Category Archives: Deconstruction: Pern

Dragon’s Kin: Heat Vision

Last time, Kindan and Nuella got down to the business of training Kisk in the mines. Which involved Kindan having to learn how to navigate in the dark. Nuella learning about safety equipment and procedure for the mine, and deliberately exposing themselves to potentially harmful air so as to teach Kisk what it smells like. Kisk, for her part, provided a consistent vocalization for Kindan to clue him into what to listen for in case that bad air smell returns.

Dragon’s Kin: Chapter X: Content Notes:

Hot air rises, cold air falls,
These are thermodynamic laws.

There were other things, as well, like Nuella revealing her crush on Zenor, and the tiny detail that nobody but Dalor knew they were actually in the mine doing this. Which is relevant in that it’s Zenor giving them both a dressing-down for the plan, based on the potential for disaster it had.

While we let Zenor chew them both out for a bit, that that rhyme up top doesn’t. At least, it doesn’t for me, because of the way I pronounce the “ll” and the “w”. Perhaps it does for others.

In any case, the back and forth continues, despite Kindan’s efforts to try and squash it, until Kisk interrupts Kindan to indicate there are visitors.

[…] Kisk nudged him with her head, stood up off her front legs, and flapped her tiny wings at him, making a throaty chirp. Kindan cocked an eyebrow at her. Kisk repeated herself, complete with chirp.
“You two, we’re going to have company,” Kindan said.
“What?” Zenor said. “How do you know?”
Kindan gestured. “Kisk told me. A dragonrider.” The watch-wher shook her head firmly, unmistakably. “Two dragonriders?” Kisk nodded vigorously.
“You’ve been practicing!” Nuella exclaimed delightedly. “What’s it like?”
“Well,” Kindan said, consideringly, “it’s almost like I get images from her–but it’s not. And I guess it’s more like communicating with a fire-lizard than with a dragon. Or maybe somewhere in between. Whichever way it is, she tells me until I understand her.

I thought Menolly was supposed to be the person who rediscovered what talking with fire lizards was like after it disappeared with the colonists, but perhaps I am wrong and it hasn’t disappeared yet. Also, if this is how good of communicators whers are, then it makes even less sense about how all of their lore has been lost, because there could be a lot more continuity of teaching or just rediscovering this fact repeatedly over time.

We get a little bit more about why Tarik is still around, despite all the reasons for him to disappear, and it’s…that Natalon is afraid of the rumors he’ll spread about Nuella?

“His mother was blind too, you know. He’s afraid it’s passed on, that any daughter we kids have will be blind, to. And he’s afraid that it makes him look weak–as if anyone would care. It’s not like he’s the one who’s blind.”
[…Kindan tries to be comforting and suggests out might pass by Larissa, the new sister…]
“I could see just fine until my third Turn and then, over the course of a year, everything got blurry and dim.”
“Does Tarik–”
“I think that’s why Father keeps him around,” Nuella said. “He’s afraid Tarik will spread tales. He’s afraid about what’ll happen to me, if I’ll ever get married–“

That “year” is in the original, which suggests that the editors didn’t quite catch everything they needed to.

More importantly, though, what does Natalon actually fear from Tarik? “My daughter has no marriage prospects” shouldn’t even register unless Natalon expects Nuella to marry up. Or be promised, sight unseen, to someone else. “My son won’t have any marriage prospects” is a bigger threat, but since this affliction seems to only affect the women of the family, that doesn’t seem like it would stick to Dalor. More pressingly, though, if the mine fails, nobody has marriage prospects. Or, for that matter, any means of living where they would care about such things. A successful and wealthy miner can negotiate marriageability. A failed one can’t. So, really, Tarik is the one with the most to lose, and who should be the most afraid of his social standing, not Natalon.

Then again, abusive relationships don’t always follow logic, and Tarik really does look like he could fit the profile.

Kindan wants to know how Nuella will take care of herself, but Nuella chews him out for saying platitudes like he’ll always be there for her, because she knows that mining is dangerous, and Kindan is likely to be in the middle of dangerous. Kindan says he can get out of anything, and the whole thing eventually ends up with Nuella realizing that Kisk might see heat rather than light, and that would explain why watch-whers don’t go out in the daytime. An unknown man comments it’s an interesting theory before we spin the clock back to how the sentry child, Renna, saw the arrival of the two dragonriders, J’lantir and M’tal, who talk about there being someone here who has the potential to be a queen rider…and also “so gifted and not able to Impress,” according to J’lantir, because well, if the girl is blind, she clearly couldn’t Impress, because that’s done through eye contact. Except it isn’t, because Nian Impressed without actually fully making eye contact until the very end of the process. So I’d be in to guess that Nuella could probably Impress even without seeing the dragon. Except perhaps through the eyes of the dragon, maybe?

Renna wonders where there could be such a blind child, since she’s been everywhere and knows everyone, and there are no blind children. Except for the second floor of Natalon’s hold, where she hasn’t been, that is. And that could hide such a child.

Before we see the fullness of Renna’s thoughts and plans, though, we go back to the dragonriders, who are introduced to Nuella and Kindan. (Kisk had talked to Gaminth when they arrived, which is how Kindan knew they were here.) J’lantir is a Wingleader at Ista, tasked with finding more information about watch-whers in the same way that M’tal is interested. J’lantir and Nuella devise a test to see how Kisk actually does see.

Very soon he and Nuella were engrossed in devising a complete test of the watch-wher’s sight.
“We could just ask her,” Kindan said to himself.
M’tal smiled at him. “But then it’d take away all their fun.”
“No, it wouldn’t,” Nuella said with her usual lack of deference. She put at hand to her mouth. “I’m sorry–I meant, my Lord.”
“She’s like that with everyone,” Kindan murmured.
“She’s got good hearing, too,” M’tal agreed, with a twinkle in his eyes. He turned to Nuella. “Nuella, I think that we will all be working together quite a great deal, so I think it best if we dispense with formalities and just get on with things–what do you say?”
Nuella’s eyes got very big. She nodded, speechless.

Kindan asks if that really means using names, and J’lantir replies it seems fair, and when Zist arrives, J’lantir will say he was just telling Nuella that he prefers less formal addresses by friends. Even though it was M’tal who was talking there.

Also, even when not the focus, Benden is always the best Weyrleader, it seems, since M’tal is the first to suggest the lack of honorifics. In any case, Natalon arrives to greet the riders, Zenor is willingly pulled into their preparations, Zist helps Kindan perform a simple experiment about whether whers see heat more than light (they do), and everyone gets down to the business of learning what they can about watch-whers, now that the Ista Weyrleader has charged his riders with finding and writing down everything related to the care and feeding of a Weyr in Threadfall, including watch-whers, which is what J’lantir was assigned.

It’s confirmed that dragons can talk to watch-whers, and the dragonriders think they might be a good early-warning system to alert dragons about Threadfall, but Nuella squashes that idea by pointing out watch-whers are nocturnal. The dragonriders then suggest watch-whers could have been useful emergency broadcast systems for various holds that were snowed-in last winter and had no way of contacting anyone about their status.

J’lantir suggests developing a standardized training system for watch-whers and their handlers so that everyone can communicate with each other, and with dragons, with a shared set of words and concepts. He and Nuella spend the next three evenings, when J’lantir can leave Ista, hashing it out with each other before J’lantir has to head back to Ista for a readiness check. Kindan asks whether watch-whers could transit through hyperspace, and both Nuella and J’lantir conclude it wouldn’t work, because human eyes can’t visualize the heat map that a watch-wher would need to successfully warp themselves, since dragons theoretically need a picture of where to go to safely make their own transits. As infrared technology is a long way off, there’s no real reason to believe that anyone on the planet, except Nuella (who mentions she might be able to imagine it) could provide a sufficiently detailed mapping.

Nuella misses having J’lantir around to talk to, which makes her cranky, until Kindan convinces her that more training for Kisk is a good idea. And we learn that the mines are only worked three days out of seven, with two more spent bagging and grading coal, shoring up the mine (and cutting trees), and helping the Camp. The last two days are “free”, in that so long as there aren’t any Camp tasks that need attention, the miners are free to do what they want.

We also learn that Nuella has demanded Kindan wear a blindfold while down in the mines training, so that he can learn to navigate in the dark and keep his counts running even while thinking about other things. And that bruised shins and bruises from Nuella any time he forgot have contributed to this awareness, even if his map isn’t as detailed as hers.

Which is why it’s disturbing to both of them that the supports they’re expecting in the space Tarik is assigned to aren’t there, and then, aren’t thick or wide enough to be correct when they are found. There are also avenues running off the street that suggest someone is already mining the coal, despite Natalon’s insistence that the seam be explored fully before any real mining started. This suggests a lot of things, but the narrative only tells us that the two decide to train on the other street instead before a disagreement about whether Kisk should be trained in how to dig someone out, and then Kindan figuring out how to play hide and seek with Kisk, until something very interesting happens.

It was then, just on the edge of sleep, that Kindan thought he saw something–a glowing shape, like someone curled up in a tight ball just like he was. No, he corrected himself in amazement, it is me!
He heard the soft padding of Kisk’s feet as she made her way over to him. In his mind’s eye, he saw the shape get closer, saw the head become more resolved–not a face, but a sort of smudged oval-shaped rainbow–and then became obscured as bright jets, the orangeish-yellow color of flame, came streaking over it. He felt Kisk’s warm breath blow gently through the straw over his face, seeming to perfectly match the flame he was imagining.
Kisk bleeked happily.

It turns out that Kisk can transmit her sight to more than just Kindan – Nuella can see through Kisk’s eyes as well, which results in tears of joy for her. Kisk can’t provide a lot of details, since she still only sees heat sources and diffusions, but it’s enough for motor movements and other such things. I’m guessing it’s a bit like the visual effect created for the Daredevil movie where Matt Murdock takes a beautiful woman out into a rainstorm so that he can see her fully using the movement the rain makes on her to create the picture.

Now knowing much better how Kisk sees, hide and seek becomes a much more interesting game to play with all sorts of people, and Kindan and Nuella start training Kisk on how to find people even with all sorts of stuff getting in the way of her heat-vision. Nuella also gets Zenor to change shifts to Tarik’s shift, with the idea that Zenor will see and report what Tarik has been up to in his section of the mine.

And, as time goes on, Nuella gets increasingly more frustrated that the dragonriders haven’t come back to continue Kisk’s lessons.

“But nothing’s happened. And I’m no help at all.”
“You’ve helped me.” Kindan told her softly. Kisk gave a reassuring chirp and walked over to butt Nuella’s shoulder with her head. “And Kisk. We wouldn’t know half what we know if it hadn’t been for you. Soon we’ll be ready to go into the mine and–”
Nuella’s derisive snort cut him off. “Sure, you’ll go into the mine and then what? What will I do then? ‘Thank you, Nuella, you’ve been a big help, now you can go back to your room. And don’t get caught!’ ” Her voice choked on the last word and she buried her head between her knees.
Kindan didn’t know what to say and the silence between them stretched out interminably. Finally he opened his mouth to speak, only to see that Nuella had held up a hand and cocked her head in the direction of the curtains at the doorway to the shed.
“You may as well come in,” she said out loud. “You’ve heard too much already and I just don’t care anymore.”
After a moment the curtains rustled and a small figure could be seen in the dim glow light. It was Renna.
“You look just like Dalor,” the figure exclaimed. It was Renna.

And the rest of the chapter is introductions and the arrival of J’lantir, and the revelation that Renna is who Dalor has a crush on, and that the crush is requited.

Let’s tackle this quoted but in reverse order. Good that Renna is clever enough to put it all together, even though the narrative has Nuella say that Renna followed her only because she looked like Dalor and Renna has the crush on Dalor. But Renna’s remark that Nuella looks like Dalor could only make sense tempered with “when she’s in disguise” or “looks like him in the face,” because we’ve already established from Kindan and Nuella that they’re different heights and that there’s a strong likelihood that Nuella is starting to develop breasts. Dalor and Nuella are, as best I can tell, fraternal (thanks, Digitalis) twins of different body configurations. So, I’m going to assume that Renna means it in those configurations because it makes sense to do so, even if it’s not literally true.

However the most important part is that Nuella is right. She doesn’t have anything to look forward to and is likely to end up stuck even more tightly in her room and the area once Kindan and Kisk take on regular mine work. There’s no prospects for her, other than perhaps lessons with Zist, and it’s unlikely she’s going to be introduced to the world at large while Natalon is still afraid of a nonexistent issue. Nuella has every right to be utterly bitter about the fact that everyone has been ablist and has been hiding her while she could have been doing something significant this entire time. Although I don’t know if she would have accepted the idea of being a caretaker for small children being her lot in life as a young woman.

Given the presence of a new author, though, I can hope that this one doesn’t end with Babies Ever After, right? For any of our protagonists?

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Dragon’s Kin: A Training Regimen

Last chapters, Kindan got an egg and hatched it successfully. Tarik is entirely sour on it, but everyone else in the camp seems to want to try and help. Including Nuella, although it’s getting a lot harder for her to disguise herself as her brother because puberty is starting to arrive…

Dragon’s Kin, Chapter IX, Content Notes:

Walk, baby, walk, come you to me.
Soon, baby, soon, you’ll walk away from me.

That’s…depressing. Also, true, but still. I’m beginning to believe that most of these rhyme snippets we’re seeing are from the folk music traditions of Pern, since it doesn’t seem likely that these are creations of the Harper Hall. This means having to grapple with whether Yanus was just a fundamentalist and his belief that women shouldn’t be making music is extreme, or whether there’s a general belief that songs are the province of the Harper, or whether those snippets we saw in the later books about Robinton collecting and distributing songs are supposed to be the norm.

All the same, this seems a lament about how quickly children grow up and become adults, which seems a rather apt song to be singing for the people of this particular camp, given the disaster that caused more than a few young children to have to cut their childhood short so they can work in the mine.

The chapter proper opens with Zist complaining there isn’t a whole lot of written material in anybody’s archives about watch-whers and even less about the care, feeding, and training thereof. Despite, as has been pointed out repeatedly, whers supposedly being important enough to keep around all the way to the Ninth Pass. We could certainly speculate that every wher-handler throughout Pern’s history has been of the class that is either illiterate or not socially high enough to have access to writing implements and parchment, but if we do that, we also almost have to say there’s been an unbroken line of succession from, say, Wind Blossom to whenever the now is, and that succession line has been able to orally transmit everything someone needs to know about being a handler from the person who was a handler before them. It’s not impossible, but it is improbable. I am reminded of how Shankolin was about to learn the craft secrets of Norist, before Norist was exiled for his role in the AIVAS attacks. Oral tradition does seem to be very important on Pern.

And speaking of puberty, it has apparently come to Kindan, now that he’s twelve, and his voice is cracking and making it difficult for any sort of singing to happen well. Furthermore, now that Kisk is nearly full-grown, Kindan will start having to use her in the mines soon, which will end the Zist-Kindan partnership for good. This upsets Kindan a great deal.

Nuella, for her part, recognizes the new mine shaft is rather close to the secret passage that lets her traverse between Natalon’s house and the mine, and Kindan thinks it would be great training for Kisk (and himself, he realizes, after Nuella points it out) to navigate in the dark.

It goes about as well as planned, with Nuella and Kisk doing fine in the darkness and Kindan eating his shins a lot until he gets a little more used to navigating without his eyes. (Nuella also tells him to stop trying so hard to hear everything, which annoys Kindan more about how she seems to be able to understand everything in the dark and he doesn’t understand anything.)

Once he’s able to visualize the layout of the mine, including the new shaft, Kindan realizes it’s a good plan for being able to live and work without risking worker or coal to the voracious appetites of Thread (because Thread eats carbon-based everything, and coal is mostly carbon. The More You Know…)

“That’ll be a good thing for the next Pass,” Kindan said aloud.
“Only if the Camp is proved,” Nuella responded. “Otherwise it’ll all be a waste, like Uncle Tarik’s Camp.”
“What do you know about that?” he asked, intensely curious.
“Shh!” Nuella hissed. She added, in a whisper, “We’re getting near the end of the passage. I’ll tell you later.”

We’d like to know, too, thanks!

Regrettably, while being a lovely example of foreshadowing, this exchange also makes Tarik’s behavior make less sense to me. Yes, he might be bitter and jealous that Natalon is getting the chance where he failed, but that seems like motivation to make it succeed so there’s a place to live, rather than wanting it to fail and nobody having space to hang their hard hats. I suppose it could be “I want it to fail enough that I’ll get elected, and then I can magically make it prosper,” but that’s a fine needle to thread, and I don’t think Tarik has the skill for it. Or, at least, Tarik in the hands of this author collaboration doesn’t have it. Tarik reminds me too much of Toric and his supposed clever machinations to be any better than Toric about the delicate art of politics.

The theme of teenagers realizing what’s obvious to them is not to others continues, as Kindan successfully manages to talk Nuella out of leading them into the mines.

“And no one’s supposed to go into the mines without the shift leader knowing. What if there were a cave-in? We’d be trapped.”
“I suppose you’re right about that,” she admitted after a moment’s silence. “I hadn’t thought about it before.”
Kindan snorted, remembering how he had had to remind Nuella to put on a hard hat–there was a shelf of them behind the secret door into the passageway. Everyone who went into the mines was taught to wear a hard hat as a matter of reflex.

Kindan gets his in return when he slams into one of the curves of the secret passage face-first after forgetting to count his steps. And then gets admonished to listen before opening the secret door, so as not to give away its existence. The first Nuella smothers a laugh for, the second, not so much, but at least they remember to bring something to shield Kisk’s eyes with. That way, when they encounter a bright fire, they can keep Kisk safe and not in pain.

Also, it might be my twentieth century instincts interfering again, but when someone says “hard hat,” I think of strong plastics. Of course, helmets have been around for a very long time, and made it of metals and alloys. So I’m going to chalk it up to a vestige of language, point out that the strange anachronistic language seems to be everywhere, and move on.

There’s only a couple points of interest in the subsequent scene with M’tal ,and both have to do with watch-whers. The narratively later part is that watch-whers understand dragon speech, in much the same way they appear to understand humans sending them pictures and such. This is fascinating to M’tal, despite what he just says earlier (which is the other interesting bit):

“Apparently, watch-whers have become forgotten on Pern.”
M’tal frowned. “I don’t like that. They were clearly bred from the same source as dragons, so there must have been a need for them. We shouldn’t have lost that lore.”

No kidding. I can see, say, Wind Blossom trying to erase all her data in shame at not having been able to breed a better dragon, but watch-whers still exist, and they’re being bred, and they’re being kept as sentries at the very least, so someone should have that data, and even just as Harper gossip, somewhere it should be written down. Of course, if it is gossip, there’s no guarantees that it can be found easily and quickly, but what they think they know about whers should be written somewhere.

Nuella is incensed that she didn’t get to meet the dragonrider, but she substitutes an incisive probe into what happened as a poor second. Kindan notes Nuella has learned the art of good questioning (although he doesn’t make the connection that Zist does the same, and Nuella has been Zist’s student for a while now), and the plan is going to use Dalor as the person who knows what’s going on.

Nuella is sour that she can’t pass as Dalor any more because of their height difference. Kindan points out there are other aspects that are changing as well, which leads to Nuella confirming to Kindan that she’s crushing on Zenor (after earlier saying that the reason Dalor is going along with their plan is that she threatened to expose Dalor’s crush)…and then threatening Kindan over the disclosure of that knowledge.

At which point we get useful information about how the mine is laid out and how things are mined – things that Kindan and Dalor are likely to know, and Nuella seems to have picked up by being around everyone, given that she uses specific terminology (“the new street”) to describe the space.

“Streets” run the length of the seam (east-west), “avenues” the width (north-south), and the style of working the seam is “room and pillar”, where large pillars of coal are left behind to support the rock and prevent a cave-in. It’s also noted as the only practical method left with the tools and people available for the mining.

So naturally, they head for the newest street, which Kindan looks at dubiously because it has extra supports built in. Nuella tells him that’s Natalon’s way and that Tarik thinks it a waste of time and people to add extra support. Even though Tarik is also spreading rumor about how the mine isn’t safe enough based on all the accidents. And Nuella highlights this incongruity by mentioning that Tarik claims his own mine was too dangerous to work based on pockets of bad air. The narrative notes he time indicates she didn’t believe that claim at all.

Nuella, however, did bring them here to see if they could teach Kisk what bad air smells like, as Natalon is making a new street to probe whether the problem that killed Dask runs the entire western part of the field. Eventually Nuella and Kindan get in an argument about whether or not Nuella can teach anyone anything, just based on her having to help with raising the baby, and the argument is enough to mask the fact that bad air has infiltrated their space.

So they get to teach Kisk what (one of the) bad air smells is, and in return…

The watch-wher took a breath and let it out with a rasp. She looked up thoughtfully at Kindan and chirped, Errwll.
“Stale,” Kindan repeated, taking another breath.
Kisk took another breath. Errwll.
“You’ve learned a word!” Nuella exclaimed.
Kindan have her a look and was glad she couldn’t catch it. “I can’t see how you can say that errwll sounds like stale.”
“I didn’t say that. I said that you’ve learned a word. Now you know that when Kisk chirps ‘errwll’ she’s telling you the air is stale.”
A look of comprehension dawned on Kindan’s face. “You mean, she’s teaching me her language?”
“I doubt watch-whers have a language. Even the dragons don’t have a language–feet male noise for emphasis but they don’t speak. They don’t need to, they use telepathy,” Nuella said. “But that doesn’t mean the two of you can’t work out ways to communicate together.”

Nuella is wrong. All creatures that communicate have a language. That humans don’t understand it has nothing to do with whether it exists or not. But it is good that Kisk is making the same noise to indicate the situation at hand, so that Kindan knows which response to give to that noise.

The rest of the chapter is essentially everyone getting away from the bad air, since they’ve been standing in it the whole time and they’re starting to get a headache from it. Nuella thinks of this as a good discovery, Kindan reminds her that he knows this already because of rescuing her earlier, and Nuella gives him a sincere thanks for the rescue. And that’s chapter IX. Progress, it appears.

Dragon’s Kin: Egg!

Last chapter, we found out that Natalon promised a winter’s worth of coal for just the chance for Kindan to get a watch-wher egg, but the dragonrider who (eventually) answers the call turns out to be a terrible asshole and the local Weyrleader. With everything seeming lost, Zist calls in a favor from a different Weyrleader he helped out earlier on in life, and preparations are made to not only get Kindan to the right place, but also the right time, as it’s been a day or two since the deal was supposed to happen, thanks to Weyrleader Asshat.

Dragon’s Kin: Chapter VII and VIII: Content Notes:

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

This chapter is the shortest one of the book (and only now does it ping at me that this V-shape of novel has been in place in just about all of the chaptered books so far) and could be summed up in a single sentence: “Kindan gets the egg.”

What we learn about Kindan and watch-whers, however, is worth the price of going through the book. At the end of the last chapter, Kindan overheard that the fate of the camp rests on whether or not he can successfully raise a watch-wher to help in the mines. Which is a pretty big thing to put on his shoulders. But also makes me wonder how other mines are doing, since the introduction implied that Natalon’s choice to use watch-whers was experimental. Even with the constant sabotage, is Natalon doing better or worse than other mines in terms of injury and fatality? We don’t know.

In any case, the travel back in time for a day takes slightly longer than M’tal said it would (five coughs instead of three), and Kindan gets a slight reassurance from Gaminth that they’re nearly there because of the extra time.

Kindan’s instructions from Aleesa might do great in a technical challenge from the Great British Bake-Off:

“I’m to bow to the queen and make my way toward the clutch. If she lets me, I’m to choose an egg and take it, bowing again and walking backward.”

Seems simple enough, right? Except that’s clearly not all of it, because otherwise it wouldn’t be such a fraught affair. Kindan, running on instinct, proves that he learned a lot more from Danil than he knew.

He cleared his throat and murmured the soft chirps that his father always used when entering Dask’s lair.
Behind him he heard a surprised remark from Aleesa. “Well, at least the lad knows what to say to her.”
[…Kindan approaches, trying to sound friendly…]
When he was close to the queen, he held out his right hand. There was not much of a scar left from where his father had slit his thumb pad to blood him to old Dask. He altered his sound to a reassuring tongue tell and showed her his palm. She ran her tongue over it. It was a nice, dry tongue. Sometimes Dask’s had been skinny and not at all something you wanted licking you. He increased his trill to what he thought was a glad “Thank you.”
[…more of Kindan’s thoughts about whers, including that Dask was chosen to sire a couple clutches. Kindan yawns. …]
“Excuse me,” he said, deathly afraid he had insulted her. “I’m tired. We went back in time to get here and–well, I’m afraid.”
He bowed to her and formed the image in his mind of Gaminth and their journey back in time from tomorrow.
The queen gave a surprised chirp and Kindan got the impression that she’d picked up the image from his mind.

Which she most likely did. Kindan is successful in selecting an egg at random (“Eeeny meeny, tipsy teeny, ah vu bumberini. Isha gosh bumberosha, nineteen hundred and two. I pick you.” is the actual chant, which seems like nonsense words through a lot of it.) and trills his thanks before leaving. Kindan then successfully asks without asking what to feed a newly-hatched wher (oat porridge and fresh blood mixed together for the first three months, then meat when the wher can properly chew), and everyone goes back to the place and time where they came from.

Kindan using what he learned informally from his father rings true to me, mostly because as I get older, the things that Dad tried to teach me about tool usage and other bits of knowledge have come in handy when I remember them, despite not really being interested in the things at the time. In Kindan’s case, it’s probably more true that he didn’t have the opportunity to learn it, being the youngest, but he still apparently picked up enough to be helpful and successful in collecting an egg.

Now that’s he’s gotten it, we’re on to Chapter VIII, which means a new rhyme-chant:

Watch-wher, watch-wher in the egg,
Grant to me the boon I beg.

I’m almost always saying these as skip-rope or jump-rope chants, rather than as songs or poetic forms, because they scan to that so well for me.

Chapter VIII starts with Kindan admitting to Zist he knows squat about raising and training a watch-wher. Zist promises to help (and send a few messages with questions, if needed) in what way he can. Zenor is awed by the egg, but the actual hatching takes place in the middle of the night, three days after retrieving and returning with the egg. Kindan hatches a green, then remembers that watch-whers teethe and resolves to get something to help with that pain. When he’s done feeding her, and feeding her, and feeding her – it takes three giant pots of porridge before the watch-wher is sated. And then Kindan realizes he has to cut himself so that the watch-wher knows whose blood she answers to. Zist offers to sharpen the knife, and Kindan is a bit squeamish on the matter, so he is going to ask Zist to do the cut. After he shows Zenor the hatchling, since Zenor was in the mine when it all went down. Zist makes the cut, and the hatchling laps up plenty of blood from Kindan for the bond.

Kindan has to sleep with the watch-wher and free around it near constantly, not because it needs that kind of care, but because Zist makes a sensible remark that there are people in the camp that might wish the new wher harm.

Like Tarik, who seems to have a constant stream of complaints.

“It’ll eat more than it’s worth,” was Tarik’s first dour comment. Later, it was “And how long before it’s ready to go down the mines?”
“When does that ugly creature reach its growth?” was the next snide remark. “Not much use as it is now, is it?”
And yet again, “Natalon paid how much coal for that bag of bones?”
Kindan’s hatred of the head miner’s uncle grew steadily greater with each return visit and insulting comment.

He found himself afraid to leave the watch-wher unattended, not only for fear of what Tarik might do, but also for fear of what the watch-wher might do it of its own fright. The poor thing had already nearly bitten Zenor once when he arrived early one morning and threw back the heavy curtain draped down behind the door to protect the watch-wher’s delicate eyes.

Which is to say, Tarik’s an asshole, and Zenor nearly got bit because he wasn’t thinking and exposed a watch-wher to bright light. Neither of those seem like the sort of thing that would be conducive to a young child raising something essential.

Kindan, for his part, finds his nerves unraveling at having to constantly take care of the watch-wher, although this does give him an appreciation of what Zenor went through when his younger sisters were born and young. So when Nuella appears and gives him a break to collect food, Kindan takes it, and then realizes that it may not have been the best idea when Zist pointedly asks about what happens if Nuella has to raise an alarm. The watch-wher gets fed, Nuella suggests meat scraps as a dietary change, which makes everyone much happier, especially the wher, who eventually gets a name — Kisk. Because wher naming convention is apparently some letters of the handler and the -sk extension to indicate a wher.

There’s also a remark from Kindan that Nuella isn’t going to be able to pretend to b be her brother for much longer, which suggests that Nuella is starting to show some anatomical differences.

The chapter closes out with Kindan taking Kisk on a walk after she makes it apparent that she wants to go outside at night. Along the way, he meets Cristov, who wants to see the wher for himself, as it appears the house is divided about whers.

“I know my father doesn’t like them,” Cristov continued breathlessly, holding out a hand palm-up to the watch-wher, “but my feet says we should respect them. She says, ‘A grown-up makes their own decisions.'”

Which is very useful advice. And comes in handy, even if Cristov doesn’t yet have practice at it, when Tarik and Dara both end up intruding on the scene of Cristov being locked affectionately by Kisk. Tarik is his usual caustic and dismissive self, and Dara not only gives him the evil eye for it, she asks politely how Kindan and Kisk are doing.

So now we have a small watch-wher and the boy who gets to train her. Which is fabulous, except for the part where, well, nobody has a fucking clue what they’re doing. But they’ll believe in their ability to adapt, and it will likely turn out well.

Training starts next week.

Dragon’s Kin: One Giant Asshole

Last time, Kindan took Nuella out to a Gather, after the traders arrived with reinforcements and goods to trade. Zist is appreciative that his apprentice is quick-thinking, even if he’s not as fond of the solutions Kindan comes up with.

Dragon’s Kin: Chapter VI: Content Notes:

Cromcoal, Cromcoal, burning bright
Warm the cold of winter’s night.
Cromcoal, Cromcoal, underground
Where the best of all coal’s found.

Which sounds like either an advertisement or a cheer, neither of which I have seen in Pern before and that adds an entire new set of questions that I’m very sure won’t get answered.

The actual action starts with miners complaining in Natalon’s ears that they need another watch-wher, as accidents continue to keep happening to the mines. Natalon passes their complaints on, until a cryptic drum message, “Aleesa will trade,” sets in motion the knowledge that Natalon is trading a winter’s supply of coal for a watch-wher egg. Which is to be given to Kindan to hatch and raise, as Zist and Natalon fear the mine will fail without a watch-wher. They consider this so important that the Camp’s dragon-summoning fire and flag are lit.

And then it burns for two days before a dragon comes to investigate it, giving Kindan a new story to tell (and Zist a way of instructing him in the telling of that story so that it takes a full fifteen minutes to get done and leaves the audience in awe). But a significant amount of time passes and there’s no dragon yet. Zist is a bit torn – the Camp needs its wherhandler, but training to do so means Kindan won’t be a Harper apprentice any more.

Kindan is nervous in anticipation, and wonders what will happen if there’s no dragon, so Zist tells him a story about being posted as a Healer to Benden Weyr. During a hatching, after impression, Zist cheered for his new rider friend, and it startled the dragonet enough that it tore up the wing. Zist still blames himself for it, but the point of the story is that he met an older man and together they healed the dragonet. Zist mentions the name of the song about the affair–“When I Met Myself Healing”–and Kindan twigs to the implication that it means dragons can time travel.

Which is a good thing, because the dragon that answers the beacon in the middle of the night has no time nor respect for those who set the beacon.

“You set a beacon for this?”
Kindan sensed Master Zist tense angrily beside him.
“We had hoped day we could ask for the hospitality of transport,” Natalon replied. “We give fair tithe.”
“The beacon and dragon pregnant are for emergencies, Miner,” the dragonrider responded, beckoning to his dragon and preparing to depart.
“Lord–” Zist called urgently, stopping the irritated dragonrider in his tracks.
“I am Lord D’gan, Harper, lately Weyrleader of Telgar Weyr,” the dragonrider replied, drawing himself up to his full height.

Oh, naturally the Weyrleader comes out to investigate the emergency banner. That said, based on this opening of the exchange, it seems rather incongruous for a Weyrleader to come out and investigate. The further attempts to get D’gan to carry them will reinforce the idea that D’gan doesn’t give enough of a shit about the Camp to have come investigating in the first place, even after the long wait.

Also, this is the first time I’ve heard a dragonrider or Weyrleader addressed by the title “Lord,” since dragonriders own no property nor serfs.

“Camp Natalon is a prosperous Camp with good prospects, my Lord. We have found much coal here which is greatly in demand–”
“Not by dragons or their riders, Harper,” D’gan interjected. “If you were mining firestone, it would be a different matter. I care little of Holders are a bit cold this winter.”

“We are mining Smithcoal, my lord,” Natalon said. “Our coal is of such quality that the MasterSmith himself has laid in a large order for it.”
D’gan clocked an eyebrow at him. “I am very pleased for the MasterSmith.”
“My Lord,” Zist said, and Kindan could see signs of restrained anger in the old Harper’s face, “that coal is used to make the steel that binds your fighting straps, strengthens your helmet, and buckles your belt.”
“I am glad to hear it,” D’gan replied. “We be had many complaints on the quality of the steel coming from the Smith Hall. Now I know the source.” He moved toward his dragon.

I don’t think it’s the Smith Hall that’s the problem of why you get shoddy steel, asshole.

“My Lord!” Zist called. “Of old the dragonriders of Pern have been courteous in responding to the just requests of the Holders and Crafters.”
D’gan stopped and whirled back, his hand on the dagger at his side. “Courtesy is much lacking in this Camp. Of old the dragonriders have been given more respect and have not been asked to provide frivolous thrill rides. Do not presume on my courtesy anymore!”
[….which finally gives Natalon, Zist, and Kindan the opportunity to explain what they’re asking for, but the story of Dask’s sacrifice does not sway D’gan…]
D’gan made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “You have only convinced me that Telgar’s previous Weyrleader was far too accommodating. Asking a dragon to give transport to collect a watch-wher.” He snorted again and smoothed his hair back. “Thread is coming again, as you should know, Harper. Do not presume on Interval courtesies anymore.”
With that, D’gan turned and flung himself onto his dragon’s back. In two chilling beats of its wings, the dragon was airborne and, in another, between.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the dragonriders of Telgar Weyr continued to receive shitty tithes, because there’s no way a colossal asshole life that would only be so derisive to the miners.

After this particular bit of asshattery, there is a moment of levity.

Natalon turned questioningly to Master Zist, but the old Harper was too busy swearing to offer him any advice.
“What shall we do now?” Kindan asked after having learned enough new oaths from the angry Harper to dine on for a week.
Master Zist paused in his swearing, aware that Kindan had been listening intently. “You’ll remember that I believe any youngster who swears should be his mouth washed out with soap. And I shall remember not to swear in your presence.”

Although I would like to know what those oaths are, rather than just hearing that they exist. Swear words are one of the most telling things about a culture, and it would be nice to hear what kinds of combinations a Master Harper could come up with when torqued the way Zist just was. Alas, we’ll probably never hear them.

Zist goes to Plan B, which is to specifically request the dragonrider that he helped himself save when he was young. M’tal is more than up for the transport. But there’s one tiny wrinkle. The deal was supposed to happen yesterday. Which would absolutely piss off Natalon, except that Zist knows, Kindan knows, and Weyrleader M’tal knows (but wishes the other two would forget those “old Harper songs” ) about how to achieve a deal that ended yesterday..

Kindan is sent for a nap that he desperately needs, and awakens to hear Zist and M’tal discussing the situation, and that Natalon believes Kindan knows a lot more than he actually does about wherhandling. The entire camp’s fortunes are riding on Kindan, and he’ll take the blame if things go south. Kindan swears to himself he’ll keep the camp open. And that’s Chapter VI.

Dragon’s Kin: The Fine Art of Negotiation

Last time, Kindan was moved out of his family house for someone else, and came to reside with Master Zist, who has begun training him in the ways of the Harper, based on the recommendation from the previous Harper. There’s also some connection between the two that I’m hesitant to articulate yet, because there’s no evidence to support it, other than the way Zist has behaved this far about Kindan’s mother.

Dragon’s Kin, Chapter V: Content Notes:

A baby’s laugh, a mother’s sigh,
Sweet things make a day go by.

The action returns with Kindan telling Master Zist about the incoming trade caravan. Zist manages to avoid being caught out on his own ignorance of what this means by turning it into a task for Kindan to figure out how to get everything done so that the camp will be ready to welcome the traders. Kindan, for his part, succeeds admirably at the task by insinuating that he’s on orders from Zist to ask for the preparations, before heading to the mine to deliver the news to Natalon himself.

Zenor is the person working the air pumps that keep the miners from suffocating while they work, and he’s grumpy about not getting any action, at least until Kindan points out the position of trust he’s obtained by working the pumps. Zenor gives Kindan a sack of glows to take with him and lowers him down to the mine itself.

We might note that Kindan is not suffering any symptoms of PTSD, trauma, or terrible memories in any of this, nor is he having flashbacks or any other sign that being in the place that killed most of his family and the watch-wher is affecting him psychologically in any way. I find this highly improbable, given the magnitude of the trauma.

While he’s down there, Kindan studies the shoring of the mine shaft and reflects a bit that there aren’t enough people in the camp to cut trees to make more shoring. There’s no indication that Kindan has any feelings about whether more shoring would have saved anyone. Kindan delivers his message, puts the responsibility of assigning the new apprentices on Zist and Swanee (the camp supplier), using the same phrasing that Zist used to sidestep his own responsibility (“it would be an interesting challenge”), and goes to leave. Natalon offers to walk him back, and then asks Kindan pointedly how many coal drays (so it is the carts, and not the creatures, as was pointed out in the comments of an earlier post) the traders had with them. Kindan isn’t sure, and thinks it was four. Natalon says they have enough coal for five, almost six, and so if the traders came with six and not four, there’s a problem.

The camp could supply many of its own needs–lumber, coal, meat, some herbs and greens–but they needed flour, fabric, finished metal goods like pickaxes, spices, all the little incidentals that made living more than just drudgery.

Wait a minute. You’re telling me this mine camp doesn’t have a Smith on-site, despite the clear need for someone to do repair work, and that it doesn’t mine anything but coal for export? Despite also being in a remote location that traders only visit so often? There’s a supply chain assumption here that doesn’t make any sense at all. I would expect the mine to be much more self-sufficient and trade for luxuries and city-made stuff, not for basics like pickaxes.

Those goods had to be paid for, and coal was the way the camp paid for them. Traders preferred bagged coal, dry and ready to sell. They charged a penalty for wet coal, and another penalty for loose coal.

And where, praytell, is the camp getting the cloth / bags and the bindings for the coal so that the traders can have their ready-for-market material already set to make pure profit with? Probably from those same traders, so their “penalty” for coal that will dry by the time it gets to market and again for loose coal sounds much more like a company store line, with people taking advantage of the people who can’t get their goods except through trader caravans. I presume that money (in marks) is available at this point, but apparently the mine doesn’t get out have any of it?

If the caravan had only brought four coal drays, then the camp could only buy goods equal to that amount. But if the caravan brought six coal drays and Natalon only had enough for slightly more than five, there might be a bigger problem: No trader made a profit hauling half-filled wagons or, worse, empty ones. The trader could well decide to move on to another Camp in hopes of getting a full load. There’d be another caravan along soon that’d take what bagged coal Camp Natalon had, but it’d be at least another month.

[No, really, WHAT.]

In what universe does this even pretend to make sense? The setup presumes that there are other Camps nearby that can fill coal orders, and that Camp Natalon will be entirely passed by if they can’t fill everything up immediately. Like the traders move back to their base immediately after collecting a load and then set out again to the next camp to do the same thing. That’s extremely inefficient, as opposed to taking out the number of drays you need to visit a cluster of Camps and fill up and sell goods, and then maybe send the full ones back while the empty ones continue on to the next camp. The traders presumably should know about how much each camp will produce in the time between visits, and bring with them enough to haul what’s going to be available.

And this also assumes that each of the traders charges/barters the same as each of the others, which, unless all the traders are part of a guild or monopoly company, is ludicrous. Camp Natalon should know which trader companies will give them six drays worth of goods for six drays of coal, and which ones will give them five drays of goods for six drays of coal.

None of this makes sense. Which suggests nobody really thought about the economics of this whole they were writing it. *sigh*

As it is, Kindan and Natalon discuss what to do with regard to filling that sixth theoretical dray, which Natalon scolds Kindan for not actually counting, and they both conclude it will mean getting the trader to stay an extra day for enough coal to be bagged and loaded. Which Kindan also foists off on Zist to make happen. Zist, for his part, is happy Kindan set things in motion, is not happy at all that Kindan put Natalon’s problems in his lap, and realizes he’s going to have to bargain with the traders because Swanee is too honest to be effective.

“Traders are honest in their own way, too: They’ll always give you what you pay for, but they don’t go out of their way to be sure to give you their best price. That takes bargaining. Traders love to bargain.”
From the glint in Master Zist’s eyes, Kindan got the impression that the Harper enjoyed bargaining himself.

So Zist dumps responsibility for the entertainment of the night into Kindan’s lap, since Zist is no longer being Harper, but administrator.

This conversation also leads into a discussion about lies and secrets. Kindan feels like he lied to Natalon and the others because Zist didn’t give him explicit instructions for what he said. Zist suggests this is being a good subordinate by accomplishing the things that were desired, even without explicit phrasing and permission.

“A subordinate does walk a tender line between lies d truth. A subordinate is supposed to guess what his leader wants and guess correctly.” He wagged a finger at Kindan, eyebrows crunched together in warning. “You don’t want to be wrong when you’re my subordinate.”

I’d argue, at least from Kindan’s perspective, that he already guessed wrong three times while acting as a subordinate – the number of drays, the arrangements for the apprentices, and the trader negotiations, as all three have had negative consequences for Kindan, even if they might have been the right things to do in the broader narrative.

Kindan shrugged in weary acceptance. “But what about at the birthing? You didn’t ask me to see to it that Nuella was present, and we fooled Margit and Milla. If that’s not a lie, it’s certainly stretching the truth.”
“That was a difficult situation,” the Harper agreed. “You did well, by the way. Lies and secrets are related, Kindan. Secrets breed lies. Because Natalon wants to keep Nuella a secret, for reasons that I’m not allowed to tell you, you had to create some deceptions.”

Welcome to the world of grownups, Kindan. The world is not so black and white anymore.

Kindan offers possibilities as to why Natalon might want to hide Nuella, confirming that she’s both a girl and blind, but Zist sees through the ruse, offers no information, and tells Kindan to keep his conjectures to himself.

“So when is a secret a bad thing?”
“A secret’s a bad thing when it can be used to hurt others, or when it hides a hurt,” Master Zist said quickly. “You’ve an obligation, again as a harper, to expose a secret like that when you find it.”
“What sort of secret is that?” Kindan asked, mentally running through the small list of secrets he’d discovered about other people.
Master Zist made a sour face. “I once knew a man, who when he’d taken too much wine would lose his sense and temper. When he did that, he’d beat his children.” His lips tightened. “That’s that sort of secret.”
Kindan shivered at the thought. “So a bad secret is the sort of secret that when people know it, they can help?”
Master Zist considered his words before responding. “I suppose you could say that,” he replied.

I can feel the pull of the new author here, given that this is the first time that I’ve seen an explicit condemnation of child abuse. Even so, it’s couched in someone being an angry drunk. It’s progress, most definitely, but it’s a far cry away from a blanket condemnation of abuse of children (which the Masters of the Harper Hall have done with abandon, along with the seemingly accepted practice that beating your own child for disciplinary reasons is entirely okay) or a condemnation of abuse in general (which the dragonriders are definitely very guilty of on screen). It is better than it was. There’s still a long way to go.

Less heavily, Zist seems to have noted that Kindan has a tendency to use Exact Words and that he needs to be careful about what he tells Kindan, because the way he says it will be equally as important as the point he’s trying to make.

The traders arrive, with six drays, and Kindan ends up with the responsibility of fostering the apprentices for the mines that have come with the traders. He deftly foists four on Tarik’s house, having sweet-talked Dara with tales of the status she would gain in the camp, while knowing Tarik would be much less pleased, because he loved privacy. Two go with Toldur, and one with Norla when Kindan suggests that he’ll be working opposite shifts from Zenor, so Norla will always have an adult to talk to. (Norla, we recall, is managing the crèche and therefore might not have all that many opportunities to talk to someone that can converse back.)
Having settled the newcomers, Kindan returns to get ready for the party, to find Nuella crying in the study because Zist missed their scheduled lesson and she’s worried it means Zist isn’t happy with her. Kindan fills her in on what’s been going on in the camp today. Nuella is surprised the head of the trader group is a girl, and we can see the touches of the new author again.

Nuella sniffed. “I heard Milla say that a girl could be a baker or a mother, but that was all a girl was good for. She was complaining to Mother about it.”
“I can’t understand why Milla would complain,” Kindan said without thinking. “She’s a pretty good baker.”

That’s the first time I’ve heard gender stereotyping come out of the mouth of a woman, and the fact that Kindan’s reply is noted by the narrative as being thoughtless feels like the influence of at least one author trying to pull Pern closer to the sensibilities of the audience reading it by at least giving lip service to the idea that such stereotyping is wrong. Perhaps this is a reaction to the terrible way that Mirrim has been treated up to this point, even though this is set well before Mirrim?

Nuella details the worries everyone in the house has about whether or not the new child is going to turn out blind like Nuella is, as well as expressing her happiness that Master Zist keeps all the furniture in the same place. Kindan remarks that he gets yelled at when he moves the furniture (presumably without knowing the reason why until he deduced Nuella is blind and that she visits on the regular).

“He’s [Natalon] afraid we’ll be shunned,” she said bitterly.
“Shunned? But you’ve done nothing wrong,” Kindan said, wondering why the ultimate punishment–expulsion from society–could even be considered.
[…Nuella corrects Kindan’s assumption that it’s that kind of shunning, while indicating that Natalon’s mother was also blind…]
“My father’s afraid that people will wonder what’s wrong with him, if his children are blind. And they won’t trust him. And he’s afraid no one will marry Dalor.” With a catch in her voice, she added, “He doesn’t think I’ll ever get married.”
[…Kindan points out the absurdity of the plan to keep Nuella secret, and she agrees with him…]
“And what a choice bit of gossip she’d [Milla] make of you,” Kindan replied.
“She would, indeed,” Nuella agreed, adding bitterly, “And then Uncle Tarik would spread the word throughout the camp. ‘If he can’t make decent children, what sort of miner can he be?'”
Kindan considered her words carefully. He could see Tarik saying such spiteful things, and he could imagine there would be someone who would listen. Certainly Tarik’s cronies would. And they’d repeat the gossip. And, if anything went wrong, like the bad air in the hold, there’d always be some who would start believing the gossip.

Another strong case for why Natalon has all the excuse he needs to throw Tarik and all his cronies out for just the suspicion of sowing dissent and gossip in the camp, much less any of the other possible suspicions he could toss onto him.

But let’s unpack these statements about how Nuella’s blindness will somehow reflect terribly on Natalon, in contravention of every patriarchal impulse and reality that Pern has put forth. I sense the hand of our new author here, but he hasn’t done enough in text to set up the possibility that Natalon could be blamed 5 it, because the only two people that we know for certain have this blindness are Natalon’s mother and Nuella. The blindness seems to have skipped a generation, and we don’t know if any of Natalon’s sisters have the same affliction, or any brothers do. Based on the evidence we do have, it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that the blindness will only ever affect women in the bloodline. (I’m not sure how, if at all, the genetics for that would work, but in the three generations that we know, only women have been afflicted.)

Furthermore, given that Pern is supposed to model the time period and scientific advancements of Latin Christendom, there’s no way that I can think of where they would place the blame on Natalon. Given that it took a rather long time after Henry VIII kept killing his wives to figure out that whether a daughter or a son is born is based on the sperm and not the egg, I can’t see the toxic patriarchy of Pern suggesting in any way that a man’s genes might be the reason for a disabled child. It would be far more likely (and consistent) for all the blame to be laid on Natalon’s wife. I’m sure Tarik could find a way to spin that into something about Natalon’s ability to make good decisions (“He married a woman that produces defective children! He can’t be trusted to make life and death decisions about the rest of us!”) or some other way of calling into question Natalon’s ability to lead, but it would likely all be through Natalon’s wife, not Natalon himself. (At least where children are involved.)

In any case, Nuella was hoping to get to come out, but the cave-in happened. Here we finally acknowledge that it was traumatic for Kindan:

Kindan felt his throat tighten as he remembered all that had been lost in that cave-in. Master Zist had kept him so busy that it was only in his sleep–his nightmares–that he remembered the past, and his family.

I’m not sure this is also realistic, but I don’t have childhood trauma.

Kindan and Nuella discuss how Zenor came to make her acquaintance and how much Nuella has been helping them both out (her blindness has, naturally, enhanced her hearing and smell accordingly), and they both decide to make Nuella up to look like a trader girl so that she can go out among the Gather attendees for the evening. As it turns out, Nuella can also play pipes, so Kindan gets an extra person to play some songs when he goes to listen into the crowd.

It’s as he thought – everyone else thinks Dara did great by fostering the apprentices, but Tarik (and Dara, because Tarik is terrible) are not happy about the lack of privacy that comes with it.

There’s a small scare when Natalon enters, but he doesn’t stay long, and a longer conversation between Kindan and Zenor about exactly how daft Kindan is to put Nuella on the stage. Kindan asserts that the disguise will be enough to keep her safe. He’s wrong, as Natalon and Jenella have a strong impression about, if not outright recognize, Nuella on stage, but Kindan provides a convenient excuse to not have to acknowledge it by pretending the girl is a trader.

There’s singing from Kindan, accompanied by pipes from Nuella, that results in some thunderous applause, and then Kindan hands off Nuella to Zenor for dancing while Zist picks up his fiddle to provide music. The Master has an opinion on the dancing:

“They’re too young to match, and you’re too young to be matchmaker,” Master Zist whispered in Kindan’s ear when the song was over.
“They’re friends,” Kindan replied. “And at a Gather the only thing they can do together is dance.”

Kindan goes out to listen, and hears Panit, one of Tarik’s men, talking down watch-whers (despite having been saved by one) and not thinking it a big deal that the apprentice that had a watch-wher didn’t show up with the traders.

Afterward, we hear of the successful negotiations between Zist and the traders for the extra day, and the narrative teases about why Natalon doesn’t jettison Tarik, and why Tarik hates Natalon, but neither Kindan nor Zist had any insight into it, so nothing happens. Instead they talk about why the apprentice with the watch-wher didn’t come to Camp Natalon.

“From what I gather,” Zist continued, “and she [Trader Tarri] was very circumspect about it all, it seems the apprentice in question decided that his Master’s wrath was less troubling than life in this Camp.”
“The only thing I fear more than my Master’s wrath is death,” Kindan said with an apologetic look at the Harper.
Master Zist laughed. “Yes, and that was exactly Trader Tarri’s observation.”
“So you think the apprentice was afraid of dying in the mine?”
“Or losing his watch-wher,” Master Zist remarked.

I realize that this is supposed to be read as a bit of jokey exaggeration, except Kindan didn’t seem to be joking, Zist has already demonstrated he can be a terrible person, and by this point, we’ve already seen callous attitudes toward the lives of apprentices and watch-whers. If Zist’s laugh is anything but serious, he’s misread the situation entirely.

The chapter closes out with the presence of even more trader caravans, the new apprentices getting set to build a new mine entrance, Zenor grumbling that he still isn’t actually able to go into the mine, and Kindan realizing that he and Zenor are drifting apart because their lives and schedules have become radically different. He’s also spending and enjoying more time with Zist and Nuella as a Harper apprentice. And spending more time doing these things that makes him happy.

There is one bit that needs addressing:

Sevenday after sevenday, caravans rolled in at all hours of the day, loading up with coal and heading back out again to Crom Hold, or farther to Telgar, where the Smithcraft made the steel that rimmed the wheels of the drays, formed the bodies of the pot-bellied stoves and ovens that Milla so loved, was turned into plowshares, dragon’s tack, and countless other things that could only be made from steel.

And again, I don’t understand why there isn’t a Smith in the camp, because there’s clearly a need for steel for both miners and traders and someone to craft the steel into usable things. Coal-fired furnaces that can help forge steel are clearly a thing, but why is the nearest steel a caravan away in Crom or Telgar? I don’t think the miners can wait that long if their equipment breaks, especially not in winter.

It is nice seeing logistics being thought about, because the dragonriders were generally uncaring about the hows so long as the tribute arrived, but Camp Natalon doesn’t even seem to have all the necessary personnel.

More next week.

Dragon’s Kin: What I Don’t Know Can’t Be Used To Hurt Me

Last chapter, Kindan was orphaned by a cave-in that claimed the lives of his father and several of his brothers. Dask died because Natalon chose to prioritize the rescue over keeping Dask alive long enough to be useful beyond the rescue. We learned through this that watch-whers aren’t so tightly bonded to their handlers that they immediately die if their handlers do.

And now, there is what happens afterward.

Dragon’s Kin: Chapter IV: Content Notes: Grief, childbirth

I am too big to cry
And my voice is too shy
To sing my sad, sad song
Or say the words I long
To say to you–good-bye, good-bye.

You know what? Fuck the idea that there’s ever a time that someone is too big to cry, especially in boys and men. That’s toxic bullshit.

Chapter IV starts right after the funeral, with Kindan realizing that as the youngest of nine, neither his father nor his brothers were ever really all that intimate with him. Kindan thinks he should have done more, like the carving that Jakris did or the drawing Tofir did. Those two have been adopted by other families, Jakris to a woodworker’s family that will welcome an older child and his talent, and Tofir to Crom, where his drawing talents will possibly be put to use in cartography and mapping of mines.

Kindan has no noted talent, and therefore has not yet been adopted out. Zenor gets his father’s job in the mine. Because someone has to work to put food on the table, even if it’s a child, when you have no safety net. And that will essentially kill his studies, dooming Zenor to always be a miner until an accident or disease claims him.

(There’s part of an answer to the question of how Kindan would have to address Natalon, once the Mine becomes official – Natalon becomes a minor holder. But it still doesn’t say what titles should be used.)

Master Zist arrives to take Kindan to a meeting with Natalon and Tarik. They are entertaining the idea of letting Kindan stay in the camp and be fostered, rather than sending him to his sister.

Hang on a bit. There are at least three brothers still in the camp and the family. Yet they’re not kept together, even though there’s demonstrated talent enough there that both of them could apprentice to someone in the town (Jakris) or learn a useful trade to help in the mines (Tofir), and use that to keep their brother in the house? That seems suspect.

Tarik has eyes on Kindan’s house for his own growing family, however, and suddenly the picture starts sharpening. Even more so when Kindan asks about the investigation into the collapse, and Natalon says the best evidence they have is that Danil’s group dug into loose rock and that caused the slide.

Kindan points out that Dask said there was bad air, and he smelled something in the mine as well. Tarik says none of the people he talked to smelled anything, and is dismissive of the fact that it would be possible to have a small pocket explode and not be detected by the watch-whers beforehand.

Tarik turns to wanting to take the house.

“Well,” Natalon said slowly, “if Kindan doesn’t mind.”
“It’s not his house to give,” Tarik said sourly. “The house will have to be emptied when Thread comes, anyway.”
Kindan flushed at Tarik’s brusque manner.

Tell me again why Natalon hasn’t expelled Tarik already? He seems to be doing nothing more than being an asshole, undermining Natalon’s leadership, and causing trouble for others, at least when he isn’t ignoring safety regulations and getting watch-whers killed or driven away. Yes, they’re family, but there are a lot of very convincing reasons why Tarik should have long been given the hook. Much like Toric. And Tarik wants to move in as soon as possible, which makes him an even bigger asshole for displacing Kindan.

As to where he goes, apparently the rules for fostering are that kids need fostering should go to the person with the least amount of children, and as it turns out, there’s a Master Harper in the room with no kids of his own. Neither Zist or Kindan is keen on this, but Natalon decrees it, and Kindan gets help from other adults on the camp to move his stuff to the Harper’s cottage.

His stuff turns out to be his clothes, his bed, blankets, more clothes that he knows his sister will want, and a table of his mother’s that had old music inside. The rest, with Kindan’s agreement (although the narrative suggests Kindan isn’t fully cognizant of what he’s agreeing to) well be distributed to those who are in need.

The upshot, such that it is, is that Kindan gets his own room. And can have as much food as he needs, rather than the prospect of not getting anything to eat. (Sis always saved something for him, Kindan says.)

There’s also some insight into the complexity of people.

“You didn’t get along with Kaylek, did you?” Master Zist inquired gently.
Kindan shook his head. “No, not until just before–” He looked troubled. “Zenor, my friend, he told me that Kaylek saved his life.” Tears formed in Kindan’s eyes. “He was always mean to me, but he saved Zenor’s life.”
“It’s a bit hard to grasp, isn’t it?” Master Zist commented. “I have been surprised how often people who only seem to be bad have turned out to be selfless when it really matters.”
Kindan nodded in wordless agreement.

People behave differently around family than anyone else. And, often times, will push others out of the way when needed.

Zist goes into an explanation of what Harpers nominally do: music instruction and performance, gathering of information, assistance and smoothing ruffled feelings when needed. Also observation and keeping secrets (and letting others keep theirs). Zist instructs Kindan not to try and overhear conversations he has in the study or his kitchen, and that if Kindan wants to talk about something, Zist will tell him if that’s a secret to be kept.

All of this is prologue to Zist saying that Jofri had left notes that Kindan showed promise and aptitude toward Harpering, and that Zist will be teaching Kindan that trade starting tomorrow.

Which is in addition to things like being the oldest boy not in the mines, and thus in change of the children runner/watch squadron, or helping other kids trim branches cut down by adults.

Zenor is in the mines, and his mother is essentially the day care for all the working mothers doing gardening, planting fields, or cutting trees. Which has the useful consequence of making sure the widow whose son is in the mine has plenty of human contact. Zist suggested this arrangement for that reason, so it’s not really an accident.

Kindan overhears complaints from visitors about how the mine seems to be doing well now, but the future may not be great. And has to explain to Master Zist why people talking about “working the pillars” is a bad sign (because it means you’re either in a hurry and not going to be there long or you’re running out of coal and not going to be there long).

Zist, in return, trains him in the Harper craft, including grabbing Kindan by the ear when he trips Tarik’s son and wants to beat him for his taunts. Zist then assigns Kindan the chore of doing the laundry at Tarik’s house until he can list three virtues of Tarik’s son.

It takes Kindan two days. At which point, Zist tells him to describe the house. Not as he remembers it, but as it is. And Kindan can actually remember a lot of the details, when pressed.

Kindan turns out resourceful as well when he goes looking for Dalor after he misses a watch shift. Recognizing the smell of bad air suffusing Natalon’s house, Kindan raises a fire alarm with his voice, then gets Zist to do the same, and then dashes inside to open windows and let the gas out. Given that the bad air has a characteristic smell, it’s probably methane or hydrogen sulfide that’s the gas in question.

Now, since this is Natalon’s house, that means both Dalor and Nuella have to be pulled out, along with Natalon and his wife. Kindan notices the extra person, and swiftly gathers enough people and blanket cover to get all of the children to Zist’s, hopefully without anyone else noticing. Whereupon Kindan reveals that he knows Nuella’s name, but also that he knows to keep secrets.

It turns out the chimney of the house was blocked in, by accident, supposedly, but as Kindan hears while playing drums for the gathering,

there’d been minor accidents once or twice a week since the cave-in that had killed his father and Dask.

Along with other sentiments that things aren’t going great for the mine. Which culminates in Panit, identified as one of Tarik’s cronies by Kindan, questioning whether “the problem’s not watch-whers, but leadership.”

I’d say, at that point, it sounds like someone has been sabotaging the mine. Natalon already has excuse enough to send the most likely suspect on a very long vacation trip, not that anyone actually does those sorts of things, even with evidence. Does Natalon not feel like he has enough authority to throw someone out? There’s already someone openly questioning his leadership. For any other Lord, that would certainly be enough to give them the hook. Why not here?

When Dalor comes to the house and says that his mother’s in labor, Zist sends him to the Healer, Margit. Kindan says the Healer isn’t much for midwifery, and the two who did it most were Silstra and Harper Jofri. Neither of whom are here, but it turns out that Harpering is Zist’s second career, having taken up singing after being thrown out of the Healer Hall. Kindan and Zist engineer a plot to have Dalor and Nuella switch off every so often during the birthing, with each wearing identical clothing and cap so that none can tell the difference, although Margit is a bit suspicious that Dalor knows so well where baby things are kept, since that’s usually taught to daughters. Despite being a month premature, the new daughter is healthy and alive, and we learn that Zist, having done the actual baby catching, also had a daughter of his own once.

Having done the early morning delivery, everyone goes to their actual work, and this it’s Kindan who gets to spot a trader caravan coming. And that’s Chapter IV, which seems mostly to have been “strange, suspicious things keep happening at the mine, and also, a birth, and still no answers as to why Nuella can’t be acknowledged openly.”

Kindan does seem to be picking up the Harper Craft fairly quickly, though. Perhaps a bit scarily.

Dragon’s Kin: The Inevitable Tragedy, Again

Last week, a wedding! And some interesting backstory for the new Harper, and yet more about a girl who lives to sneak out but isn’t actually allowed out.

Dragon’s Kin: Chapter III: Content Notes: Whatever the equivalent of fridging is for parents dying to make orphans, cave-ins, speciesism, dying animal companions,

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

Unless you’re in a mine, and then you might have quite a shift ahead of you.

Kindan is slowly adjusting to life without his sister – he’s become her, unofficially, in terms of waking everyone up and making breakfast and keeping the fire going. Danil is asking him to check in on Dask, as well. But otherwise, things continue as they have been. Well, except that Master Zist is a terrible teacher, berating his students for their shortcomings. Sula’s letters because she wants to bake, Kaylek’s maths because he’ll need to figure out how to prevent cave-ins. Only Kindan has apparently escaped, but it’s actually because he decided that he’s going to go all-in on trying to be the best student he can be at all times. Which paradoxically allows him to find diplomatic restraint and to help Kaylek with his maths.

The action slows down the first day that Kaylek is to join his brothers in the mine, in that Kindan accompanies his brothers to see them off, we see that Zenor is accompanying his father for today, and we are told that Dask has been very on edge recently, which makes nobody happy.

That’s your foreshadowing warning. It goes downhill from here.

The children in Master Zist’s class notice that something has gone wrong first, because it’s too quiet and the background sound they’re used to isn’t there. Then the children see coal dust coming from the mine shaft. Not too soon after that, the mine alarm sounds and every child old enough to be of help is running full-speed to the mine shaft, lessons forgotten. Zist, having not been informed by his predecessor about what to do in case of emergency (or much of anything at all about mining, it seems), keeps the younger children with him and starts to rehearse ballads with them to try and keep their minds off what is happening outside. The mine alarm sounding again crushes that hope, and then we shift over to Kindan, arriving at the mine to the sight of a very wounded Dask.

Kindan asks what happened, as Dask leads him into the shaft.

Dask gave him the sound for “bad air.”
“Why didn’t you warn them?” Kindan asked.
Dask made an annoyed bleek and then the sound for “fast.”
“It happened too fast?” Kindan repeated. The watch-wher nodded.

It sounds like anyone can learn to handle a watch-wher if they go through enough training to understand them and care for them. Which does make you wonder why they aren’t more widespread in later Passes, but that’s chronology questions that become thorny when your setting is chronologically earlier and your publication date is chronologically later.

Kindan concludes the cause was an explosion of gas, because that’s the only thing that could take Dask by surprise. Dask leads the rescue party to the right part of the cave-in be then begins furiously digging, ignoring his own wounds in an attempt to get to the trapped miners. Kindan can’t discourage Dask from this, and when he appeals to Natalon, we are fairly starkly reminded that watch-whers will never be seen as more than pets or equipment.

Natalon looked over at the watch-wher. “We need him here now, especially as he seems to know where our men are.”
“But…he could bleed to death,” Kindan cried, tugging at Natalon’s sleeve.
“Do what you can for him but don’t stop him, lad,” Natalon said. “Your father’s on the other side.
[…Kindan runs out and asks Margit, the healer, for bandages for Dask…]
“You want my good bandages for the watch-wher?” she demanded, affronted.
“If he bleeds to death before he finds your mate, it’ll be your fault!”
“Why, you impertinent little scut!” Margit responded, stopping at him with the towel she had in one hand.

Kindan swipes bandages anyway, and is trying to get Dask to slow down, but Dask hisses at him and digs harder until he breaks through to the trapped miners. Kindan is sent to shout for stretchers, and by the time he gets back, it’s too late for Dask.

Back in the shaft, Dask was lying in a lump, his big eyes fitfully gleaming. He didn’t even pick up his head as Kindan knelt beside him. The first of the rescued men was being hauled out on a stretcher as Kindan tried to staunch the ichor that streamed out of the neck gash.
“Oh, Dask, what have you done to yourself?” he keened as he felt the unsteady neck pulse.
Dask curled his neck, placing his head on Kindan’s lap and sighing sadly. Kindan began to scratch behind Dask’s ears, soothing the beast as well he could. And so, having led the rescuers to the trapped men, Dask finished his life.

Excuse me for a moment.

“We’ll get the dead ones out now,” Natalon said. He paused beside Kindan, patting his head kindly. “Your father’s neck was broken, lad. And your brothers are half buried under rubble. We’ll get their bodies before night falls.”
Kindan sat there a long time, holding the heavy head of the watch-wher, absently scratching ears that were turning stiff, his lap covered in green ichor, until Natalon returned for a final inspection.
“Still here, boy? Come, it’s nearly dark.”
“But Dask is dead, Natalon.”
Natalon crouched down beside the boy and saw his tear-streaked face. He mopped some of the tears from the coal-dust-smeared face and touched Kindan tenderly on the head.
“There’s a big hole not too far away from here where I will see he is buried, Kindan, but you must come with me now. It’s all over down here.”
Natalon had to help the grieving boy to his feet, ignoring Kindan’s repeated request to stay by the watch-wher.
“He made a good end, Kindan. He was a fine beast.”

Well, I can fairly clearly see the influence of the new writer, who has managed to convey the terrible disaster that happened, but also the utter callousness that everyone else seems to have toward Dask, and the way that Natalon is not helping with the grieving process, nor did he lift a hand when Kindan told him that his best hope for finding those trapped miners was bleeding out in his desperation to get back to them. So they’ve also earned this, too.

Zenor, we find out, survived. Because (to twist the knife) Kaylek shoved him out of the way of the rockfall. And Chapter III ends with Kindan holding Zenor’s hand all the way through the night, as they sleep. Margit, when she discovers this, covers Kindan with a blanket.

So, Natalon’s mine has no watch-wher, and has lost a significant amount of experienced hands to the disaster. Kindan has lost his family, except for his sister and a couple brothers. And because Pern has no social safety net, the mine will re-open soon and children far too young to be working that kind of job will have to.

I think this is the first time we’ve seen the details of the tragedies wrought by humans, and that our main character will become special not through his talents, but through his tragedies.

Well, I said I wanted a lower decks episode, didn’t I? Perhaps I am getting my wish, possibly with an author somewhat attuned to view terrible things are for the serfs of Pern.