Last time, Xhinna and R’ney talked about Jepara, where R’ney imparted wisdom and Xhinna hatched a plan to get Jepara back in line, then X’lerin and Xhinna talked about J’keran and Jepara, and Xhinna told X’lerin about the plan to get Jepara back in line and decidd they were going to help J’keran continue to be a pain in the ass, because his PTSD frightens them and they don’t want to end up like him. It wasn’t all that many pages in the book, honestly.
Sky Dragons: Chapter 6: A Knot On The Shoulder: Content Notes: Neuroatypical stereotypes, Sexism, Bad Bosses, Self-Sacrificing Bad Attitudes
“No good deed goes unpunished” was an old saying—an Ancient-Timer saying according to some—and Xhinna realized, ruefully, that it was still valid when X’lerin gave her his latest surprise two days later.
“Wingleader?” Xhinna echoed, eyes wide. “You want me to be a wingleader?”
“And that’s an order,” X’lerin said to Xhinna, with a smug look. K’dan stood nearby, a huge grin spreading across his face as he, clearly forewarned, took delight in Xhinna’s amazement.
“We’re only just making it official,” the harper told her. “After all, it’s that or Weyrleader—”
“But I ride a blue!”
“And we’ve already told you that it’s not the dragon, it’s the rider,” K’dan reminded her.
[…Xhinna presses then for details, and finds out she’s being put in charge of the queen wing…]
“We felt they needed someone like you,” X’lerin interjected.
“What?” Xhinna asked, brows high. “A girl?”
“No, a leader,” X’lerin retorted. “I’ve got my hands full with my wing and the queens are too much on their own for any bronze rider.” He cut his eyes slyly toward K’dan as he added, “Even a harper.”
“We’re merely recognizing your authority in a way that can’t be argued,” K’dan added.
[…Xhinna realizes both X’lerin and K’dan understand she’s going to be challenged, and concludes that X’lerin has decided to “delegate difficult tasks and distance himself from painful decisions.” like trying to handle Jepara when he’s got the only mature bronze dragon here…]
“Some won’t like it,” Xhinna pointed out.
“Do you mean J’keran?” X’lerin asked, raising an eyebrow. “I’ll manage him.”
Actually, she’d been thinking of Jepara and the other young queen riders, but Xhinna could think of nothing else to say, glancing from young bronze rider to older harper until K’dan burst out in laughter.
“You should see your face!”
Xhinna glared at him.
Paragon of maturity, K’dan is.
That said, I still agree with Xhinna that she’s being given the rank without the support and told to go fix a problem that’s going to need the bronze riders to back her up publicly. X’lerin doesn’t have the experience to recognize that Xhinna needs more than a promotion to be effective, and K’dan has never been shown on page to have any sort of leadership ability, despite routinely being significantly older than most of the cast of the Fiona books and around people who, well, theoretically can lead. Fiona, if she were here, would simply bowl over anyone who gave Xhinna trouble about her new rank, although with her empathic abilities, she might frame it in such a way that they don’t realize they’ve pissed off the Weyrwoman until T’mar takes strips out of their hide for what they did.
Giving Xhinna the official rank doesn’t actually solve the problem that needs solving, it just means that Xhinna can formally call it insubordination or conduct unbecoming a dragonrider when she tells X’lerin and K’dan who needs to sit in the sin bin. On Pern, with people like J’keran around, it seems the only available solution to the problem of Xhinna’s authority is that she beats the insubordination out of the first higher-colored dragonrider that disrespects her, and all the leadership riders just look on and shrug when people look to them to stop the fight before it gets out of hand or someone gets seriously hurt. If it’s J’keran who mouths off to Xhinna, even better.
This is a shitty solution, let’s be clear. But the solution that requires less shed blood is the one where senior leadership imposes punishments for anyone disrespecting or refusing to follow the directives of Wingleader Xhinna, regardless of their dragon color, and there’s nobody here who can think of that, much less pull it off.
Xhinna, after finding out who she’s going to be in charge of, picks R’ney as her second, which is a good decision, because R’ney is likely to respect Xhinna and be willing to serve with her, but it’s also a necessary decision so that when Xhinna gives an order and the other dragonriders look at R’ney with the idea of “is she fucking serious?”, R’ney can give back to them “Yeah, she’s serious, do it.” and it’ll be on a brown rider Wingsecond’s orders rather than the blue Wingleader’s, in their minds, when they follow through with it. So they can feel better about who is giving the orders and that their entire social paradigm hasn’t been upset and that they’re not “really” having to follow a girl on a blue who’s been duly and properly promoted.
The narrative then has Xhinna in full “everyone is giving me a headache mode” in the context of delivering the news of her choice to us, to the point where she explodes at R’ney when she comes to see her and Rowerth throws dirt on her for a digging project.
Xhinna let out a deep sigh, telling herself that, as K’dan had recently reminded her, the first duty of a leader is to control herself, particularly her temper. Xhinna’s protest that she wasn’t a leader, merely a blue rider, had been met with contemptuous snorts from both X’lerin and K’dan.
“It isn’t the color of your dragon but the force of your personality,” K’dan had told her. X’lerin had nodded in firm agreement. They’d gone on to talk about what it meant to be a leader and how some, regardess of their dragons, were better suited than others—J’keran was the counterexample.
Except, of course, that the color of her dragon is an impediment to being seen or being effective as a leader, and for as much as everyone says that Xhinna is leader material, her leadership very specifically comes out only when she doesn’t have anyone to defer to, and so she has to lead. This isn’t surprising, given that what we know of Xhinna’s upbringing, and the way that she’s been treated by everyone. Because she’s basically been traumatized all her life, the idea of stepping into a leadership position is seen as providing more attack surface, not rewarding someone as they deserve for a job well done. Xhinna’s suffered enough that she would like to fade into the background, please, but instead she’s a woman riding a blue dragon and now people are pushing her again to go into leadership.
If only there were some fucking therapists on this rock to help Xhinna with her issues and find ways of coping with them and becoming the shining leader that everyone apparently sees in her.
Anyway, R’ney’s having Rowerth dig because he wants to know how much time it would take the dragonets and the full-size dragons to remove all the dirt on top of the stone that’s on the top of the plateau. The way this is presented, it still feels to me like R’ney might not be as neurotypical as the people around him, because he seems to expect Xhinna to follow along with his idea and instantly understand why Rowerth is digging. Once he explains all the steps that he’s skipped to get to the current point, Xhinna understands, but a leap like that, and the other ways that R’ney is described doing similar hops makes me wonder. The narrative passes it off as having Smith training and a Smith brain, for the most part, but there’s something there that makes me wonder. Especially because of the way that Fandarel, the Smith, was coded in the originals, and seemed to be recruiting people with the ability to both grasp complex things and to get entirely lost in a flow state while they were working on things – the kind of stuff associated with ADHD and the autism spectrum. Add in Fandarel’s monomania with efficiency, and it only becomes a stronger read. Knowing that the traits of neuroatypicality manifest differently in girls and women than they do in men, it’s possible Mastersmith Jancis has it, too, but it really seems to be that the Smithcrafthall has become tightly associated with autism and other neuroatypicalities. There was the scene during Fiona’s time twist at the Smith Hall where the Smiths all essentially left their workplace messy to give the Headowman something to clean up, and they assumed she enjoyed doing it as well as looking after all of them. Which, y’know, still makes them assholes because they’re dumping all of that work on her and blithely assuming she’ll do it because she’s a woman, but there’s a possibility that this assholism is a mixture of neuroatypicality making it hard for them to keep a clean workspace and the societal expectations they’ve had drilled into them that women are for cleaning up after them. (There’s probably a more fascinating analysis for someone else in the idea of seeing how well the Smithcraft maps onto neuroatypicality. I can’t say that it does with authority, or with enough confidence, since meeting one person with autism means you’ve met one person with autism and sweeping generalizations don’t usually work.)
Getting back to the matter of Xhinna’s temper, there’s also this part about how she and R’ney work together well as a team.
“And where are you supposed to be right now?” Xhinna asked.
R’ney’s face fell. “Taria’s with Razz and Jirana.”
“You left a pregnant mother and a child together with a Mrreow?” Xhinna roared, unable to contain herself. Bekka had only needed one quick inspection of Taria before pronouncing her officially pregnant.
R’ney wilted for a moment, then said mulishly, “The Meeyu is sleeping and they’re on the outside of the cage.”
“Oh,” Xhinna said in an apologetic tone, “sorry.” In an attempt at further apology, she waved her hand at the hole that had provided the dirt still festooning her best riding gear and asked, “So what did you find?”
“I’d only just started, blue rider,” R’ney replied. He was too gentle—mostly—to roar back at her. The few times he had, though, she’d thoroughly deserved it and had, as soon as she’d cooled down, been grateful for his criticism.
“One of the duties of a second,” R’ney had said as he dismissed her apology back then, “is to have the courage to tell his leader when she’s wrong.”
“Keep doing that, please,” Xhinna told him.
“Is this another of those times when I’m wrong and need to apologize?” she asked now, feeling humbled.
R’ney thought about it for a moment and then shook his head. “No,” he said, “this is one of those times when you should bite my head off and feed it to the Mreeows for endangering our young.”
“Okay,” Xhinna said. “By my count, then, we’re about even.”
“I don’t keep count,” R’ney told her. “But if I did, I’d say that I was in your debt from the first.”
“Well, then, I’d say that now we’re even because I was keeping count,” Xhinna told him drolly.
Which is to say, they work pretty well as a team. And Xhinna has a healthier relationship to her emotions than Fiona does. Then again, Xhinna also doesn’t have the possibility that her emotional state could become the entire emotional state of the Weyr through a poorly-understood contagion mechanism, so she’s much more allowed to let off steam. With good reason, given how much of a bad idea it is to leave a child and a pregnant person around potentially dangerous wildlife. After R’ney fully explains the plan and also says that Tazith can’t join in yet because he’s cacluating based on Rowerth’s known rate and that he would have to recalibrate for Tazith (which Xhinna doesn’t quite fully understand, but chalks it up to not having Smith training), we get Xhinna demonstrating that same instinct about the dangers of large cats, even when they’re small.
Jirana was awake when Xhinna got to the cage. She was just outside the bars, leaning in with one arm to pet the nearest Meeyu. Xhinna broke into a run when she saw her and tackled the child, scooping her up and rolling her out of the way.
“Never do that!” Xhinna cried as Jirana burst into frightened tears. “You can’t trust the Mreeows!”
“I was only petting it,” Jirana cried. Taria woke up at the commotion and looked over in alarm.
“I must have dozed off,” she said in apology. Her eyes narrowed as she took in the tableau. “What are you doing with Jirana?”
Xhinna explained quickly and Taria shook her head. “They wouldn’t hurt her.”
“Not like Coranth,” Xhinna retorted hotly. “They’d maul her first, probably hamstring her, and then—” She broke off, seeing the growing terror in Jirana’s eyes. She took a deep breath and brought her worries under control. “Sweetie,” she told the young girl, “you can’t just think that every soft furry thing is going to be good all the time.”
“She’s right,” Taria said, giving Xhinna a pointed look. “Sometimes you can’t be too careful.”
“No,” Xhinna corrected, “you can never be too careful.” Taria had grown moodier and more worried as her pregnancy really took hold and the Hatching neared.
I have a lot of sympathy for Xhinna here, because she’s the one that’s trying to prevent everyone from getting hurt or killed, because while the cats may be cuddly at this point, that’s no guarantee they’re not going to grow up into things that would much more happily kill or maim than be petted. And nobody else seems to be seeing things the same way that she is, or at least admitting that her point of view is a valid one and that they should be much more careful around the kittens. Xhinna’s paranoia is based in the real responsibility she feels to make sure everyone gets back alive, and because she loves the people she’s trying to protect. If she had a therapist to talk to, she might be able to articulate why she needs to shield everyone from all potential dangers, and to recalibrate herself so that she’s assessing the potential dangers accurately and appropriately, and is better able to communicate her fears and worries to the people involved.
That said, for as much as Xhinna is exploding at everyone because of the intense pressure and stress she’s under to be the Most Exceptional Woman, she’s doing a damn fine job of parenting with Jirana.
“Are you two fighting again?” Jirana asked, having recovered from her fright. She looked at Xhinna and then Taria. “I thought you loved each other.”
“We do,” Xhinna told her. “But we can love each other and still disagree.”
Taria snorted. “And people, even dragonriders, can be wrong,” she said. “The smart ones are those who admit it.”
“I was coming to tell you that I’ve arranged to go Search,” Xhinna said as she released Jirana. She was surprised when the girl grabbed her hands and began to rub them.
“I like your hands,” Jirana told her softly. “I feel safe in them.”
Taria glanced sharply at the little girl, then up into Xhinna’s eyes. Her lips quivered for a moment, and then she confessed, “I do, too.”
The tension seemed to drain out of the air as Xhinna met her eyes.
“I get scared sometimes,” Xhinna said softly. She felt Jirana pause in her rubbing, then resume it again as though she were performing some sort of healing massage, like her brother J’riz.
“I’m terrified all the time,” Taria replied. She glanced down at her belly, still flat, at the Meeyus in their cage and then, fleetingly, toward the sandy beach where Coranth’s eggs lay.
[…Taria is reassured there are people with the eggs, and Xhinna calls for Tazith to come collect them…]
“My mother gets mad when I fight,” Jirana said.
“I get mad when I fight,” Xhinna admitted. “Sometimes it’s hard not to, though, isn’t it?”
“You mean it doesn’t get easier when you get older?” Jirana asked in surprise.
“It gets easier to stop being mad,” Xhinna told her. “And it gets easier to decide not to be mad. But sometimes you still get mad.”
“Oh.” Jirana raised her hands for Xhinna to pick her up. Even at ten, the child was small enough that she was nothing to carry, and Xhinna slung her on one hip with the practice of a child-minder and walked toward Tazith. Jirana leaned in suddenly and kissed Xhinna’s cheek. “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” Xhinna said, returning the kids with a big, loud smack.
I mean, Xhinna was a child-minder for she was a dragonrider, so she would have that practice.
This sequence is also so good. Adults discussing their emotions and engaging in good parenting practice about showing children that yes, sometimes there are fights, but also, there is making up and admitting that grownups sometimes get mad and get scared and have to work through their conflicts with others. What’s missing from this sequence is men and boys. (Sorry, Tazith, but for this point, you don’t count.) This scene and sequence would be so much better if it were K’dan and X’lerin talking to J’riz, because dragonrider culture is built so strongly on toxic ideas of masculinity that don’t allow someone to show emotions that would be perceived as weakness. J’keran is self-medicating his PTSD with drinking, but also is projecting so much of his insecurity into bravado that he’s a liability. It would be so much better if K’dan or X’lerin could take him aside and say that it’s okay to be scared shitless about all of this, about the possibility of dying in Threadfall, about the pain of seeing so many others who were friends die to disease and Thread, and to let him talk about it in a supportive environment. But instead, it’s Xhinna and Taria talking to Jirana, safely away from the possibility that their frankness with emotions will get anywhere near the boys or the men.
The narrative progresses to K’dan letting Lurenth out for a swim, and once it’s clear that the dragonets can float and swim, it’s decided they can come out to the water in rotations to build their muscles. Exercise matters settled for the dragons, K’dan demonstrates more intelligence than he’s ever had to at this point in trying to explain why the hell the time knot continues to exist, despite it being unraveled in the future.
“Anyway,” he said, gesturing to the drawing on the sand, “I was thinking that perhaps between has a shape to it.”
“Well, perhaps not a ‘shape’ so much as something that defines it,” K’dan said. “That between is a way through both space and time, so I thought that time and space have a meaning in between.”
“I don’t understand,” X’lerin said. Beside him, Xhinna nodded vigorously in agreement.
“I don’t know if it can be put into words,” K’dan said, pointing again to the drawing, “which is why I tried to draw it.”
“And this drawing shows?”
K’dan pointed with the stick to the part of the drawing farthest from them. “Let’s say that that line represents where Fiona and everyone else went. Our ‘present’ if you will.”
“About three Turns from now,” X’lerin said by way of agreement.
“A bit more, I think,” K’dan said. “I’ve checked with Colfet. He’s been looking at the stars and he thinks we’re back in the summer three Turns before the Third Pass.”
He pointed to a spot on the drawing. “That dotted line represents the time when D’gan [ASSHOLE] and the old Telgars jumped between.”
“And that other line?” X’lerin said, pointing to the line that ran from some point in the future to the top line of the drawing, the “present” line.
“That’s the line representing Fiona’s jump between times,” K’dan said. He pointed at the big hole where the two lines met. “And that hole is the knot they formed when they crossed paths.”
“And?” X’lerin prompted.
“We know from Xhinna that the knot was still there when she tried to jump,” K’dan said. “And we know from your arrival that the knot doesn’t prevent people from jumping back in time, only from jumping forward.”
[…they talk about the experience to confirm that C’lerin wasn’t affected going back…]
K’dan raised his stick and drew a new line close to them. “I think you’d be safest if you went back in time from here and then came forward once more.” He drew connecting lines from the “now” position to some place back in time and then back again.
“Yes,” Xhinna said, frowning at the drawing. “That could work.”
More intelligence, certainly, but not the most intelligence, since K’dan’s conclusion is that people should hop backward in time and stay behind the “now” line, rather than understanding that if you’re going to posit the knot as a specific coordinate of space-time, at the intersection of two vectors, the easiest way to avoid it is to change your own vector, as has already been pointed out by the commenters here. If trying to warp directly from the Isle to Telgar means you hit the knot, then you warp to somewhere out of the way, then stay in that spot and warp to your desired time point, and then fly or warp to Telgar once you’re past the time boundary. It’s a longer journey, sure, and you might have to rest the new dragonets more to make sure they’re able to do the hop without anyone getting lost, but that’s the matter of surviving long enough for the dragonets to do the time hop, rather than hunkering down for years upon end in a lethal sort of place so that your vector changes enough that it passes through where Fiona’s already cleared the knot.
And what’s most aggravating about this is that K’dan seems to grasp the idea of shifting vectors, with the way that he’s positing that people hop back in time first and then forward to their new destination, as a way of avoiding the time knot, but he doesn’t go all the way to the logical conclusion of being able to route around that particular break in the network. Ugh.
So, instead, they all conclude they need to raid the Igen mine back in time, keep the fact they did it a secret, because nobody knew they did it, and K’dan suggests that while they’re there, they can save some lives of people they know disappeared in the past, because if nobody saw them die, then it’s just as likely they were snatched up by a time-traveling dragon going on Search, right? (And this is why you don’t use time travel as a primary plot mechanism, because while cheating like this is a way of getting out of a scrape, or if you’re staring down the prospect of throwing penguins, once you do it enough, the readers are going to be paying more attention to the gaps than the story itself.)
In any case, in the preparations for going back to Search, Jepara has Opinions about her involvement.
“I should come with you. You’re weyrbred—you won’t know what to say,” Jepara said when Xhinna explained her plans to her gold riders. Xhinna couldn’t hide her surprise at the other’s offer. Jepara pressed on, “As a Lord Holder’s daughter, it’s my right.”
[…Xhinna nixes the idea, because losing a gold rider is never a good plan…]
“Well, then, who’s going to take over if you don’t come back?
Taria hissed, too angry to form words.
“Just as long as it’s not you,” Meeya chimed in.
“Nobody asked you, Meeyu,” Jepara snarled back. “Shouldn’t you be milking milchbeasts for your kin?”
Before things can escalate, Xhinna cuts them off and puts Bekka in charge while she’s gone, to Bekka’s astonishment. (Not to mine. Bekka’s already proven that she will stomp all over anybody who gets in her way if she gets the right excuse to do so, and she’s the one who is least likely to have patience with Jepara if she starts swanning around like she owns the place. So Bekka’s a logical choice.) That said, Jepara is absolutely going to get her ass beat by Meeya (or Bekka) and nobody is going to stop them from doing so. I’m surprised Jepara didn’t take a end up taking a backhand from Xhinna, since what she said sounded to me like a backhanded offer of help, saying that Xhinna won’t know how to address a Lord Holder to get candidates.
As it is, Jepara’s not going anywhere, but Jirana says she has to go, because that’s how she succeeds at getting her queen dragon, Laspanth. Who is a queen dragon, she says. Jepara is dismissive and insulting, and says that eighteen Candidates aren’t going to fit on a “tiny” blue, which Xhinna again does not backhand her for, but Jirana says they only need five, because only three greens and two blues will hatch from Taria’s clutch. After declaring such, Jirana shakes herself and seems to return to reality, asking if she really said all the things that she thinks she did in her dream-state. Which is our confirmation that Jirana has inhereited her father’s gift and she’s now the seer for the group. Xhinna and Taria take Jirana to Javissa to talk to her about her experiences with Tenniz and to ask whether Jirana might be faking the Sight, but Javissa points out that Jirana never saw her father, so there’s no way that she would know how to fake it. So, despite Taria’s misgivings about the matter, they take Xhinna takes Jirana on Tazith with her. And where Jirana warps Tazith to is Crom Hold, currently flying the Plague flag. That ends the narrative for Chapter 6, with the potential terror that Jirana has just dumped them in a hot zone for a plague that is virulent and deadly. Most of that part will be resolved next week, but there’s a spot to examine in the space in between where Javissa confirms Jirana isn’t lying and Jirana and Xhinna go back in time, and it’s another spot where there’s some stuff going on that needs a good therapist to help with.
“To be honest, if I could, I’d prefer to leave Jirana behind—”
“What?” Taria exclaimed. “Why?”
“Because K’dan could be wrong,” Xhinna told her. “It could be that no one can go between times.”
“X’lerin and the others—”
“I should have said, can go forward between times,” Xhinna corrected herself with a wave of her hand.
“But you’re not,” Taria said, “you’re going back—” She broke off.
“And then I’ve got to come back,” Xhinna said, nodding to confirm Taria’s unspoken conclusion. “That’s where the problems will come, if any.”
“Why can’t X’lerin go?” Taria asked. “He’s the Weyrleader.”
“It makes more sense for me to go,” Xhinna said. She said nothing, waiting for Taria to think of the reasons herself.
“You’re expendable,” Taria said at last.
“It’s my fault we’re in this mess—it was my decision to come here,” Xhinna said, not quite disagreeing.
“That’s unfair!” Taria said. She half-turned to glance at the distant broom trees that housed Sky Weyr. “Did X’lerin say that to you?”
“No,” Xhinna replied, “I said it to myself.”
“You take too much on,” Taria said.
“Someone’s got to find the Candidates. Who better than Tazith?”
Taria’s lips tightened; she couldn’t argue with that—it was well-known that blues were good at searching out Candidates and it was obvious that Sky Weyr couldn’t afford to risk X’lerin and Kivith, the only mature bronze.
Except, of course that they can risk X’lerin, since there are immature bronzes of the same general age as the immature golds, unless I’m misremembering. What that would do is put K’dan in a situation where he might have dragon-induced sex with someone not Fiona or Lorana, which would be a no-good very bad thing by the narrative, but something I would expect dragonriders to have protocols for. What the bigger horror is, most likely, is the possibility that the gold dragons might be flown by lesser colors than bronze, and that would be scandalous. But, since Xhinna already proven she can run the place and keep everyone safe, if X’lerin bites it, she can do it again, and hopefully this time with greater support from everyone else around her. And, as the person in charge, she could stomp J’keran into the ground with her authority.
We all know this isn’t how the society operates, though, and so instead it’s Xhinna who is potentially risking herself if things go sideways. Because she feels expendable, rather than indispensable, which, admittedly, is pretty much what she’s been getting from the senior leadership, or the people she thinks should be the senior leadership, so it’s not an entirely unwarranted feeling. Yet more ways in which Pern falls down in giving support to the people who need it most.
In any case, Xhinna’s trip back in time to the plague flag-flying Crom Hold next week.