Category Archives: Deconstruction: Pern

Dragon’s Fire: It All Comes Undone

Last chapter, we re-interleaved a bit with the previous book, as Kisk-Nuelsk hatched and Cristov and Pellar had a bonding moment over making sure that the watch-wher was safely brought into the world.

Also, Pellar’s return to the watch-wher camp resulted in both Pellar and Aleesk getting shot, because everyone assumed his return on dragonback wearing Harper Blue meant he had sold them all out to the people they hated the most, even though that wasn’t the actual case. But nobody sent any word ahead informing the camp of this, which is excusable for Pellar, because he’s still at most fourteen, but much less so for the adults around him who would presumably know better.

Dragon’s Fire: Book I: Chapter 6: Content Notes: Child Death, Murder Most Foul, Attempted Murder, The Consequences of Bad Decisions

(Camp Natalon, 493.10-494.1)

Pipes for playing, pipes for song,
Pipes to help the day along.
Pipes for laughter, pipes for joy,
Pipes for sorrow, pipes for boys.

Well, this looks familiar. The first couplet seems to be very related to the “Harper, Harper” snippet from the last book. The second part seems to be something to add on to it, although I am looking askance about the idea that pipes are a gendered instrument for boys. Because this has a long potential call-back from the idea that “tuning isn’t for girls” that caused so much of Menolly’s grief in her duology. Of course, since it’s boys all around, there isn’t going to be that particular type of issue, but it’s still grating how much women are prevented from doing things that should be doable by all of the people in the world.

The action starts with Cristov asking for pipe lessons, as Pellar told him to. Zist is initially hostile to the idea until Cristov presents the pipe that Pellar gave him, and Zist realizes who it’s from and immediately defrosts. It’s also here that we learn that a “pipe” is a recorder by the names of the Ancients, which means that musical instruction on Pern is much the same as it is on Terra, because recorders are one of the beginning instruments to teach to very small children, given that it requires no special embrochure or technique to play, and it’s small enough for small hands to make music with it. Cristov asks for secrecy from Zist about the lessons themselves, and Zist agrees to this, then says that the first lesson Cristov will have to go through is breathing. Which Cristov knows will be a beast because Kindan and Zenor both complained about breathing lessons from their time with Zist.

The narrative flips us back to Tenim…

…who is talking with Tarik about the egg that was purchased from Alessa. The problem being that since it’s a hatched egg and bonded to Kindan, there’s no value any more in the watch-wher. Tenim is significantly displeased about this.

Tenim’s journey had taken two more days than he had planned: profitable days, to be sure, considering the increased bulk of his well-hidden purse, but perhaps not profitable enough to make up for missing a chance at the egg.
“Hmmph,” Tenim snorted in disgust. “It’s no good to me now.”

Tarik then puts a bug in Tenim’s ear that finding a gold egg would be worth a significant amount more, and manages to get Tenim set to try and find the gold watch-wher. Tarik fervently hopes it’s a mission that Tenim won’t come back from.

Moran, for his part, has rounded up the children and is attempting to get away before Tenim can come back, although he doesn’t say as much. Halla, however, can read him well enough to know the truth, although she thinks she’s assigning her own feelings about getting away to Moran. And she can tell when the kids are going to need food. The narrative calls it “a sign of Halla’s forced maturity that she thought the way she did.” Halla is, after all, less than ten and in a leadership role for these kids.

At a sound from behind them, Moran stopped and turned.
“Perri,” Moran says in a tone that was equal parts exhaustion and worry.
Halla half turned and warned, “There’s no more feverroot.”
Moran rushed back to the fallen youngster. Perri had been bitten by a tunnel snake when he was playing at the outskirts of Hold Balan–or that’s what Halla guessed, for the toddler had never been much of a talker and refused to say anything about his injury. The wound had festered in the past several days, and he’d walked through the night in a half-fever.
Some noise or sigh caused Halla to stop and turn all the way back to the others. Instead of trudging after her, they were grouped in a semicircle. Moran was kneeling in the center.
As soon as Moran lifted his head up and looked at Halla, she knew. She sighed, too tired for anything else, wordlessly passed Nalli back to Moran, and grabbed at the handle of the shovel that hung down from her backpack. She was getting too good at digging graves.
A half hour later they trudged on, Halla more grimy than she liked, and only a few withered yellow flowers for the mound she left behind. She’d liked Perri, he’d just started to smile.

And the terrible things about this is that all of this poverty and misery is preventable. It’s deft writing to pull at the heart like this, with children dying from what is presumably preventable injuries and infections, if the people with the ridiculous amounts of wealth had even the slightest shred of empathy for the plight of others. If the new author was looking for a way to write an indictment of the world set up by the old one, the last two books have been stellar at doing so. I doubt that’s the intent, because that tends to mean less successful collaborations, but the effect is quite good.

Moran himself is suffering from what probably sounds familiar to anyone who is battling an impossible structural problem but themselves and without resources.

They look to you, Moran thought to himself as he led the group of children away from yet another grave, and you let them down.
How many graves did that make? He wondered idly and realized with dull relief that he couldn’t remember. This isn’t how things were supposed to be, Moran told himself. I was to find the Shunned, to set up meetings, to help them, Moran recalled. He had always wanted to make a difference, have ballads composed about him, make up for his unknown origins. Instead, somehow, he’d found himself only surviving one crisis to fall into another, never seeming to find the right place, the right answers, and always coming up with more complications. Every time he’d sworn that he’d locate the next harper, report in to the Harper Hall, something had happened to change his mind. He wanted to report his success; he could not bring himself to report failure. And so the Turns had passed. Turns, and Moran’s dreams had gone from saving the Shunned to simply finding food enough for those waifs he’d found along the way. Worse still, at times he’d squandered their spare marks for drink, or an evening’s comfort. Always, at the time, Moran had told himself that he deserved it–the drink or the warm company–and after, seeing the mute looks of the hungry children, had sworn never again. But again and again, he would give in to his base desires. With such dismal failures, how could he face Murenny or Zist?
He shifted Nalli on his back, looking hopefully back at Halla in hope of a trade. Her face was streaked with tears.
Moran swore at himself for his selfishness and trudged on.

If I were looking for a good description of what burnout mixed with depression was like, this passage might be my candidate for ur-example. Moran, like many missionaries, went out with the confidence of a simple reconciliation and returning of the Shunned, or at least setting up a way of taking care of them, and then, like all battle plans do, it all fell apart when reality ensued. Crushing poverty has long since had its effects on him, and he’s been in it long enough that he’s thinking like someone who is in poverty, prioritizing short-term benefits over long-term thinking, and then getting mad at himself because he’s still human and occasionally, creature comforts are what keep us from losing our grip on sanity. (Also, I note confirmation that the oldest profession continues to be so on Pern, so it’s likely that sex work is also operating under the threat of being Shunned if found out…or for refusing someone they can’t actually afford to.) Moran feels bad about it, because he’s still looking after children and the money could have fed them, but every parent needs a day off here and there, or a night out to remind themselves that they’re not just taking care of children.

It seems easy to shout at Moran and tell him to just go to the Harpers and have them take him and his children back, but that requires admitting that he can’t do it on his own, and that’s one of the hardest things to admit to anyone, including yourself, when you’ve gotten into a terrible situation. Plus, all the stuff he’s already done and would have to admit to is getting in the way. Whether he’s going to have to admit to himself that he’s a victim of systemic abuse or a perpetrator of a million petty and not so petty crimes that would sully his reputation as a Harper, he going to have to admit to failure. (He was set up to fail, and that he’s gone on this long is a miracle by itself.)

The first step, as some person named Bill said, is to admit that you have a problem. Whether that problem is “someone is abusing me,” “this relationship has come to an end,” or “I can’t save everyone,” it’s still a hard first step to get there, and there’s a lot of recrimination that happens afterward once that step gets made. And then the next step, and the next step after that, until you’ve finally come to terms with what the problem is and what can be done about it. In Moran’s case, there might be a lot, but he’s going to have to enlist the help of the Harpers to do it.

The plot continues on with a short interlude of Pellar returning back to the watch-wher camp, where Pellar continues to develop into his adult self as he spends time there, which strains certain relationships with the people around him. Arella and he are sleeping in separate beds, but close to each other. Polla is described as flirting with him, but also that she has a “grin more gap than teeth.”

Polla had flirted with him, but he’d ignored the offer woman, just as he and Arella found themselves ignoring each other–although with increasing difficulty. Some of the older girls Pellar had been teaching started flirting with him, too. Pellar politely redirected their attention, while he worried about what might occur the next time Aleesk rose to mate. His best hope was to be far away before then.

Despite the assurance from before that mating flight things were not relationship contracts, we note, because Arella turned out not to be only casually interested. If there were more proof that the mating flights didn’t end up in romantic entanglements, it seems like a mating flight orgy would be the appropriate way to satisfy all of those flirtatious requests without actually getting attached to anyone. Assuming that Pellar made it much closer to adulthood and consent by that next time.

As it is, the narrative settles into a longer chunk following Halla, who has immediate suspicions about two women who have joined their merry band of children.

Halla didn’t need for Conni to part her hair to guess at the big blue “S” that had been painted there with bluebush ink. Young as she was, Halla had a good idea of what had caused Conni to be Shunned by her Lord Holder, and liked neither the way that Conni looked at Moran–like a tunnel snake ready to pounce on its prey–nor, worse, the way Milera slavishly emulated her mother. And while Conni might be a few Turns past her prime, Milera had just gone from child to woman.
Halla had been around Moran too long not to guess that there was more to the harper’s acceptance of the two than just the kindness of his heart.

And so here begins the story of CinderHalla, as Conni and Milera manage to get into the group by offering to share their food…and apparently their bodies as well, much to Halla’s disapproval. But the food only lasts a meal, and Conni and Milera start to treat Halla as if she were their personal slave girl without losing any of their noses-in-the-air attitude about running the place.

I find this juxtaposition of the death of one of the children, Moran’s admission of his various vices and faults, and then the appearance of these two characters who are essentially there to be sexy and have their otherwise terrible selves ignored in favor of the fact they’re willing to put out extremely fascinating. The narrative is doing some pretty serious groundwork here to immediately run back any sympathy we might have for Moran from his self-confession of faults. It’s treating him the same way that it’s been treating Tenim — think terribly of this person for the actions they have committed, even as we demonstrate in their backstories that they’re basically human beings caught up in a terrible system and weren’t really given that many options to do actual good in their lives. From another angle, we could easily dismiss all of that under the rubric of “intent isn’t magic” and focus solely on the actions being taken by both men, and we would be justified in doing so. I think that ignores the institutional and systemic problems with Pern that give rise to these scenarios in the first place (and that Moran is essentially trying to deal with grief and depression), but it’s a legitimate take to have.

Halla has no illusions that neither Conni or Milera want the children around, but tolerate them for their food-gathering ability while the two women secure passage and other favors by doing sex work. There’s an entire “nice for the person they’re sleeping with, entirely mean and icy to Halla” segment with Milera while Halla’s fishing that ends in Halla having to gut much of her catch (of three fish) to feed Milera, because Milera’s the one in good graces at the moment. It’s basically a wicked stepsister routine, and there’s no point in quoting any of it. The end of the partnership is essentially that Milera steals their houseboat captain’s purse while he’s asleep, except he wakes up and raises the alarm not too soon after, and Halla ends up in the middle of a mob that wants to brand her with the S of the Shunned, despite the protestations from the actual victim of the crime that she didn’t do anything at all, until someone in Harper blue rescues her from the crowd. It’s not Moran. It’s Tenim.

Tenim very much wants to know where Moran is. Moran has essentially hidden Conni and escapes with her from the angry mob, but Conni wants to ditch the children as soon as possible. Moran doesn’t, and manages to convince Conni not to do so long enough to get through this particular segment, with Moran regretting that he let himself be fooled by a “voracious talker, stalker, and menace to all.” The action kicks back to Halla, who announces proudly that she’s found the missing kids and Moran. Tenim has found Milera.

Halla nodded, keeping her expression neutral. It was obvious that Tenim valued the pretty girl more highly than he did the missing youngsters–or herself.
During the day’s searching, Halla had found herself several times looking in a still pool of water or a shiny pot. Her reflection did not displease her.
She was still young and the features of her face were not fully formed, but they were serviceable. Probing brown eyes looked out from behind dark brown hair that could do with a wash. Her nose was straight and thin, her teeth were mostly white and strong, her lips were thin–perhaps they were too thin and that was the trouble, but she liked her smile. She had to admit that her eyes danced mischievously when she smiled, but she didn’t think that was such a horrible thing.
No, Halla decided, where she was most lacking was in the curves that Milera and, more so, Conni so proudly displayed. Halla couldn’t quite remember if she had ten or eleven Turns–Moran had insisted on teaching her to read and count, while Tenim had insisted on teaching her to hunt and track–but she was certain she’d have to be older and better fed before she’d develop any curves of her own. Anyway, she wasn’t even sure that she wanted such curves; it seemed to her that they would make running more awkward.

And she’s ten. Or eleven. But this jealousy makes a certain sort of sense, given that Halla is seeing what the boys are paying attention to, and it’s not her. At least, not right now, since we remember that Tenim still hasn’t tried to make good on his threat. Given what Halla seems to want to do with her life, she’s probably not going to develop the hourglass figure that everyone seems to want, because the athletic build doesn’t generally do a whole lot with the reserves of fat needed for curves. Older, yes, better fed, yes, but also a lot more idle than Halla is ever really going to be. Plus, with as food-insecure as she’s been for her entire life, there’s a good chance her puberty is going to be awkward at best.

As things go, the Tenim-led crew comes across a caravan of traders and hitches a ride with them. Since they’re all kids, and Halla managed to avoid the mob, when they’re checked for the mark of the Shunned, they all pass. (Halla knows for the truth that if she had been marked, Tenim would have thrown her out to make sure that he could get on the trader transport.) It turns out the trader caravan is Tarri’s, who we have seen a few times before in these books, and Halla warms up to Tarri almost instantly, and not just because Tarri understands that Milera is trading on something that won’t stay with her forever.

“You might even be trader blood. I’ve seen your features before. Or Boll blood–they get swarthy down there.”
Swarthy? Halla thought to herself. She’d never heard the word before.
“Your skin tans faster than the others, Tarri continued. “Some find your dark hair and eyes very attractive. When you get older, your features will sharpen and you’ll be glad you’ve got strong legs to run from all the men chasing you.”
Halla snorted.
Tarri shook her head and patted Halla consolingly. “And when you’re old, you’ll still have that great skin, lithe figure, and flashing eyes, while Milera will be a sagging, toothless, lardy mess.”
Halla could never imagine herself as old, but she could easily imagine Milera as toothless and lardy.

Because one of the standard things to get women to bond is to be catty about other women and their looks over time, clearly. Also, swarthy to me means someone of darker skin and complexion, suggesting yet again that there might be a better diversity of skin tone on Pern than even the authors were intending.

Halla has a minor BSOD when Tarri offers her half of her bed, which includes sheets, and gets a big enough pan to serve as a bath for Halla when Halla protests she’s not nearly clean enough for sheets. Tarri even offers to let Halla sleep in. In the company of such luxuries as towels, baths, Tarri washing and styling Halla’s hair, and a whole half bed to herself, Halla has her best night sleep ever, sleeping in until well after noon. She wakes up to an argument, where it becomes clear that Tenim and company have stolen from the traders and disappeared in the night. Tarri is trying to convince Veran, one of the other traders, that Halla had nothing to do with it.

“For the last time, Veran, she didn’t have anything to do with it,” Halla heard Tarri say. “She was asleep here with me.”
“If you say so,” Veran replied. “But what’s to say that she wasn’t hoping to steal from you, too?”
“She wasn’t.”
“And what makes you so sure?”
“Because I asked if she’d like bangs,” Tarri replied.
“Bangs?”
“You know, hair cut across her forehead,” Tarri said with a hint of exacerbation.
“But she didn’t have the mark of the Shunned,” Veran replied. “Why would it worry her?”
“That’s not the point,” Tarri said. “If she were living with people who were Shunned she would have known immediately what I meant and would have reacted differently.”
“So you’ve reached your judgment on a hunch,” Veran declared.
“As have you,” Tarri responded, her time gently chiding.

First, no, Tarri did not ask about bangs. We’ve skipped that section for quoting, but at no point did Tarri mention bangs. She just said “do your hair” to Halla. So that’s a thing the editor should have caught, or the author made explicit, or mentioned that Tarri knew she was fibbing slightly. The second bit, about both of them making assumptions, is entirely true. Halla has been traveling with the Shunned, and just had a giant scare about getting marked and before that, knowing how plenty of women hid their marks behind their hair. It just happens to be that Halla knows she’s not marked and has the same “weakness” for comforts that Moran does. Which is why Halla volunteers to go find the group that stole from the traders. “Because I don’t like walking, I like running even less, and I hate the thought of spending an me time worrying that someone might brand me Shunned,” she says.

We get confirmation that Jamal (from the very beginning) died from the infection from his broken leg and that Halla has no idea who her parents are. Veran is confused as to why Jamal couldn’t get treatment. Since they were unknown, Halla explains, they couldn’t get service.

“A trader, then–”
“Traders want marks,” Halla said. “Or trade.” Her tone when she said “trade” made Tarri blush.
Veran blustered at her words. “We traders–”
“–were happy enough to see that girl yesterday,” Tarri interjected. “At least the men.”
Veran weighed her words; from his expression it was obvious that he couldn’t argue with them but he didn’t like the way they set on his mind, either.

Point, Tarri and Halla. At least Veran doesn’t try to argue over what is pretty clearly true. He tries to go after Halla on a different tack of thievery, but Halla admits up front that she has stolen, even though she doesn’t like doing it, and Tarri backs up her justification for doing so.

It turns out that Tenim and Milera were the only ones who left and did the stealing, and it finally comes out that Zist has had the word out for Moran for Turns, although it apparently wasn’t a worldwide communication, and that they are concerned for what will happen to the Shunned when Thread comes again. Halla asks for the traders to adopt the children, which they will do, and Veran admits there’s some trade between traders and Shunned. “Most of the Shunned were sent out for good cause,” he says as a caveat, because we still can’t have people complaining the system itself is wrong and needs to be fixed, not even to themselves or among sympathetic ears.

As a final gift, Tarri and Veran trade the truth (“Traders don’t trade in lies,” Tarri says as a warning) about Halla, Moran, Tenim, and her life for a pack full of provisions so that Halla can go after Tenim and Milera. We get a statement that Conni got her Shunning not for selling her body, but for the murders of her lovers that followed shortly after, and Halla is essentially bid welcome to any trader fire on Pern from Tarri.

And then, some useful wordcraft, in the form of the textual equivalent of a Gilligan Cut.

“Fair trade,” he [Veran] said, offering the pack to her.
“Thanks.”
” ‘Fair trade’ is what you say,” Tarri corrected her.
Halla smiled. “Fair trade.”

—[Scene Change]—

“Fair trade,” Tenim said as he left the body by the gully. Milera had been a pleasant diversion, but she’d been a fool to think she could stab him while he was sleeping. She’d gotten closer than he’d liked; his shoulder was sore and hot where the dagger had scored.

I like this juxtaposition, even if I am a little eyebrow-raising that Tenim would use that exact phrase. It’s not quite natural enough for me to think of it as anything other than a contrivance, but it accomplishes the right idea with a bit of clever wordplay. I probably would have done it myself, honestly, if given the chance.

Tenim justifies his lethal response as self-defense, proving stopped clocks are still occasionally correct, and feels good about having stolen from the traders, taken Milera’s money and supplies, and is making good time on Moran and Conni, on whom he intends to revenge himself fully.

Scene changes again, this time to Moran and Conni, and Conni is getting drunk, after having gotten them both thrown out for being rude to someone that was putting them up. That said, there’s a good chance that the kids he left behind will get adopted and fostered out, and Moran, while cursing that Conni has brought him terrible fortune, has a hope spot that he might be able to return to the Hall, once he gets free of Conni. When Conni passes out from drinking, Moran relieves her of her money and then disappears.

He chooses poorly about where to go, but he follows a pair of bright lights in the sky to a camp, but he loses his footing, slides down a hill and then cracks his head on a rock and it knocks him out. The narrative cuts again to Pellar, who has noticed a trail heading to the wherhandler camp and is busy obliterating it when Halla catches up to him. After a quick establishment of trust and names, Pellar and Halla follow an urgent message from Chitter to get back to the camp, both of them working on creating a false trail because Halla knows Tenim is coming for Moran and will do what he can to steal and hurt whatever he comes across in the process.

And there’s Chapter 6, with several of the spilt storylines reconverging on the wherhandler camp, and Tenim, who continues to evade the death that will eventually catch up to him, for plot reasons, on the way there.

It will be nice to not have these fragmentary scenes bouncing all over the planet, at least.

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Dragon’s Fire: Betrayed

Last time, Pellar and Arella broke up, because he didn’t love her and she does love him, but not enough to wait for him. The logistics and the message about trading for watch-wher eggs went out far and wide, and several entities are interested. Plus, High Reaches Weyr is extending its protection for their camp for when the Shunned arrive to try and steal the valuable eggs.

Dragon’s Fire: Book 1: Chapter 5: Content Notes: Spousal abuse, child abuse

(493.10)

What’s that large and ugly thing?
A watch-wher, who shuns daylight’s sting.
Night’s its friend, its dark ally
Only in the cold to fly.

Well, if songs like that exist, I’m surprised that the watch-wher hasn’t linguistically become a thing to be hated and feared and used as a euphemism for ablist and other commentary, both inside and outside communities that use them for their purposes.

This chapter starts with Pellar sending Chitter in to the camp to announce his return.

The fire-lizard returned immediately, eyes whirling with fear, and wrapped himself around Pellar’s neck, clutching tightly and painfully.
I’m going in, Pellar thought to his frightened friend.

Cocowhat by depizan

In what universe is that danger signal so blithely ignored? Pellar doesn’t ask about details, doesn’t stop to think as to why Chitter is behaving that way, doesn’t even consider the possibility that something is different now than it was when he left. Nope, Pellar just charges right in without a thought. Just like he didn’t change anything when Arella thought he wanted post-breakup nookie.

And then, for the extra cherry on top of this narrative excrement, we’re immediately reminded that Pellar is a tracker, and so should be hyper-alert to changes in his environment.

It was still daylight and so not at all hard for Pellar to spot Jaythen’s hiding place before Jaythen spotted him. He was sure that if he hadn’t he would never have avoided the arrow Jaythen sent whizzing his way. The arrow buried itself up to the shaft in the hard-packed dirt where Pellar had been walking.
It will be hard to hide in blue, Pellar decided, abandoning any notion of using his woodcraft to elude Jaythen.

So Pellar is still wearing his Harper Blue rather than having changed back into the clothes he left with. That makes him easy to see. But Pellar still hasn’t tried to ascertain why, having left on good graces, he’s coming back to getting shot at again. Or, for that matter, he didn’t think to beat a hasty retreat and possibly change clothes or send in Chitter with a slate message asking what’s going on.

I wonder if Pellar has chalked it up to “These people are nutters anyway, there’s no sense to this,” since that has apparently been his thought on the matter, even after living with them for a while and seeing they’re not. The narrative doesn’t tell us anything, because Pellar’s in a panic, but you wonder.

“Did you sell us out for finery?” Jaythen yelled at the fourth arrow missed. He threw his bow aside and pulled a long dirk from his belt. “How good do you think it’ll look when your blood’s on it?”
Pellar dodged again, only to find himself gape-mouthed in unvoiced pain. He looked to his left and noticed an arrow sticking out of his forearm. Someone else had shot him. He caught sight of Arella rising up from her hiding place, eyes streaming with tears as she notched another arrow and aimed for his heart.
“I trusted you,” she yelled at him as she shot at him.

So, Pellar is going to die for not heeding the warning signs. Jaythen spoke of betrayal, but Pellar isn’t smart enough to put one and three together and figure out why. Mostly because he’s trying not to die. Pellar is pretty intensely ashamed of the fact that he’s about to be killed, along with a lot more intense emotions, and that’s enough to connect him to Aleesk, who pops out of hyperspace and takes the arrow for him. The pain and worry that Pellar feels brings Hurth out of hyperspace, and while the camp takes aim at the dragonrider, Aleesk makes it known there is to be no shooting of dragons, so Aleesa calls off the attack. And then someone finally gives Pellar a clue about how monumentally he’s fucked up.

Aleesa looked over to Pellar, he eyes hard as flint.
“You played your game well, little one,” she told him, her voice broken. She glanced up at the dragon hovering above her. “Now they will kill my Aleesk and there will be no more watch-whers, just as they wanted.” She shook her head, tears rolling unchecked down her cheek. “I trusted you, I truly trusted you.”

There’s the thing you didn’t think about, Pellar — nobody in the camp has any reason to trust a dragonrider, and if the camp saw you arrive by dragon, they think you’ve sold them out. Pellar knows the dragons aren’t going to be harmful, but nobody else does. And Pellar didn’t think to send a status update with Chitter, like he has with Zist before, so that everyone can keep appraised of the business deal and what’s going down. Admittedly, Pellar is also still very young. It’s only been six months since the last chapter, so Pellar is at most fourteen, and I don’t know many fourteen year-olds, now or then, that would be able to think through all of those things. The responsible adults in Pellar’s life, especially Zist, should be more helpful.

Instead, Aleesk gets shot saving Pellar from a completely avoidable tragedy if anyone has just bothered to stop and think for a bit.

With the situation resolved about not shooting at dragons or Pellar, the information revealed that dragons see watch-whers as cousins, and the horror of Aleesk taking a hit as the last known gold watch-wher, Pellar passes out properly so that we can advance the narrative. When he comes to, it’s Arella in his bed…

It was then that Pellar realized she was lying next to him, her body’s heat warming him. Arella guessed his thoughts from his expression and smiled wryly at him. “Don’t go getting any ideas, Harper Pellar. There’s no mating flight for months yet. I am here because it was my arrow in your arm, and I owe you.”
Arella’s eyes were bright as they looked deep into his. He reached over and stroked her cheek. She leaned into it and then drew back again, all business. “Are you ready to earn your keep?”

…and it’s nice that she’s trying, but the narrative is very much herding her in the direction that she can’t help but be in love with him. Not helping things is that Pellar’s slate is broken, so he has to rely on Hurth to transmit his voice.

“I would have killed you for betraying the watch-whers to their deaths,” Arella told him softly. “You understand? Wouldn’t you do the same if someone tried to kill Chitter?” She turned her head toward the watch-whers’ quarters. “And she’s the last of her kind.”
Pellar stared at her for a long while before nodding slowly. Tears rolled down Arella’s cheeks and she grabbed his right hand tightly. Pellar clenched back, and pulled her toward him. Surprised, Arella looked up from her kneeling position and crawled forward until her torso was cradled between his legs. Pellar pulled her hand back more, drawing her head toward him, and kissed her lightly on the forehead. Arella let out a sob and dropped her head against his shoulder.
“Besides,” she sobbed against his chest, “you left me. I loved you and you left me.”
Pellar let go of her hand and wrapped his free hand around her back, hugging her tight against him. He patted her soothingly. He knew he loved her, too, and he tightened his arm, but even as he did so he closed his eyes and saw a small mound with a thin bundle of yellow flowers.
Tears rolled down his face, dropped onto Arella’s cheeks, mingled with her tears, and rolled with them into his stained blue tunic.

It’s been only six months, and now Pellar loves Arella? When he didn’t before? That’s awful fast to have a change of mind. And also, Pellar is still at most, fourteen. His brain isn’t finished cooking yet, and neither is Arella’s at sixteen/seventeen.

In any case, all the people arrive for their chances at the watch-wher eggs, and from the cavalcade of dragons, it looks like the camp is on Telgar lands, since no Telgar dragon is present.

Also, until I see the body, Halla’s alive, because she needs to gut Tenim and smile while he dies messily.

Speaking of Tenim…

he’s currently having it out with Moran because the deal’s going down for watch-wher eggs and he doesn’t know where it is.

“Checking,” Moran repeated firmly. “Halla’s report is from Crom; we’ve still Telgar to hear from, and Miner’s Hold to the east–who knows?”
We don’t,” Tenim growled. “There’s a fortune changing hands and we don’t even know where.” He gave the harper a cunning look. “Think of the children you could help with that sort of money.”
Tenim smiled to himself as he saw his remark hit home. Oh yes, I know your loyalties, he thought, wondering how he could have ever thought of the older man as anything but a weakling.
Sure, it was true that Moran had found him, fed him, nursed him back to health when no others would do much as raise a hand for the son of a Shunned father and no one had time for his spineless mother. He never wondered anymore what had happened to her; the last he’d seen of her was the night she’d turned on his father and he’d struck her down. Tenim had learned not to argue with his father at an early age; in fact, at the same time that Tenim had learned that even if she’d had a will, his mother would never have used it in his defense.

Well, that’s depressing. And now there’s cycle of abuse stuff involved here, which makes Tenim more understandable and people can sympathize with his plight out here in the reading world, because unlike Menolly, Tenim doesn’t have a support structure coming in to save her from living in her own. There aren’t enough resources devoted to the problem, and there still seen to be no counselors on Pern, so it’s not like they could check Tenim in to therapy of any sort. Instead, he has to survive the best way he can, and that apparently means taking advantage of everyone that he can to make sure he has enough to live.

The way Tenim’s being played by the narrative, though, we’re not supposed to sympathize with him. Or, if we sympathize with the problems involved in his upbringing, we’re not supposed to sympathize with how he turned out. He’s still got it coming, from Halla, at least, and it will be a tragedy and a statistic.

Moran is potentially stuck in this cycle of abuse as well, because he wants to genuinely help people, it seems.

He [Moran] wondered again how he had come to this pass, how the boy he’d succored so long ago had turned into this sour young man, and again he remembered the many petty compromises, lies, wheedles, and thefts the harper had made to provide the next day’s food, to feed just one more helpless mouth, make one more small difference, only to find himself repeating the effort the next day, this time to feed even more mouths with even more theft and lies.

Which is how a person can end up doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. Given, however, that Pern has no government aid programs, no religious charities, no social organizations at all who concern themselves with the welfare of the least people and the Shunned, Moran doesn’t have any other options than crime. I suspect, on any other “civilized” world in the federation the colonists came from, they would look on this situation with horror. (Unless they’re all Rand worlds, at which point I question how they stayed confederated for long enough to pull that colony ship off in the first place.) So, Moran ends up doing the only thing he can, for charitable reasons. If only he had proper support from his guild, and all the people that guild could browbeat into supporting their local populations or finding other ways than Shunning as punishment for crimes.

This also complicates Tenim more, because we can’t really say that he had the opportunity to choose another path than the one he’s been forced to walk his entire life. With Thella, for example, we could at least deceive ourselves into thinking she had a choice as to whether to accept the role her patriarchal society picked out for her. Her choice to rebel theoretically meant she accepted the consequences of her actions, harsh and lethal as they would become. Tenim didn’t get that choice, and yet the narrative wants us to believe that he deserves his fate as well, despite having been born to a Shunned father and taken in by a man who has no other choice than to lie, cheat, and steal to try and take care of the children he cares for. It’s contradictory and difficult to hold in your head condemnation for the morally wrong actions Tenim takes and the knowledge of his upbringing and lack of other options to escape this situation.

The plot advances with Tenim stalking off to go steal the one egg he knows will be somewhere – Camp Natalon. The narrative spins back to the watch-wher camp, where there’s still one egg left to hatch, and Jaythen is apologizing for being a butthead about dragonriders. Pellar gets sent out to make sure that Kindan’s egg hatches correctly, even though that potentially means Pellar will be expected to bond to the remaining egg. D’vin reminds Pellar his own destiny is in his hands and suggests again that Pellar could be a dragonrider. Pellar denies it to them, then recognizes (remembers, really, it should be) that not being able to speak isn’t actually an impediment to the job.

Pellar encounters Cristov, who Pellar mistakes for Tenim and attacks before recognizing who it is, and decides to leave the care of protecting the watch-wher egg in Cristov’s hands. At least, during the daytime. Pellar will take the night shift. Which works until the egg hatches, and then, well, Cristov is unhappy to see Pellar go.

It was obvious to Pellar that Cristov was looking for a friend, a surrogate older brother, someone to train him in what was right and how to live in the world. Pellar was amazed that the boy had already decided that Tarik was no such guide, had decided to abandon the teaching of his father and look instead for some other mentor.
[…Pellar explains he’s going to be gone for a long time…]
“How will you recognize me? How will I recognize you?”
Pellar smiled and pointed to Cristov’s heart and then his own.
[…Pellar gifts Cristov a pipe and tells him to get lessons from Zist…]
“Okay,” Cristov promised. Pellar sealed up his pack and shouldered it once more. As he turned to go, Cristov said, “I’ll try real hard.”
Pellar turned back and grabbed the youngster in a big hug. Then, as quick as he could, Pellar vanished into the darkness.
Two hours later, Pellar stood again in the plateau clearing.
Hurth, I’m ready, he thought.
We come, The dragon responded immediately. You sound sad.
I am, Pellar responded. How many children on Pern, he wondered, were like Cristov–trying to do their best without example?

That’s the end of Chapter 5. And, frankly, I’d like to get my slash goggles out for this exchange between Pellar and Cristov. They’re both far too young to be making full decisions about who they want to spend the rest of their lives with, but this could just as easily read as a declaration of a bit of a crush from Cristov. Neither Cristov nor Pellar might understand that this is what it is, because they’re so young, but it is nice to think about. If only the idea that men and men might get together in romance and sexuality wasn’t solely restricted to the dragonriders and waved away as a byproduct of completely hetero dragon mating. Regrettably, out here in our world, at this time we’re still not that far from the decision that decriminalized gay men in the States and opened the door to allowing them to get legal domestic partnerships, then full marriage rights. We’re still too far away from when that seems to be a normal facet of life.

As for what Pellar says, about children without role models, that seems to be a pretty likely occurrence even in the world of children who aren’t Shunned. Parenting seems to be a rare skill among the Pernese, and that includes the fostering parents of the various noble children in addition to the members who aren’t as much of the nobility. Rand Land applies to the kids as well, and that’s, frankly, terrible.

Dragon’s Fire: Achievements In Diplomacy

We’re still in Chapter Four, which a prodigiously long chapter, even by Pernese standards. Last time, we had to confront the reality that watch-whers also have mating flights, and their urges are apparently equally as wide-band broadcast as the dragons are. Which meant that Pellar ended up with Alessa’s daughter, Arella, and with her, managed to broker the scenarios by which the watch-wher camp would be able to care for itself and have the eggs get scattered to people that will take care of them.

Dragon’s Fire: Book One: Chapter 4, Part Two: Content Notes: Sexist assumptions, “Nice Guy” sexism

After agreeing to be the Harper for the camp, Pellar sets out to carve himself a drum so that he can communicate with the Harper network. Arella takes an interest in his work, and in him, while Jaythen seems to only grow colder toward him. Pellar desperately hopes for a wherry to fly into one of his traps (and here he says that “wherhide” would be an excellent drumhead, so I guess that’s talking about wherries rather than watch-whers), but what he gets instead is a fight to the death with a wildboar, where Pellar’s knife and Jaythen’s arrows do their best to kill it without suffering too much injury themselves. They do, and Pellar claims the hide for his drum. Jaythen warms up to Pellar after their shared defense, and Arella, in preparing the hide and the meat, makes sure to splash plenty of blood on Pellar, so that she can drag him off to the bathing caves. She’s got something in mind, but Pellar begs off because of his injuries from fighting the boar.

After that, Aleesa gets her first lesson in reading after asking Pellar when he’s going to start arranging for the delivery of the promised year’s supplies.

“You know I can’t read,” Aleesa told him curtly, sliding the slate toward Arella. Pellar grabbed her hand, caught her eyes, and shook his head slightly. Gently, he pulled the slate back and carefully drew three small ovals piled on top of each other. He slid the slate back to Aleesa and gave her a challenging look.
“Eggs?” Aleesa said, glancing at the drawing. Then she glanced up at the letters above. “That says eggs?”
[…Pellar demonstrates the singular form, so as to explain one of the purposes of the letter s…]
“You want me to write the letter?” Aleesa asked. Pellar nodded. Aleesa frowned, then bent over the slate, carefully sliding the chalk on the slate. She muttered to herself as she drew and finally looked up, holding the slate toward Pellar with a sour look.
“Mine doesn’t look as good as yours,” Aleesa said.
Pellar held up one finger.
“You’re saying that it’s my first?”
Pellar nodded.
Aleesa pursed her lips, but Pellar’s face burst into a smile as he danced his finger up and down in front of her and cocked his head invitingly. He held up two fingers, then three, four, and finally five.
“You want me to try five more times?”
Pellar nodded.
Aleesa’s lips thinned rebelliously, and Arella smiled at her and mimicked, ” ‘Five times to learn, Arella.’ “

It’s unorthodox, but it works, and Aleesa picks it up so well that in ten weeks, she can read sentences off of Pellar’s slate just fine. And there’s a plan – Pellar is going to go out away from the camp and drum a message about trading watch-wher eggs. He’s leaving because Jaythen said if there’s something of value to trade, there’s something of value for the Shunned to steal.

We note the narrative isn’t helping if it wants to portray at least some of the Shunned as sympathetic, a thing that comes back to bite the narrative in the ass almost immediately. Arella, apparently, has fallen in love with Pellar, even though it was only supposedly for the mating flight, and she’s not happy that Pellar is going through with this plan.

Pellar tells Aleesa why he’s not settling down – he’s Shunned, as best he can tell, because his parents were. (But he’s special because he was adopted by the Harpers.). What he tells Arella, though, is that he’s not in love with her. She tells him in reply that as soon as this plan is done, she’s leaving to find her fortune in the world, since it’s not going to be with him. He presents her with a small drum that she can use to call him for an emergency, and the two share a kiss. “Not the kiss of lovers, but the kiss of friends who once had been.” As breakups go, by Pernese standards, this is downright wonderful.

Also, it’s worth mentioning how the drum presentation happens. Arella and Pellar have broken up, and Pellar wants to present the gift to her, but he’s been hiding it in his bedchamber. Arella, seeing where they’re going, is initially rather resistant to the idea of heading there — they’ve just broken up and now he wants some benefits to their friendship? Nuh-uh. Pellar “waved aside her objections with a hand and begged her with his eyes to wait.” And Arella does, suspiciously, according to the narrative.

Not three paragraphs later, Pellar uses his slate to tell her about the drum. This could be someone forgetting what they are writing, and/or background sexism on display, but I think it’s ultimately going to end up as a foreshadowing event and is supposed to give us insight into Pellar’s character. Pellar has the means to communicate with Arella, but he doesn’t use it to stop the misunderstanding once it starts, and instead leans on their shared past to get Arella to trust him long enough to prove his intentions were good. He seems to understand why Arella has a problem, but he dismisses it because he knows that he’s not going to try anything with her, and so that’s not important. This attitude is going to bite him in the ass in a big way in the next chapter, and I can’t quite figure out how it’s survived in the atmosphere of mistrust he’s been in, and also he lives on a world where dragon-kin can basically override human emotions and desires with their own. There’s obviously protocols in place, at least here at the camp, about consent and what it means to have your body overridden, and yet we still have this instance where Pellar dismisses a valid complaint without actually trying to resolve it or see it for more than a second from Arella’s perspective. (Lack of consent has always been a consistent theme in Pern, but here it sticks out pretty sorely.)

Plot-wise, after giving Arella her drum, Pellar sets out, hits his drum message to Zist, sends Chitter with a longer explanation, and then seeds his tale among the people he thinks will be most responsive to the idea of trading for an egg, even at the steep cost the chance comes with. He’s eventually intercepted by D’vin, sent by Zist to assist Pellar on his mission, and Hurth, his dragon, tells Pellar that he has a lovely voice to talk to both dragons and fire-lizards with and compliments him on his imagery for coordinates.

Pellar also receives a suit of clothes denoting his status as a full official apprentice Harper, which delights Pellar, because

Even though Master Murenny and Zist had said he could be an apprentice, he had always been half-afraid far they didn’t mean it, that maybe they were just humoring him–until now. Proper clothes! He really was a harper!

I have several is to say about this, and most of them would be beeped on network television, so, instead…

Pellar has been doing things that risk his life for Zist and Murenny, and they haven’t accepted him on as one of their own formally yet? What kind of terrible people and parents are they?

Pellar gets changed into his new clothing.

He was surprised to notice that his trousers and tunic both contained several large pockets–not standard.
D’vin, alerted by Hurth, turned and told him, “Master Murenny told me you’d wonder about the pockets. He said to tell you that he expects you to carry more burdens than most.”
Pellar looked surprised.
“He also said that he was sure you’d be up to them,” the dragonrider added. “From the little I’ve seen of you, I’d say he underestimates you.”

Or, perhaps, someone realized that carrying a writing implement and slate around all the time means you need more storage space to put out all in. But this will also probably have some sort of plot requirement later.

Popping over to Camp Natalon, Hurst needs a place to land out of sight and wonders why Pellar wasn’t Searched to be a dragonrider. When Pellar points out the need to talk, Hurst reminds him that he can hear Pellar just fine, the implication being that a dragon would be more than adequate for communication between a rider that can’t talk and everyone else who needs to hear them. I like that the dragon has considered this, at least, and that we’re continuing to be in dialogue about how telepathic bonds to dragon-family creatures could make a person with a disability able to function just fine in the society around them. Not that such things will happen, because the supply of such things is tightly controlled, but that it could.

The place where Hurth can land is the graveyard from before, and Heh wonders why Pellar has such a concern about small mounds of dirt. His mind provides the answer, and Hurth provides some insight.

Dragons go between to die, Hurth responded. He sounded sad and somewhat confused. I suppose earth is like going between for people.
Pellar was startled by the comparison and stunned by Hurth’s astute observation.

The dragons always understand more than they let on, and especially as the books continue. Hurth is right, in his own way.

Zist charges Pellar with funding a way to get Alessa to accept protection from dragonriders when the Shunned arrive to try and steal from her, and Pellar suggests Telgar as the Weyr to ask to take them there (first, at least.) Then it’s the end of chapter 4, and Pellar is on his way back to Alessa’s camp, having given the plan and secured the promise of a Harper for the camp as well, so that Pellar can continue on his journey doing something else instead of being at the wherhandler camp.

Dragon’s Fire: Sidelined

Last chapter, Pellar went to try and find the camp where the Shunned are, so he could learn more about the people stealing coal from Camp Natalon. Along the way, he watched a young girl get caught in a snare, and then threatened with sexual assault as repayment for the “favor” Tenim had done her of getting her down by using his bird to cut the rope.

Dragon’s Fire, Book 1, Chapter 4: Content Notes: Children required to fight, ablism (mental health variety), underage non-consensual sex

Camp Natalon, 493.4, and this:

Fire-lizard dance on wing
To the raucous song I sing.
Fire-lizard wheel and turn
Show me how the dragons learn.

The narrative first shows is how Chitter gets Zist to find and bring Pellar in after he’s been choked out, Tenim presumably having to leave from the presence of Zist or Chitter before he can finish the job. Zist has significant rage about the idea that Pellar might have been killed, and Kindan returns, screaming “Fire!” from the blocked chimney right after Zist gets Pellar settled.

The narrative spends time with Pellar as he recovers, but much of it is with him asleep, so we only get the highlights of the piper at the festivities, and the birth of Nuella and Dalor’s sister, and the trader caravan that was supposed to have a wher apprentice but doesn’t (Pellar speculates Tenim scared him off, or that Moran did, but Zist isn’t really ready to entertain the idea that the two of them are working together), and then Pellar goes for a walk, sees Cristov, and follows him after Cristov visits Kaylek’s grave. He’s not quiet enough to be unnoticed, though, and Cristov and Pellar manage to have a conversion about recent events together as they keep watch on the chimney to see if someone else will try again. Cristov is fascinated by Chitter, and mentions that Tarik thinks fire-lizards will be more useful in the mines than watch-whers will, and is working on getting another egg (the first one apparently disappeared after being frightened by Dask) so that he can train the lizard inside. Eventually, Cristov heads off, promising to keep Pellar a secret.

The narrative is humanizing Tarik a bit here. He’s not wrong that fire-lizards will be useful in the mines, if properly trained. And if they can also detect bad air, they’ll be much more portable than the watch-wher, and possibly better free to communicate, as well.

Zist dresses Pellar down the next morning for leaving without permission and giving Zist a fright. And also for being caught and falling asleep on his watch. And also takes care to ascribe different motives to why Tarik hates watch-whers (scaring the fire-lizard and being awake when he’s embezzling) and suggesting that Tarik’s stolen coal might be getting traded for a fire-lizard egg. At the suggestion that perhaps someone should go find a watch-wher egg for the camp, Pellar gets sent off with the Traders to do exactly that, helping patch the road on the way to the camp, and then eventually telling Pellar to find Aleesa when he reveals what he’s looking for.

Which takes Pellar three months to do, one to research and two to find, and there:’s a story of travelogue part of the story here, where Pellar goes various places, traveling with either the traders or the Shunned, whom he finds mostly alike, except for the status that separates them. Having a fire-lizard is a benefit in his favor for finding groups to travel with. And, by exposure, he stops being afraid of them because they stop being stories and start being people again. The narrative isn’t quite willing to go far enough to make the Shunned a group of unfairly maligned people, though.

Still, with the Shunned, Pellar found himself called upon more often to prove himself, either by providing for the communal pot, prescribing the sick, or, more often than he liked, proving his strength.
His fights were always with those near his own age who looked upon him as an easy challenge and a good way to improve their standing in the community. After painfully losing his first several encounters, Pellar got quite adept at seeking quick solutions and less concerned about any bruises he gave his assailants.
Even though food was not plentiful and he was expected to share, Pellar thrived, filling out and growing tall. So tall, in fact, that as time progressed he found himself challenged by older, taller lads, many Turns older than his own Thirteen.

Cocowhat by depizan

I can’t quite wrap my head around this idea. Pellar can hunt, trap, forage, and bring in game, and having a fire-lizard is seen as a good thing, but more often than not, for the Shunned, he has to fight his way in to acceptance of the community? As a child of not actually thirteen? Exactly what kind of purpose does this serve? Are we supposed to be thinking of the Shunned as analogous to street gangs, where Pellar has to be initiated each time by fighting? And again, these are children fighting. I don’t know many adults who we would think of as responsible condoning the idea of someone needing to get or give hurt to someone so that they can be part of the group. Admittedly, many stories that I have been told (by those more in the know about being, essentially, homeless as a child) talk about fighting for what’s yours from a horde of others also trying to get ahead for themselves, but that’s essentially working on the idea that there’s nobody who is actually banding together to better themselves, or making temporary alliances to make things better for their group against other groups. It’s Rand’s almighty individualism triumphing again, perhaps, even in a situation where it really shouldn’t, and where it really isn’t, given that every time we’ve encountered the Shunned, they’re traveling in a group, instead of each individually. It just seems like the narrative can’t conceive of the idea that perhaps the people who see the Shunned as street gangs and thugs could be wrong about that, and that the truly terrible people, like Tenim, are a small terrifying minority of the group. It can’t even get to the halfway position that a lot of people in the States have about how some people are the “deserving poor” (i.e. they look like us and they willingly abase themselves and tell lies about how terrible they are so that we can feel superior to them) and some people deserve to be poor (because they don’t look like us, they ask us to confront the terrible truths of how complicit we are in their situation, and they don’t give a damn about looking pathetic in front of us to feed our sense of superiority).

If the narrative could show us that the perceptions of the Holders and Harpers and others about the Shunned are wrong, it would make for better narrative tension. They started to do it with Zist, but they haven’t stuck with it, and instead we get these groups of Shunned that think it’s an entirely acceptable initiation ritual to have their own children fight this strange child that wants to travel with them until someone gives up. Even if they’re not the ones arranging the fights, it’s strange to me that they would allow them to continue, willingly sacrificing resources or a working body or something else so that someone can get their jollies pounding on the new guy. People are strange, I understand, and so it’s realistic in that regard, but it doesn’t seem to have a narrative point, other than “the Shunned might look civilized, but they’re not.” (And we can re-paste the blisteringly angry rant from a few chapters ago about that here, since it keeps coming up.)

Pellar gets sent on what ends up being a lead that takes him more a month’s travel in the wrong direction, only to find a fragment that suggests he should go back the direction he came from, and then strike out in a new direction, in a place that is definitely well away from the holds, Holds, and halls. He’s about to give up on finding the right space, until Pellar remembers that whers fly at night (which is a rather bold conclusion based on seeing it happen exactly once), beds down early, and then sends Chitter to follow the flying watch-wher that happens to conveniently just barely appear within his sight in the middle of the night. Chitter leads him to the camp of the Whermaster.

Pellar hadn’t known what sort of reaction to expect, but he didn’t count on having an arrow whiz toward him to strike the ground just in front of his foot.
“That’s far enough!” a voice in the distance shouted in warning. “State your business.”
[…Pellar’s not exactly equipped to handle that request, but uses gestures to indicate his lack of ability to speak…]
“Maybe we shouldn’t take any chances,” the man replied. “If he’s one of the Shunned and he reports back–”
Pellar’s eyes widened. They were talking about killing him.

Hang on, why is that important? Up to this point, the Shunned have been portrayed as brutish thugs not too much more concerned with anything above mob violence. Are we supposed to assume the Shunned would kill any remaining whers and their handlers for food, and that’s the important part to think about?

As things are, Pellar gets into the camp, after Jaythen, the guard, trips Pellar and thumps him soundly on his back to test whether or not he really can’t talk. Aleesa believes him then, but it broke the slate that Pellar uses to communicate. Alessa apparently has plenty, though, so that’s less of an issue. We also find out that Pellar has a nickname and a reputation — “The Silent Harper” — and that the traders at least have been telling stories about him and his tracking abilities. After a demonstration of his manners that has Aleesa laughing about the fact that he has them, Pellar is led into the camp, and we learn the real reason why everyone in her camp is so on edge about being discovered.

“You found our old camp over by Campbell’s Field?”
Pellar shook his head, his surprise obvious.
“I told Jaythen no one would find it,” she [Aleesa] said with a bitter laugh. Her look turned sour. “Except maybe the dragonriders.”
Pellar carefully schooled his expression to be neutral but he didn’t fool the old woman.
“They don’t like us,” Aleesa continued bitterly. “They say that watch-whers steal food meant for their dragons.” She snorted in disgust. “That D’gan! Him with his high airs. He got it in his mind that the watch-whers ate him out of Igen Weyr.”
Pellar looked surprised. He knew that D’gan was the Weyrleader of Telgar Weyr, and that Igen Weyr had been combined with Telgar a number of Turns back, but he hadn’t heard anything about watch-whers being involved.
“He says they are abominations and shouldn’t exist,” Aleesa said with a sniff. She looked at Pellar. “I know they’re no beauties on the outside, but they’ve hearts of gold when you get to know them. Hearts of gold.” Her eyes turned involuntarily toward the entrance to the cave and the crevice beyond.
“And there are so few left,” she added softly.
“So few,” she repeated, nodding to herself, her gaze turned inward. After a moment, she glanced back up at Pellar and told him conspiratorially, “I think she’s the last one, you know.”
Then her tone changed abruptly and she demanded, “”So what do you want and why should I let you live?”
It was then that Pellar realized the Whermaster as quite insane.

Casual ablism is not a good look on anyone, but also, I have reason to doubt the factual claim itself that Aleesa is insane. She may be factually wrong about having the last watch-wher on the planet, but she might also be right if her watch-wher is the only breeding one on the planet. And also, she still doesn’t trust Pellar enough to believe that he’s not going to bring D’gan down on their heads. Because that asshole has already been established as the kind of person who would call a watch-wher an abomination and demand they be driven from “his” lands. And that kind of persecution might make someone react very differently to outside people coming into their camp, no matter what their stated reasons are. Pellar figures this out almost immediately, although the narrative shades his thoughts to continue with this idea that Aleesa and her crew are not mentally competent. This, for example, is the paragraph immediately following where we broke the quote.

In the course of the next few days, Pellar discovered that Aleesa’s camp was a desperate place full of desperate people. It took all of Pellar’s tact, winsome ways, and hard work to earn their grudging acceptance–and his continued existence. For, unlike the Shunned, these people were not only desperate, they were fanatics dedicated to the continued existence of the watch-whers.

That still doesn’t qualify them as insane, although we’re supposed to believe that the fanaticism, in addition to the continued threat of death for Pellar, is proof that they’re all crazy there. Cultish, you could probably go for, and that does present possible issues about believing someone else’s reality over the consensus, but there’s still nothing necessarily insane about that when you take into account their circumstances and the fact that they’re essentially existing on hostile ground, and possibly with one of the few remaining watch-whers in existence.

Plus, Aleesa has a perfectly good reason to detest the dragonriders and anyone who might be working with them.

“Dragonriders care nothing for us,” Aleesa continued in a bitter voice. “It was D’gan himself, Weyrleader of Telgar, who sent us packing from our last camp.”
” ‘Your beasts will eat all the herdbeasts and leave nothing for the fighting dragons,’ ” she quoted. She shook her head, her eyes shining bright with unshed tears.
“Fighting dragons!” she snorted. “No Thread has fallen any time in over a hundred Turns! What do they fight?” She shook her head dolefully.
“And he turfed us out, just like that, like we were Shunned.” She sniffed. “One of the babies died on the way here, for want of food.” She shook her head again. “Anything the watch-whers ate, they earned. They kept watch at night for nightbeasts eager to devour the herds, they caught and killed tunnel snakes, frightened away wherries–even the herders were glad to have us–but he sent us packing.
“No,” she said, looking at Pellar, “I’ll hear nothing of dragonriders in my camp. They sent us out to die, and the last queen watch-wher with us.”
The look of shock on Pellar’s face was so obvious that Aleesa, when she saw it, gave him a sour laugh. “You think all dragonriders are perfect and can do no harm?” She shook her head derisively. “You have a lot to learn, little one, a lot to learn.”

This is another one of those things that I like about the new author’s influence. Both of these books so far have been willing to go and talk about the things that have to exist in the world that’s been built, but have been ignored or actively quashed by the people in power, and the narrative with them, since it was portraying them as the heroes and commoners as usurpers against the preordained way that had been established. We’ve been reading the accounts of the lords and the generals and the merchants and propagandists, and now we’ve finally decided to try and treat the things that happen to the commoners seriously enough to give them time and space to show where the flaws and the violence is that goes into propping up the system as it currently exists. I can’t imagine this kind of text happening with the original author solely at the helm, not ever. Because the dragonriders were perfect and could do no harm, at least so long as they were aligned with Benden and their Weyrleaders’ vision of what the future and the society should be.

We saw how D’gan treated those in Camp Natalon, and now we know about a certain amount of extra distaste he would have had for being asked to convey someone to get a watch-wher egg. And a reason why he would have refused outright, even in the face of charm and people asking nicely. The narrative continues with Pellar, having drawn a watch, recalling conversations that he had with herders and others who were quite grateful for the watch-whers, but would only say so after Pellar had convinced them he wasn’t working with D’gan. The narrative also then points out that Pellar had already formed an opinion of D’gan based on how much of a sore winner he was with repeated victories at the All-Weyr Games. This suggests that Pellar’s surprise wasn’t that someone disrespecting D’gan, but that he had never heard anyone be so brazen about it, which seems to have been Piemur’s problem, if I recall correctly — a willingness to speak open defiance in closed and friendly quarters that everyone else thought might lead to him acting on that same idea and getting himself killed.

As things go, Pellar gets bumped from behind by the queen wher, who wants him to move so that she can get out. Chitter provides the necessary interface, and the wher queen looks at him and nods when he thinks his you’re welcome to her after moving, but of course, we already knew that whers could understand thoughts from Kindan and Nuella’s experimentation. What Pellar doesn’t understand is when the second wher comes barreling out after the queen, but Aleesa is there to explain immediately — it’s a mating flight for the whers.

Aaand… there’s some quoting to do here, but I should mention before we get into this section that given what we know about mating flights right now, I should probably warn for discussions of underage sex while under the influence of watch-wher emotions, in case this is a section you want to skip.


“Have you ever seen a mating flight?” Aleesa asked, her voice filled with a reverence that made Pellar uneasy.
Pellar shook his head.
“Have you ever felt a mating flight?” Aleesa asked with a hint of a leer in her voice.
Reluctantly Pellar nodded.
[…mating flights are common enough in this camp that there’s a procedure in place…]
He found Polla, one of the older women, already organizing the children into groups. He was surprised to see some of the younger women eyeing him consideringly.
“It would only be for the duration of the flight,” the woman said when she caught his gaze. “Nothing more than that.”
Pellar nodded, not sure of his own feelings, and wondered how many of the children were the results of previous mating flights–he’d heard enough about them during his time at the Harper Hall.
[…more logistics get discussed…]
“How many Turns have you, anyway?” Polla asked, regarding Pellar carefully.
Pellar hastily pulled out his slate and wrote 13.
Polla read it and laughed, nodding toward the younger woman. “Arella’s near your age, she’s only three Turns older.”
Pellar found it hard to believe that the other woman had only sixteen Turns; he would have guessed her nearer to thirty. Life with the watch-whers was clearly very demanding.
“Come sit by me, then,” Arella called, patting a spot near her.
Pellar crossed around the fire and had just sat, nervously, when the watch-whers mated.
Much later, Arella whispered in his ear, “Now you are one of us.”

Small mercies, I suppose, that we’re not subjected to the details of the actual act happening while Pellar, at 13, is going through with sex while not under the control of his own body. And that he’s not looking around and describing what’s going on around, either, as there’s the distinct possibility that children even younger than he is might be doing the same. There’s never been any sort of narrative insistence anywhere that, say, prepubescent children don’t have their wills and emotions overpowered because they don’t understand what’s going on enough to be struck with the desire to mate when the dragons, whers, or fire-lizards are engaged in the mating process.

Just an understanding that, because of the circumstances, and the lack of consent, nothing permanent happens while under the influence of the mating flight. And also that people’s vows of fidelity aren’t broken if one or the other ends up in a mating flight situation. That’s one of the bright spots of this entire setup — because it happens often enough in the world, the people who experience it on the regular are well-equipped to understand what’s going to happen, and can help walk someone who is inexperienced through the entire thing. In terms of who Pellar could have been with for a respectful and effective first time, this qualifies pretty well. The explanations given so that Pellar isn’t thrust into this situation unaware and the fact that everyone understands that mating flights aren’t conscious decisions are the bright spots in this otherwise dim section.

People might argue in this mostly-medieval world, that thirteen is not actually underage, and that young children in that world were being married and expected to act as adults in society, as the period we now know as “adolescence” didn’t exist and wasn’t on the radar. I’m guessing the authors are taking this particular attitude as justification to why their thirteen year-old character and a sixteen year-old character are having mating-influenced sex. And that’s still assuming that Pellar and Arella are only having sex with each other for the entirety of the mating flight’s influence. Which is not at all necessarily true, given the way that the one flight we saw in a Weyr looked like it was going to be an orgy of everyone with everyone.

I don’t even know if Pellar has been given any sort of useful sex ed. It’s possible, given that he’s heard about mating flights in the Harper Hall, but…yeah. There’s a good chance this is his first time, and he doesn’t even get the benefit of consenting to it. This is one of the more disturbing aspects of Pern, every time it comes up and we realize that it’s not just the dragons who can do it, but the fire lizards can influence their own, and now we know the watch-whers can, too. Which means it has to be rough being a person on Pern, when just about any of the dragon life could fill your mind with a singular desire for sex with anyone around if they got close enough to you while they were in heat. (And “close” isn’t defined, either. Even if the flight path is supposed to head away from dense populations, there’s always the possibility that “close” is approximately the range of an ICBM’s warhead. Or the amount of distance that it can cover before delivering that warhead.) That has to be especially rough for the women of Pern, because, as Pellar notes, that much unprotected sex is bound to result in pregnancies a nonzero amount of the time, and without birth control that doesn’t involve having to know a dragonrider long enough for them to take you on a short jaunt through hyperspace or more effective means of safely birthing children, there’s probably a lot of women that end up dying from the child they were impregnated with during mating flight sex. Some of them can’t be all that old when this happens to them.

And I’d be surprised if either author has thought through this idea all the way to these terrible conclusions. And if they did, and decided to go through with it, that’s monstrous. Especially since we’re well into the 2000s, with the gigantic scare that was the (grudging) acknowledgement of HIV/AIDS and the ways that it could be contracted and what it would do to those infected with it not all that far in the cultural memory. (Although still significantly in denial about it, I suppose.)

Pern continues to surprise me with the ways in which it can find to horrify its readers when they go back to it with more maturity and knowledge of just what was going on. It’s not just a single Cocowhat that I can use to point at a single horrifying piece, it’s…like finding out the world you are standing in is suddenly chock-full of Cocowhat trees, and you can see Cocowhats in every direction, everywhere, and you eventually find out, as you gaze from orbit, that the entire world itself is a giant Cocowhat upon which the Cocowhat trees grow, each with their own Cocowhat harvests. I don’t know how that will affect the count, but I’m sure some useful maths will give us what the approximate number of Cocowhats would be if it were a Pern-sized forest of Cocowhat trees.


Okay, we’re done with the underage sex talk. Regular plot recommencing.

What follows afterward is Pellar still not being accepted into the community, but he bargains his way in by promising to be their Harper, that Aleesa is illiterate, and Pellar, Polla, Jaythen, and Arella (who turns out to be (one of?) Aleesa’s daughters) hammer out together the circumstances by which others will get a chance at getting a watch-wher egg, which explains why the “year’s worth of coal’ price happens to Kindan – the price of a chance at the egg is set at a year’s worth of whatever the group that wants the chance produces. Jaythen also glints his eyes a bit at the prospect of charging gold, which is apparently there and more valuable than marks. (We’re presumably talking about nuggets rather than coins, because I’m pretty sure it’s long-established that mark pieces are made of wood.)

So, at this point, with the terms ready, and Pellar set to take on the role of educating everyone in the Harper way, including having to fashion himself some instruments to teach music with, and part of the bargain also that Pellar has to arrange for his own successor if he ever wants to leave the position permanently, I’m going to stop, because we’re about halfway through this monster of a chapter, and there’s more to be done to arrange the events of the book that we’ve already seen, although from some other perspective.

Dragon’s Fire: World Tour

Last time, we got to see a very small smidgen of the untouchable class known as the Shunned, through the lens and perspective of someone incredibly privileged and trying to find out, in genuine concern, how conditions are for them. This did not result in any sort of calls for the entire system to be dismantled, but it did result in the fridging of Zist’s wife and infant daughter to the plague that was running rampant through the Shunned group they encountered. So now, Zist and his mute adopted son, Pellar, are on their way to Camp Natalon, where they will start with the events of the first book. Pellar, of course, won’t be going into the camp, but instead doing what he does best camping on the outside.

Dragon’s Fire: Book One: Chapters 2 and 3: Content Notes: Ablism, child abuse, threats of child sexual abuse

This chapter starts at Crom Hold, 492.4, for the All-Weyr Games, and provides us a further snippet of the song started in Chapter 1:

Flame on high,
Thread will die.
Flame too low,
Burrows woe.

Before we get into the action, might I note that the existence of the “All-Weyr Games” sounds like something that should have carried through all the way to the Ninth, or been temporarily suspended when there was only one weyr to have, because it seems like a much more fruitful way of causing accidents among riders than the “training exercises” mentioned in earlier books. Like how it eventually turned out that Larth got lost – demonstrations and horsing around rather than drill accidents. Also, that piece by itself has some rather interesting implications for the ways that Weyrs don’t really like talking to each other or working with each other in later chronologies.

The chapter begins with Cristov, Tarik’s son, although much younger than in the previous book, trying to help his friend, Jamal, get to a viewing space fairly quickly. The delay is because Jamal is on crutches, having broken his leg not too long ago. After a certain amount of trying to offer help (which Jamal wisely refuses as hlep due to Cristov suggesting things like he could carry Jamal), Tarik beckons Cristov, and Jamal disappears into the crowd before Cristov can show off that he’s made a friend to Tarik. Tarik demonstrates why this would have been counterproductive.

“Never mind him,” Tarik growled impatiently. “You’ll make new friends up at the Camp, you needn’t worry about that cripple.”
“He’ll be fine when the cast’s off,” Cristov protested. For all the ten Turns that Cristov had lived, his father had found fault with anyone that Cristov had tried to befriend.
“That’s neither here nor there,” Tarik grunted. “He’s a cripple now and I’m glad you won’t be around him.” He snaked a hand around Cristov and pulled him tight against him.
“This is Harper Moran,” Tarik said, gesturing to the man in blue beside him. Cristov nodded politely to the harper.

I realize that Tarik is a Designated Villain, but he’s doing his level best to be a stereotype of an abuser to everyone he knows, including his family. If he’s like this, then I have to wonder how in the first place he was accepted to Camp Natalon. There isn’t any sort of redeeming anything about him that makes it likely that he would be accepted anywhere. We don’t have to lay it on this thickly to convince the audience that he’s a villain, really.

Utterly unrelated to Tarik the abuser, what’s Zist’s supposedly lost apprentice doing here? He supposedly was going to live among the Shunned, he got lost, and we’re supposed to believe that he pops back up nine Turns later and nobody seems interested at all that he’s alive and well and spectating at the All-Weyr Games? What happened in the interim?

Additionally, according to Moran, Igen Weyr’s been abandoned recently, due to a drought in their area and the death of the last queen dragon, so the new Weyrleader of Telgar is the old Weyrleader of Igen. There seems to be a bit of a running theme in these books of people ending up in positions of power after they’ve had an issue running their own spaces.

Tarik continues to hold the Villain Ball, the Asshole Ball, and the Fool Ball together as tightly as he can. When Moran mentions firestone, Cristov asks if it’s a type of coal, on the reasoning that:

    Dragons need a mineral to produce fire

  • The coal of this region is boasted as the hottest burning coal in the world
  • Therefore, it makes sense that dragon fire is produced by coal burning.

Tarik restrains himself from beating his child for his ignorance, but Moran compliments his logic and thinking skills as suitable for a Harper. At which point, Tarik says that Cristov’s not going to be a Harper. Moran is ready for that argument as well.

“I imagine thinking will be important for miners, Tarik,” Moran said, shaking his head in disagreement. “Times are changing. The old mines have played out; the new seams are all deep underground. Mining down there will require new ways of thinking.”
“Not for me,” Tarik disagreed. “I know all I need to know about mining. I’ve been a miner for twenty Turns now–learned from my father and he’d been a miner for thirty Turns. It was his father that first opened our seam, seventy Turns back.”

TRADITIOOOON, TRADITION!

(Tentacles!)

And here I thought I wasn’t going to get an opportunity to use that again.

But also, if this is past the point in which Tarik has already lost his own mine and is headed to Natalon’s, then he’s been empirically proven wrong about knowing everything he needs to.

There’s also some nice weaving-in of the backstory, using the demonstrations of the dragons as food for thought about Thread and the upcoming reality that the real thing will be falling soon. (And a lot of infodumping, too, but there’s at least some skill on display in making the infodump seem natural, before doing a small bit of the prologue that we had from the last book about the need for good steel, and it mentions that Natalon invited Tarik to his camp when he heard Tarik was looking for work.

Then we’re introduced to Tenim, who is attempting a crash-into-pickpocket attempt on a wealthy trader. Tenim manages to get the purse, but the Trader pats himself down fairly soon after getting up, and Tenim has to turn his act of thievery into an act of heroism, as if he were picking the purse up to give it back. This works, and Tenim gets a half-mark piece for his “honesty.” But it’s apparently not enough.

Out of sight, Tenim allowed himself one long, explosive curse. His belly rumbled in agreement.
No matter what Moran said, he was too old to beg. It was time to steal.
In the evening there was gambling; Tenim decided to risk his half-mark on the chance for more.
If he didn’t, there were always those too deep in their cups to notice his light fingers late at night.

And again with the connections to Moran. Who might or might not know about the thievery of this person. The narrative switches to Moran, who is working a crowd of gamblers, several of whom he suspects are allies trying to take advantage of him.

Privately, the harper was pretty certain that only half of the current crowd was working with Berrin, the rest being innocent but greedy gamblers hoping to exploit Berrin and the harper. Moran was quite certain that in the end he would take money from both groups and come out ahead. He had no qualms with that–there were hungry children at their camp who wouldn’t question how their bellies came to be full.

There’s a quick cut to Jamal (with the broken leg) and his sister, Halla, where Halla remarks that Jamal’s leg is beginning to smell and suggests a healer. Jamal says, “Healers won’t see us, you know that,” and then goes off again after telling Halla she’s supposed to be looking after the other children. She’s eight, by the way. Which is depressingly common in fantasy kingdoms and large families alike. That smell is, I suspect, is a very bad thing for Jamal, and that he can’t access health care tells me he’s probably the child of Shunned parents, and here we are in a world where even though they’re not marked themselves, the children of the Shunned are pretty clearly expected to just die along with their parents, problem solved. It seems like the new author has managed to convince the older one that looking through the lenses of the commoners is worthwhile for storytelling, and is doing their best to try and shine light on what was, until now, just implication or something beneath the nobility.

The chapter ends with the results of Moran’s betting. As expected, he cleaned house sufficiently that he’s willing to redistribute some quarter-marks to his marks so that the gamblers feel like he’s being fair, before returning to…Tarik…and they talk cryptic business.

“You’ve some marks for me, I believe?”
“Indeed I do,” Moran declared jovially, handing over a two-mark piece that he’d just won as part of his other wagers. He leaned closer to Tarik and said in a softer voice, “And I hope you’ll find our other arrangement as advantageous.”
Tarik’s face hardened for just a moment before he responded, “I’m sure I will. Indeed, I’m sure of it.”

Well, I’m pretty sure this isn’t the first time that a Harper wagering has turned out well, and also reasonably sure this isn’t the first time a Harper has profited against those looking to get him to play a rigged game by rigging the game to his own advantage first and/or better. So, what is the arrangement between Moran and Tarik? And how many children are we talking about here, if they need a herder and several of the older ones are looking to beg or steal what they need to survive?

Maybe Chapter 3 has answers. But first, a new rhyme and a new time. Near Camp Natalon, 492.7-493.4 (so nearly a full Turn) and this:

Work and living drays do roll,
Taking every long day’s toll.
Bearing goods and bringing gifts–
Traders working every shift.

Chapter 3, instead, focuses on how Pellar got to the area around Camp Natalon and who he met. The first sign of something is Pellar noticing a suspicious spot on the ground, which turns out to be a bundle of yellow flowers…on top of “a grave, newly dug–and it was too small for an adult.” Pellar’s further investigation shows that the person who likely brought the flowers is wearing crude sandals made of bark. He can find the trail left by the cold, but Pellar notices that the child has been trying very hard to erase their tracks. He suspects the child is part of a Shunned grouping somewhere nearby. The narrative then cuts to Pellar making his report to Zist at his cottage. Which he has done by writing it all out beforehand on his slate. Pellar also remarks that there are a lot of children, and they’re being used for lookouts for another group that’s stealing coal from the mine, because they’re small and cute and not likely to arouse suspicion if they play up being lost. Zist, for his part, recounts the wedding of Silstra and Dask’s flying overhead during the ceremony, mentions the obvious tension between Tarik and Natalon, and talks about how Kaylek and Kindan aren’t necessarily getting along.

Great. At least part of this book is going to be the events of the previous book, but from a different perspective. I’d like to believe it was because the fans of the time were unhappy with the way things were going and decided to write an entire fleet of fix-it fic to take care of that, but it’s probably something much more mundane, like the realization of all the plot threads that didn’t get picked up and holes that needed patching from the last book. Or maybe they thought Nuella needed more screen time.

As it is, Pellar is finishing up with Zist when his fire lizard returns to him and says someone found his campsite. Pellar finds someone has rifled his things and left him flowers. Later on, he’ll find that the bark sandals child took his good shoelaces and left the twine they were using in exchange. He assumes the flower child is a girl, but there’s no actual confirmation of this, even as it leads Pellar into fantasy imagining about what it might be one to be that sensitive girl in a crowd of rough Shunned.

Master Zist has told him about the burned-out Shunned wagon that he’d found on his ill-fated sojourn with Cayla and Carissa, and that tale, along with so many others regarding the Shunned, left Pellar certain that at least some of them would think nothing of killing him for his belongings–or even just out of simple spite.
Pellar clenched his jaw as he thought of the little flower girl in the company of such rough men. His thoughts grew darker and he found himself thinking about Moran, Zist’s lost apprentice, imagining him tortured and worse after being unmasked by the Shunned.

There’s a certain amount of active imagination that I want to accord to still being young, but not in any sort of way that would excuse the actual contents of those thoughts, because although nobody seems to have reported this fact back to the Harpers, and they didn’t seem to have anyone else present at the Games, Moran is alive and being visible!

More disturbingly, though, Pellar is making prejudicial assumptions about the Shunned, based on the stories he heard about them (which seem very inclined to talk about how dangerous and lawless the Shunned are, propping up the not-really-proven picture Pellar is drawing on) and his assumption that there’s a sweet, innocent girl in there looking to be rescued. Neither of these assumptions has actually been borne out, nor has anyone done any sort of in-depth study about the Shunned and their reasons for doing what they are doing. We’re still careening along on the assumption that the Shunned are generally vicious people who deserve what they’ve gotten without there being any actual proof of that.

The narrative goes along with Pellar, thankfully summarizing the daily routine and his observations of the people stealing the coal at night, as well as an abbreviated version of the coal mine disaster that killed Danil, Dask, and others. Pellar notices again that flowers are adorning the graves before he encounters Nuella, who notices him, thinks of him as a threat, since he’s an outsider, and arms herself with a rock against him. She also threatens to sic Zist on the task of finding him, based on his legendary temper and tenacity. Pellar fully reports all of this, and Zist, to avoid having two apprentices (which is apparently uncommon in the Harper Hall), decides to conditionally field promote Pellar to journeyman so that he can take on Kindan. And also to tell him to go back to the Hall before the winter arrives, because Zist doesn’t want Pellar freezing to death.

Time continues to pass and we learn about how Pellar has been setting traps for meat away from the Camp’s hunting grounds until the plot-relevant kicks in and out turns out there’s a person that stepped into his animal trap.

It was a little girl, no more than nine Turns old. She was staring back at him, her brown eyes locked intently on him as she hung upside down, one foot caught in the loop of his rope snare. One hand feebly held her tunic up to protect her from the cold wind but it flopped down enough on the other side that he could see her bulging belly and bare ribs; her legs were little more than sticks.
[…Pellar observes she’s probably Shunned before hiding again because other children are coming to her…]
“Halla!” one of the younger ones called as they caught sight of her. “What are you doing up there?”
“Don’t ask silly questions,” the little girl snapped back, “just get me down.”
“I don’t know why,” the teenager repliedm”You got yourself caught, you should get yourself down.”
In that instant, Pellar decided he hated the young man. It wasn’t just his words, or his tone, it was the youth’s body language: Pellar knew that this teen would have no compunction, nor feel any guilt, about leaving the little girl stuck in the trap to die.
“Tenim, get me down,” Halla commanded, her irritation tinged with just the slightest bit of fear.

He does, eventually, after Halla’s appeal that Moran will know falls through, by using the trained hawk/falcon that he has, (calling Grief, the bird, the best tracker they have) to cut the rope holding Halla up. With Halla screaming in terror the entire time Grief is diving toward her.

She was up again in an instant, her arms in a fighting stance.
“Thanks for nothing Tenim,” she snarled, racing up to him. But she recoiled as Grief dropped again from the sky, screeching in her face.
“You owe me, Halla,” Tenim told her, a cold smile on his face. The smile changed to a leer as he added, “When the time comes, I’ll collect.”
The color drained from Halla’s face as his words registered. She regained her composure, saying, “If you’re still alive.”

I was going to make a pithy comment about how the new author seems to be following in the path of the old author that all the villains have to be irredeemably Always Evil, that sociopathy isn’t that common, to my knowledge, in most societies (but that Pern could be an exception, being Rand’s paradise), and that Pellar’s instant hate is the narrative is trying to give Pellar information and pass it off as super observation skills, but then Tenim threatened an eight year old child with rape (or something similar, since he’s leering at her) and I’m more than ready for Halla to knife him in his sleep and be done with it. Or shove him off a cliff. Or whatever intentional “accident” can befall him, and quickly.

The narrative is also essentially saying the stories about the Shunned are all true, and they are (or most of them are) the monsters they’ve been portrayed as. This is a bad idea.

Pellar, however, wants to know why Halla didn’t rat him out to Tenim, and Zist wants to be sure he heard the name Moran right, before dismissing the possibility it might be him unless they see him, despite the narrative telling us Zist came this way in the deliberate hope that he might learn more about Moran. His skepticism is not balanced by optimism. And, hearing this, Zist wants even more to send Pellar away.

Pellar prevails, and goes to scout a more accurate number and placement for the camp, but he’s almost discovered by Tarik and Tenim discussing their business agreement. Which is mostly “Tarik helps Tenim steal coal so it can be sold at a profit for Tarik.” Tarik claims he’s doing it so that Cristov can have enough money, but I tm his real reason comes out not a paragraph later.

“All I want is a place of my own and a chance to rest at the end of my days, not always slaving away for someone,” Tarik protested. “I’ve earned it. I would have had it, too, if it hadn’t been for you and the Shunned.”
“Well, you don’t have to worry about them,” Tenim said. “And I said I’d take care of you.”

The sort of thing that “socialist” programs like Social Security were created for. Or retirement accounts, if you like. Rather than having to work until you die.

I also want to know how far out this idea was planned, such that the first book in the series could be used to never directly accuse Tarik of the sabotage and problems Kindan experienced. But, on the other hand, Kindan wouldn’t have known any of this, and so he would likely have been ready to throw accusations as soon as he got something that looked like proof. So it still doesn’t work like we want it to.

The last part of the conversation Pellar hears clues is in that the Shunned are not the ones buying the coal. Which makes sense, because the Shunned presumably don’t have money to buy it with.

There’s a short interlude with Zist about Kindan and Tarik and what to do next before going back out into the cold for another overheard conversation that gives us the context of how Tarik’s mine collapsed and he has to go to Natalon’s.

“He’ll figure out that someone’s stealing coal, that’s what,” Tarik growled back.
“Only if he finds out you’ve been mining the pillars,” Tenim observed. “Otherwise he’ll think he’s only got the coal you and the shift leaders have reported mining.”
“It was easier when it was my own mine I was stealing from,” Tarik muttered darkly.

And there’s another reminder that Tarik is a greedy man, who embezzled from his own mine for his own profits. If he’s supposed to be the sympathetic victim of Tenim’s cold-blooded blackmail, the authors are failing extremely hard at it.

Also, as I recall from the first book, Kindan said that mining the pillars is a terrible idea, and one prone to causing structural instability in the place where you are mining, which is why you usually do it last when you’re closing down a mine. Or when you’re truly desperate. So Tarik is courting disaster.

“You still would be had it if it hadn’t been for the accident that collapsed the roof,” Tenim replied.
“Accidents happen,” Tarik said dismissively. “Masterminer Britell’s board of inquiry never accused me of anything.”

And that confirms that Tarik is still even more an asshole, in addition to an embezzler.

After a small threat about what “accidents” might happen to Tarik, Tenim thinks he might drop in on the festival at Natalon’s. Which turns out to be that Tenim is the one who blocks the chimney by displacing bricks with stones. Which incenses Pellar enough to tackle Tenim and try to stop him. But Tenim is a head taller and twenty kilos heavier and apparently fairly effortlessly chokes Pellar out into unconsciousness after they both take a hard fall off of one of the cliffs, and that’s the end of Chapter 3.

Pellar gets better, of course.

Dragon’s Fire: A Book Out of Order

Hello again! We’re truly forging out own path here, having skipped entirely a book published in between, and so it’s time to say goodbye to the Srellim list that’s given us guidance the whole way through and helped us stay on track with major plotlines and characters so that we didn’t have to wait for a later book to make sense of an earlier one. Many thanks for your help. We’ve basically reached the end, as it is, as our storylines between this trilogy and the next one will collapse into a single narrative before we leave the Third Pass.

Dragon’s Fire is copyrighted in 2006, so we’re only a little more than a decade away from our own times. I expect the prose to evolve in that direction as well.

This material consists of two Books, each with Chapters, so let’s get cracking on Book One: Pellar.

Dragon’s Fire: Book One: Prologue and Chapter 1: Content Notes: Classism, Women in Refrigerators,

There is no SFnal Prologue here about how Pern came to be and the terrible situation that befell the colonists. Yes, it’s the second book in a series, but at this point, Pern is also many decades old, and it’s…unlikely, at this point, that someone is joining the series at this point, but this is also potentially a good time to see whether or not Pern can work its own lore into the story without being an infodump at the beginning. (The style of SF and Fantasy at this point, if memory serves, didn’t exactly endorse those radio serial-era material, despite there being one not a few years earlier.)

There are, however, two units to keep track of at the beginning of each chapter: a short verse, as in the previous book, and a timeline marker…of the colonist period, in years After Landing. So, the Prologue to book one is set AL 483.7, with this verse:

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

A single decimal point makes me wonder whether we’ve established how many monthlike divisions of time there are on Pern. And whether they have names. And all those other questions I’ve wanted to know about how Pern keeps time.

The whole of the Prologue consists of Zist and his wife(?), Cayla, watching a young mute boy named Pellar (abandoned by his parents) go through various exercises with Mikal, a “half-mad” former dragonrider and Healer. Pellar may not be able to speak, but he’s clearly fine otherwise, as he arranges beads in spectrum order after Mikal projects a rainbow using a prism, understands the way that pigments mix to form other colors, and seems able to draw pictures.

Inspired, Pellar produced a multicolored self-portrait in he way of all those who had only three Turns on Pern, exactly the same way that those who were only three years old back on long-forgotten Earth would have done–complete with arms sticking out of hands. The mouth in the big round head was smiling.

So there’s a good way of introducing your lore. Now we know they came from Earth some very long time ago.

Mikal asks Pellar to draw him, and Pellar does, but Mikal is sad. Mikal asks why, and Pellar draws what can easily be interpreted as Mikal’s lost dragon, in the correct color, brown. Mikal immediately calls in Zist and asks how much Pellar already knows about him, because there’s no way that Pellar should know what color to use. Mikal didn’t say, Zist realizes he didn’t know, and when Mikal asks Pellar about it, Pellar points at Mikal’s eyes by way of explanation, which is enough for Mikal to say he’ll teach Pellar everything he can. Thus ends the Prologue.

Chapter 1 is set 490.3, so about seven Turns later, and the verse present introduces us to something that’s been in the back of our heads, but my actually explored.

Sent on hold, sent from craft,
Whether old, whether daft.
Shunned for good into the wild–
Father, Mother, baby child.

Well, I guess I have a better idea of what happens to children and elders that have disabilities, or issues, or no support structures of their own to rely upon. Up until this point, exile and shunning seemed reserved for those convicted of serious criminal behavior, while others might become part of the Holdless population if misfortune befell them. Instead, built around the framing of the now-ten Pellar having a fit (and writing furiously on his slate to communicate) at being left behind while Zist and Cayla travel, we get the understanding that Zist and Cayla are going out to study the Shunned (capital letter and all) because they know that Thread will be arriving soon, and they need to know whether or not the Shunned will attempt to invade the Holds and halls for protection from Thread. “It’s not right to condemn them all to a death no one on Pern should ever experience,” Zist says, and I think that’s the second or third time in this entire series where someone has had sympathy for the people without rank or affiliation and what might happen to them exposed to Thread.

Of course, to get close to them, they have to look like them, and so we find out how someone gets marked as Shunned.

“Do you think we should put an ‘S’ on your head, too?” Master Zist asked, pointing to the purple-blue mark on his forehead.
“No,” Cayla said in a tone that brooked no argument. “And you’d best be right about how to get that mark off.”
“It’s not proper bluebush ink,” Zist reminded her. The sap of the bluebush, used for marking the Shunned, was indelible and permanently stained skin. “Some pinesap, lots of hot water and soap, and it’ll come off.”
“So you’ve said,” Cayla remarked, sounding no more convinced.

Indelible blue to make a permanent mark on the forehead as someone shunned, on a world where the local Lord can probably declare someone Shunned with impunity over whatever measure he would like to do so. The chilling dystopia of Pern reasserts itself and reminds us of its capacity for cruelty.

“I’m glad we left Pellar behind,” Cayla said. “Ten Turns is too young to see the sights we expect.”
“Indeed.” Zist agreed.
“Carissa’s so little that she’ll remember none of it,” Cayla continued, half to answer Zist’s unspoken thought, half to answer her own fears.
“There’ll be children among the Shunned,” Zist remarked. “That’s part of what makes it so wrong.”

And they’re enduring this for…less than half a Turn, and so now I’m pretty sure this is going to look and sound a lot more like poverty tourism trying to determine if there’s an uprising about to happen rather than a serious study about the root causes of the situation, whether the system that creates the Shunned is just and fair, and whether it’s a crime against the people of the planet to engage in that practice in the first place. I’d like to be wrong, but I’m not sure anybody on Pern is even close to that woke.

While we burn pages of travel narrative, I might note this is the second book in this series that has a character in it with a major physical disability that wasn’t related to age or injury. I think we had just Camo before. Now we have Nuella and Pellar. Neither of them is a true viewpoint character in that we’re sticking with them for the whole novel, but we’re starting to acknowledge their existence a lot more than we did before.

And Zist and company get a couple of very unpleasant shocks once they’re back toward civilization proper.

“Go away!” shrieked the first old woman whose cothold they had stopped at, hoping to barter for food. “Would you have me Shunned, too?”
She hurried them on their way by throwing stones and setting her dogs on them.
“Go back north and freeze! We’re hardworking folk down here,” she yelled after them. “You won’t find any handouts.”

That’s, well, that’s Rand’s generosity at work, mixed with the fact that the arbitrary justice system means that anyone can become permanently part of an untouchable class with no rights or recourse against the people who threw them out. And that it is apparently a Shunnable offense to be associating or interacting with the Shunned says that this system is designed to kill people and prevent anyone from helping them without risking their own lives as well.

We have words for that in our history on Terra. Shoah. Ethnic cleansing. Genocide. Because how much do we wager that the people who keep ending up Shunned are people the majority doesn’t like? Or people the Lord doesn’t want around? Or people who are otherwise unable to be as productive as the unfettered engine of feudalism and vassalage demands they be? They stop being useful, or they don’t make tithe, and they’re turned out and permanently marked to die. And there’s no Catholic Church to act as a regulator on these ideas, no power over the soul to demand that these Lords exercise mercy and kindness, or by God, they will declare them excommunicated and bring down the wrath of every other greedy Lord on them until they understand their Christian duties to look after the poor…at least nominally.

As it turns out, Cayla’s insistence on not wearing the mark herself makes it easier for her to bargain alone, although she notes she got overcharged for it, and they get back on the road.

Two days later, they came upon a wagon by the side of the road. It had been burned down to the wheels.
Zist halted. He went to the wreck, crawled around and through it, and came back thirty minutes later, his face grim.
“They were caught while they were sleeping,” he told Cayla.
“How do you know it wasn’t an accident with a lantern?” Cayla asked. While holders used glows, the Shunned had to make do with what they could scrounge, and that often meant candles or lanterns.
“I’d rather not say,” he replied grimly.
“I suppose we should keep watch at nights,” Cayla said.
“Maybe we should turn back,” Zist said. “This is beginning to seem more dangerous than I’d feared.”
“Perhaps this is what happened to Moran.”
“Perhaps,” Zist agreed, his face going pale. With a sour look, he gestured to the burned wreck. “There has to be a better way to deal with the Shunned.”
“We don’t know what happened here. We know that some were Shunned for murder. After being Shunned, what would stop them from murdering again?” Cayla responded. “Perhaps we’re only seeing justice done.”
“No,” Zist said, shaking his head firmly. “That was a wagon much like ours.”
Cayla realized from what he’d left unsaid that the occupants of the wagon were much like them, too–a man, a woman, and a child.

And there’s one possible consequence of what happens when you create those untouchable classes – violence can happen to them, and nobody cares, or thinks they deserved it, and the fact that they are still human goes by the wayside.

That same night, Cayla and Zist trade some music back and forth, but that attracts the attention of some other Shunned, (which it was going to, based on nothing more than the skill of the playing) who turn out not to be hostile to them, and ask if they know any healing, because a terrible fever is ripping through the community and it’s claiming adults and children.

“They weren’t the ones in the wagon a ways back?” Zist asked thoughtfully.
“You found them, eh?” the man replied. Zist nodded and the man peered at him thoughtfully. “Thought it was some holder folk who set fire to the wagon, didn’t you?”
He saw Zist’s reaction and laughed bitterly, shaking his head.
“Other days it would have been,” the man said, and spat toward the fire. “Some of them holders would do it just for fun.”

So Zist’s first instinct is absolutely correct, even if it turns out to have been a plague pyre rather than a violent one. Before that line of thought can go too far, though, the narrative busies itself with the business of trying and failing to heal the people affected by the sickness. It’s cough, perpetual thirst, and diarrhea as the symptoms, which sounds like a terrible pathogen like tuberculosis has gotten into the camp. More people get sick and die including one of the babies, and Malir, the man that approached first, sends them away for very practical reasons.

“The others think it’s your missus’s fault; they’re talking about burning our wagon–and yours.”
“Come with us,” Zist suggested.
Malir shook his head. “I’ll stay with my kind,” he said. He snorted when he saw Zist’s expression. “You’ve had too many meals recently to be one of us,” Malir told him. “The others haven’t noticed yet but they will, they will.”

That’s always the funny thing with people outside the culture – there’s always a tell when someone’s trying to get in. It might not be as obvious as the ones we see here (musical skill and a lack of starvation), but it’s there. But also, we’ve lost the opportunity to really see how the Shunned live, because they have to flee for their lives to avoid being scapegoated. It’s awful convenient they get the warning and a reader could very easily take a reading that the Shunned really are uncivilized brutes at their core who deserved their status, except for the occasional one who isn’t like the others.

If that sounds like a very familiar ring to you, you may be remembering our re-experiencing how White society has historically treated and justified their treatment of Indigineous and Black people in the United States. Hell, the Shunned even have the Mark of Cain on them so that everyone knows they’re inferior and can justify whatever they want to do to them because the Higher Power made them this way as punishment. Our perhaps you are seeing echoes of the Gold Star, the Pink Triangle, and all the other ways that specific groups have been singled out for violence against them, and how the justifications for such things all seem to run to the same ideas – they’re not people, because [X, Y, Zed], so we don’t have to treat them as such. The narrative portrayed Zist and family with the White Savior lens, and when, for plot reasons, there isn’t any saving, it makes sure to give a justification for their flight that relies on the Other turning out not to be grateful, civilized, or even human toward them.

Which is to say, the more things change, the more they remain intersectional.

Back to the plot. Zist can’t come up with a reason to take Malir along, and so they do leave. It turns out not to matter anyway, as both Cayla and Carissa have contracted the fever and die, so there’s a good chance that Malir would have done the same. And, I know that this deserves a cocowhat, so here it is…

Cocowhat by depizan

…but fridging is no better than sexual assault as a trope to rely on for impetus to action in a character, and I’m just really tired that over the many years of this series, the authors haven’t stepped up their game to find new ways of getting plots kicked off or characters moving in the direction of the plot. Would it have been that much harder for Cayla to say that Zist’s work is too dangerous for her liking, and that she’s going to take Carissa and find a nice Harper who won’t be traipsing into dangerous places? Or to say that she’s learned a lot more about the Shunned and she’s going to try and do more with them, so she won’t be following Zist to his next assignment? I’m sure there are plenty of ways to resolve this situation that don’t need Cayla and Carissa to die. And Zist can still be exceedingly sad in front of Kindan later (chronologically.)

That flash of brilliance we saw with Nuella seems to have been thoroughly smothered.

So Zist has Pellar still, and Pellar chooses to deal with his own grief by sticking very close to Zist and helping him with his. (A striking detail is Pellar having to remember that Carissa’s first, and now only, word was his name). Which means that he gets to overhear a lot of conversation between Zist and Murenny, who I think is the MasterHarper, although he’s just styled as Masterharper.

“You should have seen them, Murenny,” Pellar heard Master Zist saying. “Some of them were no more than skin and bones.”
“They were Shunned, they had their chance,” Masterharper Murenny reminded him.
“Not the children,” Zist responded heatedly. “And some of them were Shunned for no more than not giving favors to the Lord Holder or their local Craftmaster. Where’s the justice in that?”
Master Murenny sighed in agreement. “But what more can we do?”
[…there is an interruption where Zist gets Pellar from the other side of the door and brings him into the space, having known he was there already…]
“That’s another thing, what about the children? They’ve done nothing wrong, and yet they’re either separated from their Shunned parents or forced to leave with them–mostly on the whim of their Holder–to starve or die without any hope for a future. Is this the justice of Pern?”
Murenny shook his head. “Those who refuse to do their share of work, who steal from others, who commit murder–what else is there to do with them but to Shun them?”
Zist made a face but said nothing, staring at the floor.
“Holders and Crafters can set fines, but if that doesn’t bring a person to his senses, what else is there?” Murenny persisted. “Is it any fairer to insist that God, hardworking folk support lazy, shiftless thieves?”
Zist shook his head glumly. He glanced up, saying, “But Thread is coming soon, what then? Shall the Shunned be scoured off Pern by Thread?”
[…Pellar shudders to think of Thread…]”?Not that Thread’s their biggest threat–there’s enough disease and fever to be found, as well.”
“Did you get an idea of their numbers, then?” Murenny asked softly.
“No, they were always drifting about, and some of them were mixed in with proper Traders,” Zist responded. “The traders don’t like them because too many of them steal–what have they got to lose?–and feet give the traders a bad name with the Holders.”
“And there’s another thing,” he continued. “They eat so poorly that many of them succumb to the least cold or infection. But they mix enough with crafters and holders that their diseases could be spread to others.”
“Have you a suggestion, then?”
“Not any better than my last,” Zist replied sourly. “Nor the one before it.”
“I thought it was a good idea to get a harper in amongst the Shunned,” Murenny said. “It’s a shame that we’ll never know what happened to Moran.”
“It’s a great shame,” Zist agreed. “I was sure they would have accepted him. Perhaps he could have helped their plight.”
“And given us some better thoughts on how to deal with the long-term issues of Thread and the Shunned.”

Sorry that it’s a long quote, but I wanted you to see the way the conversation went, and how I see this as entirely the New Author recognizing the problems that we’ve been working through in those rare occasions when we’ve gotten to spend time away from the privileged Lords, dragonriders, and the Harper Hall. There is even material addressing some of the points I’ve brought up previously in this post. The way that Zist stresses “favors” confirms to me that there are at least some who get shunned because they have the temerity to refuse to have sex with the local lordling or Craftmaster, or to give them special discount or more tithe. There’s a serious public health problem among the Shunned. What happens to the kids who get separated? Do they get fostered to a new family and told to forget their old ones? That should sound familiar to anyone who has studied the systematic erasure of Indigenous people in the United States and Canada that is only now being formally apologized for.

And yet, the narrative lets Murenny off the hook with a terrible argument about how you have to have this awful system in place because murderers have to be punished, and people have to work to survive, and it’s not fair to the government to take my tax money and give it to welfare queens driving Cadillacs.

Despite Zist telling him from eyewitness experience what the conditions on the ground actually are and making an extremely solid argument that it’s definitely not fair to punish innocent children for crimes, or much more likely, “crimes” their family member committed, and to point out that Shunning is a death sentence, whether by exposure or by Thread.

What can they do, Murenny asks, sitting in what is essentially the most powerful social influence operation and media conglomerate on the planet.

What can they do?

BURN. THE. SYSTEM. DOWN.

It wouldn’t be the work of much at all to craft songs about how Shunning is a barbaric punishment unworthy of the civilized folk of Pern, and any person doing such thing as punishment should be overthrown. To sing that Lords who are generous and take care of their poor and disabled, and who do not demand unjust things from their subjects have wiser, better-managed, and more prosperous Holdings with significantly lower amounts of social problems and anti-social behavior. To spread news from Healers far and wide that there is a public health concern on the planet, and all persons should receive vaccination and medical care, regardless of their status, and to praise Lords that equip those Healers with all the supply they need to heal everyone in their space, Shunned or no.

They could be doing a shit-ton more than “well, maybe we’ll send a Harper apprentice into their midst and he can report back to us what everything is like so that we can decide whether or not to help them.” Because Moran was Zist’s apprentice, and with his disappearance, Zist can take another. He chooses Pellar, who accepts, and volunteers to be the next apprentice sent in, but Zist thinks it a better idea for himself to go and try again to get ingratiated into Shunned society to find out the problem.

As if it were some monolithic thing that can be solved by the redistribution of a few resources, instead of a worldwide campaign to end the practice and to redistribute resources so that everyone can be reintegrated into society. That does mean still having to figure out how to punish those that kill or otherwise disrupt the social good, but there’s also a good case to be made that Lords can’t be trusted with that power, since the abuse of that power is what led to the situation in the first place. Pern may have wanted to believe it could survive without legists. Right now, though, it needs jurists.

This may seem obvious from our times, except that it’s not. We still have problems of these natures in our own societies, they haven’t been solved, and there is a lot of resigned acceptance or active exploitation that these things are terrible, but they are forever. They’re not. And it would help a lot if people who had power actually used it to help, instead of hoarding it to themselves to do more evil with.

Okay, plot again. Pellar gets a fire-lizard, because Zist doesn’t want one, and a report eventually comes through suggesting that a place to find the Shunned is out by Crom, where some new mines are being set up and there are reports of theft of coal and things in that space, along with a report from Jofri (remember him?) that Natalon and Tarik aren’t getting along. So Zist decides to take Pellar with him, but not have him be anywhere near Zist while he investigates in Jofri’s place. That way, we can have the events of the previous book undisturbed.

That said, now we have two people with disabilities being hidden away from the narrative of the previous book, and it casts Zist in a much less positive light.

Also, Pellar is sad that he can’t take his fiddle, which he’s been able to use, along with his fire-lizard, as a way of giving himself voice and tone to what he’s feeling, along with him.

But that’s the first chapter. One can only wonder what happens next.

Dragon’s Kin: No Hero’s Welcome. Sort of.

Last time, Nuella got called in to see if she could do what hadn’t been adequately captured on paper and get the wherhandlers trained to have a better bond with their whers. Nuella passed with flying colors.

Dragon’s Kin: Chapter XII and XIII: Content Notes: Attempted murder

Harper, harper, sing me a song
Give me a tune that lasts all day long.

Which is their duty, we know, but this seems like a piece that might be in some other setting about the various professions and what they do.

Chapter XII opens with Nuella returning to the camp, with a shedload of new experiences from having been outside the camp. She’s had watered down Benden wine (eh), been introduced to fire-lizards (too flighty), and so forth (which were enjoyed).

She had simply not gotten used to being called “my Lady.” And the people who had said it to her! It was bad enough that M’tal, Weyrleader of Benden Weyr, had said it, but the Weyrleader and Weyrwoman of Ista Weyr had also called her that. C’rion had presented her with a gold necklace especially made just for her!
It was formed of links in the shapes of dragons, fire-lizards, watch-whers, and dolphins. Seeing the latter, Nuella had fearfully entertained the notion that the Istan Weyrleader might want her to teach watch-whers to talk to dolphins.

C’rion had no such intention, and Nuella admits not knowing the first idea about it.

Earlier, genesistrine mentioned that the necklace is important because it calls dolphins dolphins and mentions that they are capable of communication. So whatever the great loss of knowledge is that turns them into shipfish and removes the knowledge of how to tame and train fire-lizards hasn’t happened yet, shrinking the available window for the cataclysm fairly significantly.

Also, the call back to the Dolphins series is for, given that we know in the past and the future, someone will figure out how to talk to dolphins again.

Nuella finds it easier to connect handlers and their whers, and is able to cherish the accomplishments of her training as hers and hers alone, since being sightless is a benefit, not an impediment, to seeing as whers do. She also gets a lot of lore by working with all these handlers, which the narrative faithfully reproduces.

She couldn’t wait to tell Kindan that Kisk’s name had been predetermined–that watch-whers picked a name that matched their human’s, and that their names always ended in “sk”. Our that the watch-whers of the major Holds always named themselves after their Holds and bonded with someone of the Hold’s bloodline. Or that watch-whers sometimes outlived their humans and could re-bond with another human–or maybe she wouldn’t tell him that, she thought with a frown. It might upset Kindan too much to realize that if he had only known better he might have saved Dask. Well, she decided, perhaps not. From all she’d heard, Dask had been too injured to re-bond and was too determined to carry out Danil’s wishes to obey anyone else.

I realize whers are different creatures than dragons, but it doesn’t make sense why they would choose this naming convention over any other. Unless the narrative wants us to see them as pets and disposable creatures, compared to the dragons that are companions and characters in their own right. Because fire-lizards are named, like pets, with no convention. Dragons name themselves, but always with a “th” convention. Watch-whers name themselves and have a convention for it (“sk” makes no sense, given their relation to dragons. “sh,” on the other hand, would be exactly right, in my opinion), but their name is always the name of their handler or their stationed Hold. In that sense, watch-whers are kind of like Steven Universe Gems – each seen as the same, but identified individually only whren needed, and usually only through something like a serial number that indicates their origin. For as much as this book has been teasing at us that we’re going to get a good look at watch-whers, it’s not really delivering.

Also, we’re twelve chapters in to this book, and suddenly Nuella says that her mother has always been supportive of her all throughout her life. That’s not particularly supported by the text up to this point, at least in the sense that her mother has always been surprised that Nuella’s been out wherever Nuella has appeared in the narrative. It’s not impossible, certainly, since the story has focused on Kindan this entire time, but there hasn’t been any evidence so far to justify this:

Her mother, whose faith in her had never flagged, who had never allowed Nuella to feel held back in the least by her blindness, who had always shown her ways to make it into an asset, to use it to her advantage.

Which would be a much easier sell if Nuella had been the main character of this book. Which she absolutely could have been. But apparently the story of the blind girl who figured out the watch-whers isn’t good enough compared to the orphaned boy taking up his father’s profession. Keep this idea in mind as we traverse the next two chapters and get an idea of what this book could have been from the start.

For, you see, there isn’t a welcome party ready for her return because there’s been a major disaster in her absence.

“There’s been an accident,” Renna said, walking up beside her brother.
“It’s all my fault!” Zenor cried in a tear-choked voice.
“A cave-in,” Renna said.
“Kindan? Kisk? Are they okay?” Nuella asked in panic.
“They’re in the shed,” Renna said. “Kindan tried to go but Tarik forbade him and punched him when he tried to get in anyway.”
“Tarik?” Nuella repeated blankly.
“He’s no miner,” Zenor snarled. “I told Natalon when I saw their joists. He–your father went to look for himself. He was furious when he saw the state of Second Street. He made Tarik switch with him.” He took a deep breath and said in a rush, “I think they were shoring up the tunnel when it collapsed.”
“Father?” Nuella cried.
“And Dalor–all their shift,” Renna told her tearfully.
“Tarik,” Zenor said venomously, “said the cave-in was too long to dig them out.”
“Toldur tried anyway,” Renna added. “But they couldn’t get more than a meter. Toldur said that at least ten meters of the tunnel’s caved in. That’d take weeks to dig out.”
“Tarik put guards on the shaft after Kindan tried to bust in,” Zenor said. “There’s only a pump crew there now, trying to get clear air into the mine.”
Nuella started walking down the hill toward the camp.
“Nuella,” J’lantir called after her, “what are you going to do?”
“I’m going to see Kindan,” Nuella shouted over her shoulder. “I’m going to rescue my father.”

Cocowhat by depizan

Look at all that agency on display, for a plan of direct action, and not a man around to tell her she’s wasting her time or to try and stop her! That’s definitely the new author’s influence, and I like it!

However, that cocowhat is also for the fact that this series of events is classed as an accident by Renna. Of all the people involved so far, only Tarik would classify this as an accident. Because it conveniently has trapped the entire Camp leadership, save Tarik, in a space they can’t get out of and can’t get dug out of, because the supports were too thin and Natalon could be counted on to be there shoring then up. When the emergency crew of Kisk and Kindan tried to do their duty, Tarik stopped them, hurt Kindan, and posted guards to prevent further rescue attempts. Even if Tarik didn’t directly cause the collapse, which would be assuming facts not in evidence, he’s responsible for it and trying to profit off it. Call it what it is – sabotage and attempted murder. Tarik should be either dead or detained and his guards overwhelmed by an angry mob of miners trying to get their leader back. Tarik doesn’t even have a title to fall back on as to why he shouldn’t be hurt. And it would still allow for heroics.

Nuella and Kindan hatch a plan, to be aided by Cristov, whose respect for Natalon and earlier foreshadowing as the son who might not follow in his father’s evil footsteps comes to fruition, to use the secret passage to get in and rescue. When the hero band opens the door that contains the passageway, Toldur is there to greet them, whereupon both girls in the party stake their claim that they’re coming, and Toldur reveals he’s the one who had been keeping sure that the safety equipment was still sound, and that he wants some glows to light the way.

“No time,” Nuella said brusquely. “I’ll lead. I know this passageway like the back of my hand.”
“You can’t see the back of your hand,” Zenor muttered.
Nuella’s hand shot out, super-quick, and accurately whacked Zenor on the side of his head with the back of her hand.
“Who said anything about seeing it?” she asked sweetly. She walked into the closet and quickly slid open the secret door at the back.
“That’s got to hurt,” Renna added with no trace of sympathy for her brother.
Zenor grinned at her, still clutching his wounded head. “At least she’s not sulking anymore.”
“I heard that,” Nuella shouted back from the darkness.

We’re still in a dragonrider book, right? Because I haven’t seen anyone give that much (deserved) sass to anyone and not get punished for it. It seems like the new author has fully taken over for a while. It’s rather refreshing.

As the party works to the main shaft, there’s exposition about who built the passageway, and then Cristov’s axe comes in handy as the characters build themselves a crawlway into the mine from the secret passage. Then they sneak themselves down into the mine, and as they hurry along, worried about the remaining air supply in the caved-in area, Nuella tells Kindan about the naming conventions for watch-whers, and adds the whers change their names closer to their handlers based on the bond they have with them. Which keeps them going until they notice something is very wrong.

“Do you feel that?” Cristov asked. “I feel a draft–it must be the pumps.”
“In our out?” Zenor asked. “It feels to me like it’s blowing in.”
“Everyone freeze!” Toldur hissed.
“What’s wrong?” Nuella asked.
“Tarik’s blowing air into the mine,” Zenor replied in a dead voice.
“We’ll have to turn back,” Toldur said.
“Why?” Nuella cried. “We’re almost there! We can’t stop now!”
“Nuella,” Zenor said slowly, “with the air blowing in–it’s like adding coal to a fire.”
“No, it’s exactly like adding air to coal-gas,” Renna corrected. “It could cause an explosion.”
“He’s not doing it on purpose, is he?” Kindan asked. No one wanted to answer that question.

WHY NOT?! Murder. Murder! MURDER! What possible excuse or reason could someone hide behind right now that would make pumping air into a space that’s likely to explode and kill or further trap the people inside that would make this anything different than attempted murder?

Tarik is trying to kill everyone so that he can take over the mine. He’s been sabotaging it in word and deed after his own mine failed, and if Natalon doesn’t throw him out on his ass or have him hauled before whichever appropriate court of justice there is after this, I’m going to be very cross with him. (And also it gives credence to the idea that Pern really is the B Ark.)

Having been told the pumps need to be running correctly to mitigate the explosion risk, Nuella uses Kisk to contact J’lantir(‘s dragon) and through him, summons the MasterMiner, who “start[s] the pumps the right way. He is very angry with someone.” Name him, for all that’s holy on Pern. Say that it’s Tarik.

Instead, the group makes it to the spot of the cave-in, and while Kisk can’t see anyone, there’s too much coal and rock in between. So Kindan taps out drum code (which, remember, was supposed to be the secret Harper communication system that everybody knows and pretends not to) to ask how many are there, gets a response that Nuella can hear, taps a second question, and finds out they’re ten meters in, which, according to Cristov, means three days of round-the-clock digging to cover the eight meters reach them, which is a big nope for the air supply.

So, instead, Kindan proposes to send Kisk through hyperspace with Nuella on her back to collect the trapped miners. Nuella protests that watch-whers can’t, and Kindan points out that he saw Dask do it at the beginning of the book. Points to genesistrine for noticing the problem earlier, and now the authors have decided whers can do it again, now that they have to for plot reasons.

Nuella isn’t sure she can use Kisk that way, and she needs some reminding that she can create the right image in her mind, but Kindan insists, and says that Nuella needs to bond with Kisk, and after a lot of tapping back and forth, Kindan tells Nuella how everyone is arranged in the other side so that she can build the image in her head, and how everyone on their side will be arranged for the return trip. Chapter XII ends with Nuella and Kisk vanishing into hyperspace, and if Chapter XIII had any substance to it, I’d stop here for the week and leave it on a cliffhanger, but it doesn’t and so we don’t.

The plan succeeds thanks to the clear picture Nuella sends, everyone who is trapped grabs hold of Kisk and they warp back successfully, and the narrative moves out to the entrance of the mine for everyone to see the successful rescue operation. Presumably Tarik and company have been detained appropriately. (Finally.)

At this point, there are really only a few things left to do. First,

“I have an announcement,” [Natalon] said, pulling himself fully erect. He slipped his arm underneath Nuella’s and hugged her tight to his side. “This is my daughter, Nuella. She cannot see, so I kept her hidden from you all.” He paused. “I was afraid you would hold her lack of sight against her. And me.”
“But it is I who have been blind–and foolish,” Natalon continued. “Nuella was not blind in our dark mines. She could ‘see’ where others could not. And so she–with her friends”–Natalon gestured toward Kindan and Zenor–“and the watch-wher rescued us poor sighted miners.”
[…Janella arrives and wants to know who saved everyone. On finding out who it was…]
“This is my daughter, Nuella.” She looked down at Nuella. “She is my pride and joy.”

Yay, Nuella’s finally been brought into the light, figuratively speaking. It only took her rescuing the Camp had and several other miners before she was good enough for Natalon. Women really gotta do something spectacular to get noticed, y’know? Also, Natalon has his order wrong. He was more concerned about himself and his son than his daughter. But gotta save face somehow while admitting the facts that Nuella did good.

Second,

“She didn’t do it alone,” Zenor said unexpectedly in the silence. Kindan shot him a look of amazement that Zenor would do anything to risk harming Nuella’s acceptance into the Camp. “Her watch-wher helped.”
Zenor grinned at Kindan, adding in a voice pitched so that only he could hear, “You knew, didn’t you?”
“I was hoping,” Kindan answered just as quietly.
Zenor reached over and squeezed his friend on the shoulder, tightly, in thanks and acknowledgement of Kindan’s sacrifice.
“Her watch-wher?” Natalon repeated blankly, looking at how the green sat curled possessively about Nuella without so much as a glance toward Kindan.
My watch-wher?” Nuella repeated, turning toward Kindan.
Kindan nodded. “Ask her her name, Nuella.”
Nuella gave him an uncomprehending look, so Kindan explained, “Just like when you saw, but with words this time.”
Nuella’s face took on an abstracted expression that suddenly changed to pure delight. “She says her name is Nuelsk!” She leaped in the air and ran to Kindan. “Her name is Nuelsk! Oh, Kindan,” she cried, in bittersweet joy, “you’ve given me your watch-wher!”
Kindan hugged her tightly and then let her go, smiling. “I think she was always yours, Nuella, and I was just helping you raise her, not the other way around.”

And this is the part where it’s mage very clear, if the reader hasn’t picked up on it yet, that we’ve been following the wrong person the entire time for this story. Our at the very least that Nuella deserved to be a co-viewpoint character for this book, because while Kindan has the accident and gets the egg that hatches the wher that is eventually Nuella’s, there’s a far better story here in chronicling the adventures of the blind girl in the mine town who eventually does a great heroic deed and bonds with a watch-wher. Perhaps the authors didn’t feel like they could have expanded it out into a full narrative, but what we get with Kindan is much lesser than what we could have gotten, done well, with Nuella. Not to mention the challenge of writing a story where the main character can’t see. We would have learned just as much, if not more, about watch-whers by sticking with her.

I feel like Kindan has been a Decoy Protagonist this entire time. And that’s evidenced the biggest by the last things that have to get taken care of.

Zenor joined them, grabbing Nuella’s free hand. Kindan smiled as he watched Nuella squeeze Zenor’s hand back, tightly, and then wrap her arm around his shoulder.
“If you kiss him, then everyone will know,” Kindan whispered in Nuella’s ear.
“Good,” she whispered back. She grabbed Zenor’s face and kissed him soundly on the lips. The gathered crowd roared with laughter at Zenor’s obvious surprise.
[…Nuella asks about what Kindan will do now, since he no longer has to stay and care for the watch-wher…]
“I think I may help.” It was Master Zist. “This is an official letter from the MasterHarper of Pern,” he said, pressing a parchment into Kindan’s hands. Kindan unrolled it and nearly dropped it as he read the words.

Yep, Kindan gets to go off to the Harper Hall. Zist pragmatically suggests that Kindan might spend a lot of his time relaying what he knows about watch-whers, before leaning down and giving Kindan an endorsement for his ears only. Natalon asks what Kindan might study, Kindan replies he wants to sing, and that’s the end of the book.

So, yeah, I’m very curious to see where the narrative will go next, because it can either follow Kindan to the Harpers, choosing the kids interesting path, or stay with Nuella in the camp, which is the far more interesting one.

It also raises the question of whether watch-whers can also do the time-turner tango, if someone could somehow reconstruct a heat map from the past and use it as an anchor point.

It’s interesting the way that this story started a lot like the solo-authored Pern, and that influence continued to be felt through the book, but these last chapters are almost a sprint in terms of speed of plot resolution, but also in the way they very sharply change the direction the book is going in, as if the old author got bored or stuck and left it to the new author to finish everything, and quickly, because deadlines were fast approaching and a book needed to get out. I think it turned toward the better, most definitely, although because of the rush, there are a few things that didn’t get answered in this book, and that we may have to be in the lookout for in the next book(s), like what the special relationship between Master Zist and Kindan’s mother was, and whether Tarik got caught and brought before the Lord’s justice for attempting to kill family and others.

All of that said, there’s one last fragment of song to work with, for Chapter XIII:

Watch-wher, watch-wher, do you know
All the places you can go?

Which sort of cements this as an idea that this song is a creation of someone, possibly future Harper Kindan, about watch-whers. Here’s the song in its entirety:

Watch-wher, Watch-wher in the night,
Guard our Hold, keep it right,
When the morning sun does come,
Watch-wher, then your job is done.

Watch-wher, watch-wher in the mine,
Help save life, yours and mine,
Guide us in the darkest night,
With your keen unfailing sight.

Watch-wher, watch-wher in the egg,
Grant to me the boon I beg.
Watch-wher, watch-wher, guard us all,
With your dragon-summoning call.

Watch-wher, watch-wher, do you know
All the places you can go?

U I handily doubles as a plot summary for the parts of the book that involve watch-whers, although the song starts with the whers in the Holds, who are older and more familiar to the target audience, rather than the ones in the mines that may not be so familiar. It’s also a handy summation of the wher abilities that we learned about in this book. For someone in the know about watch-whers, set to a catchy tune, this would be a handy mnemonic song about both story and abilities. Well done, Kindan.

And that’s it. The list I’m using waited until after this book to suggest reading “Beyond Between,” which is odd, given the story itself is essentially the coda to Moreta, so if you would like to go back and read that again, you can now. I don’t think there’s any additional insight that I would gleam from it in this space, rather than having handled it immediately after Moreta and Nerilka. Except for the part that chronologically, “Beyond Between” was published the same year as this book, so the list in question’s notation of any time after Moreta is an acknowledgement of the fact that that coda was published several decades after the original book, probably under some pressure from fans who wanted to know if Moreta ever made it home.

And…well, now that I look ahead in things, it seems that the list I’ve been working with to this point isn’t going to be helpful any more, because now, well, they’re listing them in publication date order, and it, well, there are a couple crossing plotline streams. So, executive decision time – I’m skipping what is essentially the next chronologically published book to keep with the series started here, if the summaries I’ve skimmed are accurate about plot details. After these three get done, we’ll wind back to the book we’ve skipped and go through the trilogy that Todd wrote solo before coming back to the collaborative effort that leads to the last days of Anne, and then, assuming we’re still all here and interested by then, the latest author and entry into the series, which just arrived this year, which may or may not be the actual very end, depending on whether more stories come out in the next couple of years it will take to get us through to the present day.

Next up, then, is Dragon’s Fire.