Last time, Lorana arrived and saved all the dragons with serum developed from the blood of immune dragons. Now that we no longer have to worry about dragons dropping dead (although there’s a significant amount of everything with regard to how many dragons have already died before this solution was developed and delivered), the plot can move forward to the next immediate crisis.
Dragongirl: Chapter 10: Content Notes:
With my life and my dragon’s
I pledge ever to learn,
I pledge Thread to burn,
I pledge to guard all Pern.
(Telgar Weyr, later, AL 508.2.10)
The latter two seem to be pretty common for dragonriders, but that first one, I have yet to see in actual action. Possibly because of the guild systems that keep most knowledge as trade secrets, possibly because there are very few dragonriders at the upper echelons that have felt like they needed to learn anything. Weyrwomen, perhaps, yes, but certainly not those perfect specimens of dragonrider kind, the bronze riders.
Chapter Ten begins with Lorana being prescribed fellis to rest after it becomes clear to everyone that things are very not okay for Lorana – she’s described as crying for ten minutes straight, after which she curls up into a ball and falls asleep. Bekka declares that she’ll keep an eye on Lorana, and all the other assembled should go to the Dining Cavern and have food. Bekka will not be dissuaded from this course, and so Fiona drags M’tal over to do just that. Along the way, it becomes evident to Fiona that Talenth’s ability to talk to all people is not normal queen dragon behavior (even if it is generally a thing that all dragons can do, the choice not to having been mostly social convention rather than limited ability), but M’tal thinks of it as an excellent example for them all, rather than as some really weird thing that Fiona does.
Once the guests are all settled in, Shaneese comes over to give Fiona a gentle ribbing about everything.
“So?” she demanded of Fiona, “have you got everything the way you like it once more? All jumbled, rattled, and running just your way?”
Fiona grinned and she nodded in agreement. “Next, I’ll send you back in time to Igen: It needs a good cleaning.”
M’tal, who seemed torn between rising to Fiona’s defense and jumping in on Shaneese’s side, choked on his klah. Fiona gestured to him. “This is M’tal. He’s been to Igen, so he knows how dirty it is.”
“My lord,” Shaneese said, inclining her head, her manner sobering abruptly, her next words directed equally to M’tal and Fiona, “I hope you’ll forgive my banter. You brought news we never expected to hear.”
Even though I suspect Terin is much more Fiona’s familiar choice for being headwoman, Fiona has clearly won over Shaneese enough that they can exchange some jokes with each other. And Shaneese has enough sense to realize she should cut it out in front of someone who might not understand that it’s a joke.
M’tal toasts The Asshole, because, in spite of himself, he ended up being key to the temporal communication that allowed for Lorana to have the correct information to develop the cure. There’s a recap of the story involved so far while Norik is sent for. Once he arrives, the story finishes up by resolving the mystery of High Reaches’ silence, which was Tullea and crew waiting their necessary time to develop enough dragons with the immunity so they could then shuttle blood all over the planet and cure the remaining dragons. As they’re getting to the part where the massed dragon deaths send a word back in time (to Norik’s obvious skepticism), Kindan arrives, having been chased out by Bekka, and proceeds to sing Wind Blossom’s Song for the assembled. Which hits everyone with the feels and makes Norik want to learn it and perform it as soon as possible. On the second performance, Finoa gives Kindan a massage and comforting words to the point where the narrative suggests that Kindan has mistaken her for Koriana.
Before we can continue along that line, however, Fiona asks about how soon things can return to normal, which itself provokes the realization that there aren’t actually enough dragons in the world, even with the infusion from the time-shifted dragons, to last out the Fall, assuming normal amounts of casualties and fatalities. At this realization point, Lorana enters the room, asks about the box, learns nothing has happened in that regard, and then returns to the topic of not enough dragons. Bekka expresses her confidence in Lorana.
“You’ll think of something,” Bekka told her confidently. “You saved the dragons of Pern; there’s nothing you can’t do.”
Lorana kept her gaze on Fiona and only she shared the great pain in her eyes as they both recognized the error in Bekka’s statement.
“I’ll get some klah,” Shaneese said hastily, putting actions to words with the air of one grateful for an excuse to avoid an awkward exchange.
“It needs warming,” Fiona agreed.
The error here, I guess, is in mentioning Lorana’s accopmlishment of saving all the remaining dragons and having confidence in her. Even though Bekka watched her father’s dragon die and saw what happened to him as a result, so if she’s speaking from a place of ignorance, it’s only of not having had a dragon of her own to worry about dying or having one die. Perhaps it’s a case of Too Soon, then? Because even in the middle of recognizing what’s lost, someone should also be talking about what was good. (Even if that might trip a certain amount of survivor’s guilt and recrimination about what could have been.)
After this, they talk a little about the box and the things inside it. Kindan asks whether Lorana will try to Impress anew (which didn’t work out so well for Brekke) before both Lorana and Fiona insist that Kindan will get another opportunity of his own to stand on the grounds, even though he’s too old for the traditions and he didn’t succeed in ten Turns’ worth of tries before. (Of course, he was also dealing with the Plague and a lot of other exigent circumstances, as well, so perhaps he wasn’t in the right frame of mind. Might still not be.) The way that Lorana declares it pings something in the back of Fiona’s head, and she gives voice to her question.
“Did you bring us back in time?” Fiona asked her suddenly.
“Me?” Lorana repeated in surprise. “Lorana?” M’tal said at the same time, giving Fiona an odd look. “She was at Benden the whole time.”
“The whole time,” Fiona repeated. Lorana looked no less confused and Fiona dropped the notion with a frown, explaining by way of apology, “Someone brought Talenth and me back in time to Igen–a gold rider.”
“You mean a weyrwoman,” Kindan corrected absently, his attention directed toward Lorana.
I don’t know, Fiona said to herself with some surprise. Why is it that I always say “queen rider” or “gold rider” but never “weyrwoman?”
“We wouldn’t have gone if she hadn’t urged us,” she said. “If she hadn’t made is sound like we’d already done it.” She glanced toward Lorana. “Her voice sounded something like yours.”
The narrative very clearly wants us to pay attention to this distinction of language. There’s no doubt that the rider is on a gold dragon, but there’s something that suggests the rider is not someone who is in charge of a Weyr, and we’re supposed to think of this as a paradox. After all, as far as we know, there aren’t any gold riders who aren’t in the Weyrwoman succession line. Unless, say, it was someone pulling the Moreta switch, riding someone else’s dragons with their permission while their own dragon stayed behind. But since we’re three Passes before that, nobody actually knows how this might be accomplished.
Lorana suggests that she might go back to the Hatching Grounds, because it’ll be nice to hear the dragons again. M’tal explains Lorana’s “hears all dragons,” Kindan corrects it to “feels all dragons”, and the topic turns to mating flights, where it turns out that not only is Talenth on queen-rising watch, so is Jeila’s Tolarth.
“But she’ll be going back to Benden, won’t she?” Fiona asked.
“Not if she’s any sense,” M’tal said with a chuckle. Fiona looked at him, confused, and he explained. “Tullea can be…a little difficult.”
“I imagine she’ll be better now,” Lorana opined diplomatically. She told Fiona, “She’d been timing it back to High Reaches Weyr so her temper was difficult.”
And Bekka asks Fiona if she was like that while she was timing it herself, just so the narrative makes sure that we don’t mistake Tullea’s bitchiness as being completely the fault of her being twice in time. Because there’s apparently some necessary point of being petty enough to ensure that since Tullea was mean to Lorana, there’s no way of explaining it away as something other than “Tullea’s a bitch.”
After making sure this petty point is said, the assembled leaders sit down to discuss the problem of the dragon understaffing. And we get actual numbers in a table about how many fighting dragons and queens there are at this point in time, arranged in Weyr locations from the northeast to the southwest across the planet.
High Reaches 328 2
Fort 156 1
Telgar 40 2
Igen 0 0
Ista 307 2
Benden 197 1
Total 1028 8
Kindan then provides what proper numbers should be: three thousand fighting dragons and up to thirty queens. Which makes my logistics brain go “can this planet ever actually support a full complement of fighting dragons at their current technology level?” If we undershoot significantly the actual costs and say one dragon will take approximately one knight’s fee worth of material for the dragon and their rider, that’s anywhere from 1000-5000 acres of land, according to The Other Wiki. One thousand dragons right now needs a million acres at minimum, in this system. 3000 dragons needs three million acres to support themselves. That’s about 4700 square miles. The contiguous United States is about three million square miles, so if you need only one knight’s fee for one dragon and their rider, there’s plenty of space available for all of them on Pern. Even if each dragon takes several knight’s fees for themselves, since Pern is a Parallel Earth, presumably there’s enough land available, even if we remember that the Southern Continent is officially interdicted, so we’re not working with the full land mass available to everyone.
That’s just for the dragons, though, because then we need to also think about all the land needed for the people who will support the dragons. If each dragon and rider needs the hundreds of people in support of their needs, then three thousand dragons and riders needs tens of thousands of people to support and provide them with their necessary supplies. And those people need supporters of their own as well. So just for dragon support, we’re talking about large concentrations of people and resources that have to be mined, grown, harvested, and so forth. Then those populations also need their own populations to support them, and I’m starting to get concerned about sanitation and its related issues as it relates to cities in this time period, the network of transportation and traders needed to move all of those goods around to the right places, what the timelines are on goods and production, how that all changes (and is planned for) when every so often, everything stops because there is lethal rain outside that prevents the movement of everything. I already know that I’ve thought about this way more than the authors have, but I’m still not sure there’s enough population that’s working the land in whichever ways are needed to provide for everything. And possibly not enough land for everything, either.
Anyway. H’nez arrives at the party to talk about the logistics and how many new dragons can be expected to be produced in the next two cycles of mating for this Turn. (448 on average.) Which is not a whole lot, and it still takes two more Turns for those dragons to mature to fighting strength and size. H’nez suggests doing the time warp again, but that idea is nixed because if they had done it, they’d already know they’d done it, and since they didn’t, they didn’t. Plus, Fiona points out what we’ve been talking about beforehand, that large groups of dragons need supplies and will naturally draw attention to themselves, even when they’re trying to be subtle or keep to themselves. They check with the traders anyway to see if they’ve done it, but the traders say no. And this is all on the assumption that the dragons manage to fly their Threadfall without taking any hits that takes a dragon out of commission long enough for them to miss the next Fall, which Norik points out and asks Kindan about what the likely casualty counts are. Kindan says he has some ideas, but his numbers are skewed by the sickness, and so he was hoping to take a stare at the Harper archives to see what the likely numbers are during a normal-ish Threadfall. Which leads to some friction when Kindan forgets who he’s talking to, and unlike with Shaneese, Fiona is not on board with the familiarity.
“We have Records here,” Fiona reminded him. “And, in fact, I suspect our Records are more complete with regards to Weyr details–”
“You’d be surprised, Fiona,” Kindan interrupted her with a grin. It was a moment before he noticed the reproachful looks of both M’tal and H’nez, and even then, it took him longer to realize their cause.
“I mean, Weyrwoman,” he corrected himself, flushing in surprise. To Fiona, he apologized, “I’m sorry, but I still remember you as someone whose diapers I changed.”
Fiona’s eyes flashed angrily even as the warmth seemed to vanish from the room.
“Thank you, harper,” she told him coldly, “I still remember you as the one who couldn’t save my sister’s life.”
But she was instantly contrite, even before M’tal’s exclamation: “By the First Egg, Kindan, it still surprises me that you can be such a dull-glow at times!”
Fiona made a face and placed a hand on Kindan’s arm. “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for,” she said even as she flinched at the anguish in his eyes. “I will never forget that I owe you my life.”
“You’ve grown up,” Kindan said after a long, thoughtful silence. “I guess I haven’t adjusted to it, Weyrwoman.”
“I’ve lived three Turns you don’t know,” Fiona said, hoping to put the incident behind them. “I’ve not just thirteen Turns, I’ve nearer seventeen.”
“I’ll try to remember,” Kindan said. He pursed his lips tightly in consideration before adding, “And I’ll try to remember that you’re not your sister.”
“Again, I’m sorry,” Fiona said. “I can only guess how much you loved her.”
“Perhaps,” H’nez suggested diplomatically, “we should examine the Records?”
Fiona could almost kiss the man for his tact.
These are the sorts of things that might be helped with, say, counseling and therapy, because Fiona is trying to say (and has been trying to say, in the face of everyone telling her otherwise) that she’s sufficiently mature to take on these decisions that she’s been forced to make for the last three years. She’s been senior Weyrwoman for a very long time now, and yet everyone still wants to think of her as a child (because she hasn’t had a mating fight yet, maybe, although there’s plenty of infantilizing other Weyrwomen, too). Fiona clearly looks like Koriana enough that it’s causing Kindan problems of his own about keeping the past and present separated, which, perhaps if he had any opportunity to grieve the Plague and everything he lost from that, he might be better able to have good interactions with Fiona. Or maybe he declares that Fiona brings up memories he can’t handle and sends some other competent Harper in his place. Kelsa, maybe, except she’s pregnant. Nonala, then.
Fiona at least apologizes for her outburst. Kindan promises to try harder to remember, but doesn’t actually apologize for his own conduct.
The trip to the Records Room is generally uneventful for the boys. Bekka declares Jeila “not pregnant”, which draws some eyes, but she has an explanation.
“My mother’s a midwife,” Bekka explained nonchalantly. “After a while, you just know.”
Fiona saw the way Bekka’s eyes lingered on Lorana and how the older woman’s lips tightened in surprise. Fiona glanced toward M’tal and the bronze rider met her eyes with a slight, confirming note of his own. The air went out of Fiona’s lungs with a finality that surprised her. He’d told her that Kindan and Lorana had formed a bond; why did it bother her so much now to see the truth?
Why, indeed, if Zenor wasn’t blowing smoke up Fiona’s ass about how many lovers a Weyrwoman could take. It’s probably the most definitive no signal that Kindan has sent to this point, perhaps, and that’s one that Fiona can finally take notice of, but even then, I still wonder.
Lorana, Terin, and Fiona hang back so that Lorana can see what Tenniz made for her and placed in the box. What comes out is a caduceus, except with a dragon head, and there are holes where other things might hook in to the badge in front of them. The note that comes with it is not encouraging:
The way forward is dark and long. A dragon gold is only the first price you’ll pay for Pern. Fiona and Terin immediately try to do damage control about Tenniz’s prophecy, including swapping Fiona’s pin for Lorana’s (with a “waspish” promise to tell Kindan to buzz off if he inquires about it) and telling a lie of omission about the note, such that they mention the dragon gold, but not the part that says Arith was only the beginning. Lorana confirms the pregnancy, as well, to both of them and asks them to keep basically everything quiet to Kindan.
In the Records Room, the Records are mostly useless, but not so much that there aren’t some educated guesses happening and painting a pretty bleak picture of what the numbers will be. Kindan comes up with an average of three percent losses for each Fall (“nearly three dragons in every hundred” is what is said, which is convenient for Terran readers to understand, but is not what I would expect to see as the unit of measurement. “A half-wing in every flight” would be more what I would expect. ), which M’tal checks his own numbers and says that’s better than Benden’s five percent. Lorana checks their numbers against queen clutches and finds matches as well.
The others looked at her in surprise, so she explained, “Well, it makes sense that the queens would have to replace the losses. So a quick really of clutches should roughly match the losses…and it does.”
Bless you, brilliant Lorana. Although it does mean we have some questions about how often queens rise to mate if they have to replace up to fifteen dragons lost over every Fall, which happen at least twice-monthly. If the average clutch is around thirty, that would mean needing about a clutch’s worth of dragons to be ready for fighting every month for fifty years. Given that it also takes about a year and a half for those clutches to come to fighting maturity, those Weyrs must be stuffed to the gills with new dragons right before Falls begin, from the near-constant mating flights happening. Which also makes me think that the time-twisted queens and the ones with the immunity should be having mating flights as constantly as they can, because they presumably know they’re not at full fighting strength, which means eggs on double or triple time. (Yes, not all of those dragons that become out of action are killed, but there’s still a substantial number to make up for the ones that are, and to fill ranks for the ones that do fall out.)
Having come to grim conclusions about the fighting strength of all the Weyrs, the people present decide they’re not going to say any of this to their people at all. After a short discussion about whether or not Telgar’s dragons will be ready to fly the next day, H’nez thanks M’tal for his help. M’tal is amused at this apparently transparent ploy to dismiss him, and Fiona formally invites him to stay as long as he likes…using herself and Talenth as an enticing reason why.
“Lord M’tal, you are welcome to stay in Telgar as long as you’d like.” She gave H’nez her brightest smile as she added, smugly, “You might have heard that my Talenth will be rising soon and I’m sure she would be very pleased to have your great Gaminth as a suitor.”
“Fiona!” Terin murmured warningly under her breath.
M’tal inclined his head toward the Weyrwoman, his eyes twinkling as he glanced toward H’nez. “I shall certainly consider the offer, Weyrwoman.”
I realize that Fiona is trying to make H’nez sweat and not feel like he has a lock on being Weyrleader. And quite possibly trying to express how much Fiona really doesn’t want H’nez at all in that position, which, in a world where things weren’t decided by mating flights, would have some actual heft and weight in the decision. But she’s once again offering her body, even if by proxy, to someone much older than she is as part of this ploy. If Fiona were in a world where this was the only way for her to exercise her power of getting what she wants, then I would still want more calculation and reasoning from her that she knows what she’s doing before I would believe this is Fiona doing it and not the author indulging in their id using her as a convenient proxy.
It’s also giving weight to the theory that Fiona deserves those nasty looks and declarations that she’s a brat because she behaves like one, and the narrative is carefully eliding over those things because it wants us to sympathize with her, instead of having to deal with the reality of having decided to make someone unlikable as a protagonist and leaning into that.
Plus, Fiona’s plan gets blown up anyway.
“I’d like to stay here,” Jeila added from where she sat in Fiona’s bed. “Tolarth will be rising soon,”–she glanced toward H’nez–“and I think that Telgar would benefit from two queens.”
“But doesn’t Weyrwoman Tullea expect you back in Benden?” Fiona asked quickly, suddenly feeling less smug.
“I suspect that Weyrwoman Tullea would be glad to see Tolarth established here,” M’tal observed, inclining his head toward H’nez. “For the benefit of all Pern.”
“With two queens so close to rising–” Fiona began, feeling suddenly very outmaneuvered.
“Not to worry, Weyrwoman,” H’nez assured her. “As you know, it is easy for the other queen to take herself away temporarily.”
“You want what’s best for the Weyr, don’t you?” Jeila added.
“Of course,” Fiona said.
Because Tullea is still apparently difficult to work with, even though she’s gone through her period of being time-split at this point. And also, because the means potentially that Fiona won’t stay Weyrwoman if Tolarth rises to mate first, and that puts Fiona back in a position she doesn’t want to be in, as a second to someone else. She already had enough trouble with Cisca about it, and Jeila is far too much of an unknown quantity, not to mention the possibility that it might be H’nez as Weyrleader along with her. This entire gambit makes it seem a lot more like the other dragonriders don’t approve of Fiona and how she’s running the place, that they would leave another queen so close to her mating flight in Fiona’s territory. Maybe their opinion of Fiona is that she’s much more cut in Tullea’s mold than Lorana’s, and they don’t want to deal with both of them as Weyrwomen. The already unrealiable narrative destablizes further in that case. With Anne writing, we could be certain the narrative was on the main character’s side, even if the main characters were committing terrible acts. With Todd, it seems, there’s a lot more uncertainty of whether the narrative is on the side of the viewpoint character, and it might be that in these stories, the narrative is on the side of the partriarchy, even as it uses a viewpoint character who is doing small things that upset that partriarchy and who isn’t necessarily interested in being a polite, demure, deferential Weyrwoman, for which she is published swiftly and harshly.
The dinner that everyone has that night is unsettling for Fiona, but she can’t put her finger on why things are both good and irritating for her. At least not until the pottery master leans in and explains it to her.
“Your queen,” he said, “she’s going to rise soon.” He nodded. “I can see it in the way you’re acting.”
“Yes,” Mekiar replied. “You don’t quite know how to feel, you can’t concentrate, you’re irritated, happy, sad–”
“How did you know?” Fiona interrupted sharply.
“I’ve seen many a mating flight,” Mekiar told her. He gave her a grim smile. “Judging by you, I’d say you’re going to have your hands full when the time comes.”
And on that ominous note, Chapter Ten finishes.
I am of the opinion that these differences in behavior before a mating flight are modeled on the popular conception of pre-menstrual women transforming into bitchier versions of themselves. Now, given that Fiona has not experienced this before, she doesn’t necessarily know what her own symptoms are going to be that indicate the pre-mating flight condition. If she was wise, she might have even tried to take note of how Cisca’s behavior changed in the lead up to her own situation, especially since that’s what her changes were chalked up to. Our asking about Tullea from Lorana. Or even asking Jeila what it’s like for her, given that Jeila is self-aware that Tolarth has going to rise soon.
But we get none of that, no awareness from Fiona, and it falls to a man to explain to her what is going on because she couldn’t possibly know herself.