Last time, Fiona had to get away from a mating flight in progress and took the opportunity to go back to Igen and do research about the reproductive cycle of dragons. Fiona could not find consistent exact answers, much to her frustration. Not too soon after returning and helping stand the Weyr back up again from their mating flight-induced orgies, The Asshole at Telgar telefragged his entire fighting strength because he was unable to put aside his pride for a moment and think about what the consequences of flying a sick dragon might be.
Dragonheart: Chapters 5 and 6: Content Notes: Discussion of Abuser Tactics, Kidnapping,
Weyrwoman, your duty is clear–
To the needs of the Weyr adhere,
Choose your mate with the greatest care
So all the weyrfolk will best fare.
(Fort Weyr, later [in the day than Chapter Four], 508.2.8)
I mean, it’s nice to see it spelled out so clearly here that the Weyrwoman’s most important job is to choose a good sex partner so he can run the place wisely and well. It’s a step up from being a Lady Holder, in that the Weyrwoman gets to choose from a limited set of eligible riders, instead of having her partner chosen for her by her father, but that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Chapter Five starts with Fiona heading to Telgar Weyr, since Talenth is the most senior queen not already in charge of a Weyr. (Apparently, the queens at Telgar have also died from this incident? Were they also following the bad coordinates? Were there no queens left behind as a precaution?) Fiona isn’t sure she’s up to the running of a full Weyr by herself, despite all the experience she received at Igen, but she’s going because it’s her duty. She asks for Terin and Xhinna to accompany her. Xhinna hitches a ride with her instead, along with Bekka and Seban, and when they arrive at Telgar, they realize the enormity of the work they’ll have to do to get the place running again, which is likely more of a morale problem than a logistics one, given that if only the dragonriders disappeared, all of the weyrfolk should still be there and able to run the shop under the headwoman’s direction.
As Talenth arrives, she lets out a pair of bellows that apparently say “This is mine, now, and we will prosper.” Fiona informs everyone she brought with her of this, and then the logistics mindset kicks in again. Fiona orders up klah and food when Talenth takes watch dragon spot, and is introduced to Norik, the Harper assigned to Telgar, who will have to memorialize all of what happened in song. Norik is pessimistic about the prospect of Telgar’s continuance, and Fiona gives him the business about how Telgar will thrive and fight Thread, backed by Talenth’s affirmative bugles. She introduces herself as “Fiona of Igen, Talenth’s rider,” which is her right, certainly, and also suggests that this is the best outcome for her, narratively speaking, because she’s going to want to be in charge and not simply Cisca’s second.
T’mar arrives with a promised complement of riders. F’jian mentions nearly everyone stepped forward to volunteer under Fiona, which is a good sign, but that also means Fiona has collected her longtime nemesis, H’nez. Because in the last book, he demanded, and K’lior granted, his request to transfer to the first open Weyr. And it was Telgar, as I suspected. But now it’s Fiona’s Telgar, instead of That Asshole’s.
The additional complication that comes with it is that since H’nez is the oldest bronze rider currently at Telgar, he’s interim Weyrleader. Fiona apparently doesn’t get a choice in the matter, and with that status, she can’t bounce H’nez from Telgar the moment he mouths off to her. The narrative, however, is still very invested in telling us that H’nez is not actually the asshole we’ve seen so far.
“Don’t be fooled by him,” Seban spoke up from where he sat, nodding toward H’nez, as he helped Bekka tend a pot near the hearth. Fiona shot him a surprised look and the ex-dragonrider explained, “He’s a good leader, he looks after his riders and makes them look after his dragons.”
“You were in his wing.”
“And proud of it, weyrwoman,” Seban declared. She noticed that he hadn’t stressed her title and took it for the reproof it was.
“He needs a smaller head,” she muttered.
“Unlike some,” Seban teased in response, surprising her at his hearing.
Fiona dimpled, then made a dismissive gesture with her hand and turned back to T’mar, who gave her a worried look.
[…they discuss who is interim Weyrleader, even though there’s no actual discussion…]
If H’nez noticed that he was the topic of conversation, he didn’t show it. In fact, Fiona realized, he was busy playing with some of the younger weyrfolk; he’d coaxed then out of hiding with the promise of sweets in return for work and information. He was, she admitted sourly, doing exactly what she was supposed to be doing.
Terin pops in to say that lunch will be ready soon, and Fiona sends Bekka out to meet as many people as she can in the next couple hours. The communal lunch’s logistics underway, F’jian helps Norik start the song he needs to write, and Fiona goes on to meet the women of the Weyr, after having a small stop where H’nez introduces her and helps smooth the feelings over of the children about the loss of their parents. The two of them then discuss H’nez’s temporary position and what the tradition of dragonriders is regarding vacant Weyrs (apparently, it’s “clean them out and reassign them as quickly as possible,” which is in keeping with the idea that dragonriders do not deal well with death at all, and prefer not to have to deal with that reality if they can sweep it under the rug.), and Fiona goes on to talk with the women of the Weyr.
Let’s stop and talk a little about H’nez, again, because he was doing really well being characterized as the person so locked into his traditions that he can’t ever be happy unless he’s surrounded by people who think the same way he does. He’s an old white guy who has tremendous amounts of privilege and the temerity to insist that it should be done his way, even though he’s not in charge at all. He would make a great foil for Fiona and anyone else trying to build a Weyr on better operating principles, because Fiona has seen what H’nez’s way of doing things is like and doesn’t want any of it. Instead of making him the antagonist to overcome or escape, though, everyone is making apology for him, and is showing us parts where Fiona supposedly rethinks her opinion of him after seeing that he has a range of emotion and action past being a jerk all the time.
The takeaway from this is not that H’nez is somehow a good person. He is not. The takeaway is that H’nez can choose to behave himself when he wants to, and totally not coincidentally, when he wants to is when he’s either threatened by a bigger authority or when he wants to garner sympathy to himself. For someone who has suffered under an abuser, H’nez rings a lot of bells. He’s terrible and mean to Fiona in a context where he can get away with it and not be called to the carpet, and he can be charming and good with others when it matters to him. I’m willing to bet that while he’s the temporary leader, H’nez will be in his best behavior toward everyone, in the hope that he will end up getting the Weyrleader job more permanently (at which point the façade drops). If he doesn’t get it, I fully expect him to lash out at anybody around him, but especially Fiona. And since we are seeing this narrative through Fiona’s eyes, she’s not experienced enough (or been exposed to the whisper network enough) to my grasp that H’nez is bad news, even when he doesn’t look like it. I’m pretty sure the narrator isn’t intending to give us such an accurate portrayal of an abuser, because if H’nez were actually supposed to be coded as a villain, he’d have no subtlety about it. That Fiona and the narrative treat him ambiguously to positively says he’s supposed to be read as a fundamentally good person with flare-ups of temper and a bronze rider’s ego, and he is not that thing.
As Fiona talks to the women of the Weyr, and assures them that they can find quarters for forty dragons so that none of the women who were living with dragonriders before will be displaced, we find out a few more things about the previous leadership and their decisions.
“Weyrleader D’gan [ASSHOLE] believed in the rights of the Weyr,” Vikka explained to Fiona. She jerked her head toward the blonde woman. “Tevora was a crafter’s daughter before…”
Fiona felt a moment of revulsion for the dead Weyrleader. She glanced at Tevora with renewed interest.
“Which craft?” she asked her quietly.
“Smith,” Tevora said with a snivel. “I was taken–”
“It’s an honor to be brought to the Weyr!” Shaneese snarled.
“It’s an honor when you want to go!” Tevora snapped back, advancing on the smaller woman angrily.
“No one stays at the Weyr against their will,” Fiona said, glancing around the room for any signs of similarly mistreated women.
“So you say!” Tevora shot back angrily.
“Yes,” Fiona told her. “So I say.”
This is unacceptable behavior, and a curious thing for Todd to bring forward (or backward) from Anne’s books. It’s not Our Heroes doing it, but it does make me wonder how many of the women at Fort were brought there against their will, as well. And I have a strong suspicion I know what purpose all of the unwilling (and many of the willing ones) were bright here for. If all they wanted was a Smith, they could have their pick of Smiths of any level, but they specifically went after Tevora. And while I think the narrative would like us to believe that’s specifically Telgar, I have no reason to believe any other Weyr behaves any differently.
And if I were Tevora, I would have good cause to be skeptical. Fiona is Weyrwoman in a Weyr that has, up until very recently, had all of its power and authority concentrated in the Weyrleader, who clearly didn’t give a damn about what anyone other than himself thought about the running of the place. Fiona can assert herself all she wants, but unless H’nez backs her, the dragonriders won’t do anything to fix the situation. So Fiona’s going to have to figure out how to work with H’nez, at least until she can get a different Weyrleader in charge, if she wants to make good on those promises she’s making.
Further compounding, although still realistic, is the way that other women in the group are telling Tevora that she should be proud of having been kidnapped, and probably assaulted, because rich and powerful men did it and because they are well provided for in their captivity. It’s not a pretty situation in any sort of way, and the details provided so far aren’t mitigating, they’re making it all worse.
Fiona is still reassurances for everyone, but Shaneese (the one who was just on Tevora’s case) goes hard at Fiona about giving them false hope, because there’s still no cure. When it turns out that she’s Fiona, sister of Koriana, and therefore conencted to Kindan, her assurances about how Lorana and Kindan are doing everything they can to help the dragons starts to carry more weight with them. When Fiona pivots to asking who the headwoman is, Shaneese says that’s her. Fiona gives her an out to step down, but Shaneese isn’t taking it, and we can kind of see why in the way that she starts giving orders to others to get them going back to work. She sems to be a headowman cut in Melanwy’s mold, and she’s already demosntrated a significant lack of sympathy. I wonder what will happen when she and Terin have a disagreement about how Telgar should be run, and who will emerge victorious in the tussle that will result, given how young Terin is (even though she’s very clearly capable of running a place, so long as she can get people to do what she wants).
Fiona offers to take Tevora back to the Smith hall, if she wants to go, but does so in front of Shaneese, and so what Tevora says in response may not be her actual opinion on the matter.
“When I go to the Smithcrafthall, I can bring you, if you like.”
Tevora glanced up nervously, then shook her head. “They probably think I’m dead.”
A mousy-haired woman reached over and patted her on the shoulder. “You are good with metal, Tevora, we could certainly use you here.”
“Dedelia, keep an eye on her,” Shaneese said to the mousy-haired woman. She glanced around the room and started calling out names. “Go help in the kitchen.”
To Fiona, she said, “Come on, Weyrwoman.” As she bustled out, she glanced over her shoulder and said to Dedelia, “And get them back to work, there’s clothes to be washed and mended, not to mention the weaving that’s been let go this morning.”
And thus, having ensured that Tevora will be going nowhere at all, Shaneese gives Fiona the tour of Telgar Weyr. Fiona goes along with it, possibly believing that her offer still stands and will be genuinely taken up if she says it again and Tevora wants to go, but Fiona hasn’t done enough to convince Tevora that she could actually say “Yes, I want out of this hellhole” and it would happen. Because Shaneese is the perfect headwoman for The Asshole At Telgar, who thinks it an honor to serve, and also clearly has no remorse for anyone who might want to take a small break for mourning the dragonriders that were lost. And is proud of the way that said Asshole enriched himself and the Weyr at the cost of others.
“The stocks are complete, we want for nothing.”
“We want for nothing” seemed to be a catchphrase for Shaneese and Telgar Weyr. Fiona was amazed at the amount of goods amassed in the storage rooms, at the quality of fabrics, hides, and metals that were on hand for the Weyr’s use.
“Say what you will about D’gan [ASSHOLE!], he never let the Weyr be shorted,” Shaneese said as she took in Fiona’s expression.
It’s becoming a big situation for Fiona – if she wants to rule in her way, she’s going to have to ditch H’nez and probably replace Shaneese as headwoman, once Terin has learned enough to smoothly step in and take over, with her own hierarchy of lieutenants set up to make sure there aren’t disruptions. Which isn’t to say that Fiona can’t pull it off, because she can, and already has shown that she has the ability to run a place, even if it’s not been scaled up to this kind of size. She’s just going to need a good complement of allies and loyal subordinates to do it well. And she’s going to need to make changes, because it’s also likely that The Asshole has terrible relations with all of the people sending him tithe. He might have gotten the highest quality materials, but, as we saw, he liked to do it by force, rather than by being the kind of person you would want to send your best material to because they were excellent neighbors and protectors.
During the tour of the stores, Fiona tells the keepers of the stores about Bekka and says to supply Bekka with whatever she needs from the stores. After getting the tour, Shaneese meets Terin, and apparently approves of her, at least for now. Terin mentions Mother Karina and Igen, which sends Shaneese out of the room. Terin worries she’s said something offensive, both Shaneese comes back with a box that’s a gift from Mother Karina. For you see, Shaneese is her granddaughter, and came to Telgar Weyr because Tenniz saw the future and she needed to come here. Of course, neither Tenniz nor Mother Karina are alive at this point, conveniently getting rid of the precognitive after he did his duty as The Exposition Child.
First, we are told there are two envelopes in the box, one for Fiona and one for Terin. Fiona’s envelope has a harp-shaped brooch in it, with a note expressing regret that Mother Karina won’t be able to give this is person and saying that Tenniz says things will turn out fine. Terin’s envelope holds a fitting that’s appropriate for riding leathers in the shape of a queen dragon, and a much shorter message: “This is yours and no other’s.” Both Fiona and Terin wonder if the envelopes got swapped, not choosing to remember that Fiona’s in love with a harper and Terin could more than easily Impress a gold dragon before she ages out.
The chapter closes out with Terin noting there’s a third envelope in the box, with the name “Lorana” on it. Which suggests that there’s a trip to Benden in the immediate future.
Mourn and grieve,
Wail and cry.
Who no more fly.
(Telgar Weyr, later [on in the day than Chapter 5], AL 508.2.8) But not that immediate, apparently, as chapter six starts with Shaneese taking Fiona to her quarters and conveniently providing more information about the people who were last here. And continuing to provide more evidence that the The Asshole At Telgar more than lived up to his name.
“D’gan [ASSHOLE!] was a demnanding Weyrleader,” Shaneese said, glancing around the quarters with a frown. “He had no trouble taking what he felt was the Weyr’s due.”
“I’d heard,” Fiona said. “At Igen, we preferred to trade for goods.”
“That was before Thread,” Shaneese reminded her. She waved a hand, dismissing the issue. “Anyway, what D’gan [ASSHOLE] didn’t want, the Weyr couldn’t get.”
“I see,” Fiona replied, wondering how much Telgar’s weyrfolk had suffered for their Weyrleader’s whims. She brightened. “I think I prefer our Igen ways.”
“ ’Our Igen ways,’ ” Shaneese repeated to herself, eyeing Fiona critically. “And now, with Thread falling, Weyrwoman, what would those ways be?”
“Fair trade when possible,” Fiona said. “I’m holder bred: I know the demands of the Weyr. If the Weyr can’t live by the tithe then perhaps we can trade for our extra needs.”
“We could profit from trade,” Shaneese agreed.
Shaneese is a good target for working on to get things moving more to Fiona’s pace and idea. I still think she’s not completely on board, but knowing Mother Karina and being the people in the secret box probably gave Fiona leverage she wouldn’t have otherwise had in bringing Telgar Weyr around to her way of doing things. Also, engaging in trade is a good way of starting to repair the relationship Telgar Weyr has with all the holds that tithe to it. If Fiona strategically decides to take a couple losses in the service of getting later business and goodwill built up before Terin sharks them into the deal that’s actually the best for the Weyr, even better.
The point of Chapter Six, however, is that there’s a funerary rite that has to be performed and a Weyr to be encouraged. The first attempt at a meal table doesn’t go so well for Fiona, until Igen gets mentioned, which leads into everyone remembering their shared times, and F’jian points out the entirety of Fort Weyr volunteered to follow Fiona to Telgar, even though only some of them actually were able to come. That seems to win over the crowd. The narrative then jumps to the preparation for the funerary rite, and the way it works out, each of the dragonriders now of Telgar will have to stand for nine riders, Fiona ten, and the bronze riders eleven, as the roll is called for the lost dragons. H’nez says he’ll be the one to stand for the late Weyrleader, but H’nez doesn’t have the actual rank to do it properly, so he lets Fiona have it in a huff, and instead takes the son, D’lin, as one of his own to stand in for. H’nez and Fiona impress upon the riders that this is extremely important, and that if they do this, they stop being Fort’s riders and start being Telgar’s. The riders say they’ll follow Fiona, and so they, by extension, become Telgar’s riders.
We are then treated to the formal funerary rite for dragonriders. The name of the rider gone is called, one of the riders stands for the one who cannot answer, and then the rider’s family and children come forth to eulogize the lost rider, and the new riders affirm they stand for the lost ones. Then the family goes back and the next rider is called forth. This goes smoothly, until the last name is called.
“I call for D’gan, Weyrleader, rider of Kaloth the bronze,” Norik called out in the end.
Fiona moved forward. “I stand for D’gan,” she called loudly, her voice filling the air, her shoulders and head lifted high. She heard some harsh intakes of surprise from the weyrfolk and murmurs of approval. “I stand for him, for he has passed between.”
Norik nodded approvingly and held a long, expectant silence, before calling out, “Who stands with D’gan?”
No one moved. The silence grew. Tension filled the air. Finally, someone moved, a small girl separated from the crowd and moved to join Fiona. It was Bekka.
“I stand with D’gan,” she spoke up, her chin raised high, eyes defiantly searching the faces of the shamed weyrfolk. “I stand with D’gan,” she said again, “Telgar’s Weyrleader, the man who did his duty, no matter the cost.”
And I’m of two minds about this. I realize that it’s a thing that kills morale if the ritual has this long pause where nobody is willing to stand with The Asshole, but we might note that everyone who has mentioned him has said, either explicitly or implicitly, that he was an asshole who ruled by his own whim and fiat and got his entire Weyr killed because of his own arrogance and stupidity. There’s no reason for anyone in the Weyr to stand with him at all, even if the ceremony insists that someone should do so. And they might have, if it weren’t for the fact that all the people related to him are dead by one way or another. The office of the Weyrleader might need to be recognized, but the person who was in that office? He does not need to be lionized or remembered for anything other than what he was — an example to everyone else of how not to run a Weyr. Even Shaneese, fiercely proud as she is of what Telgar has, freely admits that they obtained all of those things because The Asshole decided that he wanted them and used force and threats to get them. There’s nothing laudable in his behavior, and many of the people in the Weyr have specific reason to be upset at him, because he got their mates killed.
So Bekka bites the bullet, realizing that the ritual can’t go forward unless there’s someone who says they’ll do it. The narrative wants us to think of Bekka as brave and the rest of the Weyr as cowardly or dishonorable for not standing behind their leader, but I think the narrative is misleading us in this particular regard. Bekka might be scanning the faces of the weyrfolk with a look that says, “Really? Nobody here was willing to take the hit? You knew him, I didn’t! Someone else should be up here!” but I don’t think she’s accusing them of something deeper than that, or that they should be ashamed of not really wanting to validate a terrible person.
Picking back up with the scene, the narrative makes me wonder whether Bekka’s decision was actually needed, and that if they’d waited just a little longer, the cavalry would have come in to rescue them, and nobody at Telgar would have had to stick up for someone who, by all rights, doesn’t deserve it.
A sudden noise burst faintly in the evening sky and the watch dragon bugled in amazement as, overhead, a huge phalanx of dragons descended steeply in the night air, their riders dismounting quickly and marching at speed toward Fiona.
At the edge of the ring they paused. One stepped forward.
“I stand with D’gan,” the rider called out. It was K’lior, Weyrleader of Fort Weyr. “He was a demanding man, he expected nothing less than the best of his riders. Fort stands with Telgar.”
Another rider strode forward, wearing Istan colors.
“I stand with D’gan,” the man said. Fiona didn’t recognize him. “He showed us the meaning of duty. Ista stands with Telgar.”
“I stand with D’gan,” a strong-featured man said as he strode forward. “He set high standards. High Reaches stands with Telgar.”
“I stand with D’gan,” B’nik, Benden’s Weyrleader declared a he stepped toward the center. “He showed me the meaning of valor. Benden stands with Telgar.”
A fifth man joined the others with a woman by his side, they were holding hands.
“We stand with D’gan,” the man said, raising their clasped hands high. “His last thoughts were for the Weyrs, his last warning was to all the Weyrs of Pern.”
The woman moved forward, turning challengingly toward Fiona. “Who stands for Telgar?”
“I do,” Fiona replied immediately, controlling her surprise at the woman’s unexpected behavior.
“I do,” the woman echoed then, meeting her eyes.
“I do,” the man at her side added.
“I do,” the High Reaches Weyrleader declared.
“I do,” B’nik, Benden’s Weyrleader affirmed.
“I do!” called Ista’s Weyrleader.
“I do!” K’lior said loudly, proudly, for Fort Weyr.
“I do!” H’nez’s voice rang in the night, joined almost immediately by T’mar, F’jian, and the rest of the riders.
“Telgar?” Norik’s voice rose above all the others. “Who stands?”
“I do!” The riders and weyrfolk shouted back.
“Telgar!” Norik shouted, striding forward with a torch in his hand and lighting the bonfire that had been laid at the lakeside.
Overhead, watch-whers streamed by, bearing glows in their paws, lighting the night. Dragons roared in challenge.
“Telgar!” Norik shouted again.
“Telgar, Telgar, Telgar!” the gathering shouted back, filling the Bowl with a wave of sound that drowned out all echoes.
“Telgar!” shouted all those gathered in the Weyr reborn.
And with that stirring performance, Chapter 6 comes to a close.
All of these eulogies from the Weyrleaders are carefully chosen, so they interpret his worst traits into something socially acceptable.
- “He expected nothing less than the best”: “He was a mercurial asshole who didn’t tolerate the slightest bit of failure.”
- “He showed us the meaning of duty”: “He refused to bend in any way from the rules and traditions, even when it was beneficial for him to do so.”
- “He set high standards.”: “He expected the impossible, done yesterday, and without any complaint or dissent.”
- “He showed me the meaning of valor.”: “He never backed down from anything or anyone, even when it would have been much better for him to do so.”
- “His last thoughts were for the Weyrs.”: “Once he realized his mistake, and that it was too late, he thought about others.” Because others already knew that sick dragons messed up coordinates and occasionally took themselves on a one-way trip to hyperspace by accident.
Once that formality is finished, I note that immediately, everyone switches to the correct question: Who stands with Telgar? Which is a thing everyone can do without fear, worry, or endorsing The Asshole. And that brings the enthusiastic response from everyone, because it’s a thing they can be enthusiastic about. Because the riders and Weyrleaders have a vested interest in making sure that Telgar, the Weyr, survives and thrives, especially now that Fiona’s installed as Weyrwoman here. It means that Telgar might rejoin everyone else, get along, and coordinate in such a way that they don’t have to be worked around. Unless H’nez becomes formal Weyrleader there, then Telgar might have to endure another Weyrleader in the same vein as the last. And that would kill morale.
More chapters next week, now that we’ve learned much more about funerary rites and rituals than I ever thought we’d get in any story about the dragonriders.