Last time, we spent time with Fiona as she tried to puzzle out the situation between F’jian and Terin, with a side order of Xhinna and Taria keeping their feelings to themselves about whether they’re wired wrong to be women and have blue and green dragons. Fiona swiftly and remorselessly attempts to disabuse Terin and Xhinna of the notion that they’re somehow wrong, but she’s fighting years of Xhinna and Taria being told they’re wrong for being lesbians despite it not having any precedence at all in Pernese society. (Because there have been no on-page lesbians until those two) Fiona diagnoses it as the time-twisted muzzy-headedness and prescribes caffeine as the solution.
Dragon’s Time, Chapter Four (continued): Content Notes: Patriarchy, Misogyny, child cruelty and abuse
After Fiona realizes that the sensation she had earlier, with the dizziness and the double-dragon speak, might be her dragon talking to her from two different points in space at the same time, we go back to Terin and F’jian. F’jian is determined to make me eat my earlier words about being happy at being in the reserves, describing it as “the harder duty” as he lays out what the rehearsal schedule will be before the night Threadfall that’s coming up. We have another sequence where Terin wakes up because F’jian feels like he’s gone, but he’s there, and he’s telling Terin that she’s beautiful and that he loves her and that she should sleep. Which is now beginning to sound a bit more like what Kylara was doing in observing herself at earler points in time, except it’s F’jian coming back over and over again to see Terin. Which suggests that one of the two of them is going to bite it soon, and if F’jian keeps coming back to see Terin, it might not be F’jian that’s going to die. After all, “This is yours and no other’s” was all that Tenniz said to Terin in prophecy, and if it meant that she would get a gold dragon, then that part’s already done and Tenniz has no more future words for Terin.
We skip ahead to Terin finding Fiona in the Records room to call her to food, but it’s dinner, not lunch, and while Fiona is apologetic, Terin suggests that Fiona needs to have someone force her to take breaks and eat. Fiona counters and gets the heat off herself by correctly pointing out that Terin has the muzzy-head, too, and then insisting that Tern share what’s going on in her life.
So, Terin told her about the night before.
“He’s not seeing anyone else,” Fiona said firmly. “I would have heard if he was.”
“Then what is he doing?”
“I hate to say it, but could you be dreaming?”
“Like you about Lorana?”
“Perhaps,” Fiona said, waving a hand to ease the tension. “And for the same reasons, it would be it would make sense for both to be dreams.” Terin’s eyebrows went up. “Me, for dreaming what I’d like, you for dreaming what you fear.”
I imagine Fiona being pretty half-hearted about this, since she doesn’t really want to believe that she’s dreaming herself, and that she really wants a better answer than that. Fiona suggests secret training and Terin shrugs about how useful that would be. They both dismiss the entire contingent going back in time to Igen, and Tern pleads with Fiona that if they’re going somewhere else, to some other time, that Fiona would take Terin along with her, please. At the possibility of Southern as a destination (by which they mean the Southern Continent, not Southern Weyr, which won’t be established for a long time), Fiona dismisses it because they might “get infected with the dragon sickness or worse.” This would be handy for someone who studied the genetics module to tell them that they wouldn’t get infected with the old dragon sickness, because the new genetically-modified dragons don’t have the same pathways of infection as the old ones do, but there’s always the possibility that proximity to dragons would help the old infection mutate faster and try to figure out how to infect the new dragons.
As Fiona and Terin arrive to dinner, the story gets repeated again to L’tor, the wingleader of the on-loan-from-Benden contingent, and Fiona suggests someone getting her a guard to make sure that she eats and sleeps and knows what time it is. Shaneese, ever-powerful henchwoman, has a suggestion of someone who would be perfectly suited to the job, but she’s not sure if she should give him over to Fiona. It’s Jeriz, who is Tenniz’s son (the one who he said wouldn’t get precognition), sent by Mother Karina to Fiona. At the initial meeting, Fiona says hello and extends her hand, but Jeriz isn’t very talkative, which annoys Shaneese greatly. Also, more evidence to the theory that Fiona is an empath as well as telepathically linked to Lorana.
The boy looked up and Fiona was pierced by his brilliant green eyes, eyes that were set in a swarthy trader face and looked out from under unruly, long black hair. Fiona was shocked at the beauty of the boy just as she caught his hidden fury, anger, rage, and–beneath all them–his great fear and loneliness.
Remember, of course, that Tenniz also said that green was an unlucky color among the traders, so it’s possible Mother Karina sent him out to somewhere where his eyes wouldn’t be a problem. Also, it’s likely she sent him out here because Tenniz or someone else saw it happening, and you can’t break time.
Anyway, Fiona tempts Jeriz first with the prospect of getting to see a queen dragon up close, and then with a trade that will be mutually beneficial to them both. If she can lead Jeriz into the right pathway to make the trade, that is.
“Are you willing to make a trade?”
“What for? I’ve got nothing!”
Ah! Fiona thought to herself. Another who cannot see their own worth.
“I could trade you nothing for nothing, but it seems a poor choice.” Fiona said. She frowned for a moment. “How about this: I help you and you help me.”
“You’re a Weyrwoman, you don’t need my help.”
“Then you’ll come out best in the bargain, won’t you?”
[…Fiona explains that she needs a minder to keep her on schedule for eating. Jeriz, after saying anyone can do that, asks what Fiona can do for him…]
“What’s the most important thing for a trader?”
“Trade,” Jeriz said simply.
“Knowledge,” Fiona corrected him. He gave her a thoughtful look. “Trade is easy, knowing when to trade and what to trade, that’s hard.”
[…Fiona offers to give Jeriz the run of the Records while she’s in there and to keep whatever knowledge he picks up as his price in trade…]
Jeriz’s breath caught and he exhaled, his shoulders slumping, his eyes going back to the ground. He seemed to completely fold in on himself even as he shook his head once, silently.
Suddenly, Fiona had a thought. “I can teach you to read, too.”
Jeriz’s eyes locked on hers and he took a step forward so he could whisper into her ear, “And you won’t tell anyone?”
“No one,” Fiona swore solemnly, hiding her exultation at having guessed correctly. She lowered her voice so that only he coule hear her, “Not even Shaneese.”
Jeriz stuck his hand in hers and shook it firmly. “Deal.”
I mean, Shaneese is still in the room with them while Fiona is working out this deal to teach Jeriz to read, even though she says that not even Shaneese will know. Unless they’ve been conducting these negotiations very quietly, which would preclude the need for Jeriz and Fiona to get closer to whisper to each other, Shaneese now knows that Jeriz is illiterate. Because Shaneese never leaves the room, even though, presumably, for this scene to work as written, Shaneese would need to not be in hearing distance of either Fiona or Jeriz in between her last line, which is right after Fiona explains that knowing where to put the chalk mark is much more important than the chalk mark itself.
So, somewhere in here, Shaneese mysteriously left, or the blocking changed so that Jeriz and Fiona are far enough away from Shaneese for this conversation to work. The scene hops forward to Fiona talking to Jeriz about the complication to his illiteracy – he told Kindan he could already read. And we have an interesting conversation about what the expectations of literacy are on Pern.
“Not everyone on Pern reads, you know,” Fiona said as they reached Talenth’s weyr.
“Traders do!” Jeriz stopped, looking at the huge queen who lay in front of him, her head raised, staring at him intently.
“Here, you’re weyrfolk,” Fiona told him.
“They said you knew how to trade,” Jeriz said, unable to tear his eyes from Talenth.
“I’m flattered,” Fiona said. “But I’m a Lord Holder’s daughter, I was taught since I was very young.” She paused. “And I read a lot.”
We have worldbuilding here that contradicts what I would have thought was the standard for a Harper education. Even though it would be more appropriate for the time period Pern loosely basses itself on to have a large swath of illiterate folk, we’ve always been taught that letters and numbers are a standard part of the Harper education for everyone.
Jeriz gives a very flowery greeting to Talenth, that Kindan approves of, nearly causing Jeriz to topple with the sneakiness of his entrance. And then while Fiona is willing to call Kindan a friend, Jeriz isn’t sure which of the honors of being a Harper or a Weyrlingmaster is more important, and therefore the correct form of address to him.
“He’s a weyrlingmaster and a harper,” Jeriz said, clearly torn as to which honor ranked higher. Decisively he squared his shoulders and looked up at Kindan. “Harper and Weyrlingmaster, I hope I cause no offense.”
“None at all, provided you are willing to call me Kindan in private,” the harper returned easily, striding forward with a steady gait and extending his hand. “And how shall I call you?”
“My name iz Jeriz,” the boy said. “I’m the Weyrwoman’s drudge.”
The swat to the back of his head was neither hard nor expected.
“No drudge,” Fiona snapped. “You’re here to help as weyrfolk or trader, whichever you wish.”
Jeriz raised his hand to his head, but said nothing.
*snaps fingers* And here I thought we might get a resolution to that issue. On the relative scale of how important the Pernese think things are and how willing they are to try and spite them, I’d say Weyrlingmaster wins out because the dragonriders are much more highly respected than the Harpers are.
Also, how interesting it is that Fiona gives Jeriz an immediate dope slap to the idea that he’s the Weyrwoman’s drudge. I’d call him the Weyrwoman’s page, but that particular office doesn’t exist on Pern, as best as I can tell, unless it’s part of the Lord Holder world. Fiona is very clearly wanting to reinforce the idea that Jeriz has a higher social status than a drudge. Even though there’s a high percentage of on-page drudges being people who have learning or physical disabilities, so Jeriz is not wrong with that description. That suggests the possibility traders also have drudges, which doesn’t make sense to me, given their nomadic lifestyle and descent from people who have historically been marginalized. It doesn’t seem right to suggest they might subject their own children to drudgery as has been described in the books so far. (Maybe Jeriz picked it up in context from all the places the traders have visited.)
Anyway, Jeriz gets hustled into the bath to clean up, after Fiona sympathizes with him about being small for his age and apparently getting into a lot of fights about it. And suggests that he would probably be hunting tunnel snakes in a Hold, because he’s small enough to fit in the tunnels to do it with. After the bath, Fiona combs his hair and we advance again to Terin asking politely if she can join Kindan, Fiona, and Jeriz in Fiona’s bed. Jeriz, of course, got invited in when it was clear to Fiona that he was shivering in his cot.
Once Fiona sends Kindan and Jeriz to get themselves ready, and then asks Terin about what’s going on. Terin says the strange thing happened again, but F’jian says he swore that he couldn’t say where he was going, and that Terin would understand. Terin, of course, doesn’t understand at all. I presume that it has something to do with the additional time-twisting that’s going on that hasn’t been made clear to us.
“Terin,” Fiona began slowly, feeling out her words. “Do you love him?”
“I don’t know,” Terin said quickly. Then she shook her head. “No, that’s not true. I love him, I just don’t know if I can trust him.”
“I understand,” Fiona said. Terin wasn’t a jealous soul, Fiona knew, but she wanted certainty in her life. Fiona was sure that if F’jian had another love and was honest with Terin about it, she’d eventually come to accept it. She merely wanted a solid relationship, with the rules known.
Even though, with nearly fourteen turns, Terin was as old as some who were already settled, she was still young enough to be unsure of herself, to want to take things slowly. Perhaps more slowly than F’jian, but that was her right and her decision. Fiona couldn’t fault her; she’d waited for her own time.
Cocowhat by depizan
That doesn’t make any of this better! Terin’s thirteen, and apparently plenty of people have settled down into long-term relationships by this age. There’s no reason for them to be this young, aside from the clear fetish this author has for very young girls getting into relationships. Also, how does Fiona know that Terin craves stability and would be entirely okay with F’jian taking a lover, just so long as she knew about it? I’m not saying she’s wrong, because being up front and communicating is pretty key to having a working polyamorous relationship, but I think we’re hearing Fiona’s empathic and telepathic skills at work again, giving us information that Fiona wouldn’t otherwise know.
Also, what happens to those young women who don’t end up in a relationship and don’t have a dragonet to cement their status in the hierarchy? What happens to them and where do they go? There seems to be an assumption everyone will get paired off at some point, barring Shaneese, although I wouldn’t be surprised if she Beatrice’d her way out of getting attached to any man until Fiona set her up with T’mar.
And it is in that context that we get Fiona and Terin’s assessment of Jeriz.
“So that’s Tenniz’s son,” Terin said as she watched the small boy follow Kindan out. She waited until they were out of earshot before adding, “He’s cute!”
“It’s the eyes,” Fiona agreed. “He has the most beautiful eyes.”
“He is going to have a full Flight of admirers when he gets older,” Terin predicted.
“Two, if he’s not picky,” Fiona agreed. “That is, if he decides to stay with the Weyr.”
I would like to read this as Fiona suggesting that if Jeriz turns out to be bi- or pansexual, he’ll have quite a few more people interested in him than if he’s only interested in one gender identity. It’s far more likely that Fiona is just making a comment about what standards Jeriz will have about taking lovers, but I’m having a moment of really wanting to explicitly queer this story more than just the explicit lesbians and the possibly-gay or possibly-bi riders that are in the background.
And also, I’d like to remind the reading audience that Weyr culture is still theoretically pretty libertine about sexual attitudes, and so there shouldn’t be a whole lot of disapproval attached to the idea of Terin wants to have a go at Jeriz. Or if Fiona does. When he’s old enough.
Right. Plot. The breakfast table has Fiona being informed that all of the weyrlings are concerned they’re going to die because they’re all muzzy-headed. And bless Fiona for being someone who inherited the SCIENCE! gene, because she devises a series of tests to figure out whether the newest crop of weyrlings are feeling things as bad as the O.G. time-twisted. So Fiona is setting herself up as the original generation, Terin is going to be used along with the other new generation weyrlings, and Jeriz is going to join the drill as the control (not that it’s mentioned that way) because he has no dragon at all and shouldn’t be affected. With that settled, apparently, it’s pregnancies all around, as Fiona suspects that Shaneese is pregnant by T’mar and has been trying to hide it from her. Fiona gets to this by opening with how much Terin is worried about F’jian, which nets her a dirty look from Terin. (Apart from “babies are the natural and wanted outcome for every woman ever,” what is with all of this “everybody’s pregnant! But they’re being cautious about saying so” going on?)
Fiona then explains that Jeriz is working out pretty well, once he stopped freezing himself in the cot and accepted being warm in Lorana’s bed. Shaneese doesn’t seem to be impressed with this, but she resists Fiona’s pressing question as to what she has against Jeriz. Instead, she tells the other half of the story about the time she spat in Tenniz’s soup.
“I left because I was shamed,” Shaneese said. “Tenniz shamed me.”
“How?” Fiona asked, eyes wide with surprise, prepared to hear the worst.
“No,” Shaneese said quickly, “he did nothing like that.” She sighed. “In fact, I think he told the truth. And, perhaps if I’d been older, I would have appreciated the gift he gave me.” She snorted at a memory and looked up to meet Fiona’s eyes. “Instead, I spit in his soup.”
[…Shaneese explains she was sixteen and pretty at the time. Fiona and Terin say she still is pretty, which she waves away…]
“For a woman, a man must be worthy,” Shaneese continued. “And so, when Tenniz said what he said…”
“What horrible thing did he say?” Fiona asked. “That you were ugly?”
“He said that I would be second wife and enjoy it,” Shaneese said, looking directly at Fiona. “That I would gain great honor and much happiness after a time of sorrow.”
“Yeah, he always seemed to speak in riddles,” Terin agreed.
“Among the traders, being second wife is considered a great shame,” Shaneese said with a sigh. “Rarely do we even consider such things and almost always in times of great hardship.” She sighed again. “And then, the first wife is always considered the better, the superior.”
[…Shaneese didn’t believe Tenniz, Tenniz didn’t understand why Shaneese wasn’t happy about his vision of the future, and so Shaneese spat in his soup…]
“I suppose that beats tunnel snakes in the bed,” Terin said, glancing meaningfully at Fiona.
“It was only one!” Fiona protested. “And you said you wouldn’t tell anyone!”
“Seems to me,” Terin said, taking another roll and buttering it, “that if you two are wives to the same man, you ought to share such exploits.”
Fiona thought on that and nodded, telling Shaneese, “It was Kindan, Turns back when I was a child and he’d been ignoring me.”
“A tunnel snake?” Shaneese repeated?
“It was only little,” Fiona said in her own defense. “And I screamed a warning before he got in the bed, so he wasn’t bitten.”
“Tunnel snakes are rare in the desert,” Shaneese said. “But they are very deadly. You’re lucky you weren’t caught.”
“Oh, believe me,” Fiona said, rising from her chair and rubbing her behind in painful memory. “I was caught!”
Somehow, I can understand Fiona’s putting Kindan’s life at risk as a thing that kids do and get punished for rather than Shaneese getting punished for giving Tenniz a spit soup for essentially saying that Shaneese would take a shameful position and enjoy it. It’s like a precognitive telling a daughter in a 20th century Terran religiously conservative household that she’s going to become a porn star and love every moment of it. Why, other than internalized misogyny and patriarchy, would you punish Shaneese for doing what she did? Does the person with the Sight suddenly become immune to the consequences of what they are saying? Or is this yet more of the author not paying attention and letting their background radiation of “boys will be boys” infect this idea so that Tenniz gets away and Shaneese gets punished?
So I can understand why Shaneese might have it in for a child that looks a lot like his father, and reminds her of the place where she came from. And I can’t think of this particular instance of excusing Tenniz and punishing Shaneese as intentionally representative of the privilege accorded boys in trader culture, because I feel like Mother Karina is supposed to be seen as a strong and powerful woman who doesn’t need a man. Someone who Fiona could look up to as a way of running her Weyr with an iron fist. (And Terin, too, potentially.)
At the same time, there’s still no solid reason why the traders are people with beliefs in monogamy as the most important thing, even if they’re willing to entertain the idea of a second wife as an economic necessity. Because that suggests that women can’t survive on their own in trader culture, and again, Mother Karina basically says “nope” to that. And individualistic traders really doesn’t make sense in crossing the desert and in conducting business, because if you have a resource and everyone needs it, hoarding the resource results in everyone getting harmed or dying, and their hurt and dying eventually redounds on to you, because they have something that you need for your continued survival and not hurting. So why should someone who is going to be second wife feel shame for it, given how many ways there are for someone’s husband to die that neither he nor his wife would have any control over?
The traders are grouped in trains and such because that’s how they all survive together. Especially if there’s any sort of prejudice against trader groups anywhere. Given who they are supposed to be based on, and they clear stereotype being set up of them as shrewd and clever people looking out for their own interests that goes with it, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the prejudices that 21st c. Terra has about traveling folk survived, even if the authors really really want us not to believe that.
After all, the authors still haven’t figured out that the religion they claim left by the front door has gone around to the unlocked back door and set up in the kitchen. And the nearly-completely-consistent characterization of drudges as people with mental disabilities that means it’s entirely okay for them to be treated as less than human. Because the Shunned contain among their number plenty of people who were accused by powerful people of things they didn’t do or Shunned for things they refused to do for the powerful. Why would we believe even the silent claim that other prejudices have left Pern?
Plot-wise, Fiona and Tern go to see Kindan, and there are warm-up stretches and Fiona makes a discreet suggestion to Kindan for the training to go much like it did at Igen, with gliding and seeing flight and otherwise having both the humans and the dragonets do the drill together so that they’ll be strong dragons by the time they’re ready to fly and fight. Having split the group the way he likes, with Tara at the head of the third group, Kindan sticks Jeriz in the second group, telling them that Jeriz is playing the role of a rider from another Weyr. (Who, by implication, wouldn’t know what to do in a Telgar drill, and that hurts the idea I had earlier about drill being mostly standard instead of highly individualized.) Fiona and Terin each take one of the other groups under the same premise, but we only get to see that there is running and stretching and a little bit of drill, “wheel left, right, and form to line ahead. He had them practice “flying” between each other, taking care to avoid touching their outstretched fingers–“wings”–while making the maneuvers progressively more complicated.” Which, again, sounds like the kind of thing where each of the various weyrlings would have a number role and rotate through the roles so they have experience being able to do any of the necessary parts their wing will need to do (since it’s explicitly said that all weyrlings should also expect to be able to lead the drill, even if in practice, it’ll only be browns and bronzes doing it). Also, I have to ask why dragons would be flying between each other in the middle of a literal firefight against Thread. That sounds like the kind of thing that gets dragons injured and killed because they were expected to do precision flying.
Of course, maybe all of this drill and such is an attempt to make the riders not panic and the dragons not completely break their lines and instinctually pursue Thread to the detriment of their higher-order thinking. Which doesn’t seem to be working, given how much the narrative has talked about the riders feeling superfluous or gestalting with their dragon during the fight. Do, tell me again why the riders have to be on the dragons to make it work, and why we can’t have dragons without any flame do a hyperspace hop for a refuel, then pop back to their start position for a new run. We still have the problem of the mental feedback coming from dragons dying or getting injured, but then we’re not also exposing the much flimsier and easier to kill riders to Thread as well.
We’re almost through this chapter, but it’s worth stopping here so that we can devote sufficient time to screaming for the rest of the fuckery left to come. More next week.