Last time was basically a lot of “Fiona continues to grow into the role of the Weyrwoman” with an extended detour into the sort of thing that is creepy in the ways of “countdown until underage celebrity is legal” is creepy.
Dragonheart: Chapter 14: Content Notes: nonconsensual pranking and making fun, The Patriarchy (thbbbpth),
(Igen Weyr, Morning, AL 498.7.8)
Would it be too much to ask that for these books, if we’re going to have poetry fragments, that they’re all from the same poem? I’m sure that there’s enough culture on Pern that a relevant fragment can be found with enough searching, but it would be better if we could judge a full poem or song on its own merits, instead of having to infer everything from the fragments we have.
In any case, the chapter starts with Fiona deciding it’s a good idea to let the weyrlings start gliding their dragons again, after asking T’mar and being told they’re “your weyrlings”, and this leads to T’mar saying how terrible it would be if Talenth was injured before her mating flight, which Fiona bristles at and declares her dragon will outfly every bronze. We know this won’t happen, but it does seem to be a pretty standard declaration among gold riders.
T’mar leaves to learn how to navigate by stars, and wishes Fiona a happy birthday before departing. Fiona is confused about what he’s getting on about, despite the extended riff about time and birthdays in the last chapter, and Terin helps explain what’s going on — today is the calendar day of Fiona’s birthday, even though, because of time hopping, she hasn’t accumulated the necessary days to be physically fourteen. Once it’s cleared up, Fiona teases Terin about turning one in twelve days, and Terin says she’s trying to collect data for all the weyrlings and older riders. And they reflect soberly about the fact they’re spending three years to return in three days, and Xhinna is going to have to adjust to the Fiona that is now a year older than her, rather than several years younger.
Fiona has her birthday with grace and food, then kicks Terin out of the kitchen on the regular so she can let T’mar and F’jian exercise their cooking skills. Both of them appear to be very competent.
T’mar started with Terin’s bean recipe and added roast herdbeast marinated in a hot spicy sauce of his own invention. F’jian preferred to highlight garlic in his cooking, spicing up chicken breasts with a sweet and sour sauce that filled the entire Kitchen Cavern with its tantalizing scent.
For herself, Fiona concentrated on sweet juices, trying some of the newer fruits that the traders had brought in from Keroon and Ista–pungent fruits with an amazing tang. She mixed these with rice from Ista and produced a pudding that tantalized everyone. Of course, Fiona presented the dessert to Terin as baby food–and delighted as Igen’s headwoman turned nearly as red as the food in front of her.
So chicken survives as a word. Given that supposedly nothing tastes like it, or everything does, I’m not going to think too hard about it. Mostly because egg-layers definitely were going to exist on Pern as part of the diet, and I suspect that chickens thrive in a lot of different environments.
I’m also…interested is the wrong word, but it’s close enough, in that both of the boys are making meat dishes with sauce and spice while Fiona creates the dessert with fruit and rice, as if perpetuating, subtly or otherwise, that grilling and meat is man’s province, fruit and rice and dessert is woman’s. I’m thrilled there’s no shaming of the men doing cooking and being, by all accounts, fucking awesome at it. I’m just unhappy that we didn’t continue in the theme of “Fiona can stir-fry, so she handles the meat things while the boys produce salads and sides.” Because she’s the one with the most on-camera experience, and meat, generally speaking, is the most expensive part of any meal and the easiest to get wrong.
What I am not interested in, however, is that this teasing about birthdays and the like seems to be taking a more sinister direction, bent on embarrassing each other. And, for some people, that might be the best expression of affection they have, but it seems like the thing that can easily trip over into hazing and bullying. Or retaliation. And T’mar is uninterested in playing, as he “firmly deflected every effort” to find out when his birthday is. Fiona gets K’rall to help out with that, and T’mar has some reservations about whether K’rall will actually defer to Fiona once he’s healthy, but Fiona says that so long as her dragon is queen at Igen, everyone else will fall in line. And Fiona continues to think that T’mar might be seeing her in a different light. (She’s still thirteen.)
When K’rall returns to the dining hall, Fiona accidentally leads everyone in toasting his continued good health. She worries she’s overdone it, which T’mar confirms with a small shake of his head. K’rall asks what he can do for Fiona, and she immediately sets him to a useful task.
“One thing that I absolutely require is for you to start rounds with the other injured riders,” she replied promptly. K’rall raised his eyes at that but Fiona persisted. “It’s vital that injured riders see other riders recovered from their wounds–”
“Gives them hope,” K’rall murmured approvingly. His eyes twinkled and his craggy features creased as he said, “You’ve your father’s way with words, my lady.”
Fiona tells him to hush because he’s using his face muscles too much and they might strain, and the topic shifts to the problem of recognition points in the wrong time and the proposed stars and planets time system. Which they really already should know.
And K’rall provides a date to Terin that she says will be perfect and K’rall, when he sees what the plan is for T’mar, declares T’mar will hate it with a wide grin. Which brings this much closer to “someone should check in and see what T’mar actually wants, not charge ahead with their own plans to embarrass him.” I admit that I have a serious embarrassment squick, especially over things that other people might consider harmless or fun stories to tell, but this seems like the sort of thing that would backfire horribly if it weren’t under the complete control of an author.
Fiona’s opinion of K’rall improves with his recovery.
In the week since his first dinner in the Dining Cavern, her respect and affection for the gruff old rider had grown immensely. K’rall was less conservative in his thinking than Fiona had initially guessed. In face, she realized that a lot of what she’d branded as hidebound in his behavior was more a result of caution and a certain amount of fear of failure. And a lot of that fear, Fiona had decided, had vanished with his first Thread injury and its slow recovery.
Father always said that many sticks-in-the-mud were saplings trying to grow new leaves after winter, Fiona reminded herself.
And Fiona thinks about what kind of assurance it would be to Bemin of this time to see that his daughter had grown up “healthy wise, and strong under his parenting.” K’rall says she’s too young to go see him, which is good advice for stopping the immediate idea.
I would squash the idea by saying the premise is wrong. I don’t think Bemin’s parenting had much to do with anything, other than maybe helping to prepare Fiona for a role she would have to accept at far too young an age, regardless of whether it was Lady Holder or Weyrwoman. I am similarly disinclined to follow Fiona’s idea that K’rall is actually more liberal, genial, and showing his true self now that he’s much more healed, given how much he refused to work with Terin and Fiona before. Injury makes grumpy assholes out of a lot of us, but it’s a pretty big ask to say that K’rall turned around that much. I’d be more inclined to think that he’s behaving well because he thinks the Weyrwoman is flirting with him (still thirteen!) and flattering him.
The actual thing Fiona has planned is to celebrate Impression Day for T’mar and the other riders, with weyrlings delivering small cakes to riders and a big cake having been prepared for T’mar. Because it’s not actually malicious or embarrassing (and because the author controls the reactions of the characters), T’mar is stunned, and K’rall approves of the idea and wonder why they hadn’t already thought about it. Fiona suggests it will be a Weyr tradition soon enough.
It makes sense to celebrate Impression Day for dragonriders, as it’s usually the day they think of their lives changing for the better. It’s also a group celebration for those that are present, so it avoids singling anyone specifically out. Except Fiona made the biggest cake for T’mar, so he was singled out, sort of.
The next bit of narrative is relief that the traders are coming back to resupply the Weyr, so there’s another ice run made to have material on hand. When the traders say they can’t move that quantity of ice, Fiona says she’s anticipated that response, which earns her another “soul of a trader” comment, because Fiona says they’ll hold back a hundredweight of ice for the wherhold, on the assumption that the traders know where Aleesa is. Which they do, and Fiona volunteers herself as the person to go, since she’s the one who has the most knowledge of how her past is supposed to turn out and she looks like a harmless young girl, so she’s the least likely person to get shot at.
I’ll bet your father wishes you were a boy,” T’mar replied, shaking his head in admiration.
“I’m quite happy being a woman,” Fiona said, smiling.
And Fiona is absolutely wrong about not getting shot at. The problem is that, instead of making her think and exercise caution, it only makes her angrier.
“Oh, this is too much,” Fiona muttered angrily to herself. She was scared, but she was angrier than she was scared and she knew that that meant someone was going to come off the worse for it–and not her.
Getting shot at again pisses Fiona off enough that she starts yelling at the people shooting at her. Which doesn’t actually help anything, except that Fiona gets Talenth to prove she’s the real thing by having her talk to Arelsk, which does actually improve the situation, because it puts Fiona firmly in the category of prophesied person, rather than intruding girl. It also allows for a very deft retcon.
A smile crossed Fiona’s lips as she sent a silent thank-you to tree late ex-dragonrider [Mikal], wondering to herself if his Sight came from trader blood.
This way, the crystal energy and folk magic weird guy turns out to have been someone with precognitive abilities and totally an integral part of the narrative. If this was planned, someone was apparently banking on being able to do this several books in the future, not really worrying that much about whether the series would get canceled before this payoff could be put into place. Much more likely, this was something the author came up with as a way of making the plot move that didn’t cause too much (more) of a continuity snarl than had already happened.
Having managed to prove herself, Fiona forges ahead and explains the future to Arella and Jaythen enough for them to understand the dire straits the dragonriders are in. And again tells, with greater details, the story of cuddling with, and then hunting tunnel-snakes with, Forsk. The key part in this version of the tale is how Fiona always deflected, changed the subject, and said things that carried the implication that she wasn’t putting herself into danger so that she never actually had to promise to not hunt tunnel snakes. This kind of Exact Words manipulation has Jaythen recalling other devious folk and Arella agreeing that they’re all women and that he should keep that in mind.
Fiona then gets to get actual proposal: a safe hold for the wherholders in exchange for the queen egg. After a certain amount of “Come on, don’t bullshit me” about whether Fiona can deliver on that promise that involves disclosing more of the future, everyone seems willing to talk. Because Fiona can’t quite keep from saying enough of the name, Arella deduces who it’s for, but also points out she currently has a green (Kisk-Nuelsk). This puts Fiona back into “don’t bullshit us” territory with the wherhold, who are ready to throw her out. So Fiona tries to press her lack of advantage through sheer aggravation.
Tears of rage and disappointment threatened to overwhelm Fiona. She sat there, shaking her head. “No,” she murmured to herself. “No, it has to be this way!”
With the speed of a tunnel snake, Jaythen whipped around, wrapped his hand tightly around her arm, and yanked her off the floor. “No, it doesn’t, holder girl!” he shouted, propelling her toward the exit.
Fiona turned back, determined not to leave only to find herself twirled tightly against his chest, a gleam of metal suddenly visible down by her neck, just below her line of sight.
“Don’t think I won’t!” Jaythen whispered in her ear, his words filled with a desperation and a longing that seemed like madness to Fiona.
There seems to be a running theme in Todd’s books that dudes cannot be trusted to understand anything and Pern’s patriarchy is so built-in that for a woman to be listened to, she has to hold some sort of power over the man she wants to get to do something. I don’t think this is an intentional theme, any more than Anne’s depiction of Pernese patriarchy was intentional and thought-through. But everywhere Fiona goes, there’s an old dude standing in her way and refusing to listen. H’nez, K’rall, and now Jaythen. K’lior sometimes, too, when he’s in “bros before hos” mode, and Cisca went along with that. Before that, nobody really wanted to help Lorana out or investigate the whys of Tullea’s mood shift, and there was the whole bit where Kindan and Vaxoram fought over the honor of the girls, and how Kindan brought the entire patriarchy down on his head for sleeping in the same bed as Koraina. And speaking of Cisca, the parallel running theme through these books seems to be that the most effective power that women have to get men to do what they want is sex appeal. Fiona gets her best results when she’s flirty, Cisca seems to do the same, Kelsa wins with Bemin because she’s attractive to him.
It’s a great example of how science fiction tends to reflect the culture that is written in, especially when it’s trying to imagine something that’s completely different from current society. Because Pern is focused on the dragons and the Thread and the insistence that hereditary monarchy is the form of government Randians with a pastoral fetish will go to when their personal Galt’s Gulches are threatened, there hasn’t been any questioning of the idea that the men are indisputably in charge when push comes to shove, even if the queen dragon can force other dragons to do what she wants. Even in this space, where Todd puts acknowledging and trying to reconcile some of the Early Installment Weirdness around Lessa’s abilities, it ends up not making a difference. Sure, queen riders can control minds, but it only works on the weak-minded, and bronze riders are trained from early on to resist that power, so the status quo is preserved.
And this unexamined privilege shows a weakness, or a deliberate decision, at least one of the two (could be both) in how this situation came to be and will be resolved. Because Talenth has already said hello to Arelsk, so Fiona’s claim about being a dragonrider is true. Which should give her enough breathing room for everyone else to evaluate her other claims. Now, Jaythen has been portrayed fairly consistently as someone who hates dragonriders and might be suffering from mental illness, but he’s allowed to take control of the situation through physical means despite Arella having a channel where she could ask about the truth value of Fiona’s statements, through Arelsk.
Fiona, for her part, assesses her situation as life-threatening and, having been unable to achieve a diplomatic solution, decides to use her power of compulsion to get herself out of immediate harm.
She paused, her blood pounding in her veins even as she forced herself to speak calmly, quietly, using all of the power Cisca had cautioned her against, saying, “Put the knife down.”
“You’d best do it now,” an elderly voice said harshly from behind them. “Or by the First Egg, I’ll send your Jaysk between forever.” Aleesa.
To put it mildly, that is exactly wrong. There’s no resolution as to whether Fiona succeeded, Jaythen resisted, if anyone could feel what was going on, nothing! Because even the possibility that Fiona might exercise power over a man not of her dragon’s clutch and that is far older than her is too much to play out. Fiona, remember, was wowed at by Cisca and K’lior about how much of that power she had, but she hasn’t had a single success she can attribute to herself and that power other than Melanwy, and Melanwy is suffering from dementia.
Instead, Aleesa shows up and makes a direct threat at Jaythen, exercising the power she definitely has over him by threatening his watch-wher. It’s not a physical overpowering or a mental one, but threatening his weak point to get him to behave. In the face of an authority that can hurt him, Jaythen behaves. Because of the fact that dragons will obey their queen, dragonriders behave. Because he desperately wants another child, Bemin behaves.
Even this next segment, after Aleesa very firmly tells everyone to do what Fiona asks, where Fiona appeals to Kindan’s trip to the wherhold, follows the pattern.
When Jaythen drew breath to argue, she [Aleesa] cut him off with a chopping motion. “You know better than to raise a hand to a woman, or did you forget why we helped Kindan?”
“You helped me that day,” Fiona said, forcing her voice to be calm and controlled, turning around and raising her eyes up to the older man. “If Kindan hadn’t defeated Vaxoram, none would have survived at Fort Hold.”
“Or here,” Arella said. “If it weren’t for Kindan standing up for a woman’s right to follow her dreams, there would have been no one to remember us, no dragonriders to come to our aid.
Jaythen is unconvinced, and the argument itself rings hollow, because Kindan beating Vaxoram is one man physically dominating another and subsequently enforcing his will on his social sphere. So long as Kindan believes in letting women dream and is willing to back that belief with his fists or swords, that space exists. In his absence, women do not enjoy any of those dreaming possibilities. If Kelsa had beaten Vaxoram, and the next challenger, and Nonala started giving bloody noses, and Kindan provided aid, support, and being a useful second to them, that space would be more firmly established, but even then, it forces Kelsa and Nonala to play by the rules of the patriarchy and win their right to be themselves by proving themselves better than any of the men around them, in a way they have to recognize. Much like the patriarchy at home, there’s no winning the game in any way where a woman’s legitimacy isn’t dependent on the men around her choosing to recognize it. And that’s despite there being actual ways that women can obtain and hold power over men that isn’t dependent on men legitimizing them.
It’s one tiny thing, but it speaks volumes about what assumptions are left unchallenged on Pern. It’s yet another reason why transformative fandom brings their toolbox to the yard when they want to play on Pern – there’s a lot of repair work to be done.
Aleesa tells Fiona about Mikal’s last word when Fiona mentions the name of the queen watch-wher from her time, and they’re both the same thing, so Aleesa is on board with the whole plan because she sees the inevitability of it coming to pass. (And chuckles at Fiona’s attempts to hide where the other seer she’s met resides.) Aleesa warns Fiona against believing she knows how things will come to pass, when all she knows is that they will, and after everything is settled, Fiona ends up taking a nap as the adrenaline leaves her.
Talenth wakes Fiona with the news that Aleesa and Aleesk are outside, and Fiona realizes that Aleesa has decided it’s time for her and Aleesk to take a one-way to hyperspace themselves. Fiona asks Talenth to wake Jaythen and Arella and have them meet her outside. Where Fiona catches Aleesa before she can “go in peace”, as Aleesa puts it, she demands that Aleesa say goodbye to her daughter, because even though she was two, Fiona didn’t get to have her mother say goodbye to her.
Arella wants to plead with Aleesa not to leave, but she has one final part of Mikal’s prophecy to use against her daughter.
“Mikal told me–that was my secret.” Fiona felt the old woman smiling toward her. “He said I’d be seen off by a Weyrwoman, with all honor.”
Fiona felt tears welling in her eyes as she clasped her hands together and bowed low to the old woman and her watch-wher.
“WherMaster, on behalf of all Pern, I honor you,” she said, her voice catching on the word “honor”.
“Arella,” Aleesa said, looking toward her daughter, “I’m sorry I was such a hard mother. You deserved better.”
Arella could make no reply, her eyes streaming with tears. She shook her head helplessly.
“Jaythen,” Aleesa went on, then shook her head in exasperation. “You are the most difficult, stubborn, angry excuse for a man I’ve ever known.” She paused long enough for him to react, before adding, “But I love you like you were part of my heart.” She continued sadly, “You should not be the leader of the wherhold but its hunter and protector.”
“I think I’d like that,” Jaythen admitted. “I’m not good with people.”
Aleesa snorted in agreement before turning back to Fiona. “Now, I’ve said my good-byes. It’s time for me to leave.
Fiona rushed forward beyond Aleesa and knelt at Aleesk’s side, her hands cupped together. “Let me help you mount.”
“I’m sorry we didn’t have more time together,” Aleesa said as she accepted Fiona’s aid and climbed up on the back of her gold. “I’m sure our fights would have been legendary.”
I certainly agree with you there, Aleesa. And with your assessment that Jaythen needs to be a hunter and protector and basically never interact with anybody who isn’t already fully integrated into the community unless it’s to throw them out or kill them. Because Jaythen has been the cause of most of the problems the wherhold has experienced on the way to legitimacy.
The rest of the chapter is Fiona heading to Mine Natalon, getting attacked by an injured guard dog, trying to get away from it while still carrying the queen egg, having someone shoot at the dog but be worried about hitting Fiona, eventually getting Talenth to teleport the dog away far enough so the archer can kill it, and then collapsing and passing out from her injuries.
Which is an awkward spot to end a chapter, but there we are. Next week, we have more of the past being experienced by someone from the future.