Category Archives: Deconstruction: Pern

The Masterharper of Pern: On Assignment, Part Two

Last chapter, Raid fired Robinton and he took an assignment in Tillek, which also involved mediating a dispute with a solution that seems clever.

The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter XII: Content Notes: Ablism, sexism,

Robinton and Groghe arrive in Tillek and meet Lord Melongel, who Robinton takes a liking to, as he’s a bit of a polymath Holder who understands fishing, ships, lumber, forestry, and agriculture, while also being qualified to serve as a ship captain. Master Minnarden gives a warm welcome to Robinton, and asks if he can use his talent with helping people understand to get some of the slower students up to the same level as the others. He also wants Robinton to train the choral singers, train up some apprentices for drumming, and possibly compose a bit, too. Minnarden also believes very strongly in the return of Thread, although he’s apparently in the minority about whether it will come back. He tells Robinton to learn fishing, as well, and also gives Robinton a book to study.

“If you haven’t memorized the Charter, you’d better, and study some of the more common infractions.” Minnarden grinned. “That aspect of our jobs can be quite interesting at times…” He paused to sigh. “And at others, about as infuriating as dealing with the dumbest, most insubordinate, mentally deficient adolescent male.”

That’s some terribly ablist rhetoric of you, Minnarden. I think we’re supposed to believe him uncritically, having witnessed an incident that would be rather trying in the chapter before. To do so would also further accept the continuity change that insists the Charter has always been there and there are records of infractions and that the Harpers do a lot of the justice process as impartial arbitrators, even though it’s still firmly established that Lords are absolute in their domains. So I’ll guess that Lords can overrule Harper decisions, and based on last chapter, that perhaps members of the family or other higher-ranking holders act as reeves and bailiffs for Lordly justice that doesn’t rise high enough to warrant formal court. Which doesn’t make sense, not really, unless there’s a decree worldwide that Harper arbitration is binding and must be backed with the force of the Lord’s law, regardless of where they are. Which might make Fax’s exclusion decision make more sense, so that he is the only source of law and that nobody refers to a Charter that he would then have to enforce if they cited it. Fax doesn’t seem like the kind of person, though, that would respect the Charter, and then would make sure the objection never escaped his borders, like Chalkin attempted.

Still terribly ablist.

Robinton also meets Kasia, who has perpetual sadness in her eyes because she lost her lover to an accident right before they were to be espoused (married, but y’know, ostensibly nonreligious world). But Robinton crushes on her, because when she’s not terminally sad, she’s pretty and sparkly and merry.

And she also has an eidetic memory and a good voice, which I think is something Robinton is really interested in, given his own gifts.

Robinton is not the only person who wants to woo her, but he does at least have the sense to pause over her still being in grief. (Also because she’s older, but that’s not actually important.) He still sets out to cheer her up from her grief, however, so it’s not actually as many points as it could be.

Since she’s envious of his harp, Robinton contrives to have one made for her, asking the local Masterwoodsmith to keep him some good pieces and to do a little of the fancy carving work, while he tries (repeatedly) to carve the rest of the harp himself. This work is interrupted by things like fishing trips, where the narrative trips over itself by making Robinton express an opinion that I don’t think he would have:

The female sailors surprised Robinton. He was accustomed, being Harper-trained, to women having equal status as performers and composers,

Lying cat says retcon! (Rehash the problem of Menolly here.)

but it had never occurred to him that other Crafts had promoted women to positions of trust and responsibility.

Cocowhat by depizan

Did I not just mention, last chapter, that the Masterhealer, who has been a friend since childhood, is a woman? It should not be a stretch of the brain for Robinton to think of women being in positions of responsibility in other Crafts. Unless, of course, Robinton has internalized an idea that there are “men’s crafts” and “women’s crafts” and his surprise is not that there’s a woman doing Craft work, but that there are women doing Men’s Craft work.

Robinton also gets to meet shipfish, and discusses them with a surprisingly knowledge sailor, Gostol. Robinton deduces correctly that they sing, but Gostol dismisses it as just putting air through blowholes, as if that’s not singing because it doesn’t involve a larynx.

Gostol also says that the shipfish rescue sailors, lead them to good caches, and are generally considered good luck signs that get fed regularly from the fishers. (I smell a retcon. If I recall correctly, originally, the shipfish were considered unlucky to get in a net, and forbidden to hurt, but all the stories of them helping were considered unverified rumors, and so nobody really paid attention to them.)

On the trip, Robinton tries to cheer Kasia up as much as possible, and has a moment of “does she like me?” when she uses his nickname and leans into him some while there’s a docking test going on for another crewperson. And the two of them stroll after they disembark, occasionally brushing hands and laughing, and Robinton is pretty sure that they have a thing going on, such that

He didn’t think–he just caught her about the waist, pulled her to him and kissed her.
He hadn’t known he was going to before he did, and as she leaned into him, arms about his neck, he was thrilled that she didn’t reject him. It was the sweetest of kisses but far too short because, hearing steps coming down one of the halls, they broke apart.

Cue Robinton fantasizing about their espoused life together, from a single kiss he stole from her, without getting her consent, without asking, in the heat of the moment. To his perceptions, she seems to be responding well to his advances. What he needs is a sit-down and a come-to-Jesus type of meeting about consent, but this is Pern, so none will be forthcoming. And he does come back toward reality when he figures out that Kasia might not actually ascribe any deeper meaning to their kiss…and then starts to pendulum back and forth between “I’m not good enough for her” and “She’s totally into me” while he works on the harp, hoping to get it done in time for her birthing day celebration.

He does, but didn’t want to present it in public, so he gets another gift, tells her he has something he wants to give her in private, and then watches the other gifts come through, several of which are quite pretty and valuable. Eventually, there’s a quiet moment, and he presents the harp, and she’s stunned by all the work that goes into it. She also calls him Robie, which I had expected to be a nickname of mother and son, and that the name she would use would be Rob. Our perhaps Robinton.

Because this is Pern, and Robinton is a main character, and because he’s already been established as being tremendously sexy, even in his older age, of course Robinton has guessed right about her affections, and the two of them end up having sex (at least, that’s what the narrative implies to me) in the workshop where he presents her with the gift.

Kasia tells him that her sister, Juvana, approves of the matching. Her sister knows because Kasia has been talking about “Rob” nearly incessantly to her. Everyone seems to think it’s a good match for all of them, because Robinton is much more understanding and perceptive than her last lover was, and Kasia seems to be on board with the idea of traveling around the world with him. So they announce their betrothal, with the intent to espouse in the autumn. And Robinton is encouraged to send a message to his parents announcing the engagement as well. Kasia has picked up on the fact that Robinton doesn’t talk about his father, doesn’t mention him as father, and otherwise generally tries to avoid talking about his father, even though he has a lot to say about his mother on the regular. She also notes that everyone is singing Robinton’s songs, not Petiron’s.

Juvana has an interesting thing to say about how their relationship will proceed, though.

“I have already discussed this with Kasia and she will protect herself, which is her duty, until such time as you are settled enough to contemplate children.”
Robinton blushed. He and Kasia had not discussed the natural outcome of thir lovemaking, and he realized that he had been remiss in this regard.
Juvana went on. “I offer the suggestion that you should spend several years enjoying each other’s company, consolidating your new relationship, especially since neither of you need children to help in your professions.”

Juvana also goes on to give a blanket offer to foster any kids if it turns out that Robinton’s constantly moving nature makes it impossible for him to raise them, which is apparently an incredibly high honor to receive.

But I’m curious, again. When Juvana talks about Kasia protecting herself, what exactly is she talking about? Is it just not having sex with Robinton until they’re ready for children, or is there still some actual method of birth control that’s used and practiced on Pern? It would be fantastic if we could get a definitive answer one way or another. Augh.

Robinton is pretty overwhelmed that asking someone to espouse involves a lot of things that he’s not figured out were part of the deal. And then volunteers to go out on the long sweep of teaching so that he can get enough time to himself to compose a sonata for Kasia that’s threatening to stick in his head forever and ever unless he gets it out on paper.

While out on the tour, however, one of the cotholders has some terrible news for him coming out of the High Reaches.

“Once, twice, maybe, Harper,” Chochol said in his rough voice, pitched low so that not even the herdbeasts grazing nearby could hear what he said, “I would not worry. Anyone can come to a disagreement with his Holder. But there have been eight lots an they arrive scared of their shadows. Wounded, and the pretty ones have been badly handled.” He paused, indicating with a nod what he wouldn’t say about their condition. “Badly handled.” He emphasized the repetition with a second sharp nod. Then he pointed down the hillside, which was grassland with a few stunted trees. “Twice”–he held up two thick, work- callused fingers–“the women were sure that Lord Faroguy must be dead for such things to happen in High Reaches. Scared my spouse, that did. But we see anything coming up here and I tell her we’re in Tillek, holding with Lord Melongel, who’s a fair holder if ever there was one, and the time hasn’t come where one Lord’ll run over what another has owned since his Blood took Hold.”

We know, of course, that Fax will go on to do just that, breaking the social contract (and the actual Charter) in his quest to conquer and badly mismanage as much of the world as he can, but this is turning Fax into a retread of Chalkin, in terms of cruelty and brutality, if not rules-lawyering, and it looks like this Pass is going to let it happen again because of the autonomy rule. Which, if records were actually being preserved and kept, would point out that the Council of Lords has already once told a Lord to sod off (pound sand?) over Charter violations that were witnessed and reported to them. Including mistreatment of their holders and sexual violence. The author is asking us to watch the same story again and nobody has learned anything from the last time, which was in the last book, even if that book was theoretically several thousand years ago. After this report to him, Robinton is able to finish his Sonata for Kasia.

And she welcomes him back with open arms and there is talking and lovemaking in nearly equal quantity. Kasia tells him about how wonderful he is, over his own protests and worries that he’s essentially set himself up as the master negotiator based on good success on his first time around. I hear you there, Robinton. Expectations can be terrifying and follow you around all the days of your life.

Robinton makes his report to Melongel and talks about the reports he received from Chochol, which Melongel correlates with requests from holders for easement on tithes based on an unexpected number of dependents. Robinton speculates that Faroguy may be dead and nobody has been informed, which, if that is the case, is the first tactically sound move Fax has made all book – if nobody knows how is actually in charge, it gives Fax time to consolidate and expand his power. Melongel decides to provoke the issue by asking Faroguy to join them at Tillek’s next Gather, (which is the one where Robinton and Kasia will be espoused) and asks Robinton his opinion on Fax and whether Faroguy’s son, Farvene, would be able to keep Fax away from the levers of power. Their opinions are similar, and Melongel tells Robinton he wants him to sit in Court that morning with Minnarden and himself before dismissing him back to Kasia.

Robinton gripes about having to listen to the arguments and excuses and decide fines for infractions. Which seems to make the Harpers more bailiffs than arbitrators or mediators, although they theoretically derive their authority from the Charter and not the local Lord. That said, the local Lord is the person with the power to actually compel people, so it really does seem a lot more like the Harpers are not as independent as they say they are.

Robinton is also having doubts about his Sonata, and desperately would like to run a performance of it past someone with an ear to tell him if it will be any good, especially “the crescendo that was also an orgasm.” He is finally able to when his mother arrives, bearing a piece of work that Petiron wrote to be sung at the espousal. As before, it is a work entirely different than his usual oeuvre. Petiron is saying, perhaps, that he cares, in the way he can. Except he’s not there. It would be trivially easy for him to request time off for his son’s espousal, and yet, he’s not there. So he doesn’t necessarily care enough to stop work or travel.

Merelan reads the Sonata, plays it, and then gives Robinton a solid chiding when he says he hasn’t shown it to Kasia because he’s concerned it isn’t good enough. Merelan sends him away to do it immediately, which leads to an extended flashback of Robinton getting fitted for his wedding suit, where the tailor is trying to accentuate his body, but also jokes with Robinton about how he could not imagine Robinton showing off, not realizing that not showing off os Robinton’s survival mechanism for avoiding Petiron’s abuse and is showing up in all of his attempts to not gather fame and renown to himself because he still hasn’t resolved that part where drawing attention to himself brings negative consequences from his father.

The tailor convinces Robinton to buy more than just fine Gather clothing, but some shirts and pants as well, because they made his figure look good, even though Robinton is usually the sort of person to buy clothes off the rack for considerably cheaper. The long flashback done, Robinton copies out his Kasia songs for his mother to take back, and then realizes what time it is before landing in bed. Thus ends Chapter XII.

…it’s probably because I’ve been reading this series for too long that I cringe in anticipation of whatever tragedy is about to befall the couple at their wedding. We’ll find out next week.

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The Masterharper of Pern: Damage Control

Last chapter, Robinton was again warned away from trying to change Fax’s attitude toward education, and tragedies struck Benden Weyr in succession as an old Weyrwoman died and then the Benden Weyrleader and Lord Holder of Benden were killed in a dragon accident.

The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter XI: Content Notes:

The chapter opens with Robinton returning to Benden and checking in with Maizella. Lady Hayara has already taken a sleeping draught for her grief, and Maizella is about to do the same. Raid has taken charge, which Maizella thinks is too soon after the tragedy, and has requested Robinton drum out the news of the tragedy. And then Robinton has to man the tower all night to manage the replies and the messaging and the requests for dragon transport until someone can relieve him and he can get actual sleep.

That said, there is a really impressive response that organizes to bring food and help in the kitchens and provide people to talk to the family with. When F’lon wakes Robinton later, he lets him know that Fax tagged along (apparently grinning from ear to ear, despite the tragedy), that Gennell is asking for him, and that the other people of the family may not be all that happy with Raid taking charge. And that Robinton should bathe before dealing with any of this. Which he does, and then leaves F’lon to sleep while he goes out to do his duty.

Robinton reports in to a gathering of Masters (and it is only now that I fully notice Masterhealer Ginia is she, which suggests there’s another possible retcon going on there, although the Healer Hall has been much more all genders than the other halls, even in the past books), and there is some debate about who will lead Benden Weyr now as well as more skepticism about the return of Thread, before the Masters are summoned to a council meeting. Raid inherits Benden officially, and the Masters want to speak with any remaining bronze dragonriders, so they send Robinton to find them.

The riders are listening to Manora’s account that S’loner was having arm pains a lot (classic sign of cardiac issues in cis white men), and that Maidir wanted to go home, so S’loner used it as an excuse to get away. They report that back to the council.

Then we get to see Fax twirling his Snidely Whiplash mustache, as Robinton notices Lord Faroguy is clearly not well and Fax comments into Robinton’s ears about how he’s certain there will be another need for a council. While there are no specifics told, if I were Robinton, and especially because Robinton doesn’t like Fax, I’d tell Gennell about what I heard, just in case it becomes relevant and I need a witness or two to back my statement. But for now, Lord Faroguy is convinced to go see the Masterhealer, and Robinton is advised to make sure F’lon and Fax do not meet each other, lest tensions flare into more violence.

Robinton lets F’lon sleep and gets some of his own, before F’lon wakes him and then stalks back to Benden, having missed his opportunity to confront or whatever he planned to do. Robinton sees the Masters and gets sobering news that Faroguy has “a disease of the blood for which there is no cure for a man his age.” Which makes me wonder what it is, and if it’s Terran or Pern-native, and also, based on the way that Faroguy is described as wasting away, pings ever so faintly of HIV as the cause. Or that Faroguy has been poisoned in some manner. We’ll never know, as Robinton turns the discussion to Fax and his refusal to admit Harpers, with Gennell taking the information under advisement and telling Robinton to keep him informed.

And then Raid takes over Benden. And seems to be able to run it capably, if bluntly. Robinton tries to soften the edges where possible, until Raid calls him in to his office and fires him from being Hold Harper.

“I am Lord Holder and what I say is how things will be. I do not need you soothing down disgruntled holders or denigrating my efforts behind my back.
[…]
I hearby release you from your contract.” Raid tossed a pouch of marks across the table to Robinton. “I shall request a replacement from the MasterHarper. Without prejudice, of course, since you have discharged your duties with efficiency and energy.”
[…]
“You may drum that bronze rider friend of yours to convey you back. Give this”–he fielded a little roll of hide to join the pouch–“to Master Gennell. You do not suit me as Hold Harper.” Then he rose to his feet, to indicate the meeting was over.

Blunt, certainly, and probably perceived as very rude for not couching it or softening the blow, but also very direct, which can be a good thing in a leader.

Robinton heads up to the tower to request a dragon, and Hayon, after getting the truth, remarks that Robinton did quite a bit to soothe ruffled feathers, and that the rest of the family will miss him. F’lon arrives, gives Robinton a small amount of grief about getting canned, saying Robinton would be better employed elsewhere anyway, and takes him back. Gennell agrees with that assessment, essentially, and offers Robinton his pick of six locations to go next. Robinton picks Tillek, for the additional bonus of studying for his Mastery under someone who regularly attends court. Because “Applications of the Charter and the Precepts of Arbitration and Mediation, advanced aspects of the Harper Hall’s purview” is on his class list for Mastery.

This is the point where I crow ever so slightly and point out that there are lawyers on Pern, as I have always suspected. They’re Harpers, as I have also suspected. They just don’t do adversarial courts that much, and are instead arbitrators and mediators, because they are supposed to be impartial. So yes, the legal profession survived, it just got folded into Harper duties.

Accompanying Robinton to Tillek is Groghe, and the two are supposed to settle an issue over a broken fence between one of Grogellan’s herders and Melongel’s foresters. Both blame the other for not fixing the fence when a storm blew trees into the old stone fence and wrecked it. Robinton defuses the feud by saying both sides will build their side of the wall and provide mortar to make sure it sticks. When they both complain, Robinton says it will be interesting to see who can build their side first, tapping into their bickering and competitive nature. (This sounds like a folktale. Is it?) And then, to prove his point, Robinton says he’ll sing songs from on top of the fencepost between the two lands. He goes off to bed down with one side, Groghe with the other.

The description of the cot is rather interesting:

The main room was obviously where most interior work was done, but it was separated into sections: one for the women’s tasks, another for the men’s, with an eating area and well-made chairs at near the fireplace.
[…]
“I’ll show you where the bath is,” [Valrol, a son of the holder] said, and Robinton murmured thanks, rummaging in his pack for his towel, soap, and a clean shirt.
The bath was actually heated by some connection with the hearth, so it was not the cold wash that he could have expected.

Oh? Do tell about these “men’s” and “women’s” tasks, Robinton.

Also tell me where you’re getting travel soap and a towel from, given that what we had before was soapsand and possibly furs to dry off with, and what this engineering marvel is that allows for warm bath water without also dumping smoke into the space is. I’m very curious to know how these amenities made it all the way out to the frontiers. Is there a curious Smith around somewhere, or an engineer in the making? We find out that one of the daughters has been turning out exceptional woodcraft (in Robinton’s opinion), so perhaps she constructed the device? There’s so much here I want to know about, and yet will be denied again, because the author has no interest at all in making the details stick, much less be consistent.

Robinton sings that night, and it seems to do good in mending attitudes as well as fences, such that everyone is ready to go at the wall in the morning. Robinton leaves songs behind and an instruction to get the families singing again, which will help them stay good neighbors, along with the wall.

And that’s Chapter XI – Robinton still unable to get anyone to act against Fax, and then getting fired and reassigned, stopping along the way to fix a problem. For as much time as we’re spending outside the cities of Pern, we’re still not getting a whole lot of information about how this part of the world works. They exist to be a set piece in the plot, and then we’re on our way again to the city. Makes me wish the author had written a book about people who aren’t mobile and yet still manage to have adventure and the like. I think a lower decks episode would be quite illuminating.

The Masterharper of Pern: The Inevitable Tragedies Begin

Last chapter, Robinton balked that Fax could just say no to education in his hold, and further more that his fellow Harpers aren’t forcing the issue. The narrative then tried to pass off the idea that the original charter survived all this time instead of being a rediscovery of the AI. Those two things created a situation where it should be incredibly difficult for Fax to pull off the same crap that Chalkin did.

The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter X: Content Notes: Fat-shaming

We are in a training montage, of sorts, from the beginning of the chapter, as it says Robinton spends three years at High Reaches, before noting that Faroguy certainly seems on top of everything, except Fax, which Mallan speculates might be because Fax is Faroguy’s from another woman before his legitimate heirs were born. Lobirn squashes that line of thought, and we are then treated to an account of “how Robinton lost his virginity.” Robinton’s grown up handsome, and Mallan goads him into dancing with a young holder girl, Sitta, who is interested in him, too, and then just manages to conveniently be wherever he is by chance. And welcomes him home from a trip with food and drink and an offer to warm his bed. (There’s also another woman, Marcine, who has her eye on him, but Sitta is so good at being everywhere she gives up, and Triana’s only really interested in him as a dance partner…) There’s even the equivalent of the sock on the door — tipping a chair against the table as an indication of a do not disturb.

Here’s how Sitta’s described:

It wasn’t that he hadn’t noticed her, with her delicately slanting eyes and her tiny figure, set off by the bright dark blue of her Gather dress.

And now I’m a little less okay with this. Mostly because it seems to be “huge guy, tiny girl” and a vaguely Asian fetish possibly going on, but also a bit because a name like “Sitta” suggests South Asian ancestry rather than East Asian and I’m a little annoyed that the author doesn’t seem to want to do the research.

In any case, Sitta is mostly a fling for Robinton, and the narrative shifts over to another name drop situation – Carola is ill, and the only other available queen is Nemorth, who bonded with Jora, who is afraid of heights. (Which makes me think of the person who trained the Rowan, also afraid of heights and imparting it on to the Rowan.)

Carola dies afterward, and Robinton knows before everyone else because he feels Simanith’s grief, but he doesn’t say anything. Soon after, Robinton is recalled to the Harper Hall for a new assignment. Lord Faroguy sends Robinton in with a full purse of money and a solid recommendation. F’lon has a laugh about how it won’t “matter a pile of old ashes” that Jora’s terrified of heights when Nemorth is ready to mate. Before having a laugh at Robinton when Simanith just drops off the edge rather than leaping into the air to get the speed to go into hyperspace. Robinton asks Simanith for a little warning the next time.

Robinton’s return means getting to see his mother again, which is slightly disturbing because she looks older and he’s not ready for that. He also sees Silvina again, and the child has become a pretty woman in his absence. And then there’s business and reunions and Master Gennell also telling Robinton that he should let go of Fax’s decisions about education.

“We can only do so much, Rob, and are wiser not to trespass where a harper’s life might be endangered.”
Robinton blinked in surprise. “Endangered?”
“There have been such problems before, lad, and there will again, but somehow it comes right. As long as Fax keeps his ideas to his own hold, I can do nothing. Nor is it wise to. That’s something you learn as you go on. Cut your losses when you have to. One small hold in the northern lands is not as vital as a larger one nearer home, as it were.[…]

Cocowhat by depizan

This keeps happening? And yet Pern still hasn’t created a solution, regardless of the “autonomy” clause? It’s okay that generations get lost on the regular and then have to be accounted for later? Just…insert last week’s rant, even more so now that we know that this is a thing that happens on the regular. That this hasn’t been fixed in this long is still highly improbable.

Gennell assigns Robinton to Benden and advises against arriving with F’lon, because Benden’s Holders and Benden’s Weyrleaders are not getting along with each other right now. Which gives Robinton time to catch up with his mother and to get told by both F’lon and Merelan that Silvina clearly fancies him. Petiron is off at Tillek, so it’s a nice time for Robinton, catching up and singing songs with Merelan. He knows something is different, but he can’t put his finger on it.

So Robinton travels by ship and learns he won’t get seasick, that he can handle runnerbeasts, that the Dawn Sisters exist, and that just about everywhere he goes, he can play an evening and get the best meal and bed available.

Except, of course, in a place where Harpers are distrusted. A small hold where Targus, the holder, is not happy to have a Harper, but his wife, Kulla, is more than hospitable to him. (Even if his runner doesn’t like the place.) Targus gives us a little insight as to why places might not be all in favor of Harpers.

“Preferable?” sneered Targus as his thick and slightly greasy fingers gathered the mark piece from Robinton’s palm. “Harper words. What’s wrong with ‘Is that good?’ Or do you always have to show off your larnin’?”
[…]
“Why’s Pa hate music so?” Erkin asked.
“He says harpers sing lies,” Mosser said, malice in his twinkling eyes.
“Didn’t hear a one,” their mother said stoutly. Then she waggled her finger at Mosser. “Nor you, neither, or you’d’ve stirred yourself out of the room when your pa left. […]”

And again, there is this tantalizing prospect of an entire space outside the narrative where people don’t believe in Harpers, not because their lords are actively keeping them away, but because they think the Harpers are spinning some sort of lie. If only these people would be more specific about what they believe, other than “they’re elitist, with their education and fancy words.”

Robinton makes it to Benden without further incident, and is greeted by Raid and Hayara, who bring him up to speed on everything (Maizella is about to be married, and has been helping the Hold Harper, joint-ail is affecting all sorts of people). After a quick call back to which staircase he should be using, Robinton goes to help Master Evarel in the classroom, and that starts the second stay. Eventually, Evarel admits to being old and retires to the south, leaving Robinton in charge of Benden. And not too soon after, Nemorth almost gets flown and F’lon is pissed about it, because Jora faints when Nemorth gets into heat (remember that bit where queen riders see through the eyes of their dragons?) and that makes Nemorth very concerned.

But it happens, eventually, and Nemorth has a clutch, and Robinton is entirely wistful about the fact he never got the chance to be a dragonrider. F’lon complains that Maizella’s spouse is fish-faced (Robinton agrees with this privately) and that he doesn’t believe in Thread. Which gives Robinton the opportunity to ask about the rift between Hold and Weyr, and apparently we’re back to the problem where the interval has caused disbelief in the reality of Thread.

The feast at the Weyr is fantastic (and, as another way of making sure that we understand the hierarchy, green riders help to serve the extra guests, while bronze and brown riders take seats to be served), but the narrative can still take time to shame Jora.

She was pretty enough, in a sort of overblown way, but was already getting more plump than was healthy for a rider, not to mention for a young woman. She was flushed with the success of her young queen, Nemorth, and making what appeared to be giddy confessions to Lady Hayara, who merely listened with a polite smile plastered on her face.
[…]
His [F’lon’s] tone turned disdainful. “Not only is she afraid of heights, but she’s nervous with Nemorth, and if S’loner hadn’t been helping, she’d’ve let the queen eat before her mating flight.” He snorted in contempt.

So, for what other purpose than “the narrative wants a chew toy” did Jora Impress? Yes, we have to eventually line up with whatever was said previously about her, which was also negative, but I would have thought that being terrified of heights would have been a draconic disqualifier. The rest of it is fat-shaming and the narrative forgetting that life in a Weyr would be the most food-secure situation a person could find themselves in. It’s quite possible that Jora is still adjusting away from starvation mode. Or that she would be perfectly healthy, were it not for the narrative.

Robinton leads the musical festivities, and that seems to keep spirits high, at least until Nemorth interrupts them by announcing the death of S’loner’s dragon, Chendith, and the deaths of both S’loner and Lord Maidir (eventually confirmed when Lady Hayara goes back to Benden and can’t find him) in what is determined to be an accident – S’loner had been having chest pains, so it’s possible a heart attack killed him at the crucial point, and Chendith took Lord Maidir with him, because he was the unlucky passenger. Lady Hayara said that Robinton’s music had been possibly mending the rift, but she couldn’t hear because Jora was talking (she didn’t say so specifically, but the implication is clear). Jora, of course, is far too drunk and passed out to be easily revived (because narrative chew toy), and the party gets broken up pretty soon afterward.

F’lon is unhappy that Robinton asked C’gan for transit back. Robinton points out that F’lon just lost his father, which F’lon dismisses as unimportant because Weyrbred and tell me again why Robinton isn’t also having trouble with this? He’s been concerned that Merelan will die soon, and he’s still stuck in the situation where Petiron won’t acknowledge him, so why is he still so put together? Is he going to fall apart once the immediacy wears off? The text notes that Robinton is envious of the fact that F’lon had a relationship with his father. But the chapter ends with Robinton heading back to Benden, so there’s going to be other crises to deal with before Robinton can process his own feelings.

I realize this is Act II, where the tragedies happen and the old guard gives way to the new characters, but these stories don’t seem to have situations where someone, say, lives a full life and then passes away in their sleep. Except Robinton himself. Everything seems to change in violence. Which might seem like a good idea to make backgrounds more interesting, but it also means just about all the main characters have tragedies and traumas in their backgrounds, too.

And maybe I’m starting to get sick of it.

The Masterharper of Pern: On Assignment

Last time, the narrative right Menolly’s story looked much better on Robinton and gave it to him, Petiron continued to be an asshole, and the massive Harper Hall conspiracy to keep Robinton’s contact with Petiron to a minimum continued all the way through Robinton’s promotion to journeyman and subsequent assignment to High Reaches Hold.

The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter IX: Content Notes: Dealing with trauma

Chapter IX begins with Merelan suggesting that Robinton ask F’lon to take him to his assignment in High Reaches. Robinton thinks it would be seen as showing off, Merelan thinks it would be good for his reputation.

There’s another change at this point:

He hadn’t so much as laid eyes on his father since the night before, but that didn’t surprise him. He was now separated from his father, both as parent and teacher. His relief was intense, his concern for his mother immense. She seemed so frail, and her hands trembled a bit as she wrapped his pipes and put them in one of the packs.

We also find out that Gennell deliberately promoted Robinton while Petiron was out of the hall, which makes Robinton cringe and worry even more for his mother, who believes that Petiron will get pissed, and then go back to composing.

The arrival of a dragon indicates that F’lon has been asked to take Robinton to High Reaches anyway. Three Masters appear to get his baggage and put it on the dragon. And then Robinton is off, and Master Lobirn is unimpressed with him. And very unimpressed with the compositions of Petiron. And also uses Robinton’s compositions quite a bit, although he doesn’t know that they’re Robinton’s. Robinton’s patient demeanor helps him win over Lobirn, even as he gets the slow, the young, and the duty of going out to the far-flung holds and talking to them, as well as leaving them music to use when he’s not there. It keeps him busy, but it also means that Robinton occasionally gets close to hurting himself when he’s distracted trying to compose and isn’t paying attention to the road. But at least he can sing and play loudly without any fear.

It’s different than the Hall, and because this book is a parade of names, Robinton meets a young Holder at High Reaches named Fax, and Fax is, being a villain, already exactly the way he will be when Lessa meets him much later.

Even on his first encounter with the young holder–a question of who took the steps first at a landing where several halls met, Robinton felt uneasy in the man’s presence. Fax was aggressive, impatient, and condescending. A nephew of Lord Faroguy, he had recently taken Hold of one of the Valley properties, which he ran with a heavy hand, demanding perfection of all beholden to him. Some craftsmen had asked for transfers to other holdings.
Robinton heard unsettling rumors about Fax’s methods, but it wasn’t for a harper to criticize–or to take precedence over a holder, so he had courteously allowed Fax to go first. All he got for his deference was a sneer, and he noted that Fax, who had been striding with urgency to get somewhere, now slowed his pace deliberately. What that proved escaped Robinton completely, but it did give some of the rumors more credibility than he had originally thought.
One evening Fax went out of his way to get Robinton on the wrestling mats: not with himself but with one of his younger holders.

This is one of those things where it would be good to know how inheritance works. Because if there’s a way to do things on a trial basis, or if someone is merely regent rather than lord, it should be no trouble at all to yank Fax out of his position or give him a severe dressing-down for the way that he’s handling things. Or approve transfer requests of anyone who wants to leave and note the reasons why. Or exercise some other sort of check on him to remind him that even those who have absolute power in their own domain still have to interact with others. Like having Craftmasters pull their people out in protest over treatment. Fax is already being a bully and is likely not being a profitable holder. But this is probably more of the same bullshit that stopped Chalkin from being tossed out for his actions, because the sovereignty of the lord is so sacred that even human rights abuses can’t move the Lords to action.

And then the narrative chooses to tell us exactly why Fax stays in power, after the Harpers all unofficially agree to take some self-defense lessons.

In any event, Fax did not request a harper for his holding. That was his decision and his folk would be stinted by the lack, but only Lord Faroguy could require his holders to provide education. Since Fax’s holding appeared to be so much more profitable under his management, Lord Faroguy had little reason to question his methods. Somehow Fax managed to keep from his uncle the fact that his profits were obtained by whippings and threats of eviction.

Cocowhat by depizan

IN WHAT UNIVERSE IS THIS PROFITABLE. (Outside the extremely short term.) Fax is terrible at this ruling thing, and his mistakes start with the decision to keep the Harpers out. Who is responsible for telling all the peasants that their lot in life is to serve their lord unquestioningly? Harpers. Who then gives the peasants the hope that they might be raised from this drudgery through the intervention of dragonriders, even if it’s got less odds than winning the lottery here? Harpers. And who are the people that will best testify on your behalf of someone accuses you if doing something you don’t want to admit to? Harpers. They’re your best friend if you want to stay in power. Fax should be sweet-talking them, rather than being a dick toward them. What I wouldn’t give for a villain that understands politics.

I can’t see this kid turning into the Fax we had at the beginning of the series without seriously figuring out how to get his act together. (Then again, that Fax expelled all the Harpers from his conquests, instead of trying to corrupt them to his side or, as is being presented here, never having asked for them in the first place. Yet another retcon at work.)

The narrative sends Robinton up to the drum heights, where, lacking better things to do, he composes a song for the miners and slips it into the rotation. It does extremely well, but it also tips his hand to Lobirn, who figures out in short order that Robinton composed all of the music that he’s been using and most of the stuff coming out of the Hall. Lobirn is nonplussed at this discovery, but getting the truth out of Robinton about when most things he uses were composed seems him into a howling fit of laughter. Once Lobirn calms down, he explains the revelation and the reason why it’s so damn funny

“The joke’s on Petiron! That conceited, condescending, consummate composer hasn’t half the talent of his own son!”

Which is only true if your desired end result is catchy tunes and songs that are easy to teach and remember to others. That’s very much a Harper goal, and so in that regard, Robinton is miles better than Petiron. But that shows a lot of the subjectivity that’s involved in determining talent. Fax, I suspect, wouldn’t think Robinton is any better than his dad, because Fax believes in main strength and cruelty.

Anyway, the narrative gives us yet another sign that Robinton is still struggling with the abuse from his dad.

However, this respect generated an unexpected side effect: it made him realize all the more keenly the relationship that Petiron had been unable to give him. In order to abate his bitterness, Robinton began mentally to refer to his father as Petiron, rather than “father.” Maybe one day he could forgive the slights and the terrible hurt Petiron had inflicted on him–but not yet. Meanwhile, in his growing pleasure in Lobirn’s continued good favor, painful memories of striving for an acceptance that had never come began to fade.

That kind of dissociation is to be expected from the trauma that’s been inflicted, and if, say, there were counselors on Pern, they might be able to help him get through the trauma, instead of leaving him to work it through himself, and to figure out how not to be re-traumatized every time Petiron is around. It’s good that he’s building healthy professional relationships with others and that they are telling him that he’s doing well, and hopefully he can manage to continue doing just that.

We also get to see more of Chalkin’s legacy.

“Fax does not wish his holders to be educated, Rob,” Malian said, crossing his hands behind his head and tipping his chair back. “Simple as that. What they don’t know won’t hurt them–because they also won’t learn their rights.”
[…Robinton is agog at this…]
“But he’s denying them their rights under the Charter!”
“He denies there is a Charter, you mean,” Malian put in.
“The Charter also guarantees that a holder has autonomy within his holding,” Lobirn pointed out.
“But his holders have rights.”
“Don’t be so na├»ve, Rob. That’s exactly what he’s denying them access to,” Mallan said, dropping his chair to all four legs for emphasis. “And don’t go putting your head in that snake’s pit. You’d never match him in a fight, and you come on strong to him on that point and he’s every right to challenge you. And be sorry that he just happened to break your neck!”
Robinton turned to Lobirn for support, but the Masterharper shook his head.

So there’s a lot there. Yet again, instead of being something new that nobody had dealt with before, Fax has been transformed into a Chalkin retread. With what we know now, there should be Records on how one deals with the recalcitrant.

Secondly, that’s a serious retcon to say that these Harpers know about the Charter (and in a little while, there will be an even more egregious retcon that says the original Charter is preserved between glass somewhere,) instead of the Charter being a thing that only was rediscovered with the unearthing and subsequent communication with AIVAS. In that same part that talks about the preserved Charter, it is also apparently taught as a Teaching Song, first in simplicity and then in complexity.

Also,

Cocowhat by depizan

The casual attitude of Mallan toward the denial of education is pretty out of character from the mission of the Harpers. Yes, there is an unstated threat that anyone who points out that Fax is denying Charter rights will then have to fight him (on the grounds of “challenging his autonomy”, I guess) and will likely die in the subsequent duel. And also, in an unquoted portion, Lord Faroguy is not apparently insisting on education for those people. (Which makes sense and doesn’t – the opportunity to bilk the peasants is tempting, but it also means that you can’t have them do anything that’s any sort of complex at all, unless you’re willing to spend the time showing it to them repeatedly.)

The obvious response is “Surely the Charter would have provision to penalize anyone who failed to provide basic education.” But the narrative has us covered there.

A holder was not doing his duty by his people to deny them this information.
On the other hand, there was no provision made to punish holders who did not disseminate the information contained in the Charter. This was one of the shortcomings of the document. When Robinton had queried that in class, Master Washell had responded with a snort and then the notion that it must never have occurred to the writers of the Charter that anyone would be denied such rights.

Cocowhat by depizan

Absolutely not. There is no way that both “there are no provisions in the Charter about how to punish someone who fails to inform someone of their Charter rights” and “the Council of Lords did not pass legislation / make a decision in the aftermath of the Chalkin incident to ensure that nobody would ever be denied knowledge of their rights and responsibilities under the Charter, autonomy be damned” are both true. If you want me to believe that the Charter always has been passed down through the ages (it hasn’t), then you can’t also assert that after the betrayal of one of their own that almost gave Thread a foothold, the remaining Lords didn’t act to prevent it from happening again. And they could point immediately at the “autonomy” clause as the problem. (At least, not if you want consistency…)

It would be possible for the Lords to have fixed things, and then those records get lost or improperly preserved in writing or song, but I also suspect that Chalkin was the first in a line of problems that Fax is now picking up, so there would have been even more opportunities to come up with solutions and preserve them. Unless there’s deliberate “forgetting” going on, by would require complicity on the part of the Harpers, who have a vested interest in transmitting the history and culture of Pern to the next generation, so that’s…unlikely.

On the other side, most constutional documents don’t spell out punishments if people don’t teach this information, but they’re usually backed by a significant corpus of law that will more than happily spell such things out. Pern’s charter canonically has punishment for rape in it. So I would believe very strongly that the Proceedings of the Council of Lords are written down somewhere and copied from generation to generation as well, and therefore there should be a corpus of law that has developed just from having to deal with questions and enterprising individuals over the 2500-year history of the planet. Even if there were several Black Death type events in the history of the planet.

Ugh. Robinton hopes that the knowledge will still get through to all of the holders anyway, from have people willing to teach, and that closes out Chapter IX. It’s a mess. Then again, it has been a while since the originals, so maybe we aren’t supposed to notice this so easily.

The Masterharper of Pern: Convenient Absence

Last chapter, Robinton and Merelan went to Benden Hold to escape Petiron’s abuse. Robinton made a plot-important friend in Falloner and his performance of the Question Song has netted him an invitation to Benden Weyr, which is where we pick up.

The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter VII: Content Notes:

Falloner slips off the wrong side of Falarth, the transport dragon, so as to not have to be officially acknowledged, and introductions are made of the headwoman of the Lower Caverns, the Weyrsinger, C’gan, who is a blue rider, and Miata, who handles lessons at the Weyr.

I can’t remember if there have always been Harpers at Weyrs or not, but the distinction of C’gan being a singer is apparently an important one, because not five paragraphs later, Robinton is wondering whether or not he can be both Harper and dragonrider, despite theoretically having met someone who is both of those roles in C’gan. (I’m also not thrilled that the person interested in singing is described as slight and boyish and, according to draconic typing, very much gay, because it sounds like the stereotype of camp gay.) Robinton’s wonderings stop at Impressing a bronze or a brown, and don’t go any further.

Falloner gives Robinton the tour, including the crevice where everyone spies on the eggs in the Hatching Ground and some of the spaces he probably shouldn’t be in, like the Archives. There’s also a week and a nod to how Robinton is going to be both old and a workaholic:

As they flashed by, Rob caught a glimpse of his mother talking to some of the old aunties and uncles at one of the tables. Well, that duty would be over, so he wouldn’t have to nod and smile at the oldsters. The look of them, not to mention sometimes their smell, distressed him. People shouldn’t get that old. When harpers could no longer work, they went back to their birthplaces or down to the warmer, southern holds.

I’m going to note that the narrative is pinging about with various nicknames for Robinton, which seems like something characters would do. The narrative, I would expect, would stick with a single name.

Also, not cool about the older people, Robinton. They’re boring to you now, but many of them hold the memories you’re going to need.

Finally, it seems very weird to me that Pern, which is generally a very whitebread cultural approximation of Latin Christendom, has this universal thing of “everyone is everyone’s auntie and uncle.” Which isn’t to say there weren’t extended families and more than a few kinship bonds between families in the same space, but it seems very out of place that it has extended to the point where even people who aren’t in the same space you are get the respectful titles due to an elder. (Even if they do smell.) Given how things are set up in the planet, it doesn’t seem like it would have developed the cultural idea of everyone older than you being an aunt or an uncle. But maybe I’m the one being weird.

The tour continues until the dinner bell rings, and Robinton gets to sit with Falloner. There’s more reference to Noodle Incidents as everyone who’s a grownup tells Falloner to behave, and we see a young Manora, currently given charge over Larna, whom Falloner declares needs to be taught manners, even if all that happens is the teachers get in trouble. Robinton can sense that the grouping around Falloner often have issues with each other, and diverts the topic where he can back onto safer ground. Before food, and then singing, where the important part is that there a dragon that tells Robinton that the dragons listen to the music as well, and that S’loner gives Robinton a wink when he says as much aloud at the end of the night. Then it’s back to Benden Hold the next morning.

Where there is a package waiting for them from the Harper Hall – Petiron has written something new and Gennell has sent it along. Merelan plays it, of course.

“I think I can say,” she began slowly, “without fear of contradiction”–a little smile turned up the corners of her mouth–“that this is the most expressive music your father has ever written.” She wrapped both arms around her gitar. “I think he misses us, Robie.”
He nodded. The music had definitely been more melancholic, where his father usually wrote more…more positive, aggressive music, full of embellishments and variations, with wild cadenzas and other such flourishes. Rarely as simple, and elegant, a melody as this. And it was melodic.
She picked up Master Gennell’s note. “Master Gennell thinks so, too. ‘Thought you ought to see this, Merelan. A definite trend toward the lyric. And, in my opinion, quite likely the best thing he’s ever written, though he’d be the last to admit that.'” Merelan gave a little laugh. “He’ll never admit it, but I think you’re right, Master Gennell.”

Don’t take him back, Merelan. Also, Gennell, you’re being an asshole, although there’s a fifty-fifty on whether you realize it. Because if Merelan wouldn’t have wanted to see this from Petiron himself, then you’re helping Petiron by sending it under your own seal. It can be the sweetest love song in the universe, and it’s still a thing that Merelan might not actually want to hear or see, because Petiron is still an asshole, even if not having her there is changing his compositions and inspiring new ideas. There are lots of assholes who use their breakups and relationships as song fodder. (There are good artists that do the same.)

It’s just that this seems a lot more like a dude playing a piano in the front lawn of his girlfriend’s house and vowing not to quit until she takes him back. It sounds romantic, if you don’t play attention to the details.

Chapter VIII is a big chapter, so we’ll leave off here. But just peeking in, I can see that there’s talk of going back to the Harper Hall.

The Masterharper of Pern: Fleance Flies

Last chapter, the conspiracy keeping Robinton from Petiron collapsed as Merelan couldn’t take it any more and told the truth. Right before going to Benden on dragonback and taking Robinton with her.

Petiron, after the initial apparent shock of realizing his son is a genius and resolving to train him, settles into a desire for revenge at the point in time where he can claim custody of Robinton. This is a problem situation that a family court would call for. But those don’t exist, so Merelan has essentially just bought time.

The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter VI: Content Notes: Toxic masculinity,

Chapter VI shows us the escape from Robinton’s perspective, including surprise at the swiftness and dragon-ness of the affair, but knowing not to ask questions because his mother’s look says not to.

There’s another conversation with this dragon, Spakinth, which is somewhat doubled by audible conversation with the rider, C’rob.

“Oh, I beg your pardon! I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
Of course not, the ridge is there to hold on to, Spakinth said in the same instant C’rob laughed and said, “You won’t hurt a dragon that way, lad.” And then he leaned to one side and regarded Robinton with raised eyebrows. “But then Spakinth is telling you, too, isn’t he?” The rider seemed surprised.
Robinton grinned back, flexing his fingers around the ridge just for the feel of it. “Cortath and Kilminth have spoken to me, too.”
“Have they…” And then C’rob’s attention was taken by Merelan’s arrival behind them.

Best as I can remember, this still isn’t a retcon, because I think Robinton mentioned much earlier that he was Searched, but this is, to my knowledge, the only known instance where a boy hears all the dragons and not a girl.

So everyone climbs on and they go through hyperspace and there’s a charming bit of toxic masculinity.

“That’s Benden below you, lad.” C’rob patted his shoulder. “And not a peep out of you. Nor did you wet your breeches.”
Robinton was stunned by by a shocking suggestion and stiffened under C’rob’s hand. Very quietly, so not even Spakinth could hear and think badly of him, Robinton knew that, just a moment longer in frigid between and he might well have disgraced himself.
Many do, young Robinton, but never you.

Right, so traveling through hyperspace is explicitly terrifying, pants-pissing terrifying, and here we are with dragonriders complimenting the lack of terror in Robinton. Who, we might note, has been whisked away from his home and not told anything nor briefed about what happens when you travel by dragon. And is also nine years old. He has every reason to be scared out if his mind. And yet, he is apparently shocked at the prospect that people are afraid, and essentially presents himself as if that would never have crossed his mind. Even if in private he’s admitted to being so scared he might have pissed himself. Yay, toxicity.

Introductions are made, which gives Robinton insight into his own situation, while also giving the narrative a way of setting up a big flashing neon sign of whom we’re supposed to dislike here.

“This is Raid, my eldest son, Mastersinger,” the Lord Holder said with pride, laying an arm across the boy’s shoulders.
A shaft of totally incomprehensible envy swept Robinton. His father had never done that. His father didn’t even touch him–hat he could remember. And then a girl, not as old as Raid, pushed through to Raid’s other side, neatly pushing Lady Hayara aside. And Robinton caught a quickly hidden flare of dismay on Lady Hayara’s face and the indifferent look on the girl’s.
“And this is my eldest daughter,” Lord Maidir said, “Maizella.”

And, in case we’re not clear,

Robinton sighed. He knew by the expression on Maizella’s face and her stance that his mother was going to have trouble with this one. He saw by the quirk of his mother’s mouth that she realized it, too.

Robinton, at nine, seems to have very well-developed observational skills. The kind that I would expect from a child in an abusive situation who has concluded that the best way to stay safe is to be able to predict and anticipate other people perfectly. To the point where someone can be so smoothly handled that they don’t even notice it happening. We’re laying the groundwork of how Robinton comes to be the person he is, and since there still aren’t trained psychologists and counselors on Pern, Robinton is unlikely to get the help he’ll need to break this particular way of thinking and get a healthier outlook. Worse, it looks like having this particular mindset is going to be helpful to him. Poor child.

Robinton also meets a weyrbred named Falloner, who I have a sneaking suspicion is going to have at least two sons with Manora and both of them will be instrumental in the return of the Weyrs to their glory. Falloner is assigned as Robinton’s escort and tour guide, so we get to see Robinton realize Benden isn’t as big as Fort, hear Falloner tell him about a staircase forbidden to everyone except the Holder family, observe and chat a little about who changes the glowbaskets, have Falloner preemptively dismiss Maizella’s opinion about everything, and then check out the rather roomy digs he and Merelan have, right before everyone else arrives. His enthusiasm is met well by his mother and “Maizella raised her eyebrows contemptuously.” Because it still isn’t clear, apparently, that Maizella is not to be trusted or liked. Robinton and Merelan get a little alone time, where Merelan promptly bursts into tears and has the meltdown that she’s been holding in until everything has been settled. Because it’s very hard to leave your abuser, take your child, and essentially go somewhere strange and trust that the people you meet and know won’t turn out to be worse, or predatory, or that they won’t understand.

What Merelan needs right now is the assurance of her support system. Because the first few days that you’re away from your abuser are emotionally difficult to deal with. Even though Merelan has done pretty well in having a job and a place to stay already lined up, it’s still really, really hard.

Don’t ask me how I know. It hasn’t been long enough for me to want to tell you.

Robinton, of course, doesn’t really understand all of this, and so he continues on with the conversations he’s had with Spakinth. Merelan hugs him and says it’s rare and that it might solve everything if he Impressed.

“But I could still be a harper, couldn’t I?” He hadn’t had a definitive answer to that question from the dragons. Maybe his mother would know.
“I think that depends on many things,” she said, drying her eyes, and suddenly she seemed more like herself. “Like if there’s a clutch when you’re the right age. Dragons don’t have as many eggs during an Interval, you see, and you’re only impressionable until you’re twenty, and the weyrbred have preference. At least, you’ll get to understand more about the Weyrs, and that’s all to the good.”
Again her remark was not meant for him, but he didn’t mind because he’d like to know more about the Weyrs. The abandoned Fort Weyr was forbidden by order of Lord Grogellan. That might have been one reason why every boy had to go up there alone for a night when he turned twelve, or he’d be considered cowardly.

Cocowhat by depizan

Wait, what’s with this “impressionable until you’re twenty” routine? Ages are often rather vague in the chronology, and until now it’s been mostly a question of “women eventually get too old to impress upon queens.” When did it get specific, and how do they know?

Secondly, while I recognize the “spend the night in the haunted house” point from plenty of adventure stories, I’m more struck by yet another instance of this toxic idea – you spend the night or you’re branded a coward. How does that even work? Why twelve? Is that the year when your education finishes and you’re expected to take on a fuller role at your hold? Is it some sort of tradition? And why every boy? Surely there must be groups of friends that don’t participate in this idea because they don’t have a clue about it. But way to go, narrative, in telling us that anybody who is different gets mocked.

Before the scene changes, Robinton realizes his mother didn’t bring any scores in Petiron’s hand and asks if his dad is going to come visit. Merelan no comments to the point of saying “maybe for the big Gather,” but that’s all she says. Perceptive Robinton.

The next scene is the children’s dinner table, where more than a few kids are vying for trying to make Robinton feel welcome, and while Robinton eats, and enjoys the food, he’s also keeping an eye on Merelan.

His mother sang, too, after the head table finished eating. And there were good voices joining in the chorus, so he wondered why Benden Hold would need a Mastersinger of his mother’s standing. A good journeyman would have done as well. No, she was here to teach Maizella. Robinton wrinkled his nose: It was obvious from the loud way the girl was singing that she thought her voice was good. It wasn’t bad, he had to admit, but she didn’t need to shriek and she hadn’t much breath control.

I’m choosing to read this in the way of the “child thinks they know more than they actually do,” because even if Robinton is a musical prodigy, he’s still nine and there are very few nine year-olds that I know of that could come to those conclusions and be right. Plus, he’s also judging by Harper Hall standards, which are likely to be far more stringent than anywhere else.

Everyone else joins in the singing, and Robinton thinks the other kids at the table are trying to show off to him, but he’s cool about it because

Robinton was used to the way new-come apprentices to the Harper Hall acted, so he pretended not to notice.
“It doesn’t cost any marks to be gracious, no matter where you are or what you’re doing,” his mother was always saying. “No singer of a professional caliber would think of drowning out other singers” was another point she often made. Especially when she had been having all that trouble with Halanna. He hoped Maizella wouldn’t be as difficult.

So this sounds like setting Robinton up to be aloof and superior, and actually coming across as condescending and better-than-you. Not that he necessarily gets it – still nine, but I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The narrative then let’s us know that Merelan’s presence is good for everyone at Benden, because Merelan

… curbed the loudness of Maizella’s rather good basic voice,
[…which gets Merelan in good with not just kids, but adults…]
Lord Maidir was a good man, and generally fair, but he adored his daughter, Maizella, who at sixteen hadn’t the wisdom of common sense of her brother, Raid. Robie found him a bit stuffy and prim, but Raid had inherited his father’s sense of fair play and would take criticism from any of the more senior members of the large group of people who managed the big Holding. Unlike his sister, he was popular. And there was a discreet understanding that Hayon, Rasa, and Naprila, the older of Lady Hayara’s children, were to be protected from Maizella, who either teased them outrageously or ignored them as the fancy took her.
Inured to such tactics as Robinton was, having survived Halanna’s antics, he learned to smile and keep his tongue in his mouth.

Yes, we get your point, narrative. Women who are “doted on” by their fathers turn out to be unholy terrors that make things miserable for everyone around them.

However, this time around, rather than advocating for punishment and corporal abuse until the woman submits meekly, Merelan takes a reasonably effective tactic to show Maizella how to sing more properly.

She stacks the deck against her by putting her in a duet with Robinton.

There’s a little more about how Merelan would not stand for Robinton to show off for any longer than it took to “twist his ear to remind him to keep his place,” and that Merelan’s experience with Halanna had “taught Merelan a trick or two about overdeveloped conceits,” but the narrative is misdirecting is by putting these in a musical context. Because the character not being mentioned at this point is Petiron, who is waiting in the wings for his opportunity to exercise patriarchy, but who also had to have Robinton hidden from him (and thus, “keeping his place” is a survival mechanism) and whom Merelan has been cleaning up after and running interference for all the time they were together (as you have all pointed out so wonderfully), so she probably knows a lot about “overdeveloped conceits” already, and not just from teaching Halanna. They have both been doing these things all their lives, just so that Petiron is placated.

Anyway, the way Merelan gets Maizella in line is by letting Robinton off-leash just enough to show how good a singer he actually is (which he enjoys immensely), and then cutting off Maizella when she tries to drown him out.

“In duet singing, the voices must balance for the best effect. We know you can sing the crawlers out of their webs, Maizella, but there are none in this room.” Merelan regarded those tittering with a stern eye. “From ‘Now is the time’–and sing with the treble, not against him.”

Which is a far more likely way of getting the lesson to stick, even if it does rely a little bit on embarrassing her in front of others, which doesn’t set nearly as well as some other method could. It’s still much better than the idea of hitting her until she sings quietly.

The next scene is the boys playing “goal ball”, which has a goal like a Quidditch hoop, set on a pole, and a shooting line to fire from. Falloner suggests scaring the watch-wher, which elicits surprise from Robinton that someone weyrbred would do such a thing, and then, well, Falloner doesn’t know that he’s pushed Robinton’s Berserker Button. He gets headbutted and Robinton is ready to pound him into the ground unless he promises not to scare the watch-wher anymore.

“But it’s not hurting them…”
“If they scream, they hurt. Promise?”
“Sure. Whatever you say, Rob.”
[…]
“I just don’t like to hear them scream,” Robinton be a convulsive shake. “Goes right through my ears and down to my heel-bones. Like chalk on a slate.”

I like this Robinton a lot more than his adult self, because this one seems a lot less willing to inflict needless cruelty on others. He’s still pretty full of himself, but someone could probably train that out of him.

Falloner promises, although he doesn’t understand fully, and the narrative moves on to tell us about how Clisser’s legacy actually has panned out. There’s

basic reading, writing, and figuring that all children were obliged to learn before their twelfth year. After that, they would take up apprenticeships to whatever Hall their inclination suited them, or go on in their family Hold’s work. With a large Hold like Benden, there were enough pupils to be divided by age and ability.

As opposed to the backcountry, where it seems that even the basic songs are either neglected or campaigned against. But also, nobody seems to talk about whether or not taking up a Craft is a thing to be expected of children, children that are in excess of what you need to run your subsistence farming operation, only younger children of particular noble families, or what. Because the aristocracy of Terra might teach noble children various crafts, but it was not expected that they would pursue them as professionals (unless it were, say, the military or the priesthood.) There’s always the possibility that the inheritance order or the marriage prospects gets messed up by having a kid turn into a dragonrider, and if the land grant idea still holds strong, there’s always the possibility of someone starting their own Hold as their profession. It’s never clear whether joining the Crafts is seen as a step down in status or not.

Also, compulsory education to the equivalent of sixth grade.

Cocowhat by depizan

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH. Most people don’t know at twelve what they want to do with the rest of their life, and I’m guessing the apprenticeship process takes long enough that there’s no real way of changing careers if you guessed wrong. Clisser, you’re a terrible asshole.

In any case, Merelan let’s Robinton teach the youngest younglings some of the scales and basics, because he’s apparently quite good at making it understandable to them, while she tutors him herself and lets him continue to compose (he can’t not do it). Merelan feeds those compositions out into the world by performing them and using them as songs to teach others with. Robinton would love recognition for all of that, but Merelan promises that it will come out at some point.

“Harpering is not just knowing the words and melody to a lot of songs…”
“And not just knowing when to sing them, either.” He finished the saying for her.

Even now, the Harper Hall is engaging in the kind of “discretion” that lets them know and influence others.

As it turns out, we get to learn that Falloner is the son of the Benden Weyrleader before the time when he will have a son to do the same, and probably do the same himself. Falloner’s pretty glib about how he’s going to be a bronze rider, and how he’s at Benden because the Weyr doesn’t have a Harper and he needs to know all the things so that he can be a Weyrleader like his dad. Robinton is starstruck, tells his mother, and ends up with an assignment to rehearse the Question Song for that night.

Ah, and also a throwaway paragraph before that about how Maizella sings a lot better, even if most of her applause is from relief that it wasn’t terrible rather than for her being good. Because even when women do well, they can’t actually be good at something enough for the improvement to be worthwhile or noticeable. And the narrative doesn’t bother pointing out that clearly, Merelan is an excellent teacher and was able to handle Maizella’s issues much more easily and cleanly without Petiron’s interference making things way worse.

Because women, apparently.

Dinner that night, with the Weyrleaders, starts dark.

Falloner was not at the head table as Robinton thought he might be, since S’loner was his father. Carola was not his mother and, as Falloner took his usual place next to Robinton, he muttered something about her disliking S’loner’s weyrlings.
“Aren’t weyrlings small dragons?”
“Yes,” Falloner said with a little snort. “Applied to us,” he explained, sticking his thumb into his chest, “it’s not a compliment. All she can get is girls. When she has anything.”
Robinton nodded and decided maybe more wasn’t the time to ask more questions about the Weyr.

I have a few. Obviously, one of the casualties of medical knowledge is that sperm are generally responsible for the sex of a baby (assuming a sex and gender binary, which I’m sure Pern does, to their detriment), so blaming a woman for only daughters is misplaced at best. And also, childbirth is still incredibly painful and taxing. And dragonriders often warp through hyperspace before they know they’re pregnant, so carrying to term is somewhat difficult. But what I really want to know is what S’loner and Carola’s agreements are regarding ethical non-monogamy. Because if there are enough children to have a derogatory nickname, that’s worth further examination. Is it a “I’ll forgive you for anything you do while your bronze is chasing greens” idea? A more general permission for each of them to take lovers as they want to? Or (probably most likely) does S’loner just sleep with whomever he wants to, green dragon or no, because he’s Weyrleader and a man?

The entertainment for the night has acrobats and a stage magician, before the Weyrleaders are feted with the Duty Song done with harmony and instruments, and

Maizella stepped forward from her place in the chorus. Robinton heard the rustle: dismay or annoyance. They were in for a surprise, too, now that his mother had taken the girl in hand. Instead of planting herself in a defiant way, as if to indicate that she was going to sing and everyone had better listen to her, she came to the front in a quiet and professional manner and then looked to Merelan, who was accompanying her on the gitar.
Robinton couldn’t miss Weyrleader Carola’s expression–total dismay–until Maizella started singing. Even S’loner regarded the girl with a pleased look and murmured something to Maidir, who nodded and smiled back.

And this is where I remind everyone that I am still entirely done with the idea that girls and women become “good” in Pern when they stop being outspoken, advocating for themselves, and taking up the space they should have. Because the narrative still insists that every girl who isn’t immediately deferential to all the men around them is spoiled or wrong. So while I do want to see Maizella get her voice trained, I don’t want to see her turn demure and have it looked on approvingly by the narrative as somehow her proper or natural state.

And then we get to Robinton singing the solo of the Question Song, the one we know Lessa commissioned in the past to make sure she would know to bring the Weyrs forward when the time came. Which makes S’loner very happy, Carola entirely not, and a provokes a small discussion about whether someone believes Thread will return. Falloner says the song made the Weyrleader quite happy. He also casually mentions that dragonriders routinely live past a century, which is great if you’re the dragon and engineered to that…

A few days later and Merelan and Robinton are invited up to Benden Weyr to sing and dine. Merelan shows she knows more than she lets on by saying it will be good for Robinton to understand the Weyr for when he has to spend his confidence night in Fort. Robinton doesn’t understand how she knows, because the “apprentices did not tell anyone, certainly not the girls” and I am still ready to spit flames at the sexism.

Robinton likes having his mother around and teaching more and life here more than at the Harper Hall, and when he asks Falloner whether he’s also going to the Weyr, Falloner shrugs him off by pointing out that his birth mother died, likely in childbirth, and his foster mother died of fever, and so there’s nobody there that Falloner is interested in seeing. There’s also a Noodle Incident that resulted in Falloner getting sent down in the first place, but Robinton exercises discretion and doesn’t pressure Falloner. Or C’vrel, who is the transport dragonrider.

Lady Hayara makes sure Falloner accompanies, so that Robinton can learn what he needs to know about Weyrs so that he can be an excellent Harper. And so the chapter ends with Robinton observing the Weyr from above.

Next chapter picks right up where we leave off here.

The Masterharper of Pern: Nope, Still Descending

Last chapter, Robinton got to talk to dragons. Halanna was shuffled off to the “good girls” department, and Merelan continues to hide from Petiron that his son is a genius and that she’s enlisted the entire Hall to train him so that Petiron doesn’t break him with his inability to be a father around him.

The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter V: Content Notes: Neglect

Chapter V opens with Petiron rummaging through Merelan’s desk looking for blank sheets to write on, finds copies of Robinton’s compositions, glances over them, and then continues to rummage for the sheets. Merelan is ready to tee off on Petiron for invading her privacy and for his callous disregard of the composition, whose author he doesn’t know.

“Well, no need to get huffy,” he said, suddenly noticing her stiff posture and angry glare. “I’ll get more at lunch.” He started out of the room be then turned back. “Who did write those tunes? You?” He smiled in an effort to appease her anger. “Not bad.”
She was so angry at his condescending smile and tone that she blurted out the truth. “Your son wrote them.”
Petiron blinked in astonishment. “Robie wrote those?” He started back to her worktop, but she moved swiftly from the door to stand in front of it. “My son is already writing music? You are helping him, of course,” he added, as if that explained much.
“He writes them with no help from anyone.”
“But he must have had some help,” Petiron said, trying to reach around her for access to the drawer. “The scores were well-written, even if the tunes are a trifle childish.” Then his jaw dropped. “How long has he been writing tunes?”
“If you were any sort of father to him, paid any attention to what he does, ever asked him a single question about his classes,” Merelan said, letting rip all her long-bottled up frustration, “you’d know he’s been writing music“–she stressed the word–” for several years. You even heard the apprentices singing some of the melodies.”
“I have?” Petiron frowned, unable to understand either of his mate’s shortcomings: not telling him about his own son’s musicality and out of informing him that apprentices were learning songs written by his own son. “I have!” he said, thinking back to the tunefulness he’d heard from Washell’s classes. Of course, the songs were suitable to the abilities of the age group but…He stared at Merelan, coming to grips with a sense of betrayal that he had never expected from her, his own spouse. “But why, Merelan? Why keep his abilities from me? His own father?”
“Oh, so now he’s your son, instead of mine,” Merelan snapped back. “Now that he shows some prowess, he’s all yours.”
“Yours, mine, what difference does it make? He’s what–seven Turns old?”
“He’s nine Turns old,” she snarled, and stalked out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
Petiron stood staring at the closed door, the echo of the definitive slam ringing in his ears, the hand that held the clean sheets held up in entreaty.
“Well, I never…” And he sunk back against the worktop, struggling to cope with her attitude and this incredible revelation about his–no, their–son.

I have to break this up, or it’s going to be a phenomenally long quote, but we’re in the middle of the narrative actually showing us everything coming to a head with Merelan, but also about to tell us how far off Petiron is from the conception of parenthood. He definitely has not been a present parent. He’s shocked at the age, and resolves to look more closely at the sheets of music.

Even if they proved only to be variations, that was creditable enough to require some special tutoring to hone a perhaps genuine gift up to a good professional standard. Why, his son could be a journeyman!

And Petiron misses the point, but also doesn’t believe in Robinton’s talent. And now that the truth is out, we’re getting insight into how Petiron sees his family.

But however did a man relate to his son until the boy was old enough to understand his father’s precepts and philosophies? Able to accept his father’s training?

Petiron decides to train his son as his own apprentice, but he can’t find the music he wants to reexamine, and as he calls for his son, there’s no response. Searching the room, he discovers the instruments that Robinton has been learning.

Now Petiron began to feel a righteous anger. Merelan was behaving in a most peculiar fashion. First by her silence over Robinton’s ability and then by letting someone else train his son…

Petiron is ready to go find his wife and son, when Gennell stops him and calls a meeting, using his position as Masterharper to get compliance, before telling him what’s gone on – Gennell has assigned Merelan to Benden Hold, at her request, for a year contract and gives Petiron a dressing-down for his complete lack of involvement in his son’s life, while the entire rest of the Hall has been trying to nurture Robinton’s talent.

Petiron rose indignantly. “I’m his father–have I no say in this?”
“Until a boy child is twelve, it is traditional for him to be in his mother’s care unless fostered to a family.”
“This has all been conducted with precipitous and unnecessary haste,” Petiron began, clenching and unclenching his fists, trying to control the rage that was boiling up inside him. Not only were his paternal rights being denied, but why was his spouse, usually so understanding, suddenly rejecting him?
[…this was not sudden at all, Petiron. Merelan had the option for a while but decided to accept it and flew away on a Benden dragon after she stormed out on you…]
“If it is a mother’s right to have her child until he is twelve, then I shall not interfere with her maternal instincts,” he said so harshly that Gennell flinched. “At twelve I shall have him.” With that, both promise and threat, he turned on his heel and stalked out of the MasterHarper’s workroom.

There’s a statement I’ve heard about authors writing particular characters, namely that they can produce the very best example of [Z] by not trying at all to write [Z], having focused entirely on [Q], instead. I’m not sure the author was trying to write a proto-MRA character that refuses to own up to his own shortcomings and abusive mindset, but the author has wrought a beauty of one here. And has not also narratively set him up as the poor man who didn’t know anything and his shrew of a wife just took the child without warning. Petiron thinks this, but the narrative doesn’t. (At least at this point.)

This is also in rather stark contrast to how the narrative handled Halanna. She was the shrew and everyone agreed it was a good idea to slap her around and imprison her into she learned that all men were her superiors, regardless of her rank. Here, because Robinton will be the most beloved man in Pern when he grows up, the narrative can’t just paint Merelan as a badmeanwrong woman, because she still has to raise Robinton right.

Until Petiron gets him, anyway, and I really am not looking forward to that part of his upbringing. Here’s where I wish there was a family court or some other entity that you could plead your case before to have a marriage dissolved or custody awarded in some manner so that we don’t have this situation where Petiron is going to get his son back, likely as an apprentice, and then take out an his frustration and anger at Merelan on his son.

Or that Merelan could send Robinton with a plea to Gennell to never put Robinton in a class with Petiron. It would take out conflict, certainly, but it would also remove many of the avenues Petiron has to abuse Robinton.