Dragonheart: Real Training

Last time, Zenor and Nuella got married and got made official members of the nobility, and another group of dragonriders made a leap forward in time, having healed sufficiently to make the trip. The only remaining group now is the weyrlings, whose dragons have to mature and develop into adults.

Dragonheart, Chapter 18: Content Notes: Embarrassment squick, hazing, terrible methods of instruction,

Weyrling and rider,
First jump, no higher.
Glide to ground,
Then go round.

(Igen Weyr, Early Morning, AL 499.13.11)

The chapter starts with Fiona “pestering T’mar” about when the young weyrlings are going to be able to officially start flying, which she apparently starts on her fifteenth birthday. From the beginning of the last chapter, a full Turn has passed, apparently without incident or anything useful to the narrative other than what was in the last chapter. Eventually, T’mar relents and lets the weyrlings, including Fiona, apply riding straps to their dragons. Then chides them for too much exuberance.

The first day, with straps on, T’mar inspects them and offers corrections, and then tells them to take the straps off and have the dragons glide.

The next day things were much better, but T’mar ordered them once again to remove their harnesses before the dragons flew.
“If one harness is wrong, they are all wrong,” T’mar said when the chorus of groans arose from the collected weyrlings.
“Whose harness was wrong?” Fiona asked.
“You don’t know?” T’mar replied, shaking his head sadly.
Fiona’s face burned with shame.
“Tomorrow, we get here before T’mar and we check everyone’s harness,” F’jian said.
The next day, to everyone’s intense relief, T’mar allowed the dragons to fly with their harnesses on.
“We’ll keep that up for the next sevenday,” he said, sounding pleased.
“I’ll bet they get did this to the other weyrlings,” Fiona muttered rebelliously to F’jian.
“Maybe not,” F’jian said with a shrug. “But of it makes us safer riders, what’s the harm in it?”
Fiona couldn’t say anything in response, suddenly recalling her angry exchange with T’mar Turns back and ahead at Fort Weyr.

T’mar, you’re an

This is not the way to do instruction! The first part, where corrections are offered, is the way to go. Yes, because it is a situation that could be life and death, sure, you can insist that each previous phase has to be done consistently perfectly by everyone before moving on to the next, but if someone asks what’s wrong, that’s an indication they need help recognizing what isn’t obvious to them yet. If you mock them for not knowing, you only establish that you are an asshole and should not be teaching, if it can be avoided. (Which, of course, it can’t.)

On that reasoning, we can also add the older weyrlings into the group of “people who are assholes,” based on how they react to the next exercise the weyrlings have to do – fill sandbags to their exact weight, equally distributed between left and right sides and checked with a balance beam.

The older weyrlings, however, found the whole exercise hilarious and were now lined up every morning, jeering the weyrlings and cheering the wingleader.
“We’ll get up before everyone,” Fiona swore one morning. Her words were met with a growl of approval from the rest of the weyrlings.

This is a terrible learning environment now, as well. I’m sure that the “we’ll show them all” attitude is exactly what they’re trying to engender, but the drum major academy I attended managed to produce this same “we’ll get there early” result without mockery or humiliation by explaining to us that while instruction started at 9, it was always curious to see everyone out and practicing by 8. We all caught the implication. Which made it fun that for the last day of the academy, they mentioned that things started at 9, and for that day, they never saw anyone at all before 9. Point taken.

What T’mar and the older weyrlings are doing is sabotaging the camaraderie between groups. If they intend for the young weyrlings to develop as a cohesive group, fine, but when it’s all done and the weyrlings are made full dragonriders, they’re going to have to undo all of this work to bring them into the fold as a full fighting unit. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people end up in the stuffing suits over all of this. Or if someone takes some Thread to the face because someone remembered who hazed them and is just a little bit slower than they could have been in resupplying their dragon, or leaves just a little bit of Thread behind to get back at their torturer. Or just flat refuses to be in any wing with any of them because they can’t achieve the required unit cohesion with someone who was an asshole to them.

T’mar’s instructional style continues to suck. After the weyrling dragons are able to carry perfectly balanced loads for several days, they head up to glide with the full weight still on them.

“I don’t think this is right,” she said to F’jian’s surprise. “Don’t you think T’mar would insist on them flying first with a lighter load to strengthen their muscles?”
“But they’ve been gliding for Turns!” F’jian protested. Fiona glanced toward T’mar and noted how the bronze rider stood, impassively looking their way.
“T’mar,” she called. “Shouldn’t we start with less weight?”
T’mar’s face slowly creased with a smile and he nodded.
“It was another test!” F’jian groaned beside her as he rushed to remove half the sandbags from Ladirth’s load.
Two full sevendays passed before the dragons were permitted to glide with their riders’ full weight in sand.
And then–
“No sandbags tomorrow,” T’mar said as the last dragon glided back down to the ground, landing lightly, his eyes whirling in shades of green with pleasure.
“No sandbags,” Fiona repeated, having learned always to repeat the wingleader’s orders for confirmation.

You know what was always one of the worst complaints about old adventure games? Trial-and-Error Gameplay, especially when those errors were lethal or worse, would screw up your gamestate such that when you came to a later puzzle, you had lost or used the thing you now definitely needed to use in this new situation. There tended not to be hints that you had messed things up, and in several memorable instances, an item that was permanently missable in the first segment of the game was essential to success in the last segment of the game, and there were no hints or other indications that the key had been missed until you were confronted with the lock.

Which is to say, if you only learn the correct procedure by someone indicating where you’ve messed up, after you’ve already messed up, your instructor is an asshole. If, however, this is supposed to be T’mar having told them and then silently not giving them any hints or instructions to see whether they remember it all correctly, that’s less assholery, but I don’t think that’s what we’re supposed to get out of these secret tests.

Repeating back what you’ve heard to someone for understanding is generally good practice, but the way it’s written in this snippet, and the way T’mar has been so far, makes me think that T’mar changes his orders if they’re not repeated back to him exactly the way he gave them or if someone leaves to do something without repeating them back to him. Because those would be the dickish things to do.

In any case, without sandbags means actual riders on board, and Fiona is ready to begin, but before she lets Talenth glide down, she has another insight.

Ready? Talenth asked excitedly.
Wait a moment, Fiona said, turning to look down at T’mar–he looked smaller from this height–asking, “Can you check my straps, wingleader?”
T’mar smiled as she passed another one of his silent tests and walked around Talenth’s neck, inspecting the straps from both sides and tugging on them.

It’s good practice to have someone check your work, yes, but if it’s another one of T’mar’s silent tests, it means that he wasn’t going to tell Fiona where she messed up and would force her to divine it after he had already called off the practice for the day because someone messed up on one of his secret tests. Frankly, it’s a wonder they’ve gotten as far as they have, if the person who’s supposed to be teaching them is laying gotcha traps for them every step of the way and forcing them to do it all perfectly without any help. If this is how all weyrlings get taught, no wonder they fall apart when forced to react to the real situation of Thread. They’ve never had to face a situation where they made a mistake and have to scramble or salvage it and keep going, instead of having to reset to the beginning and start again. In the basics, you want something to be drilled until it’s automatic, but after that point, you want to have a certain amount of reactive ability (and improvisation) in your people so that when, inevitably, it does not go according to plan, they can reform, regroup, shore themselves up, and continue to be effective. Wingleaders, potential Weyrleaders, and Weyrwomen should all be taught and given practice at handling situations where they are at disadvantage against the simulated opposition and see if they can find ways of getting around the problem, so that way they can react appropriately when they find themselves in that problem or something like it.

The weyrlings each take their gliee with a rider three times (T’mar says to always do things three times) and do that drill for two months before they actually start what T’mar officially calls weyrling training. J’keran leans into Finoa and suggests that T’mar was especially hard on her group because she was in it. Fiona, for her part, wants to continue with the training, but that, for her, requires finding a flamethrower to use. She brings it up with Azeez, who immediately tries to dissuade her from obtaining one, if it’s of the same type that gets used in the Holds.

“All the flamethrowers I know use the old firestone,” Azeez said with a grimace. “They’re prone to explode.”
“They won’t work with proper firestone?” T’mar asked, curious.
“No, they rely on mixing stone and water to produce flame,” Azeez said.

Cocowhat by depizan

That doesn’t make any sense, even if it “solves” the problem from a few chapters ago of how the flamethrowers operate. Because flamestone (the differentiating name for those who don’t want to call it “old firestone”) is extremely volitaile and highly reactive with water. And at this level of technology, I am highly doubtful that they can manufacture any sort of controlled burn or mechanism that prevents the reaction from immediately running its way back up into the fuel tank and exploding messily. The science doesn’t work for me. If someone can explain how this rock and water can be used for a controlled burn reaction with enough of a chance that they won’t die that someone might willingly use it, I would be very interested in how that works. (If it uses the “grease” that was supposedly used on flamestone to make it usable and transportable in humid conditions, that would be interesting, too.)

For the purposes of the plot, Fiona suggests first Stirger, then Zenor and Terregar, as someone who could put together a flamethrower that could run on the new firestone, and also keep it secret for long enough that it wouldn’t be in common usage when they return to their originating time. Which would have the same problems as the old flamethrower, really, unless the new firestone had a higher threshold to react with and would only consistently ignite far enough away to avoid a reaction running back up the fuel line. They’d probably have to do something different to create the new flamethrower. Not that they could extract dragon stomach acid, but if they could find or concoct an acid that wouldn’t eat the tank or somehow capture and pressurize the gas that came off of the firestone reaction and mixed it with enough liquid to generate napalm or something like it that could be passed through a flame and controlled that way. But that engineering knowledge would likely be gained through several probably-lethal experiments and accidents.

The dragons continue to practice gliding, with various child-size weights on them. After another two months, T’mar says everyone is ready to fly, and the honor of first flight goes to Fiona, who says she’ll only do it if she gets to have Terin as passenger as well. T’mar asks about Fiona’s weight. Seven stone, Fiona says, and adds that Terin’s not more than five stone, which is well under the amount of weight Talenth has already carried. T’mar gives his assent, “swatting Terin lightly on the butt, sending her on her way.” It goes well, although Talenth is a little mischievous about following directions of how high to go and how gently to come back down the first time.

After first flight, there’s one last thing to do, according to T’mar.

“There is one final tradition for new riders that must be observed,” he intoned solemnly. He arranged the thirty-three riders in three tightly-spaced ranks, with Fiona in the middle of the first rank.
“Close your eyes,” he ordered. “Keep them closed until I say you may open them.”
There was a rustle and breeze from dragon wings above them and then suddenly–
“Shards!” “Oh, that’s cold!” “Eeek!”
Before Fiona could twitch a muscle, she was drenched, head to toe in something that was very cold, very wet, and very smelly.
“You may open your eyes, dragonriders,” T’mar intoned solemnly. When Fiona opened her eyes, she found that the weyrlings were all surrounded by the older riders, who were all laughing hysterically.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” T’mar barked to the drenched dragonriders. “Into the water with you!”
Fiona needed no urging and found herself rushing past the other still-befuddled weyrlings to dive into the shallow lake and wash off the worst of the stench that engulfed her.
“When you’re quite done,” T’mar drawled, enjoying himself as much as the older weyrlings, “you may disperse to your quarters.” He paused. “You will have much work to do tomorrow.”

Hazing has no real place in camaraderie. You can have ritual and bonding and initiation and it doesn’t have to be cruel, embarrassing, or humiliating. I’m sure that the authors believe that after all of this, the riders will have a shared bond that will be unbreakable because of their shared torture, and that they’ll go on to enjoy doing it to the next crop of weyrlings, once they go back to their own time and have a new crop, but there are probably several of the newly-initiated that feel very little other than resentment toward their tormentors, even if they’ve finally joined the dragonriders club. I would enjoy it very much if several of those dragonriders resolved not to do such things to their own juniors and made their complaints to the Weyrleader, when they return to Fort, about the treatment received while they were growing up. And if K’lior isn’t listening, to make those same complaints to Cisca, backed by Fiona’s recounting of what happened. I don’t think anything will happen, not until Fiona ascends to Senior status, because people are very good at rationalizing terrible things as “harmless fun” when they get the opportunity to do it to other people, but Fiona might remember what happened to her and decide to put a stop to it.

Plus, as they continue to drill and learn and come fully into the craft of the dragonrider, “The older weyrlings took particular delight in attempting to catch out Fiona, F’jian, or J’nos” in the quizzing and testing that could happen at any time to the weyrlings. Which means the learning environment hasn’t actually improved, even though they’ve been initiated. And I’m sure everyone engaging in this pop-quizing with a focus on the leaders of the young weyrling cohort would justify it by saying leaders needed to know the material better than anyone else, but they’re not actually helping anything but those three’s stress levels and making it more terrible for them. I do not have experience with military service basic training camps, but it seems like that was the model being used for all of this dragonrider training montage, but remember that these are children of fourteen, fifteen, and possibly younger being put through this training. They’re creating child soldiers. This is at least some degree worse than what we saw in the Harper Hall for hazing and terribleness of instruction, because they’re being given weapons of war and indoctrinated into a mindset that says they’re the most powerful people on the planet. Small wonder that most of the people around them that aren’t dragonriders see them primarily through the lens of people bullying and abusing their power.

On their first long flight in formation, from Weyr to wherhold, it turns out Fiona regrets greatly not taking a last trip to the necessary, and by the time she and T’mar land, away from the formation that brough them there, Fiona dashes off to relieve herself, very unhappy with T’mar for keeping her up in the air and mounted far longer than everyone else. She asks him why he’s set them down here instead of with the rest, and he mocks her for asking the question.

“Why did we land here, Weyrwoman?” T’mar repeated challengingly.
Fiona swore silently to herself, meeting his mocking look squarely while she thought. “It’s a test, obviously,” Fiona replied, trying not to sound like she was playing for time–which she was, of course.
T’mar nodded.
[…Fiona works out that its a test for F’jian to see if he will make his proper courtesies and then send the dragons and riders over to where they are to refresh themselves…]
“And the test for me…” She trailed off, thinking hard, and then inspiration struck. “Is to see if I’m willing to let F’jian figure this out on his own!”
As if in response, they heard the rustle of dragon wings and the sky darkened as the small flight rushed into a landing near the river’s edge.
“Very good,” T’mar said with a congratulatory nod. “And why is it that you need this test, Weyrwoman?”
“Because a leader who doesn’t let her juniors learn on their own is no leader at all,” Fiona replied.
T’mar’s lips curved upward approvingly. “And so, what are your orders, Weyrwoman?”
“Orders?” Fiona replied, arching an eyebrow and matching his grin. “I expect I’ll be asking F’jian what he plans to do next.”
“Very good!”

ABSOLUTELY NOT. That is one hundred percent ass-backwards. A good leader does let their people learn on their own, but also provides them with guidance and feedback so that they can improve in places they don’t know they’re lacking. And gives them praise in the things they’re doing well. Now, there’s something that can be said for stepping back and letting someone lead, with the understanding that if they are going to do something that’s really not in the best interests of anyone, you’ll step in and make sure the bad things don’t happen. But, again, the way it’s phrased, and based on how T’mar has been given these tests, it sounds way much more like “throw F’jian into the deep end and see if he swims or not, and offer no help at all if he flounders.”

Plus, that the “correct” answer for Fiona is to wait until F’jian has made a decision about what to do next is teeth-grinding. She’s still Weyrwoman. Even when she has a Weyrleader with her, she’s going to be expected to have plans and suggestions about what to do next. But, apparently, she’s supposed to defer to F’jian and go along with whatever he has in mind, regardless of what she thinks about it.

Fiona is having her domain of power restricted to what others think she should have, and that power does not include decisions on how and where the dragons should be flying. Fiona is being finalized into the box that she’s been prepared for all of this time. She might still have some sway in the Weyr, about what happens in the Weyr, but she’s having what power she had taken away from her and shifted to the men around her. Not that she had a whole lot of power to start with, but beforehand, she would have volunteered her opinion or done something, instead of waiting for someone else to act and following them. This could be interpreted as a sign of growing wisdom, in that Fiona is not immediately volunteering her opinion on things, but I can’t really see it that way.

There’s one more major event for Chapter 18 before it finishes, and once we get done with that, the remaining chapters are much shorter than this one and 17 have been, so that’s good. More next week.

9 thoughts on “Dragonheart: Real Training

  1. genesistrine January 9, 2020 at 3:24 pm

    Aaargh, I’m taking over the comments again. I don’t think I’ve ever managed all five most recent yet, but…

    (Also you’ve mixed up Lorana and Fiona in the first para.)

    Hazing has no real place in camaraderie

    Plus haven’t we had all kinds of warnings about how riders (or bronze riders at least) shouldn’t piss off the Weyrwoman? Does chucking literal piss over her not count? Just a prank, bro? Don’t you have a sense of humour?

    the way it’s phrased, and based on how T’mar has been giving these tests, it sounds way much more like “throw F’jian into the deep end and see if he swims or not, and offer no help at all if he flounders.”

    The only these “tests” have taught Fiona is how to rationalise shittiness. They’re precision-targeted for that. They’re to teach her to look at someone acting like an arsehole and invent a reason for it that may or may not be correct.

    Well, that and “people in authority are always right and never need to explain themselves” for everyone who isn’t Fiona, and apparently isn’t being asked to figure out a rationale, just told to follow imperfectly comprehended orders and then yelled at if they don’t get them right. It’s operant conditioning, but not even bothering with the rewards. They’re child soldiers, and we’re watching them be indoctrinated. By people who were no doubt indoctrinated in exactly the same way. and no-one will ever dare speak up because TRAAADITION.

    But, apparently, she’s supposed to defer to F’jian and go along with whatever he has in mind, regardless of what she thinks about it.

    I think it’s a bit more than that – she’s supposed to defer to F’jian (or whichever bronze rider), go along with whatever he has in mind, then come up with a reason why that was the right thing to do and convince herself that was why he did it.

    Because that’s what a Good Weyrwoman does.

    GOD this book is creepy.

  2. Silver Adept January 9, 2020 at 7:45 pm

    Thank you, have caught and fixed the wrong name.

    Yes, this book is super-creepy. But we’re not suppose to see this, I’m guessing, in our exuberance to watch as everyone gets turned into Real Dragonriders and has their Training Montage and succeeds. Oh, it would be so nice to have Fiona wash herself off, and then ask if Talenth would please and kindly repeatedly make sure that the responsible riders always get thrown off by their dragons into the lake every time they come back from doing something. Or asks Terin to find out who is responsible and make sure they get served nothing but porridge for every meal for however long the Weyrwoman’s grudge against them lasts. Fiona’s supposed to be legendary with her temper and her grudge-holding ability, so let’s see it at work. Let’s watch as Igen Weyr becomes downright miserable because someone had the stupid idea to dump piss on the Weyrwoman as part of initiation and now Terin is the only person in the Weyr who can go about their business unaffected by Fiona’s anger. Instead, it’s all about how Fiona needs to take her agency and shove it in an oubliette so that she can be the perfect Weyrwoman to every bronze rider that ever is.

  3. alexeigynaix January 9, 2020 at 11:02 pm

    Let’s watch as Igen Weyr becomes downright miserable because someone had the stupid idea to dump piss on the Weyrwoman as part of initiation and now Terin is the only person in the Weyr who can go about their business unaffected by Fiona’s anger.

    that would be brilliant

  4. genesistrine January 10, 2020 at 2:03 pm

    @Silver Adept: this book is super-creepy. But we’re not supposed to see this, I’m guessing

    That’s honestly one of the things that’s creeping me out – the abuse and gaslighting are such strong features that it’s hard to believe they’re not deliberate, but there’s no sign of any authorial awareness that this is all awful.

    On the other hand, if this pattern of character behaviour is unconscious, what kind of person would write that, agent it, edit it, publish it without noticing? Ugh.

    Fiona’s supposed to be legendary with her temper and her grudge-holding ability, so let’s see it at work. Let’s watch as Igen Weyr becomes downright miserable because someone had the stupid idea to dump piss on the Weyrwoman

    Oh god yes. *Yes*. Show not tell! Let’s see Fiona’s temper in action! Let’s see what a queen dragon with a grudge can do to a Weyr! Let’s see why the older riders are so scared of the idea that they brainwash young teens into compliance!

  5. Firedrake January 12, 2020 at 12:14 pm

    From a chemical point of view, if you dump water on (red) phosphorus you get phosphine gas (very poisonous, and if not highly purified spontaneously inflammable). I assumed, when reading the early books, that something like that was meant to be going on (combined with draconic metabolism).

    The way you’d use that is to dump the phosphorus onto the thing you wanted to burn, then add water; it can’t burn back up the line if there’s only water in the line. But this isn’t going to look a lot like any flamethrower we’d recognise.

  6. genesistrine January 12, 2020 at 1:10 pm

    Yeah, that’s the reaction (Pernese) dragons use to breathe fire – from Dragonflight:

    As one, dragons swiveled their wedge-shaped heads to their riders for firestone. Great jaws macerated the hunks. The fragments were swallowed and more firestone was demanded. Inside the beasts, acids churned and the poisonous phosphines were readied. When the dragons belched forth the gas, it would ignite in the air into ravening flame to sear the Threads from the sky. And burn them from the soil.

    How they manage to not explode doing it is a completely different and never-tackled question (that I think Terry Pratchett may have asked himself, given their appearance in Ankh-Morpork).

    Weren’t flamethrowers mentioned as being powered by agenothree recently anyway? Did someone point out that the flamethrowers and agenothree sprayers were originally distinct items?

  7. Firedrake January 12, 2020 at 1:56 pm

    Dragonflight Part IV, Fandarel: “To sear Threads from the ground without damaging the soil may not be so easy. There are, it is true, fluids which bum and sear. We use an acid to etch design on daggers and ornamental metals. We of the Craft call it agenothree.”

    And there’s a demonstration, and “Little man, agenothree in diluted form is what you use to fertilize your plants in the spring.”

    and perhaps most crucially

    “The Mastersmith is entirely too modest,” F’lar put in. “He has already put together an ingenious device that sprays agenothree into Thread burrows and sears them into a black pulp.”

    “Not efficient. I like the idea of flame-throwers,” the smith said, his eyes gleaming in his expressionless face. “A thrower of flame,” he repeated, his eyes unfocusing. He shook his heavy head with a bone-popping crack. “I go,” and with a curt nod to the harper and the Weyrleader, he left.

    then later

    “The flamethrowers old Zurg remembered and Fandarel must reconstruct”

    (All of which is before Lessa’s Great Time Jump.)

    So that’s very clearly two different things at that point. I don’t think fuel for the flamethrowers was discussed, but they talk about pools of not-oil which would be the obvious candidates.

  8. genesistrine January 12, 2020 at 3:02 pm

    Yes, but later in the series AMC forgot they were two different things – this is from Red Star Rising / Dragonseye:

    When the main lecture was concluded, everyone was told to reassemble after the noon meal for target practice. This was vastly more interesting than having to listen to Kalvi waffle on about how to adjust the wands of the HNO3 throwers to give a long, narrow tongue of fire or a broader, shorter flame. Or how to clear the nozzle of clogged matter.

    They seem to have switched back away from that now, but I don’t remember noticing where.

  9. Silver Adept January 14, 2020 at 10:24 pm

    It probably got re-seperated about the time we realized we were telling the story of (eventually) how C’tov helped find the new firestone, I’m not sure in the narrative where that shows up, but it’s probably somewhere early on in the first Second Pass book.

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