Category Archives: Deconstruction

Dragonheart: A Taste Of Real Freedom

Last time, Fiona got gaslit by the Weyrleaders and T’mar into thinking her problem with T’mar’s cavalier attitude toward safety and life was really her own hangups about being in a role where she might have to let people die to save others or to keep the dragonriders as a whole going. Those two things are not actually related to each other, but Fiona went and apologized to T’mar for giving him a public dressing-down about the safety of his passengers because the Weyrleaders insisted she do so.

Dragonheart, Chapter 11: Content Notes:

Right after Fiona apologizes to T’mar, Nuella and Nuellask (who has added letters to her name, probably signifying the very tight bonds the two have at this point) arrive and have a conference with the Weyrleaders, a conference Fiona is eventually invited in to. Fiona knows how to greet Nuellask and where to scritch because of some time spent with Forsk. Nuella is amused about this for reasons not fully related to the watch-wher.

“But sometimes, when I was lonely, I’d go into her [Forsk] lair and curl up with her when I was tired.”
“From catching tunnel snakes, no doubt,” the woman, whom Fiona realized must be Nuella, guessed with amusement in her voice. “Kindan complained of it to me on several occasions.”
“Complained?” Fiona repeated, feeling irked with Kindan. “I got a quarter mark for each head!”
“And never got bitten, except the once,” Nuella added approvingly.
Fiona looked at her in surprise. “How did you–how did Kindan know about that?”
Nuella laughed. “No one keeps secrets from harpers for long.”
“But I treated myself and kept the cut hidden!”
“You still needed stores and you had to ask someone, even if hypothetically, about treating snakebites,” Nuella replied, her voice full of humor. She held out a hand, which Fiona took and shook eagerly. “I’m Nuella, as you’ve no doubt guessed.” She continued. “And rest assured, no one would have known except that Kindan was keeping such a careful watch over you.”
Fiona was too embarrassed to reply.
I thought it was a particularly good idea to ask Kelsa if there’d ever been songs written about treating snakebites,” Nuella confided approvingly.
“She wrote one just afterward,” Fiona remembered, then groaned, glancing over to the older woman in horror, “and she consulted Father on it! You don’t suppose she told him…?”
Nuella laughed and shook her head. “I have no idea,” she replied. “All I know is that after the song was written, Kindan showed up at my camp very agitated and tried to slyly teach the song to me.”
“He was afraid you were going to go after tunnel snakes?”
Nuella shook her head, her grin slipping. “I’d already done that,” she confessed. “I think he was just trying to be certain that I knew how to handle the bites if I ever did again.”
With a shock of horror, Fiona realized that Nuella was referring to her first watch-wher, the green Nuelsk, who had died of snakebite.

Oh, so that’s what happened to Kisk-Nuelsk. Is this the first time anyone has mentioned the change between the green and the gold? If it happened before, I would have thought I mentioned it. *rummage through notes* Nope. Got nothing. So we learn of the fate of Nuelsk through Fiona’s memory, which doesn’t then explain Nuellask’s existence at all, since, last I checked, the only known gold watch-wher was Aleesk.

I’m a lot dubious about “Kelsa wrote a song about snakebite,” but that’s mostly because I can’t imagine how terrible the Archives really are at the Harper Hall if every solution to “how do we remember this stuff?” really is “Write a song about it!” I know there’s the Teaching Songs, and presumably, there’s a standard Harper repertoire, occasionally influenced by those who have the gift of music, like Menolly, Petiron, and Kelsa, but it seems like everything having a song is just too much of everything. Maybe Verilan is slightly pleased that Kindan and Vaxoram burnt some amount of the materials on the Archive, because they can’t have all been winners.

Also, I’d like to take a moment to give a shout-out to both Fiona and Nuella for hunting tunnel snakes, especially to Fiona for making some very good wages killing them (and only suffering the one bite.) This is effective storytelling in that it tells us, the reader, that Fiona has always been a fireball who was going to chafe hard at the restrictions society was imposing on her, and it lets us know that Nuella might be one of the few characters who understands Fiona and the two should probably become fast friends, if not confidantes.

Nuellask meets Talenth, who wants to play, but regrettably, everyone has to finish up their war council meeting, and H’nez gets his nose tweaked twice in swift succession.

“I still think it’s a bad idea,” H’nez grumbled. “The Records say nothing of watch-whers fighting Thread–”
“Actually,” Cisca interrupted smoothly, “they do.”
“When?” H’nez asked abruptly.
“As of last night, when I wrote the report,” the Weyrwoman told him.
H’nez was not amused. “If they’re so useful, why was there no mention before?”
“I doubt anyone ever thought to mention it because it was obvious,” K’lior told him. “Watch-whers watch at night and guard holds–we all know that. Probably no one thought it worth mentioning that at night they also guard the holds from Thread.”
“We haven’t trained for this,” H’nez protested.
“I accept responsibility for that,” K’lior said.
“If all goes well, we won’t need you,” Nuella assured H’nez.
“Not need…?” H’nez repeated, his tone full of disbelief.
“If the weather holds, the Thread will all be dead,” Nuella said, “and then neither dragon nor watch-wher will have to fight.”

K’lior, that’s a fantastic explanation. Too bad that it’s completely wrong, since we saw at the end of the last book that Wind Blossom insisted this knowledge stay secret for still unfathomable reasons. Because plot, I suppose. And that mention Cisca makes of watch-whers fighting Thread will also be forgotten through time, even though it should be repeated with every generation to make sure it doesn’t get lost again.

Nuella’s jab at H’nez is pretty good, too, in terms of popping someone’s ego appropriately. Of course, I still believe H’nez shouldn’t be anywhere but Telgar.

The new day dawns promisingly, with snow, and Fiona and Tintoval wonder if just asking dragons and riders how they feel might give a good bead on figuring out how sick the dragons are, but Cisca points out the mental bond can bleed from dragon to rider and spoil any results. Tintoval asks for Xhinna’s help in preparing for the injured, and Xhinna’s sense of duty wins out over her desire to “beat the weyrlings at sacking firestone,” as Fiona puts it. Fiona seems to be accreting a nexus of strong women to herself, which I approve greatly of, and hope they all break off and start their own Weyr and throw all the social conventions to the wind. (It won’t happen, but I wish, okay?) There’s a short scene that’s basically “we’re so glad we have the right firestone now,” and another that’s “K’lior is worried things are going to go pear-shaped because his dragonriders aren’t running on high alert,” before we get to Zenor and Nuella (now happily married) having a fight about whether or not Nuella needs to go out with Nuellask to fight the Thread. Zenor says she needs to think about her children and family and staying alive to raise them. Nuella says it’s her duty to be out there leading the charge, even if Nuellask knows how to run the operation herself. Two of her children, Zelar and Nalla, overhear, and Nalla tips the scales in Nuella’s favor by quoting the statement about how dragonriders must fly when Thread is in the sky, even though Zelar says it’s not the same thing.

“No flying upside down,” he chided her.
“It musses up my hair,” Nuella responded, not–Zenor noted–necessarily ceding to his request.
“Bring her back,” Zenor said to Nuellask. “She and I have more babies to make.”
“Gladly!” Nuella responded with a laugh. “I want six, at least.”
“Excellent,” Zenor agreed, his eyes dancing.
“And Nuellask wants a few us clutches herself, I’m sure.”
“Which is a good thing,” Zenor said, “as it seems your babies start with hers.”

I am glad Nuella and Zenor are agreed about the relationship they have with each other, and they seem to be doing well in parenting. It might be the healthiest relationship I’ve seen on screen out of all of these books, and a large part of it is because Zenor seems willing to let Nuella be who she is, rather than expecting her to be wife and mother solely.

So K’lior’s bad feeling is right, as the weather is too warm and the corresponding Thread count too high for the watch-whers to consume themselves, so a quick makeshift team, including Cisca and an already hurt Nuella, rallies the whers and has them direct the flamethrowers where they need to go and shoot. Which gets them through the night, but not without some burrows slipping through, which turn out to be well-established in the wrong places, necessitating the destruction of a forty year-old forest. K’lior is pretty pissed about the necessary destruction, and apologizes to Lord Egremer about it. Egremer asks for the loan of some weyrlings to help ease some things and save some time in the rebuilding. Which sparks an idea in K’lior, who thanks Egremer for his inspiration and then hightails it back to Fort Weyr to explain to Cisca that if they throw the weyrlings back in time, they’ll have enough time to mature fully and then pop back as full dragonriders ready to kick Thread and take names. Cisca thinks it’s brilliant. The rest of the war council, sans H’nez, is on board. H’nez, however, has landed on K’lior’s shit list, finally.

“No one knows if this is going to work, anyway,” H’nez said. K’lior glanced sourly in his direction–H’nez had been late in joining the fight the night before.

We’ve finally found out what it is that gets you on the Weyrleader’s bad side, and…well, of course it has to do with fighting Thread instead of being an asshole. Which, we note, H’nez continues to be.

K’lior turned to T’mar. “When can you be ready?”
“In two hours,” T’mar replied. “When do you need us back?”
“Excuse me,” H’nez said, “but I think I should be the one to go.”
K’lior turned to him with a raised brow.
“I’ve had the most experience leading flights of dragons; I’ll be the best at training them and handling their injuries,” H’nez explained.
“T’mar is handling the weyrlings now,” K’lior said. “and the decision as to who goes is mine.”
H’nez flashed angrily. “Then pick me.”
K’lior eyed him with distate for a moment, then turned his attention back to T’mar. “The healer will need to stay here.”
T’mar nodded in agreement.
“Weyrleader!” H’nez snapped through gritted teeth. All eyes turned to him. “If you will not let me lead the Flight back to Igen, then I demand that you send me to another Weyr.”
“H’nez!” M’valer gasped.
K’lior merely nodded. “I can not send you until this illness has been cured,” he told H’nez. “at that time, however, you may go to any Weyr that will have you. In the meantime, as we have more wingleaders than wings, you are to fly in M’kury’s wing.”
H’nez nodded stiffly, rose from his chair, and rushed out of the room, ignoring K’rall’s and M’valer’s outraged expressions.

Oh, for fuck’s sake, finally. I still think it a terrible thing that K’lior waited until H’nez did himself in by his own words and actions, instead of sending him off or demoting him to a flyer as soon as it became apparent he was unsuited to leadership, but there’s probably some unwritten rule somewhere that I’m not aware of, being just a reader of the book and not fully immersed in dragonrider culture and how bronze riders work. Anyway. H’nez has been neutralized for the moment, although I’m not counting him out to try something when he thinks nobody is looking, because guys like him don’t just slink off or merely wait their time out.

Fiona offers to go back in time, but she’s nixed because she’s the heir and there’s no way they’re risking the juvenile queen on this mission. As Fiona explains it to Xhinna, the riders are going to use the position of the Red Star, and then calculate what it should look like Ten Turns ago to get their picture, which should sound rather familiar to us, given that the position of the Red Star was what was used for the giant time hops that Jaxom and Ruth led, and several other intentional-or-otherwise time hops that have been done before. Given that dragonriders keep time by the Red Star, which is apparently the most regular object in their orbit, it makes sense that it keeps getting used for time-point fixation. So T’mar and the weyrlings pop back in time to do their thing, which resolves a certain number of the paradoxes involved and will hopefully bring those weyrlings back to full alertness when they stop crossing their timelines. Xhinna and Fiona and F’jian all talk about the lack of riders in the Weyr, and how they would much rather be in the past, growing up, even though their dragons can’t actually carry them, much less send them back in time.

When Fiona yawns, Talenth tells her to go to bed, and says she’ll be in shortly, but she has to think first. Which is the latest in a few signs that Talenth might not be like other dragons, but it’s been small things like Fiona can tell Talenth to listen for other riders, and that works perfectly well, but is actually somewhat unusual for dragons when noted. Fiona is awoken in the middle of the night by the same mysterious queen rider she saw before, who has an imperative for Fiona and Talenth: come back with her to Igen Weyr, so that the other weyrlings will see them go and do the same thing themselves. Because this rider, whomever she is, is from the future and now has to make sure that her own past happens as she remembers it. So Talenth, Fiona, and Terin make the hop with the queen rider. Xhinna is left behind at the insistence of the queen rider, which I’m sure will sour whatever relationship Fiona and Xhinna had. And the chapter closes with Fiona puzzling out who this mysterious rider might be from the future.

Who was this person? Fiona wondered. Who rode a gold and could bring them back in time?
A growing sense of wonder overcame her as she considered the most obvious answer: Could this be Fiona herself, come back from the future?

Well, if it is, we have the Lessa Paradox all over again. Although, I suppose, given the chronologies involved, it would first be called the Wind Blossom Paradox, or the Lorana Paradox, long before it became the Lessa Paradox. In any case, we keep having these situations that are extremely vulnerable to the Bootstrap Paradox happening with greater frequency as the new author settles in, and that’s not a trend that I want to see continue. Aside from my annoyance at how directly Pernese time travel interferes with itself and the grumble I have about the bootstrap paradox, the reliance on time travel as the solution to all problems and the construction of narratives that require time travel to solve makes it sound like the new author doesn’t feel confident in their ability to tell the story they want. There’s so many more things on the table to pick up and run with, like the terrible similarity between Lady Holder and Weyrwoman that Fiona is experiencing. Or how all the people that Fiona keeps putting in positions of usefulness see the world. There’s Thread and heretofore unseen illness and a lack of knowledge that is punishing everyone and a race against the clock to find a solution. That’s good enough without having to bring time travel into it. There’s so much going on that things that could be explored more get rushed past. Maybe not all of it makes it into the final work, but Fiona is more of a plot device than a character at this point.

Chapter 12 starts next week.

Dragonheart: Terrible Decision-Making, All Around

Last time, Fiona learned a lot more about what it means to be a weyrling and what sort of responsibilities she’s going to have to take on a a Weyrwoman supervising them.

Dragonheart: Chapter 11: Content Notes: Trolley Problems and Faulty Logic, Gaslighting

I reached out
And you were gone.
I cried out
But you had flown.

(Fort Weyr, Morning, AL 508.1.19)

Cisca and Fiona debrief about the incident in the morning, and Fiona mentions her mysterious voice told her things were going to be fine despite this setback. (It was there, but the mysterious voice isn’t doing much but being reassuring, so it’s not always important.) The two of them then try their hardest to convince everyone else that everything is going to be fine as well, despite no actual evidence of progress. Fiona gets to go drill the weyrlings today. Tajen and T’mar are going to try Fiona’s suggestion of trailing firestone sacks behind the dragon. Fiona ships J’gerd off to drill the older weyrlings, and Xhinna gives Fiona advice about drilling the younglings – all things are tests, especially anything that looks like a mistake or a missed command. Fiona does well, especially when Talenth gets involved and when Fiona rotates who is giving commands.

Xhinna proved as adept at drill as Fiona had expected, giving her orders in a well-timed cadence that actually made the drills work better.
“That was amazing!” Xhinna told Fiona when they finally called halt, he eyes shining with joy. “I could almost feel how they’d be in the air and–” She cut herself off abruptly and dropped her eyes to the ground.
Fiona could guess what the other girl was thinking: that it was something she’d never experience. She wanted to say something to reassure her, to give her hope, but she couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t sound false or silly.

Talenth ends up promising Xhinna an egg from her clutch, when the time comes. And this is another one of those times where I really have to boggle at the hoarding of knowledge and material by everybody on Pern. Like, the fife and drum corps is not a new concept in any sort of way, and yet it seems like Fiona notices Xhinna’s natural cadence and this is some sort of novel idea and improvement to the previous drill idea. We already have Harpers for the Weyr, so how hard would it be for an apprentice drummer to be put on loan to a Weyr to practice their rudiments in such a way that gives the weyrlings a beat and cadence to practice their drill to? And since it’s not like the dragonriders need any sort of secrecy to fight Thread, why not have a drummer on hand when fighting a Fall to keep time and tempo so that the dragons fight Thread as efficiently and rhythmically as possible? Maybe the Songmaster can compose a song for the weyrlings to memorize that contains their drill in it, so all they have to do is hear the right command and the tempo and they can do it. There’s always the possibility that a weyrling will be without rhythm at all, of course, but it’s always interesting to see how many things are being rediscovered that should never have been forgotten in the first place.

Drill goes well, T’mar and Tajen say the trailing firestone idea works, but they don’t particularly like it compared to having weyrlings do resupply. Even though having six sacks floating seems to make this idea work fairly well. The return of the rest of the fighting groups means a leader meeting where everyone’s numbers are basically terrible, and that’s worse because High Reaches won’t help (because of the time plot) and Telgar won’t help (because there’s an asshole in charge). Fort currently has about a wing’s worth of reserves over the minimum needed to fight a Fall properly. Fiona suggests that wing could be the firestone reserves, using the same technique of floating sacks behind, and then the reserve wing could join the fray and patch holes that might have appeared through casualties, a suggestion swiftly adopted and then assigned out to be put into practice with the next day’s drill.

Fiona is getting a lot of mileage out of the outsider perspective trait, since Cisca and company seem to be actively encouraging Fiona to examine all of their issues and practices to see if there are improvements to be had, and Fiona seems to be coming up with solutions on the regular.

The more the book gets into the details, though, it continues to leave out a lot of things. Like, is firestone mined to a certain size and weight so that there’s a standard-within-tolerance expectation of how long a flame a dragon can sustain per rock? (Does it change depending on the dragon’s color? If so, is every dragon wing composed solely of one color?) Does an attacking wedge of dragons sustain their flame for a set amount of time before peeling off and letting the next wedge smoothly take their place while they float back to the back of the queue to reload? How does a wing or wedge or flight accomplish resupply without Thread advancing some amount of ground, given that the point is to make sure no Thread touches down?

These things don’t have to be explicitly said in painstaking detail, but they should be known, so that when characters speak or act, they’re doing so in a way that shows the author has thought of it and plotted it out. You need a series book of research, even if the research itself doesn’t need to go into the narrative.

As it turns out, the next day, Xhinna and Terin present Fiona with a new problem – the next scheduled Threadfall will go through sundown and dragons do not see well on the dark. Fiona runs the problem past the other Weyrleaders, and everyone goes “…shit.” Some of the Thread might freeze, but there’s going to be space for Thread to burrow that the ground crews aren’t going to be able to cover. The Weyrleaders are appreciative, even if it means having to do more things.

“You have a habit of finding difficult friends, don’t you?”
Fiona looked up and saw that he was smiling at her.
“Don’t stop,” Cisca told her heatedly. “We need these sorts of friends; they keep us from making terrible mistakes.”
“Indeed,” K’lior said, his expression thoughtful. He raised an eyebrow toward Cisca in some secret communication that seemed to Fiona that they were dragons communicating telepathically.
“Yes,” K’lior said after a moment. “I think we shouuld encourage this Terin to stand on the Hatching Grounds.”
“Nothing short of a full revolution for you, is there?” Cisca wondered, her eyes dancing at Fiona.
” ‘Need drives when Thread arrives,’ ” K’lior quoted in reply.

And so, at least at Fort, we seem to be headed in the direction of getting plenty of eligible candidates from places unexpected to sit for dragons. Which is excellent, and it’s nice having Weyrleaders who think this is a good idea, rather than trying to obstruct it for any sort of TRADITION reasons or otherwise. Cisca and K’lior seem to be both practical and pragmatic, except when it comes to getting rid of people that needed to step down or be dismissed, I guess. Which can be a big flaw in the wrong conditions.

Fiona continues to do the thing she does best, in providing outside perspective to the dragonriders that sorely need it.

“What about the watch-whers?” Fiona asked. “I know my father’s Forsk will be eager.”
“Watch-whers?” K’lior repeated, running a hand through his hair in exasperation. “What could they do?”
“They can see at night,” Fiona replied, undaunted. “And I know that father has been training with Forsk, getting guidance from Kindan, M’tal, and Nuella.”
K’lior groaned. Cisca looked at him worriedly. “The watch-whers,” he explained. “When M’tal was here at the Hatching, he wanted us to train with the watch-whers.”
“And you said no,” Cisca guessed.
And I said no,” K’lior agreed disconsolately. “Could you imagine H’nez…?”
“He would have been apoplectic,” Cisca agreed.
“Well, there’s nothing we can do about it now,” K’lior said with a heavy sigh. “We’ll fight the Thread tonight and see if perhaps we can train with the watch-whers before the next Fall.”

Or, perhaps, the consequences of not being able to throw H’nez out on his ear when needed will come back and bite the Weyrleaders in the ass more directly. Also, watch-whers are an important part of things, and the fact that they can see in the dark and eat Thread should not have become part of lost knowledge, but again, Pern.

As it is, the first night-time raid is a disaster for K’lior, because the dragons can’t see, but it turns out the watch-whers and Nuella turn up to help them out anyway and remind everyone that they’re the night crew for Thread, because the watch-whers will eat the stuff up. There’s some concern about how there aren’t enough watch-whers to fight a full onslaught if all the Thread is live (since, remember, they work on heat-vision, they can tell what’s live and what’s dead in terms of Thread), and Cisca is put out that she missed out, but mostly it’s “Nuella was flying upside-down and said hello. Since she’s blind, I’m not sure she noticed,” from K’lior, to which Cisca says, “Yeah, no, she noticed. I’ll bet her mate will be unhappy about that stunt. And also, don’t get any ideas.”

H’nez is grounded for the next Fall, due to injured dragon, and T’mar has Fiona accompany him to the Harper Hall. Once Fiona gets under the archways, she’s lifted off her feet by an unknown person, who nearly gets kicked in sensitive areas for assaulting her like that, before Fiona identifies it as Verilan, and the two have a conversation about how much Fiona’s grown before heading in to Zist’s office, where Bemin, Kelsa, Zist, and a few others are seated. Kelsa tells Fiona that she’s pregnant, which nets an “About time” from Fiona. (Exact quote.) Fiona rattles through the reasons why there might be so many dignitaries present, but those reasons have been covered, it’s mostly to be sure that Fiona’s okay with it. Which she is, and thinks that both her mother and Koriana would have wanted it. Koriana gets named, Lady Sannora does not, but such is the way with siblings, I suppose.

Then they get to the real reason they called for the meeting – Fort Weyr is getting a healer again, a newly-promoted master by the name of Tintoval. She will hopefully have a better tenure than the last healer did, perhaps by virtue of being someone H’nez is less likely to get into duel fights with, even if H’nez will have to be told, repeatedly, that he has to listen to her. T’mar also wants to relay the news about the watch-whers fighting Thread, but Forsk was apparently in the thick of it, so everyone already knows.

When it’s time to leave, Fiona notes there aren’t enough straps to make sure everyone’s secure in. T’mar brushes off her concern, so Fiona gets a grip on one strap with one hand and holds on to Tintoval with the other. There’s a little turbulence on the way back, and Fiona hurts herself holding everyone down, which provokes T’mar into a fit that Fiona could have been lost. Fiona is pretty pissed that they endangered the new Healer and doesn’t understand why T’mar, and then Cisca and K’lior, are pissed at her in return. I follow Fiona’s confusion, even as the whole thing is supposedly explained by K’lior and Cisca.

“But T’mar was–”
“–wrong,” K’lior finished for her. “He should have used the straps.”
“He said he didn’t have any,” Fiona protested.
“He could have borrowed some from the Harper Hall,” K’lior replied. “Master Zist is used to dealing with dragonriders and is smart enough to keep some on hand.”
“As, no doubt, does your father,” Cisca added.
“Then you agree–”
“I do not agree with your public humiliation of a wingleader,” K’lior interjected harshly. “T’mar’s a good man; he would have learned his lesson without your childish outburst.”
“Childish!”
“Childish,” Cisca agreed, but her tone was softer than K’lior’s and she shot the Weyrleader a look that Fiona couldn’t fathom. K’lior shrugged in response, leaving Cisca to continue, “An adult would have realized that T’mar would punish himself harshly for his error and–”
“–an adult would accept the realities of being a queen rider,” K’lior finished.

Cocowhat by depizan

Yes, T’mar should have made better choices. Also, Fiona’s a Weyrwoman, it’s within her remit to remark that T’mar made poor choices. Fiona is not in the wrong, here, which makes it even more aggravating that Cisca and K’lior are acting like she is, even after having acknowledged that Fiona isn’t wrong.

“And let someone else die?” Fiona demanded in anguish and fury, her eyes filling with tears.
“If need be,” Cisca answered softly. She gestured to herslef and Fiona. “Without us, there would be no queens. And without the queens, there will be no Pern.”
“So our queens are nothing more than brood mothers?” Fiona demanded sourly. “And you and I are–” She found she couldn’t finish the sentence and so said instead, “But what about Tannaz? Why did you let her go between?”
“It wasn’t my choice,” Cisca told her. She shook her head sadly. “You know that it wasn’t really Tannaz’s choice, either. Kelsanth was dying; there was no cure.”

Fiona finally comes to the terrible conclusion herself, that being a queen rider and a Weyrwoman isn’t any more free than being a Lady Holder would have been, especially in this situation where queens are precious and need to be protected. Which is the sort of thing that’s been more obvious or less obvious as the previous series have gone on. Fiona exchanged one cage for another, but at no point was she ever going to be free.

Cisca and Fiona have a heated exchange about whether Fiona’s going to give up in despair because there’s still no cure for the dragons, or whether she’s going to fight it all the way through, and then when Fiona resolutely says she’s not giving up, Cisca asks her

“Will you be a leader and an inspiration, or will you be a whiner and an embarrassment? Will you bear your responsibilities, or bow under them?”
“But–to let her fall!” Fiona wailed. A torrent of emotions broke over her and she began to cry.
Realization dawned on K’lior’s face. “You aren’t angry at T’mar–you’re angry because you would have let her go!”
“I held on!” Fiona declared, holding up her aching arm as proof.
“Of course you did,” Cisca replied proudly. “You’re a Weyrwoman.” She glanced to K’lior. “We’ve never questioned that.”
“But,” K’lior persisted, “if it had come to letting her go or falling with her–”
“I would have let her go!” Fiona cried, dropping her head into her hands and shaking it in shame and sorrow. “I would have let her go.”
Strong arms wrapped around her and she was pulled tight against Cisca’s tall body. “Of course you would,” Cisca agreed with her, “because that’s what you would have had to do to protect Pern. You would have hated yourself for it, probably never have forgiven yourself, but you would have done it.” Cisca pushed her away and put a finger under Fiona’s chin, gently raising it so she could see the girl’s eyes. “And that’s what makes a great Weyrwoman: doing what has to be done even when she hates it.”
“That’s why you let Tannaz go,” Fiona said with sudden understanding.
“Yes,” Cisca replied, the words torn out of her, and again she crushed Fiona in a tight embrace, the sort of embrace a mother gives her daughter; the sort of embrace Fiona had always longed for. A short moment later, however, Fiona pushed herself away and glanced toward K’lior. “And that’s why you called me in here.”
The Weyrleader nodded, a corner of his lips turned up in a bitter smile. “Better to know your mettle now than when we are in worse straits.”
Fiona nodded. She stood as tall as she could and said to K’lior, “Weyrleader, I apologize for my outburst at Wingleader T’mar. I was distressed and took my temper out on him. I regret it.”

Cocowhat by depizan

Cocowhat by depizan

Cocowhat by depizan

I don’t even understand this sequence. Fiona’s really mad at herself that she would have engaged in self-preservation when the chips were down, and that’s somehow emblematic that Fiona will be able to make the hard decisions when it’s time, and that’s what they want in a Weyrwoman, so now Fiona understands their position, accepts it as correct, and apologizes for it?

I don’t know if that’s gaslighting, but if it isn’t, it sure as hell is in the same family. T’mar’s still wrong, Fiona’s still justified in taking it out on him, his feelings be damned, and Cisca and K’lior should be supporting her rather than telling her she was wrong to do it and convincing her that she’s really mad at herself instead of at T’mar. He might very well beat himself up about it in private, and that’s well and dandy, but everybody, including Fiona now, is trying to make the greater sin in that Fiona said something and was harsh with him, rather than that he endangered lives.

“Seriously,” Cisca said, turning again to Fiona, “it is often hard for a young Weyrwoman to accept the realities of her position.”
“To let healers die that I might live,” Fiona said by way of example.
“If that is what is needed to protect your queen and the future of Pern,” Cisca responded emphatically.
“It just doesn’t seem fair,” Fiona said softly.
“It isn’t fair,” Cisca agreed. “It’s up to us–Weyrwomen and Weyrleaders–to make it as fair as we can.”
“And when we can’t,” K’lior added, “it’s our responsibility to make certain that no sacrifice is in vain.”

Cisca also says she expects Fiona to deal with T’mar on her own before the Weyrleaders go out to formally meet Tintoval.

But we’re still talking about different things here. T’mar didn’t follow safety regulations and endangered lives through his carelessness. Fiona told him there were problems, but he blew her off. Consequently, Fiona injured herself trying to make sure that T’mar’s carelessness didn’t cost the life of the Healer the Weyr desperately needs. Everyone is yelling at Fiona that she can’t endanger herself for other people, because she’s too precious. If that were the case, really, then Fiona shouldn’t be let out of the Weyr for any reason at all. Like she wouldn’t be let out of her Hold ever, either as someone to be married away or when she was properly married, because she would need to produce at least an heir and a spare to ensure succession.

This does not tie into “sometimes, as a leader, you have to make choices that will kill people,” unless everyone is tacitly admitting here that T’mar’s carelessness was instead a deliberate test to see if Fiona would let Tintoval go and only care about herself. Which is an extremely shitty thing to do to Fiona and Tintoval, even if T’mar was confident there wouldn’t be any real danger and they could catch Tintoval if she were jostled out of her seat. There are way many more ways of doing a test like this, and in reality, with Threadfall already underway, there won’t be any need to test this idea, as Fiona, should she ever become Senior, will have to send riders out to die, or at least be okay with the Weyrleader doing so.

This entire sequence seems to be here for the purpose of gaslighting Fiona, inflicting trauma on her, and making it very clear to the reader just how little has changed for Fiona because of her Impression. And, just, ugh. It’s fucking terrible, because it’s all about prioritizing the feelings of a dude over the very real problems that Fiona is absolutely right to point out.

The narrative goes on with Fiona showing Tintoval around, answering questions, and coming to see one of the sick dragons, where I am reminded that names ending in consonants are men’s names, not women’s names, and therefore there’s the possibility of confusion if someone hasn’t seen Tintoval before hearing her name. “A new healer,” the voice inside began hopefully. “Does he–”
He broke off as they entered. S’ban was dressed elegantly in wherhide breeches and a thick blue sweater accented with a gold chain around his neck. For a moment his face showed his surprise at Tintoval, and then it darkened. “I’m not sure that Serth will tolerate a woman’s touch,” he warned them. When Fiona opened her mouth to argue, the blue rider amended quickly, “I mean, a woman who is not a queen rider.”

And, along with name confusion, we get slapped with the casual sexism of Pern. (Yay.) Because there’s no reason to believe that the dragon gives a damn about what gender the person is that’s trying to heal them. Instead, it’s the rider assuming that Tintoval can’t be capable, because she’s a woman, never mind that she’s just recently been promoted to her Mastery and so is exactly the person that can fill the great big gaping hole in Fort Weyr’s ability to keep the people and the dragons healthy.

Tintoval explains she was named because her father, also a blue rider, expected her to be a son so much that he had her named before they knew. This would be the perfect place for a trans narrative, where Tintoval says, “And he was right about having a son, even though I look like this.” and we get representation and someone doing important work. But that’s not going to happen. Instead, we get more of Tintoval being competent, some teasing of Fiona from Tintoval about her crush on Kindan, which leads into wanting to think about the problem of catching riders too injured to fly their dragon well, a few bits of reaction to the Weyr seeing Tintoval for the first time, and Fiona being deliberately snubbed from the Weyrleader’s table (there’s no place for her) because she hasn’t apologized to T’mar yet. So Fiona goes to do it, and we get more of Fiona gaslighting herself and others joining in.

“She didn’t,” he [Bemin] would probably have said, “and you weren’t angry with the bronze rider because of that.” She could imagine him sighing and drawing her close. “Lying does not become a Lady Holder, particularly if she lies to herself.”
[…Fiona sees T’mar and makes her way over…]
“Wingleader T’mar,” Fiona began, “I wish to apologize t you for my outburst this morning. I should not have been angry with you.” She bit her lip and forced herself to continue. “The truth you spoke was not one I was prepared to hear. I regret my harsh words.”
[…T’mar accepts it and makes a place for her at his table…]
T’mar waited until she was seated, then leaned in close to her. “You are not weyrbred; you learned something to day that our children know as soon as they can talk.”

Cocowhat by depizan

Then why the fuck is everyone coming down on Fiona like a ton of bricks? Unless nobody actually stopped and thought for half a second about how Fiona doesn’t understand this truism of their life and perhaps someone should explain it to her.

“I am holdbred,” Fiona agreed, “but my father is a Lord Holder and many of the same truths apply to Lady Holders as [they do] to Weyrwomen.” She frowned. “It’s just hard to accept.”
“Harder as a Weyrwoman, I believe,” T’mar told her. “As a Lady Holder you could renounce your claim, but as a Weyrwoman…” He shook his head.
“Is it always this hard?” Fiona asked him frankly. “Am I the only one…?”
“No,” T’mar assured her. “I think every Weyrwoman battles with this issue.” He waved a hand toward Cisca. “I know that she did, before Melirth rose.”

No, you’re not the only one. Every Lady Holder being trained up to be a nice marriage token and then household-runner, every Weyrwoman, basically every woman on Pern has the same issues that you’re running into, Fiona. Those that choose to strike out on their own, like Thella or Kylara, or even Brekke, had she been given half a chance, are almost invariably painted as villains by both society and the narrative (who wants to make sure that there are no women that want something different and that might be sympathetic to the reader in their wanting). So your options are to conform to the society that insists your value is only in how well you play a narrowly constricted role for men or to strike out and risk the wrath of that society and the narrative itself.

It’s hard to accept because Pern requires doublethink on par with the United States’ constant talk about Freedom, Liberty, Equality, and the bootstraps illusion, when even cursory research or examination of a perspective other than a privileged white man shows that all the talk being talked has basically no walk being walked behind it. Fiona thought that she could get out of the cage of being a Proper Lady Holder by ascending to a position that theoretically is above just about everyone, only to discover that she doesn’t have any of the actual power that comes with it, and by the time that actual power comes around, she won’t be able to use it except in approved ways anyway, because she’ll have to have a minder/husband/Weyrleader by her side instead of ruling the place by herself. Or at least being able to do what she wants to do, instead of what everyone that’s putting her on a pedestal expects her to do.

We haven’t seen Fiona have that realization and the mental breakdown that’s likely going to follow from it. There’s hints of it, because Fiona continues to be super-anxious about what will happen when Talenth rises to mate. (I don’t think it’s solely about the sex part, even if that’s what the conscious worry is about. I think Fiona is worried that when Talenth rises to mate, that will slam shut the last door Fiona has to get out of the situation before she no longer can. Fiona is facing an existential crisis at thirteen. The same one she would be facing as a Lady Holder, to be sure, but the stakes are, somehow, much higher than she would have expected to have as a Lady Holder. I kind of want to see what happens when a dragon goes to live with the watch-whers or something similar, where the dragon and rider simply close themselves off completely to being found by anybody else and go find a community of similar renunciants and lives out a life without having to become a Thread fighter, or leader, or Weyrwoman. Not that someone could hide dragons easily in the inhabited lands, but maybe some raids and a few other things to get a space for themselves and their dragons established and they could just opt-out as much as possible from the life and destiny set in front of them. That would be nice to have as an option.

There’s still nearly half of this chapter to cover, and this post is long enough already, so we’re going to stop here. I keep thinking back to the beginning piece, where the author mentioned rising tensions between dragonriders and holders, and have to wonder how much of this conflict between what’s expected in dragonrider culture and what’s expected in holder culture is really all that different, at least for the women allowed to participate in either realm, and how much of the conflict is really between the world as it is described to us and our own sense of ethics and morals about the treatment of others. But maybe that’s because I’m looking at this series with a lens toward showing where things don’t make sense, rather than being swayed by the presence of neat dragons and potential world-ending threats and engaging in some reader self-insertion (which is really easy to do in all of these novels) that might make me want to be more apologetic for Pern than I might otherwise be. Because it’s still got a decent concept, even if the executions leave a lot to be desired.

More next week.

Dragonheart: The Power of Logistics

Last time, Fiona had to deal with a significant amount of death of dragons and riders, as several of her mentors took the one-way trip to hyperspace. The Weyrlingmaster stayed behind when his dragon died in his sleep, and was officially de-contracted in the ritual expression of grief. Fiona and the weyrlings and weyrgirls (specifically mentioned) ran through the first aid exercises meant to make them competent and instinctual about how to triage and treat dragons coming back with Thread injuries. About the only thing it seems to be helping with is making sure Fiona is too run ragged to think existential crisis thoughts.

Furthermore, rather than finding having a dragon to be freeing from obligations and social structures that insist she repress her emotions and always act like a proper lady, it’s become radically apparent that being a Weyrwoman is all of the things that would have been expected of her as a Lady Holder, with the extra terrible of knowing her emotions are contagious to the people around her.

Dragonheart: Chapter 10: Content Notes: Joke about underage boys being seen sexually

Thread falls
Dragons rise.
Dragons flame,
Thread dies.

(Fort Weyr, morning, AL 508.1.13)

When you have to repeat the poetic lines from earlier, and furthermore, you’re repeating the less good stuff, that’s probably a sign of something. Like someone needed to hire a poet.

Chapter Ten starts with Fiona unnaturally perky about the possibility of Threadfall. Apparently, everyone at Fort is keyed-up about being able to hurt the visible menace, rather than suffering from the invisible one, and they’re chomping at the bit to get a Fall under their belts, since everyone else has already done one. Fiona and Cisca are both very nervous about who might not come back, although Cisca asks Fiona and Xhinna not to let her nervousness be known widely, because Senior Weyrwoman Who Sets The Example and all that.

Fiona doesn’t get to put her drill practice to work because when she tries to catch the first injured dragonrider, T’mar, she misjudges the distance, so she’s knocked out and concussed by the weight of the rider falling fully on her. After Kentai runs the concussion protocol on her, and grudgingly gives her the casualty report, Fiona checks in with Talenth, who apparently wasn’t worried because the mysterious dragonrider from before assured her that Fiona would be okay. The same voice tells Fiona she’s going to be fine and (presumably uses an Imperius on Fiona to) gets her to go to sleep.

When she wakes up, Kentai is summoned and more of the concussion protocol is put into place, which forbids Fiona from any klah, much to her and T’mar’s protestations. Kentai tests to make sure her pupils are reacting equally, but asks Fiona if she knows what he’s testing for and she tells him correctly. So Fiona is down for another day, although with Kentai learning that H’nez basically fought every other bronze rider weyrling in his class (and again, reasons why H’nez should never have been put on the leadership track at all) and Fiona promising she won’t leave Xhinna behind if she and Talenth decide they’re going one-way to hyperspace after hearing that Lorana was at Fort, looking through the records, but then had to leave abruptly.

And then, somehow, despite the fact that Fiona has been concussed and asleep, she wants to go see T’mar under the guise of seeing the injured riders, and Xhinna apparently can tell immediately that she’s at least in infatuation with T’mar (Xhinna refers to T’mar as Fiona’s boyfriend) and I’m paging back through the book trying to figure out where this sudden connection happened, because I can’t find any sort of indication where Fiona has suddenly seen T’mar in a new light, other than the crash-into-hello. Fiona is equally abrupt with T’mar when in his gratefulness that Fiona caught him and saved him from breaking his legs, he mentions that she should not risk her neck for him and Fiona comes to the conclusion that T’mar really only cared about her dragon.

Where have we seen mood swings like that before? Oh, right, with Tullea, but since we’re inhabiting Fiona’s head, the narrative lets her realize what she did and then apologize to T’mar for it, who waves it off and they talk about what Lorana found in the records before the topic comes to making promises.

“I wouldn’t be so quick to make such a promise,” T’mar warned her. Xhinna gave him a stubborn look and he went on. “No one ever says words with the thought that they might one day have to eat them.”
“I won’t!”
“You wouldn’t be the first,” T’mar observed mildly. “I’ve had to eat my own words countless times; that’s why I give you such advice.”
“How did they taste?” Fiona asked, surprised to see her humor returning.
“Awful,” T’mar replied with a grimace. “But I was always grateful after I’d eaten them.”
” ‘Be careful what you wish for, you might get it,’ ” Fiona repeated the old saying.

Later on, they’ll also quote “Don’t count your eggs before they’re hatched,” but at least that one makes plausible sense, given dragons and eggs and such. I’m less certain about wishes fulfilled, but I can see it being said to children that dream of being dragonriders, or Lords, or Crafters, as a discouragement or a a way of getting them to ask questions about how people higher on the social strata treat the people underneath them.

T’mar chooses not to say anything to Fiona and Xhinna about mating flights and his experience of them, and the next scene picks up with the casualty numbers from Ista and the council of leaders trying to figure out what to do with their own injured and dead, given that they now know some dragons are sick without the sign of the cough and so some dragons were lost without knowing it would happen. And, props for consistent characterization, I suppose, but H’nez continues to be an asshole.

“J’lantir,” H’nez snorted derisively. “The man lost his whole wing!”
“But we found out why, didn’t we?” M’kury retorted quickly. “And without them, we would have had even more holders die in the Plague.”
“Holders!” H’nez snorted once more. “Who needs–”
“I was a holder, H’nez, in case you’ve forgotten,” Fiona snapped angrily, her hands balled into fists under the table. “And without J’lantir, I wouldn’t be here. Think on that.”
“Actually,” Cisca added drolly, “perhaps it’d be best if you just think, H’nez.”
H’nez’s eyes flashed and he tensed in his chair, his anger obvious to everyone. Outside a dragon bugled loudly, answered by another higher-pitched dragon: Melirth and Talenth. The sounds seemed to recall him to his senses, and with some effort, he relaxed in his chair.

H’nez does apologize after having been put in his place, yet again, and really, I don’t care how good of a leader he is during Threadfall, he’s a fucking toxic liability and should be expelled. I realize that the book is published a decade before there’s any sort of widespread public discourse about toxic masculinity and people in positions of power behaving badly and needing to be truly called to account for it, but H’nez has done more than enough to get bounced in the here and now, even if you don’t take into account his past. So yes, reading through the lens of the now, rather than of the then, but it’s also objectively, fractally, terrible.

As Fort’s people try to work through the issues of flying light, Tajen suggests riding along with T’mar so that T’mar’s arm can continue to heal and Tajen can catch firestone sacks and otherwise do the heavy lifting. This makes Cisca suggest the possibility of having healthy riders work with healthy dragons, even if it’s not the Impressed pair. M’valer dismisses the idea immediately, with the same reaction as if someone had suggested M’valer willingly sunder his Impression bond. The suggestion isn’t shelved or adopted, mostly waiting to see how Tajen and T’mar do as a partnership.

Fiona ends up assigned to helping Weyrlings with their drilling requirements. Since she’s small, young, and inexperienced, she’s very nervous about it. Tajen and T’mar offer their counsel to Fiona, Cisca introduces the two seniormost weyrlings that generally run the rest of them, J’keran and J’gerd, and then basically leaves Fiona to sink or swim. Fiona manages to get the two of them to work in harmony by suggesting that those who speak too quickly need to think more and those who don’t talk at all need to speak up. She introduces them to K’lior, collects her key to the firestone shed, and then has to divide up the work for everyone, knowing they’re going to be hauling around full sacks of firestone. Xhinna arrives and relays another key piece of information – Fiona has to have someone count how much firestone is leaving their stores. Fiona nominally asks Xhinna to do the count, but Xhinna wants something more challenging – to join in filling the sacks of firestone.

“We’ve what–twelve weyrlings to fly firestone?” Fiona asked out loud.
“Eleven,” someone else called out. “V’lex was injured in the last Fall.”
“Thirty-three weyrlings to bag–”
“Thirty-four,” Xhinna put in stoutly.
“You’re not a weyrling!” one of the younger bys complained. “You’re a girl!”
I’m a girl,” Fiona said warningly.
“Were you addled in your shell, D’lanor? She’s offering to help,” another weyrling put in, eyeing Xhinna with a combination of surprise and awe.
“And what will happen when you’re all in fighting wings?” Fiona asked.
“Well, there’ll be more weyrlings,” J’keran suggested cautiously.

Fiona realizes that figuring out who’s replacing them is her problem, not theirs, and while someone suggests V’lex as proper counter, a new young girl, named Terin, pipes up and says she’ll count. While the boys are skeptical about her (and her claim that her father was a dragonrider), Terin demonstrates aptitude with numbers quickly, by being able to calculate in rapid succession, having been told that the start point is 164 sacks to start with (one sack per active dragon) and each weyrling will have to have two more, the weyrlings will need 328 sacks additionally, which works out to about five sacks for each of the fillers to cover the starting requirement and then about ten sacks each for the weyrling reserves. Which then means they’ll have to be carrying about thirty sacks per weyrling. Given that each sack is two stone (28 pounds), (Also, imagine me giving the book the side-eye about how a weight measure that’s archaic by 21st century Terran standards somehow manages to make it all the way to far-future Pern, despite the fact that science had already standardized on kilograms for units of mass and weight for several decades when the book was written), thirty sacks is sixty stone (840 pounds), and that’s way too much weight for any one weyrling to carry by themselves in one trip. Given that, between a snatch and a clean-and-jerk, the Terran world record holder lifted 1067 pounds in September 02019, that’s not even a “maybe,” that’s a “no fucking way”. Fiona says they’ll have to do it in halfsies, which is still “no fucking way!” because that’s asking weyrlings, each and individually, to carry 420 pounds each individually, in the worst-case scenario.

On second glance, however, it seems like my initial impressions are completely wrong, because the narrative suggests that the weyrlings are running a relay where they fill their firestone sack, then run it out to the waiting wing of dragonriders, before running back and filling another. Transporting the weight one sack at a time is a much more doable operation.

“It’d be quicker if the younger ones just did the bagging and the older ones distributed,” Terin said, her tone reminding Fiona somewhat of Xhinna.
“Excellent suggestion, Terin,” Fiona replied, gesturing to J’gerd to implement it.
“Are you hoping to be Weyrwoman yourself, then?” J’gerd asked the young girl teasingly before hoisting a firestone sack and trotting off toward H’nez’s waiting wing.
“Don’t listen to him,” Fiona said to Terin. “He’s just annoyed he didn’t think of it himself.” The younger girl’s expression brightened.

If Terin continues in this manner, she’ll make an excellent headwoman when Fiona becomes Senior.

Fiona also watches the last sack of the initial thirty go from storehouse to waiting wings, and since it takes “several minutes” for a runner to get there “at a trot,” Fiona has Talenth ask the next wing to be loaded to locate themselves closer to the storehouse so things move faster. Which apparently ruffles the feathers of some of the bronze riders, according to Cisca, but Fionoa points out it’s better this way and Cisca agrees with her.

After seeing Cisca off, Fiona sends out for water. When it arrives, after making sure that the runner is assured that it’s new firestone, not old firestone, Fiona says it’s on her orders that everyone get a drink. And then, when they’ve brought enough to get all their full riders supplied, Fiona calls a rest break, makes sure everyone has food and gets fresh air, and then sets them back to filling the rest of the sacks so that the weyrlings can resupply the riders. After that round, Fiona wants one more round of resupply, and realizes there’s no way in hell that the weyrlings are going to be able to keep up the pace and requirements for an actual Fall, when they have to resupply the riders up to eight potential times. They’re starting on resupply three when Fiona puts F’jian in charge and goes to tell Cisca they’re going to need a lot more bodies if they’re going to keep up this pace. Fiona suggests more of the weyrfolk youngsters get detailed to firestone resupply, which Cisca accepts and suggests that by putting it more firmly in the weyrfolks’ hands, that will free Fiona up to do other things. Like accompany Cisca on Melirth to see if the weyrlings and riders are performing the firestone exchange maneuver correctly.

The maneuver was quite tricky, Fiona decided as she watched one of the fighting dragons catch up with a weyrling, come alongside, get the weyrling’s attention and then, with a heart-stopping flip of the wings, dive into a spiral to a position directly underneath the weyrling, near the firestone sack.
The load was transferred neatly from weyrling to dragonrider, and then the two veered away from each other, the wyrling’s dragon lurching slightly from the sudden weight reduction.
“Well done,” Cisca murmured in Fiona’s ear. Fiona nodded in agreement. “Watch carefully: the trick’s the same for the flamethrowers we’ll be using.

It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that the sacks are tied on to the weyrling dragon’s riding harnesses when they first leave the station. I’m guessing it’s something like saddlebags are on a horse, but that doesn’t really explain why there’s this spiral flip to get into the correct position. Presumably, it could be much more like a mid-air refueling of an aircraft, where getting in the right position is a matter of careful positioning. I’m also assuming that the dragons don’t get refueled while they’re in the middle of the Threadfighting fray, which would presumably make it easier to get a good approach for a resupply run and have both dragons maneuver to make it easy to release and transfer firestone. Perhaps in a pinch, a weyrling with good depth perception could drop the sack so that it could be grabbed in passing by the flying wing. There’s a lot of wasted and potentially dangerous motion involved in the resupply as it is described and observed, and even then, I can’t really picture what the maneuver looks like well enough to suggest improvements. Later on, as Cisca, Fiona, and K’lior are describing possible new ways of resupply, the firestone sacks are instead described as “trailing”, suggesting that the weyrling is actually letting the firestone sacks float behind them so that the fighting dragon can approach at a lower altitude and snag the goods for themselves. Which makes sense, then to get the attention of the weyrling, since the fighting dragon is about to imbalance them suddenly, and having warning makes that an easier thing to react to. It still seems like a lot of dangerous motion, though.

After seeing the weyrlings at work, Fiona gets to go home and collapse into bed, exhausted. Not half as much as Xhinna, whom Fiona insists should bathe first and then get some muscle salve worked in as well. (Fiona orders Xhinna not to put on her nightgown after she’s done bathing.) Fiona snuggles up after salving Xhinna and bathing herself, thinking it’s like they’re sisters and Xhinna’s warmth is just right to curl up to.

The next day, Fiona’s conclusions are repeated back to her, and she’s given the assignment to train with the weyrlings. The results of the experiment with Tejan and T’mar are encouraging, but not conclusive, because nobody really wants to test whether another dragon will let someone else’s rider drive them. There are more sick dragons, with deaths soon to follow. There’s hope that a cure will be found, now that the rooms at Benden have been. And Fiona suggests that perhaps one of the fighting wing’s dragons could carry the wing’s entire firestone resupply load when needed. K’lior thinks it will cause some loss of unit cohesion, but Fiona points out there’s always the possibility of injury or fatality punching holes in wings anyway. K’lior is willing to give it a shot. I think he should be more enthusiastic about trying it, given that they’re going to be using cobbled-together wings anyway, and so being able to fight when you’re one short somewhere seems like a thing that should have taken on some extra significance this time around.

Fiona reports to the younger weyrlings to learn the drill of flying in formation. Which is something that’s been skipped over pretty heavily in earlier books, so it’s nice to see a little bit of it getting put to use here. What the drill is, essentially, is the weyrlings assembling in the correct formation on the ground, without their dragons, and then being drilled on moving in the formation, including the arm motions and other parts that go along with the movements. They generally do it slowly, by themselves, until they have enough mastery that T’mar allows the weyrlings to do it by leading their dragons through the same exercises on the ground. At the break, Tajen looks at Talenth’s musculature, lets her fly and glide a little bit, and checks again, telling Fiona, and then Cisca and K’lior, that perhaps letting the current crop of dragonets do a gliding exercise once a day will help with their muscle development, so that when it comes time to fly, they’ll make the transition easier. Which seems like the sort of thing that someone who has expertise in dragons would already know through long practice and experimentation with it, but lost knowledge and Pern.

K’lior and Cisca both make an inappropriate joke.

“I suppose,” Cisca said carefully, “that if they [the weyrlings and dragons] drilled no more than once a day [on flying and gliding], it wouldn’t be too great an inconvenience.”
“And you could watch all the pretty youngsters,” K’lior teased her.
“K’lior!” Cisca growled back warningly. “They’re far too young for me, you know that!” She cast a sidelong glance at Fiona, “Though maybe for our junior Weyrwoman…”
Fiona blushed furiously, shaking her head in denial. Cisca’s eyes danced as she enjoyed Fiona’s discomfort, but then she took pity on the youngster and turned back to Tajen, asking, “Have you discussed this with T’mar?”

Because even if the whole thing is a setup to get Fiona to blush and stammer about the potentially cute weyrlings, they’re not very old, any of them, and it’s really not a good look on K’lior or Cisca to be sexualizing them in any way. Even if they’re going to be expected to take on more adult responsibilities, that doesn’t mean they’ve become adults. And not a few chapters ago, everyone was insistent that Fiona be allowed to enjoy a childhood of some sort, over Fiona’s objections. That’s apparently disappeared by this point.

Cisca and Fiona suggest that a single dragon, like a queen, could trail enough firestone to resupply an entire wing by him or herself, which K’lior is intrigued by, but is definitely not risking the senior dragon or any Weyrwomen on an experiment like that in a Threadfall condition. Cisca gives Fiona credit for the idea and for suggesting Xhinna as a second to help Cisca deploy the firestone.

The rest of the chapter is a time marker, as Lorana cries out and loses Arith because she didn’t know what she was doing with the potential genetic cures. Fiona hears it and has similar amounts of anguish from the event. But like all the other events that happen where dragons die, eventually the exhaustion of the body takes over and there is sleep.

So we’ve done a lot of drill and Fiona is slowly collecting people and power to herself, in slow but steady measures of making her into a Weyrwoman that will be able to smoothly step in and take over when the time is right.

And with Arith having gone, there’s still plenty of time before we make it to the solution that will eventually involve Tullea and new generations of immunity coming for the dragons. So we’ll keep slogging on until we get through this particular work. More next week.

Dragonheart: And What Now?

When we last left everyone, a heel that had no business being in charge of anybody was recalled immediately from Fort because dragons were dying, after spending a full chapter antagonizing a Hold and their people.

Dragonheart: Chapters 8 and 9: Content Notes: Assisted Death, End-Of-Life Planning, Advance Directives, Suicide and Suicidal Ideation

Weyrfolk, keep your duty dear
Provide for every dragon and for Weyr.
When the Red Star comes on nigh
By your efforts will dragons fly!

(Fort Weyr, Afternoon, AL 507.13.25)

Well, if we didn’t know it before, I guess that tells us it official pronunciation of “Weyr.”

Plot-wise, H’nez arrives to see J’marin, Fiona, and Xhinna tending to the very sick Asoth. Since H’nez is there, J’marin asks Fiona and Xhinna to tend to others, which let’s is in that Fiona believes Melanwy is plotting something to attack her, because she doesn’t talk when Fiona enters a room, and Tannaz isn’t talking to Fiona, either. This is after Fiona had walloped Melanwy with persuasion already, so Melanwy may just be aggravated at that. Cisca certainly doesn’t think there an issue, but she asks Fiona to keep an ear and an eye out, anyway.

Xhinna, for her part, stays firmly glued to Fiona’s side, which seems to have engendered a thought among the blue and green riders.

“Just because she’s not right for a queen doesn’t mean she wouldn’t suit a green,” L’rian had assured Fiona the only time the subject had arisen.
“A green?” Fiona had asked. “But greens only have male riders.”
“That’s because no one’s ever thought to put a girl on the Hatching Grounds,” L’rian replied, ” ‘cept in front of the queen eggs.” His lips curved up briefly at the notion. “She might even Impress a blue.”
“A blue?” Fiona repeated, surprised.
“The dragons choose,” L’rian had assured her with a knowing look, “not the riders.”

Fiona points out Xhinna has to get on the Grounds, and L’rian nonchalantly indicates Xhinna would take a chance, were she encouraged to by a queen rider.

There’s a good thing and a terrible thing in this exchange. The good thing is that the author is providing us with a hint about where Xhinna’s attractions lie, so long as they know about the shorthand of dragon coloration. It’s not as good as out-and-out saying Xhinna’s romantically interested in Fiona, but it’s better than pretending only men can be anything other than heterosexual in dragonrider culture.

The terrible thing is the claim that nobody has thought to put all the candidates in front of all the eggs, and thoughtlessly adding “the dragons choose” right after it. Especially in this story, where Fiona has Talenth by virtue of a dragon choosing outside the standing candidates. It’s not impossible, but I would think it highly improbable that no dragonet at any point has bolted for the queen candidates and said, metaphorically, “this one’s mine.” Even though I know the Records are always a hot mess for the purposes of the plot, there should be a Record, if not a fucking song, about the girl who Impressed a not-gold dragon.

Unless that’s supposed to be shameful in some way and the earlier Weyrs quashed the Records of it happening or misrepresented it as a dragon that failed to thrive. But if that were the case, then L’rian wouldn’t be openly advocating for Fiona to find a way to get Xhinna to stand for a dragon again. So this has to have happened before. And several times more before Mirrim and Path. By the time it gets to the Ninth Pass, dragonrider-ing should be a pretty mixed-gender affair.

Again, the dangers of writing the past when the future has already come to pass, but for the most part, when you’re handed a canon like Pern, fix-it is going to be a necessity, and it’s a question of how obvious you are going to be about it.

Going forward, after L’rian’s insinuation, Fiona and Xhinna go out to let Talenth feed. The first time was a bit rough for them both, but Talenth has it down, now. Fiona is hit by a wave of confusion, Xhinna provides temporal references, and Fiona’s aggravation at herself bleeds through in how she talks to Xhinna. T’mar intercedes smoothly, telling Xhinna she’s wanted in the kitchen, before having a come-to-Jesus meeting with Fiona about Xhinna.

T’mar moved forward to stand beside Fiona. He glanced down at her and said conversationally, “I’ve discovered that when times are hard, I need my friends most.”
Fiona glanced up at him, her expression blank even though she had a gnawing suspicion of his intentions.
“So it is a shame to see you treating the one person who is most attached to you so poorly,” T’mar finished, catching her eyes with his own.
[…Fiona doesn’t deny it, although she’d love to, and complains that history has its eyes on her…]
“You generated quite a bit of gossip by having Xhinna stay with you.”
“She helps me,” Fiona declared simply.
“She’s with you all the time,” T’mar observed. “Night and day, it seems.”
Fiona flashed him an angry look. “We’re friends!”

Say it! Say it, you cowards! Acknowledge, on page, and use the words: Xhinna is a lesbian!

And Fiona is potentially bi, if her denial is the kind of denial that’s usually put in place when someone doesn’t want to acknowledge that part of themselves. Which still annoys me that we can openly talk about how Fiona has the hots for Kindan and has from an early age but we can’t say out loud that Xhinna has the hots for Fiona. (And maybe everybody has the hots for Cisca, regardless of their gender identity and sexual preferences.)

“I know that,” T’mar replied. “But have you considered what will happen to Xhinna when your Talenth rises and chooses a mate?”
From the look on Fiona’s face, it was obvious she hadn’t.
“That’s Turns away!” she declared.
“And in all those Turns, where will Xhinna’s affections lie?” T’mar wondered, shaking his head firmly. “No matter what your intentions, it will be a brutal adjustment for her to make.”
“But she’s my friend!” Fiona blurted, her face twisted into a sad expression. “Why can’t she still be my friend?”
“She can,” T’mar agreed. “But only if you keep her as a friend.” He gestured back toward the kitchen cavern. “If you treat her like a drudge, just because you’re out of sorts–and we all are–then what sort of friend will she be?”
“And,” he continued as he saw Fiona gulp as she absorbed his observation, “if you aren’t careful to respect her emotions–all of them–what sort of pain will you cause when your dragon rises to mate?”
“And what about me?” Fiona demanded. At T’mar’s puzzled look, she went on, “What about my emotions when my dragon rises to mate?”
“You’ve about three turns to figure that out, Weyrwoman,” he replied shortly. He shook his head. “Not as much time as you’d imagine.”

And then we have T’mar saying that Xhinna might get hung up on the possibility of another person coming into Fiona’s life. Which makes sense, although I’m looking askance at it because a Weyr is the place I would expect all sorts of partner configurations to be valid and normalized in, especially when there are dragons involved. It’s one of those things where I would expect the Weyrfolk to have jealousy studiously drilled out of them and monogamy to be seen as an impractical Holder thing, since they care about bloodline and succession.

Given the option to be really radical, Pern is unable to expand its horizons, but that’s not Pern’s fault, that’s the writers’.

So Fiona apologizes to Xhinna, because she snapped at her, and asks Xhinna to continue helping her, because she’s going to need a good friend when she’s a “right proper wherry” around the mating season. Xhinna stays on.

The chapter ends with Fiona waking up on the middle of the night and crashing the plan to sneak Kelsanth out with Asoth, Panuth, and Danorth, and have Tannaz and Melanwy (and the riders of the other sick dragons) go one-way to hyperspace. Because the dragons aren’t going to last any longer, and the riders, because of the extremely tight mental bond they share, basically prefer oblivion to life without their dragons. (Insert your favorite caustic rant about how that is a terrible design decision to have humans basically get rid of themselves with their dragons.) Fiona is unhappy that nobody was planning on stopping by to say goodbye before disappearing, but most unhappy that the riders are making this choice.

Which, you know, there’s an entire conflicted everything in our times about assisted death, which could be talked about, except that Fiona’s considered too young to understand it, past “this is the choice the dragonriders are making, you’ll understand it yourself if you ever have to do the same.” Dragonriders have always been in favor of assisted death and, as L’rian puts it, being “remembered as a dragonrider”. In our times, degenerative diseases of body and mind that have no cures make it a question of lucidity and advance directives and someone’s will, like it’s presented here, but the metaphor falls apart because this situation could have been entirely avoided if Kitti Ping and company hadn’t decided they wanted to bond dragons and humans together so tightly that they would both disappear if one died. If it had been set more like how watch-whers bond, and their level of emotional attachment, then there wouldn’t have developed the tradition of disappearing with the dragon into hyperspace, because of their magnified and shared pain. And, of course, when dragons die, the grief of all the other dragons and riders gets magnified into Fiona, who manages, with Xhinna’s help, to get back to her bed and pass out from the grief until morning.

So that’s Chapter 8.

Blackdust, crack dust
Floating in the sky,
Dragonriders do trust
Thread will soon be nigh.

(Fort Weyr, the next morning, 507.13.26)

Rather than spend time with grief and sorrow, as we did in an earlier chapter, Chapter 9 picks up with a warning, as spotters at Fort Hold have sighted the black dust that is frozen dead Thread, the harbinger of the real stuff coming soon. Fiona is requested to the records room by K’lior. Cisca hoped Xhinna would bring klah (and there’s your signifier of how others might see the relationship, Fiona), but essentially they’re poring over the newly rediscovered Threadfall charts and trying to make heads or tails of several of the features, and waiting to see if they’re accurate (while warning the places that will be in the way of Thread if they are).

At the meeting that follows, H’nez continues to demonstrate he should not be in a leadership position anywhere.

H’nez professed no faith in the Threadfall charts when K’lior mentioned them.
[…the Weyrs need alerting, even the Asshole at Telgar…]
“I’ll go to Ista,” P’der said.
“I can imagine how Weyrleader C’rion will feel to be briefed by a wingsecond,” H’nez drawled.
“Are you offering to go instead?” K’lior asked, cocking his head.
“I’ve my wing to attend to,” H’nez responded. “They suffered grievous losses.”
“We all did,” Cisca replied, her eyes flashing. H’nez did not reply.
[…with that settled, everyone readies to leave, but H’nez has one more question…]
“The question is,” H’nez replied [to the Weyrleader,] as though speaking to a particularly slow weyrling, “how are we going to survive Threadfall with sick dragons?”
[…Cisca chews him out mildly for not recognizing the work already being done. K’lior orders drills to be run, even if the leaders aren’t back by then, because K’lior realizes they’ll have to work with casualties…]
“By the First Egg, that’s more like it,” H’nez declared. To T’mar he said, “You go and spend time with M’tal, while we do real work here.”
“His job is no less important, H’nez,” K’lior said warningly.

I realize this is sort of the standard villain trope that’s evolved over the course of the series (a person who, were it not for the weird ironclad Rules regarding who is in charge in this feudal arrangement, would long since have been demoted, deposed, killed, or otherwise gotten rid of), but H’nez is beginning to rival The Asshole At Telgar for sheer asshattery, even if he won’t be responsible for a mass telefrag because of his own arrogance. (OR so I hope.)

Also, K’lior continues to be a better Weyrleader regarding Thread than M’tal ever was, since he explicitly acknowledges the need for drills with wings that do not have all their regular component parts.

The plot continues with T’mar heading off to Benden, and Cisca putting Fiona to work so much that she’s basically perpetually exhausted. Even when Fiona realizes it’s a technique to keep her mind off of her grief and the inevitable conclusion that all the dragons, including hers, will get sick and die, and then the planet will be overrun by Thread, she’s still appreciative of Cisca’s deliberate efforts to keep her too tired to think. Fiona also deliberately tries not to learn the names of the new dragons that are sick, as a way of trying to deny the conclusion. In talking with T’jen about fighting drill, Fiona wonders why she isn’t doing it, but remembers there aren’t enough queens now to do it. Then, as part of the keeping Fiona exhausted bit, Cisca sends word that Fiona’s going to drill the medical procedures for injured dragonriders.

“The drills are a lot of fun,” Xhinna told Fiona. When Fiona looked at her, surprised, she added, “We’ve been doing them at least once a month for the past Turn.”
“All because your Weyrwoman believes in being prepared,” K’lior remarked, casting a fond look at Cisca.

Oh, so K’lior is equally as terrible a Weyrleader as M’tal is, it’s Cisca we have to thank for having a lick of sense about anything involving Thread. Tell me again why the Weyrwoman isn’t actually the person in charge of everything? (All together now: The Patriarchy. Yay.)

We don’t actually get any of what those drills entail (and also, if they’ve been doing them for the last several months, that would seem like the sort of thing Fiona would remember, except we can handwave away anything that Fiona should remember as being swallowed up by the fog that’s affecting her and all the Weyrlings), because they’re scheduled for tomorrow, so the narrative doesn’t have to deal with them right now. Instead, we jump to Fiona going to visit T’jen and finding him not all right and asking for the presence of the Weyrleader. Because Salith apparently passed away in his sleep, rather than going into hyperspace. When Fiona asks about this and whether T’jen was going to go with Salith, T’jen (who is de-contracted by the narrative as soon as Fiona thinks that he would now be known as Tajen, his birth name) says no.

“No,” Tajen replied firmly, “we’d talked it over, Salith and I.” He paused, lips screwing up into a grimace. “I didn’t want to set such an example for the weyrlings, even though I never wanted to lose Salith. Sometimes, all you have are bad choices.”

I’m surprised this isn’t a more common stance by many dragonriders, honestly. And also, it suggests that with the possibility of talking about it with your dragon and figuring it out in advance might mean the survival of more dragonriders past the deaths of their dragons. After we get over the ritual of grief, Talenth and Fiona talk it over and decide that Fiona’s going to go with Talenth, like Tannaz chose to. And like J’lantir and his chose to. I want to see more of this. On-screen considerations, or the understanding that these decisions are not made because someone is making a choice after a tragedy that they had not actually considered. The possibility of Thread killing any dragon or rider on any given day really should suggest that all riders in or around a Pass should have had this conversation, or been encouraged to have it, and it’s an accepted and expected part of Weyr culture. (Like, I am imagining an entire binder full of advance directives for the Weyr in the Healer’s office, and the Healer and Weyrwoman insisting that all riders need to have updated ones on file.)

But we don’t see a lot of these things, because Weyr culture sees a dragon dying as something more akin to a permanent visible disability or mental illness, and so there’s no up front frank talk about the possibility of dragons dying in the line of duty, and the dragons and the humans need to talk about what their end-of-life plans are in advance.

We also get to see a formal ritual of acknowledgement and grief at the loss of a dragon that doesn’t take their human with them.

The sound of feet rushing around the corridor alerted them to the approach of Cisca, K’lior, H’nez, T’mar, and M’kury. Cisca entered first, something in her stance and the way she moved making it clear that the others were to wait for her.
“Tajen,” Cisca said quietly, “I grieve for your loss.”
K’lior entered, bowed to the ex-dragonrider, and repeated her words. “Tajen, I grieve for your loss.”
“Tajen,” H’nez said, his eyes downcast and tear-streaked, “I grieve for your loss.”
“He was a great dragon, you were a great pair,” T’mar said when he approached. “I grieve for your loss.”
M’kury came forward then, but even though his mouth worked, he could make no words, instead reaching out beseechingly with one hand to Tajen, who took it. M’kury grabbed the stricken brown rider and embraced him in a tight hug. When finally they broke apart, M’kury found the words: “I grieve for your loss.”
“And I recognize your courage for remaining behind,” H’nez added into the silence.
“It wasn’t courage–” Tajen protested. “I needed to set the right example for the weyrlings. No matter what may come: ‘Dragonmen must fly when Thread is in the sky!’ ”
He looked up at K’lior. “I don’t know what we’re going to do with the body, however.”

Cisca does, and it involves using slings and hoists to get it to where dragons can carry the body, and then they’ll dispose of it in hyperspace. Because they don’t have the skills to do an effective autopsy, much less the knowledge that doing an autopsy is a good idea for gathering information about the thing that is killing the dragons.

Also, it stings that it’s so quickly that the dragonrider contraction is lost. Military officers and enlisted are still referred to by the rank they achieved when they retire from the service, so it seems like it would be a better idea to keep the contraction as an honor to the service provided as a dragonrider, rather than going “well, you’re not part of the club. We’re sorry for the situation, but you’re not one of us any more.” Despite the fact that the grief is probably real and heartfelt, the use of the non-contracted name just makes it ring hollow.

I will also note, for fairness’ sake, that H’nez is not being an asshole at this very specific set of sentences in this book. Clearly, even he has a limit, and the death of a dragon has reached it.

Xhinna offers to stay the night with Tajen, to which Fiona offers her the sweater she is wearing, and the gesture seems to convince Cisca and K’lior that Xhinna is a good person after all. (Now that she’s been given a chance to prove it, and has done well in the company of a person they actually respect.) The next morning, after talking over end-of-life decisions with Talenth, Fiona sets herself to the idea that today is the first aid drill. Cisca and K’lior, at breakfast, share to Fiona that they think Xhinna should stand as an actual candidate for the next Hatching. (Because we can’t have Xhinna sneaking on again when she’s supposed to be a Good Guy, now can we?) The actual drills themselves make everyone glad they’re just doing drills, because it doesn’t go well for anyone, including Fiona, who struggles mightily to remember what she’s supposed to do. In addition to that, Talenth takes her first glide on wings after running off an edge and making Fiona very worried about bad results until Talenth finally unfurls her sails. Many of the weyrlings have the same brainfog that Fiona does, which makes it hard for them to describe symptoms nor to respond appropriately to them. Cisca says this is to be expected and not to show concern about it or everyone will feel terrible. And that the next time this is happening, Fiona might be the one running the drills.

A cold shiver went down Fiona’s spine as she imagined seeing Cisca mount a sick and dying Melirth for a final ride between.
Suddenly, Cisca grabbed Fiona’s arm and tanked her around so that she could meet her eyes squarely. “That is exactly what I need you to avoid,” the Weyrwoman said sharply. In the distance, Fiona heard Talenth’s plaintive cry, and she could almost feel the alarm spreading through the weyrfolk and weyrlings. “They look to us, Fiona. We set the tone. Our dragons reflect it.”
A shadow fell beside her and Fiona felt her free hand grasped by someone else. Xhinna.
“It’s all right.” Fiona’s words of reassurance echoed exactly Xhinna’s words of reassurance. The two girls looked at each other in surprise for a moment and then burst out laughing. Fiona could feel their mood travel to the others, could feel Talenth’s worry disappear.

There’s an additional power to a Weyrwoman that hasn’t really been touched upon before, and a justification as to why Weyrwoman always have to be so chipper and glad-handing and concerned about everyone and otherwise doing an exhausting amount of emotional labor. Apparently, the mood of the Weyrwoman is the mood of the queen dragon, and the queen dragon’s mood leaks out to the other dragons and their riders. If Fiona was hoping that being a gold rider would be an escape from the pressures and requirements of being a Lady Holder, she’d learned that instead, she has to keep up the facade forever and always, without reprieve or time to think about herself and her own real feelings at any time. Way to make something that’s supposed to be the best thing ever into the worst thing ever.

The drills improve with time and practice, but the last drill is a situation that’s supposed to be as close to the real thing, with dragonriders arriving suddenly, faking their injuries and the reality that goes with them, and Cisca yelling constantly in Fiona’s ear to simulate the urgency of an actual emergency, without time to think, only to do what you’ve been trained to do. It doesn’t go particularly well for Fiona, but it’s not terrible, either.

That night, Fiona’s light sleeping continues to pay plot dividends, as she pops awake when she feels someone moving around in the dark. It’s not the dragon and rider that take the one-way trip to hyperspace, nor the cough that’s pretty clearly infected a lot of the riders, but someone headed to the Hatching Grounds. Fiona’s not quite good enough to avoid waking Xhinna, and the two follow the person until it’s revealed that it’s Tajen, who has come to the Grounds to try and find his confidence that things will work out, that the designers of the dragons would have done their utmost to make sure nothing like the surprise of Thread would happen again. Fiona is still trying to put up that they’ll get through it okay, but both Xhinna and Tajen are trying to tell her that she can’t lie to herself about it. The chapter closes with a callback to Beyond Between, although someone who has only read the main series novels wouldn’t recognize it as such.

“No one really knows what between is,” Tajen replied. “If a rider dies with her dragon, does the dragon go between to the same place?”
Is there a place?” Xhinna wondered.
“The only ones who could tell us never come back,” Tajen replied. He gestured toward the entrance and started them walking back out of the Hatching Grounds. “What does your heart tell you?”
Neither girl had an answer she could put into words.

Because the most we’ve ever seen is a limbo state for dragons and riders that went into hyperspace with no particular destination in mind, or for those who went with the wrong dragon, as Moreta did, and so she has to wait for her own dragon before she passes on into heaven, or whatever afterlife happens beyond that limbo.

Nobody knows, rider or Terran reader, and the general unfairness of the universe always makes it possible that someone goes to sleep one night and doesn’t wake up the next morning. I don’t really like thinking about that eventuality, mostly because I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished enough with life to be satisfied with it right now. And because thinking about those things is trauma-related for me, of those times where I realize now that I was far farther along the path of making a conscious decision about my own life than I understood. Things are better now, but existential questions have always been something that makes me feel scared, small, and dreadful.

More next week, and hopefully on a less triggery topic.

Dragonheart: Answering Questions That Needed It (And Those That Didn’t, All The Same)

To recap: Fiona found a scamp named Xhinna in her Weyr and has decided to keep her on as her personal assistant. This has a lot of problematic implications, starting from Fiona’s presumably light-colored skin and queen rider status contrasted with Xhinna’s explicitly dark skin and back-of-the-kitchen-caverns status. While Fiona insists that Xhinna is not her personal drudge, and gave H’nez the high-class equivalent of the finger when he suggested that Xhinna was extremely well-suited to being a drudge, Fiona also apparently made it a game for Xhinna to be silent and accepting of orders around Melanwy, who suggested that Fiona “found a leash” for Xhinna, rather than standing up to her in the same way that she did with H’nez. Even though everyone admits that Melanwy is not all there mentally, there’s a reluctance to move her into retirement.

Dragonheart, Chapters 6 (still!) and 7 (finally!): Content Notes: Speciesism, classism

So, Fiona and Xhinna go back to Tannaz’s quarters, and Melanwy orders Xhinna to change the towels and get clean ones for Tannaz. Fiona says the better course of action would be to burn them, because they’re infected, and Melanwy dismisses the idea out of hand as a waste of supplies.

Melanwy’s expression abruptly changed to contempt. “Well, of course,” she sneered, “and we’ll just send to the holders for more.”
“Yes, we will,” Fiona responded through gritted teeth, anger coursing through her. “And you’ll address me as Weyrwoman!”
“You!” Melanwy repeated. “A mere strip of a girl, barely two months Impressed?”
“Yes, her,” a new voice declared loudly from behind Fiona.
Fiona was so angry that she couldn’t look back at Cisca–she kept her gaze locked with Melanwy’s, making it clear that young or not, she was not going to stand for such poor manners.
“You’re no better,” Melanwy muttered under her breath. “Should’ve been Nara.”
“But it’s not Nara!” Cisca responded sharply. “Nara is dead, her dragon’s gone between, and I am the senior Weyrwoman of Fort Weyr!”
There was the sound of dragons roaring in acknowledgement.

Well, shit, I guess sticking up for your own is definitely a Weyrwoman trait at Fort. Or, at least, sticking up for the office of the Weyrwoman when it’s being challenged by somebody, regardless of what their rank is or was.

Also, Fiona’s right, and that should have been part of the corpus of knowledge that Kindan rediscovered and then spread widely during the Plague Years – you have to dispose of biohazards properly. Which, in places where you don’t have effective sterilization, means destroying them so that you can be reasonably sure the infection doesn’t spread. Yes, it’s wasteful of resources, and the Holds are going to be salty about it, but the Weyrs hold the threat over them of “if the dragons die, you die,” so the Holders are going to have to suck it up and send more towels. They won’t have to be the finest of linen, since they’re going to be used specifically for dealing with infections and then they’re going to get burned, too, but they’re going to have to be made and sent.

Talenth asks if Fiona’s okay, and Fiona reassures her she is. And then, something that hasn’t been seen since, oh, the beginning of the original series makes a sudden reappearance.

“I’m sure Melanwy had just forgotten, Weyrwoman,” she declared, still staring at the old headwoman. She gestured to the archway to Tannaz’s quarters. “You’d best help Tannaz with her bath–we’ll take care of things here.”
As if in a daze, Melnwy nodded and turned to obey. Finoa was surprised the older woman hadn’t continued to argue: it was as if Melanwy had suddenly lost her spirit. In the night outside the weyr, dragons bugled again.
“You need to be careful when you do that, Fiona,” Cisca said quietly.
Fiona turned on her heel and found the Weyrwoman standing right in front of her. “Do what?” she asked, bewildered.
“Dragonriders can sometimes force people to their will,” Cisca explained. “Not many, and most not as well as you just displayed. It’s a dangerous gift and you can find yourself using it on others unwittingly. Later, Melanwy may feel that you forced her, stripped her of her will.”
“You mean,” Fiona asked with some fear, “I can make people do things they don’t want to do?”
“Yes,” Cisca said. “Dragonriders learn to recognize it and defend against it, but others…”
Xhinna had pressed herself tightly to the wall, her eyes going warily from Fiona to Cisca and back again.
“But,” Fiona began slowly after a long silence, “doesn’t everyone work to get people to do things they don’t want to do?”
“There’s a difference between cajoling and forcing,” Cisca replied. She waved to Xhinna. “You cajoled Xhinna into helping you; you forced Melanwy. Do you feel the difference?”
[…Cisca explains Fiona is going to have to learn when she’s using her power to lean on people, or she’ll always draw on it and never know whether anyone does something for her willingly or because she’s compelled them…]
Cisca must have guessed her thoughts. “You may have used the power before, but you wouldn’t have been nearly as strong as you are now that you’ve Impressed.”
Footsteps echoed and then K’lior walked in.
“Queen riders are the strongest,” he said, catching one of Cisca’s hands in his. “Bronze riders are next.” He grinned over at his Weyrwoman. “We learn to resist the power early on.”

They also mention that when Talenth rises to mate, Fiona will learn a lot of control over her power in having to use it to keep her dragon under control as well.

With Melanwy still whammied, Xhinna suggests that the towels could go to Ellor, who would make a fine headwoman. Cisca agrees, and Fiona sets to changing out the glows and otherwise cleaning and straightening the room, behavior she thinks the people at Fort would be surprised at. Fiona wants to think it’s because she’s maturing, but, according to the narrative, she knows deep down her behavior is to convince herself she’s not a monster.

Also,

Cocowhat by depizan

Talk about bringing something back from the early episodes. I know there aren’t all that many times where there are the dragon roars like that in the series, but if each of those times is when a Weyrwoman imposes her will on another, it should be pretty easy to know when the Weyrwoman is exerting her powers.

The way this is set up, it also seems like new queen riders go through this process of learning they have the ability to override the wills of others on the regular, and then learning how to control that impulse to use that power. For as much as K’lior talks a big game about bronze riders being able to resist and fight a queen’s ability, I don’t think he’s done a whole lot of disagreeing with Cisca to this point. More importantly, though, I’d be really interested in reading the story where the Weyrwomen essentially keep the entire Weyr in thrall in the name of having it run in its most orderly and efficient manner. Or because they want to run it in a self-serving manner. If both dragon queens and queen riders can impose themselves on others, somebody has to have tried it, right? Or are we supposed to think that’s what the Weyr under Kylara might have been, with as many people as she took to her bed?

Such a promising idea there that’s essentially going by the wayside because we’re still doing the “dragons are sick and need a cure” story from a different perspective. K’lior and Cisca talk about this incident with each other right afterward, and Cisca says it basically means Fiona’s going to be an awesome Weyrwoman, because she’s got enough power to overwhelm Melanwy. K’lior and Cisca finally decide it’s time for Melanwy to be officially retired from being headwoman and Ellor put in her place. That particular line of thought is shelved by the approach of the wingleaders for a conference about the approach of Thread. Each of K’lior’s wingleaders are given a description as they enter. H’nez is first, described as “bold, decisive, and unwilling to admit error. Not quite foolish, but given to moods.” That “unwilling to admit error” is something that shouldn’t put H’nez in any leadership position, but as we’ll find out, there aren’t enough mature bronze riders for there to be a bronze leading every wing, and so H’nez gets to be one by default, rather than by merit.
T’mar’s next, and it’s basically described as being the rider your rider could be, except for this mysterious affliction that’s taken him off his A-game. M’kury is described as one of K’lior’s weyrmates, and his hat is that he’s blunt in the extreme, which is a virtue K’lior wants. V’ney has the opposite hat, and is the person super-concerned with manners, which makes him great in the Weyr and things that are practiced, but noted to be slow to react to changing situations. M’valer and K’rall wear the “old guys” hat, and since they’re nearing 50, K’lior’s pretty sure they’re not going to make it through the upcoming Pass. The last two are S’kan and N’jian, and they’re the dragonriders-out-of-water, because they’re both brown riders in leadership positions, because of the lack of bronze riders to lead. K’lior privately admits that even if he had enough bronzes, he wouldn’t necessarily displace them as leaders, now that he’s seen them work. K’lior has very high praise for them.

In fact, K’lior admitted to himself, it was a pity that queens were almost always caught by bronzes, for those two brown riders would both have made excellent Weyrleaders.
“It’s not right, browns leading wings!” H’nez had complained when K’lior had first implemented his plan, and the grumbling had never ceased since. And no matter how hard K’lior or Cisca praised the brown riders or encouraged them, the resentment of H’nez, K’rall, and M’valer always kept S’kan and N’jian feeling unworthy.

I mean, in any other society there’s the possibility that the leader of the group might say “This is how we do this thing, and you can either be welcoming or you can leave.” But on Pern, where dragon genetics decide destiny, social order, and other such things that would make [your favorite white supremacist] have multiple orgasms, of course you can’t just toss out the bronze riders and subject them to competent leadership. It’s unnatural and wrong and explicitly goes against the genetic instructions encoded in the dragons by the Ancients. (Except, of course, that the protagonists are generally right when they promote brown riders to Wingleader status.)

M’kury asks what they’re doing here this late at night.

“I was already well into a nice beer and was looking forward to some–” He broke off with a meaningful glance toward Cisca.
“I’m not sorry to interrupt your revelry,” K’lior replied just as briskly, “particularly as you have made it plain to everyone how tender your backside was after the last time you–”
“All right!” M’kury broke in with a hand upraised, conceding defeat. “Forget I spoke.”
“Forgotten,” Cisca said, her eyes dancing. She wondered which poor weyrfolk was dealing with M’kury’s latest attentions–the young bronze rider seemed to have a different bedwarmer for every one of a sevenday.

A little bit of sex humor there. And being a bronze rider, as I recall, makes M’kury at least heteroflexible, if this particular jibe of K’lior’s about his ass being hurt from the last person he took to bed. Mostly because Pern has never said there are sex toys on the planet. There have to be, but it’s never been actually acknowledged, so the best we can get is that M’kury had a lover with a penis who took the penetrating role with him. Or that he really enjoyed getting flogged or spanked, which is also a possibility that would keep him only interested in women, if H’nez’s definition of being a bronze rider is the official one for all bronze riders.

Also, it’s nice to acknowledge there’s other alcohol in existence other than wine, because beer brewing is one of those things that happens a lot, at varying levels of sophistication, potency, and flavor, throughout Terran history, because turning water into wine, beer, or spirits is one of the earliest and still most effective ways of making sure most of the things water is carrying with it die and stay dead. And since Pern is an entirely new ecosystem, it’s going to take a long time before the humans can handle the native bacteria and other microscopic organisms through their own evolutionary processes. So, hooray, beer, not because I particularly enjoy drinking it, but because it’s something that would make Pern extremely weird if it didn’t exist.

Anyway, the meeting itself is to assign and disperse watchriders to the Holds to keep an eye out for either live Thread or the black dust that is frozen-dead Thread that will signify more active Falls coming soon afterward. H’nez gets the first assignment to go out and look, and he takes the other two older bronze riders’ wings with him to post. K’lior says the sick dragons are not to go out on this assignment, over H’nez’s objections that it’s not nearly as bad as he’s making it out to be. When it’s pointed out that the presence of dragons might make the Holders angry about the loss of their fire-lizards, Cisca silently relays to K’lior that he might want to choose differently, but K’lior makes it a point to tell H’nez that they should be extra-courteous, to the point of making sure they stop by and say hello at every hold, major or minor, and do their best to identify the people who will be helping with Threadfall as ground crews so that everybody gets familiar (and hopefully friendly) with each other. Cisca also mentions she’s setting Melanwy to look after Tannaz and Kalsenth full-time and putting Ellor in as interim headwoman. Having set everyone to their duties, K’lior dismisses the lot of them.

“Others,” Cisca chimed in with a grin to M’kury, “might want to carefully consider whether it would be wise to resume their activities.”
“No problem,” M’kury declared. “They’re both waiting for me in my quarters!”

And on that supposedly salacious note, Chapter Six is finally brought to an end.

Holder looks up to the skies
For signs of promise and demise
Thread will fall across the ground
Unless brave dragons do abound.

Or if knowledge could have been preserved in some way so that Tubberman’s grubs would spread far and wide and otherwise protect the ground from Thread. But losing important knowledge is a staple of Pern.

(Fort Hold, Morning, AL 507.13.23)

The first part of Chapter 7 is “Lord Bemin hears an alarm, goes out to see that it’s dragons, worries that Talenth is dead, but because H’nez is a complete dick to him, knows Fiona and her dragon is fine.” And Bemin gives his slights as good as he gets them, and then spends the night in the Harper Hall, where wager reward trade hands in front of him and Kelsa about how long Bemin was going to hold out (Nonala beats Verilan) and whether or not Bemin was going to say he loved Kelsa or not (he does, so Verilan gets his two-mark piece back from Nonala). Where we start getting useful information is H’nez overseeing the ground crews, and being relatively impressed with the speed and accuracy of the flamethrowers against the mock-Thread burrows. The leader of the ground crews, Stennel, mentions that they’d have been a lot faster off the mark if they still had fire-lizards, as they had them trained to spot burrows and summon help. H’nez is not impressed with this, thinking it a slight to the dragons that protect everyone from a deadly Thread rain. Stennel also helps us figure out the voraciousness of Thread and its spread pattern.

“According to the Records, if we don’t find the burrow in the first hour, then it’ll be too big to fight with the flamethrowers,” Stennel replied. “And then we’d have to get dragons to flame it.”
“Hmph,” H’nez grunted noncomittally.
“If we don’t spot it within eight hours, the Records say our best hope is to fire the whole valley around it,” Stennel continued with a frown.
“Fire a whole valley?” H’nez repeated doubtfully. “I’m sure whoever wrote that Record must have been in error.”
“It happened about ten times in the last Turn of the Second Pass,” Stennel persisted.
“Who told you that?”
“It was in the Hold Records,” Stennel replied. “I read them myself.” He stood a bit taller as he continued with a touch of pride, “I wanted to know, as best I could, what we were to expect, my lord.”

The pride I hear in Stennel’s voice is both in being a literate person who’s not part of the nobility, a feat unto itself, and in being able to interpret the records to get useful information out of them, which, given what we see of Records from the Harpers, is also a feat unto itself. It’s a well-deserved note of pride, and it also shows up H’nez’s lack of knowledge about what goes on at the Holds, not that he actually gives a shit.

Stennel also mentions that his ground crews are also his firefighting crews, and wildfires in high winds and Thread burrows have the same basic problem of being able to get out of control quickly, so what they’ve learned about fighting fires adapts well to fighting Thread. H’nez shrugs it off, as well as Stennel’s question about whether or not the flamethrowers can be adapted to the new firestone.

Wait, what?

“I’m sure glad they found the right stuff–although getting our stone is much harder now.”
“Harder?”
“Aye,” Stennel replied. “No one wanted to dig it before, when it was necessary for the dragons. Now it’s only necessary for the ground crews and no one really wants to go looking for it. Which is why the Mastersmith is working to see if he can adapt our flamethrowers to use the proper firestone,” he went on, shaking his head. “Last I heard, he hadn’t much luck, but I don’t get the freshest information all the time.” He cast an inviting glance toward the dragonrider. But if he was hoping for illumination, he would be disappointed.

So the flamethrowers aren’t using HNO3 as their fuel source, but the highly-volatile rock that gave dragons indigestion and that exploded violently if you whispered the word “water” around it? How does that work? There’s no reason for me to believe that Pernese technology has advanced to the point where it can use a solid fuel source in a controlled combustion reaction so as to produce a stream of flame that’s useful and that the entire contraption doesn’t messily explode in a chain reaction that backs up into the fuel tank and explode that (and the wielder) Propelling solid rock fire is bad, propelling lit gases from that solid fire is difficult to control, and I really can’t believe that they’ve somehow managed to liquefy the unstable rocks into a form that can be used as a controlled flame source, given how much trouble Tarik and company had just getting it out of the ground without it exploding, and the weyrling at the games who exploded the storehouse because they brought too much moisture in the air with them.

I have trouble seeing this situation work.

H’nez also proves again to us why he should be sent away to Telgar, because his attitude would most certainly fit in better there.

Why was it, he wondered, that holders were so easily iritated? They certainly weren’t properly deferential, not even the women.
[…and H’nez disappears back to the Hold…]
It’s always good to show the holders their place, H’nez reflected as he and Ginirth emerged once more from between, this time over the courtyard of Fort Hold. A group of holder women and children scattered as he guided Ginirth down for a landing. He spotted Lord Holder Bemin striding out into the courtyard from the Great Hall in response to the commotion and allowed himself a grin as he noticed Bemin quickly school his irritated expression into a bland look.

Gee, I wonder why holders are so easily irritated by the person that believes themselves their superior in every way by fiat and right and acts like it? It’s a mystery nobody will ever be able to solve. The narrative helps us out some, in that when H’nez is winding Bemin up again, V’ney appears a day earlier than his scheduled relief and tells H’nez in no uncertain terms to get home, because there are sick dragons that aren’t going to make it through the night. After H’nez departs, V’ney immediately sets to making up to Bemin, because he knows H’nez has done things to upset him.

“My lord,” V’ney said in the stillness that followed, “I’d like to apologize for any ill will H’nez might have engendered between your Hold and my Weyr.” He shook his head and continued, “He’s good with his riders and flies well–but he enjoys making trouble with everyone when he’s on the ground.”
“So I had noticed,” Bemin said wryly.
V’ney snorted. “You mean that you couldn’t understand why a dragon would choose to be ridden by an ass?”
Bemin’s lips quirked upward. “I hadn’t put quite those words to it, actually.”
“Then you’re a very tolerant person,” V’ney allowed.

And that’s the end of Chapter 7, with H’nez getting recalled and V’ney immediately beginning damage control. H’nez really is a better fit for Telgar than for Fort, mostly because he’ll have a kindred spirit in the Weyrleader there.

It’s probably not a good thing that it’s literally the plot of “dragons are getting sick and the Weyrs are quarantined” that’s stopping H’nez from getting bounced from Fort. (And I still maintain he really should have been bounced well before this point.)

More next week.

Dragonheart: And Now, A Totally Different Story

When we last left Fiona, she had just discovered an intruder in her Weyr and seized her by the wrist letting her anger at how far out of touch the Weyrleaders are with reality boil over at a target she can yell at and otherwise be upset with. There are still sick dragons, there are still time-twisted riders, and nobody is doing much of anything to try and solve any of these problems.

Dragonheart: Chapter Six: Content Notes: White Savior Narratives, Racism, Classism, Almost Omelas-Style Abuse

So, Fiona finds out the name of the person in her Weyr is Xhinna. And I want to know how to pronounce that, because I feel like it would give me a lot of insight into what Xhinna looks like. All we get, narratively, is that she has dark hair. If I’m supposed to pronounce Xhinna like I’m supposed to pronounce Xhosa, with the attendant assumptions, what we have set ourselves up for is a situation where the presumably white Irish-looking girl is about to physically drag around a black African girl, and there’s really no way that is going to be good optics for your novel. So the narrative carefully omits any talk about any other physical characteristics of Xhinna.

It turns out, though, that Fiona and Xhinna have something to bond over. Xhinna murmurs that Talenth should be hers when Fiona figures out Xhinna is there to look at Talenth.

Recognition suddenly dawned. “You were the candidate that chased after her.”
Xhinna’s face darkened in shame. “I was afraid she was going to get away,” she confessed miserably. “And it would be been my fault.”
“Your fault?” Fiona thought that was going too far.
“I shouldn’t be been there,” Xhinna said, grimacing. “I wasn’t Searched.”
“Nor was I,” Fiona remarked, not seeing any harm in that.
Xhinna swallowed hard and raised her eyes to meet Fiona’s as she admitted, “I stole the robe from the laundry and snuck in with the others.” Her eyes were bright with unshed tears. “Melanwy said I shouldn’t have been there, that I might have ruined everything.”

Xhinna continues to explain that she was found all alone as a baby and taken in at the Weyr, but that means nobody thinks of her as weyrfolk. She’s bullied by the boys, shunned by the girls, and apparently Melanwy, when she had all her faculties, wanted to send Xhinna away. She wasn’t like all the other girls, Melanwy said, and Xhinna believes it.

Also, Xhinna has “a swarthy face and dark, intelligent eyes,” along with a “pretty and lightly freckled” nose.

So, dark-complexioned girl gets told off by white girl, but then it turns into something much more approaching the white savior narrative instead. You see, Xhinna proclaims she’s constantly in trouble after Fiona makes her a provisional deal that she can come see Talenth any time she likes, so long as she keeps herself out of trouble, I mean, more trouble.

“In fact, perhaps we can arrange for you to help me.”
For a moment, Xhinna looked absolutely stunned, then her face clouded once more. “Like a drudge?”
“No,” Fiona corrected her, her tone turning a bit sharp, “like a friend.” She paused and raised her eyebrows at the girl. “They do have those at the Weyr, don’t they?”
“Some do,” Xhinna allowed.
Fiona guessed that Xhinna added in her thoughts, “just not me.”

And this is quite the underbelly being exposed here, where the orphan dark girl is treated very differently than all her peers. I’m fairly certain that neither author would necessarily admit that Pern is pretty flagrantly racist in all its doings, but the killing off of the Tinkers and Travellers in the first fall, and then Xhinna’s treatment here, (as well as the descriptions of how the head cook, Zirana, speaks) continues to state that Pern is a very racist place.

Xhinna says Fiona well have to talk to Melanwy to get permission to have Xhinna around, since Melanwy made Xhinna her personal assistant after the stunt she pulled at the Hatching. Xhinna should be there right now, actually, except Melanwy sent Xhinna away so she could sit with Tannaz and there would be fewer eyes watching while Kelsanth dies.

Fiona, for her part, after she’s done tending to Talenth, pops immediately over to Tannaz’s Weyr. And while she tries to get Tannaz to eat or do anything, Melanwy tells her it’s no use. Fiona eventually storms out to go get food for Tannaz and force her to eat it, if she has to. When she asks Zirana where Xhinna is, Zirana directs her to listen for the sound of children, before declaring Xhinna is “no relative of mine, that girl!” Which further cements for me that both Zirana and Xhinna are black (or very dark-skinned) enough that people might mistake them as related and ask Zirana to reel in her wayward relative. Because all black people have to be related to each other, right?

Fiona does follow the sound of children and finds Xhinna telling stories to the children. Once they notice Fiona, Xhinna’s audience disappears as they mob Fiona, and one small boy, Dennon, asks if Fiona’s dragon is about to die. Fiona assures him that Talenth is fine, but Dennon has made the logical connection that if queen dragons can die, that means any dragon can die, and he’s worried about his father’s blue dying. Xhinna and Fiona are doing their best to engage in damage control (and there is an interlude with an unknown rider telling Fiona to remember her own pronouncements, who Talenth says she can’t identify because they haven’t met her yet, reminding us that we’re still in the thick of the time-travel plot form the last book) when Ellor, one of the cooks, pops in and makes the situation worse by immediately focusing the blame for the disturbed children on Xhinna. Fiona cuts Ellor off before she can get wound up by demanding Xhinna for herself, and then turns around and gives Xhinna the business, tempered some by their shared outsider status.

“Thanks!” Xhinna said as they entered the corridor. “Now you see what I mean about how everyone blames me, even when I don’t do anything.”
Fiona was quiet for a moment. When she spoke, it was with an honest, deliberate voice. “Those children didn’t hear about dragons dying from anyone but you,” she said. “You didn’t set them off just then, but you certainly set them up for it.”
Xhinna stopped dead in her tracks. Fiona turned back to her. Xhinna’s expression was dead, haunted.
“I thought you were different,” Xhinna whispered in shock. “I thought you might really like me.”
“Oh, you’re worse than a pricklebug, you!” Fiona roared back at her. She reached out and grabbed Xhinna’s hand, tugging her along. “You take offense at the slightest bit of honesty.” She sighed loudly. “It’s like you expect everyone to be mean to you.”
“That wasn’t mean?” Xhinna asked with a sniff.
“It was true!” Fiona snapped. “You told those kids a story and you scared them. You’re responsible for that. You made a mistake–it doesn’t make you a bad person.”
“It doesn’t?” Xhinna repeated, as thought he concept was new to her.
“No, everyone makes mistakes,” Fiona said, increasing her stride as Xhinna started walking beside her faster. “It’s what you do about them afterward that matters.”

That concept might very well be new to Xhinna, if everyone treats her the way Ellor was ready to, and disavows her as fast as Zirana does. Someone who is willing to separate “you did mistaken things” and “you are a mistake” would be a very new thing, and would run counter to the pattern of abuse that Xhinna has likely internalized as being her nature.

I’m still looking remarkably askance at the authorial decision to put these two together by giving Xhinna a backstory of being an abused dark-skinned drudge (slave) girl and Fiona a wealthy upper-class light-skinned girl that becomes her only friend and exalts her above her otherwise pitiful station. Presumably, Xhinna will be grateful for Fiona’s blessing on her, but also acutely aware that it can be withdrawn at any time, so Fiona is the only one I expect to walk around with the illusion that they can be friends as peers in this situation, since she’s the one with the privilege to be able to ignore the stonking power imbalance.

Also, have I mentioned enough times what a bad idea it is to make the girl that’s being abused, expected to behave like someone older than she is, and nearly-shunned by everyone else dark-skinned? Because it’s a terrible idea to single out a dark-skinned girl and heap all of this abuse on her alone, given the history of dark-skinned people being abused by lighter-skinned people on Terra. It gives off the impression that the narrative either enjoys it or thinks she deserves it, no matter what the characters might say.

“You mean, you don’t hate me?”
“Because you wanted to be a dragonrider?” Fiona demanded. “Or because you like telling stories?”
“Because–” Xhinna took a deep breath before confessing in a rush, “Because I hoped your dragon would die.”
Fiona gaped at her, dumbstruck.
“I–I thought if–if I couldn’t have her,” Xhinna stammered, “then why should you?” She looked down and began to cry. “I’m sorry. It was mean of me, and I didn’t mean…not really, b-but I thought if I had a dragon then maybe I’d…”
“Maybe you’d fit in,” Fiona finished for her.
[…Fiona remembers having to send away Fire, and how much she misses losing the fire-lizard…]
“But you’ve got a queen!” Xhinna sobbed. “And I’ve got nothing.”
“I’m not going to be sorry for you,” Fiona told her brusquely. Xhinna stiffened in surprise. “You can still Impress–you’re not too old.”
“They won’t let me on the Hatching Grounds,” Xhinna protested miserably.
“They didn’t let me on the Hatching Grounds,” Fiona pointed out to her. “And I still Impressed.”

And that’s a perfect example of what I meant about Fiona being able to ignore the power imbalance. Theh only reason Fiona was there in the first place was because she was the daughter of a Lord. If she had been a smaller Holder girl, she would never have been brought to the Hatching Grounds as a guest. Xhinna had one shot at it, because once they noticed her on the Grounds with a robe, they would make damn sure she didn’t get the opportunity again to disrupt their process. Xhinna had one chance, and Fiona ruined it just by being there. There’s no reason to believe that Xhinna would have Impressed if Fiona hadn’t been there, either, but because Fiona was in the stands, it makes her an attractive target for “if only that meddlesome Hold girl hadn’t been there, the dragon would have been mine” grudges.

The next paragraph is Fiona explaining what she came to get Xhinna for. After that, Xhinna says that she only meant her hope that Talenth died until she met Fiona, and now she doesn’t want Talenth to die at all.

“I only thought that before I met you,” Xhinna said softly. “About your dragon, I mean.”
Fiona turned back to her with a small smile. “That’s what I thought.”

Cocowhat by depizan

I thought Fiona was supposed to be the antithesis of the spoiled rich brat Holder trope, but she’s playing it to the hilt here with Xhinna. Of course the girl whose best shot you usurped couldn’t possibly be mad at Fiona once she met her. Fiona’s just so darn nice and helpful and otherwise a virtuous role model, and Fiona having an expectation that Xhinna would drop her grudge once she got to know Fiona isn’t peak white savior behavior. [/sarcasm]

This entire scene seems to exist for the reason of establishing the power differentials and then making Fiona seem gracious for forgiving Xhinna her justified feelings about some white girl who wasn’t even there getting the prize that Xhinna could only get a shot at by making her own way, rather than waiting for someone to notice her and include her. Like, it might be a character flaw for Xhinna to be salty at Fiona for getting the thing she was hoping to steal, but it makes logical sense to me.

Not that the other swing of the pendulum would be any better. A Xhinna trying to take advantage of Fiona and get in tight with her to bolster her own power in the Lower Caverns plays into a different stereotype about black people spread in certain places on Terra that believe the government is doing everything it can to take away the power of white people and give it to undeserving minorities, who are biding their time until they have enough power to enslave whites and brutalize them.

This is what happens when you tokenize minorities. They have to do too much narrative lifting, and any character traits they might have start being shorthand for what all people who look like them act like, because we don’t see enough people who look like them acting in different ways, so that nobody becomes shorthand.

Also, despite the fact that Fiona explicitly said “like a friend,” not “like a drudge”…

When Fiona and Xhinna arrived at Tannaz’s weyr a half an hour later, Xhinna kept her eyes downcast and followed every one of Fiona’s orders silently, just as they’d agreed.
“Pretend it’s a game,” Fiona had suggested with a grin. “You get a point for every order I give you that you can do without making any noise. This time I’ll make it easy, but the next time–be warned!–I’ll do my best to make you laugh.”
Treating it as a game made it easier for Xhinna to survive Melanwy’s sour humor and bitter jibes.
“Seems you’ve found a leash for her, Weyrwoman,” Melanwy admitted grudgingly as Xhinna dipped her head politely to the old headwoman. “She hasn’t said a word once.” Melanwy paused for a second, then added maliciously, “Usually no one can shut her up.”
Xhinna’s eyes flashed, but she caught Fiona’s look and let the insult pass.

I can’t even. (I will, all the same.) I guess we’re still significantly out from sensitivity readers being part of the regular parlance, but I would like to believe an editor went “you know this is in flagrant contradiction to what Fiona said earlier, right?” even if they couldn’t get or didn’t want to say “you just had the dark-skinned girl willingly take on the stupid servant role to the white girl, and she explicitly has been told she has to take whatever abuse the old (probably also white) woman is going to heap on her if she wants to keep her position as friend, and that old white woman is referring to the dark-skinned girl as if she were an an animal who needed a leash. This is the sort of thing that was said about actual black people in the not-all-that recent history of the United States, where many of your readers are. Are you sure this is the kind of thing you want to be putting on the page for your readers?”

At this point, it’s either deliberate, and the author wants us to be thinking about race and class and how terrible Fiona is as a protagonist, or the author has no idea he’s doing it, and in being clueless about it, is turning in a masterwork about how race and class work on Pern and showing us just how awful a protagonist Fiona is, regardless of whether Fiona’s consciously reinforcing those race and class divisions or not. Given that the rule of Pern seems to be the protagonists are supposed to be seen positively, regardless of whether their actions are actually positive, my money’s on ignorance being beautiful, beautiful bliss.

Playing it off as a game is a thing that might help Xhinna get through it without incident, and gives the reader an out if they want to avoid thinking about it too hard by saying Fiona came up with it as a game to help Xhinna, so there couldn’t have been any ill intent. Which is true, but intent is not fucking magic. And neither of them are old enough to think of this as a consenting kinky relationship, which about the only way I could envision this scene happening and it not being terrible, but I would definitely need to see a negotiation scene beforehand, and both Fiona and Xhinna need to be way older.

As it is, Fiona manages to persuade Melanwy to take a break and let them watch Tannaz and Kalsenth, Fiona rewards Xhinna not with whatever thing she thinks is her reward for a job well done (Xhinna groans audibly when Fiona uses that phrasing) but with watching Kalsenth while Fiona takes care of Talenth. Xhinna provides further insight on why Melanwy is hanging around Kalsenth so much – she wants to hitch a ride to hyperspace on her, since Melanwy didn’t get to do it with the last Weyrwoman-dragon combination that went and left her behind.

Fiona then brings Xhinna with her to the head table for the next dinner, and K’lior pegs her immediately, much to Xhinna’s complete embarassment.

“She wasn’t the first, I assure you,” Kentai added with a wry grin. “It’s a long-established tradition in all the Weyrs.”
“It didn’t work, though, did it?” Cisca asked, not looking at Xhinna but at Fiona. Her look was odd: Fiona couldn’t understand what she meant by it.
“The dragons always know,” H’nez said from his place beside Kentai. “They know blue riders from bronze riders, too.”
What was that supposed to mean? Fiona wondered.
“I thought all the Weyrfolk were allowed to stand on the Hatching Ground when they’re of age,” she said, glancing at Kentai for confirmation.
“We usually limit the number at each Hatching to not more than twice the eggs,” Cisca said as she took a forkful of her cake. Noting Fiona’s curious look, she explained, “So as not to crowd the hatchlings or have too many pointless injuries.”

Well, that’s new. And also, a rather convenient way of making sure not just everyone can stand and catch a dragon. Also, thank you, H’nez, for illustrating that even inside the highest echelons of Pernese society, there is still stratification and hierarchy and prejudice. To a toxically masculine bronze rider, being a blue rider (and, according to the prejudices set forth by Anne in extratextual material, thus the likely receptive partner in any given rider pairing) must seem like the complete opposite of the desired projection. The greens are sluts, and that can be useful to a bronze rider, but the blues are the penetrated, gasp, and so can’t possibly be sufficiently manly ever.

Plot-wise, Fiona asks if she can keep Xhinna close by, to run late-night errands and otherwise be her support personnel. H’nez scoffs at the idea, because his conception of a dragonrider is someone who is entirely self-sufficient. K’lior completes the quote H’nez begins, but points out dragonriders don’t cook their own food or raise their own children, so they’re not quite as super self-sufficient (All Hail Rand!) as H’nez would like to believe.

“I think,” Cisca declared, “that even if Kelsanth were not sick, it would make sense to have someone available to help a queen rider.”
“Like a drudge?” H’nez said with a sneer as he regarded Xhinna. “Certainly she fits the role.”
“H’nez!” T’mar growled warningly.
Fiona glared angrily at H’nez, then turned away from him to Cisca in a move that was an obvious dismissal and slight. The man might be a bronze rider and many Turns older than she, but he had a lot to learn about manners.
“Fioonna,” Xhinna murmured fearfully beside her.
“Weyrleader, Weyrwoman, thank you,” Fiona said with a polite nod for each. She pushed back her chair and rose, nudging Xhinna to do the same. “I think we’d best get back to my weyr so that we can assist Tannaz as she needs.
“Harper,” she said, nodding to Kentai. Her gaze skipped over H’nez and rested on T’mar, as she said, “Wingleader.” With that, she turned sharply and, still clutching Xhinna’s arm, marched out of the cavern.
“Discipline is much lacking in this Weyr,” she heard H’nez declare loudly after her.
“As are manners,” Kentai agreed just as loudly. And, while she wasn’t sure if H’nez recognized the Harper’s tone, Fiona was certain as she walked away that the Weyr’s harper was not referring to her.

Way to stand up for your people, Fiona. I mean that seriously. That’s using your privilege for good ends. And still makes me wonder why H’nez hasn’t been bounced out on his ear long before he had the opportunity to insult Fiona and Xhinna. There always has to be an antagonist of some sort, if you believe that conflict drives plot, but this qualifies as questioning a Weyrwoman’s judgment in her domain, and that’s not smart if you want to stay in any sort of position of leadership and power. Bust his ass back down to private, K’lior, until he can learn manners and respect for the chain of command.

This chapter seems to be moving at molasses pace, honestly, but I think it’s because we’re getting a lot more worldbuilding and society cues and explanations than we were before. The new author is going to some pains to describe the world and its inhabitants more fully than the old author, and that requires some closer reading.

This is a good stopping point for this week’s post, as within a few pages, there’s going to be something that deserves more of that close reading, and if I put the two of them in the same post, I’m going to end up with a seven or eight-thousand word monstrosity with the quotes involved, instead of the “compact” three thousand or so for this chunk of it. It does look like the pace will pick up a little once we get past these segments, though, so we may be able to make up some ground.

At the very least, we should be able to finish Chapter 6 next week.

Dragonheart: Facing Reality

Last chapter, Fiona spent a significant amount of time reassuring and talking to others at Fort Weyr to make sure they weren’t ideating or otherwise neglecting themselves, before being put on dinner duty and cooking up something that would be served to all the people at the Weyrleader’s table, as a Fort tradition. Tannaz didn’t tell Fiona where the food was going, because that’s also apparently Fort tradition. Fiona got to meet the headwoman of Fort, who is suffering from dementia, and at the end of the day, participated in an impromptu conference indicating more dragons have become sick and are getting sent to the quarantine zone.

Dragonheart: Chapter Five: Content Notes:

Eyes green, delight
Eyes red, fright
Eyes yellow, worry
Eyes closed, no hurry.

(Fort Weyr, The Next Morning, AL 507.13.15)

Fiona oversleeps. And then starts hearing a dragon cough, and is worried that it’s Talenth. It isn’t, it’s Kalsenth, Tannaz’s dragon instead. Cisca sends Fiona to the kitchen to collect a decoction passed along by Lorana that’s supposed to help with the cough. They manage to get the dragon to swallow the whole bucket-full that’s been crafted for her. Fiona has to then oil and feed Talenth, and when she returns to the kitchen to look for Cisca, Zirina directs her into one of the back hallways. Fiona manages to find her way to the stores, where Cisca and Melanwy are having a battle over getting more of the herbs out. Melanwy doesn’t recognize Cisca and keeps challenging her authority to order anything. Fiona manages to navigate Melanwy’s inability to remember things by identifying herself as a daughter at Fort Hold and spinning a story that the Weyrwoman has promised Fort some of the stores for a sickness. Which works – Melanwy and Fiona collect all the things on Cisca’s list (the only ones we know about are echinacea and ginger) and get them out of the stores, and then Fiona escorts Melanwy back to her own quarters.

After coming back to the kitchen, Fiona asks Cisca whether what she’s experiencing is normal.

Fiona tried to fix the names of the riders, the dragons, and their colors in her head but found, to her annoyance, that she couldn’t.
“I used to be good with names,” she said, frowning. “I know all the names of every holder in Fort Hold and all the heads of every hold minor or craft–”
“Don’t worry,” Cisca assured her. “You’ll learn them all in time.”
Fiona contented herself with a sip from her mug and another bite of her roll. She was surprised that she was so hungry until she remembered that she hadn’t eaten at all that morning…which brought her back to the issue she’d been avoiding. “I seem to be in such a muddle all the time,” she confessed to Cisca. She met the Weyrwoman’s eyes. “I didn’t use to be like this.”
Cisca picked up on Fiona’s unspoken plea. “I don’t think it’s the illness,” she told her.
“But you’ve noticed?” Fiona persisted. “Is there something wrong with me?”
“If there is, you’re not alone.” The speaker was K’lior, who was striding up to them.

There’s a short discussion about how neither Cisca nor K’lior think that Fiona can’t handle her dragon and her responsibilities, and while they expected a certain amount of tiredness from raising a dragon as a teenager, they’re still keeping an eye on everyone affected to see if things change.

Cisca also mentions that K’lior drills his dragonriders in mixed-wing configurations, so that every rider can work with every wingleader without issues. Supposedly, it’s so the riders don’t get bored with their training exercises. Fiona accepts this and compares it to when Bemin switches the posts that the guards have. I’m also a bit blink-blink at this, because mixed-wing drills means that when the dragons start dying, K’lior shouldn’t have too much trouble at all restructuring his wings on the fly and they should have fewer Thread-related casualties, compared to any of the other Weyrs. And also, why hasn’t this idea spread from Weyr to Weyr, so that all of them do mixed-wing drills and thus Benden doesn’t end up in such a terrible situation where they suffer great losses once they start having holes in the formation? Like, this might be an ass-cover from the previous book for things making no sense, but what it does is make the dragonriders look like they hoard knowledge and secrets in the same way the Crafts do. Except that the dragonriders have a shared set of purposes: Fight Thread, Get Tributes, Oppress Everyone. They can be competitive at the Games, but it seems like the sort of things that will make for less Thread casualties would be shared freely. Lots of dragons are a good, and get plenty of tribute, at least in their opinions.

Cisca and K’lior suggest going out to the Holds under their jurisdiction to collect more herbs to help with the dragons. Fiona asks if she can go out to Fort, leaving unstated “so I can see and talk with my father.” K’lior and Cisca give their assent, and Fiona, after taking a hyperspace warp, walks up to the gates, gets recognized (although Fiona’s annoyed that she can’t remember a guard’s name), and is sent on in to the kitchens, after being told Lord Bemin isn’t there at the moment.

Fiona raids half the stores of Fort for echinacea, ginger, cinnamon, comfrey, and hyssop, which Neesa shrugs about, but Marla, one of the new kitchen helpers, is reduced to squeaking about how much is being taken and to what purpose it’s being put to. Neesa and Fiona have a small chat about Fiona’s tiredness and the unnaturalness of that tiredness, and then Bemin returns, having announced his return with a “loud shout” that “Fiona…recogniz[ed] the voice of Lord Holder Bemin in full rage.”

Fiona goes to talk with her father about what’s upset him so.

“Weren’t you at the Harper Hall?”
“I was,” Bemin snapped.
“Are you and Kelsa arguing again?” Fiona asked, her eyes dancing.
Bemin sighed and seemed to deflate where he stood. Fiona was surprised to see the worry lines around his eyes.
“She’s not upset about her gold?” Fiona wondered. Kelsa had Impressed a gold fire-lizard a number of Turns back and was quite attached to her. Fiona was certain Kelsa’a loss of Valyart had hit her hard. She also recalled that Kelsa and her father had made jokes about which bronze would fly when Valyart mated.
Even though she was the Lord Holder’s daughter, or perhaps even more because she was the Lord Holder’s daughter, Fiona had spent a lot of her youth with the herdbeasts and animals of the Hold; more than once she had helped a ewe birthing a lamb, or a herdbeast with a breech birth, so reproduction held no secrets for her.
And so it wasn’t difficult for her to take in her father’s stance and his bellowing, and came up with a shrewd guess: “Kelsa’s pregnant, isn’t she?”
“We were talking names,” Bemin said by way of confirmation. “Kemma if a girl, Belsan if a boy.”

Bemin tells her that he wants to raise the child in the Hold, especially if it’s a boy, and that Kelsa wasn’t having any of it. Fiona tells her father to stop being a ninny about the kilometer’s distance between Hall and Hold, and then bounds off with her herbs.

I’m having a few thoughts about this. Because Kelsa was very young when she was at the Hall at first. It’s been twelve years since then, so it’s not like I have to wonder about whether Kelsa’s of age for a relationship, it’s just that the story about Lady Sannora was that she was sweet on a Harper (Zist) but noting happened. And then there was how much Kindan was very sweet on Koriana, but again, the Lady Holder-to-be couldn’t really behave poorly with a Harper (so much so that it was a scandal they slept in the same bed without any sex happening.) And now we have widower Bemin, and he’s gotten the Song Master of the Harper Hall pregnant. I sincerely hope it was consensual, but I also wonder whether Kindan knows, and what his opinion on the matter might be. Especially since Fiona holds Kindan in a certain amount of respect and awe and possibly even infatuation of a small sort.

This seems to be the sort of situation that, on some soap opera or programming designed specifically for melodrama, would blow up the messiest, most dramatic way possible so that Kindan (and Fiona) would be entirely pissed at Bemin for what he’s done to Kelsa. Especially since Kindan was denied his chance at the Fort Hold person that he wanted. (And because it still seems like it’s a May-December Romance, and while I’ll believe Kelsa if she says that she fell in love or if she says it was supposed to be friends with benefits or any other relationship characterization Kelsa wants to provide, I’m having trouble figuring out why a high-ranking Harper like Kelsa wants to sleep with Lord Bemin at all. She seemed very interested in proving that she was a Strong Independent Woman Who Needs Not Any Man. It’s a story we’re probably not going to get, which makes me lean toward the idea that it’s not as good news as Fiona thinks it is, because this is Pern.

All that’s left in this chapter is for Fiona to get back, oil Talenth, and for both of them to get worried about what happens if Kalsenth doesn’t actually get any better.

Brave dragons, fly high, fly true
Gold, bronze, brown, green, and blue.

(Fort Weyr, Seven Days Later, AL 507.13.22)

Chapter Six starts with Tannaz telling Fiona not to bother with any more of the herbal drink, as it isn’t helping Kalsenth at all, and hasn’t for the last three days. As Kalsenth has gotten worse, so has Tannaz, because the link between them has Tannaz popping awake when Kalsenth coughs, or when any other dragon coughs, and it’s probably not helping much that Melanwy is hanging around, trying to take care of her and her dragon, even if much of the time, Melanwy thinks Tannaz is Nara, the previous Weyrwoman. Cisca, Fiona, K’lior, T’mar, and Kentai have an impromptu conference in the kitchens about the ineffectiveness of the herbal concoction and the general feeling of helplessness the riders have at their dragons being lethally sick. T’mar is unhappy that Kindan seems to be the one leading the effort to save the dragons.

He’s no healer,” T’mar persisted rebelliously.
“No,” Kentai responded agreeably. “he’s not. But it was Kindan who thought of the ways that helped the Holders during the Plague, and Kindan is the only one who has bonded with a watch-wher he Impressed a fire-lizard.”
“I trust Kindan,” Fiona declared hotly. “He saved my life.”
T’mar be her a surprised look, then lowered his eyes and muttered, “He’s no dragonrider.”
“But Lorana is,” Kentai responded. “And it is her herbal we have been using.”

There’s a real resistance here to acknowledging expertise, however fragmentary it is, that doesn’t come from a dragonrider, and I’m going to gleefully appropriate it for a context I’m guessing the original author may not have intended to say this is a perfect example of how anyone in our Terra who doesn’t look like a straight white man gets their expertise questioned and their ideas dismissed (or stolen). Kindan had to improvise barrier methods against infection, a method to determine flu status without touching someone, and a way of getting a starved population enough nourishment to recover. And he’s also had experience, at this point, with all three forms of dragon-like life forms, and bonded to two of them. While it’s entirely possible that Kindan is entirely wrong about everything, the appeal that T’mar is making should be swatted down swiftly. It won’t be, though, because I suspect Cisca and K’lior share that sentiment, even if they wouldn’t be so gauche as to state it aloud. But because Lorana trusts Kindan, they can, too. Because she has the correct status so that Kindan can be believed.

T’mar grumbles at the logic, and accidentally breaks his klah mug while trying to get himself caffeinated. Fiona swiftly offers her mug for T’mar, but he brushes it off to go get another, and interestingly enough, Cisca calls him to the carpet on it. “Are you sure you want to do that? It’s never wise to turn down the favors of a Weyrwoman.” Cisca says. T’mat immediately apologizes to Cisca, and then, with a quick nonverbal prompt from Cisca, to Fiona. Fiona accepts, so we don’t get to see what kind of consequences befall those who aggravate a Weyrwoman. For bronze riders, it might be “Good luck ever becoming Weyrleader,” but presumably it also would affect other dragon colors as well. Perhaps, since the Weyrwomen are in charge of things outside the battle, pissing off a Weyrwoman makes you a gong farmer for some significant time? (Or, possibly, gets you sent off to another Weyr?) There’s obviously a power dynamic going on here, but we don’t get to see anything more about it.

Instead, the narrative makes sure everyone is fed and caffeinated, and Fiona reveals that once she sat by one of the old people in the Hold while they died, when she was almost twelve, (making her about fourteen right now) as a way of explaining that wait and watch and hope doesn’t mean just sitting around doing nothing. T’mar re-evaluates Fiona based on this story, and that Fiona chose that duty willingly based on her feeling of duty, the narrative tells us, and Cisca and K’lior think it’s a good idea to have someone near riders with sick seasons at all times.

As the kitchen fills up with people, Fiona realizes that there are a lot more kids there than she envisioned a Weyr having.

“You’re wondering, why so many children?” T’mar guessed from Fiona’s expression. Fiona nodded.
“The answer’s simple,” Cisca replied with a mischievous grin. K’lior must have kicked her under the table, for the Weyrwoman started and stuck her tongue out at him. She turned to Fiona. “Given that there can be up to five hundred dragonriders in a Weyr, and that each of them is expected to do his–”
“–or her,” K’lior interjected.
“–duty to the Weyr,” Cisca continued with a scowl for her Weyrleader, “you’d expect there to be upward of a thousand youngsters of various ages.”

Cocowhat by depizan

Not the numbers, but this expectation that dragonriders will do their duty to the Weyr and make babies. First, with whom? I thought it was a significant feature of Pern that blue, green, and brown riders are generally not het in their partner preferences. If the line now is that brown, green, and blue riders are bi, then that’s something worth stating outright. Second, though, because the narrative has been focusing on all the people at the top, whether in Weyr or Hold, there’s only been allusion that, say, the head cook has a kitchen staff, and the headwoman presumably has additional departments and drudges that report to her about the upkeep of the space. Somewhere in there, if each of those 500 dragonriders are supposed to make two kids each, there needs to be some significant number of women who can and want to carry children to term in the Weyr. Because otherwise, it sounds like the dragonriders as a whole rely on the sex rays from their dragons to coerce women, wherever they exist in the Weyr, into having sex with them, and then some other form of persuasion to get them to keep and give birth to the kids. Which is entirely in keeping with Pern as it has been shown to us so far.

Also, I can’t imagine a single Weyr Harper having to instruct all thousand of those kids himself in a one-room schoolhouse sort of situation. Where is Kentai’s staff? Or Kindan’s, for that matter, if Benden’s child numbers are approximately the same as Fort’s. The apprentices are all at the Hall, the Masters might be faculty at the Hall or possibly, occasionally, stationed somewhere else in the world, but it always has been presented as the idea that there’s a single journeyman or master harper at each major hold and several of the smaller camps and holds. In small places, a single harper could probably handle teaching and performance duties as well as any court obligations and such, but for exceedingly large places, there’s no way the harper could handle all of it themselves without mainlining caffeine in dangerous amounts. Fort Weyr needs a phalanx of harpers just for the teaching duties, even if Pernese education only goes to the equivalent of middle school. Where are they? (“The Plague” is convenient at this point in history, but I would then expect the Hall to say “Field Harpers, if you have a promising candidate or five, and they sound interested, dub them your apprentices, and if any of them show promise for the Hall, send them on when it’s time and gather more.” As Zist did with Kindan. Ish.

The narrative tries to make this seem like less of a daunting problem, but it doesn’t get rid of the issue completely.

” What happens to them all?” Fiona asked. “Where are they now?”
“Some are taking lessons,” Cisca said, gesturing in the direction Kentai had taken. “Some are helping with the weyr.”
“And some are doubtless getting into trouble,” K’lior added with a grin.
“Doubtless,” Cisca agreed. “And several are probably at this very moment on the Hatching Grounds, looking around and dreaming.”
“I doubt it,” K’lior declared. “I suspect it’s a bit too early for that.”
“What do they do when they grow up?” Fiona wondered.
“Some become dragonriders,” K’lior said. “Some stay on and work at the Weyr: some become weyrmates.”
Most weyrmates work at the Weyr,” Cisca corrected him.
“Some learn a craft and become apprenticed,” K’lior went on.
“We’ve three in the Harper Hall at this moment,” Cisca pointed out proudly.
“And two at the Smithcrafthall,” K’lior reminded her.

Three? I would expect thirty, not three. And similarly for the Smiths, and plenty more in the other professions because it’s pretty explicit that the dragonriders don’t do any work that isn’t directly related to their dragons. Someone has to produce food, raise beasts, make clothes, do leatherwork, metalwork, entertain and teach, and so on, so that the dragonriders can get the best value out of their tributes from everyone else. Perhaps not the entire complement of children, but I would expect most of the ones of apprenticing age are apprenticed out to the various crafthalls or are otherwise employed under the direction of someone who has received craft training.

The whole thing wraps up in a way that shades this from “Cisca and K’lior are justly proud of the accomplishments of the children of the Weyr” to “Cisca and K’lior don’t pay attention to what they are saying and how it could be unintentionally hurtful to others.”

“But you’ll never find Weyrfolk unwilling to help,” Cisca added, “if you ask for it.”
“I think I should check on Tannaz now,” Fiona said, feeling a bit out of sorts–the Weyrleaders were going on about how great weyrfolk were, and while she knew that holderfolk were every bit as kind and good, she didn’t think it would be wise to point that out. Besides, no one had offered to help her since she’d been in the Weyr; she’d done all the helping.
As she rose from her chair, the bronze dragonrider she recognized as H’nez approached their table, saying “More dragons coughing this morning, aren’t there?”
Fiona was glad to leave, she liked him even less for that comment than she had before. As if K’lior wasn’t doing everything he could!

Fiona has every right to be aggravated at this. She’s been doing just as much, if not more, work as Weyrwoman than she would have been as a Lady Holder, and without the support structure (or ability to order other people around) that being Lady Holder would normally grant her. Maybe the Senior Weyrwoman gets that, but she’s the most junior of them, and nobody is offering to help her figure out her duties and what she’s expected to do, or help her through them. She had to learn on the fly, and more often than not, by doing something she’s not supposed to.

Also, why hasn’t H’nez been shuttled off to some other Weyr, before the plague hit, given what kind of asshole he’s being? He thought he should be Weyrleader. Fine, but he’s not, and he’s deliberately sassing the Weyrleaders to their faces. Ship him off to Telgar if he wants to behave that way. He’s more than overstepped his boundaries with Cisca and K’lior. He goaded the Healer into a duel and killed him. There’s no reason he should be in any sort of leadership position at all.

Fiona, upon returning to her own Weyr, catches someone inside, and has a full-boil rage at her about Talenth. But we’ll get to that next week.