Last time, Fiona got back, only for everyone to basically treat her as the same girl who left, even after clear proof that she’s not. The narrative burned the Fiona/Xhinna ship to the waterline, and further twisted the knife by saying it would never happen, because all gold riders are forever het.
H’nez was an asshole when Fiona gave tribute to her friend, and Fiona slapped him for it. Before the narrative insists that she saw H’nez and his assholery in new lights, since she’s now more mature. Fie on redeeming H’nez, joys for Fiona being mature enough to handle him.
Dragongirl, Chapters 3 and 4: Content Notes: Assisted Death, Mating Flights
Wheel and turn
Or bleed and burn.
Flame and dodge
Or between, dislodge.
(Fort Weyr, AL 508.2.6)
The chapter starts with Tintoval marveling about how much older Fiona is, which Fiona replies to by saying she has trouble accepting everyone else isn’t also three Turns wiser. Solid burn, Fiona. With Terin’s arrival, the three are ready to begin their rounds seeing to the injured from the last Threadfall. Tintoval wants to stick to the human part of the dyad, but Fiona is insistent that Tintoval learn how to diagnose and deal with dragons as well. Their first patient, W’jer, has had his Threadscore infected some. Tintoval hisses, but Fiona is apparently stone-faced and reaches in for a specific thing to use on the infection.
“I’m going to have to clean out the wound,” Tintoval apologized to the rider as she took the proffered bottle. “This will sting.”
“No worse than Thread, I’m sure,” W’jer said gamely. He set his jaw tight as Tintoval gently poured the peroxide solution over his leg and it foamed as it ate away the infection.
Peroxide, you say? Usually, when someone says that, they’re talking about hydrogen peroxide, which I somehow doubt Pern knows how to manufacture at their current technology level, and which is also unstable and decomposes rapidly if not specifically taken care of. At this time, Lorana is trying to decipher genetics and figure out how to use advanced equipment, but we’re supposed to believe that Pern can casually manufacture a working peroxide mixture for wound care, and that they know the word and it has survived, rather than being turned into “wound water” or something like that. For something like this, it would have been easier and more accurate for dressings to be laid over honey, which has all the right properties, and assuming that bees adapted to Pern (or the native pollinators produce something that’s close enough), could easily be manufactured at the current tech level.
As it is, Fiona sends a note asking for fellis and wine down the service hatch and goes to examine the dragon. The dragon of the partnership has torn off their bandages during the night and spent some amount of time bleeding. Fiona chides the dragon and tells him to send Talenth a message if it happens again. She then asks Talenth to have Xhinna run up some needles and sutures in double dragon size.
She could have called down the service hatch, but Xhinna would be quicker, if she were available.
Which suggests there’s a lot of dumb waiter systems that connect dragon weyrs with the various weyrfolk. Which might be different than what we have envisioned for the system for Fort to this point.
Also, literally in the first book of this series, Wind Blossom was lamenting that suturing and surgery were becoming lost arts and the sterile sutures would no longer be able to be created. Yet, here we are in the Third Pass, and sutures have survived, by name, and with several different sizes of needle. So either Wind Blossom was wrong, or, more likely at this point, the author forgot what they had already written and didn’t consult their past work (or a series guide) to remember. And really, so long as there are weavers and people who do needlework (like the sweater-knitting dragonriders), there are going to be people who know how to stitch up flesh as well as stitch together yarn. Or, as we find out later on, fishers who can create sterile sutures.
“That’s double dragon size,” Fiona said. “Dragon size is used for most wounds; for wing-work we use regular human sutures; but this required the larger ones.” She paused, thinking back to her time at Igen Weyr in the past, when she’d had to learn all this on her own, by doing it. “When we were at Igen, we had the hardest time getting dragon sutures until I managed to explain what we needed to to the traders.”
“Where did they find sutures?” Tintoval asked, her eyes narrowed worriedly.
“They didn’t,” Fiona said with a shake of her head. “They discovered the Fishers use a similar rope and convinced them to produce a sterile version.”
Fiona smiled in agreement. “I often wonder how much more we could do if we asked others to help us.”
So, it appears that technology hasn’t actually died out, although I wonder what Fiona means when she talks about a “sterile” version of sutures. Do they get boiled before they are used? Or is there some other antimicrobial thing done to them to make them sterile? And how are they transported so that they stay sterile? And how is all of this medical terminology surviving into the future when basic medical practices, like barrier methods, haven’t? I know it’s just a book, but there’s a lot of stuff here that’s making me wonder if the author has just decided not to care quite as much about the setting and just to let things appear or disappear as the plot needs. For as much as Pern claims to be part of the lineage of fiction that extrapolates from science, it doesn’t do a good job of the craft of writing, much less extrapolating consistently from science.
Xhinna is asleep and having “strange dreams,” according to Talenth, so Fiona asks Talenth to have Ellor find someone to send the sutures up. Cisca pops up on Melirth to deliver them and says that there needs to be a new crop of weyrlings to be shuttled around to do these things.
“We need some new weyrlings for this sort of work,” Cisca called as she waved in response.
“I’ll see what I can do!” Fiona shouted back, grinning.
“I’m talking with Melirth about the problem, too,” Cisca replied, grinning in turn. “A mating flight–or two–would also do wonders for morale.”
Fiona chuckled, then returned to the job of sewing up Janorth’s gash.
Cocowhat by depizan
Wasn’t Fiona absolutely terrified of the prospect of a mating flight at the end of the last book? But now that she’s banged T’mar exactly once (well, okay, three times), suddenly, she’s all aboard for the mating flight and the possibility that one of any number of bronze riders might end up having sex with her? And that she might be expected to pair up with them, at least for a while? Not all of them would be whatever she had with T’mar. Many of them might not be that at all. Unless, without telling us, we’re back to a situation where riders could have their preferred partners, regardless of what kind of flight is going on. The theory that the author is just making the characters and settings do whatever their plot demands has more credence all the time.
And then, after all of this, the author suggests they might have a clue after all about worldbuilding. Tintoval suggests to Fiona that she might do better with an apprentice of her own to help with that. They ask Terin if there are any children that could be spared for this idea, and they noodle a bit about where they would find a child, given that there are so many women that are working all the time.
“In the kitchen?” Tintoval asked, glancing around at the few helpers.
“In the tanneries, on the looms, in the pastures, in the storerooms, on spinning wheels, knitting, dyeing, tailoring, leatherworking, and metal-working,” Terin replied, adding, “and in the nurseries and classrooms with the children.”
[…Fiona remarks that Weyrs are basically like Holds, just with more women than men. Tintoval raises an eyebrow at that, and Fiona explains that boys who don’t get dragons go elsewhere…]
“They would find themselves welcomed in every Craft and Hall.” She waved a hand expansively around the Kitchen Cavern. “They’re well-fed and tended, trained to handle most any task so they would be a boon to any holder or crafter. And,” she concluded, “there’s all the prestige associated with the Weyr and being able to boast of weyrblood.”
“Dragonriders are healthier than most,” Tintoval mused. “The women are better-fed in the Weyr, too, so they also have a better chance of surviving childbirth. So it’s to a woman’s advantage to stay in the Weyr instead of leaving.”
And here, yet, it seems like the author has done at least a little research into what it takes to run a household, and how much of that work is being done by women in the Weyr. Many of those things sound like they would be covered by the guilds, so maybe several of those women at work are licensed guilders? Or, more likely, they’re doing the thing, but they won’t ever be recognized as part of the guild because they’re women. And I wonder just how much the dragonriders don’t actually know what’s happening or how much effort is put into making those goods they use and assume are just available.
At least this does finally answer, even if in a general and vague-ish way, what happens to all the candidates who don’t Impress dragons. The boys apparently go away to become valued workers and apprentices who contribute, and presumably will end up with some land of their own and families. The girls, on the other hand, have no intention at all of going back from where they came, and instead apply their considerable talents to keeping the Weyr running smoothly in exchange for a greater amount of freedom than they would have had otherwise and the understanding that when the dragons fly off on a mating flight, they might find themselves waking up from an orgy and possibly pregnant. Even if that is what happens, though, they’re more likely to survive it and they have a support system that will help raise the children, so they won’t have to do it themselves.
To my modern eyes, it seems like the best thing that can happen for a girl, in terms of the agency and autonomy she will have throughout her life, is to get Searched for a dragon and then fail to Impress, where she can join the working corps in the Weyr and make decisions about who, if anyone, she wants to partner with and possibly start a family with or otherwise leave with, when the time is right. There is the problem of the spontaneous orgies, but that seems like a thing that can be planned for, and if you are someone who really enjoys having sex with others, without having to do marriage commitments (or, as best I can tell, getting slut-shamed for it, since you’re not a Weyrwoman), then being a working woman in the Weyr is a pretty sweet gig. The author pretty clearly wants us to believe that being a gold rider is the best of all possible worlds, but following along with Fiona has thoroughly debunked that idea.
Getting back to the plot, Tintoval wants some assistants, like a dozen, from the older children. Terin suggests training some, and then having them train others. Fiona thinks it’s a great idea and indicates this is part of the reason why she made Terin her headwoman. Cisca is on board with the idea, and then we get something that makes a previous ick even more icky.
Cisca had little more than nineteen Turns of age; Fiona was less than three Turns younger than her now. And, in dealing with the sick, she had a least a full Turn’s greater experience. It was strange and difficult to remember: She was still the junior Weyrwoman, but the difference in age and experience had been nearly erased.
And now that bit in the last book about Cisca leering after the young weyrlings has context to “eugh” about. It’s still wrong, badly wrong, that someone of Cisca’s age is being joked about going after thirteen and fourteen year-olds, but I think the author wants us to believe it’s not as bad than if Cisca were in her late twenties or her thirties and going after the children.
Tintoval ends up asking about the midwives and wanting to learn how to do it, because most women prefer midwifery to Healers and the Healers don’t actually get to see and learn with pregnant people. Ellor is initially worried Tintoval is going to try and poach them, but once it’s clear it’s just for information, Ellor is okay with it. Eventually, they all settle on a particular child. Bekka apparently has some talent and doesn’t sleep much, so Tintoval thinks she’ll be a good fit. (She is.) Before we get to singing Bekka’s praises, there’s a small part where Ellor mis-ages Terin and gets corrected.
“She’s Merika’s eldest, three months shy of thirteen Turns.” She glanced at Terin, adding, “She’s older than you.”
“Not anymore,” Fiona corrected. Ellor’s expression dropped; she said nothing, but Fiona could feel the older woman’s anger.
So, apparently, in addition to “nobody ever gets to correct the bronze riders,” it’s either “nobody gets to correct the headwoman” or “nobody gets to correct their elders”, neither of which is particularly healthy for a working society.
Bekka is exactly what Tintoval expects: a younger version of herself. As it turns out, one of the sick dragons, Serth (a blue), is Bekka’s father’s, but nobody knows that until Bekka has already been told there’s little hope for Serth. S’ban (said father), to his credit, does not sugarcoat or deny that Serth is in bad condition, and everyone talks about Lorana and Kindan’s research and what progress, if any, has been made about trying to find a cure for the dragon sickness. Which leads to two important conversations: Serth and S’ban talk about what S’ban is going to do when he’s gone, and the consensus is that S’ban will stay behind for his daughter.
“I couldn’t leave my best girl!”
“You mean me?” Bekka whispered, glancing up at Serth in complete amazement that her father, who had been bonded with the blue dragon for tens of Turns before she was born, would ever for a moment consider her more important. “You’d stay for me?”
“That’s what we do,” S’ban assured her, “when we’re parents.”
Except I was quite certain that at least in the Ninth Pass era, or even the Sixth Pass Era, the concept of parents was mostly erased away and children were raised communally. Even the Son of the Benden Weyrleaders thought it a bit weird that his parents kept celebrating milestones of his life and giving him gifts because of their familial relationship. Yes, that’s pretty far on the future, but if the scheme described above, where the men of the Weyr either go on to learn a trade when they don’t get any dragons or get a dragon and spend all their time dealing with those responsibilities, is the way the place works, then paternity as a concept should be pretty weak.
The other important conversation is Bekka committing herself to the course of study to become a Healer. Tintoval mentions that it’s a long course of study, and Fiona asks Bekka to wait and see if she can handle seeing all the possible injuries before she sets herself on that course. Bekka doesn’t like the idea of something getting in the way of her decision, but acknowledges the wisdom of waiting to see whether it will work. They also lay out what it will take just to get in the door.
“You’ll have to get permission,” Fiona told her. “I imagine you’d need your parents’ and the Weyrwoman’s, and I suspect you’d need a recommendation from Tintoval.”
“And the Masterhealer would be to accept you,” Tintoval added. “Learning to be a healer takes a lot of study. Only the best can manage–”
“I’ll manage,” Bekka declared. “I’ll study!”
See above confusion about collective raising of children and discouragement of family connections, but I guess we can wave our hands and say it hasn’t happened yet. Also, given that the Plague is not that far in the rear-view mirror at this time, one would think the Masterhealer would take anybody that a field healer thought could handle the course of study, at least until they are back up to enough numbers where they can afford to be selective again about enrollment.
There’s another short conference between Tintoval and Fiona about Bekka, where Fiona suggests waiting to see how Bekka handles the loss of Serth before making any recommendations. Terin crashes the conversation, Fiona gets a vibe of jealousy from Terin about Bekka, and then sends Terin on her way with a specific set of rolls and dessert to fortify her through the night, where Terin is going to wait up with Bekka. Terin wonders how Fiona knows, and gets a compliment about her heart and her instincts, before Fiona says to call Talenth when it’s time. Tintoval doesn’t pick up on the language choice, so Fiona spells it out explicitly to her that Serth won’t last the night, and that’s the end of Chapter 3.
Eyes whirling red:
Anger or dread.
Eyes whirling green:
A happy scene!
(Fort Weyr, early morning, AL 508.2.7)
Chapter Four begins with the fact that Serth’s time has come. Fiona tells Talenth to inform Melirth of what is happening, but Melirth is asleep and Fiona doesn’t insist, because when she had reported on Serth’s sickness, Cisca hadn’t said anything, looking “distracted and unhappy”, and K’lior didn’t encourage Fiona to press the matter there, either. We are mentioning this because Cisca’s immediate reaction to when Serth takes the one-way trip is to be upset at Fiona for allowing it and telling Serth it was okay to go. That reaction will be cut off by something much more important and immediate, but Cisca is ready to go after Fiona for behaving like a Weyrwoman again.
When Fiona and Xhinna arrive, there’s a brief moment of appraisal before Fiona gets Terin and Xhinna to do useful things, like gathering all the people and bringing them to Serth’s Weyr. Tajen is present, which makes sense, since he’s gone through this process and can advise S’ban before and commiserate afterward. Others are as well, including H’nez, which surprises Fiona.
“S’ban flew in my wing,” H’nez told her quietly as he approached. Fiona could see that he was clearly moved even though he tried to hide it.
[…they talk a bit about Bekka’s plans…]
“The Weyrs raise strong women,” H’nez said, his lips pursed tightly at some hidden memory. Mother or lover? Fiona wondered, looking at the prickly, difficult, taciturn bronze rider in a new light.
I’m not opposed to H’nez having depth and characterization, but I am opposed to Fiona changing her opinion on whether he’s fundamentally an asshole based on this. This points out that H’nez is good to his own people, but we must remember that his own people doesn’t include Fiona, when it really should. He is right about the Weyrs raising strong women, however.
Once everyone is set, Fiona gives the okay for Serth to go. Unsurprisingly, S’ban (who will be Seban) tries to follow his blue and has to be restrained by all the other people surrounding him from doing so. Once the connection is broken, then it’s time for grieving, but the narrative skips ahead to Cisca getting ready to tear Fiona a new one because they didn’t wake her up and get her in attendance. However, a good bellowing and the statement “The bronzes are blooding their kills” from Talenth tells us what’s going on. Cisca tells Fiona to take Talenth and go, but, surprise, Fiona has no clue what the fuck is going on! When she tells Xhinna the bronzes are blooding their kills, Xhinna provides her with the necessary context, even as Fiona gets increasingly alarmed as to how Talenth is behaving.
“Anywhere! Melirth is rising to mate!”
As soon as the words penetrated Fiona’s brain she raced over to Talenth and forced the queen out and over the ledge, jumping on to her back and urging her into the air. Cisca’s bizarre rage made sense now: the Weyrwoman has been responding unconsciously to her dragon’s emotions.
We should probably note, if we haven’t before, that dragons apparently have strong emotions when they are in pre-mating syndrome, and I have a suspicion it’s always been patterned after the other PMS that humans would know about. (Shame on me for not noticing beforehand.)
I’m including this part because it’s a good reminder that women are equally capable of reinforcing patriarchal ideas as men are. Because Fiona very quickly dismisses Cisca’s anger as being related to the mating flight, which has a certain echo of “bitches be crazy,” which is a way of dismissing the very real grievances women might have. The degree of Cisca’s upset might be magnified by the mating flight emotions, but the underlying upset of “you usurped my position when you did this” is still legitimate, and one that Cisca and Fiona have been having to deal with since Fiona got back. With the additional complication that it has been only a few days since Fiona departed for Cisca. Fiona, and the reader, have been through the three years that Fiona spent in Igen, but for Cisca, it’s been terrible. Sick dragons, one of her juniors dead and the other presumed dead, and then the last junior comes back, but she’s not the girl that just got here and is the most junior junior. She’s been running a Weyr for three years all by herself, and she’s not really fitting back in with how things used to be. In a sense, Cisca has had the experience of a child growing up, and has been confronted with the reality that Fiona is no longer a child, and she can either refuse to admit it or she can readjust the way she thinks about Fiona and trust her to be a more mature and responsible person.
Also, there is no excuse at all this time about Fiona not knowing what the signs of a mating dragon are. There was a mating while they were back in Igen. There were several people that Fiona could talk to about those things who had some sort of experience about what it is like to be bonded to a dragon (or a watch-wher) that’s going into heat. Especially because Fiona was super-nervous about mating flights before she slept with T’mar. And if she’s feeling comfortable enough to riff with Cisca about how a big orgy would be good for morale, I would assume that she has had what a mating flight might be like described to her.
Lacking time and options, Fiona warps herself and Talenth to Igen Weyr, since it’s a familiar place. And still, apparently, a deserted place. While she waits out the mating flight, she heads back into the Records Room (which she thinks probably wasn’t touched since she was there last) and starts doing research. She’s trying to nail down the periods of time between things like clutching and hatching, or hatching and hyperspace capability, and even some basic questions like how many eggs there are in a normal clutch. Because all of these things have variance, however, Fiona keeps finding contradictory records about all of it, culminating in finding a fragment of a Teaching Song that she thinks applies.
Count three months and more,
And five heated weeks,
A day of glory and
In a month, who seeks?
Fiona concludes that the three months and more is from mating to clutching, the five weeks is from clutching to hatching, which is the day of glory. But the last part eludes her, because she isn’t completely sure that a dragonet of just one month could do the hyperspace hop. Not that anyone has tried, really.
While she’s here, Fiona really realizes that she’s changed significantly, to the point where she’d thought of Igen as her Weyr. She’s not completely sure that she’ll be able to go back to being Cisca’s second, but she’s willing to give it a try. Fiona pops back to Fort, knowing she’s going to have to step up with leadership, because many of the other weyrfolk are going to be still shaking off the effects of the mating flight.
(Except, perhaps, H’nez, who Fiona has felt getting extremely angry and drunk because K’lior’s dragon flew Cisca’s again, denying him the opportunity to take over, while she was doing her research at Igen. He’s still an asshole at heart, no matter how many different facets we see of him.)
Fiona’s return means trying to recruit some people to help her keep things going smoothly. Terin is with F’jian, so that’s out, but Bekka and Xhinna are together with Seban, so after telling Fiona that Xhinna “made the feelings okay”, which I am not sure what the meaning of that is, Bekka is recruited to help, while Xhinna stays behind with Seban. Fiona prompts Bekka to suggest what to start with (klah, she says, and tea), then asks her if there’s help available for putting together drinks and food for everyone. Bekka rounds up a crew of the youngsters to help, and Fiona rewards her with that by sending Bekka to the Weyrleaders with the food and drink when it’s ready.
Ellor arrives soon after Bekka leaves, and wants to talk about the details of the mating flight, and how Melirth didn’t really appear to want any of the ones that got to her, but that K’lior’s was the cleverest of the three (a group that included H’nez’s dragon) and basically waited Melirth out until she had no choice but to preserve herself, which allowed for the mating.
More and more, the way mating flights are described, it seems like the gold really doesn’t want to mate with anybody at all. In a more consent-friendly world, maybe the gold might have a preference, or the gold’s rider might have a preference, and that would be respected. But since we’re working in a world where initially, Good Girls Didn’t Want, we’re still kind of stuck with that choice, and that puts us in the situation where people are praising something that looks pretty nonconsensual, even if there might be some amount of consent involved. Ellor calls it “the only glimmer of hope since the fire-lizards were banished.” Which, hooray for a good solid orgy, but I was of the opinion that the Weyrs were sufficiently libertine that if that’s what was desired, it could be arranged, with or without the dragons. But again, the difficulties of working with an older series.
At the report that night, M’valer says that Benden is reporting there are ten dragons recovered from the sickness, which makes everybody’s eyebrows pop in hope. Cisca makes a suggestion that Fort riders go help Telgar out on their next flight, which makes all of the bronze riders at the table give her the side-eye. Cisca is nervous that the Asshole at Telgar is going to do something stupid, especially given that one of his dragons is among the sick.
H’nez glanced at her [Fiona, in this case], then said to Cisca, “You can’t ask a man like D’gan to–”
“See reason?” Cisca asked.
“Stand down in the face of his duty,” K’lior corrected her.
“No,” Cisca said with a sigh. “I suppose not.”
Cisca’s right. K’lior is putting a positive spin on it, but Cisca’s right. Because That Asshole will not see reason, because that would mean admitting to weakness, and he can’t do that, and really, neither will any bronze rider admit to weakness or accept correction. And, because this is ground that’s already been covered in a previous book, we know that The Asshole At Telgar is going to do something phenomenally stupid, because his ego won’t let him do anything else. And the majority of the rest of the chapter is feeling what Lorana does to rouse all the power of the Weyrs to try and find the lost Telgar and otherwise send the message back in time that will allow for Lorana and Kindan to succeed at re-engineering the dragons so they don’t die. And the incredible pain that comes from all that transpired so that Telgar Weyr lacks its fighting strength.
There’s still one more bit in here that’s worth talking about, and it doens’t have anything to do with what Telgar is doing. Where Tintoval and Fiona are discussing where Fiona went to avoid getting caught in the mating frenzy, Tintoval offers another useful piece of advice for Fiona.
“And did your search of the Records give you any hints on how to deal with Weyrwomen?”
Fiona shook her head.
“I would have thought as much myself,” Tintoval said to Fiona’s surprise. With a laugh, the Healer explained, “They were written by Weyrwomen, mostly.”
“Oh,” Fiona said, “I missed that.”
“So what would have helped were Records of how they dealt with their terrible, upstart, snappish, recalcitrant junior weyrwomen,” Tintoval said, smiling. “Take that and just reverse it for how to deal with Weyrwomen.”
While Fiona doesn’t want to pursue that right now, according to the narrative, it’s worth noting that the Weyrwoman now has yet more work lumped on her to document whatever the Weyr thinks of as important from year to year. Which makes me think about the difference between Records and songs. The Records seem to be the history of the place, in statistics and other data, but it’s the Harper Songs that everybody knows and refers to for history and procedure. And the Harpers are always male-dominated, so there’s another reinforcement that the men are more important than the women.
Also, I was of the opinion that the records were just supposed to be the data of the Weyr. Then again, in places where “data” is supposed to be, on Terra, we’ve found some of the best asides and other commentaries on the data mixed in, so I suppose it would make sense that somewhere in the Records, someone might find some of those commentaries left behind by previous Weyrwomen about what it’s like to do the job. And given how few other people head into the Records Room, it seems like it would be the perfect place to hide advice to someone’s successor, so that the boys never know what’s going on as the Weyrwomen advise each other throughout the years. (I like this headcanon a lot, actually, because I like all sorts of headcanons where the women are passing along their knowledge on how to run the world without letting on that the men aren’t really in charge.)
So, figuring out what to do with Telgar is likely to be part of the next chapter or two, as will Lorana’s triumph at finding the cure and then people having to get it injected into their own dragons so they can get immunity themselves. After that, then there will hopefully be new content moving forward.