Last time, one Lord Holder held out on impeachment on the principle that one does not remove someone from office lightly, right before the narrative undercut that position by telling us the holdout was mentally ill and having problems with his faculties. Because, as we are about to find out, it’s not possible for someone to put up a true effort against the designated heroes.
Dragonseye: Chapter XI: Content Notes:
This chapter title breaks the naming convention of Pern chapters, which usually just list the name of the place, and sometimes, a time period or designation. This chapter is specifically titled “The Trials at Telgar and Benden Weyrs,” which suggests an event of monumental importance – except that it’s the trial of various flunkies and guards, not the impeachment of Chalkin. As trials go, unless this produces testimony that can be used to nail Chalkin to the wall, these aren’t that important. Jaxom’s trial of Norist and the other Lords Holder would deserve a break more than this one does.
Jamson is unable to attend the trial at Benden, but we are told that representatives from every Weyr and Hold are able to attend. Even though there’s a blizzard covering Bitra, that phrasing means someone from there is present, even though I suspect that’s not actually the case. Jamson is missed at this trial because it’s on a subject he would actually care about.
The Lady Holder Thea came, annoyed that Jamson had a legitimate excuse for his absence and had sent Gallian [regent son] in his place.
“It might have done that stubborn streak of his some good to hear just how Chalkin conducts his hold. Oh, he’d’ve spouted on about autonomy but he must certainly is against any harm coming to unborn children.” Thea gave Zulaya a significant nod, reminding those around her that she had borne fourteen children to Lord Jamson in the course of her fertile years: sufficient to substantially increase the borders of their lands when the children were old enough to claim their land grants.
…wow. Not at the number of children, because I’ve seen plenty of good Catholic families that can get to fourteen children in our current age, but Lady Thea must have an iron constitution, because that would mean no more than one Cesarian, and, depending on what level of medical care is actually available at this point in time, potentially having done it in a world of potentially sixteenth- to eighteenth-century Terran medical care. And she and her fourteen children all survive to adulthood. That’s a sort of thing where one might start looking for the Infinite Improbability Drive.
Although, if all the Lords Holder have the same feelings toward fetuses (seeing them as land investments instead of children), that might explain the conspicuous absence of chemical or herbal birth control everywhere. Lady Thea was probably forbidden from traveling by dragon any time it might have been possible she was pregnant.
Okay, on with the trial.
Held in the capacious Lower Cavern at Benden Weyr, the first of the two trials was a sobering, well-conducted affair. At one time on Pern, there had been trained legists on Pern, but the need for such persons had waned.
No, it fucking did not, because this is not the first time in 250 years that a matter has crossed jurisdictions or someone has appealed to the Charter or an impartial court would need to be established! And even if you corrected that sentence to point out that the transference of the power of the court to the Lord Holder is what happened, that could potentially reduce the number of lawyers you would need, but I suspect it would have the opposite effect.
Furthermore, at least in my opinion, the narrative contradicts itself with the justification as to why there are fewer lawyers.
Most arguments are settled by negotiated compromise or, when all negotiation efforts failed, by hand-to-hand combat.
Cocowhat by depizan
What, you mean mediation and arbitration, and failing that, a formal duel? Now, who usually takes on the role of the impartial expert in situations that call for meditation and arbitration?
An easy way out of this conundrum, if you wanted to continue in the crass denigration of Bitra, but also to give them a useful service that would justify their continued existence, you could make all the legists Bitran. It gives everyone else a reason to hate them and to warn everyone else away from ever making a contract with them, because they write the damn things! And it would provide them with a significant amount of income to power the games with (and make everyone suspicious the games are rigged).
Ugh. Instead, what we have is people apparently hammering out an agreement between each other, then trusting them to follow through on it. Or then fighting over who is right in a dispute. Which has nothing to do with who might be right in a dispute.
Consequently, a spokesperson for the accused guards had to be found. One of the teachers from Fort Hold who specialized in legal contracts and land deeds reluctantly agreed to officiate.
Gardner had not been very enthusiastic about involving himself, however briefly, with rapists, but he recognized the necessity of representation and did his best. He had perfunctorily questioned the victims as to the identity of their alleged assailants and tried to shake their testimony. The three women were no longer the frightened, half-starved wretches who had been so abused. Their time in the Weyr had done wonders for their courage, self-esteem and appearance.
Yes, being taken seriously in your rape charges, having the rapists arrested, and having a court that will not only prosecute them, but likely convict them, and also having a place that didn’t shame you and supported you is very much going to increase your self-esteem and courage.
Also, a contract lawyer is not a criminal defense lawyer. Those guards are not going to get the defense they would be entitled to. They just aren’t.
Also, importantly, contracts and land deeds are handled by teachers from the college. Someone is still helping resolve disputes and is doing legal work to make sure everyone knows what’s going on, so there aren’t competing land claims. There’s still all sorts of need for lawyers. So the narrative can be quiet about how the need for them has somehow waned and been replaced by a trial by combat system.
Gardner even insisted that they had been rehearsed in their testimony, but that did not mitigate the circumstances of the grievous bodily and mental harm inflicted on them.
“Sure, I rehearsed,” the oldest of the women said loudly. “In me mind, night and night, how I was flung down and…done by dirty men as wouldn’t have dared step inside a decent woman’s hold with such notions in their head. I ache still rehearsing,” and she spat the word at him, “what they did, again and again and again.” For emphasis she slammed one fist into the other hand. Gardner had ceased that line of questioning.
In the end he managed one small concession for the accused: the right to be returned to their Contract Hold, following the trial, rather than have to make their own way back to Bitra.
Which isn’t really a concession as much as it is a sentence of exile. There’s a little about how Chalkin protested heavily about the dragonriders and how the dragonriders would happily chew out Chalkin out “when his guards said ‘they was only following orders to keep the holders from leaving!'” This should also count as evidence enough against Chalkin for his impeachment, which would have likely been accomplished by now if there was an independent judiciary to bring the charges to.
M’shall took the role as the prosecutor, and there were three judges and twelve jurists, so it had all the trappings of an independent court, except the part where no competent defense lawyer could be found and there’s no way in hell that anyone in attendance could be selected as a neutral juror in the case. All in all, six men are convicted, three as the rapists, and three as accomplices.
The penalty for the rape of a pregnant woman was castration, which was to be carried out immediately. The others were to receive forty lashes, well laid on by Telgar’s large and strong stewards.
“They were lucky there isn’t Fall,” Zulaya remarked to Irene, Lady Thea, and K’vin. “Otherwise they could also have been tied out during the next Fall.”
Despite herself, Thea gave a shudder. “By its probably why there are so few cases of rape recorded in our hold’s annals.”
“Small wonder,” K’vin said, crossing his legs again. Zulaya had noticed his defensive position and her lips twitched briefly. He turned away. His weyrmate had nearly cheered aloud when the verdict was delivered.
Well, shit. That’s harsher punishment than is written into the laws of our times. Whomever wrote the Pernese Charter, there were clearly women writing the part about what the punishments for rape are. Unless, of course, this punishment is specifically for the rape of a pregnant woman, which would mean that it’s more likely that the punishment is either for violence against an unborn child (like Jamson’s firm conviction) or for screwing another man’s property, both of which would be much more in line with Pern’s overarching philosophy.
The last guard protests that only Chalkin can deal with him, because he’s the one that holds the contract, but he’s told that it wouldn’t have made a difference and the sentences are carried out. The three women ask to go back to their holds, with renewed backbone and desire to stop anyone else from trying to turf them out. And then the narrative supplies me with more support to my theory that Bitra shouldn’t exist by actually confirming some of my speculations.
“Of course, you can’t tell if Chalkin doctored the last census or not, but he’s supposed to have 24,567 inhabitants.”
“Really?” Zulaya was surprised.
“But then, Bitra’s one of the smaller holds and doesn’t have any indigenous industry–apart from some forestry. The mining’s down to what’s needed locally. There’s a few looms working but no great competition for Keroon or Benden.”
“And the gaming,” Thea said with a disgusted sniff.
“That’s Chalkin’s main industry.”
So, apart from gaming, Bitra has no exports. I have to assume that Bitra’s internal production is enough for Bitra, because they clearly aren’t getting imports, since they’ve basically tried to screw every potential supplier they could have. Or perhaps they have a laundering operation in the same way the time-skipped exiles of Southern did, where Bitran money is used to bribe merchants into breaking their embargoes, or in to having fronts purchase the goods that are then shipped on to Bitra. Because as described, there’s no way Bitra should exist at this point.
The next trial, apparently, also uses Gardner as the defense lawyer, but this time for murder, and the jury doesn’t buy that killing someone is justifiable when your orders are to “restrain by any means.”
The men were sentenced to be transported to the Southern Islands by dragonback with a seven-day supply of food, which was the customary punishment for murderers.
Okay, that’s interesting. Exile for murderers, castration for rapists, beatings for accessories. And this is apparently what is laid out on the Charter or is the custom of Pern. I really can’t square these punishments with the idea that Pern is supposed to be some future society ideal, but then again, I assume those ideals are Star Trek, not Galt’s Gulch, so… (And also, I find it interesting that rapists get a much more permanent punishment than murderers do, given that we know that people can survive in the South, although usually by accident rather than by intent.)
Chalkin, of course, sends a threat that he intends to get compensation for the “ritual disfigurement of men only doing their duty,” and shouts at the dragonrider that comes to collect such a message about all the sins and problems of dragonriders.
After all that, the action settles back onto the weyrlings of Telgar and Iantine and Debera, whose dragon (and her) figure in more than a few sketches, prompting others to say that Iantine is in love, head over heels with Debera, and the other girls are laughing at Debera’s cluelessness, but also their own insecurities about what happens when their dragons rise to mate.
“To him it probably does,” Grasella said, “but, Jule, I’m more worried about the blue riders. I mean, some of them are very nice guys and I wouldn’t want to hurt their feelings, but they don’t generally like girls.”
“Oh,” and Jule [who is Weyrbred] shrugged indolently, “that’s easier still. You make an arrangement with another rider to be on hand when your green gets prod-dy. Then the blue gets his mate, if he’s got one, or anyone who’s willing–and you’d better believe that anyone’s willing when dragons are going to participate. So bed the one you like, and the blue rider his choice, and you all enjoy!”
The girls absorbed this information with varying degrees of enthusiasm or distaste.
Yet more evidence that others would, and probably should, find dragonriders to be a weird sex cult. Jule is blasé about the fact that people in the Weyr sleep around, especially when under the influence of dragons. To the Craft and Holdbred, who are probably being fed a very steady diet of arranged monogamy, and especially Debera, who escaped her own arranged marriage to the Weyr, this casual attitude toward sex should be shocking and scandalous, but nobody protests too loudly, as if all these women have just accepted the new reality as an objective fact.
Debera, for example, while she’s a bit embarrassed at Iantine falling for her, (and Morath confirming Iantine likes her) is a lot more textually embarrassed by the fact that she’s going to get new clothes.
She had tried to argue with Tisha that the beautiful green dress was quite enough: she didn’t need more. Tisha had ignored that and demanded that she choose two colors from the samples available: one for evening and another good one for daytime wear. Everyone in the Weyr, it seemed, had new clothes for Turn’s End. And yet, something in Debera had delighted in knowing she’d have two completely new dresses that no one had worn before her. She had, she admitted very quietly to herself, hoped that Iantine would notice her in them. Now, with Morath’s information, she wondered if he’d notice at all that she was wearing new clothes.
This is the right attitude for someone to have who has gone from relative poverty to apparent abundance. She has one dress that is probably fancier than what Debera has ever worn in her life, a dress that would probably have been made for her wedding, if the family had saved enough to contract a Weaver for it. And now, there’s someone insisting that she get two more dresses of the same quality for daily usage, as if these are, essentially, commodities. Debera understands the value and work put into the dresses, and wants to treat them as such. I would think that the others from outside the Weyr would also have similar reactions to their own fancy clothes.
The conversation goes on to talk about finding living spaces, and Jule ends up making a tasteless comment about how there will be space available for them when the time comes, with the implication of fatalities that all of them pick up on immediately. Jule apologizes immediately and the subject gets changed swiftly after an uncomfortable silence. The narrative shifts away, as well, to get away from that reality.
Clisser and Jemmy are, naturally, arguing. Jemmy is being short with Clisser, who wants status reports on the latest of the history ballads, over the trial. Jemmy thinks the trial was a farce and the guards should have just been sent to exile immediately. Clisser contends the trial was necessary to prove that people don’t act arbitrarily, and Jemmy snorts that such things are to position themselves against Chalkin.
Jemmy has reconstructed an abacus and slide rule to replace digital calculators and pads. (In theory, the slide rule allows for complex maths at nearly the same speed as digital calculation, but you have to be trained on it to achieve that speed, and you have to know what scales to use.) He’s also trying to figure out something that was done in the past to mark astronomical occurrences, and Clisser helps, albeit unintentionally, Jemmy land on Stonehenge as the likely candidate for imitation, and then is dismissed so that Jemmy can work on everything. Sallisha meets him just outside the office and gives him a full piece of her mind about the choices of subjects. Greek history and culture, she says, is essential so that people know where their government system comes from. Except Pern is not an Athenian democracy. Or, for that matter, a Roman republic. Perhaps, maybe, Sparta, given that the dragonriders really could rule any time they wanted. But no, Pern is feudalism. So Clisser’s objection, “…there is no point in forcing hill farmers and plains drovers to learn something that has absolutely no relevance to their way of life,” is right, but not for the reasoning that he has underneath it. Sallisha and Clisser go back and forth about what’s important to learn, with Clisser heavily on the side of “Pern is the important history to learn, as well as obligations to their betters and their rights under the charter” and Sallisha very much on the side of “knowing where you came from is most important.” They hash on about how terrible it is that so few people knew their rights, and why Chalkin hasn’t been removed, before Clisser says that Sallisha will be teaching the South Nerat circuit and gives her a new contract and her new syllabus. And that’s the end of the chapter.
I realize, now that I’m at the end of the chapter, that we got cheated on seeing what we actually wanted to see – a Lord Holder’s court and hearings not just on matters of crime and discipline, but matters of petty disputes, taxes, and the like.