Category Archives: Deconstruction: Pern

The Dragonriders of Pern: Final Thoughts

All throughout this project, I’ve tried to maintain a posting queue, so that when I ran into a week where I had other things to do, or the mojo wasn’t coming, or I really needed to take a break from Pern and cuss it out thoroughly to my sounding boards, or to get their help in explaining something to me that doesn’t make sense, even if their help is “nope, doesn’t make sense to us, either,” I could post the next week’s item on schedule (Big thank you to azurelunatic and alexseanchai, who have endured far more of me blinking twice and swearing at Pern than anyone probably should.) Possibly tweaked a touch if the comments section has been particularly insightful between when the post was originally composed and when it was posted. Some of those earlier comments and theories worked their way into later posts when that thematic element reappeared, almost as if by clockwork. You can probably guess about how long my queue was by the appearance of such things.

This post, though, I have waited to compose the bulk of until after last week’s post has gone up and been commented on, because it’s supposed to be final thoughts, and you can’t write your final thoughts until after the final thing has been posted. It’s cheating if you do it beforehand. Or something.

First, though, I do want to thank all of the people who have left a comment on this six-year, once-a-week project. Trading theories, alternate universes, and the several tons of snark we’ve left about the decisions made about Pern has been a delight, and I have looked forward every week to seeing your commentary on the latest bit of WTF. Especially the weekly commentators who have stuck through all of this, genesistrine and Firedrake. MadamAtom has been around for a while as well, and deserves thanks. And WanderingUndine, who nicely summarizes the reaction counts for each of the works as we get to the end of them, to give us an idea of how far away from reality this particular work managed to go. Depizan, thanks for the use of the cocowhat, it has served us well and faithfully for all of these years, and there’s probably still some life left in it.

Ana Mardoll and chris the cynic get big thank yous for showcasing that literary reviews are a doable thing, and for being willing to host on the Slacktiverse for the weekly running showcase. Even if I’m also trying to archive it on AO3, for redundancy and Director’s Cut purposes.

(If I’ve missed someone, yell at me and I will get you in the post, because the small but determined community that’s appeared here has been really great for making sure that we made it all the way through to the end.)

And now, some final thoughts on all the various parts of Pern that we’ve come across in this journey:

I can really see now why the fandom basically pretends the last book in the series is the last one that happened before the Todd Era began, including some politely ignoring the Gigi book as well, since it completely upends Piemur’s characterization and replaces him with a more generically angsty teen. (Possibly, in both 1.0 and 3.0 Pern, Piemur has ADHD.) The Todd Era messed with things because it could, and because it really wanted to drive home the part where this was a really, really creepy thing that was going on. Sorry, it wanted us to believe that very young children were consenting and happy with the arrangements that bonded them with sex ray broadcasting organic flamethrowers, the grand majority of whom would not live to see their fifty year tour of duty end. The Todd era introduced certain things that might be useful here and there, like canonical leaders who rode blues and greens, and some amount of worldbuilding around the caste system and those who are outside of it, which, like the rest of Pern, could be mined and shaped into a narrative that will do a better job of not being creepy and thinking through the ramifications of what’s been set up by these bits, but for people who want their Pern to consist mostly of romance tropes and dragons, neither the Todd era nor the Gigi book are going to be any help with that.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people who only accept as their Pern what happened in the 1.0 universe, and some subset of those people who stop at Moreta/Nerilka and dismiss anything that happened after that, since that’s where we start getting the heavier SFnal elements appearing in the text, once there’s explicit acknowledgement of the lives and the machinations of the colonists, leading to the rediscovery of the AI. Pern could certainly have worked as a series that hints, sometimes very strongly, at the fact that it once was an SFnal place, and there are the artifacts of that all over the place for the reader to understand, but that the Pernese of all these years have never known, because they haven’t re-achieved (and may never re-achieve) the science and technology necessary to understand them. Pern’s a really fruitful ground for fanworks as a degraded science fiction world, but I think most people came to it and want to think of it as a fantasy world with a couple of weird artifacts rather than a degraded science fiction world, especially once the technology parts of it started coming back, even if it was to achieve the ultimate end of the nemesis that they’ve been fighting all the time. And, as I noted at the end of the Ninth Pass books, post-Thread Pern is going to go through a gigantic social upheaval, which would be interesting for people who wanted to write about politics, instead of mostly pretending they didn’t exist. So the before-colonists books provide a perfectly useful fantasy world with dragons and sex rays and all sorts of space for id to be, and there doesn’t have to be anything more.

As I was going along with this story, I tried to acknowledge that this was going to be a case of coming back to something you only hazily remembered and finding that the Suck Fairy had moved in. The place hadn’t changed, but with more adult eyes and more grown-up experiences, things that weren’t understood, or were hazy or unimportant suddenly stand out in very sharp relief. And, even if it didn’t sound like it at times, I tried to work on the idea that people aren’t bad, wrong, or otherwise problematic for liking Pern and continuing to like it. It’s totally okay to still like something when you’ve given it full consideration for all the things that it does wrong, and if you keep those things in mind when talking about it. Perhaps unsurprisingly for people who know this better, having done a deep dive with the intent of uncovering and talking about the flaws that the original materials have, I feel like I have a better grasp on how I would write Pern in a fanfic way, if I ever decided I wanted to do something of particularly long length or how I might include pushback and incorporate changes into my Pern that hopefully worked fairly seamlessly and made the experience better for the reader. That was significantly harder in the Todd Era, but even there, I can extract some useful things that might be helpful if anyone ever asks for works that don’t focus on the dragons and their riders (which seems unlikely, but we’ll be prepared for it.)

I also wanted this to be a thing that focused on the published things themselves, rather than what might have been said outside of them. Some part of that is because I believed that something that the author actually wanted to make true about their world, they would put in the actual material, rather than trying to hang on and insist that the worlds they created weren’t flawed in some manner, or that representation was totally there when it wasn’t, or other techniques that were popularized by the ever-sprawling franchise of a notable TERF who shall remain nameless. And some of it is because I wanted to avoid having opinions about other people’s opinions of the works. That’s a rabbit hole that goes deep, and it garners attention and combativeness a lot of the time. And, perhaps most importantly, if I kept things to the works, ideas like “well, they were a person of their time” could hopefully, mostly, be sidestepped, since we’re talking about a completely different world and another planet and society. Even though, yes, I know that in science fiction and fantasy, we are usually talking about our own world with enough of a weird filter on it for most of us not to notice.

In any case, there’s no more to be said for this particular series. At least, not right now. If there ever is a TV show, or if Gigi writes more, or if the Trust decides to let others have a thwack at Pern, we’ll be back.

But in the meantime, that means I need a new project. Any suggestions about something fairly ubiquitous that could follow along in the idea of the Suck Fairy’s Greatest Hits? There’s probably a lot there that the library has in digital forms.

Dragon’s Code: The Last Hurrah

Well. This is it. The last chapter of the currently-written Pern books. The plot with the men from Nabol is wrapped up entirely, with Jerrol and kin at the mercy of Lord Deckter, Sebell is healing, Jaxom has returned the egg (and gone to get the egg), so there’s little left for this chapter to resolve.

Dragon’s Code, Chapter 12: Content Notes: Death of a family member

I mean, there’s still the problem of Piemur’s voice not settling and there’s still the entirety of the Southern Weyr having warped themselves back in time. And, I suppose, the ailment that they’re suffering from as well. So there are loose ends to be finished, so that the series can be retired successfully and then left to the fandom.

And, I suppose, because it’s the farewell, there’s been space made in this chapter for a more personal farewell from the author. Because chapter twelve opens with Ama dying. After participating in the dinner in the previous chapter, on the fourth day after the end of the chapter, Ama has a stroke (I’m guessing, based on the description of how her face has changed, how she seemed confused, and then slumped over) and dies, surrounded by her family. This feels very much like the author taking a point of personal privilege and telling us how she felt about her own mother dying , how much she’s missed, and the sorts of things that you would tell someone at a funeral, after someone has died. The kinds of stories that come out when nobody is around to contradict them. In Piemur’s case, though, we only hear one thing about him, Pergamol telling him

“It could have been that sweet voice of yours that beguiled her, but I think it was all the antics you got up to—after she got over being vexed with you, of course. She always laughed at your windups, Pie. Didn’t she?”

As it is, after she dies, Ama’s body is carried on a stretcher to the lake and then let go to be buried in the water, with each of her family lighting a candle to accompany her. And apparently, there’s a song of lament to be sung. Even though everyone expects Piemur to take the lead, he’s too choked up with grief, and Pergamol is able to start the song. But he can only go through the first verse , and, after summoning Ama’s advice from the last chapter to let it rip, Piemur does sing, and unlike every other time in this book, his voice holds and he’s able to sing with greater confidence and volume as his body does what he wants it to. For reference, here’s the song, and it makes me think it’s sung to something like the unknown but haunting melody of the Question Song.

On again, go again
Take your last step
Free your worn body
And send it to rest.

Go again, show again
We’ll see it right
Marching ye onward
Toward peace in the night.

Go again, know again
You were loved true
Take heart in the honor
Shown b’those whom you knew.

On again, go again
We’ll think of you ere
Now rest our belov-ed
Turn to dust, turn to air.

And Piemur spends a week with his kin in grief and mourning, sending a message to the Harper Hall about what happened and that he’ll rejoin them when he’s ready. (At least the guild system gives him excellent bereavement leave.) When he’s ready, having come to peace with it all (and seen a fleeting image of Ama smiling at him), Piemur sends to the Hall that he’s ready to go back, and N’ton arrives to get him. Before he departs, though, Pergamol has a last “Well Done, Son Guy” moment with him, telling Piemur that he shouldn’t be ashamed of the voice that’s come in to replace the one he lost, and that he’s glad Piemur stepped up when needed, and that he’s proud of Piemur. And to not stay away so long between visits the next time.

On his return to the Harper Hall, Robinton and Sebell bring Piemur up to speed on the likelihood that Ista Weyr is going to be without both a Weyrleader and a Weyrwoman soon, and when asked of whether Benden approves of the next likely Weyroman of Ista, Robinton says he couldn’t say in a way that makes it unmistakable that there’s frost between Benden and the Harper Hall at the moment.

It was a huge pity, Piemur reflected, looking down at his hands; allies such as Benden Weyr and the Harper Hall had to remain in accord. Lessa hadn’t appreciated Robinton’s insistence that revenge was the wrong road to take. It could only be hoped that Lessa would relent and see reason, once the rest of Ramoth’s clutch hatched and Impressed, and life in the Weyr got back to normal.

Good luck with that. Since, y’know, this is the Lessa that spent ten years as a drudge so she could absolutely ruin the life of the dude that killed her family and took over her Hold. And that hasn’t likely been able to do a whole lot of the things she really wants to do because the Benden Weyrleader keeps reining in her impulses instead of letting her wreak glorious hell on the patriarchy that she chafes at.

Also, Robinton is also on board with this no-revenge plan? Well, I suppose what he suggested and insisted upon when he will be kidnapped for similar reasons will apply then. Perhaps he picked it up from Sebell, or Sebell was very convincing to bring others around to his way of thinking about revenge versus restoration. It’s still basically going to require a fundamental reshaping of society to achieve anything like what this anti-revenge platform is aiming for.

Robinton invites Piemur to stay at the Hall for as long as he likes, but Piemur is itching to get back to the South and do more exploring and being himself in the place that he now considers home, having finally managed to settle into a mature outlook on his life. Or something. He’s gained perspective, apparently, from Ama dying and him singing and now he’s ready to step into maturity. Or at least he’s become okay with the unknown stretching in front of him. While he’s riding Stupid, with Farli nearby, Piemur thinks about the Question Song, which is what he was apparently teaching to the cothold children the day Ama died. And while he doesn’t make any obvious connection as to why he might be thinking about it now, I think he might be thinking of similarities. After all, this is how it starts:

Gone away, gone ahead
Echoes away, die unanswered.
Empty, open, dusty, dead,
Why have all the weyrfolk fled?

From there, Piemur’s thoughts turn to the conversation he had with Sebell about trying to see how it serves everyone better if Lessa isn’t allowed to exact her revenge and how they, as harpers, as the custodians of knowledge and heritage, have an overriding duty to keep everyone in balance and harmony, so the society doesn’t fall apart, and then, finally, to thinking he’s found his niche. And also, that perhaps that jango root that he had in Nabol might be the thujang that Meria was looking for to help cure the ailments of the Southern dragonriders. Which is what he leads with to Meria to bring her on board with his plan to get the Southerners “how to look forward.” And B’naj and Meria take Piemur back in time to where the Southerners have been this entire time, a place where there is no Threadfall so that the dragons aren’t restless at not fighting Thread, and also a place, apparently, where T’kul and his faction don’t care about being found by someone they claim is not part of their Weyr any more. After all, what’s the point of disappearing to an unknown time if you don’t keep disappearing when pesky people show up to try and convince you not to do that thing?

In any case, it’s time for the Big Damn Speech, and since Piemur’s been the one that we’ve been following this entire book, it falls upon him to singlehandedly convince the dragonriders that have nothing to come back to that they do have something to come back to. First, he lays out his desire: to be the advocate for the Southern Weyr with everyone else. And he says up front that he doesn’t believe all of them were involved in the plot to steal the egg. His main pitch, though, is to try and get the South to set aside their ways and come rejoin everyone else, same as everyone else’s pitch has been.

“Noble dragonmen of Pern, set aside the rules of your time. Don’t let your strict adherence to independence keep you isolated from the others of this Pass. I ask that you take my help and let me speak and act for you.” As he spoke, he looked directly in the eyes of the men and women standing in front of him, projecting his words so they could be could be clearly heard, and keeping his expression and voice open and relaxed.
“None of us can survive alone, dragonriders, not without one another. And we can’t exist as a whole when some of our parts are missing. Crafts, Holds, and Weyrs—we need one another. We are under constant threat from Thread and we have to defend against it together or perish. The Holds need the Weyrs just as much as the Weyrs need the Holds. And the Crafthalls enhance our lives. Together all serve to teach us that we must band together. Come back with me! Come back to where you belong in the Present Pass. You cannot face your future here. No one should have to face such difficulties alone.”
A dragon coughed near Piemur, and then a voice from the back of the compound growled loudly.
“Bah! You are just one person! How can you help all of us? Go back to your own time, harper!”
[…Piemur talks about the illness, indicates that he thinks Meria can help them, and continues to make his argument that the exiled and banished dragonriders are needed back in the present…]
“Noble dragonkind, I do not want to make judgment on whether your banishment was right or wrong. Or to mete out or seek justice,” he said, knowing his words would send a ripple through the crowd, making clear he was referring both to the theft of the egg as well as to their own exile.
“We could fight with one another, seeking revenge and retribution until we’re all but spent. But such actions are self-serving. They’re not for the good of us all,” he cried, and obeying an impulse he jumped down from Seventh’s back and slowly walked into the crowd.
“You all came forward to help fight Thread and keep the people of this Pass safe for the future. I would like to help you find your rightful purpose again. In this Pass! I know you can teach us, teach your descendants, many things. Just as you taught our dragons and riders to fight against Thread. But would you let us teach you how we can live together in this Pass?” As Piemur spoke, he walked among the dragonriders, looking from one to the next in appeal. “I would be honored to be your advocate, dragonmen.” He came to a stop, his progress impeded by the stooped figure of T’ron, who had stepped forward, barring Piemur from progressing any further.
“If you would allow me, I would be your voice—to speak on your behalf so your wishes would be heard.” Piemur’s words carried across the compound. He stood in front of T’ron, aware that all the [time-skipped] were regarding him keenly. He crossed one arm in front of his waist and slowly dipped his upper body in a deep bow.
When he straightened up, T’ron had stepped closer. He glared at Piemur.
“We’ve listened to you, harper, and heard your words. Go, and leave us now!” Tron’s voice, loud enough for everyone to hear, brooked no argument.

So Piemur goes back, crushed that his appeal didn’t amount to anything at all, and that his grand plan has fallen flat. B’naj offers his condolences and that there hasn’t been a harper that’s offered their help to the South at all, so he should feel good about that, at least?

Which is very nice of B’naj, since Piemur was going in there without even ace high and trying to bluff them all into believing he had a full house. “Let me talk to them, I can convince them to reintegrate you into society” is a hard sell for Piemur, considering that these are already the people who have been sent off once and it’s been long enough that the rest of the world clearly doesn’t give a rip about reintegrating them, or is sufficiently cheesed at their stubbornness that they’ve stopped trying. Plus, at least some of them committed a heinous act that there isn’t going to be any forgiveness for, regardless of how much the harpers are trying to push this as the better, smarter, less terrible idea. There’s no reason for Benden to do anything but wash their hands of them and leave them to die in the place that doesn’t even need to be flown over by dragons in the first place. Piemur’s got nothing to draw them back with other than his sincere belief that he can be their advocate and that deep down, the Southern Weyr wants to fight Thread until it kills them and go out like men.

To twist the knife further, Meria points this out to Piemur when she reports back on her own success with the time-skipped.

“Ther was nothing more you could have done or said to those riders to change their minds. B’naj told me what you said; he told me about the offer you made to them. I think there are a few of the older dragonriders who are just too bitter, and still too angry, to embrace the possibility of a hopeful future. I’m sorry they didn’t accept your offer, Piemur. I think you would’ve been an excellent advocate for them.”
Piemur pursed his lips in a brief grimace, nodding twice.
“But you should know that the dragonriders did hear what you said about getting help from me. At first, a group of about fifty riders asked B’naj for the jango root I had sent down from Nabol. They’ve had complete success with it, too, clearing up that wretched coughing once and for all. And when the others saw how improved their fellows were from the jango, the rest of the riders asked for some, too. I think their dragons put them up to it. If you hadn’t guessed that thujang is called jango now, it might’ve taken far longer to make the weyr fit and healthy again. So you see, some good did come from what you did. I hope that makes you feel a little better.”
“I’m really pleased the dragons and their riders are better, Meria. That is good news,” Piemur replied, but he couldn’t keep the disappointment from his voice. Meria scanned Piemur’s face, searching his eyes for a moment, then she nodded once, and reached out both of her hands to clasp Piemur’s. He could see that the gentle [time-skipped rider] was trying her best to console him, and he smiled weakly at her.

The jango root did more to advance the cause of bringing Southern back to the current time than Piemur’s words did, because the jango root solved a problem they were having, with immediate and obvious effects. Which still leaves them in the position of being exiled, without any queens, and on Benden’s shit list, so there won’t be any aid forthcoming if they ask unless they can convince Benden they’ve mended their ways and are willing to accept Benden’s authority over them about how things get done.(And even then, Lessa might say “It’s good to hear, but we’re going to wait until you all die out and then replace you with people who we know are on board with the mission.”)

But because we can’t have a Pern book end on a bleak note, (or at least, not one that doesn’t already have a sequel sold), the last pages of this book is B’naj and Meria coming to find Piemur to spirit him back to Southern Weyr in time for him to see all the dragons and dragonriders that had disappeared reappear around him.

“What you said swayed them! They changed their minds and decided to return. To this Pass, to this time!” B’naj cupped his hands around his mouth so Piemur could hear his next words. “It was the dragons who made their riders see sense. They told their riders to listen to you, Piemur!”
Piemur looked at B’naj, mouth open, incredulous. A dozen or more dragons trumpeted welcoming calls, vocalizing their pleasure while Piemur took in the full import of what the [time-skipped rider] had just said.
Surprised, exulted, and overwhelmed, Piemur jumped up on Seventh’s back and spread his arms out wide in welcome, overcome with relief. As yet another dragon bugled a call of triumph, Piemur threw back his head, a huge smile spilling across his face as he welcomed the dragonriders home.

And that’s the last current words of Pern.

But I also have to note that Piemur did not convince the dragonriders to come home. Piemur convinced the dragons, and the riders came with them. Which, y’know, I wish that particular conversation and discussion had been recorded in these pages, because Piemur’s appeal probably landed much better with the dragons and their instincts rather than with the dragonriders. And if it’s the dragons dragging the riders along, that says a lot about who has the upper hand in the dragon-rider relationship. I feel like it was probably something to the order of the dragons deciding they don’t want to be bored and restless in the past, not when they know there’s some Thread to fight if they go back to the time they left from, so the dragons decide they’re going to go back, and they inform their riders of the choice, possibly manipulating the connection they have with their rider to make the rider feel like it’s a good idea and to go along with it. Or maybe the dragons threatened to go back without their riders, who can enjoy learning how to do everything like non-dragonriders do. It’s clearly possible for dragons to exist at some remote time without their riders, although the connection gets obscured if they go too far afield. Still, the dragons probably had all the leverage in that discussion.

And here we are. And I have to wonder how this 3.0 Piemur then fits in with the subsequent discovery of the AI, the special classes that go along with it, and everything else, if he’s also supposed to be the advocate for the Southern Weyr with everyone else. Except I think that K’van is Weyrleader at Southern by that point, so whatever Piemur’s advocacy was, it doesn’t appear to have amounted to a hill of beans. As everyone suspected it would. But I’m sure he did his best to advocate for bringing the exiled back into the fold because he didn’t want there to be the wide rift between Southern and the rest of Pern.

That’s it. I can see why there haven’t been any more in the intervening years, if this is the story that got told, this the time period that got retreaded, despite there being an entire wide world and timeline to go gallivanting up and down and leave your own, more individual, mark on the book. You could build a completely different space, with different tensions and people, and that would have also been part of the internally complex and snarl-filled canon of Pern, but it would have been yours, rather than trying to stick to an ill-fitting script with new actors that have the same character names, but are playing them altogether differently.

There is an acknowledgment section at the back of this copy of the book, which gives us a pinned date of publication, March 2018, but is also where we learn that J’hon is based on the real person John Greene, who had passed by the time of the publication of the book, that there were people consulted about both the singing and the percussion aspects of the book, for the small segment that the technical aspects of music-making are on display. It is the beginning parts that I want to quote.

This story could never have been written if not for my wonderful mother, Anne McCaffrey. She created Pern and its marvelous inhabitants over fifty years ago. Thank you, Mum, whereever you are, out there in the cosmos, for permitting me to play in your world.
A huge debt of gratitude is also owed to my brother, Todd McCaffrey, who generously stepped back and allowed his little sister to mess around in the sandbox that he has been carefully guarding for so many years. To Shelley Shapiro, my editor, whose patience and indefatigable guidance encouraged me to keep writing even when I hadn’t a clue where the story was taking me. Todd and Shelley, you two are true Champions of Pern.
To Diana Tyler, my agent at MBA Literary and Script Agents, for her gentle encouragement and endless patience; and to Jay A. Katz, most trusted Trustee, for thankfully never exerting an ounce of pressure on me throughout the writing process. Diana and Jay, treasured family friends for many decades, there could be no finer Guardians of Pern than you two.

Because it’s worth nothing the similarities between how Todd characterized Anne letting him play in the sandbox and how Gigi says Todd let her play in the sandbox. Now, admittedly, I see less of Todd’s hand in this work than I might have seen Anne’s hand in Todd’s. I wonder how much of that is due to the way the Pern fandom appears to have rejected both of his named series and their works as unworthy of consideration or fanworks, such that if it appeared like he were having a hand in this Ninth Pass book, things would be equally as dismal for Gigi.

I also want to note, again, that there’s mention of the fact that Pern itself is held in the hands of a literary trust at this point, and that only Todd and Gigi are authorized to write official works of Pern, so if things didn’t go well for Gigi (and it doesn’t seem to be the case that they have, given that there hasn’t been any more works in the three years between the publication of this work and now), it’s highly unlikely we’re going to see any more Pern for our lifetime, unless the current Trust designates new authorized novels and writers. I would be very interested to see how many writers of our times would approach the supposedly-static society of Pern with fresh eyes toward raising the voices of the marginalized, or adding some grit and realism into the Randian fantasy world, of telling histories that have been forgotten or actively suppressed, and otherwise trying to come to grips with Pern as a property that spans several decades and that has changed tastes significantly about what constitutes a good novel. Which is what, y’know, AO3 is for, if you want the unofficial takes, but it would be nice to see some official ones, as well. I think it would spark at least a little bit of interest in the fandom to see writers with good credibility getting a chunk of the timeline to play in, so that we could see what they come up with.

That’s all of the words that have been written so far. There are no more adventures to be had. There are supplementary materials that could be examined, like the Dragonlover’s Guide or the essay collection Dragonwriter, but those are not stories of Pern, for the most part, they’re stories about Pern, and one of the fundamental fandom rules to play by is that you don’t harsh on someone else’s squee. (Even if you think their squee is totally problematic. If you asked, you might find out that they agree with you that it’s got problems that need to be addressed, and for them, they’ve made the decision to continue engaging with the source material. Possibly even to fix the problems that you’re pointing out and accusing them of enjoying uncritically.)

This post is long enough already. Final thoughts will come next week. And then, after that, who knows? Maybe I’ll finally take you all up on the suggestion to examine Restoree and see how it compares to Pern.

Dragon’s Code: Winding It All Down

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

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

Except, y’know, not.

Dragon’s Code, Chaper 11: Content Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragon’s Code: The Nonsensical Plot, Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cocowhat by depizan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, of course, Pern still has no therapists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cocowhat by depizan

Cocowhat by depizan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragon’s Code: The Nonsensical Plot, Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll get resolution to this nonsense next week.

Dragon’s Code: Plot Break!

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

Dragon’s Code: Chapter Eight: Content Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragon’s Code: Drinking Reconnaissance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cocowhat by depizan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragon’s Code: Synchronization Points

Last time around, Piemur was made fun of for his appetite, recognized that Menolly has found her niche, and was supposed to go to Nabol, but instead finds himself an unwilling passenger during a dragon fighting Thread. Before the part of the Southern Weyr plot in The White Dragon steals Ramoth’s queen egg, which means Lessa wants some dead dragonriders. In this backdrop, and one of a plot against Jaxom that Piemur is still supposed to gather more information about so it can be thwarted, we pick back up with the action.

Dragon’s Code, Chapter Six: Content Notes:

Which reminds me, that we’re also supposed to believe/remember that dragonriders have a code that they live by, even though it’s never been codified or referred to before now.

Chapter Six begins with a mud-encased dragon and their rider stealing back the stolen queen egg, but the narrative, all throughout this chapter, chooses not to mention that it’s Jaxom and Ruth at work doing this. Those fans with sufficiently long memories or who have done a reread will know immediately that it’s Jaxom and Ruth at work, but someone who is just joining the series would have a little bit of mystery involved as to who this particular dragon and rider is. It’s not really all that important, other than as a sync point of where the previous narrative is, because after this re-thieving, instead of following the mud-covered dragon, we stay with those that the mud-covered dragon stole from. Or, rather,, we stay with Meria and B’naj, who also have a plan to sneak in and steal the egg to give it back to Benden, so there’s a bit of a Gambit Pileup on Aisle Seventh. (Seventh is the name of B’naj’s dragon, which makes me wonder if all of his egg-mates were similarly numerically named.) Because someone else has already swiped the egg, Meria and B’naj want to get more information, just in case the egg is being swiped for some other purpose than to return to Benden. However, Meria and B’naj do not exactly get a pleasant welcome from T’kul and B’zon.

T’kul saw her first. “What are you doing here?” he shouted. “Was it you, healer? Did you take the egg? You traitor!” He was furious. “It was ready to hatch—just another day, maybe two. We could’ve had new blood for the Weyr!” His tone was full of venom, and Salth, his dragon, growled, halting Meria in her tracks as she shook her head in denial.
“Wait, T’kul! B’zon, please, you have to listen to us,” B’naj pleaded, running up to stand beside Meria, arms straight and fisted hands taut on either side of his big, barrel chest. He was a tall man and well known for his strength, but T’kul, swelling with outrage, seemed to tower over him.
“It’s a brave man who lands a mere brown in the path of two bronzes, B’naj. Or a foolish one. Get out of our way!” B’zon, the other bronze rider, hollered. Both bronze dragons hissed and bared their teeth at Seventh, spurred on by the anger and sense of urgency they felt from their riders. The smaller blue dragon, however, stood his ground unflinchingly. [Hang on, didn’t T’kul just say he was a brown?] The bronzes bristled, stamping their feet.
[…Meria and B’naj plead more with the angry bronze dragonriders, trying to convince them that they had good intentions and did a terrible thing…]
“Leave off with your healer platitudes, Meria,” B’zon called snidely. “You left our Weyr of your own free will.” He pointed his index finger at her and then stabbed his chest repeatedly to punctuate his next words. “You mean nothing to us now!” His cruel tone cut through the morning air like a scythe. Meria caught her breath in a single gasp and then looked away. This had been her greatest fear: that she would not be able to get through to them—now, when they needed help the most.

Well, that gives us some more information about what kind of person Meria is, and what apparently she is a Weyr Healer who left Southern. Right, apparently, before the dragons have gotten themselves sick with something that having a practicing Weyr Healer would be a really nice thing to have. Especially since the exiled dragonriders are unlikely to be able to get any bright or promising students from Oldive or the Beastcraft to help them keep their dragons healthy. Assuming, that is, that there’s been sense knocked into some Craft somewhere that they should understand draconic anatomy and the like, which, y’know, given Benden’s isolationist policies, nevermind.

Of course, T’kul and B’zon are not exactly in their rational capacity right now, given that their otherwise-flawless plan of stealing a queen egg and jumping back in time to keep it hidden from Benden has just been blown up by someone and now there are convenient people to rage against standing in front of them trying to dissuade them from feeling their rage. And B’naj adds on that there won’t be any additional opportunities to steal the egg back, because the other Weyrs will be on guard against that tactic happening again.Upon hearing that the egg has been kept for ten days, B’naj and Meria wince, because that length of time demonstrates pretty clearly to Benden what the intent of the Southerners were. Meria realizes that Benden could decide to exact revenge on them and nobody would blink twice at them for doing it.

B’zon broke the silence with the thought that was uppermost in all their minds. “What are we going to do now?” he asked, his tone bleak. “Our dragons are all off color, more than half of them. And none of the greens in our Weyr fly to mate anymore—they’re too old.
“I think I know why the dragons are off color,” Meria declared, trying to sound encouraging. “And it has naught to do with the lack of an active queen.”
“No!” T’kul shouted, his face purple with rage. “You don’t get to do anything now, when it’s too late! I won’t allow you to ease your guilt for abandoning the Weyr!” He stood staring fiercely at Meria for what seemed like an age, and then he turned and mounted Salth without a backward glance. B’zon quickly followed suit and the pair took to the air, climbing into the bright, early-morning sky before finally disappearing into the lightless void of between.

And, that feels like the “greens” there is a misprint as well, like that should be “golds,” since Meria picks up that thread by talking about an absent queen. Unless there’s some sort of thing where dragons that can’t get off end up suffering serious damage to themselves. I would have expected such an idea more from Todd that Gigi, though, honestly.

So, in much the same way that Piemur doesn’t get believed and the plot gets artificially extended because he wasn’t able to rest before having to give his report (after a decision that was out of character for him about safely traveling in the South), we have another artificial plot extension because Meria and B’naj arrive right after T’kul and B’zon have the egg stolen from them, and therefore they’re definitely not in any sort of mental state that would allow them to listen to and accept Meria’s help to get their dragons back to being healthy again. We still don’t know why Meria left, but “hostile work environment” certainly seems like it would be one of the possible reasons why. So we’ve already had two artificial plot extensions in this case.

The plot moves back to the unnamed rider-dragon pair as they fret on how to get the egg back to the right place and time, get observed by fire-lizards, jump into the middle of a Threadfall (where Jaxom gets his Threadscore scar), and then finally get themselves back to the right place and time to deposit the egg before disappearing, mission accomplished. Which we already covered. Then we hop back to Southern, where T’ron has found both his voice and his fury about what just happened.

“You should be flogged by each and every member of this Weyr! What have you done?” he demanded again, his voice rising as he spat out the last word, glaring darkly at Mardra and T’reb, and then at the ashen faces of T’kul and B’zon.
[…The explanation is unsatisfactory to T’ron, who spares a thought for a different outcome while he’s giving them the business…]
It was a pity that B’naj and Meria hadn’t been successful in regaining control of the egg and returning it to Benden. That would have been the best outcome.

Well, that’s interesting. The way it’s passed, it sounds like T’ron knows of and approved Meria and B’naj going to steal the thing back and take it to Benden as an apology for the hotheads in his own ranks. Which would imply much of the shouting and anger is performative, of the “I can’t believe what kind of terrible people you are that you you went ahead with this terrible plan after I tried to warm you off of it!” Except T’ron had left the room before the full plot was unveiled to Mardra, so he did not know directly. (Maybe indirectly, but the narrative says that when T’kul and B’zon come back in a rage, accusing others of stealing the egg away from them, they’re met with blank looks, which is supposed to mean the plan wasn’t intended for general knowledge where T’ron could have overheard it. It’s a tangle.)

T’ron, realizing the entirety of Southern Weyr is hosed by this decision, decides the correct course of action is to flee to some other point in time, where they can hide sufficiently from Benden until everything blows over or they come up with a better plan on how to apologize to Benden for the theft. And we get a lot more about what the code supposedly is that they’ve violated so terribly by stealing the egg, even as T’ron wonders why he “should feel so invigorated in the face of such disaster.”

“You foolish people have breached an inviolable code. Your desperate actions have contravened every fiber of what we are—and debased the valor of all our dragons. This act has undermined the very foundations of our purpose—and our future—violating the code of trust our dragons placed in us from the moment their minds graced ours.”
“But the egg would have saved the Weyr!” B’zon cried.
“And what would have happened when the egg hatched? The Weyrs in the north would have retaliated. Think about it! Our fragile order would’ve fallen asunder with tit-for-tat squabbling that would escalate among the riders into outright fighting, pushing the dragons to the point of combat! Then our focus would get skewed from our true purpose and, quite possibly, Threadfall would go unchecked. Imagine the devastation. Can you?
“If Thread were to gain the upper hand and be allowed to fall unchecked, it could ruin a Holder’s entire crop, leave us short of food supplies, burrow underground, and spread. That would lead to more arguing, blame laying, fighting, until the very fabric of the Weyrs, the Holds, and the Crafts would be irreperably rent.”
“But they have the egg! They took it back!” Mardra cried, her features contorting in anguish.
“And you still cannot see what you have done?” T’ron shouted, shaking his head. The dragonriders looked at their Weyrleader, varying degrees of defiance mingling with confusion on their faces.
“You may have defeated our defenders!” T’ron roared, glaring from T’kul to Mardra and then to B’zon and T’reb.
Shouts rose from the dragonriders outside, and scores more dragons joined in. Mardra suddenly seemed to understand the import of T’ron’s words, for her shoulders drooped and she covered her face with her hands. T’kul stood immobile next to her, slowly shaking his head as if the true outcome of their actions was finally resolving into a clear picture in his mind.
Once a proud and respected member of her Weyr, Mardra reacted as if wounded, the cries from the riders outside seeming to cripple her, and as if all the stuffing had been knocked out of her with one invisible blow, she crumpled to the floor. Her hands slid from her face as she wept, and Loranth, feeling her rider’s dreadful despair, keened loudly in response. All the dragons, nearly twelvescore of them, added their voices to Loranth’s lament, filling the air with the shocking, heartrending sound of their anguish.
T’ron stood motionless, appalled to see the woman who’d once helped him lead Pern’s oldest Weyr through Turns of fighting Thread so thoroughly undone. T’kul knelt beside her, his face suffused with shock.

So, we’re supposed to believe that the dragon’s code is a non-aggression pact? That no matter what happens and matter how much everyone might hate everyone else, they’re never going to do anything directly about it? That…would explain a surprising amount of why nobody ever does anything despite the large and mounting evidence count that their leaders are incompetent and need to be dealt with for the good of everyone. If they really believe that the entire society will be torn asunder at the slightest reciprocated provocation from one Weyr to another, because they’ll be too busy fighting each other to fight Thread, then I can’t say all that much good about the stability of the famed unchanging society. Additionally, there haven’t exactly been people on Pern or accepted channels on Pern for people who have issues with each other to get them worked out, assuming they’re on the same level of privilege. Dueling seems to be the first, last, and only resort for when something has become intolerable, and when duels happen, people end up dead. And then revenge cycles start. It’s almost like there should have long since been a resurgence of the profession of the lawyer/legist/diplomat, and not in the half-assed way that the Harpers are in 2.0 Ninth Pass, and, as is the perpetual complaint around here, the presence of the psychologist and therapist (and probably several of the cottage industries that spring up around the idea of wellness, whether they think of it as something that psychoactive chemicals can help with or rigorous training and discipline of the mind and body, or that being able to talk out their issues with a nonjudgmental figure will help them come to making decisions and dealing with the traumas of life.)

Also, I definitely don’t get the “defeated our defenders” remark, unless we’re supposed to understand, entirely from context and/or previous reading, that the other time-skipped are the people likeliest to come to Southern’s aid if Benden should decide that exile isn’t good enough for the Southerners and decide they want to do something more permanent. And that by stealing the egg from Benden, the Southerners have placed themselves beyond the pale and become acceptable targets for Benden’s wrath. Possibly even to the point where not only are they acceptable targets, but Benden will be forced to come after them to preserve their own honor after the stealing of the egg. If that’s the case, though, they could have been a lot less cryptic about it. The way it’s written, it could easily be read that T’ron thinks that Benden is their best defender against further issues. Which is nonsensical, but editors, people.

After T’ron delivers his decision, the action swaps back to Piemur, who is contemplating both the horrors of the Threadfall he just went through and the greater horror yet of dragons fighting each other. Piemur also tries to sneak something new into the 3.0 revision that hasn’t been there before:

Piemur knew that if any Weyr fell short of its necessary complement of dragons, the deficiency was made up whenever possible by the other Weyrs. Weyrleaders only had to make the request, and the required dragons were moved accordingly, even queens.

Without the slightest hint of self-recognition that such a request might only be honored if their Weyrleader is on good terms with another Weyr that they’re willing to lend you the dragons. Piemur assumes that it’ll just happen, apparently including exiled dragonriders. (And, even though the comment section disagrees with me, I…wouldn’t put it past a Weyrleader to want to get rid of a troublesome queen rider (or to try and break a headstrong one) by sending her down to Southern so that she will be grateful for her own Weyr’s assholery in comparison to what happens at Southern.

Piemur recalled the Masterharper and Sebell discussing how F’lar had instigated the revision of antiquated practices. Despite the resistance from some of the [time-skipped], F’lar’s foresight had improved how the Weyrs functioned, and especially how they interacted with one another and with the other societal groups. From what Piemur knew, all the Weyrs except Southern were up to fighting strength, and although none of them, apart from Benden, had a clutch of eggs currently hardening on their Hatching Grounds, the queens in the other Weyrs were all in good health.

Instigating revisions sounds a lot like “Look, you lot, you can’t just go around everywhere taking whatever and whoever you want, we have to keep the people happy, pay no attention to all of the ways I’ve been a hypocrite about this up to this point.” The time-skipped are probably skeptical, because they didn’t do any such thing, and they got along perfectly fine with their Holds and Crafts by keeping them in complete terror of what dragons and dragonriders could do to them, or allow to happen to them, but the Benden Weyrleader wins out, and perhaps, very slowly, the time-skipped that went along with him realize that it’s actually kind of nice not having to intimidate everyone all the time.

As it is, Piemur realizes he’s spoken a lie about all the other queens being in good health, and he pieces together all the bits he’s heard to come to the conclusion that the South really did steal the egg. He sends for Farli to take a message to Robinton outlining his conclusions, but Farli and another gold fire-lizard arrive, Farli with a message attached to her and both fire-lizards with pictures of angry dragons in their heads. The message is from “S”, who Piemur takes to mean Sebell, and says that the egg is safe and for Piemur to stay put and wait for him to arrive. Piemur is ecstatic at this, thinking it means the Southerners came to their senses and returned the egg. When J’hon comes by later, with provisions and clothes for Piemur, along with a different message from Sebell, his news is that Benden has mounted a full guard on the Hatching Ground after the theft and return of the egg, that tensions are still high, because nobody saw anyone return the egg, oh, and also, that the Southerners can’t be contacted by Ramoth, who can “speak with every dragon, in every Weyr.” (That’s new.) Which we know is “they’ve gone to some other time period to figure this out” and, if we remember Moreta, Lorana, or Fiona, we know there are ways of disappearing from the senses of other dragons, and almost all of them involve hyperspace and/or time travel. Not that Piemur knows, or should know, this, since time travel is theoretically the biggest secret of the dragons. He can’t logic his way through their actions, though.

Why right a wrong—return the egg—and then go into hiding? With the theft of the egg, the Southern [time-skipped] had put themselves in an impossible position, but disappearing into thin air only made them appear guilty of something more. What had they been thinking? Piemur knew exactly what it felt like to be on the fringes, part of something yet not, included and discarded, all at the same time. Shards! Didn’t the [time-skipped] know they could never fit in if they stayed in hiding?

Spoken like someone without an ounce of self-awareness in their own head. And, also, someone who doesn’t fully understand the situation that he’s supposedly been observing, because exile’s not “go away for a few years, then come back when you’ve paid your debt to society” on Pern. It’s a death sentence and full exclusion, and Piemur doesn’t get it or doesn’t want to.
J’hon explains the new protocols requiring all incoming dragons to announce themselves and Lessa’s blanket ban on fire-lizards, since someone’s fire-lizards were used to spy on Ramoth and alert the thieves when she was away feeding so they could steal the egg. Piemur needs this explained in detail to him, and then he has context for Farli’s images of angry, flaming dragons, which he dismisses as fire-lizards being silly. J’hon says it’s not as silly as he thinks, because there are angry dragons around, and the chapter ends.

So Piemur’s had two near-death experiences with Threadfall at this point in the book, which I think makes him the leader of non-dragonriders who have had fully-described close calls with the stuff across the series, since we can add one more from Dragondrums.

We’re halfway through the book and we haven’t even really started the “plot against Jaxom” bit, instead choosing to look at the B-side of the early parts of The White Dragon. It’s filler, because conveniently, nobody believed Piemur when he said Southern Weyr was planning something, and conveniently, the people that Meida tried to convince about the sickness of the dragons were the just-enraged riders who had the egg they stole stolen back from them. This book seems to be something that’s trying its best to follow the already laid-out timeline and find something to fill it with, rather than starting at this point here, after the egg has been returned, after the dragonriders have vanished, right when the plot against Jaxom is starting to crescendo. Here’s the spot where Piemur is ready for action, rather than spending his time lamenting his inability to sing and otherwise marking time.

So next week, we not only start the second half of Dragon’s Code, we start the actual book.

Dragon’s Code: Getting On With The Plot

Last time, everyone else recognized that the plot Piemur was overhearing involved not Crom, but Ruatha, and did their best to provide Jaxom with more protection against attackers, while telling Piemur that he gets to go on assignment to Nabol and pick up additional intelligence about that plot, since the current Harper got made on his assignment.

Dragon’s Code: Chapter Five: Content Notes:

To break up the serious bits, Chapter Five shifts us over to Piemur at the dining hall, where Silvina good-naturedly calls him a walking stomach and says she’s going to need to call in for more food if he’s staying for any amount of time.

“Ah, here, Silvina, it’s only a bite to eat,” Piemur said through a mouthful of wherry meat as he looked over his shoulder at Fort’s headwoman.
“That’s what I’m worried about, lad: If the whopping great mound of food I see on your plate is only a ‘bite,’ I’d hate to see what you call a meal these days!”
“But it tastes so good, Silvina. I never cease to wonder how Cook always makes such scrumptious food,” Piemur said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
Seemingly from out of nowhere, Silvina produced a small square of cloth and deftly draped it across Piemur’s lap as she sat down next to him on the long bench. He took the hint and raised the cloth in his hand, making a big show of daintily dabbing at the corners of his mouth to prove to Silvina that all her Turns of trying to knock manners into him had actually paid off.
“It’s good to see you, Piemur,” Silvina said with real warmth in her voice, briefly resting a hand on Piemur’s shoulder. “It’s been alarmingly quiet around here without you.”

So not only do we have Piemur as the stereotypical teenage boy with a bottomless appetite, he’s apparently the teenager who doesn’t have any manners and doesn’t understand how to use a napkin. (Or, more properly, doesn’t bother with his manners because he’s a teenage boy.) I feel like this is the first time I’ve seen anything like a linen napkin or similar in this series with regard to the Harper Hall. The platters of meats and the feasting, yes, but maybe I’m doing that thing where I fill in details from my own studies about what I would expect a place like Pern to use (trencher bread) rather than letting the narrative convince me that the Harpers all learn to eat with the same grace and manners of Lords and Ladies because they’re likely going to end up doing so and they don’t want to appear rude or uncivilized. (And possibly the other guilds do, as well.)

Silvina asks after Farli, surprised she’s not here with him. Piemur thinks she’s with Stupid, and Silvina chides Piemur for coming to the food before taking a bath to wash off the smell of the road, specifically telling him that’s where his next stop should be before bed. Or going to see Menolly, since she’s been marking papers for Domick for a while and could use a break. And also that there will be bubbleberry pies with the evening meal.

This seems a softer characterization than the Silvina of before, who was much less joking about everything as she made sure the Hall ran well (because she’s the Hall’s Headwoman, not Fort Hold’s, as she is described in that passage. There’s a fair bit of conflating Diet Holds and the Harper Hall here.) and who didn’t seem all that fond of Piemur’s tendency to get himself in trouble. But it’s possible that Piemur has become less irritating to her in his absence, so she can be fond of him when he returns. I’m not really fond of her making jokes about his appetite, either, since it seems like there would be plenty of other things to joke about, rather than the stereotypes of a teenage boy.

Piemur takes Silvina’s advice, though, and gets himself cleaned up and into a different change of clothes before going to see Menolly. Who is happy for the distraction. And also calls him Pie, which still makes me blink and also reminds me that I’m supposed to pronounce his name differently in my head than I have been for years. He calls her “Loll” in return, which makes even less sense as a nickname for her. “Noll” I would believe, and maybe this is a typographic error, except he does it again not to soon afterward, so it’s not a typo. But it doesn’t make sense how that became her nickname.

Piemur asks about the current crop of apprentices and Menolly says there’s “A few bright ones know their stuff backward, and there’s the rest, who’ll be good musicians but never truly outstanding,” and I want to know by what standards Menolly is judging this lot, because she’s an expert, surrounded by experts, and there’s a good chance her idea of what’s “good” versus what’s “outstanding” is supremely skewed by the fact that she has the best musicians in the world as her fellows and as the instructors.

Piemur also sees Menolly in a different light after she remarks that he finally managed to get taller than her (since Piemur was one of the shortest apprentices, we remind ourselves), but it manages to both avoid being about her physicality and her sexuality, which is pretty rare for a Pern book.

Menolly’s appearance had changed, too, Piemur reckoned. She was no longer the shy, gangly, all-arms-and-legs girl he’d befriended when she’d first arrived at the Harper Hall. Her curly dark-brown hair and sea-green eyes were the same, but there was something different about her, something he couldn’t identify. And then it dawned on him: Menolly looked completely at ease. She had once been the new girl who was treated as an outcast: maybe because she came from a seafaring hold, maybe because she had an unusually large number of fire-lizards answering to her. Now as Piemur looked at his friend he saw that she was truly content, comfortable with her life. She’s found the place where she belongs, he mused.

I’m curious about this as well, because it seems unlikely that Menolly would be able to sit in a comfortable position at the Hall without some backing from, say, Robinton. Or someone else with enough clout to punish or dismiss people who thought Menolly couldn’t be anything because she was a girl. Did Morshal find himself assigned to another location once it became clear Menolly was starting and was bringing more girls in? Does Shonagar have to change his methods of beratement and verbal abuse when there are girls in his class? Did all of Menolly’s problems get handled, mostly quietly and outside of her view, by others? Or is it, like it was in earlier books, that Menolly has learned the ways of the Hall and how to apply them so well that she’s basically one of the guys now, and that allows her to be content and secure in her position, as opposed to being sniped at from both students and faculty?

The plot continues with Menolly asking Piemur to sing along with her fire lizard fair in their vocal exercises, something Piemur declines, claiming his attempts at singing still end in him croaking, but he does appreciate the music they make and he tries to hide his panic at being asked to sing from Menolly. After that, they discuss Piemur’s intelligence and what Robinton intends to do with it, along with his assignment to go into Nabol. (Piemur complains about the entire Hold and region, melodramatically, according to himself, but it does help him and Menolly smile.)

Piemur wakes up to drum messages, most of which are regular business, although he takes time to sardonically comment on a request on one:

a group of holders from Keroon offering to barter, to anyone and everyone, sackloads of tubers from their bumper crop, for literally anything else that was on offer. Piemur smiled: Trust that lot from Keroon to always want what they don’t have!

Cocowhat by depizan

That doesn’t make any sense at all! There’s an excess from Keroon and they’re trying to trade that extra for goods they don’t have. It’s not like there’s a worldwide market where the Keroonians could already see that, say, Bitra and Telgar are looking for tubers at a specific price that Keroon can decide whether or not they want to sell at that price or negotiate more. The trader trains that go through Keroon might already have enough tubers, and so do all their other stops, and it’s not like anyone here has advanced refrigeration and storage technology, such that they could sell their excess to a warehouse or store their excess in a warehouse until there was demand again. Piemur 1.0 was characterized as someone on the lookout for a quick mark or a bit of a grift, which would make him more likely to go “tough market” rather than, “lol, greedy Keroonians”, unless there’s something in his backstory that imparted that attitude. And if there is, that needs to be shown. It’s not.

What the narrative wants to tell us, though, is the message from Igen saying the expected Threadfall hadn’t happened, and then a chime telling Piemur he’s going to be late for his meeting with J’hon to go to Nabol. The next few paragraphs are the textual equivalent of the sequence where someone is trying to get to their destination and have all of these obstacles that get in their way, as they try to eat what scant breakfast (bread and cheese, in Piemur’s case) they’ve scooped up into their hands while they run. Before Piemur barrels into the Weyr bowl, and then we stop for a few paragraphs as Piemur marvels at the preparations being made and how neither dragons nor riders collide or get in each other’s way in their dance of preparation.

All of Piemur’s rush turns out to be for nothing, because the off-schedule Igen fall has the Fort contingent choosing to go up earlier than scheduled so they don’t get caught out-of-phase. N’ton apologizes to Piemur after explaining this, and Piemur settles in to wait. It’s only a couple hours (suspicious to Piemur, because Threadfall runs last longer than that) before a messenger arrives and says J’hon is ready to take Piemur to Nabol. In the subsequent conversation, J’hon complains that they’re out of sequence, as well, and N’ton sent the majority of the riders back to Fort on standby, ready to go when Thread does actually fall.

So Piemur gets sent to Nabol, and we get a description of what it’s like for him to traverse the void of hyperspace.

Yet there wasn’t anything that could prepare Piemur adequately for the silent nothingness, or the panic that rose up in him as all sensations fell away, sparing him nothing, not even the comfort of touch. They seemed to hang there, and time, too, played out strangely between. Although Piemur knew they would emerge into daylight in the same amount of time it would take him to count to three, those few moments always felt like hours. Just when he thought he couldn’t bear it any longer, they burst out into the skies southwest of Nabol Hold.

Which is a very different experience of the space for the dragonrider, as they seem to be able to move, think, and otherwise treat hyperspace like it were normal, apart from the occasional time knot or ghost of a dragonrider appearing to them for plot purposes. Piemur doesn’t even get the comforting reminder that he’s riding on a dragon, apparently, just a complete lack of external input that lasts for slightly longer than an eternity, even if it only actually lasts for about eight seconds or so. Now I wonder whether that’s the same feeling for other passengers. It certainly makes the “good job, lad, you didn’t wet yourself on your first trip through hyperspace” comment from Ninth Pass 2.0’s Masterharper of Pern more relevant and sensical.

The danger hasn’t passed, though, because J’hon and Piemur pop out at Nabol during a Threadfall. Which springs J’hon and Mirth into immediate action to fight the stuff, rather than them trying to find a safe place to set Piemur down before vaulting off to fight. Instead, Piemur has to go through the roller coaster ride of a dragon actively engaged in fighting Thread, which has Piemur wonder both “how dragonriders remained hale and hearty when they endured such aggressive airborne maneuvers” and “moving so fast and changing direction at such high speed that Piemur thought his arms might be ripped from their sockets.” Which, y’know, fighter pilots have specific things to help them deal with the intensity of the G-forces involved. Pern seems to have lap bars like the whole thing is a roller-coaster ride instead, and we’ve seen how effective those things are when queen riders are supposed to let others die and keep themselves alive.

At a point during the Threadfall, Piemur notices a sliver of Thread landing on his bag, and in sheer terror, shucks it off, before realizing that might allow for a burrow to happen, but Mirth tracks and flames it before the Thread-infested bag can touch the ground. At that point, the help that J’hon has called for arrives, and Piemur gets an up-close view of what it looks like for dragons to fight Thread. After the fighting’s finished, J’hon takes Piemur to Nabol, as promised, but because of the delay, Piemur’s contact isn’t present. While they think about what the best course of action for that is, the news comes through that Ramoth’s queen egg has been stolen and the gold dragon is out for blood. As is her rider. But then we have Piemur’s 3.0 characterization show up again, and it actively gets in the way of the narrative.

“But I don’t understand, J’hon, there must be some mistake. Who would steal the queen egg?” Piemur asked, still holding on to the dragonrider’s arm. Mirth bugled again loudly.
“It could only be the [time-skipped]—the exiled ones down in the south. Their queens no longer rise to mate, and their bronzes are dying off.”
Piemur shook his head as he stared, disbelieving at the shocked dragonrider.
“With the illegal trading they’ve been doing—and all those covert raids and routing parties, plus the endless flouting of our ways and customs—the [time-skipped] have been doing everything they can to get the attention of the Weyrs in the north. It’s as if they actually want to incite discord among us.”
“But I can’t believe it, J’hon. Tehre must be some mistake. Some way you can settle this—;you’re all guardians, after all.”

Ninth Pass 3.0 Piemur’s credulity stings pretty hard in this time and era, especially for a reader in the United States, even before the worst that was yet to come from our era, because this argument sounds exactly like the one from self-described “centrists” who wanted (and still want) the two political divisions to be able to come together and forge partnerships and be able to professionally get along, when it’s become not just clear but brazenly obvious that one side believes “bipartisanship” means “we get what we want and you suffer and die” and the other is trying desperately to find any excuse they can not to believe this, because they believe fighting back against that threat will only make them look bad, rather than the real data that says their supporters want them to fight back hard, because their lives are at stake.

It’s also wrong for Ninth Pass 1.0 Piemur, who would have taken this new piece of information and put it together with his own information and been able to deduce the shape of the plot that’s just happened, because 1.0 Piemur is already pretty hardened against the idea that the exiled dragonriders are honorable or otherwise worthy of any part of his respect. (3.0 Piemur will get to it in the next chapter.) Instead, we have someone confronted with the reality of their times and choosing to disbelieve it, because it doesn’t fit their own mental model. Which, regrettably, is also pretty accurate about humans, and especially humans who are deeply invested in certain things being true because it’s a fundamental part of their mental model of everything. As it does with people who are very deep into the wickets of a conspiracy theory, evidence that they’re wrong reinforces Piemur’s belief that it’s a mistake, instead of dispelling it.

“And they’ve betrayed us, Piemur. Betrayed our code!” J’hon shouted, giving full voice to his anger and outrage.
Piemur stared at the young wingsecond, slowly shaking his head in denial.
“Don’t you see? It’s as if they’ve stolen a newborn child from his parents, Piemur! Stolen the most precious, the most revered among us. They’ve been fighting every little improvement we’ve brought about, always flouting the changes we’ve made. And even though all of us look to Benden as the premier Weyr, they refuse to do so. Now this, Piemur! It’s absolutely the final straw!”
[…Piemur continues to play the part of the disbeliever…]
“They’re trying to force our hand, Piemur! They want to go back to their old ways—the way they lived four hundred Turns ago! And they’re trying to force Benden’s hand to step down, to yield to them.” Mirth turned his head toward J’hon, who locked eyes with him.
“What is it? What’s he saying now?” Piemur asked.
“They’re talking about dragon fighting dragon!”
“No!” Piemur cried. “Dragons don’t fight one another!”

J’hon is being recalled by N’ton’ or possibly, Mirth is being recalled by Ramoth or a similar queen summons, for obvious reasons, so the conversation stops there, leaving Piemur to contemplate the horrors of dragons fighting dragons by himself. Or, he will be in the next chapter, as J’hon and Mirth disappearing into hyperspace is the end of Chapter Five.

Also, here’s the graft that we’re not supposed to notice too terribly, even though it’s a call to the title of the book. Before this, there’s never been reference to a dragonrider code, whether formalized or informal. There have been rules of behavior, and consistent decisions made about who gets enriched and who gets disempowered, but there’s never been any mention that every dragonrider who signs on has a set of principles and ethics that they have to obey or they risk being thrown out of the club. Quite the opposite, actually, as more than a few Weyrleaders have condoned or perpetrated acts that would have rightfully gotten them Shunned or executed on the spot, had they not been dragonriders. So, no, I don’t think there are oaths or ethics or other things that are formalized in any sort of way with regard to dragonriders, because that would mean there were mechanisms of discipline and of giving discipline to those who transgressed that were something other than “whatever someone of a higher color, rank, or the Weyrleader/Weyrwoman think is appropriate for you, so don’t aggravate them.” At least the Lords own it by having a court process, and 2.0 Ninth Pass has the petitions and appeals process that goes through the Harpers, for what good that does. The dragonriders have always at least implicitly been “we don’t have to follow rules, because we’ve got great big fucking dragons,” even if they hint at things like “don’t aggravate a queen dragon or her rider” as a possible check on them.

We’ll be seeing more references to this unstated and unformalized set of beliefs and actions that all dragonriders just know and have internalized as we go along, as it’s the parallel track to the Dragondrums/White Dragon narrative that’s happening in the next theater over. So, it’s probably going to be an exercise in futility, but we should probably pay attention to what is apparently part of this Dragon’s Code. Right now, as best I can tell, it’s composed of a few statements:

  1. Dragonriders are better than everyone else and don’t have to follow any of their rules or social conventions.
  2. Dragonriders don’t fight each other.
  3. Dragonriders don’t steal another queen’s egg(s).

And that’s basically it. We’ll see if there’s anything more to add to it by the time we get done.

(And also, there’s still nothing stopping the dissatisfied from warping themselves back to their own time, unless they already know that the sickness affecting their dragons affects their time-sense.)

Dragon’s Code: Still Rehashing Everything

Last time around, rather than being taken seriously, Toric, Robinton, and Sebell assumed that Piemur’s story of a plot between dragonriders and men of Nabol was fever speech from being out in the sun too long, and Piemur was reassigned to map more. While climbing a cliff to map it, however, he finds himself caught out in the middle of Threadfall, and has to be rescued by N’ton, which results in him taking a splashdown.

And thus, having lost the opportunity to kill this plot before it gets going, we continue on in this book.

Dragon’s Code, Chapter Four: Content Notes:

Chapter Four opens with information about the grubs that keep the South free of Thread and that allow both Southern Weyr and Southern Hold to be constructed on more spacious ideas and with greater vegetation around, because the grubs have also imparted the self-healing ability we saw the trees and plants have when the Brown Rider Rapist was on his stint here. The narrative puts up a good question and leaves it hanging there for us (or itself) to try and answer.

To any casual observer, the dragons and riders of Southern should have been content with their lot, living in a tropical paradise away from what they viewed as meddling by Benden Weyr and the other northern Weyrs, but that was not the case. A small group of men were deeply dissatisfied with their lives in the Weyr, ill at ease and increasingly dogged in their wish for change. Their disquiet could be felt as a palpable energy by the other members of the Weyr and was beginning to fester and spread, like a disease. It didn’t help that so many dragons were actually ill, poisoned by their ill-fated attempt at mining firestone. Now a heated debate spilled out of the open windows of the Weyrwoman’s quarters, easily audible for any weyrfolk to hear.

So what is the trouble in paradise? T’ron (marked as Southern Weyrleader, although in this argument it feels like T’kul is the one in charge, honestly) and his faction feel going forward in time was a complete mistake, given the situation the Southern Weyr is in. T’kul counters with the argument that the dragonriders were already starting to feel itchy to do something and have meaningful purpose when Lessa came back to fetch them, loath as he is to admit that Lessa was right about that. T’ron remains unconvinced and blames the heat for the ill health of the dragonriders, which the narrative has already told us is wrong.

Mardra, however, is sick of the circularness of the argument and has a practical solution to propose.

“It’s not one thing or the other,” Mardra said. “We should’ve broached these concerns with Benden long ago. I’ve told you this already!” She glared first at one man and then the other, a thinly veiled look of contempt in her expression. “Your perverse desire to protect the autonomy of the Weyr has pushed us all too far!” An uneasy silence followed before she spoke again.
“Relations between our Weyr and Benden are now at an irrevocable low, and they, most likely, would not aid us now even if we possessed the gumption to swallow our pride and ask for help!” Mardra’s tone was reproachful. She began to pace the length of the table with slow, deliberate steps, her arms crossed in front of her body, hands holding opposite elbows, a bitter expression on her face.
“But what should we do?” T’ron asked, looking first at T’kul and then to Mardra, an air of desperation in his tone.
“Must I hear that question again and again, until I fear my ears might bleed?” Mardra snapped, staring skyward, a note of disgust in her voice.
T’ron rubbed the middle of his abdomen distractedly. “We should never have come forward, my friends. I’m sorry. Isn’t hindsight a curse?” He shook his head, his shoulders bent forward, as if he carried a mssive burden.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated, not looking at the others as he quickly left the room.

Nobody seems willing to take Mardra up on her offer, though, and even try to open negotiations again with Benden. Now, it’s entirely likely that Mardra is right and that Benden isn’t really going to offer much help, but the Benden Weyrleaders I remember would probably have Lessa saying that it’s better to let the Southerners die out completely and her partner saying that such an act would be uncharitable. Something to the order of “dragonrider bros before hos”, even if not expressed that vulgarly. Also, unless all of them were involved in the poisoning incident in the mine, there’s nothing really stopping the people who feel they’ve been given a raw deal from warping themselves away back to the time period they left. Apart from the Question Song, really, and even if a small amount of dragonriders reappeared after a few years and lived out their lives to the end as part of Benden, or as small Weyrs of their own, assisted as much as possible by Benden, by the time of the end of the Long Interval, there still would only be the one Weyr left and Lessa would still be trying to retrieve dragonriders from her past into their future. There’s no causality problem with dragons hopping themselves back in time along the same pathway that they warped forward on so as to get the kind of retirement they think they deserve. If that happened, then the neatly pointed-out discrepancy of “within five generations” could become accurate for this Ninth Pass, rather than completely wrong, as the retired dragons held on, perhaps, for another generation or two until they finally died out and Benden withdrew their support staff back to themselves to focus on keeping one Weyr alive, instead of trying to support all of them. So, barring the convenient excuse of all of those who want to go back being sick enough that doing a time warp would be inadvisable, there’s nothing stopping them from going back.

After T’ron leaves, Mardra and T’kul confirm with each other that there will be no new eggs on the sands, given that Loranth’s last clutch had clear genetic defects (not that they know enough about genes to call it that, but it seems to be that dragons have many of the same problems as human women when it comes to late-age pregnancies and the complications that come from that due to the age of the eggs) and that Merika’s queen won’t be able to do anything of the sort, either. T’kul then pulls in T’reb to explain the plan he’s hatched with the men of Nabol.

“They want us to help them take land of their own. Up in the north, near Nabol. They know the young lord of Ruatha has not yet been confirmed, so his lands would be in contention if he were to suffer a misadventure.”
“Jaxom?” Mardra asked. “Wasn’t his sire that upstart Fax? The man who took whatever he wanted?” T’kul and T’reb both nodded. “Jaxom’s that hold-bred youngling who cracked the unhatched egg on Benden’s sands several Turns ago.”
“That’s correct, Weyrwoman. The egg bore a white dragon.”
“An aberration if there was one,” Mardra exclaimed, her lips curling back from her teeth in distaste. “The egg should have been left unhatched!”
“No one has ever heard of a Lord Holder being a dragonrider, Weyrwoman. The men from Nabol think it vastly unfair that the young Ruathan lord has been allowed to keep his lands and have a dragon. Of course, Benden has sanctioned this—with Lessa’s connection to the lad.”
One of Mardra’s brows rose up. “And what do they expect us to do?”
“They want help disposing of Jaxom so they can take his lands in a coup. If he’s dead, his runt of a dragon will fly between and suicide. No loss to any of the Weyrs, to my reckoning.”
[…Mardra asks if they’ve already agreed to it, and what they’d be getting in return. T’reb explains that there’s a queen egg hardening on Benden’s sands right now, which would be no trouble to steal, which would be only right and fair for them to take for saving the hides of Benden and all “their precious upstart crafters and holders”, and he’s already picked out an excellent hiding spot to keep the egg until it’s ready to hatch. Mardra is not fully on board with this plan, even when she eventually assents to it…]
“Do you have any idea what would happen if we got caught?” Mardra asked, clasping her hands together, her fear supplanted by the burgeoning possibility of hope. She knew then, as she uttered those words, that she had given her full approval and commitment to an unheard-of and deeply deplorable act.

Okay, so let’s talk a little bit about characterization here, compared to Ninth Pass 1.0, which we are supposed to believe this integrates with. The Mardra that was part of Dragondrums, especially, seemed to be much haughtier and concerned about the quality of good she was being shipped, and T’ron was much more strident about a lot of things (and he tried to knife the Benden Weyrleader to avoid having his own power usurped). So this much more apologetic T’ron, and a Mardra who has reservations about swiping the dragon egg, is a much more sympathetic portrayal of them than was previously put into play. This author feels that the time-skipped were treated unfairly by Benden and is trying to make them a much more sympathetic bunch, even as she keeps them on the rails of the plot that the White Dragon has already sketched out.

Which, y’know, for 2018, really stings. Like, in the US, it’s the middle of an administration that was put into power with the deliberate intention of reifying and reinforcing WASP hegemony, and in the UK, there’s a government in place that wants to relive the glory days of Empire and separate themselves from a economic union that’s good for them, because they don’t want to feel beholden to anyone who isn’t them and have to do anything other than reify the WASP hegemony. Plus, although we’re a year ahead of Jeannette Ng delivering a well-deserved scorching of John W. Campbell in her acceptance speech for what is now the Astounding Award, we’re definitely in the space and time where a wildly popular author of a wizarding boarding school series has very firmly thrown her lot in with trans-exclusionary radicals. (Although the comic of the League of Disappointing Authors that first came to mind is from the end of 2019, so maybe I’m ahead of myself, but I don’t think I am.) So, an author that is giving space and sympathy to the people who are ultimately going to participate in stealing a dragon egg because they feel entitled to it and giving aid and assistance (or at least agreeing to it) to killing a child because he’s straddling two worlds that hate him equally and so that his lands can be usurped by others is not exactly landing well to me. And in this space and time of 02021 in the United States, where we had an armed insurrection in the service of trying to preserve an overt WASP hegemony despite the lawful election of someone else, and the entire amount of the Black Lives Matter movement in 02020 and the continual and clear complicity and active assistance the police give to maintaining that hegemony, as well as a response to a pandemic where people were deliberately left to die because they weren’t going to vote for, kiss the ring of, or the ass of, that hegemony and meekly accept their place as chattel and untouchable-class citizens, the idea that these particular villains should be sympathetic, even as they espouse supremacist beliefs, that lands entirely and completely wrong to me. The author has no knowledge of the future, but what was already bad has only gotten worse in the intervening time. So, no, I can’t muster much sympathy or empathy for Mardra deciding to go with the plan she apparently knows full well is deplorable over the plan of asking for help from Benden (even though she pointed out that Benden has every reason to spite them if they went that route.) We know that it’s an already pre-determined plan, but I think in this case, it’s better for the villains to stay villainous. And if we did that, we could have a really good examination of why Piemur has such sympathy for them and why it is misguided. Possibly even with a certain amount of Pirmur being stubborn about his beliefs and sympathy in the face of evidence.

And speaking of Piemur, he’s dropped back off at Southern and told to stay there until he’s sure there’s no more Thread to fight, with N’ton’s concern at Thread falling out of phase evident. Piemur is certain that he needs to act and do what is right, which in his case means stopping the men of Nabol against striking at Crom, his home Hold, but since he doesn’t know when the plan is going to happen, he doesn’t have an immediate lead to follow. Fairly quickly, though, he resolves that he’s going to go back to Southern Weyr and gather more intelligence, in defiance of Robinton’s orders for him. And if this were something other than a Pern book, I would say that it would be perfect for Piemur to turn out to be the person with the confidence of the mediocre white man, but whose insistence on defiance ends up causing more problems and solving none, but this is Pern, and Piemur is enough of a main character that he is going to turn out fine in the end. He’s really being set up to have a breakthrough and do very well, with how much time he spends moping about and thinking thoughts like these

How would he ever feel like he truly belonged anywhere if he always felt like an outsider? He wished there were someone he could talk to, but whom? He couldn’t think of a single person who would understand how it felt to be a failed singer with no discernible harper skills.

Despite, you know, the near inevitability that all of the men in the Harper Hall have had to go through puberty and their voice change, which would be all of the Harpers, save Menolly and any who came after her. Probably including the Voice Master himself. This sort of self-centered pity is normal, absolutely, but the narrative seems to be treating it as fact, rather than as Piemur being overdramatic. Or, if we wanted to use the characterization for Piemur from Dragondrums, that Piemur might have an understandable hesitancy to be vulnerable around any of the other harpers, since the kids in the drumheights tried to kill him and the adults didn’t notice what was going on, so what use would they be in this particular situation?

After Piemur makes up his mind to continue spying, because he isn’t going to let anyone attack Crom (which they won’t be, not that he knows this), the scene shifts over to Sebell, arriving at the Harper Hall in nondescript clothing, which fools a couple of apprentices and almost fools a journeyman, but the journeyman recognizes Sebell’s face and gives him a greeting. “Journeyman Master Sebell” is apparently his official title as the successor to Robinton. Sebell describes a little bit of the grandeur of the Great Hall of Fort and the light that gets into Robinton’s office, where the doors are rarely closed. Robinton greets Sebell without looking up from his star charts, and after the door closes, Sebell gives his report.

“It’s remarkable, really: All these Turns after his demise, Lord Meron’s plans to sow conflict within his family have, quite unbelievably, taken seed. Though Lord Deckter has a firm hand and has vastly improved the Hold since he inherited, it seems he’s been powerless to undo the damage created by Meron when he was alive.”
“Shells, but the man’s reached out from beyond to disoblige us yet again! He behaved vilely to all beholden to him, playing one branch of his family off the other for the sheer pleasure it gave him. And with the tenacity of a tunnel snake, he fell ill and stubbornly took an age to die! His legacy, it seems, is set to thwart us once more.” Robinton spoke heatedly and then held up a hand in a beg-pardon gesture at his uncharacteristic outburst.
“He was a deviant, indeed,” Sebell said, a fleeting look of distaste on his face before his features settled back into their usual benevolent demeanor.

As I recall, Lord Meron was also banging Kylara and thus indirectly responsible for the incident that killed Wirenth and Prideth, and his and Kylara’s relationship seemed to be one where Kylara was consenting to masochism, so Sebell’s choice of “deviant” seems to have a couple different layers to it.

Sebell continues to explain about the group of people who were planning on going South bu then instead turned around and started agitating in the North instead, and suggests to Robinton that Piemur’s report in Southern might have some merit to it since both Crom and Ruatha are close to Nabol. Sebell also mentions that the spy he was using got burned by getting to close to oneof the plotters, Jerrol. Lacking more concrete information, Sebell and Robinton are about to move in when Piemur and N’ton knock on Robinton’s door, and Piemur delivers a new report. Piemur’s decision to defy orders has resulted in actionable intelligence, because he was able to hear discussions of Jaxom, specifically,

“I only arrived at the tail end of their conversation, but T’reb told Mardra they had to ensure Lord Jaxom was out of the way or the men from Nabol wouldn’t keep silent.”

Pressed on the details, Piemur suggests that the lack of silence would be about the involvement of the time-skipped in the plot against Jaxom. The ramifications of a plot against Jaxom spool out (“the self-styled Lord Fax” is mentioned, except while he was in power, at least in Ninth Pass 2.0, nobody called his bluff and they let him be a lord in deed as well as name), with Robinton worried that a successful coup would embolden others to try and overthrow their own lords. Sebell then connects the dots with something he heard from his own spy about a discussion of how easy it would be to get rid of Ruth.

How could anyone in their right mind think to harm one of the noble creatures who unconditionally risked their lives for their world and everyone on it? Piemur was shocked. The very idea beggared belief!
Sebell drew a deep breath and continued. “They were debating whether Ruth was fierce like the other dragons—they know he hasn’t learned to flame yet. Candler heard one of them say they’d have no real difficulty in dealing with a runt like Ruth.”
“He’s not a runt!” N’ton exclaimed, trying to keep his voice under control. “He’s a sport!”
“Yes, of course, but these men are not well educated in the ways of dragons and the Weyr. They only know about land.”
“All they need to do to put Ruth out of the picture is get rid of Jaxom.” Piemur realized too late that his uncensored thoughts had just tumbled out of his mouth.
“Oh, no! My pardon, please, N’ton, I meant no disrespect at all. I like Jaxom! And what little I know of Ruth, too.” Piemur’s face started to color under his deep tan.

This Piemur is weird, okay? Ninth Pass 1.0 Piemur would need to be told that what he just said was too blunt for the room, rather than recognizing it himself. Or he would recognize he was being blunt, but he wouldn’t care enough about it to apologize or to try and phrase things differently. Also, I could imagine non-Harpers having a fright at the possibility of someone wanting to get rid of a dragon, but the Harpers are keeping tabs on everyone who might be involved in anti-society plots, so I would have thought all of them, especially the spy corps, would have to learn to entertain the idea that some people are willing to behave radically in service of dismantling or evading the society as constructed.

The council resolves to provide additional protection for Jaxom, both from dragonriders and harpers (which will help fuel Jaxom’s feelings of being hemmed in on all sides), and Robinton assigns Piemur to go to Nabol to get the information they will need about the plot. This has a distinct feeling of “no good deed goes unpunished” for me, but there’s also the part where Piemur bucked orders to get this information, so it makes sense to stick him on the reconnaissance part, since he’ll probably try to put himself on it if he’s assigned elsewhere. (That part is at least consistent with Piemur 1.0) With a final section of Piemur musing that it might be better for him to be away from the Hall, because everything going on there reminds him of his inability to sing and make music, Chapter Four ends.

We’re a full third through the book and we’ve got a plot set up, motivation for our villains, and we have still managed to avoid violence against women. Although it’s really beginning to look like Piemur is going to have an outsize influence on things, and he’s being set up to be a hero with such tragic feelings and that, when the time is right, he’ll have an epiphany and/or breakthrough and things will be better than they were again. Possibly because of some tragedy that happens along the way that gives him the motivation to push through, or the plot will finally decide that his waiting period is over and he can go forward into the maturity of adulthood.

I would really prefer that he gets over this emo phase sooner rather than later, since it seems pretty clear that the trajectory he is on will result in him overcoming this puberty-induced setback before the book is over. (Even though it already seemed to be over by the end of Dragondrums, but whatevs.)