Monthly Archives: April 2021

Deconstruction Roundup for April 30, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is celebrating their impending immunity from novel coronaviruses.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorum Press

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are a bit (a lot) surprised at having managed to bash together something that works in the span of an evening after hearing the concept. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragon’s Code: Winding It All Down

Last time, Piemur rescued Sebell with the help of Menolly, J’hon, and the assorted fire lizards along with them. Then Meria got called in to take care of Sebell and patch him up, since she apparently is disconnected enough from the events that she can be relied on not to say anything about it to anyone. After Sebell gets healed at Piemur’s cothold, he explains to Piemur that he doesn’t want vengeance, revenge, or punishment to happen to Jerrol’s group, but instead for Deckter to take them under his wing and give them something that will help them heal from all the abuse Meron inflicted on them.

Which, y’know, to hear him say it, would probably involve fully destabilizing the entire societal structure of Pern. Which is supposedly why nobody gets to know about this ill-fated trip and what happened, because if the Harper Hall takes umbrage, then apparently there’s a schism between Lord and Craft, and that could rip everything apart, in the same way that dragonriders fighting each other could destroy the world.

Except, y’know, not.

Dragon’s Code, Chaper 11: Content Notes:

So, now that we’ve dismissed the possibility of prosecuting Jerrol and crew, there’s really only one thing that’s left outstanding, and that’s the dragonriders that have warped themselves back in time. And really, that’s something that could have been left well enough by itself, honestly. But we still have two chapters to go, so there’s probably some other thing that has to be dealt with. And, I suppose, we need to resolve this thing where Piemur is still feeling adrift and otherwise hasn’t found his voice again. Not that it would take up two chapters, but let’s go forward.

At the beginning of chapter 11, since Sebell is healing, Meria is going back, and so is Menolly. B’naj has come for Meria, and that means it’s time for more of Piemur’s purple dragonrider prose.

B’naj regarded Piemur with a composed and open demeanor, not a glimmer of arrogance evident. Unexpectedly Piemur recognized something in the older man’s face that, up to this point in his life, he had never fully comprehended: What compelled B’naj and all dragonriders was an unconditional commitment to their dragons and to the code they lived by, a code that was so deeply embedded in dragonmen and -women that it had become part of their very essence: to protect, and to sustain the safety of everyone.
Piemur bowed to B’naj, trying to convey in that one slight gesture to convey the deep respect the older man deserved.

I mean, the closest we’ve gotten to that is the dragons who, in the presence of Thread, will do whatever they can to try and destroy it, apparently on genetic impulses from Kitti Ping. The dragonriders themselves don’t seem to have gathered any sort of altruistic impulses over all this time, amd since they’ve basically set themselves up as the top of the pile from the beginning, I doubt they were ever going to develop such a thing. But everybody assumes they have to have the world’s best interests at heart to be willing to throw themselves at something that would otherwise destroy the planet on regular intervals, and it’s not like the dragonriders want anyone to think differently than that. Even if most of that throwing themselves at deadly things is from the dragons they’re bonded to. Which is to say, I think the Dragon’s Code that Piemur and everyone else insists is real and has been there since time immemorial…is mostly in the heads of the people who believe in it. That’s probably nothing new to anyone who has been following this series from the beginning.

Piemur sends his regards and appreciation for the attempt that B’naj, Meria, and Seventh had at trying to get the egg back and return it, and then they leave. Piemur chooses to spend time with Sebell as he recovers, at which point we learn that despite their best efforts to keep everything a secret, the whole thing got exposed anyway.

“The Masterharper received a message from Nabol today, just before we came here,” Menolly replied, trying unsuccessfully to hide the smug look that spread across her face. “Jerrol and his kin have had their comeuppance.”
“Yes!” N’ton said under his breath, punching a fist into the palm of his other hand.
“Lord Deckter and his primary holders found out what those three did to Sebell, and what they planned to do to Jaxom,” Menolly told them.
“How?” Sebell asked, taking the words out of Piemur’s mouth.
“It’s the oddest thing, but some biddy named Fronna recognized Piemur when he and J’hon were bringing you out of the cellars, Sebell. Seems she nearly had a fit when she saw the condition you were in, so she marched straight into Lord Deckter’s rooms, fit to be tied, and demanded to know why two men leaving his Hold looked as if they’d had the stuffing kicked out of them. When Lord Deckter was unable to give her an answer she told him exactly what she thought of him. Candler heard her, as did everyone in the Great Hall! Her choice of words was great! Menolly placed on hand on her hip and changed her voice to sound like a busybody old woman. “ ’Lord Deckter, you cannot harbor the despeakable activities that’s been going on in your own Hold. No, no, it’s time for you to take better charge of your men!’ ”
“When Lord Deckter quizzed her further, she told him how odd she thought it that a single dragon took off from the side rampart to the Hold, not where dragons usually arrive and depart when visiting Nabol. And she harangued another holder, who’d also seen Piemur and Sebell, and made him step forward to back him up. So Lord Deckter had no choice but to find out what’d happened in his Hold, under his very nose. One thing led to another, and when Jerrol and his kin were found frantically searching every room in the deserted part of the cellars, the whole sordid mess was revealed.”

Yep, the entire plan to keep everything secret gets blown up by a reasonably observant woman who won’t back down and who has a very strong sense of justice and insists a Lord should have a better idea of what is going on in his Hold. This would be the sort of thing that the Lord’s justice officer would be the right person to handle first, but the problem is, of course, that despite having all the trappings of vassalage feudalism, none of the authors have really bothered with how much running a place like Nabol would require subordinates, who in turn would also require subordinates, and so forth.

“Did they plan to use Sebell to blackmail the Harper Hall?” N’ton asked.
Sebell cleared his throat. “I think they were using me to get the attention of their Lord Holder, through the Harper Hall,” he explained. “Piemur, do you remember when we went to Marek’s house? Before Laida let us in, there was a young boy knocking around outside. She shooed him away. Do you remember?” When Piemur nodded, Sebell continued.
“Well, it turns out he was a lookout for Jerrol and reported back to him as soon as Laida let us into her home. Jerrol took no small amount of pleasure informing me of that,” Sebell said with a rueful grin. “The boy must’ve heard Lauda call me by name, or perhaps she called me ‘harper.’ No matter. Our cover story was blown long before we entered Skal’s brewhouse.”

I think that might be some of the most competent villainy in execution I have seen in this book. Sentries on the lookout for suspected infiltrators certainly qualifies, as apparently does being suspicious enough of Piemur to want to put a sentry out to look for him, so I guess Piemur wasn’t as subtle as the thought he was. (Which, actually, tracks with he rest of this book and all the other times that Piemur tries to be a spy and fails at it pretty spectacularly.) The idea of “murder a harper to send a message to your Lord Holder,” on the other hand, doesn’t make sense at all. Not making sense is nothing new for this crew, but if they thought Deckter was going to give in to pressure coming from the Harper Hall to give Jerrol and his people whatever they wanted so they would stop killing Harpers, I don’t think that would work out at all. Especially if what they want are lands, because someone has to try and collect on those demands, and that seems like a very bad thing to try doing.

Sebell goes on to explain that he tried to convince them of the futility of their plan, but he was too convincing and he got the shit beat out of them in their anger. Sebell continues to advocate for mercy and understanding, so as to get Jerrol and company to change their ways, but the topic quickly switches over to Jaxom and how much he probably hasn’t noticed that he’s been getting an extra helping of observers and guards.

“I think Jaxom’s been too preoccupied to notice,” N’ton answered, and when Sebell raised one questioning brow, the dragonrider continued, “With a fetching young woman, from what I hear.”
[…Menolly has noticed that Jaxom deflects her questions about the stolen egg and its return, and that the fire-lizards were really pestering Ruth for a good long while, but makes no connections between those incidents and the likelihood that it means Jaxom and Ruth are responsible at this point…]
“Brand tells me Jaxom divides his time between duties in his Hold and his persistent interest in the sister of a smallholder in Plateau,” N’ton explained. “It appears he’s beaten such a path to her door that Ruth must know the place like I know the back of my hand.” His brilliant-blue eyes shone mischievously.
“Well,” said Sebell, glancing quickly at Menolly, “it’s good that Jaxom has found a pleasant diversion.”

And then they go on to talk about the suitability of Jaxom for confirmation to the Council of Lords Holder and D’ram’s likely abdication of his Weyrleadership. The excuse of “Jaxom’s found someone to bone, and that’s why he’s been so secretive about everything,” presented in this way, does look like a good surface explanation, even though it doesn’t fit all of the data that’s known about what happened with the egg and who was likely to have stolen it, but if you’re not paying attention to all of the incongruities, then I suppose you’d miss the parts that should make you think harder about it. Especially because there’s this ready-made excuse sitting in front of you, and Occam would suggest that it’s the right answer, since it’s the one that requires the least amount of torturing data. It just happens to be completely inaccurate because Jaxom and Corana’s relationship has basically nothing to do with Jaxom and Ruth going to retrieve the egg, but that the relationship appears to be providing sufficient cover for nobody to look any deeper as to why Jaxom disappears, why he came back with a Threadscore mark on him, and all the other observed data about who stole the egg back.

Since they’re now on the topic of dragons, Piemur asks what is to be done about the Weyr that removed themselves to another time, and N’ton flatly tells him that they can learn to deal with the consequences of heir own actions and their desire to cling to their own autonomy. And I just have to snark at this and go “Y’all remember that this whole planet was founded on the idea that there is inviolable autonomy between guilds, lords, and dragonriders, right?” Because the time-skipped are repeatedly being called out for wanting to hold on to their autonomy instead of ask for help, and Sebell continues to suggest that Lord Deckter take his kin in and provide for them so they can heal from the torture that Meron put them through, and it seems like this book is repudiating the Randian foundations of the world and its people. I’m all for this, but it takes a little more suspension of disbelief that the descendants of Sean and Sorka (who wanted those dragonriders to be completely independent of everyone else, save for the tribute trains) are now griefing others because they wanted to stay independent. Beyond that, there’s still yet more reference to this deeply-entrenched dragonrider code.

“Don’t you see, Piemur?” N’ton went on. “Dragons expect us to know better—to do what is proper and for the benefit of everyone. They were designed to selflessly pit themselves against a dangerous enemy for the sake of the whole world. And they trust us to do our part in Pern’s defense, too, not squabble and steal like dishonorable curs. The [time-skipped], even if it was just a few of them, violated a code that runs so deep among weyrfolk they may have corrupted the trust of our dragons.”

And, y’know, I would like to see what that looks like, honestly. If this code is so intrinsically wound between dragonriders, what are the psychological and physiological consequences of it being broken like that? What happens if you have a trust bond broken between a dragon and their rider? Or one broken between dragons and other dragons or other dragons and their riders? Are there stories of what happened as a warning to others, or a tale about a dragonrider who engaged in *gasp* cowardice and what happened to them? We’ll never know.

Piemur decides in the next paragraph that while he’s not going to mention B’naj and Meria, deciding the N’ton already knows and doesn’t care, he still thinks it’s worthwhile to try and convince him of another way of thinking. No, really, that’s what he thinks.

Nonetheless, he felt compelled to try to show the Fort Weyrleader another point of view.
“I realize that, N’ton, far more clearly than I ever did before. But when it comes down to it, we all have impulses that we can’t ignore—or even control—sometimes. When we feel rejected, or under a burden, and can see no solutions to our problems, then we’re bound to behave badly. That’s why we have to support and protect one another. What the men from Nabol and those few Southern [time-skipped] did was dishonorable, unspeakable—” Piemur faltered for a moment, searching for the words to explain the idea he was trying to voice. “But it’s as Sebell just said: They have to be given the chance to change, or they never will. To my mind, punishment followed by isolation is not the answer.”
“Oh!’ Menolly exhaled the exclamation on a single breath. “All that time spent on your own hasn’t been wasted, my friend. I do believe you’ve become our very own deep thinker, Pie.”

There’s no indication of mood or delivery on this, other than the singular exhalation from Menolly, so I can’t tell if she’s making fun of him or not. I think we’re supposed to believe that she’s being serious, but I’m staring at this turnaround of position from Piemur. When it’s his own mentor that’s been beaten solidly, Piemur and Menolly have to be talked out of punishment, but when there are dragonriders involved, suddenly it’s all mercy and reintegration. It’s disconcerting, even if it does seem to be exactly in character for him. Like, Piemur, you want to work on that blinkered spot that you have about dragonriders and your willingness to forgive them for everything they’ve done?

It would land a little better for me, or at least show some author awareness, if Menolly is gently ribbing Piemur about his sudden turn into deep thought where he hadn’t been before. And possibly suggesting that if he believes Sebell’s approach is right, he should let Sebell try to explain it to N’ton. Which would be a nice callback to the Toric-Robinton-Piemur situation from earlier in the book.

Piemur’s plea, such that it is, falls on closed ears, and we proceed to dinner, where Pergamol casually mentions that he’s got such a giant chunk of meat roasting that it’ll go to waste if Menolly and N’ton don’t stay for dinner. (Hah. Roasting, smoking, salting, all sorts of preservation methods for meat were well known and would almost certainly have been preserved or rediscovered over time such that none of that would have gone to waste. Plus, meat in this time period on Terra is an expensive thing, something you bring out when you’re entertaining guests that you want to stay in the good graces of, or people who are of sufficiently higher social rank than you that you are going to give them the extravagance because they can make your life hell if they think you’ve disrespected them. (Same thing.) Piemur “marveled at how the little community of people, who obviously lived much of their lives cheek by jowl, managed to maintain their equanimity so easily.” Perhaps because he was taken to Harper Hall as the star boy sporano so early in his life, he never really understood what life was ahead of him and what little wealth there would be that would have to be shared, in addition to all of the much larger amount of work that would also have to be shared. And that all of that would have to be done with a smile if there was the possibility of one of the Lord’s men nearby, because if someone audibly said something critical of the Lord, there would be no space and no wealth and no cothold at all.

But, instead, we’re supposed to get a big happy family vibe from this situation, with offhand comment about how Jalla and Nula, in whose name the cothold is, are really good at making babies, like “Shells, the man hardly has to take his trews off and she’s got another bun in the oven!” as a quote. In a world like Pern, though, hyperfertility like that is probably something that gets selected for, especially if there’s the same kinds of infant and child mortality rates there are in the comparable period of Terran history.

It can’t be too idyllic, though, or we wouldn’t believe it.

As he watched his family and friends, Piemur marveled at how the little community of people, who obviously lived much of their lives cheek by jowl, managed to maintain their equanimity so easily. Then, without warning, a chair was thrust back, scraping loudly on the stone paving, and everyone looked up. Jalla and Nula’s young son said something to his mother in a fierce whisper and then pulled his arm out of her grasp sharply, storming from the table in a huff.
“Leave him,” Nula said to no one in particular, her eyes fixed on her plate of food as the assembled diners briefly looked up at the commotion.
“Numie’s a hothead and we all have to learn to let him cool off,” Ama said to no one in particular. “He’ll come to his senses again given time, he always does. He knows we’re always here for him—when he’s ready to come back.” And she chuckled at her own words, patting N’ton on the hand absently.
[…after dinner, Pergamol produces instruments and there is dancing and storytelling, and eventually, yes, Numie does come back to the table…]
“I see Numie has come to his sense,” Ama said to Piemur as she sat down next to him. “He’s forgotten all about his earlier upset. He can’t stop his feet from dancing now.” She chuckled as they watched the young boy clicking and tapping his feet on the solid floor, his eyes gleaming with delight.

I really would like to know what Numie was upset about, because this is either parenting done almost correctly (someone should really go check on Numie to make sure he’s okay and that he’s not doing anything destructive to himself or others) or this is parenting done terribly wrong, because there’s nobody listening to him and his entirely valid concerns. I can’t tell which of these it is, because this was supposed to be charming and folksy and a child that’s obviously upset over nothing and this happens all the time, so there’s nothing at all to worry about. It may be nothing, and Numie is sensitive, or it may be that Numie has a neurodivergence that makes things that neurotypicals think are nothing into very important things and nobody has the understanding or the professional ability to help Numie learn healthy coping strategies.

During the music, Ama has a conversation with Piemur about his talents and why he’s not singing along with the other harpers.

“But you are good at other harper skills. You can’t expect only your singing voice to fill you with self-respect and pleasure, my Pie.” Ama looked at him sharply, though her words were spoken with kindness.
“But I was good at singing, Ama. It was the one thing I could do well without having to try.” And he shook his head, looking at her with a weak grin. A sudden rush of regret hit him, and he felt the loss of his voice as keenly as when it had just broken. Piemur had to look away from Ama quickly, afraid he’d lose his composure in front of her; he stared down at his hands instead, as they lay idle in his lap.

Ama tells him that having one good thing isn’t enough, and that she was happiest in life when she went for hard-won goals and that he should be himself and listen to his instincts and he’ll be fine.

And maybe it’s because I’m living in an era where we’re finally starting to recognize the signs of neurodivergence in more people, earlier or later on in life, and normalizing it to the point where there are treatments that can be applied, and some of the stigma associated with them is lessening (not all, not a lot, but enough that we’re (just barely) starting to treat it as a serious condition rather than behavior and discipline issues or personal failings), but I kind of wonder whether Piemur has ADHD in the 3.0 Pern. He has trouble with sitting still, he seems extremely sensitive to rejection, he can still recall older hurts with the same clarity and intensity as when they just happened, and he had a talent that was encouraged and refined to as high a degree as possible because that was effortless. And he picked up drumming, something fairly complex, apparently, really easily and was working ahead of the other apprentices. And he got bullied for reasons that he didn’t fully understand and that nobody fully explained to him. And, I’m pretty sure, the Harper Hall doesn’t do a whole lot of encouragement based on effort, but focuses on results instead, which would continue to encourage Piemur to stick to what he knows, because that’s safe space to be in. So, yeah, that’s the other reason I wonder about Numie, because it might be that he’s getting the same parenting that Piemur got, and that didn’t turn out well at all.

The rest of the chapter is N’ton, Menolly, and Piemur piecing together that it was, indeed, Jaxom and Ruth who stole back the egg and returned it, finally putting together the puzzle pieces in the correct way to reach that conclusion, and they realize that the “Jaxom’s going to see Corana” tack they were on earlier was a good smokescreen for what Jaxom and Ruth were also doing. Because Ruth always knows when he is, and because Jaxom said some really self-incriminating things, once they’re looked at in the right light. The next question they try to puzzle out is why Jaxom hasn’t said anything about it, and N’ton concludes that it’s because Jaxom was already being suffocated, and he didn’t want his few liberties curtailed even more once it came out that he had flagrantly disobeyed a whole bunch of the prohibitions and restrictions placed on him and Ruth, even if he did it for the best of causes. Because that’s completely what N’ton would have done to him, and Lytol would have agreed with him, because they both want Jaxom to be a Lord who can transport himself because of a fluke.

Anyway, the last chapter is next week, and there’s a lot of farewells to be said in it, I guess.

Deconstruction Roundup for April 23, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is considering the questions of how to make the world of in-person interactions much more accessible when others would rather it go back to “normal”.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Christine Kelley: Eruditorum Press

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorum Press

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are a bit (a lot) surprised at having managed to bash together something that works in the span of an evening after hearing the concept. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragon’s Code: The Nonsensical Plot, Part Two

Last time, despite not really having any need to inject themselves into it, Piemur and Sebell tried to infiltrate Jerrol’s group and get more information out of them about their plans to kill Jaxom. Piemur managed to get drunk, and in doing so, ended up getting kidnapped by the conspirators, along with Sebell. He’s escaped, using his strength and wits, and has sent Sebell’s Kimi to Menolly to get help so he can go rescue Sebell from whatever fate his torturers have in mind for him.

Dragon’s Code, Chapter Ten: Content Notes: torture, hangovers, abuse

Help arrives in the form of Menolly and her full fair of fire-lizards, as well as J’hon, all of whom Piemur is very glad to see. As he explains the situation to them, though, he wins himself back up a full-on panic state because he doesn’t know how much time he’s lost and whether or not Sebell is alive. Menolly sends out her fair to collect information from the local fire lizards while the humans try to find the door that Piemur came out of so they can get back in. Which is a much harder task than originally thought, because there are a lot of doors that are in the wall of Nabol Hold and Piemur is having thoughts of hopelessness.

(Also, I suspect he’s fighting a concussion, given how much his head and body hurt, how many times he’s taken head injuries, and how hard it is for him to put together coherent thoughts without significant effort.)

Piemur put his hands to his head, forgetting about the lumps above his ears. The sudden act made him wince in pain. He fell silent then, fighting back the mounting despair, too embarrassed to look at his friends and ashamed because he had failed Sebell
You can’t hide from this, Piemur, he thought and forced himself to look up. As he slowly searched the faces of Menolly and J’hon he knew he had failed to hide his distress. Menolly started to fidget, and J’hon looked at the ground; both were clearly worried, and Piemur realized that nothing could be done to help find Sebell until he pulled himself together.

This would be really good in a work that played up a lot more the idea of “Piemur is trying too hard to rush his puberty” instead of characterizing him as aimless and listless, adrift and really wanting to get back to the comfortable position he was in before. Because once Piemur slows down a bit, he remembers a key detail about the door he popped out of sounded when he slammed it behind him. And then rushes past the door before realizing its the right one in his haste, before recognizing the ping from his brain, going back, and examining it slowly and carefully. He realizes that the door doesn’t sit correctly, and that misalignment is what likely caused the off-kilter sound. Every time he stops and thinks in this entire escape and rescue sequence, Piemur pulls a useful bit of information out of his brain that helps move things forward. This could be one of those profound “Okay, I do know what I’m doing as a harper if I can not surrender to the fear. Fear is the mind killer” kinda of moments. But there wasn’t the build up before to make this be a useful realization point, at least not without squinting. Because, if I squint, I suppose all of those “Piemur has trouble keeping his cover” and the entire thing with blurting stuff out in front of Robinton and Toric would be stuff that could be attributed to “Piemur doesn’t stop and think and go forward after that,” but all of that is just as much evidence that Piemur might have a neurodivergence, not that anyone knows what that is on Pern, and therefore it’s not a matter of him lacking conscious control and more a matter of his coping mechanisms not working as well as they could, and that we should see those times where things do go according to plan as being something that takes conscious effort and energy to maintain (and that would be severely affected by drunkenness, heat, or other environmental factors).

Having tried to get in the door every which way they know, J’hon and Piemur get some help from above.

“Oy! Whadder you doin’?” a voice called.
Startled, Piemur and J’hon looked up but couldn’t locate the source of the voice. They searched all along the huge expanse of wall, but no one was visible.
“Up here, you thick two-wits!” the voice called again. Piemur and J’hon took another step backward and looked up once more. High up in the wall of the Hold they saw a head protruding from a tiny opening.
“Whadder you doin’?” the head repeated.
“Ah,” Piemur said, thinking quickly. “Lord Deckter wants us to check that all the doors are working from the inside and the outside.” He dare a big show of scratching his head, trying not to wince when he touched the sore spots. “But we can’t get in from this door, if you get what I mean.” He scratched his head again.
“You’ll never open that door from out there! Jackers, there ain’t any knob! Where did they find you two? I don’t know why he wants you to check ’em all when the whole passageway is going to be bricked up tight for good. But ne’er mind. Whadder I know?” the head yelled, shaking itself from side to side before continuing.” The Lord Holder knows best, I reckon. Listen here to me an’ I’ll tell you what to do. Go back to the rampart and in through the door; then go all the way down to the end of the passway. Take the second turn right, down two sets a’ steps, and to the passway at the very end. That’s where that door is.”

Having been suitably chastised, and with Piemur not feeling great at having to look up so much (concussion!), J’hon gives thanks and ushers Piemur and Menolly through the correct directions to get them to the cellars. Which involves a lot of Piemur feeling very unsteady, physically and mentally, and needing both a pep talk and nearly some physical bracing to get him through the crowds and to keep going. (Concussion!)

Also, can I say how much I would like to see how these imprecations came about? “Two-wits” and “Jackers” sound like things that have some fairly interesting etymologies, and unfortunately, we don’t get to know anything more about them. (And, I’ll admit, this entire scene played a lot like Adam West’s Batman climbing up the side of a building, and this person popping out of the small window is the guest star cameo for the episode portraying a citizen of Nabol, so it was a lot funnier than the narrative was going for. Unless this was supposed to be a pure comedy moment.)

Once in the cellars, Menolly vetoes Piemur’s suggestion to split the party, and they go to work trying to find the spot where Sebell is. After finding nothing in their search, Piemur stomps his foot in frustration and gets ready to search again, but he’s stayed by J’hon asking him to do it again. When J’hon demonstrates scary he wants, everyone gets to see that the dust doesn’t fall down, but instead like there’s a current of air in the room. Which leads them to throw aside a barrel that was covering a door, and behind that door is a pile of rags, which makes Piemur despair again, except Menolly spots inside the pile of rags a Sebell, and the crew works to get him free before the fire lizards arrive and Kimi scolds Sebell. Now that they have Sebell free, and have enough people-power to get him out, but before they’ve actually pulled him out of danger, the rescuers decide to have a chat about what Healer they’re going to bring him to.

“We need to get you to a Healer, Sebell,” he said.
“But we can’t bring him back to Fort—or the Harper Hall,” Menolly said, her voice breaking slightly. Tears ran down her face.
“You’re right, Menolly,” Piemur said, and he placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “Too many questions will be asked, and I’m not sure how we can answer them.”
J’hon muttered an expletive through tight lips, and Piemur could see the dragonrider was doing his utmost to control his anger.
“Wherever we bring Sebell, his condition will provoke too much interest. And if we right accuse Jerrol, Jentis, and Serra—or anyone—of beating a harper, we’d have to explain why Sebell and I were here. Then the threat to Jaxom—which we’ve been trying so hard to keep secret—would become common knowledge.”
Sebell nodded as Piemur spoke.
“No, we can’t tell anyone what happened here, though I sorely wish we could,” Piemur spoke through clenched teeth.

Cocowhat by depizan

That does not logic at all, no matter how much everyone is sagely nodding along to it in the narrative. There’s enough evidence already obtained that Deckter could have had all of them arrested before the brew-ha-ha at Skal’s, and now that both harpers are safely recovered (or will be), Deckter really could just disappear the lot of them, as silently or loudly as he wants, with whatever charges, if any, he wants to put forward publicly as the reason for them facing his justice. We saw with Halla that the Lord’s court can be called anywhere, for any reason, and that nobody is entitled to an advocate for their position, and if they had one, it would likely be the harper, which would be an issue, since this is an offense against harpers and, oh yeah, there are no legists. If Deckter disappears the conspirators and puts up a public story that they were trying to kill or injure him, then the plot against Jaxom never comes out, and it’s not like there’s an independent press trying to get to the bottom of all of this that will keep digging and pushing against things until the truth comes out. They can take Sebell anywhere they like, and whatever story gets put out will be validated and become official. Even if it is “hey, we heard that people were trying to plot against another Lord, and when we tried to see if it was serious or not, they beat us up and tried to kill us.”

But because we’re stuck in another one of those situations where “discretion” apparently overrides any other concern, including logic and good sense, it takes them a while before Piemur hits on the solution of having J’hon fly all of them straight on to his house in Crom, and then calling a Healer to attend Sebell there, so that there’s nothing that happens that’s high profile. As they leave (and draw lots of attention to themselves, because it’s two really beat up people in the company of a harper and a dragonrider), the narrative tells us that Piemur spots someone who looks a lot like Fronna, who gasps at seeing their condition as they walk by. Which will become important later, so we mention it now. And then they fly to Crom, where Piemur gets a somewhat joyous welcome from everyone, at least until they notice Sebell, and Drina, one of the others who lives in the space, diagnoses Sebell with a separated shoulder that will need a Healer to put back in, even if she can handle most of the other stitching up and work done needed to help heal him. Eventually, the group decides on Meria, as she’s both Healer-trained and low-profile enough that J’hon can go get her from Southern, bring her here, have her keep silence, and send her back and nobody will know any wiser that harpers got beaten up while trying to suss out a plan against Jaxom. Which still doesn’t make any logical sense.

Meria is as good as her training, and re-sets Sebell’s shoulder back into the socket while she promises her silence on the matter. She also looks after Piemur’s bumps (and hopefully checks him out for a concussion, although the narrative doesn’t say any such thing) and eventually gives him a blanket and tells him to rest when he’s doing a bad job at staying awake. And the narrative advances to Sebell looking and feeling healthier, going to dinner, meeting Ama, the woman who raised Piemur as a mother, and Piemur admitting in front of everyone that he hasn’t sung since his voice cracked, which Ama takes in stride and doesn’t shame or pressure him about, and eventually, Piemur has had enough of his family and heads back to where Sebell and Meria are.

“Hm,” Meria replied, smiling in return, “it is a little puzzling, Sebell. The dislocation of your shoulder isn’t that uncommon an injury, but the bruising and lacerations on your legs make me more than a little curious, particularly since you asked for my help. Why didn’t you get someone from your own Crafthall?”
“I know we have your discretion, Meria,” Sebell said, searching her face for any hesitation on her part. When she nodded, Sebell sighed, puffing out his cheeks as he made a spur-of-the-moment decision. “We were trying to get more information about some men from Nabol who, we believe, are planning to act against Hold code.” At the look of alarm on Meria’s face, he stopped speaking. She pursed her lips and then gestured for him to continue, but her response piqued Piemur’s curiosity. Why should Meria be concerned about the men from Nabol?
[…Sebell explains the plot, and Meria asks what they plan to do about those men, further inflaming Piemur’s curiosity…]
“I’d honestly prefer to leave them to their Lord Holder,” Sebell replied. “He is, after all, their kinsman, whether they like it or not. But I don’t think punishing them would serve any purpose, not in their situation.”
“But look what they did to you, Sebell!” Piemur cried, outrage propelling him to his feet. He stood with his fists at his side and his body thrust forward, his face suffused with anger as he stared at his mentor. Sebell merely held out one hand, gesturing to Piemur to calm down.
“Yes, Sebell, why don’t they deserve to be punished?” Menolly asked, her brows furrowing deeply.
“They’re hard men, and hardhearted, from what I witnessed,” Sebell continued. “I know they were treated poorly by Lord Meron when he was alive, so it explains a great deal. What they need is for Lord Deckter to take them in hand instead of leaving them alone.”
“You’re amazing, after the threatment you received from them,” Menolly replied, a deep scowl darkening her face.

First of all things, that’s the second code that’s been pulled out of the aether and placed in here as if it were nothing worth looking at, after the dragon’s code. I suppose this could be sen as the logical extension of the insistence that everything was in the Charter, even though there obviously would have had to have been amendments to it, but things like a “Hold code” suggest a level of standardization of legal procedure, penalty, and crime that Pern has never had (except “Charter offenses”, and it’s only in the 2.0 timeline that those things were even thought of before the appearance of the AI and the recovery of the charter). So Sebell saying that people are acting against “Hold code,” as if the laws of any given Hold and its territory aren’t fully “whatever the Lord of the Hold decides is the law that day” and always have been is a very big revision for our 3.0 timeline.

Unless “Hold code”, in this case, means the sum total of obligations and rights taught to everyone by harpers in their Teaching Ballads, which is how things have been referrred to in every previous work but this one, but again, variant timeline. In any case, Meria has no reason to accept the idea of “Hold code” without remarking on it, unless dragonriders get taught hold code as well as dragonrider code (along with the understanding that dragonrider code is superior in every way to Hold code and Hold code is not to be followed unless it’s in the interest of the dragonrider to do so.)

Second, while Sebell is correct that what the right play for Lord Deckter would have been to provide some land for all of the disgruntled relatives, even if it wasn’t specifically the land they were promised by Lord Meron, and to let them sort it out amongst themselves what that land’s final configuration would be, Deckter is now caught in a bad position, because forgiving people who specifically plotted to kill a Lord and beat the people who were going to report on that plot is probably going to result in more plots against him, because Pern is the kind of place that would see that forgiveness as weakness and try to exploit it, possibly by arming some of those disgruntled relatives, providing them with people, and then setting them against Deckter in the hopes that Nabol destabilizes and a better puppet gets put on the throne. (Well, except for whatever magical compulsion there is in place that stops the Lords from plotting against each other and trying to take each other’s lands and people.) If what Sebell wants is a peaceful resolution where everyone is reconciled to one another, that’s not going to happen now, because any conciliatory item at this point sets the bar at “well, if we beat up some harpers as an act of terrorism, then the Lords will give us what we demand.” Or, at least, I would assume that’s what it would be seen as on Pern. Sebell is right that the correct call is to leave them in the hands of Deckter, because he’s the person with appropriate jurisdiction over the matter, and if Sebell wants to advocate for forgiveness and mercy, he’s welcome to, but ultimately the decision is Deckter’s, and I don’t see him as being forgiving of kinsfolk of his that have demonstrated a willingness to do violence and plot overthrows of Lords. You’re SOL, Sebell, even if it’s a noble goal you have in mind.

Now, if Pern had a real social safety net, where these conspirators could be housed, fed, given therapists, and allowed to contribute productively to society without having to scrabble for basic needs or be subjected to someone else’s caprice about their lives, then Sebell’s idea would probably be both correct and would work, because the infrastructure needed for restorative justice would be present. Of course, if that social safety net had been in place up to this point, there’s a good chance this plot would have never happened, because Meron wouldn’t be able to be so effective with his caprice and spite.

The plot proceeds with Meria revealing that back before the Great Leap Forward, she was from Nabol Hold, the niece of the Lord Holder, no less, got Searched, didn’t Impress, but did fall in love with S’han and stayed on in the Weyr. When the Weyrs jumped forward, S’han missed a jump and was lost, leaving Meria in an unfamiliar time without her anchor, but with familiar people, and she learned everything from Fort’s Weyr Healer, G’reff, eventually assuming the position when his health became too poor for him to continue. When exile came for the Southern Weyr, even though Meria disapproved of the inflexibility, she went South to stay with her friends. And now, she has a certain amount of guilt about how things turned out in the South.

“Life grew very difficult in Southern Weyr and the riders seemed to lose their sense of purpose, and so did their dragons. Eventually I felt I couldn’t remain there any longer, but I had nowhere else to go—being holdless is not a thing people from my time can adapt to.
“Toric had been trading supplies with Southern Weyr, and when I asked him for help he offered me a place in his Hold. T’kul was furious at my decision and made his feelings known throughout the Weyr. It’s with the deepest sense of regret that I’ve realized, all too late, that I did a selfish thing when I left the weyrfolk of Southern, because I was the only person among them who had an in-depth healer’s knowledge.” She paused, gathering her thoughts.

I mean, that sounds much more like Meria got the opportunity to flee an abusive relationship and T’kul confirmed for her that it was the right decision by flying into a rage about her decision. And besides, didn’t T’kul or someone else kill the Weyr Healer at Southern before Meria fled? Or was that after? Either way, it’s not Meria’s fault that Southern Weyr is a hostile work environment. Plus, it’s a pretty common abuser tactic to make the victim believe that leaving will cause far greater harm than staying does. It’s much harder to get away from an abuser if it appears clear to you that doing so will result in their being unable to care for themselves, or that the organization itself will collapse without you staying on. It’s usually an illusion, and the abuser is able to land on their feet just fine, or the organization is able to continue on without you, but it is hard to trust that reality, and to trust that you yourself will also be able to land on your feet and rebuild without them. (Even more so if you’ve been socialized into a role that insists you are responsible for taking care of others, or that you are responsible for the actions of others, and that no entity will take hold that person or organization accountable for their actions.)

And, even knowing all of that, it doesn’t get rid of the guilt and regret. Because the victim is almost always the person that ends the relationship, since they’re the one suffering from it. But all of the pressures put on them always suggest, if not demand, that there was some effort the victim could have made, maybe if they smiled more, maybe if they complained less, maybe if they contributed everything they had, maybe if they just went along more, maybe if they didn’t dress so provocatively, maybe, maybe, maybe if they had properly read the mind of their abuser and acted accordingly, then things would have turned out completely okay. Very rarely, except from advocacy groups and those who have been victimized, do we hear “Hey, maybe the abuser shouldn’t have been abusive. Maybe they could have recognized their own role in building this situation and worked to dismantle it. Maybe they could have gotten help for themselves to stop being an abuser. Maybe they could have listened more, not with an ear to weaponizing what they heard, but with intent and action to make the relationship equitable and fair. Maybe they could have fought back against their cultural conditioning. Maybe they could have found a way of curbing their outsized entitlement complex. Maybe, maybe, maybe it’s only the abuser’s fault there was abuse, and the entire world needs to shift from blaming the victim to blaming the abuser.”

And, of course, Pern still has no therapists.

“I know you’ve heard often enough how stubborn us [time-skipped] are,” Meria went on, and a rueful smile briefly played across her lips, “and how the Weyrs of my time hold on to their autonomy like a crutch, unable to ask for, or accept, help from any quarter outside the Weyr. So when our firestone sacks were completely depleted, the riders and dragons grew desperate, because they had nothing with which to flame Thread. The riders tried mining firestone themselves, but it was a disaster.
“I had left the Weyr at that point, and B’naj told me that almost the entire complement of dragons was at the mine to transport the stone back to the Weyr when the shafts gave way and caved in. He said the plume of dust that rose up from the mine must’ve been mixed with more than firestone dust, because it had a peculiar effect on everyone, although they didn’t know it at the time. Those who had been at the mine started to grow irritable, and a persistent cough plagued most of the dragons and some of the riders, too. Then they developed chronic aches and grew more lethargic as their health continued to decline.
“Of course, they no longer had a healer, and were too proud to ask anyone from outside the Weyr for help. The sad thing is I know I could have helped them. We have a root that grows in the north to help counter all sorts of woes. G’reff called it thujang, but I haven’t heard it mentioned in this Pass. Perhaps it’s vanished. I’ve been trying to find another root in the south that has the same healing properties.”

Piemur immediately thinks of the jango root tea that he had in Nabol, but despite the similarity of names, he dismisses the connection and keeps his attention on Meria’s story. Y’know, having learned the lesson about not running off on tangents properly so that he doesn’t pipe up with the correct thing at an inopportune moment.

That said, this firestone mine collapse is also the first time where dragonriders have tried to do something that isn’t being a dragonrider and utterly failed at it, (welcome to the 3.0 timeline) which I remember we remarked upon at the beginning, when we had first encountered this failure. All the same, the stubbornness that has them devising egg-napping plans rather than asking for help is the sort of thing that should reasonably have the Southern contingent die out. Meria may have the solution, but it’s not going to do a whit of good on the direct approach, as we saw. Instead, there’s going to have to be some sort of face-saving farce put in place to ensure that Southern survives with both their health and their pride. B’naj can probably act as go-between in this regard, since he seems flexible enough and friendly enough, and still on good terms with the Weyr enough to be able to “find” a useful cure lying around and distribute it. And possibly to “accidentally” mention in someone’s hearing how much they need that firestone mine repaired because there’s duty being shirked about supplying dragonriders with firestone so they can do their duty of roasting Thread. And then everybody hunkers down and waits for the old stubborn guard to finally die so that newer leadership can take over and have a better relationship that allows for mutual assistance and asking for aid. Or for enough people to leave Southern Weyr that it can safely be left to die on its own and then be repopulated with people who are more modern. At this point, Meria has probably done everything she can and more to help out her friends, short of finding the mystic root itself and bringing it back to the dragonriders.

Also, phosphine poisoning is a thing, and the symptoms described by Meria track consistently with inhalation of phosphine gas. So this jango root, if it is a supreme cure-all, has some serious kick to it to be able to both clear out the respiratory condition and the cardiac conditions that might follow from inhalation. Nice having magic alien plants to cure your serious conditions.

After some speculation about who might have returned the egg to Benden, we have a moment of empathy from the person who has been primed to be empathetic to the Southerners the entire book.

“I wish they’d listen to me,” Meria said wistfully. “I’m certain the poor health they’re suffering is due to the dust and fumes they inhaled at that firestone mine. I’m sure I could make them well again if they’d let me help.”
“I feel sorry for them,” Piemur said, crossing his arms in front of his chest.
Meria tilted her chin toward him, her expression one of curiosity. “Why is that?” she asked.
“They don’t fit in anymore. They’ve left their Weyr and fled their lives. And they’re sick, too. They haven’t lived in their old Weyrs up north for more than six Turns, and they don’t really seem to be living anywhere in this Pass. Shells, they’re nowhere! How bloody awful they must feel.”

And this is a situation of their own making, as well, Piemur. You can feel bad for them and how similar their situation is to your feelings of being adrift and without a home, but the people who got exiled, for the most part, it seems, made the decision to go into exile and be disconnected from their support networks. Or, at least the leaders did, and I’m assuming that B’naj and Meria went because they couldn’t contemplate giving up their entire social circle of known people for the rest of their lives. Others may have gone because they still believed that what the leaders did was right and true. It is a problem that people are hurting and suffering, and that their leaders are too stubborn to accept help, but until Meria finds something that will help with the health situations, there’s nothing that can be done through official channels, and the leaders have the power to change their positions on the matter any time they like.

And sometimes tragedies happen because the people in charge, who should know better, who should do better, who should be moved at the amount of human suffering going on under their watch, choose to stand aside and do nothing, because they think that tragedy is okay when it happens to the Other, to people who don’t support them and never will. Tragedy never stays contained to the Other, of course, but by the time it’s escaped the Other, it’s too late to contain it, and then the people who support the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party start screaming about how unfair and wrong it is that the leopards are eating their faces instead of knowing, somehow, that there are acceptable faces to eat and unacceptable faces to eat. Tragedy never works that way, and it is painful to ethical and empathetic people to watch the tragedy happen and feel powerless to do anything about it on the grand scale, even as they do their best to manage it on the scale they can influence.

The last sequence in this chapter is Piemur going through all the what-ifs that could have meant that Sebell was the victim of tragedy, instead of being safely rescued and on the mend. Unable to get to sleep because of the complexities of the timeline, eventually he and Sebell go outside to have a talk about what happened to Sebell and the inherent unfairness of the universe.

“They shouldn’t have done that to you, Sebell. Jerrol and his lot shouldn’t have beaten you half to death and then stuffed you like a useless old bundle of rags in a dark hole. They should pay for what they’ve done!”
“You’re absolutely right, my friend. What Jerrol and his lot did was unspeakable. And they should be punished for it. But you and I both know that the details of our little jaunt to Nabol must remain untold. That’s how it has to be,” Sebell said. “I know, Pie, that if we went to these men to mete out the punishment we think they deserve, we will have achieved only one thing.”
“What?”
“Retribution. Revenge. Retaliation, call it what you wish, but it would do absolutely no good. We have to find a solution to their problem so they’ll never want to behave like that again. If we don’t we’ll simply be showing them the same treatment they’ve always known and they’ll never, ever have reason to want to change, or become more compassionate men.”
Piemur sighed.
“Piemur, someone made those men into the people they are. They didn’t start their lives with such adverse and damaged viewpoints. They were pushed to the breaking point after Turns of manipulation at the hand of someone else.” Sebell leaned forward as he spoke, closing the distance between himself and Piemur, eager to make sure his point was understood.
“But they beat you! They bound you and then left you for dead, Sebell! That part of the cellars was going to be bricked up! What were they thinking?”
“They weren’t thinking, Piemur. They were reacting to Turns of mental torture that they shouldn’t have had to endure. They’ll never be able to change unless the chance to do so is given to them. I’ve been mulling this over, and I believe it’s the only course we can consider—otherwise we’re just fighting them. Perhaps turning into them.”
“That can’t be all that is done after what you’ve suffered, Sebell,” Piemur said. He knew he sounded belligerent—and probably looked it, too—but he didn’t care.
“Don’t you see, my friend? Dragons were prevented from fighting one another in the name of revenge! If everything that happened in Nabol came to light, the only outcome it would achieve would be to pit Craft gainst Hold. And we can’t let that happen—it would be like permitting dragon to fight dragon,” Sebell declared. “The only way this sickening behavior can be dealt with is at its root. If any of us were pitted against each other it would cut to the very heart of our way of life. We all fit together in a unique way, and if we allow our guardians—the dragonriders—or our protectors and custodians—the holders and crafters—to come to blows, then we’ll have undermined everyone’s safety. And Thread would win.”

Cocowhat by depizan

Cocowhat by depizan

How did this become a question of Craft-Hold warfare over people who plotted against a Lord and beat two Harpers? Clearly, the Harper Hall is within its right to demand that the Lord responsible for the people who attacked their harpers have the perpetrators arrested and punished for their act. And since Deckter is friendly to the Harpers, he shouldn’t have a trouble with it. Or because Deckter believes that people who assault others should suffer consequences for the assault, and he is willing to accept the testimony of the victims, an unaffiliated Healer, and any witnesses to the act itself as proof that Jerrol and company did what they are accused of and should be punished. The only situation where the accusation becomes an issue is if the Lord Holder is hostile to the Harper Hall. Demanding Fax’s men suffer for beating a harper in Fax’s territory would never fly, because Fax doesn’t respect harpers enough to grant them the freedom from violence. And we’ve seen what happens when a guild has an issue with the local Lord – they boycott the Lord. (What’s usually also implied in this is that other guilds will also boycott the Lord in solidarity with their fellow guilds, and by depriving the Lord of necessary goods and services, the Lord will come around to doing what they want.) So there’s a complete remedy available here.

And I still don’t understand why the details of this jaunt have to remain secret. If it’s “the harpers don’t want to admit publicly they do spying work,” then that’s something that needs to be said, not implied. And also, they may need to recalibrate that thought, anyway, as it seems like Jerrol and company know full well that harpers do espionage. So it’s probably one of those open secret things, like how most people should expect that if they have a group of a certain size and they occasionally criticize the government, there’s likely to be at least one informant for either local or federal police in the ranks. Or that, even though the Central Intelligence Agency is forbidden from spying inside the borders of the United States, they probably do it anyway and pass on the intelligence they receive to agencies that are empowered to act within the United States and nobody ever admits to it. And even then, since there’s no need to have a public trial, they can just tell Deckter the information that needs be told to him and he can handle it.

Sebell turned his head to watch Piemur closely as the younger man battled with his emotions. “Do you see what I mean? We have to be prevented from fighting one another,” he added, and then he leaned back.
“But it’s not the same thing!” Piemur cried, and all his anger was expressed in those six words.
Sebell sighed. “The [time-skipped] felt they were in a desperate situation, Piemur, and so they carried out a desperate act. In a way, I think that was their way of asking for help. Jerrol and his kin’s actions, though different, were born from the same feelings of hopelessness. Holdlessness,” Sebell said. It was Piemur’s turn to sigh.
“Shards, those three men were probably treated so badly all their lives they no longer know what’s right or wrong!” Sebell went on heatedly. “I remember when I was in Nabol for the Master, when Meron was alive. The way he baited his kin—it was nothing short of torture. He’d promise one nephew a patch of land, and the next day he’d renege on his offer and promise it to another kinsman. He used to laugh at their confusion and the anguish he put them through. It got so none of them could trust the other. Meron made them all hate one another. Their very own flesh and blood, too! And all because they feared they wouldn’t get what they should’ve been entitled to. It was appalling!”
“But what about the bricks, Sebell?” Piemur hissed; he couldn’t stop thinking about what would have happened if Sebell hadn’t been discovered.
“Don’t think about that, Piemur. You found me, and I’m going to be fine.”
Piemur stared at Sebell, the conflicting emotions welling up in him until he didn’t know what to think. He wondered if he’d ever be like Sebell or Master Robinton, wise enough to see what was right and wrong, and strong enough to see past his own emotions, to discern the best choices to make for the good of everyone.

And on that undeserved piece of praise, the chapter ends.

I get the part where Sebell correctly recognizes that Meron was an awful person and his torture and games caused trauma for everyone who is there, but the solutions that he is proposing are the kinds of things that would require a wholesale destruction and reconstruction of Pernese society, away from vassalage feudalism with despots that have absolute authority within their borders to at least some form of socialism, with goods and services fairly distributed and a social safety net in place to make sure that nobody ends up starving and homeless. I think Sebell is thinking of this as “the responsible Lord should look after his family and provide for them, so there aren’t people who want to cause social unrest running around,” but Thella disproves that this would work all the time. Then again, nobody would think of Thella as anything other than a woman who didn’t know her place, so I don’t think they would see her as the proof that “the responsible Lord looks after their family” doesn’t cover all the bases.

Additionally, there’s no guarantee that Deckter will be able to make everybody happy, especially since it appears that Meron promised the same piece(s) of land to different people on the regular, and none of the relatives got together between themselves and said, “Right, he’s just stringing us all along. So, regardless of whatever Meron says, the lands are going to be divided in this way when he’s dead. Now, who’s going to tell the harpers about the asshole we have in charge and see if they can’t help us depose him in favor of our power-sharing agreement?” So we still have a situation where the relatives could be arguing, bickering, and trying to unseat a nearby Lord because they’re unhappy with whatever piddling plot of land Deckter gave them and they want more. But at least it would be about greed rather than about the social system that allows someone to dick around their relatives like that and that gives the relatives no recourse to stop this from happening. Or at least to make Meron put it in a will and writing and to pay the appropriate witnessing fees and the like to change his desires so much.

Lead on to the socialist revolution, Sebell, even though I know full well that neither you nor your boss would actually want that to happen, because you’re all devoted to making sure that nothing ever changes, societally. And you’d have to fight all the Lords and all the dragonriders to bring about that change.

Deconstruction Roundup for April 16, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is exceedingly happy that others can get their vaccinations at this point in their locale.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Christine Kelley: Eruditorum Press

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorum Press

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are now staring the end of a project in the absolute face and are feeling a sense of shock more than one of accomplishment. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragon’s Code: The Nonsensical Plot, Part One

Last time, we took a complete break from the one remaining plot, that of the Nabolese people to try and kill Jaxom and usurp his lands, which is supposed to be taken seriously despite the complete lack of planning, preparation, and numbers of people participating in the plot itself.

I’m sure that once this is resolved, there will be something about the Southern Weyr that picked themselves up and vanished into the past as a way of trying to avoid Benden’s entirely-legitimate grievance with some of their riders stealing their queen egg, the same Weyr that’s suffering from an unknown illness that one of their own might know how to cure, if only they would have listened to her, but they didn’t, because she’s a girl and because she left them at some point and that means she isn’t to be listened to ever again.

But again, one plot at a time. Wouldn’t want to tax the reader by making them follow more than one thread between all the chapters.

Dragon’s Code, Chapter Nine: Content Notes: drunkenness, vomiting, kidnapping, head injuries

Chapter Nine starts with J’hon dropping Sebell and Piemur back off at Nabol, since they have to observe the meeting that’s happening between the conspirators. Their fire lizards go flying off because the weather is not to their liking, which is good for them since they’re not supposed to be appearing as harpers or as people who would attract attention to anyone who might make them for being something other than what they are.

Sebell and Piemur make contact with Laida, Marek’s wife, who drives off a child that is striking the side of her house with a stick with words and curses, before she settles them both down and makes them a cup of tea with something that Piemur is not particularly interested in trying at first.

Then she took a nub of gray root from her tunic pocket and wiped it clean with a quick scrape of her knife. She laid it flat on a piece of board, which she rested on her knees, and holding her knife so the blade was placed flat-side down over the root, she gave it a quick bang with the heel of her hand. When the knife was removed, Piemur could see the root had been nearly squashed and moisture slowly oozed from its flattened sides. Then the old lady cut the root in half lengthwise and plopped a piece in each of the cups.
[…Laida says this’ll do them well…]
Piemur, however, had never seen the root that Laida had used before and was more reticent in his approach than Sebell. He had bad memories of being forced to down noxious drafts by his foster mother, Ama, when he was a young lad.

Piemur doesn’t voice this, of course, and so he gets prodded by Laida that it’ll be fine, and Sebell is not giving him any indications that what’s going on is harmful, so eventually, Piemur sips the tea and finds it delicious and enjoys the entire cup. I feel like this would be a good time for Piemur to reflect on how much his unwillingness to talk about anything bothering him has gotten him in a lot of trouble before (since it was the whole “discretion” thing that kept the abuse going on for far longer than it might have, if Silvina had been willing to raise hell right off the mark and Piemur had been willing to talk about it), but Piemur doesn’t talk about why he’s slightly suspicious of remedies and nobody has the capacity to notice it and ask.

Also, Laida and Marek both speak with a phonetic accent. “Youse just sit there now te wait on ‘im. We’ll see ya roight. Feckin’ rain has youse soaked roight through,” for example. The more I read these kinds of phonetic representations of accents, the less I like them, since they’re almost always used as a way of showing someone is a country bumpkin, uneducated and otherwise unrefined. Which is going to set things up later that such a rough person turns out to be very helpful or effective, since these are people aligned with our protagonists. Instead, we could just have things like this: “Piemur thought he would never get used to the way Marek’s typical Nabolese accent stressed the second syllable of his name rather than the first: Pie-mur. He had to force himself to refrain from correcting him.” That gets across fine enough that the way things are being said are different than what the reader might imagine, without having any sort of tortured pronunciation requirements. And it also makes me wonder why Piemur isn’t correcting Marek. Is it because he’s tried, and Marek doesn’t bother? Is it because Piemur assumes Marek won’t bother, based on his own experiences in life and his current assessment of his own self-worth and self-importance? Is it because all of the abuse and trauma that Piemur has suffered tells him that the only thing that happens when he asks people to acknowledge his humanity is that he’s going to get abused more? There’s characterization to be had here, and the author is glossing over it.

Also, to close the loop on this ginger-like root (as best I can tell, it seems to be a ginger-like root), after they leave Marek’s and start lying in wait for the conspirators, Piemur finds he’s amped up.

“Shards, Sebell, what was in that brew old Laida gave us? I have a fierce dose of the jitters.”
“Here.” Sebell took a cloth packet from his satchel and handed it to Piemur. “Eat this and the jumpiness should calm down. They call the root jango. It only grows here in Nabol. All the older folk up here take it, swear it gives them more pep. I think it’s a bit of a cure-all, too, but it’s best to eat something at the same time as taking it, I’ve discovered. This”—he pointed at the packet in Piemur’s hand—”should do the trick.” Piemur unwrapped it and found a hard roll filled with cured meat and pickled root vegetables.

So, Sebell knew about this, but apparently couldn’t be bothered to volunteer this information until after Piemur asks him about it. Despite the fact that they are both then going to a stakeout where they’re going to need to stay still and otherwise not draw attention to themselves.

There’s just so much not-communicating going on here, it’s a wonder anything succeeds. Maybe we’re supposed to believe that the harpers are just that good, in the same way that they were just that good with the music in the last chapter, that things don’t need to be articulated. Which, fine, if that’s what you want, great, but then figure out ways of cluing the reader in about what is going on.

Spinning back a bit, Marek has some more information for Sebell and Piemur about Jerrol and the others who are part of this conspiracy.

“Ah, they bin meetin’ together a lot these past few months after they came back home. Can’t help themselves but rock the boat till someone takes note and gives ’em what they want.”
“After they came home, Marek, where were they?” Sebell asked.
“They mooched ’round fer a spell after the old Lord died, an’ then they got the bright idea to make a go of it on their own down south. Didn’t look like they made much of a go, from what I saw, ne’er mind that they were gone fer Turns. When they got home, they were in a woe-geous state, their tails well tucked twixt their legs. And they bin sulkin’ ever since!”
“Hm,” Sebell said, resting his index finger against his lips as he thought. “That would explain why they’re stirring things up so long after Lord Meron’s demise.”

Perhaps I’m being unduly cynical at this point, but hearing this, I have to ask (again) the question that’s been in the background of this entire work: Why is this plot being taken seriously? In 21st c. Terra, with the technologies that we have at hand, and a sufficiently lax system of laws, a single person can cause a mass casualty event without the assistance of any other conspirator, and even occasionally succeed at striking a government official. But this is Pern, where you have to get close enough to stab someone if you want to off them. In addition to that, though, the conspirators seriously made a deal with the South to get help with Jaxom in exchange for the stolen egg. The egg, while stolen, has been returned, so I have to ask whether or not these conspirators still think they’re going to have any dragon help in their plot. Because I can certainly see the Southern riders laughing in their face about being expected to uphold their end of the bargain. Heck, even if the plan succeeded, I can see the Southern dragonriders telling the unimportant hold folk to get lost, because who are you going to complain to about dragonriders not fulfilling their end of the bargain to help you overthrow and assassinate a Lord? Logically, these conspirators were always hosed, and nobody needs to waste any resources on them until they get serious, at which point they should be attracting the attention of Lord Deckter’s police.

Which is to say, there’s no reason the Harpers should be here at all, is there? Piemur’s report should be passed to either Deckter or his appropriate sheriff for further analysis and action. Which would probably be “if Jerrol or his compatriots try to leave Nabol headed to Crom or Ruatha, detain them for questioning and seize whatever property they have on them.”

Instead, for narrative purposes, we have two valuable Harpers going in to a brewhouse to get more information about the nature of their plot. Which goes reasonably well to start with, as Piemur and Sebell pose as successful traders who have enough money to buy a few friends some drinks, so they make a few friends to buy drinks for.

And, oddly enough, Piemur gets drunk. Now, we’re supposed to see it as him falling to the temptation of his gut, but that’s not all of what’s going on here.

Skal was a canny man who knew how to make thirsty folk drink more, so when the noise in the courtyard has sudden to a near-raucous level, he passed out free baskets of hot crackled meat strips and chunks of fried tubers, generously sprinkled with spices and salt. His customers fell on the food like a ravenous pack, polishing off every morsel. But the salty food had the effect of drying their mouths, which made the drinkers quick to order more rounds of ale and cider to quench their renewed thirsts.
Just like everyone else at Skal’s, Piemur tucked into the baskets of food with gusto, falling to notice the subtle warning look Sebell shot him from across the counter. This was turning into one jolly and unexpectedly fine evening, Piemur fancied as he took a long draft from his third beaker of cider.

Because I want to know how Piemur is already on his third beaker without the person who supposedly has charge of him giving him a warning about drinking too much too quickly. Or how Piemur has had to actually consume those two beakers, instead of finding plenty of different ways to get rid of the liquid without actually having to drink it, like he did in the previous chapter when he was eavesdropping. Not a paragraph before, Sebell has put a lot of drink in front of him and told him to “drink up,” but presumably Piemur knows this is an act by Sebell’s character and his actual job is to remain as sober as possible so they can gather good intelligence. But instead, we have a drunk Piemur, which doesn’t seem to make any sense at all, who has had two beakers of the stuff and is working on three, (maybe we’re supposed to extrapolate that the drunkenness is because he keeps eating the salty spicy food that comes out to get people to buy more alcohol, and then drinks the actual stuff to get rid of the dryness in his mouth?) and who between himself and Sebell, has attracted the attention of Jerrol, and has been telling stories and fabrications about his character’s life for their amusement, and then eventually, Piemur primes them to talk about Jaxom and their thoughts on the matter.

While fighting the urge to vomit, an urge he eventually gives in to, Piemur makes his excuses and goes outside the brewhouse, eventually passing in and out of consciousness as he tries to get himself under control well enough to go find Sebell. Eventually, though, he’s found by Jentjs, and it’s made exceedingly clear that Sebell and Piemur were made as harpers before Jerrol beats him into unconsciousness.

That solves the problem of finding Sebell, as when Piemur awakens, with a hangover and pain from being beaten, he finds Sebell tied to a bench and unconscious. At least until Piemur touches Sebell’s shoulder, and the pain from that is apparently enough to get Sebell awake and talking. While Piemur tries to free Sebell from the ropes, Sebell insists that Piemur take whatever opportunity he gets to get out alive, because not only did he have an arm that feels “dead at the shoulder and hurts unbearably if [he] move[s] it even a second,” he “[doesn’t] think [he] could walk more than two paces on [his] own without falling over,” thanks to being beaten “around the knees and shins.” Piemur, of course, is adamant that he’s going to get Sebell out of there, but the return of their captors springs Piemur into action to escape, and after biting one of them on the leg and bowling over the lot that was there, and running for a properly long time, Piemur’s pursuit gives up, and then Piemur has to figure his way out from underneath the cellars of Nabol Hold. Which he does, by reasoning through what the sand under his feet would feel like as he got more toward the cellar parts that were actually in use. Popping out on what he realizes is the other side of Nabol Hold, Piemur tries to get help, but instead bashes himself into a tree branch and knocks himself out. When he comes to, a woman named Fronna is complaining that Skal is responsible for Piemur’s state, since he was the one who brewed the brew that resulted in Piemur being insensate outside of her door. Skal does come and take care of Piemur to provide him with some water and klah, and wants him to stay and rest, but Piemur remembers that he still has to get help for Sebell, and dashes out, reaching out for his fire lizard. Farli doesn’t respond, but eventually, he finds Kimi, Sebell’s fire lizard, manages to absorb her complete panic, and gives her instructions to go find Menolly and get help for himself. That ends the chapter, with Kimi popping through hyperspace to get help for Piemur, It’s a lot of pages of Piemur wandering in the dark, and then stopping to think, and then running on panic again, before he’s forcibly stopped, and then running on panic again because Sebell is still captive and he has to get help. It’s some of the best narrative the book has, because it’s actually got stakes and worries and an unknown fate and drama, unlike just about everything else in this book. It still makes me wonder what the two of them are doing, since their biggest support toward making this ill-thought-out plan work has almost assuredly vanished with the return of the queen egg. And, despite being the best swing that the author has put forth at the narrative so far, it’s going to get zero quotation coverage because it really is exactly as described, although Fronna will be important much later on.

In addition to that, though, in the middle of things, there’s an extended digression from Piemur becoming angry that his privileged position hasn’t protected him or Sebell from being hurt.

How dare they hit him! How dare they beat and tie up Sebell, too. A journeyman masterharper! We are not their enemies, Piemur raged. No one was their enemy! His breathing grew heavy as his sense of outraged indignation mounted. But as he took control again and his breathing eventually slowed, Piemur began to realize just how desperate those three holdless, feckless men were. They were close kin of Meron, the late Lord of Nabol, so it was no wonder they acted so abominably.
[…because Meron is, as has long been established, an abusive shitweasel…]
Meron’s kin had learned to expect that the holdings he promised to bequeath to one hopeful relative would be dramatically and whimsically wrenched out of their hands over some perceived slight, only to be given to yet another eager kinsman who would, in due course, suffer the same fate. Such was Meron’s perverse predilection to bamboozle his kin and keep them all on tenterhooks that it was no surprise, Piemur reckoned, that they were all tainted with the same element of perversity and cruelty that had characterized every aspect of Meron’s life.
Meron had been, quite simply, a wicked man who got no greater satisfaction from life than when he was brewing up malaise and discord among his nearest and not-so-dearest clansfolk. Such perverse depravity needed to be leached out of Meron’s kin, Piemur knew, or it would never die, only spread and proliferate like Thread.

So I’m guessing that Robinton never told anyone about the role he and Oldive played in establishing Deckter as the Lord of Nabol, and the entirely legitimate grievance some of Meron’s kin might have against harpers and healers if that story were to get out and be believed. Or the part where they might already believe that harpers are agents of the Lords and complicit in their abuses, making them acceptable targets for violence. Or perhaps these people have heard and believed the mythical doctrine only hinted at in Masterharper where harpers and their teachings are to be driven away as corrupting influences on the youth.

Or maybe they found spies in their ring and wanted to make sure nobody talked or would be believed if they did talk. As kidnappers, they make the cardinal mistake of leaving people alive instead of just killing them outright, but since they talk about Sebell being more useful for their purposes, they obviously believe there’s some better message they can send with him alive. Or with him tortured before he’s killed. Or something. It could be anything, given that these are the people who thought they would be able to infiltrate a rival hold, kill the leader, and then just claim the place for themselves, with dragonrider help or not. It suits Piemur’s narrative, though, to blame Meron and his perverse desires to string everyone along as the reason why they are all like this and desperate and why they would dare to strike a harper, who wasn’t their enemy at all, even for just the simple reason that very few people want to think of themselves as villains in their own stories. Piemur believes the harpers have no enemies, and yet, here he has been, spying on dragonriders and conspirators alike so they can’t do anything to implement their plans. The kind of thing that, y’know, makes enemies out of people.

We’ll get resolution to this nonsense next week.

Deconstruction Roundup for April 9, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is more than ready for the end of the week.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Christine Kelley: Eruditorum Press

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorum Press

Mouse: Mouse’s Musings

Yamikuronue: Other: Please Specify

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are watching cases in your locality go up and up and wonder which part of sense got left behind to produce this situation. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragon’s Code: Plot Break!

Last time, Piemur spent a significant amount of time in Nabol gathering information about a plot against Jaxom that appears to have only a small number of people who are planning on doing it. And that they’re doing it because they all feel cheated out of things that the late Lord Meron promised them with no intent of delivering. So they’re going to cross a border, kill a Lord with a dragon and a Warder, and then declare themselves the rules of Ruatha, never mind what anyone else has to say about it. Because it’s not like the Benden Weyrwoman is from there and would have something to say about who is in charge of her ancestral Hold.

Dragon’s Code: Chapter Eight: Content Notes:

None of that is important right now, however, because at the end of the last chapter, news came in that the hatching at Benden is about to happen, so Piemur and the rest of the Harper contingent are off to Benden Weyr to observe both how the hatching goes and what the mood of Weyr is. Robinton, Menolly, and N’ton have places of honor, which banishes Piemur and Sebell to the cheap seats. According to Piemur, of course, there is no such thing as a bad seat in the house, and it gives the narrative time to let him indulge in a little more purple prose about Ramoth.

Piemur had heard that Ramoth was the largest dragon on all of Pern, and as she stood over her egg she made an awe-inspiring sight, her golden hide gleaming with good health and the muscles of her huge body rippling with vigor and strength. Piemur couldn’t help but make a mental comparison between the queen he saw in front of him now, vibrant and powerful, and the lackluster, unhealthy state of Mardra’s queen, Loranth.

This would probably seem to be more in character if this book had made more mention of Piemur’s beastcraft upbringing, and if Piemur were a little more clinical in his description, instead of fawning, that would make this go over a lot better with me. Based on the way that Piemur described his super-secret saddle design, I assume this author has had experience with horses, so surely some of that terminology would transfer over to looking at a dragon and determining that she’s quite healthy, compared to the sickly one he just saw.

The egg starts to vibrate, the dragons start to thrum, and Piemur loses his objectivity again.

There was an indefinable energy buzzing all around him that Piemur knew was unique to dragonkind. He felt infected by it and awash with a greater sense of his own self-purpose.
Every Hatching was an important event for the dragons and their riders. No matter that this Hatching was unprecedented, like all Hatchings it afforded each rider and dragon the opportunity to renew their own bonds, as they vicariously relived the moment when they had made Impression with their own partners. Even the other attendees, from weyrfolk to lords, crafters to drudges, had the privilege of bearing witness to another wholly uplifting and uniquely special union.
[…the candidates for hatching are brought out on the sand, and Ramoth is not particularly pleased with that…]
As tradition dictated, the Candidates were all dressed in identical, plain, unbelted, white woolen robes; it was the mental energy and spirit of character that steered a dragonet toward her new lifemate, not the Candidate’s physical appearance.

And again, the numinous energy of the dragons and dragonriders is present at the hatching. I get the feeling that this Piemur really would have liked to be a dragonrider in some other life than the one that he has. I didn’t get that from the previous one, but also the previous one didn’t have quite as much time to mope between his voice cracking and finding his niche as a spy and then eventually as an AI student.

As it is, Ramoth’s protectiveness frightens the candidates, and eventually, Piemur observes the Benden Weyrleader touching and talking to his mate, who appears to give in to whatever his ask is, and after a roar that lets everyone know exactly how much the last few days have aggravated her, Ramoth gets off the egg and moves away far enough that the Candidates won’t have to fear for their lives. The egg, having been relinquished, obliges everyone in attendance by beginning to hatch. Now confronted with the possibility of a dragon on their own, the Candidates seem to be mustering their courage to stay standing in front of the rocking egg, rather than trying to crowd each other out or find what they think is the ideal position to meet the queen and make their Impressions. This culminates in

One girl, who had been repeatedly pushed forward from the edge of the hot sands by the dragonrider who found her on Search, cried out as the egg rocked again. Then she turned, screaming, and ran in blind terror from the Hatching Grounds, leaving behind her one chance of becoming the lifelong partner of a queen dragon. Piemur’s heart went out to her: The loss was something she would live with for the rest of her life.

So, another detail of the 3.0 Pern appears to be that any candidate only gets one chance at getting their queen dragon? It’s not an age system like it was before, where you keep trying to get a queen until you’re too old to keep trying? And, in this particular case, with both Ramoth and Lessa giving glares and being intimidating and otherwise trying to scare off anyone from the egg, I feel like the difficulty level here is significantly higher than it might have been to try and stand your ground and catch a dragon.

So, with Piemur’s sympathy going out to the one that runs away, the egg itself runs into some trouble, and one of the candidates asks for help getting the egg turned upright so the dragonet can get out of the shell. Which works, except the one who asked for help gets knocked into the sand and the hatching dragon rolls right over her as she pops out of the shell. There’s a bit of the gold dragonet looking for the person she just rolled over, as the other candidates scramble to get out of her way, but finally, the right candidate and Nimath, the new queen, lock eyes with each other, there’s the Impression, and then there’s the celebration of the new queen.

The blond girl, who still sat sprawled on the sand a little while distance from the queen dragon and her new mate, suddenly burst into tears as the tension of the drama she’d been party to was finally defused. But slowly a watery smile spread across her face, and Piemur could see her exultation at bearing intimate witness to such a momentous Impression.
The viewing stands erupted with the sounds of happy people relieved of their worry. Piemur knew he was beaming from ear to ear as he reached for Sebell’s arm once again, flushed with the joy he’d witnessed, and in which he’d shared. Sebell was smiling, too, his eyes shining bright.
Released from the thrall of Impression, the guests in the viewing stands lingered in their seats, chatting excitedly to one another, or they stood and stretched, turning to their neighbors to laugh or hug; some stamped their feet or clapped; others gently wept with joy, the dragonriders among them almost certainly reliving the moment that they, too, had first made Impression with their own beloved dragons.

Admittedly, we don’t spend a lot of time in Hatchings as we go along in the series, but this sequence makes me wonder how much of the emotional states of the viewers and the Candidates were their own and how much of that was being broadcast from all the dragons and the hatchling, especially combined with Piemur’s continual references to the auras and energies that the dragonriders put out, and how this series at least started with a much bigger spread of possible abilities other than just telepathy with dragons, in addition to the kept part of how mating flight emotions are always very strong and very broad-band cast.

Perhaps that candidate who ran didn’t want to run, but kept getting a lot of fear and hostility broadcast from everywhere and couldn’t do much but give in to it when it got overwhelming. And perhaps the good vibes in this successful post-hatch are much more influence rather than naturally-occurring. Which, again, opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities for diplomacy and other politicking. Catch your bitter rival after you’ve both been exposed to the good will of an Impression and see if you can get him to sign a deal that he will regret. Have an artist on hand to sketch the aftermath of a dragon fly over and threaten your rival that you’ll post the pictures of who he was sleeping with if he doesn’t give in. All sorts of things like that should be happening, between those who the narrative favors and those who it doesn’t. For as much as Fax was a terrible ruler, he apparently was the only one who engaged in politicking and intrigue, and he even managed to get a dragonrider killed over it (which should have brought about his immediate end because of painful and swift retribution from the dragonriders). But no, for some still unexplained reason, despite knowing that dragons and their riders have the possibility of influencing other people’s feelings, nobody ever seeks to exploit this on any sort of way, and nobody mentions if there’s ever been some sort of treaty enacted specifically to prevent this from happening.

Piemur notices that Lessa is relieved everything went without a hitch, and has a moment of public intimacy with the Benden Weyrleader, which Piemur notes also involves tears streaming down Lessa’s face, before wondering if he was the only person, aside from the Benden Weyrleader, who noticed the intimacy and the relief on her face. Before he can draw any useful conclusions about this in the lack of the usual celebrations around Impression, Robinton, N’ton, and Menolly are all very worried that Jaxom isn’t here, like he should be as Lord of Ruatha, and while it’s easy enough to pinpoint Ruth, who is sleeping, Robinton and Menolly go to Ruatha to confirm for themselves that Jaxom is still okay. Even though the conspiracy to overthrow him is still set for another night hence, they go to check. Which, y’know, is not a terrible idea, but I thought that Jaxom was supposed to be guarded discreetly at all times. We already know that he manages to give everyone the slip so he can steal the egg back, but that should make Robinton very nervous about the efficacy of his guards.

It’s pretty quickly confirmed that Jaxom is actually okay, and when Menolly returns, she’s ready to give her report, and here we have Piemur noticing structure behind the words of her story, like a Harper who has been trained to do the same thing would notice.

Piemur could see that Menolly was already assuming the harper role of storyteller as she recounted the events of their trip to Ruatha. She looked from one to the other of them, using that old harper trick of making each of her listeners feel as if she were talking to him alone. Her voice had a lilt to it; though not quite singsong, it flowed effortlessly and was wonderfully easy on the ear. Menolly chose her words well: They sounded practiced as if she had scripted the story beforehand. Piemur found himself wishing that his own storytelling techniques were as well honed.

This is the same Piemur who was very surprised that he could pump information out of the Nabolese and that he was able to command the room when he was giving his own report, I might add, but it’s also pretty normal for a person to think about how they wish they were good like this other person and not to notice the steady progression and development of their own skills to expertise. I just happen to like that Piemur is analyzing Menolly’s metaextual elements while she is talking, which will take up the next several paragraphs of asking to see Lytol, then Jaxom, and the slight panic that induced when nobody could find Jaxom until well after they’d started looking for him, and the further woes of Jaxom coming back clearly Threadscored. Which has N’ton suggesting that Jaxom used time travel to go find some Thread to fight and the rest of the Harper crew trying to figure out what an appropriate number of people keeping track of Jaxom’s whereabouts would be for the future. Piemur, of course, will have to go back to Nabol and continue his mission.

Additionally, now that the time threat is over, the fire lizards have apparently rebounded from their fear and showcasing images that did not come to pass and are back to normal, and we don’t have to think too hard any more about how fire lizards are able to see the timeline that is still going to play out in front of them, even though the silly humans insist that everything is fine because the thing that is going to happen already has happened, and therefore will happen. (Even if that’s exactly how it is.)

The rest of the chapter plays out with the harpers that are present in Fort Hold for after-dinner getting their instruments out. Piemur is very nervous to be around music making, but Sebell has anticipated this and brought a drum for Piemur to play with, rather than suggesting that he sing.

“You shouldn’t feel excluded tonight, Piemur, so I had one of my drums brought here if you wish to join in. You’re a mighty fine percussionist, you know.” Sebell smiled, seeming to understand that, possibly for the very first time in his life, Piemur was feeling uncomfortable among the harpers he’d known since he was nine Turns old.
Dumbfounded to hear that Sebell believed his musical talent wasn’t limited solely to his obsolete singing voice, Piemur felt himself color.

I mean, Piemur did get sent to the drumheights, and then in the 1.0 timeline, carved an absolutely massive drum for Southern Hold, if I recall correctly. And, if I further recall correctly, there’s a requirement of being at least competent on several instruments as part of passing out of your apprenticeship into the greater ranks. But, of course, at Harper Hall, what competence means is different than outside of Harper Hall, so it’s entirely possible that those Harpers who don’t specialize in an instrument not play that instrument when it comes time to making music in groups.

Seeing Shonagar, the Voicemaster, at the head table with Robinton, Groghe, and some of his sons, has Piemur recall his very fond memories of being instructed by Shonagar, which continues in the trend and tradition of downplaing Shonagar’s clear abusive tendencies toward his apprentices.

Shonagar was renowned for his droll sense of humor and florid speech, and although the other apprentices in his group found the Voicemaster’s archaic turns of phrase altogether boring, Piemur had always enjoyed Shonagar’s witty company. The man certainly loved his words. It had been particularly hard for Piemur, after five Turns of being tutored almost exclusively by Shonagar, to be wrenched from the older man’s company and cast out to learn other harper skills. On that day, Shonagar had offered Piemur some advice, standing his young apprentice in front of him, hands on the boy’s shoulders, expression earnest.
“I want you to remember something, Piemur: Just as there is more than one way to sing a note—as you very well know—there’s also more than one way a harper’s voice can be heard.”
Shonagar had released his grip on Piemur’s shouldern then and continued, “You’re becoming a young man, Piemur, and will need to find young-manly tasks to fill your time. You are the most troublesome, ingenious, lazy, audacious, and mendacious apprentice I’ve had to teach, but in spite of yourself, you’ve achieved some measure of success.”
At the time, Piemur hadn’t been quite certain if Shonagar was giving him a compliment or a rebuke, but later indeed almost a full Turn after he was first posted to the Southern Continent and his duties returned him briefly to the Harper Hall, the Voicemaster had offered further advice.

Said advice is much of the same, about how this is a big time of change for Piemur and that he needs to focus and make time for the man he is becoming, rather than trying to recapture what he’s lost. Piemur eventually concludes that Sebell has taken the place of mentor that Shonagar had been while Piemur was an apprentice, and that it was the best trade he could have. I’m going to agree with him in this regard, but mostly because Shonagar was not the kind of person that you would want to be either in the favor of or in the bad graces of, but I guess this is what we’re supposed to believe the 2.0 Shonagar grew up into, perhaps, someone who made a lot of noise but didn’t actually beat the apprentices, like the 1.0 Shonagar did. Still, Piemur’s entirely correct to wonder whether he’s being complimented or dismissed with that list of attributes. I think we’re supposed to read it in the context of Piemur saying how much he appreciates Shonagar’s sense of humor, but I’m pretty sure Piemur’s the only one who finds him funny. Perhaps because until he finally cracked, Piemur could do no wrong with Shonagar, and therefore he had no reason to believe that Shonagar might be mad at him. I can’t imagine apprentice-Menolly having the same opinion of Shonagar that Piemur does.

After the extended flashback of both pieces of advice that Shonagar gives to Piemur about becoming a man and making space for what he is becoming, what we should probably call a jam session begins. There’s an apprentice next to Piemur who is tapping out a rhythm on the table, who, according to Piemur, has just learned it, because of the amount of concentration the apprentice is applying to getting the rhythm right. Sebell, with a single nod at the apprentice, indicates to everyone that the apprentice’s rhythm is the be the backbone of what’s going to happen next.

Clever Sebell, Piemur mused: He was making use of the existing beat, and at the same time he was giving the young apprentice an enormous boost of confidence.

We’re never told what this rhythm is, how simple it is, how complex it is, what’s interesting about it, just that the apprentice is doing it, and Sebell decides that’s the root of what’s going to happen. And then from there, the drummers pick it up and work with it. Then Sebell strums a line on his gitar, and that’s the cue for the instrumentalists to start playing, and they all add their embellishments and complexities, and occasionally someone breaks away to counterpoint before coming back. Another nod, and the instrumentalists get locked in on the original melody, which gives leave for the singers to start their part, Menolly leading them, and they do the same sort of thing that the instrumentalists were doing, and after a while, the instruments join the singers and support them. Then Sebell plays countermelody, and then the signal to stop is, apparently, two more nods, indicating two more measures to go, and then everybody stops. And the audience listening breaks into applause, which I think is amply warranted for the way in which all of those musicians were able to harmonize and make good music with each other with no visible organization or direction other than their conductor nodding here and there.

This requires an absolute lot of stuff going on beforehand, and a lot of information being conveyed by what’s being done that has to be interpreted correctly. Everyone has to recognize the pattern and know what the tempo is, then everyone has to recognize what key Sebell is playing in when he plays his melodic line, and then everybody has to balance themselves and all the other musicians to make the ensemble sound good. There are musicians that can do this, but they usually have to communicate with each other beforehand, even something as terse as “12-bar blues in C” or “Duck, give me a mountain tempo in A minor.” That sort of communication might be elided if the ensemble has played together enough that everyone knows that the warmup is always 12-bar blues in C, or as the house band of the blues club I visited before I was at university jokingly said after we applauded “Thank you, that was ‘Sound Check in A’,” but even if that’s something that Piemur might know intrinsically, it’s a good moment for him to let the reader know this, or for Piemur to comment that Sebell’s chosen a different key than usual. It’s a good sequence, but the amount of detail that’s not present makes it feel like the right perspective would be someone completely outside, not someone who’s been away for a while and just has to remember what’s going on.

That said, after the jam session wraps up, it seems to have done some good for Piemur (and handily demonstrates al the things that he’s been remembering throughout this cycle).

This, Piemur thought as he looked around the room at the other harpers, this is one of the things I miss, this unison of sound and the feeling of completeness it bestows on everyone, even on those who are simply listening.
[…Piemur realizes he’s had a long day and decides to turn in…]
“Thanks, Sebell, that was fun,” he said, smiling. “I’m going to call it a night and get some sleep.”
“I’m pleased you joined us, Piemur. We haven’t heard you play in an age.”
“To be honest, Sebell, I wasn’t sure if I could do it anymore. Or enjoy it,” Piemur replied. “But I’d forgotten how much fun it is to make music.” He smiled then and, with a wave of one hand, walked out of the Hall bound for sleep.

And that closes out the chapter, with a hatching and a little bit of playing music, a reminder to Piemur that singing’s not the only way that he can contribute to making the music. No plot really advanced, nothing that we didn’t already know from The White Dragon, just seeing it from a slightly different perspective. If this was supposed to be the chapter where Piemur has a breakthrough and figures it all out, that didn’t happen, either. Instead, he gets a breather and the narrative gives us a lot of “Piemur’s using all of these harper skills, but he’s too thick-headed to recognize that he’s using all of these harper skills effectively and it’ll all be fine if he lets go of the fact that he’s no longer a star singer.” Which is pretty accurate to this Piemur, but it evokes a certain amount of “Get on with it!”, honestly. Yet another filler chapter continues to make this work much less than it could have been.

Deconstruction Roundup for April 2, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is really happy for the return of baseball.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorum Press

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you feel like there’s going to be a lot of people who want to immediately go back to normal once they personally have been inoculated, regardless of anyone else’s status. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragon’s Code: Drinking Reconnaissance

Last time, Jaxom and Ruth returned the egg after it was stolen, Meira tried to convince an enraged T’kul and B’zon that she knew why the dragons were sick, and T’ron, upon hearing what had happened with the theft of the egg, apparently got his entire mojo back calling out the conspirators for what they had done and decided the entirety of Southern Weyr needed to vanish into time so they could think about how to approach what they’ve done and how they might best apologize for it.

Dragon’s Code: Chapter Seven: Content Notes: Young Adult Endangerment

Piemur is now at Nabol, having received a package from J’hon that contains clothes appropriate for the place, as well as food, which he happily consumes. Although not the bread and cheese nor what look to be some bubbly pies sent along for him. Having finally refreshed himself, Piemur takes a look a the note from Sebell that came with all of it, which bids him move with all haste to a cotholder named Marek, because apparently, with the return of the egg, Jaxom’s life is still in danger and the harpers need to focus on this, since the dragon thing’s been resolved. At least, as much as they were going to be useful in resolving the issue.

Without feeling the slightest bit chastised at the time he’s wasted, Piemur crosses into Nabol, finds Marek, sets his stuff down, and then decides to go out on the town to gather information about the plot.

With an ease that surprised him, Piemur drew on his harper training and worked quickly to talk with as many people as possible. He found that in Nabol everyone had time for chatter and gossip, so he made a point of lingering long over his evening meal in the main hostelry outside Nabol Hold, and by spending a few marks extra to stand a round of cider for the more tight-lipped denizens, he was able to get them to loosen their tongues enough to glean more information.

Piemur’s characterization, as I have been thinking of it, would make this less of a surprise and more of a confirmation that he’s still got his touch, but even here, with this “I am unmoored and adrift, woe” Piemur, this seems like it should be something where Piemur takes heart that maybe even if his voice still doesn’t settle, he can still do this spying busines as a Harper. Maybe even start aspiring to the lofty heights of such legends as Pinch, Nip, Tuck, and other such Masters. Instead, he seems surprised by his own competence, despite being a Harper with a significant amount of this kind of experience. (If this Piemur were neurodivergent or showing his traumatic past more, I’d be nodding along with this “wait, hang on, I might actually be good at this,” because there’s a lot of downplaying yourself and your own skills so as to avoid Tall Poppy Syndrome, to avoid being seen as the weird one, to avoid having “friends” who are only there to improve their own grades and scores, and all of those other such things.)

On the second night, we’re told, a drinker called Hedamon takes him to the best brewhouse in the space, a courtyard run by a person named Skal. Hedamon is rude to someone disapproving of his drunkenness, calling her a “frigid old cow”, with a belch, but they do make it Skal’s brewhouse, where Piemur very quickly extricates himslef from Hedamon and disavows that he’s with Hedamon when the bartender glowers at him. Mostly because Piemur can read a room and sees how many people react with hostility and aggravation when he arrives. Having managed to ditch someone who will draw attention to him and get people hostile to him if he tries to talk to them, Piemur finds himself a booth with his ale glass and settles in to listen. It doesn’t take him all that long to pick up some useful chatter.

“Meron said he’d behest me that parcel of land near the high ground bordering Ruatha! But then the old bollox recanted.”
“I’ll bet he promised that same piece of ground to every single one of us,” another voice proclaimed bitterly.
“For certain he was no good at keeping his word, and far better at stringing us all along for his own use.”
“He’s [r]uined us all, is what he’s done,” a third voice piped up. “Why, I had the chance to take hold of land my moth[er]’s b[r]other offered. But L[or]d M[er]on kept danglin’ his promises in f[r]ont of me in that way of his, the malice-[r]idden old git, telling me not to settle for less than I deserved. So I [r]efused my uncle’s off[er], and he gave the land to someone else!” The third speaker clearly struggled to pronounce R’s.
“Listen,” a deeper voice commanded. “We know too well what Lord Meron did to us all. We can talk it to death but it won’t change anything. We have to do something about it or give over the bellyaching once and for all. I don’t know about you lot, but me and Serra have had enough talk.”
Piemur nearly gasped. He had heard that name before! Toolan had spoken about his cousin Serra. Piemur quickly silenced his own thoughts, determined not to miss a single word the men uttered.
The deep voice continued: “If you’re in with us, say so now or stop wasting our time. We all worked hard to prove our worth, and little thanks we got for it. Nothing but empty promises, and then when that old fart finally died , we were cast aside and forgotten. No one’s going to give us land—as is our right—so we’ll just have to take matters into our own hands.”

Okaaaaay, so the plot here is “The old Lord screwed all of us, so we’re going to cross the border into someone else’s space, kill them, and take their lands for ourselves.”

Cocowhat by depizan

That’s a serious case of displacement you’ve got there, friends. Sure, you might not be able to depose Lord Deckter, because he’s got the backing of the Harpers and the dragonriders, but surely there’s some smallholder out there somewhere who doesn’t have the money to hire bodyguards nor the muscle to be able to defend their lands themselves. A sensible pact here would be something like “we’re all going to depose this group of villeins here in the lands we were promised by the old Lord, then set ourselves up as the new villeins, and we’ll come to each other’s aid if someone tries to take their lands back.” That’s the kind of thing that they’ve got the resources, the people power, and the planning ability for. Crossing a border, assassinating a Lord, and then proclaiming yourself to be the new Lord in the face of everyone else who is going to come crush you, Lords, Crafts, and dragonriders alike… that’s not the kind of thing that a group of brewhouse conspirators can pull off without a lot of help. Help that would be kind of hard to hide from the harpers or the neighbors. So, as is the case with every other Pernese villain, they’ve got a very short suit in planning and logistics. While it’s entirely possible they might manage to injure or kill Jaxom, they’re definitely not going to be able to consolidate their gains in the face of a very pointed “You and what army?”

The conspirators move out of hearing, and Piemur has to feign a certain amount of drunkenness to move around, and then to feign being asleep in his cups as he settles in next to where the conspirators have moved to. And then, despite not having really given us a reason why they’re looking over the border rather than looking to displace the people they think have gotten “their” land and form a pact to administer it themselves, we get to hear why they’re picking Ruatha as their strike spot.

“Are you certain we should go for Ruatha?” Piemur heard one of the men ask in a hushed tone. “Crom’s closer.”
“Have you seen those men Lord Nessel has holding with him? Some of ’em are as big as herdbeast bulls! Nah, I’d put my chances on Ruatha—the Hold is barely guarded, if at all,” the deep-voiced man said.
“That young dragon-lord spends his time flittin’ here an’ there, doing nothin’ for his Hold. What a waste! Who’d miss him?” another voice said.
“Aye, but his connections make him that extra bit special for our purposes.”
Piemur sucked in his breath and was hard-pressed to keep up his pretense of slumber.
“Might make ’em sit up and take—” the deep-voiced man continued, but his words were suddenly drowned out as Hedamon shouted from several paces away: “There you are! Thought I’d lost ye! It’s your round for the drink.”

Like Piemur, we don’t get any real reason why they’re putting this on against Jaxom. And I think there’s something we could analyze in there about how these people have basically decided who’s vulnerable and who’s not based on their visible protection and how hard they envision the physical struggle to be. So the kid with the dragon and the lack of visible protection becomes the target, but, as has been pointed out, Jaxom has a Lord Warder running Ruatha at this point. If these conspirators really wanted to take over Ruatha’s lands, they’d have to kill Jaxom, current dragonrider, and Lytol, former dragonrider. Which, based on Piemur’s purple prose and description of N’ton’s fitness and physical prowess, suggests that if you try to fight Lytol, he will fuck you up. What I’m not hearing in this conspiracy department, yet, is how they plan to get rid of a Lord with a dragon and a Lord Warder who you probably can’t beat in a direct confrontation. Forget how they plan on holding what they think they can steal, I haven’t heard any fragments of a plan that will even get them moving in the direction they want to go.

Then again, this is a recruitment meeting, not a planning one, as after Piemur once again manages to ditch Hedamon by claiming he’s going to be sick, he’s able to overhear that Jerrol, the deep-voiced man, agree to a meeting at his place in two nights’ time for all the conspirators. Piemur is able to follow Jerrol back to his place without being noticed, and that buoys Piemur’s spirits and gives him proper actionable intelligence that he wants to send back to Sebell with all Farli haste. Which means the next morning, as Farli foesn’t show up until them, sharing dreams of angry dragons flaming fire lizards and the egg that’s been stolen and returned, although it’s not yet the point where Jaxom has figured out that he’s the one who’s going to steal the egg back with Ruth, so the fire-lizards are still on their own pathways.

Before we get there, though, there’s the constant refrain of “Piemur overhears something and has to suppress his reactions” I’m noticing that makes me think he’s not necessarily that great at being a spy, either. Or that they’re asking someone who is too young and inexperienced to do this big spying mission. Because, after all, that inability to contain his reactions is how Piemur messed up the spying mission before, lost his hat, and then got dismissed by giving a report while still addled with heat exhaustion. It serves the purpose of “Piemur is still immature, and not just in his singing voice,” but it’s beginning to feel stale and two-dimensional.

After Farli delivers Piemur’s message, Sebell comes to fetch Piemur on a dragon so that he can give his report in person to Robinton. Which he does, without any issues at all, since there’s nothing interfering with him at this point. We also learn that the original meeting was a meeting of six, which dropped to three when the talk got serious, which makes me wonder even more about how they think they’re going to accomplish this plan, with three people against whatever Jaxom has now for protection and against whatever retaliation will be planned should they improbably succeed at their task.

Having delivered his report, which would have been disappointing, apparently, if Piemur wasn’t also able to supply two names and the time and place of their next meeting, Piemur gets another hint that he’s more competent than he believes.

The room, which moments before had been silent and still, erupted into excited chatter, and Piemur realized with a dawning sense of awe that he could now command the attention of those whom he once thought he would never be equal to. The realization made him glow with a burgeoning sense of pride.
[…Robinton calls them back to order, tells Piemur to go back and get more information, with Sebell accompanying just in case things go sideways…]
The Masterharper didn’t have to say what everyone was thinking: that there was safety in numbers, and that the youthful form of Piemur, by all accounts, was no match for three deeply disgruntled men should the situation turn sour.

This still ends up better than what I would have expected from either of the previous authors, who would have sent Piemur back into that situation with no backup at all and he would have had to scramble when things did go sour for him, like how he got made in Nabol and ended up in a sack and shipped to Southern, before having to disappear from Mardra and live in the South without any real help or support until he could make contact again.

Still, however, I have to question the wisdom of sending someone in who, in their opinion, isn’t physically capable of handling themselves should things go poorly, and who is, by all rights and purposes, still pretty young. This is more of the “miners are adults and getting married at 12 because we have such short lifespans” from Todd than I would like to see in here. Anne, at least, made it out to be “this happened by accident, and by his wits, Piemur succeeds and thrives” rather than “Robinton and Sebell send in a kid to spy and report back on people who won’t have much trouble doing him physical violence or killing him if he’s discovered.”

Before Piemur gets sent back, though, the recovered queen egg is hatching, and so the entire assembled team (Robinton, Sebell, N’ton, J’hon, Menolly, and Piemur) is invited to Benden to watch the Hatching. Robinton suggests all the Harpers present will be good at taking the temperature of the Weyr and its inhabitants to see if there are any ways of easing the tensions. (The banding-identification solution in the White Dragon has already been suggested and implemented in this chapter. It’s not mentioned except as an aside as to why nobody is taking fire lizards to the Hatching, which is nice.)

At the end of the chapter, with Robinton expressing heartfelt hopes to make things easier, N’ton reassures him that everything will be fine, and we’re reminded that it’s still a rule of Pern that Robinton always gets purple prose.

“Never fear,” N’ton said, and Piemur watched with pride as the dragonrider bowed, a gesture of high regard for the foremost custodian of Pern’s heritage, the man who held the welfare of every person, not merely those of his own craft, close to his heart.

I can entirely believe that a dragonrider bowing to anyone is seen as a big social move, but for the reader, at least, who has seen what Robinton does behind closed doors, and what he authorizes, there’s a lot of “aigh” over the idea that anyone, especially any Harper of sufficient rank, believes that Robinton holds everyone’s welfare in his heart. All the same, at least on Pern, he manages to convince everyone else that he has all of their best interests at heart and he’s working for the betterment of everyone, so it’s entirely possible that he manages to hide much of the dark stuff to only a select few and everyone else thinks he’s just the best composer, singer, and musician on the planet, as well as the custodian of their history.

Seven chapters down, five to go, only one real plot in motion at this point, and it’ll probably get neatly resolved before the narrative turns its eye toward fixing the relationship with Southern Weyr.