Category Archives: Deconstruction: Pern

Dragonheart: The Box Slams Shut

Last time, the weyrlings went on a training montage, got hazed, and otherwise took their places as trainees in the order of the dragonriders. So far, they’ve been flying the long way to anywhere they’ve been going, and as their training progresses, Fiona is being pushed more and more firmly into the box of the Weyrwoman’s role, as opposed to the greater freedom she had when hopping back in time.

Dragonheart, Chapter 18: Content Notes: Terrible methods of instruction, sex rays, negging, fat-shaming

Having been trained with recognition points and getting drilled on being able to provide pictures that are clear enough for a dragon to use as hyperspace endpoints, T’mar finally announces that it’s time for the dragons to start using the hyperspace transit system. Their first trip is arranged in groups, where there are dragons and riders at each of the endpoints of the journey that can send imagery for the transiting riders to use for safe jumps. Each dragon goes individually, and each success is confirmed before the next step is taken. The first rider, D’lanor, shakes off the first image he gets as not good enough. T’mar nods and smiles, suggesting that this was a test to see if D’lanor would take a bad image and try to use it. If he did, though, that would mean dragon and rider getting lost in hyperspace. If that really was a test, and T’mar was willing to let D’lanor get anywhere close to using that image, then he’s even worse of an instructor than I had complained about before, because at that point, it’s possible both dragon and rider die to prove a point. Which, given that they’re doing this to replenish fighting wing strength, is something nobody should even be flirting with.

Fiona goes last, in a group by herself, after all the others have succeeded at their tasks. She wants to go to the wherhold, and gets a picture in her head of it. T’mar told her earlier that at a certain point she has to trust, and so Fiona trusts herself and shifts the position of the sky so she will appear at the wherhold at night, to say hello to Nuella and Nuellask. Fiona succeeds, gives her greetings, is told by Arella to take T’mar’s ire, and then hops back to the correct picture given to her, hoping that she won’t be caught. Afterward, she pops back to her original destination, where T’mar is waiting for her with an earful.

“There is always some idiot who thinks they are special,” he told them [weyrlings] icily. “Some dimglow who thinks the drills are too much effort, that they know everything.”
He turned back to Fiona, glaring at her.
“Fortunately,” he went on, turning once more to the weyrlings, “we have a solution for this sort of behavior.” He paused for a long while, long enough for the sense of dread and shame to lodge deep in Fiona’s chest, sucking all of the joy of her unauthorized adventure right out of her.
“Our Weyrwoman has volunteered to man the Star Stones for the next month,” T’mar told the collected group gravely. “That will enable the rest of us to continue our training.” He paused. “We are done for today. Go about your duties.”
[…Fiona apologizes to Talenth for “neglecting her duty” and “failing to set the example”, even though Talenth doesn’t have a clue what’s wrong…]
When the others were out of earshot, T’mar approached her. “There’s always one idiot,” he repeated. “I knew it would be you.”
“That’s why you sent me last,” Fiona guessed, her heart falling deeper into her chest.
T’mar nodded curtly, his eyes boring into hers as they welled with tears, and then he glanced away and strode off briskly without another word.

And so Fiona ends up failing another one of T’mar’s secret tests, but I have one question to ask: How does he know that she’s done it? The wherhold has been told Fiona will be arriving, and that T’mar is angry with Fiona, but really, if she pops back into existence at the correct picture that she’s been given, she presumaly should appear at the correct time as if she hadn’t taken any sort of detour. And yet, T’mar knows she’s done a time hop and is ready to chew her out about it when she gets back. The closest thing I have to a guess on that is that it created a situation, like in Moreta, where the dragonriders suddenly could not sense Fiona’s dragon, because she’d jumped into the future and became unavailable. Or, I suppose, if she’d jumped into the past, she’d become similarly unavailable. But it would have to be only for a short amount of time, at most, if, again, Fiona came back at the right time and place, and we’re back to asking how T’mar knew Fiona had slipped through time. Presumably, less skilled riders will appear offset from the time they were supposed to be, because their recall isn’t perfect and things are just a little out of place, and that makes it obvious, but there’s no sign that Fiona has been wrong about anything from the narrative.

Terin actually provides the reason why T’mar was so upset and set Fiona to the Star Stones as watch dragon for a month for taking an unauthorized trip through time by wailing about what might have happened if Fiona hadn’t returned and storming out of their shared quarters. That problem sets into Fiona’s mind as she does her duty (after apologizing to everyone in the Weyr multiple times for what she did, and convincing herself that she’s the only Weyrwoman ever to be condemned like this) as she becomes worried about the other riders and whether they’re going to return safely from their trips through hyperspace. The punishment also continues to twist Fiona’s mental state into castigating herself for something that she did successfully, “continually standing as an example of what not to do.” She puts on her best clothes and throws herself into congratulating the riders on their safe return “until she wondered how she could have ever thought the journey dangerous.” Which, as written, sounds like it negates the fear and shame put into her by T’mar about what she did.

Fiona took a risk with her life, and she survived it, and she didn’t understand how much of a risk it was until after she’d done it and then considered the consequences. It’s like someone driving and only realizing how dangerous what they were doing until they have a near-crash experience and it sets into their head in a way that no person telling them it’s dangerous can. Grounding Fiona wasn’t going to do anything more to get her to understand, and it had a strong likelihood of backfiring horribly if Fiona hadn’t understood what was going on. Instead of contrite, Fiona could have easily decided that it wasn’t a big deal what she did, since she did it correctly, and that the punishment set to her was unjust and unwarranted and she wasn’t going to learn a damn thing from it because she didn’t do anything wrong. Fiona figured it out herself, no thanks at all to T’mar, who went straight on to punishment. One can only hope that before lighting into Fiona, he explained the danger to the other weyrlings, because he sure as hell didn’t do it to Fiona. (Perhaps he correctly intuited that Fiona would figure it out herself, sincce he seems to be fond of the idea that the people under his care should figure it out for themselves.)

In the last sevenday of her punishment, Fiona found herself actually looking forward to the duty, finding it a time where she could spend hours in thought and moments in short communication with returning riders. Her thoughts were occupied by considering the stores for the Weyr, the trade with the outlying holds, and the functioning of the Weyr.

So Fiona is settling into the role of Weyrwoman nicely, then, or at least the role of Weyrwoman as envisioned by all the men around her, concerning herself with logistics and supplies rather than adventure. She’s becoming the Lady Holder that her father raised her to be, after all, just with dragons to consider as well as everything else. I’m sorry for her, because it means Fiona’s become yet another casualty of the patriarchy of Pern.

And speaking thereof, in Fiona’s quiet contemplation (and Terin’s return to her quarters and occasionally sharing the watch with her), Fiona is finding herself more and more concerned for Terin’s well-being.

Fiona turned as she heard Terin’s approach and wondered idly how she was going to handle the younger girl’s imminent womanhood. Fiona had noticed how Terin had started eyeing the older weyrlings and had teased her gently about it, adding her own cogent observations to ease Terin’s embarrassment but she was worried that, being the only eligible partner for most of the riders at the Weyr, Terin might find herself overwhelmed with offers or worse–frightened by the intensity of emotion if one of the older greens took to the skies in a mating flight.
It was something that concerned Fiona about herself, too. Neither Talenth nor the greens of her clutch were old enough yet to rise, but those of J’keran’s older dragons might rise again at any moment. How would Terin react when the emotions of a mating flight combined with her growing emotions as a woman? How would Fiona?
And, Fiona admitted with a deep sigh, how would she react to Talenth rising? She wasn’t ready for it, she admitted to herself, and it scared her.

Cocowhat by depizan

Hang on, wait, “only eligible partner for most of the riders at the Weyr?” I thought only the bronze riders were exclusively het. Are we saying that what’s left in the weyrlings are disproportionately bronze riders, or is someone pushing back against the extratextual material and suggesting that there is a bigger population of het riders in browns, blues, and greens than the original suggestions were? There are still too many dicks on the dance floor for Terin and Fiona, it’s true, but I thought that bronze riders were rare compared to the other colors in any given clutch.

Plus, Fiona is sitting on a time bomb, in the sense that soon enough, she’s going to become a sexual being because of Talenth, whether she wants this or not, and the expectation is that she’s going to go through with it, whether she wants that or not. Terin, in theory, has the option of refusing. Fiona doesn’t. And that should be terrifying to anyone in that position. (And would have been for Fiona the Lady Holder, too, although in theory she would have older women to help her through this and give her advice. Fiona doesn’t really have anyone at the Weyr who can help her with this.)

The topic drifts to the question of whether or not Fiona and Terin will be able to settle back into being juniors when they get back, even with all their experience, before T’mar arrives and warns Fiona that one of the greens has been looking like she’s ready to mate soon, and would Fiona go talk to the traders about the possibility and see if everyone is situated to handle that? Fiona’s fine with it, and when she admits she learned a lot from T’mar, she comes to the conclusion that she did so because he was the one from his groups of weyrlings who disregarded the drill and suffered the same punishment. T’mar admits to it and then says, if there are no interruptions, Fiona is welcome to return to the drill the next day after she affirms she learned the lesson at least as well as he did.

Of course there is an interruption, because the green that had been looking like she was ready to mate, Sarinth, goes into mating flight mode. V’lex, the rider, is having a lot of trouble controlling Sarinth and getting her to just blood, rather than gorge, so Fiona lends him some of her power to help bring Sarinth under control. After Sarinth takes off and the other dragons follow, Fiona is part of the gestalt merge before T’mar pulls her back and tells her that she and Terin have to go see to the trader children while the flight continues (and a significant number of the pursuing dragons’ riders start showing their interest in V’lex). What this means is that Fiona gets the unenviable job of explaining to the trader children what is going on.

“She’s on her mating flight, and she jumped into the sky daring the boy dragons to see if they could catch her.”
She smiled, adding, “She’s only thinking about how high she can fly, how much better she is than them, and–”
Suddenly, an overwhelming emotion, a sense of elation and climax flowed into Fiona and she was temporarily speechless. Beside her she heard Terin gasp and some of the older children also cried out while the youngsters all pointed skyward, crying, “Look, they’re falling!”
Fiona, with her back to the scene, shook her head. “They’re just playing. The brown caught the green and it’s part of the mating game.”
[…someone asks if there will be more dragons, but greens don’t lay eggs, because the firestone makes them sterile. Fiona has to fight more sex ray effects, and ends up finding Terin’s hand and drawing her into a crushing hug…]
“Sometimes it’s nice to hug a friend, just because you feel like it,” Fiona said over Terin’s shoulder to the youngsters. Some nodded solemnly, seeking out friends and hugging them with all the innocence of children. Encouraged, Fiona directed them into a larger hug, more children joining in until she, Terin, and all the trader children were in one giant hug.
There was one sudden, final, joyful shout from the distant dragonriders, one final thrill pouring through the knot of children, and then Talenth said, Winurth flew her.

I mean, as trying to attempt to handle the power of the sex rays in an age-appropriate manner, not bad at all. Not all that fond of the idea of “it’s a game,” but that’s also because I think it’s possible to explain these things in age-appropriate manners, and perhaps that if someone had done a better jo with Fiona and Terin beforehand, they wouldn’t be scrambling to try and figure out how to handle what’s going on. The narrative seems pretty clear that Fiona, Terin, and the older trader children understand the emotions and sensations they are experiencing, and the younger children do not. It also seems pretty clear that the younger children are experiencig the same kinds of emotions and sensations, but because they don’t have words for it (or cultural baggage attached to it), they dn’t understand fully what’s going on. Which goes a long way toward explaining how young children experience the sex rays. They’re not immune to it, but because they haven’t got the words for what they’re experiencing, they don’t understand it well enough to have a reaction to it. A nicely-threaded needle, the longer I look at it, but the implications are still terrifying for everyone around.

“I was scared,” Terin confessed, lowering her head so that Fiona could finish braiding. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted at the moment–I felt so overwhelmed, not myself.” She paused thoughtfully, then declared, “I want to be myself, not someone dragon-flamed.”

There has to be something in non-dragonrider society that essentially says that if sex rays are involved, whatever happens doesn’t count for anything regarding “deflowering” or any other thing where the cult of virginity still reigns. Which has to be exploited in so many ways by young adults. And it’s still got to be terrifying to feel these things and realize how easily someone’s boundaries could be overriden, or have them consent to do things they would not do sober.

Fiona goes to see T’mar with Terin and they both suggest that firestone drills should probably start soon, because if Sarinth wasn’t already chewing, she might clutch.

“Oh,” T’mar said, dumbstruck. He turned toward Terin and sketched a bow in her direction. “Well caught, headwoman.”
“I just thought…” Terin began only to break off, blushing. “It’s just that…” She glances helplessly toward Fiona.
“We women tend to concentrate on such things,” Fiona said dryly, recalling one of Kelsa’s choice phrases.

This is excellently done and very believable — the world of Pern is definitely set up in such a way that dudes don’t have to think about pregnancy at all, or at least only have to think about it in the same kinds of ways that dudes in our time think about it, in regards to wehther a pregnancy will affect their social status. Since dragonriders raise children communally and have no property to pass on to heirs, dragonrider men basically don’t have to give a damn about pregnancy ever. Only the women do. So it would completely slip T’mar’s notice that greens can clutch if they haven’t been chewing firestone until it was well after the point where they would have wanted to stop the clutch.

When they meet with the traders, there’s a lot of shrugs around about how to get firestone on short notice, because Sarinth’s mating flight has accelerated the timetable for when firestone would be needed by several months. While there’s no way of easily establishing direct trade with the Hold pumping out firestone, Fiona thinks to re-consult the map that had the gold marked on it to see if there’s firestone marked as well. Selecting a suitable candidate, they fly over to the spot, to find there’s a mine waiting for them. There are directions on the door to close the door when they’re done, and directions inside to take what firestone sacks they need. Both directions look like they might have been written in Fiona’s hand, but the weyrlings are not going to look a gift dragon in the mouth, and immediately set to hauling out the amount of sacks they’ll need to start firestone drill.

Having things so nicely laid out for them makes Fiona and T’mar wonder again whether a future Fiona has been laying out everything for past Fiona so she can experience them as future Fiona remembers, and that the extra-strength issues some of the riders and weyrlings are experiencing might be because they’re not just twice in time, they’re thrice or more in the same time, which produces the more pronounced effects.

After hauling back the sacks they can, Fiona sets in to some food, and T’mar negs her. He tries to be subtle about it and let Fiona draw her own conclusions, but he’s definitely negging her.

“What?” Fiona demanded, seeing his look. “Can’t a girl be hungry?”
“Of course,” T’mar replied smoothly, his eyes twinkling. “But it would be a shame if Talenth strained herself.”
“I am not fat!” Fiona declared hotly, suddenly folding the bread in two and forcing it into her mouth.
“Merely a growing girl,” T’mar agreed, his grin belying his demure tone.
“Hmph!” Fiona snorted around her mouthful. She chewed quickly and took a long swallow form her mug of iced water. “Flying that far is hard work.”
“For a dragon,” T’mar responded.
“You’re just afraid I’ll get taller than you!”
“I like tall women.”
Fiona fumed, lips thin, but realized that any further response would only fuel the wingleader’s jest.
“So, we’ll start with the firestone after lunch?” she asked, desperate to change the topic.
“Not you, unless you want to make Talenth sterile,” T’mar replied.
“I thought I might watch.”
“I’m sure you’d be welcome,” T’mar said, adding with his former humor, “and you could use the exercise!”
[…At the exercises, Fiona chides Talenth lightly for sleeping. Talenth points out she did all the flying. Fiona points out she did the hauling…]
“I’m not fat, am I?” Fiona asked Terin, who stood nearby, eager to watch.
Terin eyed her for a moment then said, “Well, you’re taller than me.”
“So I’m fat?” Fiona demanded, horrorstricken.
“I don’t know,” Terin replied thoughtfully. “You might just be growing. I think you’d have to ask Mother Karina.” She shrugged. “But what if you are?”
Fiona had never thought of herself as fat; she’d always been skinny–everyone at the Hold has pestered her to eat more. “You’re only skin and bones!” they’d always said.
But perhaps her time in Igen had put more than meat on her–and she just hated the idea. Especially, she hated the way T’mar teased her about it.

When I started this book, I thought H’nez was the biggest asshole around, but by this point, it seems like H’nez is the loudest, most obvious, and most vocal asshole, but T’mar is the biggest asshole by far. Teasing Fiona about her weight is a dick move. And also, we note that in various periods of time, having some junk in the trunk is considered a good sign, that someone has been well-fed and has not had to do manual labor for their entire life. And given that the Weyrwoman’s role has mostly been “Lady Holder, but with dragons,” and the fact that Cisca has always, always been described in terms that are meant to evoke her beauty at least as much, if not more, than her strength, it seems like Fiona getting a little bit of meat would be seen as something good, rather than something that requires derision, mockery, and negging.

Spurred by T’mar’s earlier comments about her weight, Fiona took to flying every day, often helping the traders by carrying loads slung under Talenth to their various depots scattered around central Pern.

Which, again, if that’s what he wanted her to do, he could have asked directly rather than taking shots at Fiona’s weight.

The chapter closes out with more drilling on recognition points, but at Fort Weyr, Fiona hits a wave of dizziness that indicates she’s too stretched in time, and retreats immediately to Igen, where F’jian is able to catch her as she slides off of Talenth. Fiona finds herself reacting strongly to F’jian’s concern, and that spikes off a panic moment in Fiona to end the chapter.

“My pleasure,” F’jian responded with more warmth than Fiona found comfortable. Had he been about to kiss her? Had she been about to kiss him?
They were the same age or nearly, but Fiona was startled by the flood of emotions that surged within her. I’m not ready, she told herself firmly. Her body disagreed.

Oh, yay, puberty in both rider and dragon now. And on that confusing mix of sensations, the chapter ends.

I haven’t been mentioning the time frames as much as I should, so it’s worth noting that most of these segments, where a new drill item or technique is introduced, the weyrlings usually spend months on that new technique, integrating it into their practice, so large chunks of the year are going by in a sentence or two of uneventful daily practice by the dragonriders and their dragons. There’s training montage bits there, but the narrative thinks of them as training montage bits and spends more time on the things that are not routine.

I can see the end in sight! Two chapters and an epilogue to go. Next week, Fiona goes to seek advice about her rebellious body, and then engages in courses of action on that advice. Or would, if she could remember what she said.

Dragonheart: Real Training

Last time, Zenor and Nuella got married and got made official members of the nobility, and another group of dragonriders made a leap forward in time, having healed sufficiently to make the trip. The only remaining group now is the weyrlings, whose dragons have to mature and develop into adults.

Dragonheart, Chapter 18: Content Notes: Embarrassment squick, hazing, terrible methods of instruction,

Weyrling and rider,
First jump, no higher.
Glide to ground,
Then go round.

(Igen Weyr, Early Morning, AL 499.13.11)

The chapter starts with Fiona “pestering T’mar” about when the young weyrlings are going to be able to officially start flying, which she apparently starts on her fifteenth birthday. From the beginning of the last chapter, a full Turn has passed, apparently without incident or anything useful to the narrative other than what was in the last chapter. Eventually, T’mar relents and lets the weyrlings, including Fiona, apply riding straps to their dragons. Then chides them for too much exuberance.

The first day, with straps on, T’mar inspects them and offers corrections, and then tells them to take the straps off and have the dragons glide.

The next day things were much better, but T’mar ordered them once again to remove their harnesses before the dragons flew.
“If one harness is wrong, they are all wrong,” T’mar said when the chorus of groans arose from the collected weyrlings.
“Whose harness was wrong?” Fiona asked.
“You don’t know?” T’mar replied, shaking his head sadly.
Fiona’s face burned with shame.
“Tomorrow, we get here before T’mar and we check everyone’s harness,” F’jian said.
The next day, to everyone’s intense relief, T’mar allowed the dragons to fly with their harnesses on.
“We’ll keep that up for the next sevenday,” he said, sounding pleased.
“I’ll bet they get did this to the other weyrlings,” Fiona muttered rebelliously to F’jian.
“Maybe not,” F’jian said with a shrug. “But of it makes us safer riders, what’s the harm in it?”
Fiona couldn’t say anything in response, suddenly recalling her angry exchange with T’mar Turns back and ahead at Fort Weyr.

T’mar, you’re an

This is not the way to do instruction! The first part, where corrections are offered, is the way to go. Yes, because it is a situation that could be life and death, sure, you can insist that each previous phase has to be done consistently perfectly by everyone before moving on to the next, but if someone asks what’s wrong, that’s an indication they need help recognizing what isn’t obvious to them yet. If you mock them for not knowing, you only establish that you are an asshole and should not be teaching, if it can be avoided. (Which, of course, it can’t.)

On that reasoning, we can also add the older weyrlings into the group of “people who are assholes,” based on how they react to the next exercise the weyrlings have to do – fill sandbags to their exact weight, equally distributed between left and right sides and checked with a balance beam.

The older weyrlings, however, found the whole exercise hilarious and were now lined up every morning, jeering the weyrlings and cheering the wingleader.
“We’ll get up before everyone,” Fiona swore one morning. Her words were met with a growl of approval from the rest of the weyrlings.

This is a terrible learning environment now, as well. I’m sure that the “we’ll show them all” attitude is exactly what they’re trying to engender, but the drum major academy I attended managed to produce this same “we’ll get there early” result without mockery or humiliation by explaining to us that while instruction started at 9, it was always curious to see everyone out and practicing by 8. We all caught the implication. Which made it fun that for the last day of the academy, they mentioned that things started at 9, and for that day, they never saw anyone at all before 9. Point taken.

What T’mar and the older weyrlings are doing is sabotaging the camaraderie between groups. If they intend for the young weyrlings to develop as a cohesive group, fine, but when it’s all done and the weyrlings are made full dragonriders, they’re going to have to undo all of this work to bring them into the fold as a full fighting unit. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people end up in the stuffing suits over all of this. Or if someone takes some Thread to the face because someone remembered who hazed them and is just a little bit slower than they could have been in resupplying their dragon, or leaves just a little bit of Thread behind to get back at their torturer. Or just flat refuses to be in any wing with any of them because they can’t achieve the required unit cohesion with someone who was an asshole to them.

T’mar’s instructional style continues to suck. After the weyrling dragons are able to carry perfectly balanced loads for several days, they head up to glide with the full weight still on them.

“I don’t think this is right,” she said to F’jian’s surprise. “Don’t you think T’mar would insist on them flying first with a lighter load to strengthen their muscles?”
“But they’ve been gliding for Turns!” F’jian protested. Fiona glanced toward T’mar and noted how the bronze rider stood, impassively looking their way.
“T’mar,” she called. “Shouldn’t we start with less weight?”
T’mar’s face slowly creased with a smile and he nodded.
“It was another test!” F’jian groaned beside her as he rushed to remove half the sandbags from Ladirth’s load.
Two full sevendays passed before the dragons were permitted to glide with their riders’ full weight in sand.
And then–
“No sandbags tomorrow,” T’mar said as the last dragon glided back down to the ground, landing lightly, his eyes whirling in shades of green with pleasure.
“No sandbags,” Fiona repeated, having learned always to repeat the wingleader’s orders for confirmation.

You know what was always one of the worst complaints about old adventure games? Trial-and-Error Gameplay, especially when those errors were lethal or worse, would screw up your gamestate such that when you came to a later puzzle, you had lost or used the thing you now definitely needed to use in this new situation. There tended not to be hints that you had messed things up, and in several memorable instances, an item that was permanently missable in the first segment of the game was essential to success in the last segment of the game, and there were no hints or other indications that the key had been missed until you were confronted with the lock.

Which is to say, if you only learn the correct procedure by someone indicating where you’ve messed up, after you’ve already messed up, your instructor is an asshole. If, however, this is supposed to be T’mar having told them and then silently not giving them any hints or instructions to see whether they remember it all correctly, that’s less assholery, but I don’t think that’s what we’re supposed to get out of these secret tests.

Repeating back what you’ve heard to someone for understanding is generally good practice, but the way it’s written in this snippet, and the way T’mar has been so far, makes me think that T’mar changes his orders if they’re not repeated back to him exactly the way he gave them or if someone leaves to do something without repeating them back to him. Because those would be the dickish things to do.

In any case, without sandbags means actual riders on board, and Fiona is ready to begin, but before she lets Talenth glide down, she has another insight.

Ready? Talenth asked excitedly.
Wait a moment, Fiona said, turning to look down at T’mar–he looked smaller from this height–asking, “Can you check my straps, wingleader?”
T’mar smiled as she passed another one of his silent tests and walked around Talenth’s neck, inspecting the straps from both sides and tugging on them.

It’s good practice to have someone check your work, yes, but if it’s another one of T’mar’s silent tests, it means that he wasn’t going to tell Fiona where she messed up and would force her to divine it after he had already called off the practice for the day because someone messed up on one of his secret tests. Frankly, it’s a wonder they’ve gotten as far as they have, if the person who’s supposed to be teaching them is laying gotcha traps for them every step of the way and forcing them to do it all perfectly without any help. If this is how all weyrlings get taught, no wonder they fall apart when forced to react to the real situation of Thread. They’ve never had to face a situation where they made a mistake and have to scramble or salvage it and keep going, instead of having to reset to the beginning and start again. In the basics, you want something to be drilled until it’s automatic, but after that point, you want to have a certain amount of reactive ability (and improvisation) in your people so that when, inevitably, it does not go according to plan, they can reform, regroup, shore themselves up, and continue to be effective. Wingleaders, potential Weyrleaders, and Weyrwomen should all be taught and given practice at handling situations where they are at disadvantage against the simulated opposition and see if they can find ways of getting around the problem, so that way they can react appropriately when they find themselves in that problem or something like it.

The weyrlings each take their gliee with a rider three times (T’mar says to always do things three times) and do that drill for two months before they actually start what T’mar officially calls weyrling training. J’keran leans into Finoa and suggests that T’mar was especially hard on her group because she was in it. Fiona, for her part, wants to continue with the training, but that, for her, requires finding a flamethrower to use. She brings it up with Azeez, who immediately tries to dissuade her from obtaining one, if it’s of the same type that gets used in the Holds.

“All the flamethrowers I know use the old firestone,” Azeez said with a grimace. “They’re prone to explode.”
“They won’t work with proper firestone?” T’mar asked, curious.
“No, they rely on mixing stone and water to produce flame,” Azeez said.

Cocowhat by depizan

That doesn’t make any sense, even if it “solves” the problem from a few chapters ago of how the flamethrowers operate. Because flamestone (the differentiating name for those who don’t want to call it “old firestone”) is extremely volitaile and highly reactive with water. And at this level of technology, I am highly doubtful that they can manufacture any sort of controlled burn or mechanism that prevents the reaction from immediately running its way back up into the fuel tank and exploding messily. The science doesn’t work for me. If someone can explain how this rock and water can be used for a controlled burn reaction with enough of a chance that they won’t die that someone might willingly use it, I would be very interested in how that works. (If it uses the “grease” that was supposedly used on flamestone to make it usable and transportable in humid conditions, that would be interesting, too.)

For the purposes of the plot, Fiona suggests first Stirger, then Zenor and Terregar, as someone who could put together a flamethrower that could run on the new firestone, and also keep it secret for long enough that it wouldn’t be in common usage when they return to their originating time. Which would have the same problems as the old flamethrower, really, unless the new firestone had a higher threshold to react with and would only consistently ignite far enough away to avoid a reaction running back up the fuel line. They’d probably have to do something different to create the new flamethrower. Not that they could extract dragon stomach acid, but if they could find or concoct an acid that wouldn’t eat the tank or somehow capture and pressurize the gas that came off of the firestone reaction and mixed it with enough liquid to generate napalm or something like it that could be passed through a flame and controlled that way. But that engineering knowledge would likely be gained through several probably-lethal experiments and accidents.

The dragons continue to practice gliding, with various child-size weights on them. After another two months, T’mar says everyone is ready to fly, and the honor of first flight goes to Fiona, who says she’ll only do it if she gets to have Terin as passenger as well. T’mar asks about Fiona’s weight. Seven stone, Fiona says, and adds that Terin’s not more than five stone, which is well under the amount of weight Talenth has already carried. T’mar gives his assent, “swatting Terin lightly on the butt, sending her on her way.” It goes well, although Talenth is a little mischievous about following directions of how high to go and how gently to come back down the first time.

After first flight, there’s one last thing to do, according to T’mar.

“There is one final tradition for new riders that must be observed,” he intoned solemnly. He arranged the thirty-three riders in three tightly-spaced ranks, with Fiona in the middle of the first rank.
“Close your eyes,” he ordered. “Keep them closed until I say you may open them.”
There was a rustle and breeze from dragon wings above them and then suddenly–
“Shards!” “Oh, that’s cold!” “Eeek!”
Before Fiona could twitch a muscle, she was drenched, head to toe in something that was very cold, very wet, and very smelly.
“Eugh!”
“You may open your eyes, dragonriders,” T’mar intoned solemnly. When Fiona opened her eyes, she found that the weyrlings were all surrounded by the older riders, who were all laughing hysterically.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” T’mar barked to the drenched dragonriders. “Into the water with you!”
Fiona needed no urging and found herself rushing past the other still-befuddled weyrlings to dive into the shallow lake and wash off the worst of the stench that engulfed her.
“When you’re quite done,” T’mar drawled, enjoying himself as much as the older weyrlings, “you may disperse to your quarters.” He paused. “You will have much work to do tomorrow.”

Hazing has no real place in camaraderie. You can have ritual and bonding and initiation and it doesn’t have to be cruel, embarrassing, or humiliating. I’m sure that the authors believe that after all of this, the riders will have a shared bond that will be unbreakable because of their shared torture, and that they’ll go on to enjoy doing it to the next crop of weyrlings, once they go back to their own time and have a new crop, but there are probably several of the newly-initiated that feel very little other than resentment toward their tormentors, even if they’ve finally joined the dragonriders club. I would enjoy it very much if several of those dragonriders resolved not to do such things to their own juniors and made their complaints to the Weyrleader, when they return to Fort, about the treatment received while they were growing up. And if K’lior isn’t listening, to make those same complaints to Cisca, backed by Fiona’s recounting of what happened. I don’t think anything will happen, not until Fiona ascends to Senior status, because people are very good at rationalizing terrible things as “harmless fun” when they get the opportunity to do it to other people, but Fiona might remember what happened to her and decide to put a stop to it.

Plus, as they continue to drill and learn and come fully into the craft of the dragonrider, “The older weyrlings took particular delight in attempting to catch out Fiona, F’jian, or J’nos” in the quizzing and testing that could happen at any time to the weyrlings. Which means the learning environment hasn’t actually improved, even though they’ve been initiated. And I’m sure everyone engaging in this pop-quizing with a focus on the leaders of the young weyrling cohort would justify it by saying leaders needed to know the material better than anyone else, but they’re not actually helping anything but those three’s stress levels and making it more terrible for them. I do not have experience with military service basic training camps, but it seems like that was the model being used for all of this dragonrider training montage, but remember that these are children of fourteen, fifteen, and possibly younger being put through this training. They’re creating child soldiers. This is at least some degree worse than what we saw in the Harper Hall for hazing and terribleness of instruction, because they’re being given weapons of war and indoctrinated into a mindset that says they’re the most powerful people on the planet. Small wonder that most of the people around them that aren’t dragonriders see them primarily through the lens of people bullying and abusing their power.

On their first long flight in formation, from Weyr to wherhold, it turns out Fiona regrets greatly not taking a last trip to the necessary, and by the time she and T’mar land, away from the formation that brough them there, Fiona dashes off to relieve herself, very unhappy with T’mar for keeping her up in the air and mounted far longer than everyone else. She asks him why he’s set them down here instead of with the rest, and he mocks her for asking the question.

“Why did we land here, Weyrwoman?” T’mar repeated challengingly.
Fiona swore silently to herself, meeting his mocking look squarely while she thought. “It’s a test, obviously,” Fiona replied, trying not to sound like she was playing for time–which she was, of course.
T’mar nodded.
[…Fiona works out that its a test for F’jian to see if he will make his proper courtesies and then send the dragons and riders over to where they are to refresh themselves…]
“And the test for me…” She trailed off, thinking hard, and then inspiration struck. “Is to see if I’m willing to let F’jian figure this out on his own!”
As if in response, they heard the rustle of dragon wings and the sky darkened as the small flight rushed into a landing near the river’s edge.
“Very good,” T’mar said with a congratulatory nod. “And why is it that you need this test, Weyrwoman?”
“Because a leader who doesn’t let her juniors learn on their own is no leader at all,” Fiona replied.
T’mar’s lips curved upward approvingly. “And so, what are your orders, Weyrwoman?”
“Orders?” Fiona replied, arching an eyebrow and matching his grin. “I expect I’ll be asking F’jian what he plans to do next.”
“Very good!”

ABSOLUTELY NOT. That is one hundred percent ass-backwards. A good leader does let their people learn on their own, but also provides them with guidance and feedback so that they can improve in places they don’t know they’re lacking. And gives them praise in the things they’re doing well. Now, there’s something that can be said for stepping back and letting someone lead, with the understanding that if they are going to do something that’s really not in the best interests of anyone, you’ll step in and make sure the bad things don’t happen. But, again, the way it’s phrased, and based on how T’mar has been given these tests, it sounds way much more like “throw F’jian into the deep end and see if he swims or not, and offer no help at all if he flounders.”

Plus, that the “correct” answer for Fiona is to wait until F’jian has made a decision about what to do next is teeth-grinding. She’s still Weyrwoman. Even when she has a Weyrleader with her, she’s going to be expected to have plans and suggestions about what to do next. But, apparently, she’s supposed to defer to F’jian and go along with whatever he has in mind, regardless of what she thinks about it.

Fiona is having her domain of power restricted to what others think she should have, and that power does not include decisions on how and where the dragons should be flying. Fiona is being finalized into the box that she’s been prepared for all of this time. She might still have some sway in the Weyr, about what happens in the Weyr, but she’s having what power she had taken away from her and shifted to the men around her. Not that she had a whole lot of power to start with, but beforehand, she would have volunteered her opinion or done something, instead of waiting for someone else to act and following them. This could be interpreted as a sign of growing wisdom, in that Fiona is not immediately volunteering her opinion on things, but I can’t really see it that way.

There’s one more major event for Chapter 18 before it finishes, and once we get done with that, the remaining chapters are much shorter than this one and 17 have been, so that’s good. More next week.

Dragonheart: Asking The Question

Last time, Fiona got herself involved in trying to speed Zenor and Nuella getting hitched, which was complicated by the presence of M’tal at the gold mine and wherhold and Fiona being utterly unable to play a role other than herself, even when she’s not supposed to be so nobly born.

Dragonheart: Chapter 17: Content Notes:

Before we progress with the plot, there’s a bit we skipped over while I was making the point about how terrible it is that Nuella is considering the same sexual tactics that dragonriders are to get Zenor. This involves the continuing mental strain that being twice in time is taking on them, and a way of relieving the tension, if only temporarily.

“It’s hard,” Fiona told her. “It’s harder on riders than dragons or weyrfolk. Terin doesn’t feel it at all. But the riders–we feel like there’s a noise or tension, a tingling, a jangle on the senses. It comes and goes and we’re never sure when. Some days are better than others, and the days aren’t all the same for all dragonriders. It leaves us both tired and edgy. Klah is good when we’re tired, rest when we’re edgy.” She frowned as she admitted, “There’ve been fights. Fights that shouldn’t have happened.”
“Fights?” Arella asked, surprised.
Fiona nodded. “We–T’mar and the wingleaders–handle them. If a douse of cold water won’t bring them to their senses, we put them in a ring with a stuffing suit and let them have at it.”
“Stuffing suit?” Arella repeated.
“A set of clothes full of stuffing so they can hit each other without breaking bones,” Fiona explained. “They usually wind up exhausted, all the fight gone out of them.” She gave Arella a grim look as she added, “And then they’re put on the worst details for the next fortnight or more.”

You were doing so well, Fiona, with a sensible solution to the jangle in their heads, and then you had to add the part where you then punish people for the things in their head that they can’t control. Like what happeend with Tullea that nobody was interested in investigating. Also, if stuffing suits existed in previous times, why haven’t they been used instead of allowing people to do stupid things like fight duels and kill Healers? Even if H’nez was clamoring for a sword because he feels super-insulted by whatever was said, why didn’t everyone insist that he take his whatever out in a stuffing suit? Admittedly, for an old Healer, he might have killed him anyway, and cooler heads or proxies should have prevailed, but in the moment, stuffing suits would have potentially been less lethal. And those things might have been useful for when Kindan and Vaxoram went at it, and, and, and. It’s another case of this invention of the “past” changing how we view the “future”.

Also, as noted in the comments of the last post, Fiona’s admission of fights contradicts what was said earlier in the chapter about nobody fighting ever.

In any case, having successfully delivered Nuella to M’tal, Fiona melts away into the crowd and they go to their actual task of convincing Zenor to propose to Nuella. The task goes into double-time when Fiona sees the ring he’s created (apparently the design and manufacture of such Zenor’s ring is unprecedented, because of a lack of talent and good quality gold). Zenor has an attack of the what-ifs along the way, but Fiona is absolutely determined to see this through to the end, and powers through Zenor’s worries about what might happen if disaster befell him with the insistence that Zenor is preventing Nuella from being happy when he says he wants to prevent future pain. Zenor proposes, Nuella accepts, and Fiona and F’dan go home, smug in their victory.

We get some insight into Fiona’s mindset.

Really, it was a joy to spend time with F’dan because he treated her like a full-grown person, able to take on any burden, sometimes demanding more of her than she thought she could give. And he did it all with a manner that was always respectful, always supportive. And, of course, he swore like some of her father’s guards–when they thought no one from the Hold was listening.
[…F’dan and Fiona negotiate that he’ll do her hair if she’ll give his legs a massage. We learn that it took a couple sessions of massage for Fiona to get over “any lingering squeamishness when dealing with human flesh, particularly male human flesh”…]
It had given Fiona a sublime sense of relief when she discovered that riders of blues and greens, while deferential to her as a Weyrwoman, treated her womanness as something unimportant to their relationship with her. Fiona had always understood intellectually why that was so, but it was only when she recognized it on a subconscious level that she truly allowed herself to open up to them. These older men, who did not see her as a potential mate, were free to see her as the person she was.

I’m not entirely sure the author realizes what kind of shade they’re throwing on the bronze and brown riders, but if it was intentional, that’s a pretty good burn. Fiona can only be herself with the greens and blues because they’re the only ones that don’t see her as a sexual conquest. We know, from long experience reading these books, that bronze riders tend to think with their little brain more than their big one, to the point where they are definitely sexualizing someone who wouldn’t have made it to the age of majority in most countries on Terra.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the entire sequence of Fiona getting her hair cut (Fiona likes having her hair played with) reads like the camp gay stylist at the salon to me. (Perhaps it does not to others, but F’dan is a blue rider, and therefore…) There’s fussing about and discussion of hair products, and when Fiona wants her hair cut very short for the heat, F’dan grouses that she’ll look like a boy and it will take away his “only joy” of styling her hair. F’dan also says he’ll grow his hair long again when he gets back to Fort, which isn’t helping my feelings that he’s supposed to be a lot more camp than I’ve been reading him up to this point. Plus, when he’s done, F’dan gives Fiona “an affectionate pat on the butt,” which passes without any incident.

While Fiona has gotten her hair cut, a M’tal from the future has arrived, but he apparently mistimed it and ended up earlier than where he wanted to be. There’s some delicate talk of what the future holds without too many spoilers for Fiona, and M’tal eventually recognizes Fiona as the strange girl from his distant past, because she looked so much like Koriana it stuck in his head. Pleasantries exchanged, M’tal disappears to his proper time coordinates, but not without significant worry about his health. The worry about how being twice (or more) in time is taken up at dinner with T’mar and N’jian, and everyone realizes they don’t know nearly as much as they should about time travel, other than that it’s discouraged. (Instead of having been documented and drilled as thoroughly as every other aspect of being a dragonrider.)

The traders made dinner, and we now know that coconut exists on Pern, or adapted to it. The traders have also come to ask if they can trade their services for shelter in the winter. Which has an ulterior motive of allowing the traders to sit still for long enough to help with the wedding between Zenor and Nuella. And also to provide more hands to help Terin, whom everyone thinks is overworking herself and not getting nearly enough sleep. Before too much of the details can be worked out, Fiona’s birthday cake arrives, because she’s now officially fourteen by days alive, and the custom of candles on a birthday cake has apparently survived, along with making a wish while extinguishing them.

In the next segment, while Fiona is getting ready to leave for the wedding, we learn a bit more about how Talenth enjoys having small bodies around to look after and how this might be because Fiona really enjoys having bodies around.

“I remember sleeping with Forsk when I was a child…I never felt so loved or peaceful.”
“You’re an odd one,” Karina said. “You seem happiest when In the center of a pile of warm bodies.”
“It keeps the cold away,” Fiona replied. More honestly, she added, “It feels like family would feel to me.”
Karina eyed her speculatively. “And you didn’t have that growing up the only child of the Lord Holder.”
Fiona said nothing.

Or Fiona really likes the company of others in her bed. It doesn’t be to be out of a desire for lost family and to try and do something opposite from a distant but loving father. It could be that Fiona feels most protected from predatory dragonriders when there are plenty of bodies around her. It could be that Fiona is attracted to Xhinna and Terin and wants them close by as a gesture of intimacy. (Even though Xhinna got left behind.) The universe is vast, it contains multitudes, and there’s no reason to believe that Fiona couldn’t also be bi or pan, despite whatever extratextual rulesets are being applied.

In any case, Fiona gets there, finds out she’s been drafted into the wedding party as Nuella’s maid of honor, there are way more Important Guests than Nuella had figured, and manages, in a Fiona-Talenth-Nuellask-Nuella chain of images, to show Nuella what she looks like in her dress, which cheers her immensely.

Before the wedding proper, Kindan announces the official forming of the Wherhold and its designation as the Goldhall of the Smithcraft, which makes both Nuella and Zenor part of the nobility, as Kindan addresses them as “my lord, my lady”.

The actual vows and ceremony are elided over, much to my annoyance, and then there is the glow-flying in formation (also, there are yellow glows and green glows in addition to the previous colors), and the rest of the night, aside from Nuella resolving to get one of the saddles that Arella and Jaythen used to ride their watch-whers, is Fiona finding as many excuses as she can to not get too noticed by Kindan, since he continues to take an interest in her even though she’s tried not to be noticeable and has spent much of the wedding dancing and feasting with others, and the next batch of healed dragonriders hopping forward to the agreed-upon time. F’dan’s last piece of advice to Fiona is to remind her that when he sees her next, she’s going to have a dragon that can mate.

Two time-jumps down, one more to go.

Dragonheart: Continuing the Setup

Last time, Fiona convinced Zenor and Nuella to move, the wherhold to come with them, and the Smiths to build them a hold in exchange for a ready supply of gold traded to them from the mine and Igen Weyr. She did this despite nobody actually believing er wen she claimed to be a dragonrider until she convinced them of it, sometimes in seemingly unrelated ways or because someone else gave prophecy and future vision that paved the way for Fiona. Which is to say, Fiona rarely succeeds by being herself, using her own abilities, and being direct, and instead is shepherded along by the narrative or rewarded for being indirect.

Dragonheart: Chapter 17: Content Notes: Sex rays,

Thread burn,
Thread score,
Rider heal,
Dragon soar.

(Igen Weyr, Late Evening, 498.9.8)

Okay, that’s just terrible. There’s no information conveyed in it, and I can’t imagine this being part of any song at all. Guh.

Chapter 17 starts with more dragons returning to full health, and some logistical plans coming to fruition, as the new wherhold gets up an running, as well as some key endorsements from the local Holder and Benden’s Weyrleader, M’tal. The biggest hurdle is that now that everyone is coming back to health, there aren’t enough food supplies to keep them all fed. There’s trade possibilities, but until the Wherhold gets up, running, and tithing gold for trade, the logistics don’t work. K’rall hits on the idea of having the majority of the currently-healthy riders hop themselves forward in time until they’re needed again to train the weyrlings in the art of flying in formation, leaving only enough riders and dragons behind to take care of the injured as well as to let the weyrlings continue to mature. Fiona gives the idea the thumbs-up, and K’rall recommends N’jian to train with the next lot that will be getting healthy and then bring them forward when they’re ready, so there’s no wasted time for them and they don’t become a burden on Weyr supplies, either. Everyone is going to try precision time-hopping using the star-navigation method the traders have taught them, and presumably will figure out how to avoid stepping on each other as they arrive.

The recommendation of N’jian surprises T’mar, and K’rall compliments Fiona for helping him keep an open mind. They also all complain about the muzzy-headedness getting to them, with K’rall suggesting that the static will only get worse with time and there will be fights the longer everyone stays twice in time. Of course, moving forward in time means they’ll miss the wedding of Zenor and Nuella, which in itself leads into some interesting commentary about what’s going on at the new wherhold.

“I heard from Arella that he’s [Zenor] been cursing nonstop since Stirger set up that solar forge.” With a shrug, she [Terin] added, “Of course, that might have been for the price he charged.”
The others smiled. Journeyman Stirger was a prickly, ill-tempered, opinionated, arrogant, and stubborn man, but he was honest enough to admit it. He was also quick to apologize and admit his mistakes. His apology to Fiona almost had her forgive him, and had caused her to realize she had some of her father’s tendencies to hold on to a grudge longer than sensible.
“Ah, but once Stirger thought up the idea, it was Zenor who figured out how to mass produce them and market them,” Fiona said. “And with that, he’s recouped Stirger’s price twice over.”
“And found himself rated apprentice to the Smithcraft,” T’mar remarked, remembering the dazed look of the young man when Mastersmith Veclan had sent down the package containing smith garb and badges.

Great job, Zenor. You’re finally coming into your due as a brilliant person.

I’m definitely not loving this decision by the narrative to frame Fiona as holding a grudge instead of forgiving, but I’m also a reader who has been exposed to significant data and anecdote about how women are culturally expected to forgive men that have been assholes to them. And continue to be assholes to them, just so long as the man manages to say the apology words, regardless of whether he actually means them in any sort of way. Stirger could be a prodigy at Smithing, and he’s still going to be an asshole who will rub people the wrong way. Some people will be able to deal with him. Some will not. And we should not have the narrative telling us Fiona’s holding a grudge past when she should let it go. If Stirger hasn’t changed himself, Fiona shouldn’t have to change her own attitude toward him, either. And even if he did, Fiona shouldn’t be forced to change her attitude toward him, either, because he was still a giant asshole to her in the past. Fiona gets to decide when she wants to forgive, if she decides to forgive, and the narrative is undercutting that in favor of trying to tell us an asshole isn’t that bad. That’s a very familiar refrain at the time of this writing. We can only hope that if this survives for a good long while, people in the future will wonder what we’re talking about, instead of nodding their heads along because they know.

There’s also talk about how Silstra is really the person in charge at that Hold, Zenor having managed to lure her away from the Smithcraft Hall, although there’s a swift acknolwedgement that Silstra had already trained her successor, and a jibe at Terin that she observed everything Silstra did and said and is now putting all of that advice given and seen to work “hounding the weyrlings like a queen dragon about to mate,” according to K’rall. Becuase you apparently can’t have a headwoman without the boys complaining they’re working too much and suggesting their headwoman is a shrew. It’s in jest here, but I can imagine it turning serious without too much prodding.

The plot proceeds apace, and a large group of riders jump forward into the future to preserve supplies. The weyrlings end up helping assist with th physical therapy for the injured dragons, and that makes sure everyone gets their glide time. There’s a small ping in the back of Fiona’s head about what things will be like going back to being a junior Weyrwoman, after having been a Senior with a full-grown dragon, but Fiona pushes it off as a problem for future-Fiona. And, as she’s talking with F’dan, we get the juxtaposition that a lot of women go through, where she has to be both on the pedestal of being a Lady and being one of the boys. (Fiona much prefers being one of the boys.)

“No,” Fiona told him bluntly. “You’re fully recovered. If you want to be warm, then get off your arse and hike on down to the Kitchen Cavern–the exercise will do you good.”
F’dan snorted at her tone and her choice of words. His had been a hard recovery, and he had learned early on in hsi physical therapy that Fiona had heard enough swearing from her father’s guards that he could only rarely cause her to blush. She had responded by teasing him about it, using his own words against him.

See? Fiona doesn’t blush when the dragonriders curse around her, and she’ll give as good as she gets. She’s one of the boys. But not when it’s someone of lower station being coarse around her. Then, she has to be the dignified Weyrwoman for whom such things are beneath her or that she orders someone else to execute swift revenge for. In-group behaviors and out-group behaviors, and so forth.

The plot has, as part of Fiona’s idea of how Zenor’s wedding should go, the riders constructing big glow balls they can use to illuminate Zenor and Nuella’s wedding. Also, apparently, glows come in red, green, and blue. T’mar and P’der realize that flying with glows is not only good for night sight, but is also useful for finding and correcting errors in formations. F’dan is begging Fiona to get Zenor to propose already, so they can put on the show before they’re fully healed enough to hop forward in time themselves. Which Fiona takes as a suggestion to T’mar. Who is not feeling it, even as he’s of pressured from Fiona and F’dan, but he also knows that he’s dealing with Fiona.

“I suppose if I said no, you’d just go anyway.”
“No,” Fiona told him, shaking her head emphatically. “I’d want to know why, and if I thought your reasons were totally unacceptable, then I might go.” She blew out a breath before adding, ‘But I expect that any reasons you have would make sense and I wouldn’t go just out of spite.”
T’mar gave her a frank look of gratitude.

There’s Fiona’s characterization coming through against the training she’s undertaking to become a Weyrwoman. What Fiona says is a good compromise between them. So long as T’mar isn’t being arbitrary about what Fiona is doing, or trying to keep Fiona in an ivory tower, Fiona promises she’ll take T’mar’s counsel under advisement. Because, surprise, once you have beings that can reason on their own, you have to actually reason with them and try to give them reasons they will accept as good. Much as the bronze rider contingent (and Cisca, to greater and lesser degrees) wants Fiona on obedient lockdown.

Getting back to the plot, T’mar gives his assent, and also mentions they’ll have to fly the long way, since F’dan has never been, which has both Fiona and F’dan complaining about the length of the trip and their soreness by the time they get there. Fiona dismounts the dragon in a risky way, drawing condemnation from F’dan about being reckless. Then F’dan tries to soften things some, since it’s clear to him that Fiona realizes what she did was reckless.

“You know, you’ve the whole Weyr on your shoulders only if you won’t ask for help.” He stepped behind her, quickly resting his hands on her shoulders. “And while there’s no one who doubts your courage, you’ve not cause to bear such a weight.”
“Cisca does.”
“Weyrwoman Cisca relies on the help of others and admits her mistakes,” F’dan said as he returned to his place by her side. He leaned down to wag a finger in her face, saying kindly, “Which is not to say you don’t have the same qualities, Weyrwoman. Just to say that you shouldn’t forget your friends.”
Fiona gave him a questioning look but found herself afriad to speak.
“Bold as I am, I count myself among them,” F’dan added. He looked ahead–giving Fiona time to wipe her suddenly teary eyes–and scanned their surroundings critically.

F’dan is right, at least to the point where it’s likely Cisca has a council of trusted people, and that Fiona doesn’t have to carry the burden of being Weyrwoman along. However, from what we’ve seen, since Fiona has to be both familiar and remote, a friend and a leader, attractive and available but also distant and severe, it seems likely the course of action that Fiona’s taken to herself is that she doesn’t want to trust anyone with the burdens she has because trusting someone means annoying someone else, and she really can’t have anything but a harmoniously running Weyr until everyone is ready to go home. And how would Fiona know who to trust with these decisions, anyway? Terin is probably the closest thing she has to a peer confidante who might know enough to give her useful advice about things, and Terin is younger than she is.

I also feel obligated to point out the part earlier where Fiona heard how much dragonriders give each other help, but nobody proactively volunteered to help Fiona with the things she needed to learn and do. That still seems to be continuing, where Fiona has to give orders, rather than take volunteers. That’s only going to tell her who can carry out orders, not who can be trusted to make good decisions, unless Fiona decides to put someone in a leadership position and find out if they can hack it. Which is one of the best ways to find leaders, sure, but there’s also the part where some of them might not be capable of it at all, and then you have to figure out how to get them out of that position.

F’dan and Fiona watch the lowering into place of a water wheel before approaching the wherhold to engage in their task. After a misunderstanding about why they are there, because Terregar is still used to dragonriders who come to take, rather than trade, an unknown dragonrider arrives and Fiona has to be hidden so as not to give away the future. The miners try to disguise her as one of their own. Fiona proceeds to not do very good at being hidden by getting super-excited at finding two nuggets of gold in the river, which attracts the attention of the unknown dragonrider, who turns out to be M’tal. Fiona has a brief flash of worry about having her find taken by M’tal (which makes me point and shout about how it’s not just Telgar Weyr that has to repair the relationships the holders and the dragonriders have with each other), before she makes herself even more visible by asking M’tal to accept the gold on behalf of Kindan, who everyone scrambles to cover and say that Kindan’s famous and well-known everywhere, and then Fiona speaks like a Lady, rather than a humble crafter, and everyone scrambles harder to explain it away as there being a mixed sort of folk at this wherhold, since they’ve already established there isn’t a Harper on staff. Fiona manages to get herself away from the space where she could continue to cause damage by pouncing on M’tal’s task of talking to Nuella and offering to go get Nuella for him. Zenor takes her up on the offer.

As Fiona is finding her way to Nuella, despite not knowing a thing about how the construction has gone so far, we get a nice paragraph of worldbuilding about how Holds are constructed.

She paused as the dark archway cut into the side of the hill came into view: the craftwork was perfect, the stones laid dry to form a tall archway that was recessed the regulation dragonlength into the hill, with room clearly set for two large steel doors, one set behind the other to provide double protection against Thread. She thought she could feel both Zenor’s mining craft and Terregar’s smith craft at work in its formation–a proper blend for Nuella’s queen.

I still wonder which dragon gets used as the regulation dragon. It’s probably a bronze, but it still would be nice to know. Additionally, how would Fiona know that the stones were laid withour mortar, and to call them dry? The smiths and miners, I wouldn’t bat an eye, but Fiona hasn’t hung around them nearly that much that I see her picking up both their terminology and their eye for knowing whether something has been mortared or not. (It’s a nitpick, but it also seems like careless use of language, which is not encouraging when you’re trying to set a world where things are theoretically consistent.)

In any case, Fiona finds her way to the kitchen, where she is immediately accosted by the cook for being a wet girl in the kitchen.

Fiona’s heart leapt as she took in the flour-smudged face, the stern look and the amazing smells arising all around her. This slim person was clearly of the same mold as her beloved Neesa, the head cook at Fort Hold since before Fiona was born.
“You must be Sula,” Fiona said, recalling Zenor’s glee at arranging to bring her with them from Mine Natalon.
“Of course I am. Now get out of here,” Sula responded sharply. “Don’t think to nab a dainty on your way out, either!” To herself she began muttering, “I work all day and night and these kids just gobble it up without a word of thanks.”
[…Fiona mentions that dainties would be a good idea to send out front, since M’tal is there. Sula calls for Silstra, who immediately identifies Fiona and asks what she’s doing here. Fiona sums up the situation…]
“Sula, who had been staring bug-eyed at Fiona ever since Silstra had identified her, finally found breath ennough to gasp, “My lady, I’m so sorry! I didn’t–”
Fiona stopped her with a raised hand and a grin. “You reminded me of our cook back at the Hold. It felt like being home.”
“Shards!” Sula exclaimed, shaking her head in dismay. “That a cook would talk so to a Lady Holder!”
“If she hadn’t, I’d be the size of a barge,” Fiona replied, still grinning. “I was always stealing from the kitchen.”
“I had you marked for a rascal,” Silstra murmured approvingly. Sula gasped in surprise. “You couldn’t manage your Weyr at this age if you hadn’t been a hellion as a child.”
“I only hunted tunnel snakes,” Fiona said in her defense.
“Exactly!” Silstra said. She turned to Sula. “But the Weyrwoman’s right about your dainties. Do be a gem and set out a platter I can bring down.”

In this situation, I am reminded of situations in military service where a person of lower rank may be expected or privileged to give orders to those of higher rank because the situation falls into their specific domain. Or other situation where someone may have a higher rank but is strongly encouraged to take and listen to the counsel of their more experienced lower-ranking officer. Because you disobey the head cook, headwoman, or anyone else who helps keep the house running at your own peril, even if you are the Lord Holder’s daughter. At least until you’ve learned how everything fits together, and then at that point, you realize you’re still not going to countermand them without a really good reason.

In any case, Silstra helps Fiona find Nuella. They discuss Zenor’s feelings of insecurity about proposing to Nuella before arriving at her space, and after Arella joins them, everyone talks a bit about Fiona’s insecurities about whether creating the things she remembers in her past is doing a good thing. Silstra leaves to help Sula, and Arella and Nuella quiz Fiona a bit about M’tal’s visit, before Fiona admits her stunt involving getting a gift to Kindan and the topic of the conversation turns to Nuella and her feelings about Zenor.

“He’s a handsome lad,” Fiona agreed. She saw Arella’s encouraging nod and, not wasting time to wonder how the wherhandler had divined her intentions, plunged on. “He’d be quite a catch.”
“Only if he’s willing to be caught,” Nuella said with a sigh. “I was hoping maybe when Nuelsk rose…”
Arella burst out laughing, pointing a finger accusingly at Nuella. “I never would have thought that of you!”
“Why not?” Nuella asked, her innocence vanishing. “I’ve heard enough about mating flights to hope–”
“You are a sly one!” Arella exclaimed.
Fiona felt uncomfortable with the tone of the conversation, not scandalized, but troubled all the same, feeling somewhat as though she were on the edge of a deeper understanding that only experience could provide.
“As it is,” Nuella persisted, “I don’t know if I can wait until Nuellask rises.”
“Ah, but it’d be so much better with a queen!” Arella said, grinning lecherously.

I’d like to believe that unease Fiona is feeling is because she understands that Nuella is suggesting using the sex rays to get Zenor in the same way that the bronze riders expect the sex rays to get one of them Fiona when Talenth decides to rise. The narrative suggests otherwise, of course, because it wants to maintain the idea of Fiona as an innocent and not acknowledge that Fiona might have been getting sex ed of a sort before becoming a dragonrider, possibly even getting told about the sex rays that follow dragon mating flights. So Fiona might understand enough about what’s being discussed to feel like she’s witnessing what she might have to go through in a fairly close future.

As a reader, the attitude Arella displays toward Nuella offends my sense of consent as an important part of establishing a healthy relationship. A different part of my brain points out that at least everyone who has a bonded creature, whether wher or dragon, has a consistent attitude about consent. In the best interpretation of this sequence, Nuella is feeling shy in the same vein that Zenor is feeling unworthy, and is hoping that Nuellask getting horny will get Nuella in the mood to ask Zenor to bed.

In the worst reading, the one that I think Arella is going along with, Nuella is considering using “I can’t help myself, the watch-wher made me do it” as an excuse for rape. Because, apparently, you can’t just ask someone to marry you if you’re a woman. This idea becomes even worse later on, when Arella, Fiona, and Nuella are talking about the differences and similarities between watch-whers and dragons.

“You’re the senior,” Arella reminded her. “You’ve got the gold.”
“You’re following Weyr traditions?” Fiona asked.
“It seemed right,” Nuella replied. “At least until we learn differently.”
“Besides, all the watch-whers obey the queen,” Arella added.
“And dragons,” Nuella reminded her. Fiona noted Arella’s sour look as the woman acknowledged that remark. For a moment Fiona wondered what it would be like the other way around, if the dragons obeyed the watch-whers, and then she realized they already had–in the night flight Nuella had led.

That behavior happens with the fire-lizards, too, doesn’t it? It seems like it would follow logically that the dragons have it, too, as a way of stopping them from deciding to strike out on their own and terrorize the countryside and all the characters that are in it. But maybe I’ve been headcanoning it all along because it seems useful to think about it that way as a way of providing a check on bronze riders even if the riders themselves can’t be mind-whammied by a Weyrwoman.

Continuing…

“I’m not so sure,” Fiona said much to Arella’s surprise. “I think the watch-whers are willing to listen to the dragons much the same way the dragons are willing to listen to their riders.”
“So, no difference,” Arella said with a dismissive shrug.
“No,” Nuella responded. “The Weyrwoman has a point. A dragon doesn’t have to obey her rider.”
“Think of a hatching,” Fiona said suggestively.
“Or a mating flight,” Arella added apprciatively. “If your dragons are anything like our watch-whers, then a mating flight requires the greatest control a handler–rider–ever needs.”
“It’s in the Ballads,” Fiona said in agreement, suppressing an internal shudder–could she control Talenth when she rose?

And I am reminded of Son of the Benden Weyrleaders and his self-control involved when his dragon went into mating flight with a green and the self-control he exhibited before deciding to take advantage of the sex rays. There’s really no way of avoiding this as the equivalent of slipping someone a roofie and having sex with them. And it’s terrible that this is an example of “people with sex ray devices think about using them” rather than “this was something the men would do to others.”

Grumble.

We’ll have more next week.

Dragonheart: The Future Comes to Past

Last time, Fiona was transported to the Weyrhold and nearly got herself killed because Jaythen should never be trusted around people ever. And then, having collected her egg, traveled to Mine Natalon, where she was promptly attacked by an injured dog and hurt to the point of passing out.

Dragonheart, Chapters 15 and 16: Content Notes: The Patriarchy (yay.)

Rider to your dragon hew
Lest any harm should come to you.

(Igen Weyr, AL 498.8.12)

So, Fiona wakes up to find the Mysterious Weyrwoman has assured her dragon she’ll be fine, before her rescuer insists she stay still or she’ll get given fellis until she passes out again. Fiona, of course, has no intention of it, but her rescuer insists, and lets her know that in the two days she’s been out of it, Fiona has apparently been very chatty about herself and her mission, much to Fiona’s chagrin. Zenor, her rescuer, wasn’t necessarily putting stock in it while Fiona was feverish, but he may have to reconsider that opinion, especially after Fiona diagnoses her own injury and suggests how long she’ll actually be healing.

It turns out that Zenor is also caring for Nuella, who had been caught in a cave-in. Nuelsk (the green) saved her life, but either died from the cave-in or a tunnel snake bite or both. And so the green that we spent significant time with is killed offscreen for Fiona’s memory of the past to come true. This Zenor is sixteen, and Fiona briefly wonders what it would be like if she met Kindan at this early age before dismissing the idea as causing him significant pain if he ended up having both Fiona and Koriana leave him in the same lifetime. And because if she had done it, then the two of them would have been together in the future, and causing a paradox is a bad idea.

After sleeping some, Fiona is introduced to Renna, she gets to sit up and have food, and Fiona is very concerned about the watch-wher egg. Which is about to hatch. Fiona finds out most of the dogs went feral after their owners died from the Plague, which leads Renna into a rant about the lack of help from the dragonriders.

“What?” Fiona asked in shock, shaking her head. “No, that’s not true! They dropped masks and fruit at all the holds–”
“Except those looking to Telgar,” Renna told her harshly. “D’gan left us to live or die on our own.”
“And that fool Fenric locked himself in his hold until Nerra recovered enough to throw him out,” Fiona said, recalling her father’s words on the subject as he explained why he had supported Nerra’s claim to Crom Hold.

For serious, how did that asshole not get murdered? Sure, you can argue that Telgar believed anyone not a dragonrider is nothing, but surely someone would have pointed out to him that they need the peons for tithes, if nothing else. And when he said otherwise, they deposed him. Preferably off a cliff. He should never have gotten to the point where his arrogance caused the mass telefrag.

Zenor recounts to Fiona that it’s mostly the young that survived, those in the sweet spot not to get dead by the plague and then to not get dead by the starvation that followed. Fiona teases him about being sweet on Nuella when he goes to check on her, but it doesn’t get the expected response. Renna smoothly suggests Fiona needs a bathroom break, and while they’re away from Zenor, Renna fills in Fiona on the situation.

“Just so you know,” Renna said in a tight voice, “the last thing Nuella said to Zenor was, ‘Why did you let me live?’ ”
“But I thought Nuelsk saved her,” Fiona said in surprise.
“She pushed but Zenor pulled,” Renna said tersely, wrapping an arm around Fiona and guiding her to her feet. “So, your coming here with a queen’s egg and sounding like Zenor and Nuella are mated is just as addled as expecting a dragonrider to say a kind word.”
[…Fiona protests, but Renna asks where her dragon is, and the effort of using the bathroom exhausts Fiona…]
“You need your rest,” the redhead said, closing the room’s shutters.
“Thank you,” Fiona told her.
“See?” Renna replied with a quirk of her lips. “You can’t be a dragonrider–you’re too polite!”

Whomever takes over at Telgar is going to have to deal with their predecessor having done everything possible to get their environment to provide the Weyr with the most terrible goods they can get away with, if not outright refuse to tithe until they can be sure that it’s a new administration in charge. I realize that in our world, someone who is that incompetent could rule for a very long time, but you would like to believe that in fictional worlds, they don’t (unless the author is making a point about it).

Also, I thought watch-wher bonds were less intense than dragon ones, but I also have to acknowledge that Nuella is also losing her eyes and going back to the world of being blind and without a companion that can provide her with some ability to go through the world like she’s sighted. Since I doubt there’s much of a Blind culture on Pern for her to be proud of and associate with, this has to feel terrible for her.

When Fiona awakens again, Nuella is with her, and the two of them have a heart-to-heart about how Fiona doesn’t understand anything about the grief Nuella of experiencing right now. And eventually, Fiona summons T’mar to bring her back and stop hurting Nuella, before the fuzziness of being in two times gives way to laughing, and then crying, and then babbling on about the whole mission and what the future entails. Everyone around her chalks out up to the stress of what she’s trying to do even as they pay attention to her pronouncements of their future. Eventually, she begs T’mar to tell all.

“As you wish, Weyrwoman,” T’mar agreed, leaning down toward her to plant a soft kiss on her cheek.
“You kissed me!” Fiona declared in muzzy surprise. ‘I like that.”

And them she passes out until after the egg has hatched and Nuella Impressed. Which means it’s mostly the logistics of getting everyone set to go to Igen Weyr temporarily. Fiona is grumpy that she can’t think properly. And Zenor and Nuella take one of the Mine’s kids, Larissa, with them. And there are several pages of tantalizing the two new people with iced cream, good food, the regrettable need to have both trade and tithe with the wherhold, showing Zenor the maps, and a lot of trying not to say too much about the future at all. Nuella goads Zenor into promising he will ask her to marry him “When I have something worthy to offer you.” Nuella assures him he is worthy and tells him not to wait too long. And that’s the end of 15.

Good earth,
Fresh soil,
Hardy ground,
Less toil.

(Igen Weyr, Morning, AL 498.8.14)

I think that’s the first farmer-related poetry we’ve heard. Not too terrible.

Sixteen opens with Zenor and a few dragons going to visit the site of the future wherhold, because Zenor thinks having a sample of the gold he intends to mine will give him better leverage with the Smiths to send out people that can work the gold into tradeable goods. He finds out easily enough in the river bed. What we’re going to be focusing on is how blue riders are characterized in this segment.

Blue riders were eager fliers, and often their dragons became so overcome by their riders’ enthusiasm that they overexerted themselves and strained their muscles.
[…]
“Let’s go!” S’gan replied enthusiastically, taking off in a lope.
As Zenor made to follow, K’rall laid a hand on his arm. “Let’s not go too quickly; this is likely to be a long search, isn’t it?”
“It is,” Zenor agreed with a smile, matching his pace to that of the older dragonrider. He noticed that D’teril, the other blue rider, was racing after S’gan, but that the two younger brown riders were taking their cue from K’rall. “Are they always like that?”
“Blues are quick, agile,” K’rall explained. “They tend to Impress those with similar traits.”
T’del, one of the brown riders, cocked a questioning look toward K’rall.
“Not all blues are the same,” K’rall said in response. “But if you were to place a bet in a race, bet that the fastest rider is a blue.”
“Blues start quick, browns finish,” T’del said, grinning.
“True.”

Which makes me wonder about the decisions being made by the geneticists. They had five possible colors to choose from, each apparently with their own potential attributes, and they chose to make dragons out of all five. Given how they supposedly set up the dragons with their genomes, why did they choose all five of them, rather than just deciding they were going to build ultimate armies of gold and bronze and scatter them all around Pern? (If it exists, it’s probably in my notes from Dragonsdawn or First Fall.) Weyrs have adapted, sure, to use the smaller and faster greens and blues in addition to the staying power of the browns and bronzes, but if the idea of Thread fighting is essentially to blanket the affected space in flames, why wouldn’t they select the ones with the best distance and greatest capacity for throwing flame, once they figured out who they were? Even if evolution moves slowly on Pern, the dragonriders have obvious preferences for bronze and gold dragons for fighting Thread, and clutches should be adjusting for this.

The other part of Chapter 16 is Fiona and T’mar going to see the Mastersmith. Fiona is sent on her way wearing the jacket of the Igen Weyrwoman, while T’mar keeps the Weyrleader jacket firmly in his hands, so as not to pretend to a rank he doesn’t have. They wear Igen both to spite the asshole and also so that they blend in better with the locals.

And there’s also a part here that’s another example of Good Girls Don’t Want Publicly. Because Fiona first protests the jacket is going to make her far too warm in the Igen climate.

“I’ll roast in that!” Fiona declared in a feeble attempt to avoid wearing the jacket, but she knew, even as she spoke, that she would not only wear it, but she wanted to.

So, privately, the narrative tells us Fiona definitely wants to wear the symbol of being the Weyrwoman. But instead of expressing that desire (and likely catching blowback from the bronze riders about it), when the bronze riders put the jacket on her and talk her up, Fiona doesn’t agree with them.

“You look a proper Weyrwoman,” K’rall said approvingly.
“I’m too young.”
“It’s not the age,” K’rall said solemnly. “It’s the decorum.”
Fiona couldn’t argue with that, particularly as the words made her beam with pride. She turned to T’mar, who bowed slightly to show his approval.
[…Fiona has a small grumble about how far she’s going to have to walk and then asks if everyone is sure she’s needed…]
“And I’d honestly prefer it if you were there as Weyrwoman,” T’mar told her. He looked awkwardly at the wherhide jacket he’d looped over his forearm. “I’d prefer not to claim honors I haven’t earned.” He met her eyes. “You have the right to claim to be Igen’s Weyrwoman.”
Fiona’s eyes dress in delight even as she shook her head demurely.
“You do,” T’mar assured her. “And I don’t doubt that your time at your father’s Hold will help in our dealings.”

Remember, Fiona wants this. Every time the bronze riders say she’s ready for it, it makes her smile and her eyes dance. But Fiona doesn’t say “Thank you, this feels right.” Instead, she demurs and otherwise behave like how a Lady Holder would be expected to behave in that situation. I understand that everyone has to learn how to survive and adapt to their environment, but the Fiona who get a dragon to get away from it all is rapidly disappearing and getting replaced with someone more in the mold of what the bronze riders want in a Weyrwoman. We should be mourning Fiona’s loss of freedom, even if she doesn’t realize this is what’s happening.

At the Smithcrafthall, Zenor is uneasy that there are no sentries posted and no crowd gathered to gawk at the dragon and passengers. When they open the doors and are greeted by the cacaphony inside, it becomes a bit more obvious why nobody came to see them. It seems to be a Smith trait to achieve hyperfocus to the point of being able to block everything else out. Since nobody is greeting them, Fiona asks Zenor how he would find Dalor (the head of the mine since Natalon died in the Plague), and uses his response (find where people are working on problems) to correctly spot, and go over to, the group that has the Mastersmith in it. Where Fiona is promptly gatekept by a journeyman Smith (Stirger) to the point where Zenor steps in with his hands raised to threaten Stirger about running his mouth off before Mastersmith Veclan assents to see the party in his office and calls for Silstra. On the way there, he notes the Igen symbol on Fiona and has a small conniption about it, but T’mar and Fiona explain Fiona’s right to wear it well enough that he doesn’t ask more questions until they’re inside his office. Where Zenor finally twigs that he did, in fact, know Silstra before she married Terregar, and Veclan realizes Zenor is from Mine Natalon because of it. Silstra arrives and is shocked at Zenor’s presence and wants to know what he’s doing there with dragonriders.

Because it’s about to become relevant, here’s an example of Stirger’s rudeness.

His thoughts were obvious: Why was a young girl doing the talking?
“Igen Weyr?” the man next to Veclan repeated scornfully. “Why don’t you say Telgar?”
“I wasn’t speaking to you,” Fiona snapped at the rat-faced man. “I was talking to the Mastersmith.”
“Then you should learn manners, weyrgirl,” the rat-faced fan growled back.
“Weyrwoman,” Fiona corrected, her tone carefully set so as to make the correction sound reflexive, as though she’d spoken absently. She eyed the man a moment, noted the journeyman badge on his breast, then said to Veclan, “I do hope it’s customary for the Mastersmith to do the talking in his own Hall.” She turned to the other man, adding, “And out of courtesy I would speak to you by name.”

There’s a qualitative difference between “The Asshole At Telgar has soured relationships between dragonriders and everyone else” and “The Patriarchy insists that any man can speak for all women and something is seriously wrong with men who let women speak for them.” If the author was aiming for the first, they landed squarely in the second instead. In the society that the authors want to envision, a small girl claiming to be a Weyrwoman might not be believed on her say-so, but presumably there are ways of proving that she is who she says she is (many of which would rely on an Approved Man vouching for her). Being condescending off the bat because there’s no way a small girl could be Weyrwoman is our world bleeding through, and the “manners” comment echoes what H’nez did earlier about “manners”. Both of those comments rest on the unquestioned assumption that any man is better than even the best woman, so if a man is offended, the woman is at fault.

I can see the Smiths being contemptuous toward dragonriders as a group, the way Renna was, because their experiences have been profoundly negative. Silstra expresses this kind of contempt by asking Zenor what he’s doing hanging out with dragonriders. Stirger, however, is allowed to harass Fiona and nobody rebukes him for doing so until Zenor is ready to throw down on her behalf. This bodes terribly for the future. Veclan, for example, has some views about Silstra that might get him a pop on the nose, too. Zenor and T’mar are trying to move clutter, and Veclan says not to bother.

“That’s not necessary,” Veclan said, “and you’ll only upset Silstra. She’s convinced that I can’t keep the place tidy by myself and she’d feel lost if I didn’t allow the rubbish to pile up.”

Because the only thing she’s good for, and by the way, she’s not your wife, is for cleaning up messes and making sure the Hall runs smoothly, apparently.

Fiona has Zenor show Veclan the gold and ask for support in starting a hold and craft hall. Veclan calls in another master, and the negotiations begin in earnest, even though Silstra points out that Weyrs do not trade with others. After an hour, however, it’s pretty obvious to Zenor they’re not going to get anywhere.

“It’s obvious there’s no trade here.”
“Dragonriders don’t trade,” Stirger declared once more.
“We would,” Fiona responded, rising from her chair and propping her crutches under her arms. She turned to Silstra.
“I am sorry we couldn’t come to an agreement,” T’mar said, also rising.
Zenor glared at Silstra. “Kindan would have listened.”
“Doubtless,” Stirger drawled. “After all, he is a harper, and likes a good tale.”
Fiona bit back an angry retort, instead venting her anger and disappointment in a sigh.

Why is Stirger there? Other than to continue the theme of asshole men that Fiona has to deal with to get anything done, I mean. And, more specifically, incompetent asshole men who somehow end up being the primary actors in the situation, despite the presence of people with more power that don’t do anything to rein those assholes in. I mean, even accounting for the toxically masculine environment, Stirger is driving away an offer of trade and gold, because he’s unwilling to accept that Fiona speaks the truth or for anyone. It’s not his decision to make, it’s Veclan’s, but Veclan seems quite content to let it go.

Fiona asks Zenor to ask them about the ring, and there’s some some more future knowledge let out to try and convince the Mastersmith and Silstra, but they still don’t believe Fiona until she finally breaks through with something unrelated to their ask at the Hall.

“I still do not understand what the Weyr gets from all this.”
“Honor more than anything,” Fiona replied without thinking. She gestured toward Telgar Weyr. “I have heard too many stories about the Weyrleader there. Honor has been lost by him; it is up to the rest of the Weyrs to rebuild it.”
“No gold for you?” Veclan wondered, eyeing Fiona shrewdly.
“I have a gold!” Fiona exclaimed hotly. “And not all the metal of Pern is worth one instant with her.” She started to move around him. “I’ve wasted enough time away from her.”
“Very well,” Veclan called to her back. “Go back to your Weyr, Weyrwoman. You’ll need more than one dragon to bring all our gear anyway.”
Fiona slowed and stopped, not believing her ears. Hopefully, she turned back to look into the Mastersmith’s eyes. “You mean you will help us?”
Veclan nodded, smiling.
“Why?” Fiona asked in surprise. “What changed your mind?”
“The way you spoke of your dragon,” Veclan told her. He shook his head admiringly as he added, “I wanted to believe you when you spoke of honor, but it was when you spoke of your gold that I realized you were telling the truth.”

And the first Weyrwoman Veclan’s met that’s willing to trade, emphasis on the word trade in the original, with the unspoken implication that dragonriders generally take instead and don’t bother with compensation. As we saw in the earlier series, dragonriders decided they wanted the prize for the winner of the games to go to The Asshole At Telgar, regardless of who actually won. And the other riders who tried to take knives and other things that had been commissioned for others in previous series that we’ve covered. So this is a novelty for the Mastersmith. And I don’t really know why Fiona’s anger about gold is the thing that convinces him, when so many other things could and should have before.

The rest of the chapter is getting Nuella, Nuellask, and Zenor introduced to the current wherhold and explaining to them they’re going to be moving into new digs, Talenth desperately wanting to play and nap with Nuellask, and, eventually, Talenth convinces Fiona to sleep with her, and T’mar brings Terin in to sleep next to Fiona, before admiring the work they’ve done to get Igen Weyr stood up.

Dragonheart: The Confidence of Future Knowledge

Last time was basically a lot of “Fiona continues to grow into the role of the Weyrwoman” with an extended detour into the sort of thing that is creepy in the ways of “countdown until underage celebrity is legal” is creepy.

Dragonheart: Chapter 14: Content Notes: nonconsensual pranking and making fun, The Patriarchy (thbbbpth),

First flight,
Wings delight.
Weyrlings soar,
Dragons roar.

(Igen Weyr, Morning, AL 498.7.8)

Would it be too much to ask that for these books, if we’re going to have poetry fragments, that they’re all from the same poem? I’m sure that there’s enough culture on Pern that a relevant fragment can be found with enough searching, but it would be better if we could judge a full poem or song on its own merits, instead of having to infer everything from the fragments we have.

In any case, the chapter starts with Fiona deciding it’s a good idea to let the weyrlings start gliding their dragons again, after asking T’mar and being told they’re “your weyrlings”, and this leads to T’mar saying how terrible it would be if Talenth was injured before her mating flight, which Fiona bristles at and declares her dragon will outfly every bronze. We know this won’t happen, but it does seem to be a pretty standard declaration among gold riders.

T’mar leaves to learn how to navigate by stars, and wishes Fiona a happy birthday before departing. Fiona is confused about what he’s getting on about, despite the extended riff about time and birthdays in the last chapter, and Terin helps explain what’s going on — today is the calendar day of Fiona’s birthday, even though, because of time hopping, she hasn’t accumulated the necessary days to be physically fourteen. Once it’s cleared up, Fiona teases Terin about turning one in twelve days, and Terin says she’s trying to collect data for all the weyrlings and older riders. And they reflect soberly about the fact they’re spending three years to return in three days, and Xhinna is going to have to adjust to the Fiona that is now a year older than her, rather than several years younger.

Fiona has her birthday with grace and food, then kicks Terin out of the kitchen on the regular so she can let T’mar and F’jian exercise their cooking skills. Both of them appear to be very competent.

T’mar started with Terin’s bean recipe and added roast herdbeast marinated in a hot spicy sauce of his own invention. F’jian preferred to highlight garlic in his cooking, spicing up chicken breasts with a sweet and sour sauce that filled the entire Kitchen Cavern with its tantalizing scent.
For herself, Fiona concentrated on sweet juices, trying some of the newer fruits that the traders had brought in from Keroon and Ista–pungent fruits with an amazing tang. She mixed these with rice from Ista and produced a pudding that tantalized everyone. Of course, Fiona presented the dessert to Terin as baby food–and delighted as Igen’s headwoman turned nearly as red as the food in front of her.

So chicken survives as a word. Given that supposedly nothing tastes like it, or everything does, I’m not going to think too hard about it. Mostly because egg-layers definitely were going to exist on Pern as part of the diet, and I suspect that chickens thrive in a lot of different environments.

I’m also…interested is the wrong word, but it’s close enough, in that both of the boys are making meat dishes with sauce and spice while Fiona creates the dessert with fruit and rice, as if perpetuating, subtly or otherwise, that grilling and meat is man’s province, fruit and rice and dessert is woman’s. I’m thrilled there’s no shaming of the men doing cooking and being, by all accounts, fucking awesome at it. I’m just unhappy that we didn’t continue in the theme of “Fiona can stir-fry, so she handles the meat things while the boys produce salads and sides.” Because she’s the one with the most on-camera experience, and meat, generally speaking, is the most expensive part of any meal and the easiest to get wrong.

What I am not interested in, however, is that this teasing about birthdays and the like seems to be taking a more sinister direction, bent on embarrassing each other. And, for some people, that might be the best expression of affection they have, but it seems like the thing that can easily trip over into hazing and bullying. Or retaliation. And T’mar is uninterested in playing, as he “firmly deflected every effort” to find out when his birthday is. Fiona gets K’rall to help out with that, and T’mar has some reservations about whether K’rall will actually defer to Fiona once he’s healthy, but Fiona says that so long as her dragon is queen at Igen, everyone else will fall in line. And Fiona continues to think that T’mar might be seeing her in a different light. (She’s still thirteen.)

When K’rall returns to the dining hall, Fiona accidentally leads everyone in toasting his continued good health. She worries she’s overdone it, which T’mar confirms with a small shake of his head. K’rall asks what he can do for Fiona, and she immediately sets him to a useful task.

“One thing that I absolutely require is for you to start rounds with the other injured riders,” she replied promptly. K’rall raised his eyes at that but Fiona persisted. “It’s vital that injured riders see other riders recovered from their wounds–”
“Gives them hope,” K’rall murmured approvingly. His eyes twinkled and his craggy features creased as he said, “You’ve your father’s way with words, my lady.”

Fiona tells him to hush because he’s using his face muscles too much and they might strain, and the topic shifts to the problem of recognition points in the wrong time and the proposed stars and planets time system. Which they really already should know.

And K’rall provides a date to Terin that she says will be perfect and K’rall, when he sees what the plan is for T’mar, declares T’mar will hate it with a wide grin. Which brings this much closer to “someone should check in and see what T’mar actually wants, not charge ahead with their own plans to embarrass him.” I admit that I have a serious embarrassment squick, especially over things that other people might consider harmless or fun stories to tell, but this seems like the sort of thing that would backfire horribly if it weren’t under the complete control of an author.

Fiona’s opinion of K’rall improves with his recovery.

In the week since his first dinner in the Dining Cavern, her respect and affection for the gruff old rider had grown immensely. K’rall was less conservative in his thinking than Fiona had initially guessed. In face, she realized that a lot of what she’d branded as hidebound in his behavior was more a result of caution and a certain amount of fear of failure. And a lot of that fear, Fiona had decided, had vanished with his first Thread injury and its slow recovery.
Father always said that many sticks-in-the-mud were saplings trying to grow new leaves after winter, Fiona reminded herself.

And Fiona thinks about what kind of assurance it would be to Bemin of this time to see that his daughter had grown up “healthy wise, and strong under his parenting.” K’rall says she’s too young to go see him, which is good advice for stopping the immediate idea.

I would squash the idea by saying the premise is wrong. I don’t think Bemin’s parenting had much to do with anything, other than maybe helping to prepare Fiona for a role she would have to accept at far too young an age, regardless of whether it was Lady Holder or Weyrwoman. I am similarly disinclined to follow Fiona’s idea that K’rall is actually more liberal, genial, and showing his true self now that he’s much more healed, given how much he refused to work with Terin and Fiona before. Injury makes grumpy assholes out of a lot of us, but it’s a pretty big ask to say that K’rall turned around that much. I’d be more inclined to think that he’s behaving well because he thinks the Weyrwoman is flirting with him (still thirteen!) and flattering him.

The actual thing Fiona has planned is to celebrate Impression Day for T’mar and the other riders, with weyrlings delivering small cakes to riders and a big cake having been prepared for T’mar. Because it’s not actually malicious or embarrassing (and because the author controls the reactions of the characters), T’mar is stunned, and K’rall approves of the idea and wonder why they hadn’t already thought about it. Fiona suggests it will be a Weyr tradition soon enough.

It makes sense to celebrate Impression Day for dragonriders, as it’s usually the day they think of their lives changing for the better. It’s also a group celebration for those that are present, so it avoids singling anyone specifically out. Except Fiona made the biggest cake for T’mar, so he was singled out, sort of.

The next bit of narrative is relief that the traders are coming back to resupply the Weyr, so there’s another ice run made to have material on hand. When the traders say they can’t move that quantity of ice, Fiona says she’s anticipated that response, which earns her another “soul of a trader” comment, because Fiona says they’ll hold back a hundredweight of ice for the wherhold, on the assumption that the traders know where Aleesa is. Which they do, and Fiona volunteers herself as the person to go, since she’s the one who has the most knowledge of how her past is supposed to turn out and she looks like a harmless young girl, so she’s the least likely person to get shot at.

I’ll bet your father wishes you were a boy,” T’mar replied, shaking his head in admiration.
“I’m quite happy being a woman,” Fiona said, smiling.

And Fiona is absolutely wrong about not getting shot at. The problem is that, instead of making her think and exercise caution, it only makes her angrier.

“Oh, this is too much,” Fiona muttered angrily to herself. She was scared, but she was angrier than she was scared and she knew that that meant someone was going to come off the worse for it–and not her.

Getting shot at again pisses Fiona off enough that she starts yelling at the people shooting at her. Which doesn’t actually help anything, except that Fiona gets Talenth to prove she’s the real thing by having her talk to Arelsk, which does actually improve the situation, because it puts Fiona firmly in the category of prophesied person, rather than intruding girl. It also allows for a very deft retcon.

A smile crossed Fiona’s lips as she sent a silent thank-you to tree late ex-dragonrider [Mikal], wondering to herself if his Sight came from trader blood.

This way, the crystal energy and folk magic weird guy turns out to have been someone with precognitive abilities and totally an integral part of the narrative. If this was planned, someone was apparently banking on being able to do this several books in the future, not really worrying that much about whether the series would get canceled before this payoff could be put into place. Much more likely, this was something the author came up with as a way of making the plot move that didn’t cause too much (more) of a continuity snarl than had already happened.

Having managed to prove herself, Fiona forges ahead and explains the future to Arella and Jaythen enough for them to understand the dire straits the dragonriders are in. And again tells, with greater details, the story of cuddling with, and then hunting tunnel-snakes with, Forsk. The key part in this version of the tale is how Fiona always deflected, changed the subject, and said things that carried the implication that she wasn’t putting herself into danger so that she never actually had to promise to not hunt tunnel snakes. This kind of Exact Words manipulation has Jaythen recalling other devious folk and Arella agreeing that they’re all women and that he should keep that in mind.

Fiona then gets to get actual proposal: a safe hold for the wherholders in exchange for the queen egg. After a certain amount of “Come on, don’t bullshit me” about whether Fiona can deliver on that promise that involves disclosing more of the future, everyone seems willing to talk. Because Fiona can’t quite keep from saying enough of the name, Arella deduces who it’s for, but also points out she currently has a green (Kisk-Nuelsk). This puts Fiona back into “don’t bullshit us” territory with the wherhold, who are ready to throw her out. So Fiona tries to press her lack of advantage through sheer aggravation.

Tears of rage and disappointment threatened to overwhelm Fiona. She sat there, shaking her head. “No,” she murmured to herself. “No, it has to be this way!”
With the speed of a tunnel snake, Jaythen whipped around, wrapped his hand tightly around her arm, and yanked her off the floor. “No, it doesn’t, holder girl!” he shouted, propelling her toward the exit.
Fiona turned back, determined not to leave only to find herself twirled tightly against his chest, a gleam of metal suddenly visible down by her neck, just below her line of sight.
“Don’t think I won’t!” Jaythen whispered in her ear, his words filled with a desperation and a longing that seemed like madness to Fiona.

There seems to be a running theme in Todd’s books that dudes cannot be trusted to understand anything and Pern’s patriarchy is so built-in that for a woman to be listened to, she has to hold some sort of power over the man she wants to get to do something. I don’t think this is an intentional theme, any more than Anne’s depiction of Pernese patriarchy was intentional and thought-through. But everywhere Fiona goes, there’s an old dude standing in her way and refusing to listen. H’nez, K’rall, and now Jaythen. K’lior sometimes, too, when he’s in “bros before hos” mode, and Cisca went along with that. Before that, nobody really wanted to help Lorana out or investigate the whys of Tullea’s mood shift, and there was the whole bit where Kindan and Vaxoram fought over the honor of the girls, and how Kindan brought the entire patriarchy down on his head for sleeping in the same bed as Koraina. And speaking of Cisca, the parallel running theme through these books seems to be that the most effective power that women have to get men to do what they want is sex appeal. Fiona gets her best results when she’s flirty, Cisca seems to do the same, Kelsa wins with Bemin because she’s attractive to him.

It’s a great example of how science fiction tends to reflect the culture that is written in, especially when it’s trying to imagine something that’s completely different from current society. Because Pern is focused on the dragons and the Thread and the insistence that hereditary monarchy is the form of government Randians with a pastoral fetish will go to when their personal Galt’s Gulches are threatened, there hasn’t been any questioning of the idea that the men are indisputably in charge when push comes to shove, even if the queen dragon can force other dragons to do what she wants. Even in this space, where Todd puts acknowledging and trying to reconcile some of the Early Installment Weirdness around Lessa’s abilities, it ends up not making a difference. Sure, queen riders can control minds, but it only works on the weak-minded, and bronze riders are trained from early on to resist that power, so the status quo is preserved.

And this unexamined privilege shows a weakness, or a deliberate decision, at least one of the two (could be both) in how this situation came to be and will be resolved. Because Talenth has already said hello to Arelsk, so Fiona’s claim about being a dragonrider is true. Which should give her enough breathing room for everyone else to evaluate her other claims. Now, Jaythen has been portrayed fairly consistently as someone who hates dragonriders and might be suffering from mental illness, but he’s allowed to take control of the situation through physical means despite Arella having a channel where she could ask about the truth value of Fiona’s statements, through Arelsk.

Fiona, for her part, assesses her situation as life-threatening and, having been unable to achieve a diplomatic solution, decides to use her power of compulsion to get herself out of immediate harm.

She paused, her blood pounding in her veins even as she forced herself to speak calmly, quietly, using all of the power Cisca had cautioned her against, saying, “Put the knife down.”
“You’d best do it now,” an elderly voice said harshly from behind them. “Or by the First Egg, I’ll send your Jaysk between forever.” Aleesa.

To put it mildly, that is exactly wrong. There’s no resolution as to whether Fiona succeeded, Jaythen resisted, if anyone could feel what was going on, nothing! Because even the possibility that Fiona might exercise power over a man not of her dragon’s clutch and that is far older than her is too much to play out. Fiona, remember, was wowed at by Cisca and K’lior about how much of that power she had, but she hasn’t had a single success she can attribute to herself and that power other than Melanwy, and Melanwy is suffering from dementia.

Instead, Aleesa shows up and makes a direct threat at Jaythen, exercising the power she definitely has over him by threatening his watch-wher. It’s not a physical overpowering or a mental one, but threatening his weak point to get him to behave. In the face of an authority that can hurt him, Jaythen behaves. Because of the fact that dragons will obey their queen, dragonriders behave. Because he desperately wants another child, Bemin behaves.

Even this next segment, after Aleesa very firmly tells everyone to do what Fiona asks, where Fiona appeals to Kindan’s trip to the wherhold, follows the pattern.

When Jaythen drew breath to argue, she [Aleesa] cut him off with a chopping motion. “You know better than to raise a hand to a woman, or did you forget why we helped Kindan?”
“You helped me that day,” Fiona said, forcing her voice to be calm and controlled, turning around and raising her eyes up to the older man. “If Kindan hadn’t defeated Vaxoram, none would have survived at Fort Hold.”
“Or here,” Arella said. “If it weren’t for Kindan standing up for a woman’s right to follow her dreams, there would have been no one to remember us, no dragonriders to come to our aid.

Jaythen is unconvinced, and the argument itself rings hollow, because Kindan beating Vaxoram is one man physically dominating another and subsequently enforcing his will on his social sphere. So long as Kindan believes in letting women dream and is willing to back that belief with his fists or swords, that space exists. In his absence, women do not enjoy any of those dreaming possibilities. If Kelsa had beaten Vaxoram, and the next challenger, and Nonala started giving bloody noses, and Kindan provided aid, support, and being a useful second to them, that space would be more firmly established, but even then, it forces Kelsa and Nonala to play by the rules of the patriarchy and win their right to be themselves by proving themselves better than any of the men around them, in a way they have to recognize. Much like the patriarchy at home, there’s no winning the game in any way where a woman’s legitimacy isn’t dependent on the men around her choosing to recognize it. And that’s despite there being actual ways that women can obtain and hold power over men that isn’t dependent on men legitimizing them.

It’s one tiny thing, but it speaks volumes about what assumptions are left unchallenged on Pern. It’s yet another reason why transformative fandom brings their toolbox to the yard when they want to play on Pern – there’s a lot of repair work to be done.

Aleesa tells Fiona about Mikal’s last word when Fiona mentions the name of the queen watch-wher from her time, and they’re both the same thing, so Aleesa is on board with the whole plan because she sees the inevitability of it coming to pass. (And chuckles at Fiona’s attempts to hide where the other seer she’s met resides.) Aleesa warns Fiona against believing she knows how things will come to pass, when all she knows is that they will, and after everything is settled, Fiona ends up taking a nap as the adrenaline leaves her.

Talenth wakes Fiona with the news that Aleesa and Aleesk are outside, and Fiona realizes that Aleesa has decided it’s time for her and Aleesk to take a one-way to hyperspace themselves. Fiona asks Talenth to wake Jaythen and Arella and have them meet her outside. Where Fiona catches Aleesa before she can “go in peace”, as Aleesa puts it, she demands that Aleesa say goodbye to her daughter, because even though she was two, Fiona didn’t get to have her mother say goodbye to her.

Arella wants to plead with Aleesa not to leave, but she has one final part of Mikal’s prophecy to use against her daughter.

“Mikal told me–that was my secret.” Fiona felt the old woman smiling toward her. “He said I’d be seen off by a Weyrwoman, with all honor.”
Fiona felt tears welling in her eyes as she clasped her hands together and bowed low to the old woman and her watch-wher.
“WherMaster, on behalf of all Pern, I honor you,” she said, her voice catching on the word “honor”.
“Arella,” Aleesa said, looking toward her daughter, “I’m sorry I was such a hard mother. You deserved better.”
Arella could make no reply, her eyes streaming with tears. She shook her head helplessly.
“Jaythen,” Aleesa went on, then shook her head in exasperation. “You are the most difficult, stubborn, angry excuse for a man I’ve ever known.” She paused long enough for him to react, before adding, “But I love you like you were part of my heart.” She continued sadly, “You should not be the leader of the wherhold but its hunter and protector.”
“I think I’d like that,” Jaythen admitted. “I’m not good with people.”
Aleesa snorted in agreement before turning back to Fiona. “Now, I’ve said my good-byes. It’s time for me to leave.
Fiona rushed forward beyond Aleesa and knelt at Aleesk’s side, her hands cupped together. “Let me help you mount.”
“I’m sorry we didn’t have more time together,” Aleesa said as she accepted Fiona’s aid and climbed up on the back of her gold. “I’m sure our fights would have been legendary.”

I certainly agree with you there, Aleesa. And with your assessment that Jaythen needs to be a hunter and protector and basically never interact with anybody who isn’t already fully integrated into the community unless it’s to throw them out or kill them. Because Jaythen has been the cause of most of the problems the wherhold has experienced on the way to legitimacy.

The rest of the chapter is Fiona heading to Mine Natalon, getting attacked by an injured guard dog, trying to get away from it while still carrying the queen egg, having someone shoot at the dog but be worried about hitting Fiona, eventually getting Talenth to teleport the dog away far enough so the archer can kill it, and then collapsing and passing out from her injuries.

Which is an awkward spot to end a chapter, but there we are. Next week, we have more of the past being experienced by someone from the future.

Dragonheart: Adjusting To The New Reality

Last time, Fiona and Terin meet a group of traders and convinced them it would be profitable to set up shop at Igen in conjunction with the dragons ferrying trader goods (as good practice for weyrling waypoint drills) and convincing the watch-wher hold to relocate to nearby), minus a reasonable fee for storage. We also found out Tenniz, Tannaz’s sibling, can see into the future and make cryptic prophecies, which introduces new wrinkles and headaches into the conception of Pern as a place.

Dragonheart: Chapter 13: Content Notes: Sexualizing very young girls,

The stars shine so cold at night,
The sun burns so hot by day.
The wind whips in wild delight:
The weather at Igen is fey.

(Igen Weyr, Early Morning, AL 498.7.3)

Honestly, this would have been a much better poem for the last chapter, or any other. Here, it follows something that was less great, even though it probably is contextually appropriate for this chapter.

The chapter starts with the traders leaving Igen, having helped turn it back into a functioning Weyr. Fiona tries not to wake Terin, who is sleeping in the same bed of blankets as Fiona, fails, and the two get a final piece of advice from Mother Karina to change their schedules to work through the nights, rather than the days. They think it’s a nice idea, but not a good one for when you need to see what you are doing. Instead, they decide to take stock of injured riders and dragons, with different slates for riders and dragons, and eventually settle on creating Flight boards so that there’s detailed information available about each rider, dragon, and injury in the same place.

There’s also a bit in here where the author might think they’re being subtle about setting up the pairing for Igen. Fiona gets irritated about her hair falling into her face and ties it back.

T’mar reluctantly looked back up at her. “It’s just that you looked cute when you did that.”
Fiona felt her cheeks flush and a thrill run through her at his words. Cute!

At this point, I want to remind everyone that Fiona is still thirteen and Terin ten. Because it’s about to become important. Once the narrative gets done letting the leadership council here realize that the people who were muzzy in the future are sharp here and those sharp in the future are muzzy here, and that, just maybe, time travel might be responsible for all the issues of both past and present.

In any case, they’re thinking about who is getting assigned leadership duties along the weyrlings, and in addition to the bronze riders, two browns get suggested as the “obvious” candidates to fill out the ranks.

“Browns are usually wingseconds,” T’mar replied.
“Or wingleaders,” Terin added. T’mar accepted the addition with a nod.
“Why not go by ability?” Fiona wondered.
“Brown and bronze riders are often the ones with the most leadership ability,” T’mar said.
Fiona cocked her head challengingly.
“Oh, you get the occasional blue or green rider who makes a good leader,” he explained, “but more often their skills lie in different areas.”
“Like cavorting!” Terin snickered. “It’s a wonder we don’t see more of them.”
“Greens are sterile,” T’mar reminded her.

Because they chew firestone, we note. But also, here’s one of those things that’s basically ingrained into Weyr culture. Bronzes are superior, browns are better, greens and blues couldn’t possibly be good enough to lead. But how much of that is dragon selection and how much of that is that greens and blues never get the opportunity to lead, and therefore never get any confirmation that they are or aren’t good of it. It seems like the sort of thing that could be tested in weyrling training and drill by rotating through who is the leader and who are the callers for drill. But we also realize that this inherent superiority is drilled into everyone right from the beginning of their lives, and so anyone running a Weyr based on the actual leadership capacity of the riders would be flouting TRADITION by doing so. Fiona would have to wait until she was a Senior older than thirteen to implement it, I think.

The talk about promiscuity of greens and blues brings talk about mating flights (Terin claims she’s going to be fine when Talenth rises), and then talk about exactly how old Fiona and Terin are going to be and how they should count their birthdays. Which turns to talk about body age versus chronological age and mating flights from Talenth, which Terin teases Fiona about, and then apologizes later for it. Fiona waves it off, but the narrative doesn’t tell us whether she’s doing it genuinely or because Fiona doesn’t want to alienate Terin on this situation.

The next major scene is Fiona setting up some mirrors to light the Records room sufficiently for work (one in the hallway, and then one that reflects light up to the ceiling, somehow) and then goes to work examining records. Because it involves records, there’s the obligatory complaint about records

It didn’t take all that long for Fiona to recall her father’s choicer oaths in regards to reading Records. “A boring necessity best delegated,” was the most innocuous of his pronouncements. For a brief moment she toyed with delegating the work, but curiosity overwhelmed boredom and she soldiered on, stifling a yawn.

which makes me scream again and again that there was a librarian on staff in the original colony and therefore organizational systems for documents and volumes should have been passed down through the years in such a way that made them easy to find, because records that can’t have their useful information found easily are worse than useless.

Fiona is able to find references to a “surveyor map,” and then the map itself, before calling in T’mar to examine the contents with her. Fiona points out the symbol for gold and T’mar picks up that it’s where the Wherhold is going to be, and that with the tithe coming from the gold mined from that spot, Igen will be able to trade for all its goods needs. At the next scene point, Fiona is proud that in five days, lots of herdbeasts have been found, herb gardens started, and wild foods collected, along with housing for everyone. T’mar grumbles about butter, which allows Fiona to point out what kind of logistics chain that needs

“To have butter, we’d need milch cows, cowherds to herd them, milkers to milk them, a churner to churn the butter, and a cool place to store it,” Fiona said as she chewed her roll.

and to hit upon the idea that Igen could trade ice for significant profit and have some on hand to cool quarters with if “a fan” were set up to take advantage of the plentiful wind and carry ice-cooled air. After a certain amount of trying to figure out where to harvest ice that won’t bring them into contact with any other Weyr, T’mar hits on mining out the Far Watchers, two mountains north of Benden mostly used as examples of “It’s too cold for Thread here.”

T’mar says that he will take weyrlings and Fiona will figure out where to store the ice, because he’s expendable and she’s not. (Conveyed with a single word: “Weyrwoman.”) Fiona explains the idea to Terin and heads off to check on the injured dragons, where we get another rider that should be sent back as soon as feasible.

“Say hello to K’rall for me,” Terin said in a waspish tone–the older bronze rider was a very bad patient who was completely unwilling to have young Terin tend to him and refused to accept that she was headwoman, even when Fiona had asked Talenth to relay the information to Seyorth, his dragon.
Fiona he treated with a mixture of awe and condescension, not forgetting for a moment that she was a queen rider but constantly harping on about her youth. As she got to know him more, Fiona started treating him like one of the old guards at Fort Hold: she was polite, deferential, but definitely in charge.
And she was grateful that of all the older wingleaders, she had to deal with him rather than H’nez, whose manners brought out the worst of her famous Fort Hold temper.

Cocowhat by depizan

Time out, “famous Fort Hold temper?” We’ve only seen it in relation to the screaming match Fiona had with Bemin, and then all of these situations where Fiona is being told she’s wrong and has to apologize, or is being strong-willed against others. The author is assuming facts not in evidence by calling it a “famous” temper when we haven’t heard anyone else talk about it, or react to it in any way other than thinking that it’s something to try and make Fiona discard.

Second, K’rall being injured and unwilling to take help means that he’s made his decision about what he wants, and resources should be devoted to others who are more interested in getting better and willing to work with what’s on offer to do it. He’s a bronze rider and should be setting a better example for everyone rather than dismissing the headwoman and being awful to the Weyrwoman, but no, he’s a bronze rider and apparently needs to be coddled and cajoled into doing what he should already be doing as a leader. K’rall has taken his bandages off, despite needing to keep them on to have a hope of healing well.

You have to listen to your Weyrwoman!” Fiona shouted at him, losing her temper. Before K’rall could voice an angry retort, Fiona softeend, and reached out to take his hand. “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to see you disfigured.”
[…Finoa realizes that she’s been faking knowing what she’s doing long enough that even though she’s faking, she knows how to be convincing about it…]
“You are a handsome man, K’rall,” Fiona said, not surprised to hear his breath catch or see his eyes rise to meet hers. She met them squarely. “I’m of the age where I notice such things more and more”–she felt heat rising in her cheeks, but she persisted–“and I’ve seen the way some of the women back the Weyr watched you.” She smiled. “I think that won’t change when you get back.”
“You can’t know,” K’rall murmured.
“Nor can you,” Fiona told him firmly.

Cocowhat by depizan

SHE’S THIRTEEN! And yes, I know, this is still someone’s idea of a fantasy world, where the idea of marrying people and sex at very young ages is an assumption that just gets made without actually consulting the historical record. This brings a lot of things to mind about the sexualization of young girls, and how Fiona is literally having to behave in sexual ways to get someone to respect her enough to do things that are in their own self-interest. Just, aigh, is Todd or any editor thinking through the implications here (which might be thinking it through more than Anne did, scarily) where everyone is casually joking about the part of Finoa’s life where she’s going to be turned into a sexual being, whether she’s actually ready to or not? And the further implications of having Fiona harness that sexuality because nothing else seems to be working to get people to behave? And that Terin is rejecting Fiona’s request to find her somewhere to go when this happens, because she’s apparently already experienced one and everything was fine? I presume it wasn’t because still-yet-younger Terin was being sexualized, but that’s because my brain actively rejects the idea that an author is deliberately courting pedophilia in a series like Pern. Like, seriously, think through the goddamn implications here.

Before this, Fiona has been looking around Igen and wondering what kinds of canopies the dragons and their riders might want as coverage for their Weyrs, and this brings back the offhand comment from earlier about how Fort was somewhat famous for their sweaters. It wasn’t clear earlier, but Fiona notes that the riders are the ones knitting sweaters in their spare time, rather than the weyrfolk. I absolutely approve of knitting as a thing dragonriders do in their spare time, but mostly because I would like to hear the scene where you hear several curses coming from different Weyrs in sequence about dropped stitches. Or ridiculous competitions between the riders to produce ornate and beautiful work that can be sold or judged.

Anyway, after Fiona handles K’rall and flatters him unnecessarily to try and get him to do what he’s supposed to do, there’s also a bit about how Fiona has had to train any sort of reaction out of the weyrlings attending to the injured, as well as herself, despite the fact that it means having to deal with nudity and intimate parts. And that they’ve invented hospital gowns, not that they refer to them as such.

Fiona’s ministrations are interrupted by the return of T’mar, who is incredibly woozy, but came back with some carisaks full of ice, as requested. The weyrlings are not quite as strongly affected, but they’re also exhausted. Terin asks what to do with the ice, and Finoa suggests that they put it on display for the trader caravan that’s on their way back to the Weyr by having cold drinks and such available for them. Then Fiona goes back to T’mar and discusses with him why the ice trip was so terrible, and she zeroes in on the problem immediately.

“And when do you think you went to the Snowy Wastes today?”
T’mar frowned. “It was–”
“Was it now, in this Turn, or then, ten Turns in the future?”
T’mar’s jaw dropped and his eyes widened as his certainty gave way to confused possibility.

T’mar, to his credit, realizes Fiona is right, given that the only recognition points he knows are the ones in the future, so the exhaustion at having jumped back and forth in time, as well as giving themselves an additional point of existence where they are multiples-in-time. He complains about not knowing the recognition points back in time, and yet again I am complaining about how, given how much the dragonriders use time travel to fix their problems, they haven’t developed any sort of standard astronomy or visualization technique that would allow them to hop back and forth to places with precision.

Anyway, after they figured out the reason for T’mar’s extra exhaustion, it’s time to impress the desert traders with the apparent abundance of ice that Igen Weyr now possesses. Which they do with iced klah and ice cream. The traders say there isn’t any cattle to be traded for directly, and that ice is far too much of a luxury to be slinging about if everything is supposed to be kept under wraps. Fiona suggests watch-whers, which gets a good response, and then gold, which gets the very best response from the traders, because gold is, on Pern, anyway, fungible enough that it could be traded for things that could be traded for cattle. Fiona also says that if the traders want to do trades and transport by night, they’re going to have to teach the dragonriders how to navigate by the stars. The traders shrug and nod, and only T’mar realizes that Fiona had ulterior motives for the ask and wants her to explain when they’re alone.

“Well,” Fiona said, her lips curved upward with satisfaction, “it’s just that I realized these traders have spent Turns navigating the desert by the stars.”
“And?”
“Well, we know that the Red Star is one of those stars,” Fiona continued, “and that the moons and planets and other stars all move in the sky in determined patterns.”
“Yes,” T’mar agreed impatiently.
“So,” Fiona continued, smiling sweetly, “why can’t we use the stars to tell us when as well as where we are?”
T’mar stared at her for a long moment and then, slowly, his lips curved up in a grin to match hers.
“And with the stars to guide us, we can come back to Fort Weyr three days after we left!” he exclaimed. He grabbed Fiona in a great hug. “I couldn’t use the Red Star for such accuracy, but I’ll bet the traders can teach us how to use the planets! Well done, Weyrwoman, well done!”
Fiona basked in his praise.
Weyrwoman.

And, apparently, I am anticipating what is about to happen in the narrative again. My point still stands, however, that this is not something that should be learned from desert-traveling traders, but already be drilled, if not into weyrlings, into full-bore riders to make sure they can always arrive on time to their Threadfall. They should already know this well by now. And have controls on it so that it’s not being used in such a way that people will cross their own timestreams too much. Such that Moreta should have gone into what she was doing knowing full well it was super-dangerous, instead of having a catastrophic failure of hyperspace travel because a dragon doesn’t have a default destination programmed in.

Also, the narrative is still not being subtle about who the pairing is going to be for this Weyr when Talenth rises. And I am still not on board with Fiona having to come to this decision because her dragon produces intense sex rays. But we’ve made it to the end of Chapter 13. Also, Fiona is being written as far more competent than Tullea ever was, but I think that’s a consequence of us not getting to see Tullea while she was back in time, only that she’s much changed and grateful when she returns from her trip. Perhaps Fiona’s trip is the way of explaining to us what Tullea would have been like in the past and wanting us to not think of her as a terrible–oh, who am I kidding?

Chapter 14 next week.