Category Archives: Deconstruction

Dragon Harper: Do You Understand Me?

Last time, Kindan fell in love with someone he could never have, which incidentally gave the lie to the equality campaign that Murenny has supposedly recruited Kindan to help with, got a fire lizard, and continued to be unperturbed by how completely Vaxoram has changed after the duel. Kelsa has some skepticism about the last. And possibly the girl that Kindan has fallen for.

Dragon Harper, Chapter 5: Content Notes: Sexism

(Harper Hall, 496.11, the first time marker we’ve had since Chapter 1)

This chapter’s poem is an admonition.

Harper, treat your words with care
For they may cause joy or despair
Sing your songs of health and love
Of dragons flaming from above.

There’s a certain amount of acknowledgement here that the Harpers have the power to shape social dynamics, but it’s couched in a warning to stick close to the party line. Which makes me wonder what kind of story we could tell about a Harper, or a group of Harpers, that broke off from the Hall and did their best to encourage the people to overthrow the Holds and Crafts and eventually, perhaps, put the Weyrs under the control of elected egalitarian councils. And all the trouble that comes from actual democracy being implemented in a previously feudal space. We won’t get it, because everyone in Pern loves their lot in life (except the Shunned), but if we wanted to show what kind of power the Harper Hall holds, why not have to deal with Harpers in their midst that are not on the company line?

In any case, this chapter starts with the fact that puberty has come to Kindan at last, and his awkwardness of body, combined with the fact that his clothes aren’t fitting because he’s expected to grow into them, eventually gets him moved out of the Archives after he spills indelible ink (that everyone admits shouldn’t have been there in the first place) on some freshly-created Records, ruining them.

So Kindan goes to the instrument maker, instead, to learn some finesse, but he doesn’t have the knack for pipe making immediately, even if he can do a passable drum and some amount of sanding and polishing. Which he gets assigned to do, and thinks of himself as learning something about handling the wood from doing all the sanding. He mixes up the glue and polish buckets and ruins both of them in their pots, though, just to be consistent to the narrative.

Vaxoram is still magic, though.

In the past ten months, the relationship between Vaxoram and Kindan had grown deeper, more complex, yet still no less perplexing to both of them. It was as though the older apprentice was sometimes Kindan’s older brother, other times his apprentice. Yet it worked, and Vaxoram was now an accepted member of the “outcasts”, as he had once named Kindan and his friends.

Kindan’s voice is breaking and not settling, either, so the Voice Master asks if he would rather conduct, which Kindan enjoys, but he is recalled to the task of cleaning out his mess before too long.

As one might guess, Kindan finds this puberty business all sorts of aggravating. And it’s not helping that the talented people around him seem sure of what they will do.

“You’ll find your height,” Verilan added staunchly. Kindan smiled at him but couldn’t help feeling a bit jealous–Verilan was assured a place in the Harper Hall; his skill at copying alone would guarantee it.
[…they remind Kelsa to eat…]
Kelsa was always writing. The dark-haired girl was another who Kindan was certain would find a place in the Harper Hall, even if the Hall was traditionally a man’s world; Kelsa’s songs were so original that none could forget them, and she herself had a perfect memory for not only words but notes as well.
Play her a song once and she’d know it forever; start a melody and she’d write a whole new piece from it. It was dangerous to whistle near Kelsa, for she’d often lurch to a sudden stop–to the consternation of all behind her–and start writing.
Kelsa and Pellar had an amazing affinity for each other whenever the mute Harper visited from Fire Hold; she seemed able to take his merest buttons and put them to music. Surprisingly to Kindan, Halla, Pellar’s mate, never seemed to mind the way Kelsa and Pellar acted around each other. In fact, she seemed to encourage it, when Kindan would have preferred that she be jealous and keep Pellar away from Kelsa. Despite his recent understanding that he didn’t feel that way about Kelsa, Kindan still wanted the hope that if he ever did, he’d stand some chance.

Kelsa sounds a lot like Menolly to me. Which, you know, recycling characters doesn’t look good on anyone, but Kelsa being super-talented also reinforces the idea that women have to be exceptional just to survive in the world of men. If Kelsa’s talent were any less, she wouldn’t be here, whereas perfectly mediocre boys can stay on and get accepted.

I’m also intrigued about Halla’s apparent lack of jealousy. Does she, gasp, trust and believe that Pellar is doing this for the music and not because Kelsa is a pretty girl? Is Halla interested in polygyny or polyamory?
Does Halla have a thing for Kelsa? We’ll never know.

Kelsa insults Kindan’s clumsiness out of annoyance at the others at the table trying to remind her to eat, rather than write, and Kindan takes it (and the non-apology that follows) as it is intended and storms off. He feels bad about it almost immediately, because that table was his entire group of friends at the Hall, and Kindan realizes that his wants and ambitions have changed since he arrived. Vaxoram appears, and Kindan feels “oddly reassured” by this, but before they can have a talk about how much puberty sucks and they wish their bodies would stop doing this to them, M’tal arrives by dragonrider with a new apprentice, Conar, and the moment is ruined.

Which, I suppose, saves the swearing storm that would have filled such a quiet and intimate moment when Kindan is asked to show the new apprentice around.

The duty of welcoming a new apprentice to the Harper Hall should, by long tradition, have fallen to the newest apprentice, which would have been Kelsa. However, Kindan had noticed that Master Murenny had disregarded that tradition with the last two newcomers, assigning the duty to Kindan instead. Kindan had noticed the change but not commented on it because, after dealing with the first newcomer, he understood the Masterharper’s reasoning: that most apprentices would be affronted and embarrassed to be introduced to the Harper Hall by a girl.

There is an argument to be made about picking your battles for equality and that nobody should have to do all the heavy lifting by herself, which Kelsa would likely have had to do, and endure all the aggression and sexism that would come from the objections.

If Kelsa was game for it, though, it would make a hell of an entrance exam to see if this new Harper would be someone who would further the goals of respect for women. Especially if she were Journeywoman or Master Kelsa at that point.

As it is, it makes me think of Murenny as an incrementalist, who is doing what he can from within the system, rather than throwing it over and starting with something better. Or deliberately making his Craft different than all the other Crafts in the way they treat women. Given how well his planning worked with the Shunned, it might be better that he’s not trying too hard.

In any case, Conar brings news that his Hold Harper died during a bout of particularly bad flu, and that he thinks he was sent here just to get away from the sickness. His only talent that he believes in is drawing, and that’s not a traditional Harper skill, so he thinks he’s in the wrong place. Kindan encourages Conar to stick around, because there’s always a possibility that Harpers will need drawing talents.

Conar correctly guesses that Vaxoram is Kindan’s servant, and raises an eyebrow at the idea of a co-ed dormitory, but Kindan is not having any of that.

“You sleep with girls?” Conar asked in astonishment.
“Yes,” Kindan replied. “We treat each other with respect and don’t peek, if that’s what you’re wondering.”
Kindan was surprised to see how Vaxoram accepted this statement. It underlied how much the older apprentice had changed in the last ten months.

I mean, that’s a really low bar to clear there, compared to how things were, and if that’s what Kelsa and Nonala want, which I’m still not entirely convinced is the case. But also, whatever magic has basically held Vaxoram in place for all this time still applies. If Kindan says that’s what happens, Vaxoram is on board with it, by whatever geas it is that came aout from the end of their duel.

Conar also learns there is no help when it comes to cleaning, and Kindan pulls out his “second-best broom” as an illustrative point.

“Harpers have to know what other people do, and the best way to learn is to do,” Kindan told him. “So we make a broom, clean our own quarters, mend our own clothes.”

And Conar expresses at least some awareness of his own ignorance, which delights Kindan, because he mistakes it for interest in brooms, a thing that Kelsa, Nonala, and Verilan have all called rather boring.

Kindan hopes for both of them to get to the feeding hall for food, but Conar apparently has asthma (“short-breath”) and so it takes them a while before Conar can recover enough to make it to the dining hall, at which point they end up being the guests of Murenny and M’tal at the Masters’ table. After Kindan’s broom gets mentioned again.

As they walked, Murenny fell in beside Conar, asking the smaller boy, “Did Kindan tell you about his broom?”
Kindan tured bright red, to the accompanying chuckles of the Masterharper and Weyrleader. M’tal clapped him on the shoulder, saying, “You have a right to be proud of your accomplishments.”
“It’s only a broom,” Kindan groaned.
“Dragonriders at Benden make their own harnesses,” M’tal told him. Kindan gave him an interested look, so the Weyrleader continued, “Our lives depend on them, we have to trust them.”
“Well, my life doesn’t depend on a broom,” Kindan murmured.
“Best not let Selora hear you say that,” Mureny warned him. “Or she’ll prove you wrong.”
“Selora does the cooking,” Kindan explained to Conar.
“She does much more than that,” Murenny corrected.
“She keeps this whole Hall running,” Vaxoram said in agreement. Murenny smiled in agreement.

I am reminded again that every time we have seen a headwoman, whether of Hall, Hold, or Weyr, everyone admits out loud to each other that she’s the real power keeping everything running.

Also, I’m waiting for Kindan to catch up with the fact that he and everyone around him is saying quite bluntly “your talents are important things that you can be proud of.” Because that’s the space he needs to find to get his way out of the mental state he’s in. Kindan is also believably obtuse about this, because sometimes it takes saying it enough or staring it enough in the face before you realize what you’re looking at.

The Masters and M’tal discuss the flu outbreak, that it has affected several of the outlying holds of Bended, and Conar is at the Harper Hall as a precaution against the flu sweeping Benden and wiping everyone out. (There’s also a little bit of back-and-forth about the intertwined nature of Harpers and Healers, and a complaint about Healers’ bad handwriting. Some things are universal, I guess.) The Masterhealer is short-staffed for apprentices, and so sifting Records for the presence of a super-virulent and deadly flu would overwork him, and the Master Archivist is similarly short for apprentices to do any work on his end. (Murenny is rather bitter that the Conclave basically said “you can find your apprentices from Somewhere Else” when he asked for more healers and harpers.) With everyone, including M’tal, proclaiming they have nobody to search the Records, Murenny volunteers Kindan for the job, since he already has experience at teasing out cryptic details from old Records to a successful end. (Sort of, since it was Cristov who did the actual legwork of finding the right kind of firestone.)

The Master Archivist is unhappy with this, given how much damage Kindan has already caused to his Records, and that’s the end of Chapter 5.

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Dragon Harper: Doing Anthropormorphization Wrong

[Mari Ness has a new post, as well, where the problem of temporal paradoxes is used as a frame to point out some of the more egregious wrongs of Pern society. It feels a lot more like this is the stuff that we are there for and that Mari Ness actually wants to talk about. For as little as my opinion matters, I approve of this shift in topics. It’s still going at warp, though. By the time we get done, we might be caught up with each other.]

Last time, Kindan fought Vaxoram and won, using all of the technique and psychological warfare that he had been taught by Mikal, which made Vaxoram Kindan’s servant until Kindan decides he doesn’t want one any more. And somehow, Vaxoram just accepts this and doesn’t try very hard (if at all) to get Kindan to revoke his servitude or otherwise be so terrible that he’ll just dismiss him to get out of his hair. But it’s been forty years since Weyr Search and Dragonflight, so perhaps the Lessa method of being such a pain in the ass that you can get someone to renounce their claim on you has fallen out of vogue in the intervening time.

Ah, and also, the fire lizards hatch, and Kindan gets one, as does the daughter of the Fort Holders.

Dragon Harper: Chapter 4: Content Notes: Bad Anthropomorphization,

Vaxoram gets sent back to the Hall with the news and that Kindan is staying the night to help at the request of Lady Sannora. (He asks whether Kindan trusts him on his own, and Kindan looks at him for a bit and nods a yes, because whatever magic that has Vaxoram willingly taking on this role is still in place.) Once Vaxoram leaves, he’s the subject of the conversation.

“That boy!” Lady Sannora exclaimed to her husband. “Did you see the scar under his eye?”
“He was fighting,” Lord Bemin replied, turning his head to eye Kindan thoughtfully. “There was a duel. He lost.”
“I don’t approve of duels,” Lady Sannora pronounced, her face set in a grimace. “What overmuscled cretin picked a fight with him?”
Lord Bemin raised an eyebrow in Kindan’s direction.
“I did,” Kindan said, meeting the Lord’s and Lady’s outraged looks steadily, though he felt the heat in his cheeks. “He had threatened to use his strength over a woman,” he explained. With a shrug, he added, “Several women, actually.”
“Why didn’t you kill him?” Bemin’s eldest son, Semin, demanded.
“Because, my lord,” Kindan replied, “I believe in second chances.”
Semin was surprised at Kindan’s response.
“And because it would have done more harm than good,” Issak chimed in from the other side. He inclined his head toward Kindan. “Master Murenny recounted your thinking to me.”
Was there a hint of respect in the journeyman’s eyes?

I’m very impressed at Sherlock Bemin’s ability to deduce the entirety of what happened between Vaxoram and Kindan by observing a scar and the behavior of the two boys with each other, but still look “outraged” when Kindan owns up to being the one who fought Vaxoram. This doesn’t improve Kindan’s standing, I’m sure, and Koriana asking for Kindan to sleep in the same room as her really doesn’t, but Issak is there as a chaperone, at least in theory, so Bemin assents.

As the commenters have pointed out, this is Kindan repeating a lie, or at least, something that we didn’t actually see on screen, since all we have was Vaxoram making a rude joke about Kindan and Nonala as a possible sexual couple. Unless we’re supposed to read that the constant bullying stream given to Kindan, Kelsa, Nonala, Verilan, and so forth, qualifies as threatening to use his strength over a woman. In a system less focused on toxic masculinity that thinks swords are effective methods of resolving disputes, a tribunal or other court proceeding would presumably bring the truth out with the witnesses. (Or it wouldn’t, and then you can have the swords, if you need to, but still…)

In the middle of the night, Koriana gets cold and her fire lizard hungry, so Kindan ends up sleeping much more proximal to her than propriety suggests, as in touching heads and knees. Vaxoram discovers them this way and immediately wakes Kindan and goes to town on making sure it looks like Kindan and Koriana have spent the entire night very properly apart. Since the second set of eggs, from a different clutch, are hatching, not too soon after propriety is manufactured, the rest of Koriana’s family arrives. Koriana’s two brothers are eagerly awaiting their fire-lizards, and Koriana’s taken it upon herself to personally aggravate Sannora as much as possible, given that “It was clear that Lady Sannora was unhappy with the thought that Koriana had spent the night in his [Kindan’s] presence.” Kindan muses on this very idea at nearly every exchange between Koriana and Sannora.

The hatching, however, goes extremely poorly, as Koriss, Koriana’s queen, hisses and squawks at both of those hatchlings, a bronze and a brown, as they leave their shells, and both of them disappear into hyperspace at the threat before the Impression can be made. The brothers are very unhappy about this, and Koriana winds both of them up further by being utterly unsympathetic to their situation. Before it explodes completely, Issak gracefully extracts all the harpers with a promise to report the whole thing to the Masterharper and send along any advice he might have about it. Issak takes on the duty of the report and sends Kindan and Vaxoram on, but not before obliquely trying to give some advice to Kindan.

“It wasn’t us and you know it,” Vaxoram replied. “It’s that spoiled Bannor and his airs.” He glanced toward Kindan. “And don’t be too certain his sister is any better.”
Kindan bristled.
“It doesn’t matter,” Issak told him, holding out a placating hand. “You’re not a Lord Holder candidate, and Lord Bemin will trade his daughter to his advantage.”
“Trade?” Kindan repeated in outrage.
“She’ll go willingly, when the time comes,” Issak said to cool Kindan’s anger.
“It’s for the good of the Hold,” Vaxoram added, gloating over Kindan’s outburst. “You must understand, you’re a harper.”
“And harpers aren’t good enough?” Kindan demanded.
“Not for Lord Holders,” Issak agreed with a sad shake of his head. He said to Vaxoram, “Help him to understand.”

To be honest, it’s a bit refreshing for someone to come out and say plainly how little respect there is for women on Pern, in contrast to the poem at the beginning of the chapter. Plus, although I’m not sure anyone in this conversation actually realizes it, this is also a great look at why feminism has to be intersectional if it is going to be effective. If Harper (and maybe some Craft) girls are supposed to be respected everywhere but Holder girls are still expected to dutifully marry and bear children to the advantage of the men in their life, and dragonrider girls are expected to submit to the authority of whichever rider manages to catch their gold, then Harper girls aren’t going to get anywhere on a quest for respect, even if there are men championing them to the sexist society.

Selora doesn’t help, either, in how she explains why Koriss frightened off the other hatchlings.

“A strange thing happened, Selora,” Vaxoram continued as Kindan sat down, too lost in concentration on Valla to speak. “Koriana’s little fire-lizard–”
“Koriss,” Kindan interjected suddenly.
“–Koriss,” Vaxoram agreed with a playful smile, “frightened off the two hatchlings that came to her brothers.”
“Males, were they?” Selora asked, cocking her head shrewdly.
“Yes,” Kindan agreed, his eyes narrowing. “How did you know?”
“She frightened them away on purpose,” Selora said. “Didn’t want her siblings paired with her mistress’s siblings.”
“Why?” Kindan asked in confusion.
Selora started to reply by had a coughing fit instead. “You’ll find out in time, I’ve no doubt,” she said, a grin spreading across her face.

Because scientists in Pern have extensively observed fire-lizard behavior in the wild and domestically and have concluded that they behave with hostility toward hatchlings from other clutches because they want to keep their gene pool pure. Like, if it was another gold? I could entirely see some sort of “MY territory” display, because, as we have already seen, gold dragons in heat that get close to each other fight viciously over the potential mate pool. (And possibly gold fire-lizards, too?) But they’re not gold or green. Based on the fire lizard behavior we’ve seen so far, it would seem more likely for a gold to want to build as big a harem as possible so as to be able to drive off other golds. But instead, two candidates for generic diversity are scared off, apparently, because the gold fire-lizard doesn’t want brothers from another mother? This is pretty weird anthropomorphization, honestly. Like, maybe for Holders, because of things like lines of succession, blood purity, and primogeniture, it matters who you came from, but those concepts are pretty meaningless to fire-lizards. If, instead, it were speculated that Koriana is a person with an incest taboo, and everybody knows that fire-lizards influence sexual behavior among their bondmate, then it makes reasonable sense for Koriana to not want either of her brothers to have fire-lizards, because incest taboo. This is never hinted at or suggested in any way. I somehow doubt that Menolly, Robinton, and Sebell are the only ones to have discovered this aspect and explicitly talked about it. And yet.

The magic that is Vaxoram continues to be shown in a positive light, even though we’re seeing plenty of spaces where he hasn’t changed much internally, just externally. Or, rather, the narrative is trying to convince us that he’s changed internally.

Somewhere in that time [TWO WEEKS] Vaxoram moved from being a brooding, vanquished opponent to being truly dedicated to Kindan. Kindan could never point to the exact moment nor quite understand why, but there it was.
[…Nonala notices, and Vaxoram seems surprised by the revelation…]
“But why, though?” Kelsa wondered later when she was alone with Kindan, helping him oil Valla’s patchy skin. “Why has he changed?”
Kindan thought for a moment. “Master Murenny said that Vaxoram had come to the Harper Hall with a great voice as a child. When it broke wrong, he couldn’t find any new talent to replace it. He came from a small hold, Master Murenny said.”
“So he was afraid,” Kelsa guessed, nodding sagely. “And now he’s got something to do, guarding you.”
“Maybe,” Kindan agreed. Kelsa cocked her head at him questioningly. “Maybe there’s more to it. Perhaps because the worst has happened to him, he’s realized that he has nothing to be scared of.”
“Maybe,” Kelsa replied, but she didn’t sound convinced.

Instead, Kelsa asks about Kindan’s crush, Kindan says there’s almost nothing to the rumors, and Kelsa points out that rumors also say that Lady Sannora fell in love with a Harper who didn’t return her love, and Kindan guests correctly, after some prompting, that the Harper in question was Master Murenny, so Kindan was dealing with extra prejudice when it came to her daughter.

That’s the end of chapter 4, with us no closer to the real reasons for Vaxoram’s apparent change, and really, only Kelsa exhibiting any degree of skepticism about whether it’s a real change or a surface one. And it is happening so swiftly that it stains credulity. I mean, if “defeated by the protagonist” were that kind of magic, then Toric wouldn’t have continued to be a schemer well into a second book.

I’m also still really grumpy that we’ve closed off what would be a really good story about friendship and more to instead get this crap about pining for someone above your station, who is probably showing interest in you to spite her parents. Yeah, love is great, sure, and strikes where it will, but this sort of story has been done, repeatedly, and I see no new twist or interesting spin on it that would make it anything less than a tired retread.

More next week.

Dragon Harper: Conflict Resolution

Last week was a training montage, courtesy of Mikal, where Kindan prepared himself in a week to get ready to fight Vaxoram. There was some amount of technique, but a lot of it seemed to be trying to get Kindan to the point where he had true resolve to go forward and enough skill to back up his boasts. While Kindan has been giving answers about why he’s doing what he’s doing, they don’t sound organic to me, and they seem to want to put the emphasis in the wrong place.

Dragon Harper, Chapter 4: Content Notes: Bullying Apologia,

We are again trolled by the poem for this chapter:

Fight only in direst need
Not for lust or petty greed
Honor those that do give birth
Respect them well for their full worth.

This certainly seems to be from the same fragment as the rhyme in Chapter 3, and it has the same context that makes it more of a nose-tweak than serious advice. Because the last couple chapters have been about a fight that could have been squashed if any of the adults in the room had decided that children fighting was a terrible idea. And it’s over specifically the people who give birth, which on Pern means women, because trans characters definitely do not exist here, I’m sure. I’m sure that the authors thought it a brilliant counterpoint to the narrative, but really it just highlights how far away from reality this moralizing poem currently is.

Kindan, for his part, as he arrives back from training, and finally figures out the way to beat Vaxoram on terms Kindan will accept, convinced as he is that he needs to win without bloodshed. and decides that he needs “practice”, which in this case means getting a few green tomatoes and demonstrating to the audience, with his off-hand (“‘Kindan, you’re not left-handed,’ Kelsa said in surprise.” Assume the usual Princess Bride remark here.) that he first can bruise tomatoes (which looks like missing them) before cutting them cleanly in half, two at a throw, not once, not twice, but three times in succession, even though Kelsa puts a little extra oomph into the last throw in her excitement.

[#]5: Duel before the sun is in the sky.
Pick a place to die where it’s high and dry.

Now that he’s done with his practice, Kindan gives Kelsa the thumbs up and says he’s ready to face Vaxoram.

I suppose, then, that the training montage with Mikal covered the next two, so they’re slightly out of order.

#6: Leave a note for your next-of-kin.
Tell ’em where you been. Pray that hell or heaven [between or the place beyond between?] lets you in.
[#]7: Confess your sins.
Ready for the moment of adrenaline when you finally face your opponent[?]

Kindan calls to Vaxoram if he wants to surrender and is rebuffed. Murenny calls to Kindan and Vaxoram and asks if they still want to go forward with this.

#8: Your last chance to negotiate.
Send in your seconds, see if they can set the record straight.

[For example:] “Alexander!”
“Aaron Burr, sir.”
“Can we agree that duels are dumb and immature?”
“Sure. But your man still has to answer for his words, Burr.”
“With his life? We both know that’s absurd, sir.”
“Hang on, how many people died because Lee was inexperienced and ruinous?”
“…okay, so we’re doin’ this.”

Admittedly, no seconds handling this part of it, because the narrative and the authors have conveniently forgotten to tell us who agreed to be Vaxoram’s second, but since Kelsa is also not going to be seen in this fight at all, it ultimately doesn’t matter, I suppose. Murenny asks the important question in this case, and Dellator examines their blades to ensure they are appropriate for dueling.

Kindan knows that he’s got an advantage on Vaxoram, because, as I’m sure all of you have suspected, the tomato practice was really meant to be intimidation.

“Are you determined to do this?” Murenny asked Kindan and Vaxoram in turn. Each nodded, although Kindan noticed that Vaxoram was swallowing nervously, his eyes wide with fear. Kindan locked onto Vaxoram’s eyes until the other glanced away. Kindan kept his eyes on Vaxoram’s face, meeting his eyes every time the older boy glanced nervously in his direction. Kindan was certain that Vaxoram had seen the tomato demonstration, just as he was equally certain that Vaxoram thought Kindan had missed the first two tomatoes.

#9[a]: Look ’em in the eye, aim no higher.
Summon all the courage you require.

Then,

[#9b:]Count.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9,
#10: [Ten] paces! FIRE.

On hemmed-in ground, resort to stratagem.

On desperate ground, fight.
-Sunzi, The Art of War, Book 11

Which means, yes, the duel is on, after the ritual salute. Vaxoram attempts to overpower Kindan with a charge, but Kindan sidesteps the rush and whacks Vaxoram with the flat of his blade, which will “leave a welt”, but more importantly, will piss Vaxoram off. (The narrative says “with the side of his thin blade”, trying to evoke the idea of the fencing foil/epee/saber, but in just about every sword I know that’s intended to kill someone, the side is sharp for slashing as well as the point for thrusting, and Kindan is explicitly not trying to cut Vaxoram here.) Vaxoram opts for cautious advancing, but Kindan can read his attack, knocks his sword away and sticks him in the shoulder with his own sword. (So much for bloodlessness.) And then offers Vaxoram another chance to yield. Vaxoram is undeterred, and then Kindan blocks one of his attacks and threatens Vaxoram’s eyes. Vaxoram protects them on instinct, and now it looks like, to Kindan, that Vaxoram is afraid.

“Did you see what I did to those tomatoes?” Kindan asked. He saw a flicker of curiosity in Vaxoram’s eyes. “I can split your eyes just like that.” He saw a look of horror creep over Vaxoram’s face. The large apprentice charged blindly with a loud yell, but Kindan was ready and sidestepped, turning around to keep his blade pointed at Vaxoram.
Vaxoram stopped, uncertainly. It was a moment before he turned to face Kindan. In that moment, Kindan knew the fight was over, that Vaxoram was looking for a way out, an honorable surrender. And Kindan would give it to him.
He rushed toward the larger apprentice. Vaxoram took a step back, then held his ground, his sword in guard position. When Kindan struck, he beat Vaxoram’s blade to the side and curved back across Vaxoram’s exposed face–just below the right eyeball, leaving a thin, red, welt.

Really, so much for bloodlessness.

Vaxoram charges again, gets tripped, and is told to yield at the point of Kindan’s sword or he’ll lose an eye, throws his sword away, tries to get it back as a feint, but Kindan knocks it away and out of his grip, and then makes sure that Vaxoram says his yield and forefeit loud enough that the entire audience can hear and witness. Which puts him in Kindan’s service until Kindan releases him. And then there’s this.

Kindan kept his eyes on the older boy who had just agreed to become his personal drudge. And he was surprised to see a sense of relief in Vaxoram’s eyes. The bully had found his place at the Harper Hall–at Kindan’s side.

Cocowhat by depizan

*checks cover* Nope, this is not The Dragonriders of Gor, but for this whole next sequence, I wouldn’t fault anyone for thinking that perhaps it were. To wit, Kindan is able to stop Vaxoram from considering what he could do with both blades to Kindan’s none with a glance and a stare of conviction that Vaxoram recognizes and decides not to test. And Kindan says that Vaxoram will sleep close to him and the girls, which Nonala is dubious about, but acquieses to because of Kindan’s “set look.” And when he goes to Murenny, Kindan argues for his point of view with the older Masters and the Weyrleader present.

“You could have killed him,” M’tal said with no preamble.
“That would not have been a good idea,” Kindan replied.
“Explain,” Murenny said, waving his hand to turn the terse word into an invitation.
“If I had killed him, the rest of the apprentices would have decided that perhaps Vaxoram was right, that there should be no girl apprentices because they caused trouble,” Kindan said. Murenny nodded in agreement. “And they might also decide someday that I deserved retribution.”

…nothing really stopping them from that now, Kindan. The masters ask what Vaxoram will do for Kindan, and it’s mostly “as he did before, but with some extra chores.” And then they ask if he can be trusted with the girls. Kindan’s response is illuminating, but not necesarily in a good way.

“Yes,” he said. “I think he will be trustworthy. In time he’ll realize that if he wants a mate, he’ll need to seem appealing to women, and that his good behavior is the onnly way to do that.”
Murenny nodded.
“I think he has seen the error of his ways,” Dellator agreed, his face set in a wry smile.
“We shall keep an eye on him all the same,” Murenny said.
[…Murenny says to call on him if Kindan needs help. Kindan declines. M’tal is skeptical….]
“You’re saying that now that he knows his place, he won’t cause any more trouble?” Murenny suggested.
“Yes,” Kindan replied.
Murenny pursed his lips, his eyes half-closed in thought. Finally he looked up at Kindan and nodded. “I think you have a good understanding of his character,” he said. He wagged a finger warningly at Kindan as he added, “Make sure you don’t forget.”
“I won’t, Master,” Kindan said.

*checks book title again*

Nope, still hasn’t changed. Just from Pern itself, there’s no reason to believe that Vaxoram is going to turn himself into a contrite and virtuous character just from Kindan beating him and threatening to take his eyes. There’s really no precedent or Watsonian reason for him to accept his conditions so readily, and everyone is nodding along like becoming Kindan’s servant has somehow given Vaxoram the purpose in life that he’s lacked up until this point. This males no fucking sense. Because Toric. Because Tarik. Because Tenim. Because any of the other people who thought tangling with dragonriders was a good idea, and were lucky enough to survive the first encounter and kept trying. Vaxoram found an honorable surrender, sure, but that doesn’t mean that his entire demenor should shift so radically as to cause no further problems for Kindan, Kelsa, Nonala, and Verilan.

And yet, that’s exactly what happens. Vaxoram sits with Kelsa and Nonala at mealtime, which Kelsa disapproves of and Kindan waves away with his suddenly iron will. We learn that Kindan was offered apprenticing into the Healer Hall in his second year, but turned it down because he didn’t want to, but all three of them are still versed in some amount of healing because Harpers are often called to be backup Healers. Vaxoram contributes that one of the concoctions sounds familiar because of a song he learned about them. Kelsa asks Vaxoram to sing the song, but there isn’t actually enough time before class. Much more usefully, the narrative gives us a hint about why Kelsa is still pretty hostile to the idea of Vaxoram joining their crew.

“You still want to be a harper, don’t you?” Kindan asked him.
“But I’m not good enough,” Vaxoram protested.
“You are if you say you are,” Kelsa snapped at him. “But at least you don’t have people saying you can’t be a harper because you’re a girl.”
Vaxoram paled. “You could be a harper,” he told her. “I was wrong.”
“You’re not the only one who thinks I shouldn’t be a harper,” Kelsa snapped back hotly. She gestured to Nonala. “Nor Nonala.”
“But you can sing!” Vaxoram said to Nonala, then turned back to Kelsa. “And you can write songs I only dream of!”
“Keep saying that,” Kindan told him. “Keep telling them and anyone you meet. Maybe the others will get it.”
Vaxoram closed his mouth suddenly, his lips thin. Kindan got up from his place and walked over to Vaxoram. He leaned close by his ear, groping for the right words.
“We can all help each other here,” Kindan said at last. Judging by the twitch of Vaxoram’s shoulders, he hadn’t made his point. He sighed to himself. Maybe the next time he would figure out a better way to express himself.

I am not on board with this development. Mostly because it follows a bad pathway of bullying tropes, narratively asserting what many a parent or teacher has said to a child who is a victim of bullying. “They’re just jealous of you” is a terrible thing to say to a child, and actively indicates that the supposed grown-up in question isn’t actually going to do anything about the problem, and they believe that if the victim ignores it, it will go away. Or, that if they take the message to heart, that someone being jealous of your talents will make them bully you, they might decide to not do the things they are talented at in a (mostly futile) hope that it will make the bullying go away. The grownups sometimes think that’s a victory, because it means the weird kid isn’t being weird and drawing attention and resources to themselves. But of course, not everyone who’s weird can turn it off by willing it to be so. And especially in the Harper Hall, turning off your talents defeats the purpose of being there.

Kindan is trying to say that each of them is there to help each other get better, but that’s clearly a lie, if there are apprentices who can’t find a spot for themselves after their voices break for puberty. And Vaxoram has basically been putting the lie to that situation with his incessant bullying. He would know that not everyone is here to be helpful and friendly, and especially not to Kelsa and Nonala. If he were going to get anywhere toward making peace with himself, that would mean admitting that his masculinity is threatened by the fact that Kelsa’s a better writer than he is, and Nonala a better singer. And possibly that Verilan’s a better copyist and Kindan a better fighter. Vaxoram’s self-conception is rapidly and repeatedly being shattered by the presence of all the rest, but rather than try to find his own space, he’s limited by his own man box. If women weren’t supposed to be harpers because women aren’t good enough, then Nonala and Kelsa wouldn’t be there. Vaxoram has to confront proof that one of his bedrock tenets, and possibly one of the bedrock tenets of the Crafts themselves, is wrong. And that’s not easy for anybody. And especially not for men who have been bought up in toxic masculinity and are only now finding out that it’s all a lie, including the supposed fact that gender roles were a much more rigid boundary than they are.

Vaxoram doesn’t have an anchor. I realize that on Terra we can say “Your job is not your identity” and mean it, because there are a lot of people who are working jobs that crush their soul or seem meaningless and pointless and are not at all what they are passionate about, but on Pern, there’s no such luxury. Kindan even points out that if Vaxoram got expellend from the Harper Hall, he’d have nowhere to go, because his family wouldn’t take him back in. If Vaxoram can’t find an identity in one of the Harper disciplines, he’s sunk. At least until Kindan bested him, Vaxoram could fool hinmself into thinking he was at least in charge of the apprentices. And now he’s lost that, too, even though Kindan points out he’s still senior apprentice, and people still do what he says, because his authority rests in Kindan, now.

There’s no way that Vaxoram “found his purpose” in becoming Kindan’s servant, because “Kindan’s servant” isn’t a position that’s going to help Vaxoram advance to journeyman harper status, so that he can make a living for himself on Pern. Kindan, to his credit, seems to be smart enough to realize this almost immediately.

The next issue occurred after their run next morning, as Kelsa and Nonala cast concerned glances between Kindan and the bath room, clearly asking him what he intended to do about the bathing situation. Vaxoram, however, had an answer, rousting out the remaining laggards and handing out large fluffy towels to the four of them. Kindan kept a smile to himself as he reflected that in most ways Vaxoram was still a bully–just his bully.
“He’s not bathing with us, is he?” Nonala hissed worriedly toward Kindan. Vaxoram stiffened, but he continued on his journey to the bath room with them. Inside, he pulled another set of towels off his shoulder and hung them lengthwise between the front and back rows of baths.
Kindan understood at once.
“An excellent idea,” he told the older apprentice. Vaxoram gave him the faintest of grins that vanished before Kindan could reciprocate.
“The girls are getting far too old for us not to respect their privacy,” Vaxoram said. He glaced at Kindan and Verilan. “And so are you.”
“But we like talking when we’re in the baths!” Kelsa complained from the far side of the towel partition.
“You can pull them down when everyone’s in their bath,” Vaxoram replied. “And when you’re ready to get out, let us know and we’ll look away while you wrap yourself in your towel.”
“That’s no fun,” Nonala protested.
“But he’s right,” Kelsa said. “We are getting older.”

I’m pretty sure the authors didn’t intend for Vaxoram to provide such an excellent example of white-knighting, but there you have it. Plus, Vaxoram being Kindan’s bully doesn’t fix the problem that Vaxoram’s still a bully.

Also, this towel partitioning idea seems like a useful one to have, even if in this particular case, Kelsa and Nonala aren’t feeling particularly shy about showing themselves to Kindan and Verilan. Maybe they will be later, but it’ll be up to them to make that decision, instead of Vaxoram making that decision for them and enforcing his own ideas of modesty on them. It’s still a form of control for Vaxoram, even though he’s not able to be as explicit about it as he wants.

The plot itself zips forward as Vaxoram comes to grab Kindan and tell him that the fire-lizard eggs are hatching. Kindan hops off to the Hold and comes onto the scene in the middle of the hatching, and is able to help the Holder’s daughter, Koriana, Impress a gold fire-lizard, by putting the food in her hands and telling her what to do as she’s too fascinated by the creature to feed her.

Also, we’re told that Kindan falls in love with her by seeing her in this moment of hesitation. I’m not really happy about this. It’s probably better than the…not good…way I would expect these authors to handle a love triangle (Kelsa’a interest seems physical, Nonala seems to have a crush, and Kindan’s not entirely sure what to do about either of those things, after all), but to throw away all of that character development in a single line that says Kindan falls in love with a girl he’s never met up to this point doesn’t seem like the best writer’s craft way of doing things.

Kindan Impressed a bronze, I’ll note, even though he was sure he’d picked a brown out based on the egg.

Lord Bremin looked relieved. He glanced at Kindan with his bronze fire-lizard in his lap and then at Koriana with her gold fire-lizard. A frown crossed his face as he noticed how closely the harper was seated to his eldest daughter.

Okay, now I’m angry, because we’re throwing away the possibility of negotiation and coming to understanding among peers in favor of a story about a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Which is not at all romantic or what I would want from this story. Did the authors believe this romance was what the readers wanted, or what Kindan deserved? Romeo and Juliet kinds of stories are not the kinds of things that I think are so universal that everyone deserves to have one. But that is what we are going to get, clearly.

We’ll stop here and then dive back into the ways that Holders seem to be the most socially uptight group in Pern next week.

Dragon Harper: Training Montage

Before we get started, there’s another post on the Tor reread, but it concentrates itself mostly on the transition away from fantasy elements to science fiction elements in the first book. Some of the swearier bits covered here about consent, its lack, and the way that Kylara is portrayed as a slutty-slut-slut who nonetheless gets a gold dragon get more-than-a-footnote in that post, and the comments work to expand on that, but it’s not the focus of the post. It looks a lot like the early narrative of this reread is interested more in the genre conventions rather than the actual content. If they’re interested in picking up that thread later, it does a decent enough job of pointing out where there are contentious spots, but it’s not the focus. (It seems like a misplaced focus to me, but this is why both of our works can co-exist.)

On with the show.

Last time, Kindan challenged Vaxoram to a duel, and two people who had the power to stop it instead decided it would be a good idea to go forward with it, for reasons that have yet to be adequately explained outside of “toxic masculinity bullshit.”

Dragon Harper: Chapter 3: Content Notes: Vomit Indiscretion, Toxic Masculinity

Extra frosting on the cake of “are we sure they’re not trolling us?” is Chapter 3’s starting poem.

Be sparing with your wrath
Take not the angry path
Lest harsh words create harsh deeds
And fill your heart with bitter seeds.

Which I almost included in the last post because it was the cherry on top of this. We just spent an entire chapter enabling someone’s angry declaration and letting it blossom into a duel with swords, with all the adults that could have redirected it or otherwise put a stop to it basically deciding instead that the best solution to the problem of someone bullying another person is to let a different kid hopefully beat the tar out of him so that he stops. A+ idea, all of you.

This chapter begins with Kindan getting dropped off to see Mikal and start being trained on fighting with swords. Before we begin the training montage, though, Kindan says hello to Aleesa, who gives him a bit of approval of the way Kisk-Nuelsk behaved back at the end of the first book. But first we have to endure a bit more trolling.

Aleesa glanced beyond him to M’tal, then back. “This dragonrider says you’re here to learn how to fight someone.”
“Yes,” Kindan agreed.
“Over a girl,” Aleesa said.
“No,” Kindan corrected, shaking his head. “For women harpers.”
“Women harpers?” Aleesa repeated, chortling. “Women harpers,” she said again, more softly, shaking her head. “What next?”
“I’ve met many strong women in my time,” M’tal remarked.
“Anything is possible,” Kindan said, meeting Aleesa’s eyes squarely. “When women harpers become respected, all women will be more respected.”

I’m not discounting the possibility that Kindan is being honest in that this is what he believes, but I’m inclined to think of it as what Kindan believes now, after talking with Murenny and seeing that what Murenny was talking about makes a much better cause than “the bully insinuated the girl who has a crush on me and I were going to get busy in the baths,” which is what started the whole thing.

Mikal starts Kindan’s training with physical conditioning. Kindan complains that he only came to learn how to fight with his left hand, and Mikal tartly tells Kindan that he wants to see Kindan live through having to fight. Again, if the adults are convinced of murderous intent, why are they risking Kindan’s life?

Day two is destroying Kindan’s confidence by having him fence with Mikal using his dominant hand and getting bruised to hell as a result. Day three starts with training Kindan’s finesse by using the blade to bruise tomatoes, which Kindan is not very good at at all. In the evening, despite his bruises, Kindan gets told to sing a long, slow song, which we recognize as endurance for breathing and for doing things even when you’re tired, but that Kindan doesn’t really understand. Day four starts with Kindan running wind sprints, as Jaythen, who has taken Kindan hunting with him, insists Kindan run after every arrow he shoots at top speed. It ends with Kindan singing even more.

Day five has Kindan start by getting soaked with a bucket of water and told to run until he’s dry, at which point Mikal takes him to a clearing and forces Kindan to fight without his sight, so that Kindan can feel and hear the subtle shifts that accompany Mikal’s movements. Once he can do it to Mikal’s satisfaction, then they have Kindan fight with his off hand.

Day five continues with the first lesson in fighting for your life – go for the eyes. Which is softened somewhat in explanation as “people react instinctively to parry attacks to the head,” even if it is otherwise referred to as “go for the eyes.”

After fighting with the practice swords against Mikal, Kindan gets an actual blade and is instructed to “go for the eyes” on a dummy that had had tomatoes inserted into its eye sockets, while Mikal pivots the dummy away to stimulate the protective warding. Kindan tries for several times before succeeding.

One of the tomatoes was skewered and remained stuck on the end of Kindan’s blade. Kindan looked at it and his triumphant smile died on his lips as he grew pale and turned away from the one-eyed scarecrow. He pivoted swiftly and moved his blade just enough to get it out of the way as he heaved his guts.
Some time later, Mikal handed him a flask of water and Kindan realized the ex-dragonrider had dropped his ropes and was kneeling beside him, gently rubbing his shoulders.
“Drink and spit it out–it’ll clear out the aftertaste,” Mikal told him softly. Kindan obeyed, his insides still shaking. After a while, he felt better. “Are you able to stand?”
Kindan nodded and stood up. He was glad to get away from the stench of his own vomit. As he stood, he caught sight of his blade once more, with the tomato neatly skewered at the end. It was just a tomato.
“Kindan,” Mikal called softly. Kindan turned to him. “Now you understand what you’re doing, don’t you?”
Kindan nodded mutely.
“And you understand what Vaxoram will do?”
“He’ll kill me,” Kindan answered. “But that’s stupid.”
A trace of a smile crossed the old man’s lips. “So don’t let him.”

And they start practicing again. So if this was supposed to be the point at which Kindan learns that he might not be up to the task of killing someone and people work to call off the duel, we have once again missed it. Instead, it’s seen as some sort of “Now you know the stakes, and you had better be willing to kill, even if you don’t actually do it” sort of situation, reinforcing the necessity, rather than suggesting, perhaps, there’s another way of resolving this.

I suppose I didn’t really expect them to be diverted away, given how many times the dragonriders get into fights or get provoked into fights over their own pride and toxic masculinity. I keep expecting someone to realize what a terrible idea it is, and nobody actually does. As it is, Kindan decides he wants to learn how to hit right below the eye, so as to convince Vaxoram that he can go higher if he so desires. And to go through with it if Vaxoram calls his bluff on it. At the end of day five, Kindan gets a massage from Alarra.

Day six dawns with Mikal, Jaythen, and Aleesa all confronting Kindan in various ways, trying to make him answer from his gut without having time to think (or overthink), and then designing a training so that Kindan won’t get overwhelmed by Vaxoram in the actual fight. First with all three of them staring at him, trying to make him break eye contact with them. Arella provides verbal support at this stage. The narrative tells us that Kindan finds his inner strength by thinking about those he wants to protect, and all the friends that he has that he’s fighting for. Then they move to having Kindan be able to shout down all three of them shouting at him, without Arella’s help. When he accomplishes this, they all suggest that he not use his voice for the rest of the day, and give him encouragement about the fight. By himself, Kindan eventually looks at a stone he gathers from the river and decides to build himself an amulet.

Kindan remembered his earlier conversations with Mikal about stones, rocks, and crystals. He recalled that Mikal had decided to stay in the wherhold because he liked the stones and crystals to be found in the area. Kindan knew that crystals had healing powers, and could also be used for meditation, to focus thoughts. Perhaps if he could find the right crystal, he could use its steadying influence in his fight with Vaxoram.

And so now we’re also supposed to believe that crystal lore is just an accepted practice among Harpers, since Mikal pioneered it, instead of it being seen as fringey and kind of woo-woo, as I would have expected it to be. But Pellar used it last book, and Kindan uses it this book, and so it’s apparently just the way that it is.

Kindan gathers quartz from Aleesk’s chamber and citrine from a river bed.

He had learned from Mikal during one of the ex-dragonrider’s days at the Harper Hall that citrine helped to keep one cheerful and manifest goals, just as white quartz was good at manifesting power and concentrating intentions. Armed with these, Kindan felt he could not lose.

I’m still not sure why crystal lore has been imported to Pern. (There’s a Doylist suggestion that someone had done all the research for Crystal Singer and wanted to justify using it somewhere else, but I’ve been trying to avoid outside-the-page justifications for this long…) And why everyone just accepts it as so. Like, Pern is still nominally a-religious, except perhaps for the dragonrider cult, and so magical practices would presumably not have survived the transfer. Which says nothing about how they might be re-invented, but we continue to not see where they might have come from and how they might have flourished, so there’s still no thread I can pull from anywhere that even remotely justifies the existence of this practice. It, like Mikal, have come from whole cloth, or possibly some other story idea.

At the end of all this training, though, Kindan comes to another realization, this one more…useful, perhaps, than the last.

He could do this. He could meet Vaxoram and win. But his good feelings faded as he realized one thing: He could not blind the older apprentice to win, any more than he could kill him. It wasn’t that Kindan didn’t believe he had the ability now, nor that he wasn’t willing to do either deed if there was no other way–it was that he realized that winning by those means would be a hollow victory, would leave Vaxoram so utterly defeated that the older boy would have no chance to redeem his honor.
Kindan had to find another way.

I personally would like that conclusion to come from, say, the idea that blinding or killing Vaxoram would be a waste and a terrible idea because he’s still a child, even if on Pern he’s old enough to take on adult responsibilities. Or even if Kindan were channeling Sunzi when he wrote about leaving your enemy an apparent out so that they don’t fight with the strength of desperation and surprise you by hanging on to the end and inflicting casualties you can’t afford. Or because this is insight into Kindan’s brain that he’s going to be a really good tactician and diplomat because he is looking for a better, more permanent solution than one that starts up the cycle of violence again where someone in Vaxoram’s group will try to kill Kindan after Kindan hurts Vaxoram. The idea of “I can’t do this because it would leave him no way of redeeming his honor” puts the emphasis in entirely the wrong place, that it’s Vaxoram’s feelings that are the most important part, rather than Kindan’s life.

Vaxoram is a bully. Everyone agrees. Being offered a graceful way out is a far more generous option than being repeatedly knocked on his ass until he learns. It should be seen as Kindan extending a kindness and working on a solution he doesn’t have to do at all. It’s not his job, as the victim, to consider the feelings of the bully. It’s his job to protect himself. It’s not even necessarily anyone else’s job to soothe Vaxoram’s feelings on the matter. It’s everyone’s job to stop the bullying.

Day seven arrives, and Mikal has one last task for Kindan before he heads off to his fight – find ten reasons to live. (Because, as the narrative will tell us, that probably gives Kindan nine more reasons than Vaxoram to live.) Kindan has a bit of a stall on reasons two and three – Kelsa and Nonala, until he hits upon the reality of his situation.

“Because I love them!” Kindan blurted out, surprised at his words and the heat of his reaction. All of his half-formed dreams of kissing Kelsa, of dancing through the night with her, maybe even of partnering with her, vanished as he absorbed that. He loved them both, equally, and neither of them as a mate. Kelsa and Nonala were special to him because he knew they loved and trusted him; he would do nothing to alter that–he loved them too much.

Mikal takes his statement as truth enough, but this reasoning certainly seems like the kind of thing where the practical application of polyamory would certainly be a good idea. Both Kelsa and Nonala have declared their interest, and Kindan doesn’t apparently now prefer one or the other, although he had an easier time imagining himself with Kelsa because of her forwardness and ease. There’s no real reason why, other than the ribbing Kindan might get about having both of the girl apprentices in love with him, that the three of them can’t be a happy triad. Unless polyamory or polysexuality is something strictly reserved to the dragonriders (and watch-whers), and only during mating heats so they can all blame their lack of control.

In any case, now mentally and physically prepared for the fight, Kindan goes with Mikal’s blessing, and that’s the end of Chapter 3.

Dragon Harper: The Right of Satisfaction

Last time, it turned out that neither author is willing to write a Harper Hall that gives a damn about its students, by introducing us to Vaxoram and his incessant bullying of everybody not named Vaxoram, which is checked only to the point that the other apprentices fight back or get Vaxoram and his cronies in trouble. We’ve already had one potential near-fatality noted on screen, but nothing has been done to this point to actually deter Vaxoram, or get him out of the Hall, by expulsion or assignment, so that he will stop making a hostile learning environment for the other apprentices.

Dragon Harper, Chapter 2: Content Notes: Sexist Assholery, Discussion of Sexual Assault, Oxygen-Starving Toxic Masculinity

Time passes, until M’tal’s arrival interrupts a run, and Verilan and Kindan take a mud-slide from the dragon’s appearance. M’tal hauls Verilan, who is already getting sick from the wet and cold, bodily to the infirmary and directs Kindan to take the package he dropped off to a hearth to keep them warm. It’s a set of fire-lizard eggs, some fore Harpers, others for the Holders of Fort, and one egg has apparently already been promised to Kindan. After taking in the eggs, the headwoman notes the mud-soaked apprentices, orders them to the bath, tells them to throw out the boys if they’re still in there, and then notices the hesitation and tells them to go more firmly, assigning Kindan to make sure that Nonala isn’t harassed while they force the change in the baths. And also suggesting that Kindan and Nonala may have an attraction to each other, which becomes a bit more relevant in a short while after that.

Specifically, Vaxoram insinuates that Kindan has an attraction to Nonala as well.

“Are you going to wash her back?” Vaxoram asked, smirking vulgarly. He was rewarded with a scattering of chuckles. “Mind you, she’s still a bit young, but so are–”
“Shut up!” Kindan shouted, his eyes narrowed, fists clenched at his side.

Nonala tries to dissuade Kindan, but first he demands an apology. When he doesn’t get that, he demands satisfaction. Vaxoram dismisses that idea as well and says that all Kindan’s going to get is beaten up and he’ll stay quiet about it unless he wants everyone getting beaten up. Vaxoram punches Kindan hard enough to split his lip, but before the brawl can go further, M’tal arrives in the dormitory, calls a hold (which everyone immediately respects) and asks what the hell is going on here.

“I challenge Vaxoram,” Kindan said, his words slurred with blood and pain. “I call him a coward and a bully and a man who would use his strength to have a woman.”
There were gasps from the entire room, including M’tal and Nonala. Eyes locked onto Kindan. In front of him, Vaxoram’s anger was a palpable thing; the older lad’s breathing was ragged and outraged.
Kindan had issued the harshest possible condemnation of a man on Pern–that he would use his strength to overpower a woman.
“I demand the right of cold steel,” Vaxoram responded through clenched teeth, his eyes tight, beady, and glaring angrily down at Kindan’s bloody face.
“You shall have it,” Kindan replied, matching the taller lad’s glare. He caught the look of surprise in Vaxoram’s eyes and, deeper under it, a flash of fear.

Cocowhat by depizan

No, seriously, this cocowhat should instead be a cocowhat-meteor about to crash into Pern and annihilate the entire planet.

First, though, I have to pick my jaw up from the floor at the audacity of a Pern book to declare that a man using his strength to overpower a woman was the harshest possible condemnation of a man on the planet. We’re not even close to #metoo at this point, but also, for this to work at all, this book desperately hopes that you haven’t read any of the previous books in this world. Because the Benden Weyrleader of the Ninth Pass and his brother, the Brown Rider Rapist, come immediately to mind as people who should have rightly been condemned. Also Benden’s son, who very clearly initiated sex with a woman who was unable to give consent with him. And the fact that basically any member of the fire-lizard family, if attached to a person, causes them (and often, large swaths of the people around them) to engage in non-consensual sex where the men (and children!) are presumably using their strength while out of their minds to achieve their ends. Or, say, the likelihood of a woman being Shunned because she isn’t putting out for the local Lord Holder (or even trying to stop herself from the local mob). There’s no way this can be the harshest condemnation for a man. I have yet to see any men who were Shunned for rape. Or for anything approaching it. There’s plenty of other Shunnings and exiles for murder and other kinds of assault, but I have yet to see any man get any consequences at all for rape.

So, no, that premise is laughable, even if the challenge itself isn’t. But! We have an adult in the room, who can presumably see and hear that Kindan is talking after having been rocked at least once by Vaxoram, and so he’s probably not in full command of his faculties in issuing this challenge and accepting to duel with swords. Also, these are children. Surely someone can convince them not to throw their lives away on this. M’tal can put a stop to this with a word, and then, maybe, we can get some resolution, right?

“Are you sure of this, Kindan?” M’tal asked intently.
“Yes,” Kindan said.
“And if you prove your claim?” M’tal asked. In a duel such as this, if Kindan prevailed, he had the right to exact whatever penalty he desired, given the severity of the claim.
[…Kindan decides that it’s a bad idea to exile Vaxoram from the Hall, because Vaxoram would not be accepted back to his former home in such disgrace, which is yet another reason why Pern is a terrible place…]
“He’ll serve me,” he said.
“Never!” Vaxoram roared.
“Heard and witnessed,” M’tal declared, overriding Vaxoram. He looked at the older apprentice. “And what is your penalty?”
Kindan met Vaxoram’s eyes. He could see clearly that the older apprentice intended to kill him. He was pretty sure that if Vaxoram succeeded, he’d be asked to leave the Harper Hall anyway–no one would tolerate a killer in their midst. Something else flickered in Vaxoram’s eyes, then he said, “He’s to be banished.” He gave Kindan a gloating look. “For lying.”
“Very well,” M’tal said. “I’ve heard and witnessed both claims.”

What. Are. You. DOING?!, M’tal? Even if we accept that a child of Kindan’s age has any right at all to accept or issue a challenge and a child of Vaxoram’s age has the right to issue or accept it, there should be a large-scale effort made to de-escalate the situation by everyone involved.

I realize that at this point in time, Hamilton is a twinkle in the eye of Lin-Manuel Miranda, but since we’re doing this, it’s probably worth charting to see how well this follows the Ten Duel Commandments. Here’s a refresher.

#1: The Challenge.
Demand satisfaction. If they apologize, no need for further action.

Having played his part in setting this lunacy into motion, M’tal dismisses Vaxoram to tell the Masterharper of the duel and sends Kindan and Nonala to the bath. There’s a violation of the privacy code set out for the baths when Nonala enters before Kindan is in the tub.

The bath room was laid out with four large baths in the middle and a row of showers along each wall. When Kindan and the others bathed, by unspoken agreement they turned away from each other as they undressed and got into their baths, respecting each other’s privacy. They never spoke until they were safely in their baths, usually covered by bubbles. When they showered, they followed the same rules, keeping their eyes on the wall in front of them and being respectful.

And again I am struck by the communal bathing procedures of dragonriders (and plenty of others) who seem to have no problem at all stripping down in mixed company and having a swim together. It would be nice, of course, if we ever got a confirmation that dragonriders didn’t have a whole lot of hangups around nudity (possibly because of mating flights making it really hard to keep modesty if you wanted to) and that everyone else considered them weird perverts for it. But instead, we have to infer that Holders and Crafters have a different set of taboos around naked bodies than the dragonriders do. And yet, we have these communal bath spaces, probably built on the assumption that only boys were going to be Harpers, and so there would be no need for any of them to have any privacy while they bathed and used highly-technologically-advanced items such as showers.

In any case, Nonala protests she could have handled Vaxoram, but admits that it probably would have come at a cost, like being able to sing afterward (which is Nonala’s talent, remember). The hot coals come up to heat up the water, and there will apparently be more hot water coming, but Kelsa arrives first and deliberately stares Kindan in the eye as she strips off her outer layer.

“Shards, Kindan, you’re a mess,” she declared as she peeled off her outer clothes, her eyes still locked on his.
“And, uh,” Kindan said in embarrassment, “you’re not in your bath.”
Kelsa glanced down and back up at him. “So?” she asked absently.
“Kelsa!” Nonala growled. “You’re embarassing him!”
“I am?” Kelsa asked in surprise. She looked back to Kindan. “Well, I suppose if you’re going to let Vaxoram kill you–”
“I’m not going to die,” Kindan declared. Kelsa smiled at his fierceness and rushed over to him, kneeled down beside him, and planted a swift kiss on his cheek before he could even flinch away.
“Of course you aren’t,” she agreed, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him again. Huskily, she repeated, “Of course you aren’t.”
Then, without another word, she sprang up, shucked off her undergarments, and settled down in the next bath over.
Nonala glanced back and forth between the two, her glance somewhat wistful.
Kelsa caught her look. She turned to Kindan. “Kindan?”
“Yes?” Kindan said, turning to look at Kelsa. He saw that tears spangled her eyes.
“Kindan, I don’t want you to die!” Nonala blurted suddenly.
“What Nonala meant to say, Kindan, is that she loves you,” Kelsa told him. She nodded slowly. “And so do I.”
Kindna didn’t know what to say. He liked Nonala, he knew that. In fact, he loved her like a sister. Kelsa was different…sometimes he found himself thinking of her in ways that made his throat go tight. And then he realized–“I love you, too,” he said, glancing at both of them. He smiled, even though it hurt his lips. “You’re the best friends anyone could have.”
With a splash, Nonala sprang from her bath, grabbing a towel from the nearby hook and quickly tying it around her. She rushed over to Kindan, wrapping two wet arms around his neck and planting a warm kiss on his cheek before hopping just as quickly back into her bath.

I mean, confessions of love when you think someone might die within the next few days probably makes sense, I suppose. And frankly, I am all for Kelsa, Nonala, and Kindan being in a V relationship, if for no other reason than to give us some variety around here, but there’s a certain amount of…something that makes me think this is going to be more like a visual novel where the bold, boisterous girl and the shy, reserved girl are going to compete with each other to see who can get Kindan to want them exclusively, rather than sharing him together. (At least, assuming Kindan doesn’t have a walkthrough so that he can keep the relationship values sufficiently equal as to get the secret ending where they both agree to share him.)

Murenny arrives to the entrance of the bathroom to talk with Kindan about what has just transpired. Master Dellator is posted to make sure nobody messes with Kindan. Dellator is described as “a short, wiry man who moved with a limp–except when he was dancing or fighting, and then he moved like liquid fire,” because if we’re going for stereotypes, then we may as well hit as many as we can before we’re done.

Murenny also has the authority to talk Kindan or Vaxoram out of what they have set in motion.

“Did you want to talk to me about relinquishing the duel, sir?”
“No,” Murenny replied. There was a moment’s silence before he continued. “Who will be your second?”
“I will,” Kelsa and Nonala said in chorus. They glanced at each other, then Nonala said “You’re taller, maybe you should go first.”

#2: If they don’t, grab a friend.
That’s your second, your lieutenant when there’s reckoning to be reckoned.

And Murenny fails to be the voice of reason, instead sending Kindan on to the Masterhealer, Lenner, who is the only person on record to disapprove of dueling, before calling him back into his office, where M’tal is also waiting. Murenny apologizes to Kindan, saying that Vaxoram had a beautiful voice when he arrived, but it broke wrong in puberty and Murenny has basically been hoping for the last several Turns that Vaxoram would discover some other talent that would keep him happy. He’d been meaning to send Vaxoram back for a while, but Kindan’s arrival stalled him into thinking that perhaps Vaxoram would learn the error of his ways once people started standing up to him. And that with the appearance of Kelsa and Nonala, releasing Vaxoram because of his behavior might be seen as a prejudicial action.

“I’m sorry, Murenny,” M’tal interrupted, “but I don’t follow that.”
“Consider for a moment,” Murenny replied, “what would be the effect on your wings if you had female riders.” As M’tal made ready to reply, Master Murenny added, “Women riders in your fighting wings.”
“Oh,” M’tal said after a moment. “That would be awkward, wouldn’t it?”
“But I do not believe that talent should be subservient to sex,” Murenny said. “Our survival depends upon our children and it always will, but it should not be at the expense of the lives of the women holders and crafters.”

Hang on, I’m not sure I’m following completely, but I smell bullshit. Because if I am following correctly, Murenny just said that throwing Vaxoram out because he was bullying the girls would be seen as favoring girls over boys as apprentices? And that is somehow a terrible thing that would cause problems on Pern?

The comparison to women in the fighting wings, though, makes me think that Murenny believes that throwing Vaxoram out over his behavior would be seen as prizing the prettiness and eventual sexuality of the girls over the talents of the boys, and that would go over like a lead balloon with the sexist assholes that Murenny depends on to feed him apprentices. So that he can keep his Hall alive, then, Murenny is allowing bullying to continue and possibly is losing apprentices to it that he would have otherwise kept by showing Vaxoram the door.

That seems to be the case as Murenny suggests that Kelsa and Nonala will make excellent master harpers.

Kindan tried for a moment to imagine Kelsa as a masterharper and found the image difficult to merge with the ever-moving, hyperkinetic, graceful, and gawky girl he called his friend. Although, Kindan remarked to himself, if she wanted it, nothing and no one could stop her.
“But there are too many hidebound holders and crafters,” M’tal objected. “They’ll never permit–”
‘Given the way holders and crafters are so loath to yield apprentices to the Harper Hall, the time might be sooner than you think,” Murenny replied. He turned to Kindan. “And women won’t be respected as harpers in hold and crafthall if they’re not respected in the Harper Hall.”

Which is why you throw Vaxoram out sooner, rather than later, and tell anyone who isn’t on board with the idea that women will be apprentices and they will be respected to not let the door hit them on the ass on the way out. At least, if you’re really serious about this, Murenny.

Kindan takes in the speech and redoubles his determination to fight the duel, so that all the people who are bullied for their talents will be able to continue at the Hall. Which is pretty, but not particularly effective, Kindan. Murenny points out that killing Vaxoram won’t achieve lasting change. And says that Vaxoram has demanded the earliest possible date, which suits Kindan just fine, but only gives him a sevenday to contemplate his existence before fighting the duel. So we might be skipping a Duel Commandment or two, here, since Vaxoram was told to report directly to Murenny from M’tal.

#3: Have your seconds meet face to face.
Negotiate a peace, or negotiate a time and place. (This is commonplace, ‘specially ‘tween recruits. Most disputes die and no one shoots.)
#4: If they don’t reach a peace, that’s alright.
Time to get some [swords] and a [Healer] on site. You pay him in advance, you treat him with civility. (You have him turn around so he has deniability.)

Logistics of where everyone is and where they will be posted so they can be kept apart are discussed Kelsa and Nonala are Verilan’s guards in the isolation room, so if Vaxoram (also in the infirmary) managed to get past the Masterhealer with an intent to hurt Verilan, there’s an ass-kicking waiting for him before he gets to Verilan. Kindan and the fire-lizard eggs that M’tal brought are going to be sent up to the Hold so as to keep Kindan away from Vaxoram. And then, when the time is right, M’tal will come to take Kindan to Mikal to learn how to fight. (Kindan requested to go to Mikal because he needs to learn how to fight someone bigger, stronger, and with a longer reach than himself.)

M’tal also wants Kindan to know he’s sorry.

“I feel partly to blame,” M’tal said. “If I’d been a bit quicker, I would have heard him myself.”
Kindan furrowed his brow in confusion.
“And then he would have fought me,” M’tal explained.
“But you’re a dragonrider!” Kindan exclaimed, appalled at the thought of Vaxoram striking the Weyrleader with a sword.
“Which would have given me the right of weapons,” M’tal said with a grin. He held up his hands in a fighter’s style. “I wouldn’t have killed him, but he would feel it for the rest of his Turns.”
Kindan grinned back at him, imagining the look of horror on Vaxoram’s face as he squared off against the older, stronger, taller, and fiercer dragonrider.

Is there nobody on this planet, save Lenner, with an ounce of sense in their heads?! Shouldn’t someone just call it off and send Vaxoram packing? There are enough witnesses, and Murenny has more than enough evidence to do so, and he can take the hit to his reputation and make sure that his Harpers squash any rumors that might start about favoring girls for anything other than their talents.

But no, this duel is going to go forward, because the masculinity is so toxic it is choking off the oxygen to the brains of anybody around. And extra shame on you, M’tal, for thinking it would have been a good idea to force Vaxoram to fight you, a trained adult, for what he said, and believing that might have done anything to adjust his attitude toward everyone else. Especially since it seems like grievous bodily harm was definitely on the table for what would happen to Vaxoram.

Believe it or not, that’s the end of Chapter 2. If the rest of the book is like this, we’re going to set some swearing records.

Dragon Harper: Plus ça change…

Last time, we set up an obvious time warp plot and then went through the Hatching where Cristov Impressed his bronze. What might perhaps be the most important thing out of all of those chapters is that everybody has issues and they’re not getting resolved any time soon.

Dragon Harper, Chapter 2: Content Notes: Sexist Assholery, A Hostsile Learning Environment, Actively-Negligent Adults

They waited for their hatchlings
Lined up in the sand
They waited for the younglings
To leave hand in hand.

I’d like to say this is part of the same work from Chapter 1, but they’re very clearly not. And so we continue to get disconnected fragments, at least for the moment. It’s a nice change of pace that they’re topical, though.

The chapter starts at High Reaches Weyr, the morning after, and mostly serves to remind Kindan that M’tal wasn’t drunk, and was serious, when he said he’d send for Kindan when he was of the appropriate rank. And for Kindan to be a bit wistful about the possibility of being a Weyr Harper. Or possibly a dragonrider. Which are both much higher aims than he had when he started on his Harper journey. And for us to discover yet another of Kindan’s issues.

M’tal growled and rushed toward Kindan, grabbing him in a great hug. “Don’t think you’ll get away with that!” he said and held Kindan tightly. For a moment Kindan tensed, then relaxed, realizing in a burst of clarity that M’tal truly appreciated him. Kindan also realized how much he missed the rare hugs that his father, Danil, had given him. M’tal was taller and more lithe than his father but, still…

Oh, right, as if I needed reminding that we live on a world that is toxic in its masculinity for the most part. Because I’m pretty sure that Cristov would have similar feelings about hugs from his father and whether that was appropriately masculine. I’m annoyed, mostly, that in the hopes of creating themselves a pastoral paradise, they didn’t rather firmly insist and enshrine that gender roles of this sort were not allowed, but then again, given who the people were that went on this trip, I suppose it was inevitable that their own prejudices would be reflected and passed down over time.

In any case, M’tal reiterates his promise, D’vin drops Kindan off, and we’re at the Harper Hall. And we’re going to spend a significant time in these next few paragraphs because, well, as much as I’d like to toss off a one-liner and be done with it, “The Harper Hall is still a trash fire” doesn’t fully capture everything that’s happening.

Kindan hadn’t liked Vaxoram [the seniormost apprentice at the Hall] when they first met, and the feeling was mutual. Vaxoram had made it a project to torment Verilan, the youngest apprentice.
Verilan was extraordinarily talented at scribing and researching in the Records. Kindan knew it was only the boy’s young age that held him back from walking the tables and becoming a journeyman. Even the prickly Master Archivist, Resler, had a soft spot for Verilan, and Kindan suspected that Verilan felt the same affection, the two being kindred spirits.
That respect irked Vaxoram even more, as his own handwriting was a point of shame for the entire hall.

Okay, so we’ve set ourselves up with a fairly classic “jock bullies nerd” situation here, with extra emphasis on the jock not having one of the necessary skillsets for being a writer and archivist. Given how much Harpering is oral tradition and instruction through song, writing can (theoretically) be a specialized skill. Not all the monks were scribes, after all.

Unlike many situations where one person bullies another, though, Kindan is not having it.

When Kindan first found out about the bullying that Vaxoram had condoned or even initiated against Verilan, he took action. He was careful not to be caught, but soon those who were tormenting Verilan found themselves tormented–with extra chores and duties. Kindan had even managed to get Vaxoram caught and given a week’s extra duties.
Of course, while the bullies were never certain who was getting them back, trapping them in their traps and arranging for their pranks to be discovered, they suspected Kindan and unleashed their full wrath on him.
For the next three months, Kindan had felt every day that he should just leave the Harper Hall. But he hadn’t, because he was certain that if he did, Verilan would be the next to suffer.

And, I’m sure, despite the ample evidence presented, the masters have yet to see fit to expel Vaxoram or otherwise redirect him into some other thing. Or possibly even promote him up a rank just so they can send him to the farthest reaches of the planet and tell him that’s his circuit, and perhaps hope that there’s some maturity that comes with having to walk a lot, sing a lot, and listen to other people’s problems a lot.

Things changed for the worse with the arrival of Nonala, the second girl apprentice in twenty turns.
The first girl apprentice had been Kelsa, a talented songwriter who had arrived nearly a full Turn before and had quickly become Kindan’s second-best friend after Verilan. Kela was prickly, blunt, and gawky, but those traits were overshadowed by her honesty and kindness.
She was also shy, at least initially. So when she first arrived at the Harper Hall, she had been all too willing to accept the suggestion that she should sleep with the kitchen staff.
“After all,” she had said reasonably to Kindan when he’d questioned her, “it’s not like there are other girl harpers.”
“I don’t know,” Kindan said mulishly. “It seems to me that if you’re an apprentice, you should sleep in the apprentice dormitory.”
“Vaxoram wouldn’t like that, I’m sure,” Kelsa had replied, grimacing. “And I don’t need to upset him any more than I already have.”

And also, I’m annoyed that Menolly is being recycled in this way. And also that the Harper Hall still seems to believe that women are an oddity as apprentices in this earlier time. And furthermore that Kelsa is being put through unnecessary problems because nobody sees fit to do something about the toxic boy they’ve allowed to assume a position of authority for.

Mostly that Vaxoram’s an asshole, and that we are again going through a story beat sequence that’s basically “asshole bullies in the Harper Hall that make life miserable for the apprentices that are already there.” If this turns out like Piemur’s story, someone’s going to have to get almost-killed before anyone decides to do anything about this.

It turns out that Kelsa’s universally-praised talents in songwriting are matched by Vaxoram’s utter inability to do anything of the sort, so we continue to set the situation up in such a way that Vaxoram is bullying people who are more talented than him at certain Harper skills. I want to know what Vaxoram is actually good at, rather than just what he’s not.

If Kelsa were any less talented or more arrogant, Kindan might have agreed with the senior apprentice that a girl didn’t belong among harpers…but her songs were just too good.

Also, Kindan’s a sexist asshole who might very well believe in “bros before hos.” Like, this is a pretty classic example of tokenization of Kelsa, where she has to be exceptionally good at what she does just to be considered “good enouugh” to join the boys. It’s not like this is a problem in the past, either, and I’m sure that the reading audience can pull a dozen more examples out from their search engine results without having to think too hard about where it shows up in real life and in literature as well. But, since Kindan doesn’t outright hate Kelsa, they turn into friends against Vaxoram.

And when Nonala arrives, Kelsa gathers the apprentices and puts a plan into place where they section off two beds with dividers so that the two girls will have appropriate privacy. Vaxoram is unhappy with this, as are the older apprentices, who apparently don’t like having to change their lifestyle to accomodate girls. And thus the escalation begins.

Vaxoram, failing to convince the Masters to provide the girls with separate quarters, had tried to shame and scare them into demanding it on their own–or better, to ask to leave the Harper Hall.
It started with silly pranks, water left on the floor just outside the canvas partition. When Nonala tripped and banged her head in the middle of the night, Kindan moved his bunk close by and kept a wary eye out for further pranksters.
It soon escalated to outright harassment, with the older apprentices actively preventing both girls from attending classes. Kelsa bore up well under the strain–tough and wiry, she merely elbowed or pinched her way past the offenders. But Nonala was a milder sort, and the glares and jeers of the older boys were hard on her.

Right, so there’s a potentially fatal thing, there, averted because Nonala had the luck not to hit anything sharp on the way down and die from a prank. And yet, apparently even with the outright blocking of their way to the classes, the Masters do nothing about the bullying.

There’s a bit where Kindan holds Nonala’s hand at night as a gesture of solidarity, and then where Nonala ends up avoiding being tripped by someone and instead mashing his face into the dirt. Since Nonala’s got support, nothing happens from it, although Kindan recalls having defended himself against the same thing, and it was the bad luck of his assailant, deciding to try it right after the first dance lesson (and the person who teaches dance also teaches defense, so I’m guessing some form of akido or possibly capoeira is part of their defense). So Nonala ends up not getting bullied quite as much, because she’s demonstrated that she has enough allies that it’s not worth the effort to try and get her out.

Have I mentioned yet that the Harper Hall continues to be a trash fire yet?

After this lovely recounting of all the terrible things that have happened, Kindan dashes off to Murenny to deliver his report and is directed to get breakfast from the kitchen before he enters. (This annoys Kindan, because Kindan was so sure he was quiet on the approach, and yet Murenny knows he’s there all the same.) And then, after he’s required to eat and drink, Kindan is allowed to give his report. (We get a nice nugget of information that traditionally, apprentices are expected to be apprentices for three to four years before being invited to walk the table. If it’s always this terrible and bully-filled, I wouldn’t be surprised at an atrocious attrition rate of apprentices. And probably some bullshit excuse about a Harper needing to be tough enough to do the job.) Murenny nods, makes a remark about how he’ll expect B’ralar to join his Weyrmate soon, and that, even though he doesn’t mean it, sends Kindan into a bit of a funk about Kisk-Nuelsk and what it might have been like to have Impressed a dragon, and then some further Impostor Syndrome about his own Harper skills.

His days were filled with feeling overwhelmed by his classes and his various inadequacies; he had neither Kelsa’s [orig: Nonala’s] skill at crafting song, nor the fierce dedication to the dry, dusty Records that made Verilan’s eyes bright with excitement. Oh, he could thwart silly pranks from older apprentices and he gave as good as he got, but that was hardly a harperly calling, and beyond that, Kindan could think of no talent in which he had a gift.

Except perhaps his ability to play drums (not to make them) and the proficiency that he has with drum code, we find out, but Kindan’s not sure that qualifies for anything, and he’s also got an additional problem.

Vaxoram took great pains to taunt Kindan on his failures. Kindan sometimes wondered if Vaxoram didn’t gloat over the lackings of others to distract himself from his own weaknesses, but the older apprentice’s relentless ways never gave much time to consider the ramifications.

Vaxoram is, apparently, good at two things. One:

Two: the narrative says he’s good at fencing, where “good” means being bigger, stronger, and having a better reach than anyone else. The instructor criticizes Vaxoram for his lack of subtlety and suggests he could learn a thing or two from Kindan. Which aggravates Vaxoram sufficiently to switch his sword from one hand to the other mid-lunge and then whack Kindan on the head from the side he wasn’t expecting. The instructor them proceeds to point out that using your off-hand is no guarantee of anything, if your off-hand is someone else’s main hand, and uses his own left hand to thrash Vexoram thoroughly.

The narrative says it’s Kindan’s determination to be a Harper that’s keeping him at the hall, otherwise he would have left a long time ago because of Vaxoram.

We’re going to stop here, because while there’s not much left in the chapter, there’s a big action yet to come, and it’s going to end up taking a significant amount of time, words, and probable swearing, to cover.

Dragon Harper: Only One Kind of Tale

Last time, Fire Hold was established as the refuge of the Shunned, mining safe(r) firestone for the dragons in exchange for being able to participate in society again. I have to wonder whether this tradition has continued all the way to the Ninth Pass, or whether the firestone mines were eventually re-absorbed into the Miner’s Guild and are now worked by the appropriate professionals.

Halla and Pellar fell in love, despite the narrative giving us no reason to believe it. Cristov became C’tov, by Impressing a bronze dragon and went on to that life, instead of being the supervising miner for Fire Hold.

Dragon Harper, Prologue and Chapter 1: Content Notes:

But rather than sit and contemplate the kind of horror that comes from realizing the most valuable resource on the planet is mined, essentially, by prison labor that’s been given life sentences that they may not even deserve and that are still likely going to die prematurely from all the exertion of mining, we’ve decided that we’ve spent more than enough time with the common folk. We don’t care about that any more, because now we’re off to follow Kindan again, this time as a Harper Hall apprentice. Given what happened the last time we were at the Hall, I’m opening the betting pool now as to which chapter someone gets deadly-pranked or comes within an inch of their life at someone else’s hands.

The Prologue recycles a verse from a previous book,

Dragon’s heart,
Dragon’s fire,
Rider true,
Fly higher.

and is essentially J’lantir being pissed that his wing has disappeared for a sevenday and are coming back exhuasted, but also strangely prescient about what J’lantir’s mood will be about their return, claiming that it was J’lantir himself who gave that advice. It’s all the signs that the wing has gone back in time for something and has now had to live out the time they were in the past twice, which we all know is incredibly exhausting.

So, with the prologue dispensed, on we go to Chapter 1.

White robe, high hopes
Hatching ground, tight throats
Sands heat, eggs move
Shells crack, hearts prove.

(AL 495.8, High Reaches Weyr)

In the grand tradition of linked Pern books, Chapter 1 is going to be the Hatching where Cristov officially becomes C’tov, and it follows both Cristov and Kindan as they get themselves changed into the candidate’s robes. Cristov is still very certain that it should have been Pellar in his place, and we have some hindsight that only being in the third book of a trilogy can produce.

Turns back, he [Cristov] and Kindan has been enemies. Back then, Cristov had despised watch-whers, just as he’d been taught by his father. Kindan’s father had been a wherhandler, a person bonded to the ugly night-loving creatures who were only distant cousins to the great dragons that protected Pern. Infected by his father’s attitudes, Cristov had despised Kindan, and they’d fought many times as youngsters. In the end, however, Cristov had realized that it was Kindan who had been right and his father who had been wrong–and Cristov had found himself, at an early age, making a grown man’s choice of doing what was right instead of what was expected. He’d even come to regard the ugly watch-whers with respect bordering on awe. And now he greeted Kindan with a huge grin.

That’s not what I remember. I remember Cristov having a bit of a crush on Pellar, and being spurred to action to help Kindan by setting the mutilated corpse of Chitter in Master Zist’s abode, and it turning out that Cristov had to understand the use of the watch-wher (and also having Tarik get Shunned to the point of being nameless) before he could grow into the man that he is now. Because if he respected them, I’m not sure he’d call the whers ugly.

Also, even if Tarik was an unperson when he died, unless Cristov is fully, 150% on board with that rejection and loss of name, I think Cristov would refer to his father by name in his own head. And if he is on board with that rejection, then I would have expected him to have more issues than he did with everyone that kept dying around him and his own injuries. But no therapists, so he’s Just That Tough.

As everyone gets changed into their whites, Sonia (who is also standing as a candidate) realizes they’re short bodies for eggs, right before a last-minute gift of people from Benden arrives and she switches over to making sure everyone is arranged.

And then we are more forcefully reminded that Cristov also has a lot of issues to work through.

“I shouldn’t be here,” Cristov said. “I’m a miner.” Kindan shook his head and told him feelingly, “More than anyone you should be here, Cristov. You earned the right and you were Searched.”
Cristov started to explain that D’vin had come for Pellar, not him, but Kindan shushed him.

So Cristov is still very attached to the identity that his father beat into him, but not to the person that did it. And he has a massive dose of Impostor Syndrome going on here.

We can add on to that the usual problems that happen at a Hatching that are taken for granted:

Some of the Benden lads were too frightened and didn’t move out of the way of a creeling green. One youth was brutally trampled and tossed aside by the green’s awkward stumbling to lie in a bloody heap nearly a dragonlength away.

Because the mutilation of children is an acceptable cost for dragons to find their partners. It’s not like, say, they could build a fence and let the candidates and dragons look at each other until everyone had a match that was going to get one, and then the fence could be lowered and the feeding begin. Less hurt for everyone.

As it turns out, Kindan also has some issues to work through, as he watches Cristov Impress a bronze.

The grin on his [Kindan’s] face slipped as his mind was flooded with memories of Kisk, the green watch-wher he had once shared a bond with. He swallowed hard and squared his shoulders. I gave her up, he reminded himself, wondering if that perhaps rendered him undesirable to the hatchlings.
Briefly Kindan [orig. Cristov] recalled Nuella’s smile as he [orig. Kindan] encouraged her to ride the watch-wher between to the cave-in that had trapped her father, brother, and eight other miners. Only blind Nuella could have visualized the image needed to guide the heat-seeing watch-wher safely. So giving Kisk to her had been a good decision, everyone had agreed. And it meant that he [orig. Kindan] wasn’t trapped forever in the mines with a watch-wher. He was free to become a harper, maybe even a dragonrider…but not this time. He shook himself out of the reverie.

Yeah, the original forgot who was having the flashback while Cristov was making his new friend for life.

Yeah, everyone might think of it as a good decision, and it might have been exactly that, but it still hurts giving up something you loved and that you thought was going to be your friend for a good long time. Or something that was tying you down to a fate that you didn’t necessarily want, but felt obligated to see through to the end of that animal’s life because the animal, of course, doesn’t have the capacity to take care of itself (and the person who entangled you in this has no intention of disentangling because they put themselves in the position to be helpless and are using that specifically to stop you from moving on.)

I feel ya there, Kindan, is what I’m saying.

The thought-to-be-a-queen egg is a queen egg, Sonia Impresses her, and then, once the clutch is safely in the hands of the new generation, both the Weyrwoman and her dragon pass on in death. Which means B’ralar now has to get to know and work with a new Weyrwoman, and he and his dragons have to deal with grief and loss in equal measure of how much Sonia will have to adjust to the new realities of her position. Kindan, for his part, almost immediately puts the disappointment of not getting a dragon out of his mind and gets back to the business of being a Harper on site for such an event, and the next scene, told from M’tal’s narration, has him look on with approval as Kindan has wine for B’ralar and lots of upbeat songs and tunes for the occasion. He also approves of Kindan having requested Benden wine for the tables and the drinkings, whether in consolation or joy, and is a bit surprised to hear Kindan singing “a slightly off-color lullaby” late on in the night, before telling him point-blank that when Kindan reaches Journeyman, M’tal will ask for him to be the Weyr Harper for Benden, assuming that, at least in M’tal’s opinion, Kindan doesn’t Impress a dragon first. And that’s Chapter 1.

Am I a terrible person if I want to see what the off-color lullaby’s lyrics are printed as the interstitial poetry in between chapters? I don’t think so, and I think they would be excellent at providing us some much-needed worldbuilding depth by telling us what Pern (or at least the dragonriders) consider to be slightly outside the bounds of polite. Is it a lullaby that turns out to be singing to a penis’s erection, hoping it will droop and soften so that the singer can go to sleep instead of getting ravished again? Is it the kind of song that, if you actually listen to the lyrics, you realize it’s not about putting a child to sleep at all, but about a wild night on the town? What’s in that song, I want to know, and I also am a bit surprised that a song such as that is officially allowed to exist and be performed by representatives of the Harper Hall at all. Maybe it’s the company and the wine, so Kindan feels safe enough that nobody will remember what was sung, just that songs happened.

In any case, that should be enough tying things together at this point. As usual, I’m not actually sure what purpose this serves in terms of moving the narrative forward, but it introduced the players on a stage that had action to it, rather than having them all sit around a table. So we’ll go to the Harper Hall next chapter and follow Kindan and not remember that we had anything to do with this until it becomes startlingly important.