Category Archives: Deconstruction: Pern

The Renegades of Pern: Action in the South, finally!

Last chapter, more pieces got moved, dragons died, riders changed, and we got ever closer to the end of The White Dragon and the promise that we might actually go somewhere with this Southern plot.

The Renegades of Pern: Chapter XII: Content Notes:

(Present Pass, 15.10.19)

“Young Lord Jaxom, with Piemur, Sharra, and Menolly, has found a vast settlement, buried under volcanic ash and dirt,” D’ram announced excitedly.


This is where the story should start, after Jayge and Aramina are done with Thella. It’s a little bit before the end of The White Dragon, so it’s good for getting everyone back up to speed with what happened, since we’ve spent nearly a decade in other Passes, expanding the mythos and exploring origin stories. Now we can come back to the story at hand from a different perspective and charge ahead.

This chapter opens, after the announcement of the discovery, with Toric learning how big things really are on the South, as well as the Hold for Robinton, while hoping that he can hold Benden to promises and negotiate with Sebell about who he will and won’t take for Southern, now that he’s official. Sebell takes the opportunity to quote a fragment of a very old record.

“‘When man came to Pern, he established a good Hold in the South,'” Sebell murmured, his eyes shining almost reverently, “‘but found it necessary to move north to shield.'”

Toric isn’t sure he believes it, but everyone troops over to the dig site in the morning all the same. Not before we get some interesting information, though.

“An older man needs interests that involve him in life. Don’t worry, Sebell.”
“At least about your Master’s health,” Toric said sardonically. “He’s got both Menolly and Sharra, hasn’t he?”
D’ram realized that his mention of Toric’s sister had not been as circumspect as it might have been, just as he also remembered that Menolly was Sebell’s wife.

Wait, when did that happen? I remember Menolly and Sebell having a fire-lizard fling, and Menolly declaring her love for Robinton, and Robinton trying to pass Sebell off on Menolly, but there appears to have been a joining while we were faffing about in the South rehashing another book! This, we lose an opportunity to see what sort of ceremony happens when houses get joined, or Crafters marry. It’s a perfect opportunity for worldbuilding and it sailed on by.

As they circle the site, Toric reflects bitterly that he can’t have the whole continent to himself and that he has to let stupid Northerners in. He recognizes that Fax failed because he tried to use fear. He thinks greed works a lot better. Past that, there’s no denying the place was inhabited, but Toric thinks the Ancients were pretty stupid to have built in the shadow of the volcano and out in the open where Thread could get them. Hindsight is always perfect, Toric.

After landing, Toric joins the crew of Craftmasters and Weyrleaders with the intent of stopping encroachment on “his” continent, with a dismissive assessment of Jaxom and the project of excavation. At least until they open up a place and discover artifacts. Then Toric regrets encouraging everyone else, and excuses himself back to Southern.

The action stays with the excavation, with Piemur composing a quick message for Jayge and Aramina, describing what had been found, and gets a short reply before the fire-lizards burst in with Jaxom and Ruth and news of the discovery of the shuttles, which the fire-lizards confirm with imagery of the first settlers arriving, giving us yet more reason to believe that the fire-lizards have a collective memory that outlives each individual one. Assuming, that is, that fire-lizards aren’t as long-lived as the dragons would be without the Impression bond.

Everyone, including Robinton, traipses out again, and the discovery of the maps on the walls of the rooms convinces Piemur that Toric shouldn’t hold the whole continent any more.

Also, somewhere in this time, Toric has kidnapped Sharra, because the next scene starts with Toric in a fight with his other siblings over Sharra and Jaxom. Toric thinks Sharra can match better than the young Jaxom and Ruatha, the siblings think it’s a good match, being to a rider, an intelligent lord, and to someone of her choice, instead of her suppressing her desires for him. Toric dismisses them all with a warning not to interfere, and summons Dorse, Jaxom’s stepbrother (who was mentioned in the last chapter as a person coming south with a good recommendation, but I didn’t think would become important) to stand guard over Sharra, as well as instruct his own fire-lizards in what to do with Sharra’s. Satisfied that Sharra won’t be going anywhere, and thinking he needs to accelerate the plan to be fully confirmed as a Lord Holder, Toric goes to bed.

The next day, Toric goes over to get Jaxom away from Sharra. And now we get to see what happened with Lessa…

“Holder Toric,” the boy said casually, over his shoulder.
“Lord Jaxom,” Toric replied in a drawl that made an insult of a title.
Jaxom turned slowly. “Sharra tells me you do not favor an alliance with Ruatha.”
Toric smiled broadly. This was going to be entertaining. “No, lordling, I do not! She can do better than a table-sized Hold in the North!” He caught the Harper’s surprised look.
Suddenly Lessa, a hint of steel in her eyes, appeared beside Jaxom. “What did I hear, Toric?”
“Holder Toric has other plans for Sharra,” the boy said, more amused than aggrieved. “She can do better, it seems, than a table-sized Hold like Ruatha!”
Toric would have given much to know who exactly had repeated his words to Sharra. “I mean no offense to Ruatha,” he said, catching the flicker of anger in Lessa’s face though her smile remained in place.
“That would be most unwise, considering my pride in my Bloodline and in the present Holder of that title,” the Weyrwoman said.
Toric did not the casual time of her voice.

Wait, hold on. Toric is mad at whomever told Sharra, because somehow that got relayed to Jaxom? When he just insulted Jaxom in front of a Harper (intentionally) and in front of Lessa (unintentionally)? Also, even though he’s small and white, Ruth exists and could be used to make Toric’s life a merry hell. Or bring down dragons who would help with that.

Resuming this uncomfortable situation…

“Surely you might reconsider the matter, Toric,” Robinton said, as affable as ever despite the warning in his eyes. “Such an alliance, so much desired by two young people, would have considerable advantages, I think, aligning yourself with one of the most prestigious Holds on Pern.”
“And be in favor with Benden,” Lessa added, smiling too sweetly.
Toric absently rubbed the back of his neck, trying to keep his smile in place. He felt unaccountably light-headed. The next thing he knew, Lessa had put her arm through his and was escorting him to the privacy of her mound.
“I thought we were here to dig up Pern’s glorious past,” he said, managing a good-natured laugh. His head still swam.
“There’s surely no time like the present,” Lessa continued, “to discuss the future. Your future.”

Ah, there’s that Sith Lord Lessa that I’ve missed for so long, giving Toric a mind-whammy to soften him up so that he can be given everything he has, but not the actual continent itself. Toric talks about what he’s claimed, but, as we know, the meeting is to keep him occupied while Jaxom rescues Sharra. At which point Toric basically loses it.

Toric felt his composure leave him. “You! He thrust his arm out at Jaxom, wanting to do many things at once, especially swat down that — that — impudent excresence. He was livid with the indignation of being under obligation to that — that lordling! That leggy, undeveloped boy! He wanted to rend Jaxom limb from body, but little though the white dragon might be, he was bigger than Toric, stronger than any man, and both dam and sire were not far away. There was nothing Toric could do but swallow his humiliation.

And the rest of this chapter plays out as it did in The White Dragon, with Jaxom getting blessing to marry Sharra and Toric headed back to discuss the size of his actual Hold.

How nice for Toric to finally notice how outgunned he was when things finally blew up in his face with Jaxom and Sharra.

Hooray, we’ve finally made it to the end of the last book in this timeline we left. That means we only have a few chapters left and we will actually start moving forward again from this point. It’s time for some new content! I’m so excited.

The Renegades of Pern: Still Treading Water

Last time, we skipped ahead in time, with more of Piemur attempting to explore the South, and finally getting to go range away from Toric. Where he met Aramina and Jayge and their tiny tot Readis in the ashen remains of Paradise River Hold. I’m loath to believe that a continent change is enough to dissuade Thella from pursuing them both out of revenge, but there’s plenty of places to hide in the South, so maybe that’s it.

The Renegades of Pern: Chapter XI: Content Notes: Sexism

(Present Pass, 15.08.28 – 15.10.15)

The chapter starts with Saneter desperately wishing Piemur was there, as T’kul and B’zon have gone off (to their deaths, if I recall correctly), the other dragons are making a racket and there isn’t a fire-lizard to be found anywhere. Which puts Toric in full panic mode, because something is happening that Benden probably needs to know about and there’s no way of contacting them fast enough for it to be relevant. They both then hear the cries of dragons at the death of one of their own, and Toric rushes out to find out what happened. He’s intercepted by D’ram, who is the new Weyrleader of Southern, relaying the news that we have already heard about how Salth overexerted himself in the mating flight, so basically the time of the old guard has come to a close, all hail Benden who controls all and sees all.

Toric is very pleased with this development, although he hides it well enough to adopt a neutral tone about T’kul’s death. The narrative then lets us contrast his quiet ambition with Mardra’s loud and public grief, which disgusts Toric because he’s heard more than enough of Mardra and T’kul fighting. Toric heads back to Southern, musing on how much he needs Piemur.

Speaking of, we switch scenes to Piemur, Jaxom, and Sharra (and Ruth and fire-lizards), at the cove where Menolly and Robinton washed ashore, delivering the news of T’kul’s death and Robinton’s heart attack.

“That arrogant, addlepated, insufferably egotistical, altruistic know-it-all!” Piemur shouted, springing to his feet. “He thinks Pern won’t manage without his meddling, without him knowing everything that happens in every Hold and Hall on the entire planet, North and South! He won’t eat properly, he doesn’t rest enough, and he won’t let us help him even though we could probably do the same job even better than he can because we have more sense in our left toenails than he does.” He knew that Sharra and Jaxom were staring at him, but he could not stop. “He’s wasteful of his strength, he never listens to anyone, even when we try to get him to see sense, and he’s got this wild idea that only he, the Masterharper of Pern, had any idea of the destiny of Weyr, Hold, and Hall. Well, this serves him right. Maybe now he’ll listen. Maybe now…”

It’s nice to know how much you care, Piemur, but I’m quoting you mostly for truth, because that really is what Robinton has been doing this whole time. And getting away with it, because it’s nice to have a direct line to the author and the author’s designated avatars. Piemur learns of this from the information about how the dragons kept Robinton alive. He decides Sebell doesn’t need to know about Jayge and Aramina at Paradise River Hold for now.

Piemur also has an opinion about the relationship between Jaxom and Sharra.

Piemur knew that, but he just did not like the idea of Sharra and Jaxom together. Perhaps Toric saw it another way. An alliance with the Ruathan Bloodline, and a kinship with the Benden Weyrwoman, Lessa, might prove invaluable to him.
[…Farli gives Piemur the missing piece of the queen egg puzzle, as the fire lizards all flock to Ruth forever…]
Piemur was unhappily sure of Jaxom’s feelings toward Sharra. And, knowing her as well as he did, he was dismally convinced the attraction was mutual. Either if neither of them knew it yet. Or maybe they did. But Piemur did not intend to make it easy for them. He would have to think of distractions.

And what might your reasons be for wanting them not to get together, Piemur? As you have noted, the alliance of bloodlines might be good, and would certainly help bring Toric further into a solid legitimacy argument for Southern. If that’s what you’re working for, then Sharra and Jaxom are a good match. But I suspect Piemur still thinks he has a chance for her. Bad Piemur.

Jaxom’s recovery is a useful excuse for delay, and so Piemur makes himself useful by helping create maps of his notes, detailing his system for measurement and observation, and telling stories.

“Those big spotted felines, by the way,” he told Sharra, “are not local to Southern. I saw them all along my way.” He tapped his elongated map. “Farli always warned me soon enough to avoid a direct encounter, and I’ve also seen some huge canines no cook would ever want to use as a spit turner.”

So we have very large dogs or wolves along with the cats that have no reason to be here? What exactly were these colonists thinking, bringing the large animals with no reason for being there? They had the opportunity to tailor their ecosystem to their liking. And yet, they seem to have brought and released things that are lethal.

As things go, Piemur’s distractions go on long enough for the arrival of people to build Robinton’s retirement home, which allows him to melt away into the thicket. He still wants to tell Sebell about Paradise River, but since he doesn’t know where Sebell is, he’s not going to exhaust Farli trying to find him. So Piemur sends back maps to Toric and others, and bides his time until things are complete, and takes the tour with Sharra, marveling at the craft on display, until the point in time where Robinton summoms him.

Since we’ve actually already seen that, the scene shifts away back to Toric, who is gathering allies for a meeting with D’ram, Sebell, and N’ton. Toric is suspicious of D’ram poking into his business at the Hold. The meeting group are talking about the reestablishment of Southern, and say they want to have the dragons fly and hunt the wild game, so they won’t be needing as much tithe – and they brought their own staff with them, so the ones currently attached to the Weyr can return to the Hold. Toric wonders what dragons will be able to see on hunting flights, which could spoil his plans. But also,

He could appreciate D’ram not wanting those slatternly drudges about a freshened Weyr. He did not want them about Southern, either. But there was an easy solution for that.

Okay, so slatternly has two definitions: “untidy and dirty through habitual neglect” or “of, relating to, or characteristic of a slut or prostitute”. While it’s entirely possible that Toric means the first, I suspect the second is what is meant, because Pern rarely passes up the opportunity to demean women, especially sexually. Toric’s solution, while unstated, isn’t going to be good for the drudges, who are already treated horribly.

There’s also a gift from Fandarel, a telescope (sorry, “distance-viewer”) that comes along with some casual commentary about wanting to open up regular trade with the North and that the mines Toric is operating could be the sites of ancient mining as well.

No, it was not compensation he was getting, Toric reflected. No matter how smoothly their ideas were presented, his full cooperation was expected. Those bloody [time-skipped] and that wretched queen egg had done him more damage than he had supposed! But he could make certain not to lose so much as a fingerlength of land he already held, or the riches above and below the soil. He also knew the place N’ton must have seen. Sharra had reported it to him the previous Turn. He had marked the huge lake and the three rivers that flows from it on his private map. He must be very careful. He must seem to cooperate while sending reliable men and women to hold what ought to be his.

Which will be quite difficult to do, Toric, against dragonriders. They’re bigger, stronger, and much more likely to cause discord among the people. They also have the Harpers supporting them. So you are still basically trusting that you can hide your work from them, now that they are quite literally in your backyard and looking for land of their own. Good luck with that, Toric.

Realizing he’s over a barrel, Toric does his best to be friendly to his visitors, and we cut back to Robinton, convening a meeting of himself, Jaxom, Sharra, Piemur, and Menolly. Robinton is ready to find more evidence of the Ancients, with a fairly detailed plan of how to do it. Piemur feeds him useful places to go looking, but keeps Paradise River from him for later. Just before their party sets out to find more things to show Robinton, Wansor and Oldive arrive. Oldive pronounces Jaxom fit for travel and lectures them on keeping Robinton alive. Wansor brings a bigger telescope with him, which they point at the Dawn Sisters and discover that they are the spaceships that brought the Ancients to the planet. Piemur is incredibly happy at this discovery, and the chapter ends with no real progress or novelty again.

Looking at b-roll is fun and all, but I still have yet to figure out what Toric’s purpose or conflict is, other than that he’s been smuggling and expanding, which isn’t illegal unless the dragonriders say it is. Thella’s been removed from the narrative, and so there’s no driving action that I can figure out for this chapter. We really need to be moving forward, because the book is about to be done.

The Renegades of Pern: Yet Another Time Skip

Last chapter, Jayge first tried to warn Benden Hold and Weyr about Thella, then rescued Aramina from Thella with the help of Readis. The two of them are planning on sneaking down to Southern so that Aramina can have much fewer dragons to listen to so that she’s not ultimately traumatized every time she hears communication. In a normal story, this would mean it’s time for a tense chase sequence…

The Renegades of Pern: Chapter Ten: Content Notes: None

(Southern Continent, Present Pass 15.05.22-15.08.03)

…but instead, we have a time jump of two entire Turns and so there’s no resolution to this problem, excepting, perhaps, as an aside somewhere.

And we’re on Southern, no less, so we’re back with Piemur and Toric. Toric is hiding the map of the settlements under a cover, which amuses Piemur, before the subject of why all the dragonriders, except Mardra, have gone away from the Weyr becomes the topic of discussion. Toric doesn’t like how things are going.

“My first loyalty is to my Craftmaster,” Piemur replied, holding Toric’s gaze. So far Piemur had managed to retain his first allegiance, warped a trifle, but unsullied.
“Understood.” Toric flicked his fingers in acceptance of Piemur’s response. “But my first loyalty is not to those — those sisters’ mothers.”
“Understood.” Piemur grinned at the description of the [time-skipped], though the incestuous implications drew a gargled protest from Saneter.
[…reassurance of Toric…]
“What could they be up to?” There were not that many [time-skipped] to be effective at anything: both men and dragons were old, tired, and more pathetic than dangerous. Except T’kul – lately no hold woman was safe from that womanizer.

I wonder what things Piemur has done that he considers his loyalties bent in such a way, but still intact. And while Toric thinks of it as a joke, the exile of the dragonriders to the South basically ensures the genetic isolation of the dragons, too. Unless they go off to try and participate in other mating flights, which Benden does allow them to do. Toric, for his part, swears in front of the two Harpers that he has no knowledge of what the dragonriders are up to, with Piemur and Saneter witnessing this oath and suggesting that Toric send word to Benden about the strange activity of the nearby Weyr. A few days later, both Mnementh and Ramoth arrive and sweep the Weyr, looking for the egg stolen from Benden, although nobody on the South knows this yet. Fortunately, N’ton arrives soon afterward with the news, and everyone at Southern Weyr is on eggshells, just for a few hours, until N’ton’s fire-lizard delivers news of the egg’s return and Lessa’s complete indignation. And that Robinton’s counsel was ignored and he was sent away until everyone cooled down. Toric and Piemur spend a lot of time realizing just how close to utter annihilation the South came, had the North decided to extract a scorched-earth revenge against them, and then Toric turns to the question of whether or not the Northern dragonriders would have noticed all the work Toric has done to build the South up into a powerhouse. Piemur assures him that there’s no reason to believe the North was looking for that, and that things are well-camouflaged from the air.

“What they don’t know won’t hurt them. I’d bide my time, Toric.”
“You’re with me, then?”
“If today didn’t prove that, I don’t know what will,” Piemur said, cocking his head to one side. He liked Toric, admired him, but he did not entirely trust him. Which was fair. Toric did not completely trust Piemur, especially not too often in Sharra’s company. Piemur had noticed how Toric tried to keep them apart; the Holder had just given Sharra her long-sought permission to go on an adventurous trip south, beyond Hamian’s mines. “So, if we’re back to normal tomorrow, I’d like to see what’s beyond that headland east of Island River. Maybe even get as far as the cove that Menolly found when they were storm-lost.” He noticed the alertness in Toric’s eyes. The holder had not liked that inadvertent excursion; he had always been suspicious of just how far Menolly and the Masterharper had gone, though he could never deny that they had been storm-driven, and that only Menolly’s sea skills had kept the small boat afloat. “A dragon can’t go between to a place he’s never seen,” Piemur reminded the Southerner. “Likewise, a man can’t hold what he hasn’t beheld! How about it, Toric?”

That is a textbook non-answer, Piemur, and confirms to me that you are still playing a double game with Toric. And that Toric still thinks he has the ability to choose who Sharra will be paired off with. And also, Piemur, that your interest in Sharra is still far too obvious for everyone’s liking.

That, and we are still retreading time periods that have been covered in other books, just from new perspectives. Which isn’t wrong, necessarily, but doesn’t produce a lot more of new timeline stuff. At the very least, stick with Thella and the action, until Toric’s plan comes to fruition.

Anyway, the next paragraph has Piemur hacking through the underbrush and discovering a house on a coast that’s not supposed to be there and way too big for anything that Toric would have let get built. Plus, colored fish nets. And canines that start barking to alert the house residents to their visitor.

Those residents turn out to be Aramina, Jayge, and their toddler child, shipwrecked on a run from Keroon Beasthold, trying to deliver beasts from Rampesi to Toric. Aramina is sure that they were dragged to the shore by shipfish (dolphins), a story that Piemur confirms and reinforces with Rampesi’s accounts of shipfish rescues. Aramina and Jayge are the survivors of both the shipwreck that had Aramina the only person without a broken bone and the fire-head fever that followed that claimed the rest of their ship party. And then all the survival parts that come from being on a new continent with new diseases and plants and critters. Piemur is impressed with the settlement, and Aramina and Jayge mention they found the place rather than building it, which makes Piemur’s eyes pop because he knows full well there shouldn’t be anything here. So, instead, he gives advice for them to hold what they have and we get treated to descriptions of just how weird a place this is, with sand that just washes off, insulated walls, strange containers and nails, and the nets. And also,

“I’ll have to introduce you to the dogs tomorrow,” Ara said. “We have them against snakes and big spotted cats.”
“You have them here, too?” Piemur asked eagerly. Sharra had thought those cats a local sport – she would be interested to know that they inhabited other parts of the Southern Continent.

And the predator cats survived yet again. And yet managed not, as an invasive species, to completely destroy the ecosystem.

Also, there’s also a thing about how much space there is compared to the number of people.

“More than we need right now,” Ara said, swatting at Jayge affectionately when he winked at Piemur. Though her figure was not yet distorted, the harper had suspected she might be pregnant again. There was a luminous quality to her eyes and face that Sharra had told him often enhanced the beauty of a gravid woman.

Pregnancy glow is a thing, apparently, even here. I do find it interesting that it’s Sharra, who has Healer training, that can recognize this. And that Piemur actually paid attention enough to this to recall it later.

Anyway, there are drinks, and conversation, and people both realizing that they’re not telling the whole truth to each other, but not really doing a whole lot of anything to fix that. Piemur is ready to get into the records and learn as much as he can about the original settlement on the South, since more and more of it is being unearthed by accident, but he stays the night with Aramina, Jayge, and tiny Readis.

He is rewarded by getting the tour with them, where we learn that this is the remains of Paradise River settlement, and that there are some artifacts that survive even to the current now. Plastics, after all, do not biodegrade easily, and don’t let Thread through.

As Piemur turned it in his hand, its texture, despite the stains of age, was somehow soapy. The leaves fell open to clever illustrations so humorous that he smiled; he glanced at the words beneath them – short sentences all, and the letters, while recognizable, were absurdly big and bold. Master Arnor would never have let Harper Hall apprentices waste so much space; he taught them to write in small but legible letters, so that more could be crammed onto each page of hide.
“Clearly a youngster’s book,” he agreed. “But no teaching song I’ve ever read.”

The other materials are maths books with equations, and a nice plastic box to put them all in.

This is also another one of those situations where Pern is incredibly weird. Two thousand years of linguistic drift and yet the written language is recognizable? Goodness, no. Not for any script that I know of. But then again, the Harpers are charged with trying to keep the language static. (And we see how well they’ve done that.) And have a monoculture, perhaps, since all the people talked about in the origin stories seemed to have washed away into people who are tanned by the sun and those who aren’t. Even so, things should still be moving and changing.

Piemur stays longer, having Farli map the place out mentally while he does the same on paper, and then giving Jayge and Aramina training on how to handle the fair of fire-lizards they’ve Impressed. Until a message arrives from Sharra telling him that Jaxom is ill with firehead at Robinton’s cove. Piemur heads off, leaving the happy couple behind.

Thus ends this chapter, and if this is supposed to be the resolution to Thella, then someone has disappointed their readers horribly. Yes, babies ever after is the way things go for many of these stories, but Thella hanging in the balance is a big narrative problem. Since it took until Rescue Run to get the final resolution for Stev Kimmer, we can only hope that Thella will be faster in their plans to get captured or get Jayge and Aramina.

And that we will get to a spot that hasn’t been covered by a different book some time soon. Forserious.

The Renegades of Pern: Capture and Release

Last time, we dealt with a chapter that existed solely to move Jayge to Benden.

The Renegades of Pern: Chapter Nine: Content Notes: Honor Before Reason, Family Before Justice, Torture, PTSD

(Benden Hold and Weyr, Present Pass 13)

We stick with Jayge through the new Turn, who is now on his way away from delivering the horse, regretting not asking the name of the beautiful black-haired girl that had taken the horse. He’s having erotic dreams about her, but not the kind that are embarrassing. He figures that he’ll get another chance soon enough, before spotting a campfire and going to full alert, worried about Thella. His suspicion turns out to be correct, but Thella and her associate(s) have gone on before Jayge can get anything useful. Seeing some dragons, Jayge reminisces a bit before getting up to some assumptions:

Then it occurred to him to wonder why the dragons, known to be long-sighted, had not reacted to his presence, sprawled there as he was across the rock face. They had not seemed to be alert at all. True, he had not moved, but surely Thella and her companions were on the move! Were the dragons even watching out for her? Clearly not. Those dragonriders were so secure in their bloody Weyr, they did not bother to keep sentries, he thought in disgust. And what was to keep Thella from brazening her way right into the Weyr and making off with Aramina?

Well, normally it would be the social structure that makes dragonriders into reified demigods, but Thella has already shown more than enough signs that she considers the social structure to be in need of change, at least so that nobody can oppose her effectively. More practically, one notes that large organic death-dealers are often effective deterrents against smaller, more fragile attackers. Assuming that the dragons even needed to be called out to the fray.

As Jayge gets closer to the actual Weyr, he finds there are actually sentries posted, but he has to get into the tunnel that leads to the Weyr before any of them appear. They are unimpressed with his story of danger from Thella at first, but they do recognize the portrait of Readis.

“This guy was here yesterday. Kin of yours?”
Jayge was paralyzed for a moment with shock. “He’s in Benden?”
“Why should he be? He only wanted to deliver a packet of letters to Aramina, and she’s in Benden Hold.”
“And you told him that? You smokeless weyrling, you consummate dimwit.” Jayge was primed to elaborate on all the antecedents of all six guards when the oldest man suddenly held his spearpoint right against Jayge’s throat.
“State your business.” The spearman pricked the sharp point encouragingly.

Jayge, have you forgotten that you’ve been trying to keep Readis out of this to at least a small degree? So not everyone knows that Readis is aligned with Thella, and thus a danger. Which means maybe you want to tamp down on insulting everyone around you for not knowing what you know?

The second time around with the guards is more convincing, and Jayge gets sent in to talk to Lessa about Thella. The runner doesn’t like the tunnels, and Jayge hears sounds that remind him way too much of the avalanche that he had to deal with. In other words, Jayge, like so many other protagonists in these stories, has untreated PTSD about this incident and no counselor to talk to about it.

Jayge gawks at Benden Weyr before getting shown in, and as is consistent with everyone else, meeting Lessa is getting whammied with her Sith power.

As Benden Weyr was an amazement to Jayge, Lessa was only slightly less of a surprise. He could feel the force of her personality as strongly as he had felt Thella’s, but there all resemblance ended. Despite her slight stature, Lessa carried herself with authority, gracious but firm. She was more courteous to a trader than he had expected, and she had listened with such interest that he found himself telling her the whole story, from his first encounter with Thella and Giron, to that dawn’s surveillance, and his fears, assumptions, and anxieties – with one exception. He made no mention of Readis.


Cocowhat by depizan

Not that this is somehow incredible or unbelievable, but Jayge, you just lit into the outside guards about how Readis is dangerous and needs to be stopped, and now you’re in front of Lessa and you’re not telling her about him.

Lessa frowned just slightly, then leaned in toward Jayge, putting her small hand on his arm, strong fingers pressing in reassurance. “I do understand your concern. And I would prefer to have Aramina right here in Benden until she Impresses but … the girl does hear dragons.” She sighed extravagantly, then tilted her head slightly and smiled at him. Suddenly Jayge knew why so many people respected, even worshipped her, and he found herself smiling back at her, half-embarrassed by his reaction. “The conversations were driving her crazy.”
“Not as crazy as Thella could,” Jayge heard himself saying.

The conversation shifts to the Renegades, and much to Jayge’s surprise, Lessa has very recent sketches of Thella, some other man, and Readis. Jayge still has an irrational desire to try and save his uncle from Thella, and still has a willingness to see the similarities between Lessa and Thella. Lessa assures Jayge that Aramina is safe and sends him off to the kitchens to get food to go. Jayge has a petrifying encounter with Ramoth, who is much bigger than expected, but otherwise curls up for a nap, before getting his food.

And then heads back to Benden Hold so that he can stay close to Aramina and warn her about Readis. When he gets there he finds that Aramina is gone out to deal with an animal.

“You let her leave the Hold? Shards, man, you’re as mad as they are up at the Weyr! You don’t know what Thella and Dushik are like! You’ve no idea what they’re like! They mean to kill the girl!”
“Now, see here, lad, leave go of me. And I don’t take that kind of language from anyone.” Master Conwy pulled Jayge’s hands from his shirt. “You’re tired, lad; you’re not thinking straight. She’s safe. Now you come with me, have a bath and something to eat. She’ll be back shortly. Won’t take more than a few hours.”

During the bath, Jayge realizes the black-haired girl is really Aramina, and is a bit embarrassed at the erotic dreams he’s been having of her. He doesn’t have long to dwell on this, though, as Master Conwy appears at his bath to haul him out and apologize for not heeding his warning. Aramina has been kidnapped and everyone is looking for her.

Lord Raid apparently is skeptical of Jayge at first, despite Master Conwy vouching for him, telling Jayge to sit down even as he’s repeating what Conwy had already said. He effectually comes around to understand what Jayge was trying to say.

“What exactly did you mean by your remarks, young man?”
Jayge blinked to clear his eyes and tried to remember what he had last said. “I mean that if Aramina isn’t conscious, she can’t hear dragons. And if she can’t see where she is, how can she be rescued by them?”
“And how do you arrive at these conclusions?”
“Thella knows she hears dragons.” Jayge shrugged. “It stands to reason a clever woman like Thella would make certain Aramina had nothing to tell the dragons.”
“Exactly,” a cold voice said. Lessa was pushing through the knot of men around Jayge. “I apologize, Jayge Lilcamp. I didn’t heed your warning closely enough.”

This is interesting. Jayge is allowed to be right and the person who understands Thella better than the Lords and the dragonriders. This is momentous, in that one of the merchant classes is getting an apology from both of the aristocratic classes. In previous books, I think it would have been more likely for the attempt at kidnapping to have been laughable, Thella caught, and everything to have been resolved neatly. Instead, we now have Moriarty-Thella to the Holmes-Lessa, and I hope the game stays afoot in a good way.

Jayge’s conclusions about how to nullify Aramina’s abilities are borne out, as Aramina, when she contacts Heth, cannot see anything and is in a small space. Jayge and the search team he is part of are cheered by the news, but not much.

The act of kidnapping Aramina is the Moral Event Horizon for Jayge regarding Readis.

Bloodkin be damned, Jayge thought to himself as he tried to sleep – he was going to kill Readis, as well as Thella and Dushik, with his bare hands.

Because once the person you lust after is involved, all bets are off. That, too, seems to be a rule of Pern.

Also, standard complaint that the word dammed wouldn’t necessarily survive without the concept of hell and heaven and a judging deity, all of which Pern officially lacks. Although, being lost between might do as an appropriate substitute for damnation among dragonriders.

As it is, a rockslide in the third day of search hurts to of the people in his party. Because he knows it’s one of Thella’s modus operandi, Jayge stays to investigate while the others retreat to treat the injured. Even then, Readis is so able to surprise him and pin him so that he can’t shout for help.

“Always said you had the brains in the family, Jayge,” Readis whispered in his ear. “Don’t struggle. Dushik’s watching somewhere nearby. We have to get down behind him, go on from the other side, and get her out of that pit before the snakes eat her alive. That’s your aim, isn’t it? Nod your head.”
[…Jayge asks why Readis is involved in this plot. He denies it. Jayge is skeptical…]
“Thella has a way of making things seem rational. But throwing a young girl down a snake pit is not rational. Not rational at all. I think Thella went raving mad when the dragonriders attacked the hold. You should have heard her laughing all the way up that tunnel she made the drudges cut. I don’t think you’ll believe me, but I tried to stop her loosing that avalanche. Then I was stuck, trying to save Giron. He’s dead, by the way. She nicked his throat that first night.” Readis shuddered. “I’ll show you where the girl is, and I’ll help you get her out. Then I’m disappearing, and you bask in the glory of your heroic efforts.”
Jayge believed his uncle; believed the desperation behind the scoffing words. “Let’s get her out, then.”

I have to say, there has been some clear leveling up of the storytelling here compared to previous volumes. Thella is still Always Chaotic Evil, but she’s Competent Chaotic Evil. Readis seems okay with going along with a lot of things, but then helps Jayge out, so we’re not sure whether he’s a good person, a bad person, or just in it for himself. Jayge, a trader, might actually get to be the hero of the story, instead of a Lord, a Crafter, or a dragonrider. This is by far the best storyline of Pern I’ve seen in terms of just telling a good story. There’s a lot more missed about his this story could function in the greater world, but it’s still managing the plot and the action well.

Also, maybe I’m reading a bit too far into this, but I get the feeling that this seeming throwaway line from Readis about Thella’s ability to convince others of things should ping Jayge’s willingness to compare Lessa and Thella, and then ping back all the way to where Lessa was openly demonstrating her Sith powers, one of which was persuasion. It’s really too bad that idea wasn’t explored more in the earlier books, so that it could be put to maximum use here.

Finally, I don’t think Thella is crazy. I think she’s behaving in a consistently sociopathic and revenge-oriented way, so throwing Aramina down to the pit in spite so that nobody could have her and to begin the requisite psychological torture that would make Aramina more pliable and less willing to leave sounds entirely rational to me. Horrible, but rational.

Jayge and Readis manage to sneak the long way around Dushik and get to Aramina’s pit. Lowering a rope with a glow basket attached, the two manage to haul Aramina up out of the pit. As Jayge is trying to get Aramina away from the pit, a “black shape” attacks Readis and the two of them go hurtling into the pit, screaming all the way. After a little while, some of the depth of Thella’s anger reveals itself.

He turned to her to tell her to take the glow and go first. It was only then that he realized that she was not just slimy – she was naked. Her shivering was more from the cold than from reaction or stress, and she would tear the skin from her bones crawling up that tunnel. He stripped off his jacket and thrust her arms into it. It covered her to the hips. Then he pulled off his shirt and tore it into strips to wrap around her knees and feet.

Perhaps this is my cynicism showing through, but I’m somewhat surprised Jayge didn’t take a moment to ogle Aramina. Maturity in other writing, too!

In any case, as Jayge is trying to get Aramina out, Aramina is having a traumatic breakdown – she stood on the Hatching Ground, but no dragon came to her, the two strong men who came with her were effortlessly killed when she was kidnapped, and it’s all over her ability to hear and call dragons. Jayge wants her to, so that they can catch a ride, but Aramina is not having any of it – and nightmares, to boot. So that she doesn’t have to hear the dragons quite so loudly, or not as many of them, Aramina begs Jayge to take her to the Southern Continent. Of course, Thella, at least, is still alive, and is likely going to want to hunt Aramina until one or the other of them is dead. So it’s not going to be a cakewalk, but Jayge is definitely on board.

Well now, he might just do a bit of real trading and see if it solved Aramina’s problem. So long as he went, too. He had found her! He loved her! He would help her. The Weyrs and the Holds be damned. Hold and Weyr could not provide her with safety. He could and would!

And this is how the chapter ends, with Jayge very much overestimating his abilities to protect Aramina from Thella, who has repeatedly shown herself to be resourceful, crafty, good at disguise, and utterly intent on making sure that those who cross her are punished or killed.

Admittedly, I’m still not sure what the age difference between Jayge and Aramina is, but I’m also pretty sure that Aramina, from the last age marker we had in her, is of the age where most Pernese think she could be married off without incident. (She was, what, fourteen at last knowledge?) So there’s a big opportunity for way creepy behavior here that Jayge is still, remarkably, refraining from.

Since we’ve done something important with Thella, next chapter will definitely be all about Piemur and Toric.

The Renegades of Pern: A Transit Chapter

Last time, there’s a plot happening in Southern that nobody really knows yet, and Thella, Lady Holdless, evaded capture with her lieutenants despite the best attempts of the Lords and Benden to catch her by surprise. With one of her main strongholds captured, Thella is on the run without much for supplies or hiding places, until she can get the heat off of her and start to rebuild.

The Renegades of Pern: Chapter Eight: Content Notes: None

(Telgar to Keroon’s Beastmaster Hold, Present Pass 12)

The fallout from the failed raid opens the chapter – Jayge collects his pay and charges off into the wild, Perschar retires back to Nerat so as to paint less dangerous subjects, and Thella’s band find themselves still in the Hold they had, under the command of Eddik, making them no longer holdless and less likely to return to Thella. We then settle on Jayge as the lead for this segment, having decided on revenge against Thella and an attempt to save Readis from her as his course of action. Sticking close to Aramina is the long term plan, but for now, Jayge tries very hard to beat Thella to Igen. He failed. Brare, the one who served Thella chowder, is already dead, so Jayge sees if he can find the secret passage to Thella’s hiding place here. Nothing turns up, so he turns himself toward getting to Keroon by well-traveled means, fueling his journey with the thought of putting Thella in a pit that she can’t get out of and leaving her there to die, as she screams and begs to be released. At Keroon, he signs on to help move some animals to the Beastmaster Hold, while inquiring about Thella’s lieutenants. We finally get some connective tissue to the Toric story, as Jayge discovers here the regular shipments to Southern, and their unofficial nature. And then forges new shoes for his runner in a Smith’s forge, waiting to see if a contact of his comes through. It does, and so Jayge gets a mare to be delivered to Benden, some money, and an escort of other runner drivers going in the same direction.

Naturally, this means it’s time to switch back to Piemur and Toric. There has been some progress, maybe…

Piemur was back at Southern and had finally cornered Toric into fulfilling his promise to let him explore freely in the South. He had arrived armed with a polite request from Master Robinton, a request that, since it bore F’lar’s signet, was more of an indirect order.
“I’ve got my journeyman’s knot, I spent hours with Wansor, Terry, and that oaf of a Fortian, Benelek, so I’m qualified to keep Records that will be accurate as long as the Dawn Sisters remain in place. So you’ll know, my Lord Holder-”
“Don’t call me that,” Toric snapped, his eyes flashing so angrily that Piemur wondered if he’d overplayed his hand.

Why is Toric angry at being called a Lord Holder? It’s pretty clearly what he is, with more of a claim than many, although he hasn’t officially made the claim yet. (The next few lines past the quote are Piemur telling Toric what he needs to put together for when he makes that official claim.) Is it something like not wanting the title of the person he so forcefully rejected at the beginning? It is it that he doesn’t want to be in the same grouping as the sons that he’s taking on? With the way Toric is, I would have expected him to preen some at that address, not get pissed at it.
Also, Piemur has been getting progressively rougher around the edges than he was in Dragondrums. He had previously been characterized as clever, sometimes too clever for things, and very possessed of the wanderlust, and I still wonder whether he has an attraction to Sharra, but this Piemur is either working in the deep cover that requires almost becoming the mask, or someone took sandpaper to his characterization in this revisiting, that he’s so openly contemptuous of the others he just studied under.

Also, is this the first time anyone has mentioned that dragonriders have signet rings for their communications? Doesn’t that also posit the existence of wax and/or candles, which would make glow collection seem strange, unless there have been enough accidents that candles are used only for signatures, instead of for light and heat? Or ink of some sort, perhaps, for the rings to stamp a design on official documents?

A few of these things get answers in the next segment. Namely, Piemur definitely has a thing for Sharra, who has him rather firmly as a friend. That’s not important to Piemur, though, as he hopes that perhaps he can be useful enough to Toric to collect Sharra as a bride anyway. Piemur also has a dual purpose for exploration – both Toric and Robinton will benefit from his maps, and he knows that both Toric and the dragonriders will want as much of that land as possible. Piemur doesn’t care about the politics just as long as he can explore the place forever.

In any event, as long as Piemur got to set one foot in front of the other unto he ran out of land, he would let the disposition if it rest with others – such as the Masterharper and the Benden Weyrleaders. They deserved more of the South than Toric ever did. But then, Lessa had a habit of giving perfectly good Holds away.

Huh? If Piemur is talking about Ruatha, Lessa had no intention of giving it up, and it took Jaxom’s birth to take that away from her. If he’s talking about something else, I’m not sure we’ve seen it enough for it to become a habit attributed to Lessa.

In any case, the Southern segment finishes with Piemur getting permission to explore and then setting off with Stupid into the brush. Then we go over to Jayge, who has made the turn to go north to Benden, and really appreciates the mare he’s escorting. After a night in a farm, Jayge encounters a hunting party of kids going after wherries, who ends up escorting him the rest of the way to the Hold, where he delivers the mare and earns his delivery fee, as well as another endorsement for his warrant of character. The hospitality of the Hold is excellent, and Jayge receives a “blatant come-on” from a journeywoman, who then also contrives to give Jayge a good feel for her breasts during the serving of the soup. If it weren’t for the fact that Jayge spots someone much more interesting at the table, he might have been getting busy that night. The lady he spots is out of his league and destined for the Weyr, and as he finds out the next morning, is also the intended recipient of the horse he brought. She has him entirely tongue-tied, not that she knows how smitten he is with her. Despite the narrative being coy with her name, we have a big clue as to who she is.

“Ah, so you’d know burden beasts better.” For some reason the girl’s smile was tinged with wistfulness. “We had a yoke – I called them Nudge and Shove. They did a lot of it, but they never let us down.”

So, of course it’s Aramina, and she’s beautiful and destined for the Weyr, and possibly Thella’s designs. Jayge wants to stay, but has no excuse to do so. And that brings this chapter to a close.

The problem is, this chapter is filler. There’s no actual content here other than “Jayge takes a horse to Benden, and falls for Aramina. Piemur gets closer to being the Explorer of Pern.” This is the second filler chapter for the book, which is not a good sign – tightening it up would probably leave more room for Thella, who is the only plot worth following at this point.

The Renegades of Pern: Attempting The Plot Again

Last chapter, we spun our wheels a bit getting Piemur up toward the end of Dragondrums, and witnessed Thella raiding Jayge’s caravan, killing and destroying in their wake, only leaving when Readis falsely called a dragonrider in the vicinity.

If Thella finds out, based on her previous inclinations, Readis is dead. As, it seems, is the plot. Let’s see if this chapter fixes that.

The Renegades of Pern: Chapter Seven: Content Notes: Cavalier treatment of life

(Lemos, Southern, Telgar, Present Pass 12)

The plot sticks with Jayge, who is beginning to feel more solid as a possible protagonist, except that he basically keeps having to react to everything happening to him instead of being able to act in any sort of manner. The train captains for the caravan strike a deal for the winter to get everything repaired and replaced in exchange for helping finish expansions and being part of the patrols looking for Thella and her raiders. Jayge talks with a man that can split wood with a thrown axe, Swacky, about the sketches and the ambush, and both quickly come to the conclusion that the ambush was planned for the train, with the idea of crushing so the wagons and creating a total party kill. Had the wagon train been arranged as it had been before, the whole thing would have been a loss. Jayge swears revenge, but Swacky tells him no and that Thella should be turned over to justice…because the line is longer than Jayge about who gets revenge.

Also, worth mentioning is this exchange:

“How would Asgenar know what she’d steal?”
Lord Asgenar,” Swacky corrected, tapping him smartly on the knuckles, his expression severe. “Even in your own head, boy.”

We saw that same construction with Piemur back in Dragondrums, if I recall correctly. Possibly with Menolly before him. It’s an interesting repetition. Admittedly, since this entire book’s attempt at a concept is that the people who hold power over others can basically do whatever they want to those under them, including turning them out without cause or exploiting them into slavery, it makes sense to have it drilled into someone who has “betters” that they should always refer to them by those titles, even in their own minds. Which is why Thella encourages her renegades to break that idea in their own minds. And also might give context to the idea expressed in the past chapter about Lady Holders always being Lady Holders, because of that firm mental control. The foundations of Pern rest on that idea, of Lords and riders always being that way, even in the mind.

The rest of the conversation is about the mysteries of Thella and the attackers, and the way that any caves discovered will be sealed up to try and deny Thella hiding places and supplies. Then the narrative jumps to Toric, who is entirely incensed at the most recent crop of legitimate northerners arriving on his shores. Since these are Holder sons, of course, they have an entirely different attitude toward hard work and building themselves a home. Piemur manages to play to Toric’s sense of superiority and butter him up with the idea of treating the new sons no more special than anyone else, as a pseudo-revenge.

“Let ’em go. The smart ones’ll want to learn. The dumb ones’ll kill themselves off.”

And again, the cavalier attitude toward life on Pern manifests itself, this time through Piemur, who I would expect to have a very different point of view on the matter, considering how he was nearly killed himself by foul-tempered people at the Harper Hall. Coming from Toric, that line wouldn’t bat an eye, but from Piemur, it seems very off.

After this short and somewhat pointless interlude, it’s back to Asgenar, who came on with K’van, showing Larad that his sister is alive and the head of a raiding band, although they haven’t yet made the connection between Aramina and why Jayge’s wagon train got hit so hard. Seeing the information displayed before him, after some deciding, Larad decides to disown Thella and points out the most likely place she would be using as a base camp on his territory. K’van makes a suggestion that is sound, with an accompanying joke that would make no sense.

“Lord Larad, might it be a good idea to send one of your fire-lizards to see if anyone’s in that hold?” K’van asked. “I’m always taught not to assume anything.” He chuckled. “Ass–you–me!”

So tell me, how exactly does that joke work if you only have runnerbeasts, herdbeasts, dray beasts, and other such things? I’m sure there are plenty of asses on Pern, and that some of them are donkeys, but you have to have the name, and the connection that makes calling someone an ass a derogatory thing, before you can joke about how assume makes an ass of you and me. There has to be proof that the word hasn’t died off in two thousand rotations of linguistic drift and so forth. Worse, K’van makes another joke not too soon after which is linguistically and culturally perfect.

“Dragons make useful go-betweens,” K’van said in a droll voice. Asgenar stared at him for one second before he broke out in a peal of laughter. Even Larad, who was not quite as quick to see a pun, chuckled at last.

That is a joke I have no problem believing exists and persists on Pern, because of all the work done to set up the idea of between. it makes the earlier joke that much more frustrating to have to read.

Anyway, the fire lizards are dispatched and return with an affirmative of occupation, while Larad pulls up very detailed records and maps of that possible space to attack, so as to give Asgenar every advantage. The maps are clearly Ancient construction, because the ink didn’t fade from them and they’re permanent, unlike the paper Asgenar had been able to produce to this point. After saying that plotting needs to happen, the narrative skips to the arrival of the fighting force to catch Thella, who knock out the sentries and get inside with the troops, only to find that Thella, Dushik, and Giron have again evaded them, and worse, set off a deadfall to bury everyone inside. The dragons are making short work of the avalanche, the soldiers have captured everyone else, and we are introduced to Robinton’s inside man, Perschar. Once everyone is accounted for, Readis is also not among the captured, which disappoints Jayge. (He and Swackey were mentioned earlier as connective tissue, but otherwise not really important to the matter)

Having discovered the extent of the storage present in the Hold, the two lords, the Benden Weyrleader, and the Brown Rider Rapist agree that the best course of action is to leave the holdless bandits in this place for the winter, since they won’t be able to get out, with enough supplies to last through the snowmelt, and then return in the spring.

“I tell you what,” Asgenar went on. “Let’s leave them with enough to keep them going through the winter – what with the snowslide and all, I doubt they can get out, and I’m certainly not going to ask Benden dragons to give them the treat of their sordid lives. Let’s see who’s alive come spring.”
F’lar and F’nor found that solution amusing, as did the troopers, who tried to disguise their grins. At the last, a slight smile tugged at Larad’s mouth, and he began to regain his usual manner.

Because the thought of leaving people who might turn on each other to gain more share of the supplies left to not starve is apparently amusing. Then again, considering what all of those involved think of the holdless, we should probably be glad they’re not just hauling them out into an arena to fight each other for the chance at freedom.

Thus ends the chapter. I’m still not entirely sure what purpose Toric has at this point, since every time we see him, he’s just complaining about this or that it expanding his Hold or otherwise marking time while the rest of the book chases Thella. I’m sure it will become important soon enough, perhaps if Thella attempts to escape to the South, but otherwise, Toric is just taking up space.

Thella, on the other hand, has all the right makings of a heist movie, including the daring raids and the outsmarting the dumb heroes. If only her character had more care taken with it…

The Renegades of Pern: Almost Filler

Last chapter…things that we have already covered in the short story came to pass, just from Thella’s perspective. We have yet, really, to move into any part where another book hasn’t covered the action already. Maybe now we can go forward with things and resolve the question of the Renegades.

The Renegades of Pern: Chapter Six: Content Notes: Murder

(Southern Continent and Telgar, Present Pass 12)

Chapter breaks, of course, are perfect for cliffhangers, so it should surprise nobody that this chapter opens up with Toric and Mastermariner Rampesi discussing the low quality of the people coming to the south and their inability to avoid getting thrown into the water and require rescue. That, and the persistent rumor that anybody holdless that can make it to the south will be taken in by Toric and put to work. Rampesi also suggests Toric talk to Robinton to get above board on all of his deals done so far. Because Toric sees that Piemur is spending a lot of time with Sharra, which would mess up his plans. Toric asks Piemur to go back to the Harper Hall and talk to Robinton.

“Piemur, a word with you?”
“What have I done wrong?”

Does anyone else have a red flag raise in their head with this exchange? Because most people don’t respond to a request to talk with a question about what has already gone wrong unless most of their previous interactions say quite clearly that Toric only wants to talk when things have gone wrong. And with previous information about Toric’s tendency to abuse, Piemur’s jump to try and start fixing a problem may be to stave off Toric from getting too wound up at anyone.

The conversation is pleasant, with Toric laying out to Piemur the reasons why he should go back North and talk to Robinton about getting some of the interdiction eased, and suggesting that Piemur collect his next rank so that he can replace Saneter as the Southern Hold Harper, making a substitution nobody gets suspicious about and tying Piemur to Toric’s ambition even further. Piemur agrees to go, and the narrative blessedly just points out that Robinton’s journey south, already covered in another book, would have unforseen consequences.

The narrative then goes over to Jayge, who is having recriminations about how he treated Thella, with this interesting thought:

Lady Holders remained Lady Holders, just as traders remained traders.

Cocowhat by depizan

No, you see, the way the titles work is that they stay with the lands, not the people. Thella may think she’s still part of the peerage, and she might be able to trace her lineage to aristocrats, but Thella is quite literally Lady Holdless, the aristocrat without land. There shouldn’t be any reason for anyone to think of her retaining her essential Lady status, since she has no officially registered lands or marriage to someone who has them. If Jayge is talking about Thella’s attitude remaining superior and sneering to people she deems underneath her station, that construction becomes a lot more like “bitches, amirite?” Which would be totally in context for Pern!

Since Jayge’s train has to hole up near a Hold for Threadfall, they offer their people as ground crew, and instead see Lord Asgenar arrive for a meeting about the raiders. Jayge listens in and hears the complaints that if the raiders would just face someone in open battle, things would be great, and the general consensus among the major Lord Holders that the raids are the work of a single group, and that they need to report back when they see suspicious people and to lock up their Holds (not that it helps, says one of the vassals). For the more remote Holds, it’s suggested that if they run out a large colorful cloth onto their snow-covered ground, the dragonriders on patrol will stop by and investigate. After a couple days delay, the train rolls on, we hear that Aramina is in Benden’s care, and that some of the traders are looking to possibly profit some from trading with the interdicted South. A couple days after that, in exactly the right place for an ambush, the train gets hit by Thella’s raiders, including rockslides to tap the train, with several of both the train and the raiders dying in the ensuing sword, spear, and cookware fight. The raiders only leave after one of their own raises an alarm about a dragon in the sky.

The animal casualties are significant as well. Jayge is set to ride on to the nearest Hold to ask for assistance, and has a short and very angry conversation with Readis, his Bloodkin, and also one of Thella’s foot soldiers, about the raid. Readis put up the false alarm about the dragon one he realized who they were hitting, but that’s not going to do much in terms of getting forgiveness.

The Hold sends aid, even as they victim-blame Jayge, and his return to the train produces the sight of dragons helping the train get itself put back together. Searching the area for wounded raiders produces a cache of dead raiders instead, killed because they were wounded and Thella doesn’t leave people behind who could talk. What Jayge does find is a roll of paper with sketches of both Thella and her raiders and himself and the train, marked with an instruction to deliver the lot to Asgenar. Even though Readis just helped hurt them, Jayge removes his portrait from the sketches before giving it over to the Holder that came to help them out. Jayge doesn’t fully understand what this means, but he does deduce that it meant there were spies in Thella’s camp. Jayge is also willing to “bet a Bitran any odds that the raid had been punitive.” Which it was, but again, now that Bitra Hold has been mentioned as the place where the money is, they’ve also inherited the likelihood of being oddsmakers and gamblers, which was Joel’s purview at Landing, not Avril’s. This wouldn’t be so jarring if Bitra had already been established as this in several books before Dragonsdawn, when we finally learned who Bitra was and why there should be no Hold named after her at all.

Jayge tries to puzzle out why Thella went after him, since trying to wreck every train that went through would be ruinous for her, and they didn’t have valuable and easily pilferable goods for her. He doesn’t get any answers, and after several days, the train continues, leaving behind one wagon and twelve graves. And thus ends Chapter Six.

I…can’t see a plot reason for this chapter. We already knew about spies in Thella’s organization, about Piemur coming back northward and what happens there, and so we’re left with an ambush being used to leave paper behind and possibly show us that Thella is evil and willing to kill anyone that angers her… which we already know. There’s nothing in here that is essential, or that even looks like it might be one of Chekov’s Artifacts. So far, the story of Thella has been the only novel thing in the book, but we can’t seem to stick with her as the viewpoint character.

For a book that has been scrupulous about not involving dragonriders strongly in the plot (so far), the narrative has not been doing a great job of fleshing out the world that we haven’t seen. This chapter is not contributing, either. It’s not quite a filler book, but there’s so much more that could have been done with this idea.