Last time, much of what we’ve been suffering through for the entire book – angst about polyamory, despite an increasing amount of material available that says this shouldn’t be as weird as it’s being made out to be, Fiona uncorking her rising stress levels on someone who provided a convenient excuse for her to do so by badmouthing Lorana and Kindan in her hearing, and continued confusion amount what actually qualifies as medicine and medical knowledge on Pern.
Oh, and Tullea being Designated Bitch.
Dragongirl: Chapters 18 and 19: Content Notes:
(Keroon Threadfall, morning, 508.5.21)
The latter pair of this poem doesn’t make sense in its own context. Maybe it does in whatever the larger context of this fragment is, but dragonriders who are flaming Thread in the sky aren’t going to necessarily need to build themselves a home to wait it out in, and the people who are building homes to ride it out aren’t going to have giant flame-throwing dragons to fight it with.
Chapter 18 starts with M’tal again, getting ready for yet another Threadfall in his zone of control. While he’s complaining to himself about the lightness of his wings and the severity of the winds, somehow he manages not to notice that the winds have blown the Thread behind them, the Thread that they have arrived early to fight (M’tal explicitly says that they’re here early for the Fall) and it descends upon M’tal and kills him. And so, without ceremony or heroism, M’tal dies. I still don’t understand how neither M’tal nor any of his riders have figured out the winds of the space and determined some sort of effective fighting method, but maybe this is a once-in-many-years event that’s going on for months at a time. Or the idea of the phalanx and the square and other military formations have disappeared in the many hundreds of years of peace, and therefore there’s not enough imagination to figure out how to reorder the ranks so that lines don’t get surprised by things descending on them from behind. Maybe all that expertise has already died in the human and dragon plagues.
I also am less than happy that M’tal gets such a quick death, Not as terrible if M’tal were the only named person in a triad in the book, but still, there’s a lot of other characters that could be splatted in such a way to establish that things are weird. It’s potentially reading to me as a combination of Bury Your Gays and someone getting fridged for someone else’s motivation. Because, having killed M’tal, the action shifts immediately to Lorana and Fiona and the need for the riders of Telgar to time themselves over to Ista and take care of the Fall. Which means that Fiona has to hop back in time for an hour to tell Shaneese to get firestone sacks ready so that the riders can pop over immediately. Which Talenth helps her with, and smugly tells Fiona that she remembers what happened and that Fiona told her not to say anything about it. Which Fiona says is a good idea and then pops back to the future to inform T’mar about what he needs to do, where he needs to go, and when he needs to go to. Of course, nobody has any sort of idea to try hopping back just a little bit further in time to see if they can save M’tal, because You Can’t Change Time, and the death of M’tal is apparently a fixed point because someone else has observed it in some way. Which, when T’mar pops back in time, he does observe happen, and then finally shouts an alarm to the riders,and the two groups leapfrog each other, flaming a space above themselves which is then occupied by a dragon arriving from hyperspace, who then flames the space above them, and so on until the riders are above the Threadfall, at the edge of where breathing is comfortable, and finally, the dragonriders become effective.
Which makes me wonder, again, how this situation has come about. Because every other Fall is described as being on the level of (or possbly below) the dragons as it approaches on the horizon. Yet, this time, supposedly being early to the punch, M’tal and his group find themsleves below the Thread line and in the middle of it. I wonder how detailed the charts and such are, then, because if they’re at the detail of “Thread falls over Keroon today”, then the right place to be is outside of Keroon with scouts, one of which will signal the approach of Thread, so that all the others can then pop into place, form up, and give it a go. If things are more specific than that, you can narrow the space where the scouts are viewing, and then arrange and go from there. Especially in a place where it’s already known that the winds make it more difficult to fly and give Thread a certain amount of irregularity.
Anyway, the nuts and bolts of the fight are left to themselves, as the narrative heads back to Fiona and Lorana, and Fiona has a nice encouraging conversation with a young weyrgirl about the eggs on the Hatching Grounds. A thing that I didn’t mention in the last chapter was Fiona’s insistence that Xhinna is going to get to look at and touch the eggs on the Ground, and no, she doesn’t mean just the queen egg, so this gives some context for what’s about to happen.
“I’m only a girl,” the youngster replied, deflated. “I can’t imagine a queen will want me.”
“It still doesn’t hurt to look, does it?” Fiona asked.
The girl thought it over and shrugged. “It’d be better if I was a boy,” she said after a moment, frowning. “And even if I were, I’d be too young yet.”
“Dragons pick who they will,” Fiona said, gesturing to herself with a grin and then glancing significantly toward Lorana.
“Yes, Weyrwoman,” the girl replied dutifully.
Fiona snorted at the response and the girl gave her a startled look. “I’ll tell you this: It’d be hard to imagine a dragon Impressing someone who’s so certain she won’t.”
The youngster pondered upon that for a moment and then nodded solemnly. “Yes, Weyrwoman.”
Which, I’m sure, would be scandalous of someone with anything other than a gold dragon overheard Fiona, but Fiona has also been remarkably consistent about her belief that the fighting dragons are not the exclusive provenance of the boys, so her seeding the idea into the minds of other young girls is very much Fiona to a tee. And having had it happen once on camera, I am head-canoning that Fiona has been doing this off-camera for all sorts of young women as well, with the hope that when hatching time comes, she’ll be able to field a whole bunch of candidates for all the eggs, much to the consternation of the other riders.
After the exhaustions and casualties are tallied up, at the meeting of T’mar and Fiona, they realize that there aren’t a whole lot of bronzes left. Since they’re in leadership positions, and there’s a significant amount of people in leadership positions biting it during these Falls. To which Fiona suggests that bronze riders be preserved in the same way that queens are being preserved, so there’s always enough bronzes to have sex so the queens keep laying and hatching. Not, again, that this will mean much as the numbers continue to decline.
Before getting too far into the details on this, Fiona decides that it’s time to give her promised tour of the eggs, and sends Darri, the girl she spoke with above (who is all of eight) to go fetch Xhinna and Taria and have them bring whoever they have charge of to the Hatching Grounds so that they can see the eggs. Shaneese has some misgivings about this (“Just remember, my lady, that the behavior you encourage is what that will persist.”), but Fiona has thought about this, and intends to accept requests to see the eggs. Whcih she will promptly delegate to Xhinna and Taria (who have, all this time, still been taking care of children, despite, apparently, all of the chatter and clucking about how unnatural their relationship and orientation was) to manage. Fiona has very definitely thought this through, since T’mar gave his blessing on it, and because it will have a very particular useful effect.
“You’re not expecting them to get some of the weyrlads to watch the little ones?” Shaneese asked in wonder.
Fiona shrugged. “I imagine they’d even agree to diaper duty if the demand’s high enough.” She gave Shaneese a measured look, adding, “I think that Xhinna’s already well-proven she’s able to do a lad’s work, so why shouldn’t they have to show they can do a lass’s?”
Shaneese snorted loudly at the notion.
“And,” Fiona added a bit more seriously, “I think those who are willing to undertake some of the more demanding duties are exactly the sort who will appeal most to a new-hatched dragonet.”
Which does posit the question of what boys who are not of age to ride dragons are doing with their days, outside of something like sacking and digging firestone, because I can’t imagine a place like a Weyr where there isn’t a fairly constant need for bodies to do things, whether it’s run messages, run objects, keep an eye on things (or people), help with the weaving, or the knitting, or the pottery, or any of the many things that a Weyr would be doing on a daily basis. Given that there’s no farming for the boys to help with, that removes a big amount of their likely labor, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing for them to do to contribute to the functioning of the Weyr. I would entirely believe there is a gendered division of labor, and that the matters of child-rearing, and especially of changing stinky babies, would fall entirely on women, but I do have to wonder what all the boys are doing.
Anyway, I’m all on board with this plan of Fiona’s to try and get everyone doing tasks they would have otherwise thought beneath them or for girls, so that they get the full experience of everything, with the promise of getting to see and touch the eggs as the reward. Fiona also mentions that she fully plans on making T’mar take shifts on diaper duty (I’m really just assuming these are cloth diapers of some sort and not trying to think too hard about how the word diaper survives all this time.) when Lorana gives birth. Which leads to further discussion about the relationship between all of them, courtesy of Shaneese.
“Not that it’s my place,” she told the younger woman, “but there aren’t many who don’t get jealous over time.”
“I know,” Fiona agreed with a sigh. “I’m not one of them, nor is Lorana.” She allowed a wary look to cross her face. “I’m not quite sure what T’mar wants. I think Kindan is still grappling with his feelings.”
“He probably always will be,” Shaneese said. Fiona looked up at her, trying to keep her worries from showing. “You look like the woman he first loved, you aren’t the woman he learned to love next, and yet…”
“And yet he loves me in spite of all that,” Fiona said, hoping that the words made the truth.
Shaneese nodded. “I think that’s so.” A moment later she added, “But T’mar?”
“He thinks he’s too old for me, although he’s not much older than Kindan,” Fiona said. “And he worries that his place is with me only because his bronze flew my gold.”
“But isn’t that so?”
“I can’t say for certain, but I don’t think so,” Fiona said. She met the older woman’s eyes squarely. “He was my first, I chose him. But I think more than that, I love him because because he’s honest with me and will tell me truths I don’t want to hear and trusts that I’ll listen to him and respect his words.”
“He is quite a man,” Shaneese said in agreement. She gave the young Weyrwoman a calculating look and raised her hand to wiggle a finger warningly underneath Fiona’s nose. “And if you do decide that he doesn’t suit you, don’t be surprised to find him with me instead.”
Fiona chuckled at the thought. “You are quite an attractive person,” she said. “And I believe that the two of you would make a good pair.” Then she chuckled mischievously.
“Why don’t you find out, then?” Fiona said. The headwoman’s surprise was total, so with another chuckle Fiona turned away from her and started out to the Weyr Bowl, pausing only long enough to call back over her shoulder, “I see nothing wrong with sharing.”
Cocowhat by depizan
This is a very different Fiona than the one who came back to herself to find herself screwing Kindan. And the one who went back in time and raised a Weyr and decided that it would be a much better idea to be sexually experienced before her dragon rose to mate, and so she chose basically the only person she could choose that would be of the correct orientation and experience level to presumably give her a good education. With as much as Fiona seems to know about everyone else’s emotional states, it’s really aggravating to me that she still isn’t apparently doing any direct talking with anybody so that she can confirm her suspicions. Also, it’s been quite a shift from that Fiona who came back to herself to this one, who thinks that it would be fine with her if her headwoman also started banging the Weyrleader. At this particular point in time, if Fiona’s sharing, I would like to believe that it means that she’s come to terms and acceptance with her place in her relationships and is fine with things the way they are. Which again, would be nice to confirm by actual and direct communication with all the people involved. Fiona immediately does talk with Lorana about her latest decision, and the two of them talk about their feelings for each other, and how it had to be the four of them and the dragons involved for this whole thing to come about and be as good as it is.
The narrative then has Fiona look for Lorana as Telgar is preparing to fly another Thread elsewhere, and while nobody can find Lorana, Fiona gets more than a few excited children telling her stories about the eggs. Apparently, Taria and Xhinna are both worried their significant other is going to Impress a queen and go live somewhere else in the world, as if it were somehow impossible for someone to take their weyrmate with them when they went to a new Weyr. But at least the two of them are apparently talking about their fears and worries for each other, rather than the expanded polycule that seems to be doing its level best to make sure they never talk with each other directly.
While Fiona continues to search for Lorana, the narrative shifts to T’mar flying fall over Crom, which also apparently has the same problems with wind currents and bad air and Thread appearing out of place or phase, which results in another save from someone wearing the Benden Weyrleader’s jacket, but this time, the rider is not so lucky, and they and their dragon die. T’mar, of course, as soon as the Fall is done, rushes to tell Tullea of her Weyrmate’s heroic sacrifice, except there’s one major problem: B’nik is quite alive still. And now T’mar, B’nik, and Tullea are convinced they have witnessed B’nik’s death when he hops back in time at some point to fly Thread. And that’s the end of chapter 18.
A thing I have not seen nearly as much discussion of in time travel plots, in addition to the sometimes long lengths that the narrative goes to for ensuring that someone doesn’t see reality (so that it can be revealed later on that all the things they saw and heard were correct, but in the wrong context, such that instaead of someone being killed horribly, they survive just fine to go on), is that people don’t take advantage of their plot armor if someone really, truly, has seen them die in some way. Unless it’s a timeline where each action births new timelines, and what happens is really shifting among the timelines until the desired result is achieved, that is. But in a world constructed like this, where there’s only one timeline, it’s self-correcting, and things witnessed in the past are things that have to happen, right now, B’nik should be able to do just about anything without fear of dying, so long as he doesn’t wear his jacket when he goes to do it. (Of course, since nobody has actually seen the face of this now-dead rider, it’s not a guarantee that it’s B’nik.) Keep this idea in mind as we go into the part of the narrative where riders start witnessing their own deaths, because they have to start doubling up on themselves to have enough dragons to kill Thread.
Smither, tanner, crafter know
Where and how your work must go.
As prospers thus the dragon weyr
So will Pern be kept Thread clear.
(Telgar Weyr, evening, AL 508.5.26)
Okay, that scansion is terrible, and I feel like I’m tripping over the feet of this rhyme. Better poetry for Pern, please.
Because it is at this point where the plan to double up on themselves to fly Thread is put into action, after heated, stressful agreement by all the leaders present. Which produces this conversation:
“Are you sure you want to do this?” T’mar asked the brown rider.
“We know that I already did,” B’len said. He straightened as he looked toward Lareth, his brown. “I’ve had time to say good-bye, and that’s more than J’lantir had.”
B’len had come to Telgar as J’lantir’s wingsecond; they’d flown together for many long Turns.
“You know,” B’len said philosophically, “it’s really true that knowing you’re going to die gives you a greater appreciation for all that’s good in life.”
“Don’t be,” B’len told him. “I’ve had a good life and I know that I’ll die the way I wanted–taking Thread with me.”
But nobody suggests, say, living out to the end of the Pass or even longer, being an extra person to help in this situation, because, having witnessed his own death, B’len now has Plot Armor. If there’s only one timeline, and we know when and where his death is, then he’s functionally invincible until whatever time he decides to go back andn fulfill the timeline. We’ve only had, so far, one situation where someone traveled in time to a period beyond their own death, and while it was only for a day, Moreta did not suffer any apparent ill effects from it, other than her own dragon being unable to contact her in the future. But we’ve seen a certain amount of how that’s a function of time-travel, not necessarily of living past your own death. If there are enough riders who have witnessed their own deaths from all the Weyrs, they could form up to be the Invulnerable Flight and handle as much of the Threadfall remaining as they can, until the point where they have to go back in time because the timeline is choosing to self-correct or the strain of being in too many places at once dissipates them enough that they no longer are capable of doing anything and have to go back and finish themselves out. Since their deaths are a known and fixed point in time, they are essentially free to do whatever they feel like doing until they eventually go back and make sure the timeline is correct.
But instead of trying to exploit this loophole for all its’ worth, instead we have people meekly going back in time to fly their own deaths immediately, having said their goodbyes to everyone important to themselves in the interval. And after this, the narrative tells us that T’mar cries himself to sleep, which is a good thing to do when you’ve had to watch your subordinates die twice. And then Fiona wakes him up the next day with a cheeky grin and an insistence that there’s always something to live for, by which she means sex. And demonstrates what there is to live for with him. At breakfast, Fiona suspects, and then Jeila confirms worldlessly, that Jeila has also been demonstrating “one of the fruits of life” with H’nez. And then, further on, Fiona suspects, and Jeila confirms wordlessly, that Jeila’s pregnant, but she doesn’t want Fiona to say anything. Lorana’s not in good shape, based on the Benden casualties, and there’s frission about how they’re all running out of dragons and there won’t be fighting dragons in time, no matter how many clutches there are (one more reported, the junior at High Reaches, twenty-two, one queen egg.) Fiona tosses off what she thinks is a joke to T’mar about who should be the next Weyrlingmaster, but T’mar shocks everyone by immediately naming Kindan to the role. H’nez cries foul because Kindan’s not a dragonrider. T’mar and the rest point out that Kindan has the requisite experience in raising a watch-wher, a fire-lizard, having been involved in fighting Thread and flying dragons, and also already knowing all the lore required. And besides, he’ll be teaching them the appropriate songs, anyway.
Lorana asks whether that idea changes if Kindan gets his own dragon, but T’mar says no, because Kindan is still the most experienced person they can spare to the duty. So that’s “heard and witnessed” with C’tov and F’jian standing in as witnesses.
The rest of the chapter is everyone winding down for bed. Fiona throws Kindan at Lorana and tells him to comfort her, telling him that there are warming stones for massage by the bed for him to use before she heads off to T’mar, and determines that T’mar is thinking about throwing the entire cohort of remaining dragons at Telgar, save the queens, through the time-twist so that they have the greatest odds of survival. Which leads to talking a lot about how they’re all going to fight to the last dragon and watch-wher, which is suitably motivating for T’mar as well. Which means we have a lot of people appreciating Fiona. So, first, here’s how Kindan feels about her as she’s leaving to go find T’mar:
Kindan nodded vaguely, relieved that he hadn’t been required to ask the Weyrwoman to leave; particularly as it would have required him to ask her to leave her own quarters. Still, he felt awkward: She was so gracious in her behavior that he wanted to dash her off her feet and wrap her in his arms, yet at the same time he was pleased that she didn’t expect it.
And he has gratitude for Fiona’s foresight in having the warming stones and some oil delivered because he wouldn’t have thought of such things to help ease Lorana’s tension.
Here, also, is what T’mar thinks after Fiona delivers her to the last dragon speech:
“You,” T’mar said in voice choked with emotion, even as he wrapped his hands around her and dragged her tight against him, “are a gift.”
Fiona’s eyes welled with tears; she could find no words. A moment later she pushed back against T’mar and he looked down at her as she told him in a soft, firm voice, “You have to share me, you know.”
“I know,” T’mar said, his voice both soft and tender. His lips quirked up as he added, “You’re far too much for one man alone!”
Well, I’m glad that Fiona has at last articulated that part of the relationship to T’mar, even though it’s been clear what’s going on for all of this time. And that a conscious and fully-understanding T’mar has consented to it.
Both of these cases of appreciation, though, are for the things Fiona does to make things easier for her partners and to de-stress them. Which has value, absolutely. But this is also the sort of thing that a Weyrwoman is just expected to do for everyone, and not that long ago, Fiona was going to burst with all the stress that she’s been taking on for everyone else, even if she is trying to distribute at least some of it around for others to handle. What happens when Fiona cracks? (She won’t, of course, because she’s Fiona and the entire morale of the Weyr is riding on her not cracking.) Fiona needs some enforced self-care time, but nobody seems to be willing to stand up to her and tell her “today, the day after we have had a Fall, you are doing sweet fuck-all. There will be luxurious warm water baths, hot massage stones, and your choice of hot men to attend to your every need, and possibly even take to bed if you are so inclined to do so after you have had this day, but there will be no business crossing your brain today.” Possibly with Shaneese being told, in Fiona’s hearing, that anyone attempting to bring business to the Weyrwoman will be put on firestone sacking duty for the next three weeks, and that instruction includes the Weyrwoman trying to bring business to herself. It would probably drive Fiona up the wall, not knowing, but it’s not healthy for her to be in a continual state of stress, and working hard to make sure everyone else gets their down time without taking some for herself.
And that’s before the complications that start showing up in the next chapter. But we’ll get to that in time.