existing. Chekov would be happy.
Fiona tasks those weyrlings that aren’t cleaning with getting the older and recovering dragons and riders out of the heat and helping Terin store the supplies left for them, and then T’mar arrives with the group that left before Fiona’s did and is definitely unhappy with Fiona and the weyrlings’ presence, but accepts that they are there and doesn’t try to countermand her when she gives orders. (Including setting up numbweed pots and absolutely forbidding P’der from being watch dragon because he needs to rest and recover.) When T’mar asks her who should be watch rider, she tells him that’s his problem and goes off to do something else.
The scene shifts to Fiona stirring a pot of smelly numbweed. Terin reports that cleaning is nearly complete and on schedule, including the queen’s quarters.
“How did you manage to get them to obey you?”
“You’re the senior Weyrwoman,” Terin replied with no hint of duplicity. “I just made it clear to them that it’s what you needed.” She smiled as she added, “You know how it is with weyrlings; the boys practically fell over themselves to help.”
“And after all those firestone drills, they’re used to following your orders,” Fiona guessed.
“It’s not like there are any other weyrfolk around,” Terin agreed. “Shards, you and I are the only two women here!”
And here we are, showing the problems of a single-gender workforce, but I’m more interested in Terin’s remarks. Not that she’s leaning on Fiona’s position, that makes sense, but that the boys were all trying very hard to be helpful, with what I suspect I’m supposed to read as “because they want to get in the good graces of the Weyrwoman when it comes time for Talenth to rise.” Which would only be a concern of the bronze riders, as everything is set up, not the entirety of the weyrling contingent. Unless there’s more of the unstated “it’s a very bad idea to get on the bad side of the Weyrwoman” that wasn’t fully explained earlier at work here.
As it is, there’s still some numbweed work to be done, and Fiona is really flexing her muscles as a Senior in taking care of it.
“I’ll have J’keran get someone to take over,” T’mar called from the entrance. He gave Fiona a sheepish look as she neared the entrance. “I’m sure that there has to be some weyrling who’s earned it.”
“Don’t you dare!” Fiona cried, eyes widening angrily.
T’mar took a half-step back, his confusion evident.
“This numbweed is for everyone,” Fiona told him. “Everyone works on it. I will not have people taking it as a punishment. What sort of numbweed do you think you’ll get with an attitude like that?”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” T’mar confessed with a frown. “Very well–”
“Shall I set up a roster?” Terin offered.
“Yes,” Fiona said with a firm nod. “Every person who’s able will be on it–except for you.”
“Why not me?” Terin asked, looking ashamed.
“Because you’re going to be doing all the tallying around here,” Fiona told her firmly.
“You’ll be our Records keeper,” T’mar told her with a suitably grave expression.
“Headwoman,” Fiona corrected.
“Headwoman?” Terin and T’mar echoed in disbelief and surprise.
“Can you think of anyone else more qualified here?”
“I suppose not,” T’mar admitted after a moment. He turned to Terin. “Headwoman it is.”
I mean, Terin did just say that there were only two women here, and the Weyrwoman gig is filled, so Terin really is the only other person who might conceivably know enough of what should happen to run the place, even if she might have to get help from the other weyrlings to have bodies to do the work or to actually know how things are done. This also makes me wonder what the boys were expecting to do while they were there. (T’mar, in a bit not quoted, admits that he didn’t bring food or bedding, despite knowing they were going back in time to a place that had been abandoned for years, after Fiona admits the same.) In all the cases, it looks like the leaders made a decision, and the underlings said they would go through with it, and nobody gave a fig about what the logistics of that might actually entail and what other persons and supplies might be needed to make that work. As it is, Fiona and T’mar work together to familiarize themselves with their new digs, and unintentionally spot a Trader caravan heading their way while they survey the space from the air. Given that it’s a trek across a desert space for any caravan, it’s clear to Fiona and T’mar that these Traders have been tipped off about the presence of dragons in Igen again. That said, we’re continuing in the maybe-good, maybe-bad expansion of available cultures on Pern in the description of the traders and their colorful caravan.
Fiona was surprised to see how big the man was, taller than T’mar by a head and so broad-shouldered she thought he could easily lift one of the workbeasts single-handed.
“Azeez at your service,” he said, bowing low to them. He gestured toward his dray. “The sun is high; we would be more comfortable talking in the shade.”
[…T’mar worries it would be an intrusion, Azeez points out they’re more likely to be uncomfortable in the heat than he is…]
Fiona nodded politely, surreptitiously studying his clothing: he wore long, flowing robes, and his head was topped with a piece of cloth that draped down over his ears and neck and was tied into place with a brightly colored piece of knotted rope.
So, we have the late Tannaz, who was going to teach Fiona how to cook like Igen does, and now we have Azeez, who also has z in his name, and is dressed essentially like someone who lives in a desert climate does. While nobody has yet been an outright stereotype of the Middle East as portrayed in Western interpretations of the Tales of a Thousand Nights and One Night, I’m waiting for it to happen.
Since Fiona admits to being from the future, the traders admit the mysterious Weyrwoman sent them on their way to find this batch of dragonriders. Fiona thinks she can trade on the knowledge of the future, but the first agreement the Weyr and the traders come to is about safety and security – if Fiona can get the watch-whers to relocate, they’ll out-territory the “canines” (who are then called wolves) and that will mean less lost livestock, and the excess can be turned into dragon food for all of the sets of dragons that will be coming to use Igen as an R&R waypoint. Fiona already knows that Nuella moved the Wherhold to near this location, but is now putting together that she’s going to have to accomplish this part of Nuella’s history while she’s back in time. Mother Karina, the person who might speak for the traders, if Azeez doesn’t, figures out about how far from the future Fiona and company have come from, and Fiona consequently figures out the potential worth of that information.
“I think I see how you can profit from that information,” Fiona guesed.
“You can?” Karina raised an eyebrow.
“Of course,” Fiona told her. “You know now that ten Turns in the future the dragons will be so injured that they need to send us back in time, so you know that their need for numbweed will be great and you can trade that knowledge profitably to those who grow and harvest numbweed, helping them make greater profit and helping yourself to your rightful profit in carrying the goods in tithe.”
“You could be a trader,” Karina said. Fiona accepted it for the compliment it was.
And now that she’s not having to deal with being twice in time, Fiona can put her full faculties to use, which is probably why she’s suddenly leveled up a lot in competence and ability. To make a better deal with Karina’s traders, Fiona decides to offer something that would make Sean spin in his grave.
“Dragons can carry heavy loads. We could deliver our goods anywhere on Pern.”
“As long as you weren’t seen,” Azeez reminded her.
“Would it not serve you well to have us carry goods for you?” Fiona asked, directing her question to Mother Karina.
The old woman leaned back and roared with laughter. It was several minutes before she recovered enough to speak. “You should be a trader!”
[…Fiona closes the deal and they move to haggling the price…]
“I think,” Mother Karina pronounced slowly, “that we have a trade.”
“For our services you will provide…?” Fiona prompted.
“We will provide you with a twentieth of the profits we make on all goods carried by your dragons,” Karina said with a smile.
“I think, given the time we will save and the extra goods you’ll be able to transport anywhere because of us, that we should at least get the full tithe–a tenth–of all profits.”
Fiona gets her price and the rest of us get what can be charitably described as a complication in what is possible on Pern, courtesy of one of the traders, Tenniz.
“I see a sickness,” Tenniz spoke, his eyes still unfocused, his words brilliant in a way that Fiona could not quite understand–shiny with purpose, almost as though he were in another place. “Thread is falling, yet fire-lizards and dragons are not flying against it, coughing out their life force, dying.”
“You have a sister,” Fiona responded, shivering with insight and urgency. “Her name is Tannaz. She must go to Fort Weyr.”
[…there is formal friendship between Tenniz and Fiona, which Fiona is warned cannot be retracted once given, according to trader custom…]
“The traders of the desert are not like others,” Karina said to T’mar. “While all traders owe allegiance to the Lilkamp, we trace our line back to those who roamed the ancient Earth, trading, searching, reading the ways of the world.”
“You have the blood of dragonriders in your veins,” Fiona guessed.
“Many traders do,” Azeez said with some pride. “Many riders who have lost their dragons take to wandering and find themselves becoming traders by choice.”
“We desert traders have a bit more,” Karina said, and Fiona could feel the other traders swell with pride. “We brought with us a talent different from that required to ride dragons.”
“You can see the future.” Fiona saw Karina’s look of surprise face into an approving grin.
“You who travel back in time as though it were merely a road less traveled would see that, as with all roads, it can be mapped,” the old woman said.
That gave Fiona an idea. “Such an ability would be invaluable in predicting sandstorms,” she offered.
“It is good for trade all around,” Azeez admitted with a wicked grin.
Before I get into the substance of “whoa, precogs on Pern,” I might be reading too far into things, but Karina feels a lot like she was tracing her ancestry to the Tinkers, Travelers, Roma, and others that had been forced onto the colony ship and then written out of the story after the first few Threadfall. Given certain stereotypes about the supernatural abilities and connections of the Roma and other wanderers, it seems like we’re supposed to just accept that Roma-descended traders would have ESP-type abilities, and specifically, abilities regarding predicting the future, as if it were obvious. If that’s the case, it greatly sours this fix-it proclaiming that not all of the people who wandered were killed in Threadfall.
Additionally, for fans of Pern who haven’t read any of Anne’s other series, the presence of precognitives on Pern could be a shock, given that not even the AI himself seemed to mention the possibility they existed. But, through the course of all of the series she wrote, Anne did a significant amount of welding between the nominally-fantasy-with-SF-origins Pern and SF-with-ESP-and-Psi Talents series, so much so that I think they’re part of a shared universe, even if they’re nowhere near each other in narrative time and space.
And I know that the question of which side of the fantasy/SF divide Pern lands on is forever fractious, but the divide itself is what causes that problem. The history of fandom is one where science fiction’s fanboys (and, almost inevitably, they are boys) decided they didn’t want to play or share space with the girls, so they claimed science fiction was for boys and totally legit writing, and fantasy was for girls and would never be good enough for them. Anne then becomes an example of someone who smashed through the walls of the boys’ club, Kool-Aid Man style, and helped make sure the way stayed open for other women to gain legitimacy. It all could have been avoided if the boys hadn’t decided to segregate, but welding Pern into the same space as the obviously SF Talents space deliberately opens up the available space and gives legitimacy to others whose SF might be around the borderlands of fantasy or straddling the two.
Which is a really long digression to say that the presence of a precognitive on Pern seems like Todd engaging in more of the same welding and legitimacy-granting effort that was started by Anne, rather than an organic growth from the narrative. Pern itself, except for the AI, seemed fairly uninterested in developing, exploring, or looking for evidence of psi powers in general, except for as they relate to dragons. As far as we know, based on the stories set on Landing and elsewhere, there’s no indication of any psi abilities past telekinetic, telepathic, teleporting dragons and strong implications that the people they bond to are sensitive to telepathy with dragons. (And possibly each other, maybe.) And even the AI was more interested in the dragons’ capabilities than the riders’.
So now we have to adjust our models to include the knowledge that there are people who can see into the future and that those people, including children, manage to keep themselves hidden from the dragons. Especially the blue ones that go out on Search. And they do it so well that they do not have a mention ever in the latter annals and stories. It probably sounded like a good idea at the time, and another way of making sure that when people look at Pern as a whole, they see science fiction with dragons, but it does generate problems for consistency of the narrative already established. More points for fanfic authors to make their stamp or provide patches and fixes, I guess.
Tenniz is also not done making predictions about Fiona.
“You are with the beacon [the unknown Weyrwoman],” Tenniz told her, his voice full of awe. “She is so powerful, she can change everything. And you will change her.”
Tears dripped from his eyes and his jaw trembled with fear. “You will face difficult choices. You will control all Pern. You are in the beginning and at the end.” His expression grew bleak. “I can see the beacon going out in your presence.”
Which, as prophecies go, is nicely cryptic so that nobody gathers any information they’re not supposed to have yet. Fiona’s frightened by the prophecy, but resolves to be her very best self because she’s descended from nobles and riding a dragon, so it’s her duty to be awesome.
Fiona and T’mar go back, and Fiona is persuaded to take a nap, even as she’s still giving advice to Terin on where to find glows and what trees to cut to make matresses from. When she wakes up, the traders have nearly arrived to the Weyr. (And also, the situation of who is tired and who is wired seems to have reversed, now that the group is back in time.) Terin is slightly a-fret because she’s all of ten, but Fiona and T’mar remind her she’s headwoman, and both of them support her, so if anyone gives her shit, they want to know about it so they can explain in very small words why it’s a bad idea. And they also tell Terin to behave herself.
The traders arrive and set up, and Mother Karina mentions she was all of ten when she picked up the Mother moniker. Terin seends weyrlings to collect the lunch sacks.
Karina gestured to the boiling water. “And what were you hoping to put in your pots?”
“Food for injured dragonroders and growing weyrlings,” Terin replied promptly. A small grin slid over her as she added, “And anyone else that feels need.”
Karina cocked her head at those words. “Is that so? Is it a habit of the Weyr to feed those who wander nearby?”
“Always,” Terin replied solemnly. “We’ll share the last crumb.”
“Big words from such a small girl,” Karina replied.
“Only the truth,” Terin replied, her eyes flashing. “I am an orphan myself. I was taken in as a baby, parents dead from the hunger.” She raised her head in challenge to the older woman. “So you see, I have reason to be my word.”
After asking Terin what she means by that, Karina approves of Terin, by saying there must be a lot of trader stock in weyrfolk, the two of them settle in to making lunch, with Karina leading, since none of the northerners have seen lentils before in their lives. Azeez mentions that after lunch is usually too hot to do anything but nap, which leads to a confession that the traders have been using Igen as a stop and a base for the years that it has been abandoned, to which Fiona is grateful that somebody was. And T’mar intends that the traders stay in Igen in the regular.
“We talked about this when we met,” T’mar continued. “We could carry supplies for you.” Azeez nodded, still no closer to comprehension. “And you would need to store them, occasionally?”
“We could store them here?” Karina asked, eyes alight with the prospect.
“Whatever we can do to help,” T’mar offered.
“For a reasonable fee, of course,” Terin added from her place at the table. She caught Karina’s eyes challengingly and locked with them until the older woman threw up her hands in surrender.
“Another with the soul of a trader!”
And that’s chapter 12, where Igen Weyr is re-established under Fiona’s auspices, with Terin as her number one and T’mar as the muscle to make sure all the boys behave themselves. And with the assistance of traders that can see the future and will help make sure all the riders coming back in time are well-provisioned. By essentially proving they could have been traders themselves.
And also, flashing eyes really seems to be Todd’s go-to for expressing anger, whether by just about every woman or by a few men as well. It’s becoming a tell more than anything, and one would hope an editor said, “Hey, y’know, people react in different ways, so maybe we should change a few of these out.”
Plus, because I know it’s going to be part of a future chapter, I’m also significantly concerned about the whole “two women in the Weyr” thing when one of them is a gold rider who will be all of fifteen at most when Talenth decides she needs to lay some eggs and the other will be at most twelve when the sex rays hit. This sounds like a terrible idea, and I wonder if the traders are going to conveniently be there to provide more people when it happens, just so we don’t have to contemplate what fraction of horny dragonriders are going to go for Fiona exclusively and what are going to go for Terin when T’mar’s dragon is the one that wins the mating flight.
These and more things next week.