Category Archives: Deconstruction: Pern

Dragonheart: Adjusting To The New Reality

Last time, Fiona and Terin meet a group of traders and convinced them it would be profitable to set up shop at Igen in conjunction with the dragons ferrying trader goods (as good practice for weyrling waypoint drills) and convincing the watch-wher hold to relocate to nearby), minus a reasonable fee for storage. We also found out Tenniz, Tannaz’s sibling, can see intimate the future and make cryptic prophecies, which introduces new wrinkles and headaches into the conception of Pern as a place.

Dragonheart: Chapter 13: Content Notes: Sexualizing very young girls,

The stars shine so cold at night,
The sun burns so hot by day.
The wind whips in wild delight:
The weather at Igen is fey.

(Igen Weyr, Early Morning, AL 498.7.3)

Honestly, this would have been a much better poem for the last chapter, or any other. Here, it follows something that was less great, even though it probably is contextually appropriate for this chapter.

The chapter starts with the traders leaving Igen, having helped turn it back into a functioning Weyr. Fiona tries not to wake Terin, who is sleeping in the same bed of blankets as Fiona, fails, and the two get a final piece of advice from Mother Karina to change their schedules to work through the nights, rather than the days. They think it’s a nice idea, but not a good one for when you need to see what you are doing. Instead, they decide to take stock of injured riders and dragons, with different slates for riders and dragons, and eventually settle on creating Flight boards so that there’s detailed information available about each rider, dragon, and injury in the same place.

There’s also a bit in here where the author might think they’re being subtle about setting up the pairing for Igen. Fiona gets irritated about her hair falling into her face and ties it back.

T’mar reluctantly looked back up at her. “It’s just that you looked cute when you did that.”
Fiona felt her cheeks flush and a thrill run through her at his words. Cute!

At this point, I want to remind everyone that Fiona is still thirteen and Terin ten. Because it’s about to become important. Once the narrative gets done letting the leadership council here realize that the people who were muzzy in the future are sharp here and those sharp in the future are most here, and that, just maybe, time travel might be responsible for all the issues of both past and present.

In any case, they’re thinking about who is getting assigned leadership duties along the weyrlings, and in addition to the bronze riders, two browns get suggested as the “obvious” candidates to fill out the ranks.

“Browns are usually wingseconds,” T’mar replied.
“Or wingleaders,” Terin added. T’mar accepted the addition with a nod.
“Why not go by ability?” Fiona wondered.
“Brown and bronze riders are often the ones with the most leadership ability,” T’mar said.
Fiona cocked her head challengingly.
“Oh, you get the occasional blue or green rider who makes a good leader,” he explained, “but more often their skills lie in different areas.”
“Like cavorting!” Terin snickered. “It’s a wonder we don’t see more of them.”
“Greens are sterile,” T’mar reminded her.

Because they chew firestone, we note. But also, here’s one of those things that’s basically ingrained into Weyr culture. Bronzes are superior, browns are better, greens and blues couldn’t possibly be good enough to lead. But how much of that is dragon selection and how much of that is that greens and blues never get the opportunity to lead, and therefore never get any confirmation that they are or aren’t good of it. It seems like the sort of thing that could be tested in weyrling training and drill by rotating through who is the leader and who are the callers for drill. But we also realize that this inherent superiority is drilled into everyone right from the beginning of their lives, and so anyone running a Weyr based on the actual leadership capacity of the riders would be flouting TRADITION by doing so. Fiona would have to wait until she was a Senior older than thirteen to implement it, I think.

The talk about promiscuity of greens and blues brings talk about mating flights (Terin claims she’s going to be fine when Talenth rises), and then talk about exactly how old Fiona and Terin are going to be and how they should count their birthdays. Which turns to talk about body age versus chronological age and mating flights from Talenth, which Terin teases Fiona about, and then apologizes later for it. Fiona waves it off, but the narrative doesn’t tell us whether she’s doing it genuinely or because Fiona doesn’t want to alternate Terin on this situation.

The next major scene is Fiona setting up some mirrors to light the Records room sufficiently for work (one in the hallway, and then one that reflects light up to the ceiling, somehow) and then goes to work examining records. Because it involves records, there’s the obligatory complaint about records

It didn’t take all that long for Fiona to recall her father’s choicer oaths in regards to reading Records. “A boring necessity best delegated,” was the most innocuous of his pronouncements. For a brief moment she toyed with delegating the work, but curiosity overwhelmed boredom and she soldiered on, stifling a yawn.

which makes me scream again and again that there was a librarian on staff in the original colony and therefore organizational systems for documents and volumes should have been passed down through the years in such a way that made them easy to find, because records that can’t have their useful information found easily are worse than useless.

Fiona is able to find references to a “surveyor map,” and then the map itself, before calling in T’mar to examine the contents with her. Fiona points out the symbol for gold and T’mar picks up that it’s where the Wherhold is going to be, and that with the tithe coming from the gold mined from that spot, Igen will be able to trade for all its goods needs. At the next scene point, Fiona is proud that in five days, lots of herdbeasts have been found, herb gardens started, and wild foods collected, along with housing for everyone. T’mar grumbles about butter, which allows Fiona to point out what kind of logistics chain that needs

“To have butter, we’d need milch cows, cowherds to herd them, milkers to milk them, a churner to churn the butter, and a cool place to store it,” Fiona said as she chewed her roll.

and to hit upon the idea that Igen could trade ice for significant profit and have some on hand to cool quarters with if “a fan” were set up to take advantage of the plentiful wind and carry ice-cooled air. After a certain amount of trying to figure out where to harvest ice that won’t bring them into contact with any other Weyr, T’mar hits on mining out the Far Watchers, two mountains north of Benden mostly used as examples of “It’s too cold for Thread here.”

T’mar says that he will take weyrlings and Fiona will figure out where to store the ice, because she’s expendable and she’s not. (Conveyed with a single word: “Weyrwoman.”) Fiona explains the idea to Terin and heads off to check on the injured dragons, where we get another rider that should be sent back as soon as feasible.

“Say hello to K’rall for me,” Terin said in a waspish tone–the older bronze rider was a very bad patient who was completely unwilling to have young Terin tend to him and refused to accept that she was headwoman, even when Fiona had asked Talenth to relay the information to Seyorth, his dragon.
Fiona he treated with a mixture of awe and condescension, not forgetting for a moment that she was a queen rider but constantly harping on about her youth. As she got to know him more, Fiona started treating him like one of the old guards at Fort Hold: she was polite, deferential, but definitely in charge.
And she was grateful that of all the older wingleaders, she had to deal with him rather than H’nez, whose manners brought out the worst of her famous Fort Hold temper.

Cocowhat by depizan

Time out, “famous Fort Hold temper?” We’ve only seen it in relation to the screaming match Fiona had with Bemin, and then all of these situations where Fiona is being told she’s wrong and has to apologize, or is being strong-willed against others. The author is assuming facts not in evidence by calling it a “famous” temper when we haven’t heard anyone else talk about it, or react to it in any way other than thinking that it’s something to try and make Fiona discard.

Second, K’rall being injured and unwilling to take help means that he’s made his decision about what he wants, and resources should be devoted to others who are more interested in getting better and willing to work with what’s on offer to do it. He’s a bronze rider and should be setting a better example for everyone rather than dismissing the headwoman and being awful to the Weyrwoman, but no, he’s a bronze rider and apparently needs to be coddled and cajoled into doing what he should already be doing as a leader. K’rall has taken his bandages off, despite needing to keep them on to have a hope of healing well.

You have to listen to your Weyrwoman!” Fiona shouted at him, losing her temper. Before K’rall could voice an angry retort, Fiona softeend, and reached out to take his hand. “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to see you disfigured.”
[…Finoa realizes that she’s been faking knowing what she’s doing long enough that even though she’s faking, she knows how to be convincing about it…]
“You are a handsome man, K’rall,” Fiona said, not surprised to hear his breath catch or see his eyes rise to meet hers. She met them squarely. “I’m of the age where I notice such things more and more”–she felt heat rising in her cheecks, but she persisted–“and I’ve seen the way some of the women back the Weyr watched you.” She smiled. “I think that won’t change when you get back.”
“You can’t know,” K’rall murmured.
“Nor can you,” Fiona told him firmly.

Cocowhat by depizan

SHE’S THIRTEEN! And yes, I know, this is still someone’s idea of a fantasy world, where the idea of marrying people and sex at very young ages is an assumption that just gets made without actually consulting the historical record. This brings a lot of things to mind about the sexualization of young girls, and how Fiona is literally having to behave in sexual ways to get someone to respect her enough to do things that are in their own self-interest. Just, aigh, is Todd or any editor thinking through the implications here (which might be thinking it through more than Anne did, scarily) where everyone is casually joking about the part of Finoa’s life where she’s going to be turned into a sexual being, whether she’s actually ready to or not? And the further implications of having Fiona harness that sexuality because nothing else seems to be working to get people to behave? And that Terin is rejecting Fiona’s request to find her somewhere to go when this happens, because she’s apparently already experienced one and everything was fine? I presume it wasn’t because still-yet-younger Terin was being sexualized, but that’s because my brain actively rejects the idea that an author is deliberately courting pedophilia in a series like Pern. Like, seriously, think through the goddamn implications here.

Before this, Fiona has been looking around Igen and wondering what kinds of canopies the dragons and their riders might want as coverage for their Weyrs, and this brings back the offhand comment from earlier about how Fort was somewhat famous for their sweaters. It wasn’t clear earlier, but Fiona notes that the riders are the ones knitting sweaters in their spare time, rather than the weyrfolk. I absolutely approve of knitting as a thing dragonriders do in their spare time, buit mostly because I would like to hear the scene where you hear several curses coming from different Weyrs in sequence about dropped stitches. Or ridiculous competitions between the riders to produce ornate and beautiful work that can be sold or judged.

Anyway, after Fiona handles K’rall and flatters him unnecessarily to try and get him to do what he’s supposed to do, there’s also a bit about how Fiona has had to train any sort of reaction out of the weyrlings attending to the injured, as well as herself, despite the fact that it means having to deal with nudity and intimate parts. And that they’ve invented hospital gowns, not that they refer to them as such.

Fiona’s ministrations are interrupted by the return of T’mar, who is incredibly woozy, but came back with some carisaks full of ice, as requested. The weyrlings are not quite as strongly affected, but they’re also exhausted. Terin asks what to do with the ice, and Finoa suggests that they put it on display for the trader caravan that’s on their way back to the Weyr by having cold drinks and such available for them. Then Fiona goes back to T’mar and discusses with him why the ice trip was so terrible, and she zeroes in on the problem immediately.

“And when do you think you went to the Snowy Wastes today?”
T’mar frowned. “It was–”
“Was it now, in this Turn, or then, ten Turns in the future?”
T’mar’s jaw dropped and his eyes widened as his certainty gave way to confused possibility.

T’mar, to his credit, realizes Fiona is right, given that the only recognition points he knows are the ones in the future, so the exhaustion at having jumped back and forth in time, as well as giving themselves an additional point of existence where they are multiples-in-time. He complains about not knowing the recognition points back in time, and yet again I am complaining about how, given how much the dragonriders use time travel to fix their problems, they haven’t developed any sort of standard astronomy or visualization technique that would allow them to hop back and forth to places with precision.

Anyway, after they figured out the reason for T’mar’s extra exhaustion, it’s time to impress the desert traders with the apparent abundance of ice that Igen Weyr now possesses. Which they do with iced klah and ice cream. The traders say there isn’t any cattle to be traded for directly, and that ice is far too much of a luxury to be slinging about if everything is supposed to be kept under wraps. Fiona suggests watch-whers, which gets a good response, and then gold, which gets the very best response from the traders, because gold is, on Pern, anyway, fungible enough that it could be traded for things that could be traded for cattle. Fiona also says that if the traders want to do trades and transport by night, they’re going to have to teach the dragonriders how to navigate by the stars. The traders shrug and nod, and only T’mar realizes that Fiona had ulterior motives for the ask and wants her to explain when they’re alone.

“Well,” Fiona said, her lips curved upward with satisfaction, “it’s just that I realized these traders have spent Turns navigating the desert by the stars.”
“And?”
“Well, we know that the Red Star is one of those stars,” Fiona continued, “and that the moons and planets and other stars all move in the sky in determined patterns.”
“Yes,” T’mar agreed impatiently.
“So,” Fiona continued, smiling sweetly, “why can’t we use the stars to tell us when as well as where we are?”
T’mar stared at her for a long moment and then, slowly, his lips curved up in a grin to match hers.
“And with the stars to guide us, we can come back to Fort Weyr three days after we left!” he exclaimed. He grabbed Fiona in a great hug. “I couldn’t use the Red Star for such accuracy, but I’ll bet the traders can teach us how to use the planets! Well done, Weyrwoman, well done!”
Fiona basked in his praise.
Weyrwoman.

And, apparently, I am anticipating what is about to happen in the narrative again. My point still stands, however, that this is not something that should be learned from desert-traveling traders, but already be drilled, if not into weyrlings, into full-bore riders to make sure they can always arrive on time to their Threadfall. They should already know this well by now. And have controls on it so that it’s not being used in such a way that people will cross their own timestreams too much. Such that Moreta should have gone into what she was doing knowing full well it was super-dangerous, instead of having a catastrophic failure of hyperspace travel because a dragon doesn’t have a default destination programmed in.

Also, the narrative is still not being subtle about who the pairing is going to be for this Weyr when Talenth rises. And I am still not on board with Fiona having to come to this decision because her dragon produces intense sex rays. But we’ve made it to the end of Chapter 13. Also, Fiona is being written as far more competent than Tullea ever was, but I think that’s a consequence of us not getting to see Tullea while she was back in time, only that she’s much changed and grateful when she returns from her trip. Perhaps Fiona’s trip is the way of explaining to us what Tullea would have been like in the past and wanting us to not think of her as a terrible–oh, who am I kidding?

Chapter 14 next week.

Dragonheart: Something Actually New

Last time, Fiona, at the behest of an unnamed gold rider, hopped back in time, so as to inspire her weyrling cohort to do the same, because this was already a thing that had happened in the gold rider’s past, prompting me to grouse that solutions involving time travel tend to aggravate their underlying narrative problems rather than fix them. Fiona is speculating this unnamed gold rider is herself from the future, ensuring her own past, but the narrative does not confirm this.

Dragonheart: Chapter 12: Content Notes:

A sea of sand,
Harsh clime for man.
Mountains rise high,
Igen Weyr is nigh.

(Igen Weyr, Morning, AL 498.7.2)

This is where I wish more forms of poetry than song lyric survived in Pern, because this chapter’s really feels like it wants to be a haiku or some other, more minimal, form that doesn’t have to adhere to a rhyme scheme.

“Sea of sand,
Mountains rise.
Igen Weyr’s skies.”

Maybe something like that, instead.

Instead, the chapter opens with the arrival of Fiona and Talenth slightly ahead of the weyrling crew, where the sun is beating down hard on them, but also, someone has conveniently left a tent of supplies to get them started. Fiona surveys what she sees, and after thinking this place could be her home, realizes that she’s the Senior here, at least compared to the weyrlings, and starts giving orders to the weyrlings to go clean out various parts of the Weyr, while keeping an eye out for tunnel snakes.

“Tunnel snakes!” J’nos blanched. “I don’t know how to handle tunnel snakes!”
“If you find any, let me know,” Fiona told him. When the brown rider’s eyes bugged out, she explained, “I used to hunt them back at my father’s Hold.”
Fiona was surprised and pleased by the hushed exclamations of the other weyrlings as the news spread.

Apparently, this bit of knowledge makes Fiona Little Miss Badass, while also making the conversation she had with Nuella, and the earlier references to Fiona’s proclivities around tunnel snakes have a reason for existing. Chekov would be happy.

Fiona tasks those weyrlings that aren’t cleaning with getting the older and recovering dragons and riders out of the heat and helping Terin store the supplies left for them, and then T’mar arrives with the group that left before Fiona’s did and is definitely unhappy with Fiona and the weyrlings’ presence, but accepts that they are there and doesn’t try to countermand her when she gives orders. (Including setting up numbweed pots and absolutely forbidding P’der from being watch dragon because he needs to rest and recover.) When T’mar asks her who should be watch rider, she tells him that’s his problem and goes off to do something else.

The scene shifts to Fiona stirring a pot of smelly numbweed. Terin reports that cleaning is nearly complete and on schedule, including the queen’s quarters.

“How did you manage to get them to obey you?”
“You’re the senior Weyrwoman,” Terin replied with no hint of duplicity. “I just made it clear to them that it’s what you needed.” She smiled as she added, “You know how it is with weyrlings; the boys practically fell over themselves to help.”
“And after all those firestone drills, they’re used to following your orders,” Fiona guessed.
“It’s not like there are any other weyrfolk around,” Terin agreed. “Shards, you and I are the only two women here!”

And here we are, showing the problems of a single-gender workforce, but I’m more interested in Terin’s remarks. Not that she’s leaning on Fiona’s position, that makes sense, but that the boys were all trying very hard to be helpful, with what I suspect I’m supposed to read as “because they want to get in the good graces of the Weyrwoman when it comes time for Talenth to rise.” Which would only be a concern of the bronze riders, as everything is set up, not the entirety of the weyrling contingent. Unless there’s more of the unstated “it’s a very bad idea to get on the bad side of the Weyrwoman” that wasn’t fully explained earlier at work here.

As it is, there’s still some numbweed work to be done, and Fiona is really flexing her muscles as a Senior in taking care of it.

“I’ll have J’keran get someone to take over,” T’mar called from the entrance. He gave Fiona a sheepish look as she neared the entrance. “I’m sure that there has to be some weyrling who’s earned it.”
“Don’t you dare!” Fiona cried, eyes widening angrily.
T’mar took a half-step back, his confusion evident.
“This numbweed is for everyone,” Fiona told him. “Everyone works on it. I will not have people taking it as a punishment. What sort of numbweed do you think you’ll get with an attitude like that?”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” T’mar confessed with a frown. “Very well–”
“Shall I set up a roster?” Terin offered.
“Yes,” Fiona said with a firm nod. “Every person who’s able will be on it–except for you.”
“Why not me?” Terin asked, looking ashamed.
“Because you’re going to be doing all the tallying around here,” Fiona told her firmly.
“You’ll be our Records keeper,” T’mar told her with a suitably grave expression.
“Headwoman,” Fiona corrected.
“Headwoman?” Terin and T’mar echoed in disbelief and surprise.
“Can you think of anyone else more qualified here?”
“I suppose not,” T’mar admitted after a moment. He turned to Terin. “Headwoman it is.”

I mean, Terin did just say that there were only two women here, and the Weyrwoman gig is filled, so Terin really is the only other person who might conceivably know enough of what should happen to run the place, even if she might have to get help from the other weyrlings to have bodies to do the work or to actually know how things are done. This also makes me wonder what the boys were expecting to do while they were there. (T’mar, in a bit not quoted, admits that he didn’t bring food or bedding, despite knowing they were going back in time to a place that had been abandoned for years, after Fiona admits the same.) In all the cases, it looks like the leaders made a decision, and the underlings said they would go through with it, and nobody gave a fig about what the logistics of that might actually entail and what other persons and supplies might be needed to make that work. As it is, Fiona and T’mar work together to familiarize themselves with their new digs, and unintentionally spot a Trader caravan heading their way while they survey the space from the air. Given that it’s a trek across a desert space for any caravan, it’s clear to Fiona and T’mar that these Traders have been tipped off about the presence of dragons in Igen again. That said, we’re continuing in the maybe-good, maybe-bad expansion of available cultures on Pern in the description of the traders and their colorful caravan.

Fiona was surprised to see how big the man was, taller than T’mar by a head and so broad-shouldered she thought he could easily lift one of the workbeasts single-handed.
“Azeez at your service,” he said, bowing low to them. He gestured toward his dray. “The sun is high; we would be more comfortable talking in the shade.”
[…T’mar worries it would be an intrusion, Azeez points out they’re more likely to be uncomfortable in the heat than he is…]
Fiona nodded politely, surreptitiously studying his clothing: he wore long, flowing robes, and his head was topped with a piece of cloth that draped down over his ears and neck and was tied into place with a brightly colored piece of knotted rope.

So, we have the late Tannaz, who was going to teach Fiona how to cook like Igen does, and now we have Azeez, who also has z in his name, and is dressed essentially like someone who lives in a desert climate does. While nobody has yet been an outright stereotype of the Middle East as portrayed in Western interpretations of the Tales of a Thousand Nights and One Night, I’m waiting for it to happen.

Since Fiona admits to being from the future, the traders admit the mysterious Weyrwoman sent them on their way to find this batch of dragonriders. Fiona thinks she can trade on the knowledge of the future, but the first agreement the Weyr and the traders come to is about safety and security – if Fiona can get the watch-whers to relocate, they’ll out-territory the “canines” (who are then called wolves) and that will mean less lost livestock, and the excess can be turned into dragon food for all of the sets of dragons that will be coming to use Igen as an R&R waypoint. Fiona already knows that Nuella moved the Wherhold to near this location, but is now putting together that she’s going to have to accomplish this part of Nuella’s history while she’s back in time. Mother Karina, the person who might speak for the traders, if Azeez doesn’t, figures out about how far from the future Fiona and company have come from, and Fiona consequently figures out the potential worth of that information.

“I think I see how you can profit from that information,” Fiona guesed.
“You can?” Karina raised an eyebrow.
“Of course,” Fiona told her. “You know now that ten Turns in the future the dragons will be so injured that they need to send us back in time, so you know that their need for numbweed will be great and you can trade that knowledge profitably to those who grow and harvest numbweed, helping them make greater profit and helping yourself to your rightful profit in carrying the goods in tithe.”
“You could be a trader,” Karina said. Fiona accepted it for the compliment it was.

And now that she’s not having to deal with being twice in time, Fiona can put her full faculties to use, which is probably why she’s suddenly leveled up a lot in competence and ability. To make a better deal with Karina’s traders, Fiona decides to offer something that would make Sean spin in his grave.

“Dragons can carry heavy loads. We could deliver our goods anywhere on Pern.”
“As long as you weren’t seen,” Azeez reminded her.
“Would it not serve you well to have us carry goods for you?” Fiona asked, directing her question to Mother Karina.
The old woman leaned back and roared with laughter. It was several minutes before she recovered enough to speak. “You should be a trader!”
[…Fiona closes the deal and they move to haggling the price…]
“I think,” Mother Karina pronounced slowly, “that we have a trade.”
“For our services you will provide…?” Fiona prompted.
“We will provide you with a twentieth of the profits we make on all goods carried by your dragons,” Karina said with a smile.
“I think, given the time we will save and the extra goods you’ll be able to transport anywhere because of us, that we should at least get the full tithe–a tenth–of all profits.”

Fiona gets her price and the rest of us get what can be charitably described as a complication in what is possible on Pern, courtesy of one of the traders, Tenniz.

“I see a sickness,” Tenniz spoke, his eyes still unfocused, his words brilliant in a way that Fiona could not quite understand–shiny with purpose, almost as though he were in another place. “Thread is falling, yet fire-lizards and dragons are not flying against it, coughing out their life force, dying.”
“You have a sister,” Fiona responded, shivering with insight and urgency. “Her name is Tannaz. She must go to Fort Weyr.”
[…there is formal friendship between Tenniz and Fiona, which Fiona is warned cannot be retracted once given, according to trader custom…]
“The traders of the desert are not like others,” Karina said to T’mar. “While all traders owe allegiance to the Lilkamp, we trace our line back to those who roamed the ancient Earth, trading, searching, reading the ways of the world.”
“You have the blood of dragonriders in your veins,” Fiona guessed.
“Many traders do,” Azeez said with some pride. “Many riders who have lost their dragons take to wandering and find themselves becoming traders by choice.”
“We desert traders have a bit more,” Karina said, and Fiona could feel the other traders swell with pride. “We brought with us a talent different from that required to ride dragons.”
“You can see the future.” Fiona saw Karina’s look of surprise face into an approving grin.
“You who travel back in time as though it were merely a road less traveled would see that, as with all roads, it can be mapped,” the old woman said.
That gave Fiona an idea. “Such an ability would be invaluable in predicting sandstorms,” she offered.
“It is good for trade all around,” Azeez admitted with a wicked grin.

Before I get into the substance of “whoa, precogs on Pern,” I might be reading too far into things, but Karina feels a lot like she was tracing her ancestry to the Tinkers, Travelers, Roma, and others that had been forced onto the colony ship and then written out of the story after the first few Threadfall. Given certain stereotypes about the supernatural abilities and connections of the Roma and other wanderers, it seems like we’re supposed to just accept that Roma-descended traders would have ESP-type abilities, and specifically, abilities regarding predicting the future, as if it were obvious. If that’s the case, it greatly sours this fix-it proclaiming that not all of the people who wandered were killed in Threadfall.

Additionally, for fans of Pern who haven’t read any of Anne’s other series, the presence of precognitives on Pern could be a shock, given that not even the AI himself seemed to mention the possibility they existed. But, through the course of all of the series she wrote, Anne did a significant amount of welding between the nominally-fantasy-with-SF-origins Pern and SF-with-ESP-and-Psi Talents series, so much so that I think they’re part of a shared universe, even if they’re nowhere near each other in narrative time and space.

And I know that the question of which side of the fantasy/SF divide Pern lands on is forever fractious, but the divide itself is what causes that problem. The history of fandom is one where science fiction’s fanboys (and, almost inevitably, they are boys) decided they didn’t want to play or share space with the girls, so they claimed science fiction was for boys and totally legit writing, and fantasy was for girls and would never be good enough for them. Anne then becomes an example of someone who smashed through the walls of the boys’ club, Kool-Aid Man style, and helped make sure the way stayed open for other women to gain legitimacy. It all could have been avoided if the boys hadn’t decided to segregate, but welding Pern into the same space as the obviously SF Talents space deliberately opens up the available space and gives legitimacy to others whose SF might be around the borderlands of fantasy or straddling the two.

Which is a really long digression to say that the presence of a precognitive on Pern seems like Todd engaging in more of the same welding and legitimacy-granting effort that was started by Anne, rather than an organic growth from the narrative. Pern itself, except for the AI, seemed fairly uninterested in developing, exploring, or looking for evidence of psi powers in general, except for as they relate to dragons. As far as we know, based on the stories set on Landing and elsewhere, there’s no indication of any psi abilities past telekinetic, telepathic, teleporting dragons and strong implications that the people they bond to are sensitive to telepathy with dragons. (And possibly each other, maybe.) And even the AI was more interested in the dragons’ capabilities than the riders’.

So now we have to adjust our models to include the knowledge that there are people who can see into the future and that those people, including children, manage to keep themselves hidden from the dragons. Especially the blue ones that go out on Search. And they do it so well that they do not have a mention ever in the latter annals and stories. It probably sounded like a good idea at the time, and another way of making sure that when people look at Pern as a whole, they see science fiction with dragons, but it does generate problems for consistency of the narrative already established. More points for fanfic authors to make their stamp or provide patches and fixes, I guess.

Tenniz is also not done making predictions about Fiona.

“You are with the beacon [the unknown Weyrwoman],” Tenniz told her, his voice full of awe. “She is so powerful, she can change everything. And you will change her.”
Tears dripped from his eyes and his jaw trembled with fear. “You will face difficult choices. You will control all Pern. You are in the beginning and at the end.” His expression grew bleak. “I can see the beacon going out in your presence.”

Which, as prophecies go, is nicely cryptic so that nobody gathers any information they’re not supposed to have yet. Fiona’s frightened by the prophecy, but resolves to be her very best self because she’s descended from nobles and riding a dragon, so it’s her duty to be awesome.

Fiona and T’mar go back, and Fiona is persuaded to take a nap, even as she’s still giving advice to Terin on where to find glows and what trees to cut to make matresses from. When she wakes up, the traders have nearly arrived to the Weyr. (And also, the situation of who is tired and who is wired seems to have reversed, now that the group is back in time.) Terin is slightly a-fret because she’s all of ten, but Fiona and T’mar remind her she’s headwoman, and both of them support her, so if anyone gives her shit, they want to know about it so they can explain in very small words why it’s a bad idea. And they also tell Terin to behave herself.

The traders arrive and set up, and Mother Karina mentions she was all of ten when she picked up the Mother moniker. Terin seends weyrlings to collect the lunch sacks.

Karina gestured to the boiling water. “And what were you hoping to put in your pots?”
“Food for injured dragonroders and growing weyrlings,” Terin replied promptly. A small grin slid over her as she added, “And anyone else that feels need.”
Karina cocked her head at those words. “Is that so? Is it a habit of the Weyr to feed those who wander nearby?”
“Always,” Terin replied solemnly. “We’ll share the last crumb.”
“Big words from such a small girl,” Karina replied.
“Only the truth,” Terin replied, her eyes flashing. “I am an orphan myself. I was taken in as a baby, parents dead from the hunger.” She raised her head in challenge to the older woman. “So you see, I have reason to be my word.”

After asking Terin what she means by that, Karina approves of Terin, by saying there must be a lot of trader stock in weyrfolk, the two of them settle in to making lunch, with Karina leading, since none of the northerners have seen lentils before in their lives. Azeez mentions that after lunch is usually too hot to do anything but nap, which leads to a confession that the traders have been using Igen as a stop and a base for the years that it has been abandoned, to which Fiona is grateful that somebody was. And T’mar intends that the traders stay in Igen in the regular.

“We talked about this when we met,” T’mar continued. “We could carry supplies for you.” Azeez nodded, still no closer to comprehension. “And you would need to store them, occasionally?”
“We could store them here?” Karina asked, eyes alight with the prospect.
“Whatever we can do to help,” T’mar offered.
“For a reasonable fee, of course,” Terin added from her place at the table. She caught Karina’s eyes challengingly and locked with them until the older woman threw up her hands in surrender.
“Another with the soul of a trader!”

And that’s chapter 12, where Igen Weyr is re-established under Fiona’s auspices, with Terin as her number one and T’mar as the muscle to make sure all the boys behave themselves. And with the assistance of traders that can see the future and will help make sure all the riders coming back in time are well-provisioned. By essentially proving they could have been traders themselves.

And also, flashing eyes really seems to be Todd’s go-to for expressing anger, whether by just about every woman or by a few men as well. It’s becoming a tell more than anything, and one would hope an editor said, “Hey, y’know, people react in different ways, so maybe we should change a few of these out.”

Plus, because I know it’s going to be part of a future chapter, I’m also significantly concerned about the whole “two women in the Weyr” thing when one of them is a gold rider who will be all of fifteen at most when Talenth decides she needs to lay some eggs and the other will be at most twelve when the sex rays hit. This sounds like a terrible idea, and I wonder if the traders are going to conveniently be there to provide more people when it happens, just so we don’t have to contemplate what fraction of horny dragonriders are going to go for Fiona exclusively and what are going to go for Terin when T’mar’s dragon is the one that wins the mating flight.

These and more things next week.

Dragonheart: A Taste Of Real Freedom

Last time, Fiona got gaslit by the Weyrleaders and T’mar into thinking her problem with T’mar’s cavalier attitude toward safety and life was really her own hangups about being in a role where she might have to let people die to save others or to keep the dragonriders as a whole going. Those two things are not actually related to each other, but Fiona went and apologized to T’mar for giving him a public dressing-down about the safety of his passengers because the Weyrleaders insisted she do so.

Dragonheart, Chapter 11: Content Notes:

Right after Fiona apologizes to T’mar, Nuella and Nuellask (who has added letters to her name, probably signifying the very tight bonds the two have at this point) arrive and have a conference with the Weyrleaders, a conference Fiona is eventually invited in to. Fiona knows how to greet Nuellask and where to scritch because of some time spent with Forsk. Nuella is amused about this for reasons not fully related to the watch-wher.

“But sometimes, when I was lonely, I’d go into her [Forsk] lair and curl up with her when I was tired.”
“From catching tunnel snakes, no doubt,” the woman, whom Fiona realized must be Nuella, guessed with amusement in her voice. “Kindan complained of it to me on several occasions.”
“Complained?” Fiona repeated, feeling irked with Kindan. “I got a quarter mark for each head!”
“And never got bitten, except the once,” Nuella added approvingly.
Fiona looked at her in surprise. “How did you–how did Kindan know about that?”
Nuella laughed. “No one keeps secrets from harpers for long.”
“But I treated myself and kept the cut hidden!”
“You still needed stores and you had to ask someone, even if hypothetically, about treating snakebites,” Nuella replied, her voice full of humor. She held out a hand, which Fiona took and shook eagerly. “I’m Nuella, as you’ve no doubt guessed.” She continued. “And rest assured, no one would have known except that Kindan was keeping such a careful watch over you.”
Fiona was too embarrassed to reply.
I thought it was a particularly good idea to ask Kelsa if there’d ever been songs written about treating snakebites,” Nuella confided approvingly.
“She wrote one just afterward,” Fiona remembered, then groaned, glancing over to the older woman in horror, “and she consulted Father on it! You don’t suppose she told him…?”
Nuella laughed and shook her head. “I have no idea,” she replied. “All I know is that after the song was written, Kindan showed up at my camp very agitated and tried to slyly teach the song to me.”
“He was afraid you were going to go after tunnel snakes?”
Nuella shook her head, her grin slipping. “I’d already done that,” she confessed. “I think he was just trying to be certain that I knew how to handle the bites if I ever did again.”
With a shock of horror, Fiona realized that Nuella was referring to her first watch-wher, the green Nuelsk, who had died of snakebite.

Oh, so that’s what happened to Kisk-Nuelsk. Is this the first time anyone has mentioned the change between the green and the gold? If it happened before, I would have thought I mentioned it. *rummage through notes* Nope. Got nothing. So we learn of the fate of Nuelsk through Fiona’s memory, which doesn’t then explain Nuellask’s existence at all, since, last I checked, the only known gold watch-wher was Aleesk.

I’m a lot dubious about “Kelsa wrote a song about snakebite,” but that’s mostly because I can’t imagine how terrible the Archives really are at the Harper Hall if every solution to “how do we remember this stuff?” really is “Write a song about it!” I know there’s the Teaching Songs, and presumably, there’s a standard Harper repertoire, occasionally influenced by those who have the gift of music, like Menolly, Petiron, and Kelsa, but it seems like everything having a song is just too much of everything. Maybe Verilan is slightly pleased that Kindan and Vaxoram burnt some amount of the materials on the Archive, because they can’t have all been winners.

Also, I’d like to take a moment to give a shout-out to both Fiona and Nuella for hunting tunnel snakes, especially to Fiona for making some very good wages killing them (and only suffering the one bite.) This is effective storytelling in that it tells us, the reader, that Fiona has always been a fireball who was going to chafe hard at the restrictions society was imposing on her, and it lets us know that Nuella might be one of the few characters who understands Fiona and the two should probably become fast friends, if not confidantes.

Nuellask meets Talenth, who wants to play, but regrettably, everyone has to finish up their war council meeting, and H’nez gets his nose tweaked twice in swift succession.

“I still think it’s a bad idea,” H’nez grumbled. “The Records say nothing of watch-whers fighting Thread–”
“Actually,” Cisca interrupted smoothly, “they do.”
“When?” H’nez asked abruptly.
“As of last night, when I wrote the report,” the Weyrwoman told him.
H’nez was not amused. “If they’re so useful, why was there no mention before?”
“I doubt anyone ever thought to mention it because it was obvious,” K’lior told him. “Watch-whers watch at night and guard holds–we all know that. Probably no one thought it worth mentioning that at night they also guard the holds from Thread.”
“We haven’t trained for this,” H’nez protested.
“I accept responsibility for that,” K’lior said.
“If all goes well, we won’t need you,” Nuella assured H’nez.
“Not need…?” H’nez repeated, his tone full of disbelief.
“If the weather holds, the Thread will all be dead,” Nuella said, “and then neither dragon nor watch-wher will have to fight.”

K’lior, that’s a fantastic explanation. Too bad that it’s completely wrong, since we saw at the end of the last book that Wind Blossom insisted this knowledge stay secret for still unfathomable reasons. Because plot, I suppose. And that mention Cisca makes of watch-whers fighting Thread will also be forgotten through time, even though it should be repeated with every generation to make sure it doesn’t get lost again.

Nuella’s jab at H’nez is pretty good, too, in terms of popping someone’s ego appropriately. Of course, I still believe H’nez shouldn’t be anywhere but Telgar.

The new day dawns promisingly, with snow, and Fiona and Tintoval wonder if just asking dragons and riders how they feel might give a good bead on figuring out how sick the dragons are, but Cisca points out the mental bond can bleed from dragon to rider and spoil any results. Tintoval asks for Xhinna’s help in preparing for the injured, and Xhinna’s sense of duty wins out over her desire to “beat the weyrlings at sacking firestone,” as Fiona puts it. Fiona seems to be accreting a nexus of strong women to herself, which I approve greatly of, and hope they all break off and start their own Weyr and throw all the social conventions to the wind. (It won’t happen, but I wish, okay?) There’s a short scene that’s basically “we’re so glad we have the right firestone now,” and another that’s “K’lior is worried things are going to go pear-shaped because his dragonriders aren’t running on high alert,” before we get to Zenor and Nuella (now happily married) having a fight about whether or not Nuella needs to go out with Nuellask to fight the Thread. Zenor says she needs to think about her children and family and staying alive to raise them. Nuella says it’s her duty to be out there leading the charge, even if Nuellask knows how to run the operation herself. Two of her children, Zelar and Nalla, overhear, and Nalla tips the scales in Nuella’s favor by quoting the statement about how dragonriders must fly when Thread is in the sky, even though Zelar says it’s not the same thing.

“No flying upside down,” he chided her.
“It musses up my hair,” Nuella responded, not–Zenor noted–necessarily ceding to his request.
“Bring her back,” Zenor said to Nuellask. “She and I have more babies to make.”
“Gladly!” Nuella responded with a laugh. “I want six, at least.”
“Excellent,” Zenor agreed, his eyes dancing.
“And Nuellask wants a few us clutches herself, I’m sure.”
“Which is a good thing,” Zenor said, “as it seems your babies start with hers.”

I am glad Nuella and Zenor are agreed about the relationship they have with each other, and they seem to be doing well in parenting. It might be the healthiest relationship I’ve seen on screen out of all of these books, and a large part of it is because Zenor seems willing to let Nuella be who she is, rather than expecting her to be wife and mother solely.

So K’lior’s bad feeling is right, as the weather is too warm and the corresponding Thread count too high for the watch-whers to consume themselves, so a quick makeshift team, including Cisca and an already hurt Nuella, rallies the whers and has them direct the flamethrowers where they need to go and shoot. Which gets them through the night, but not without some burrows slipping through, which turn out to be well-established in the wrong places, necessitating the destruction of a forty year-old forest. K’lior is pretty pissed about the necessary destruction, and apologizes to Lord Egremer about it. Egremer asks for the loan of some weyrlings to help ease some things and save some time in the rebuilding. Which sparks an idea in K’lior, who thanks Egremer for his inspiration and then hightails it back to Fort Weyr to explain to Cisca that if they throw the weyrlings back in time, they’ll have enough time to mature fully and then pop back as full dragonriders ready to kick Thread and take names. Cisca thinks it’s brilliant. The rest of the war council, sans H’nez, is on board. H’nez, however, has landed on K’lior’s shit list, finally.

“No one knows if this is going to work, anyway,” H’nez said. K’lior glanced sourly in his direction–H’nez had been late in joining the fight the night before.

We’ve finally found out what it is that gets you on the Weyrleader’s bad side, and…well, of course it has to do with fighting Thread instead of being an asshole. Which, we note, H’nez continues to be.

K’lior turned to T’mar. “When can you be ready?”
“In two hours,” T’mar replied. “When do you need us back?”
“Excuse me,” H’nez said, “but I think I should be the one to go.”
K’lior turned to him with a raised brow.
“I’ve had the most experience leading flights of dragons; I’ll be the best at training them and handling their injuries,” H’nez explained.
“T’mar is handling the weyrlings now,” K’lior said. “and the decision as to who goes is mine.”
H’nez flashed angrily. “Then pick me.”
K’lior eyed him with distate for a moment, then turned his attention back to T’mar. “The healer will need to stay here.”
T’mar nodded in agreement.
“Weyrleader!” H’nez snapped through gritted teeth. All eyes turned to him. “If you will not let me lead the Flight back to Igen, then I demand that you send me to another Weyr.”
“H’nez!” M’valer gasped.
K’lior merely nodded. “I can not send you until this illness has been cured,” he told H’nez. “at that time, however, you may go to any Weyr that will have you. In the meantime, as we have more wingleaders than wings, you are to fly in M’kury’s wing.”
H’nez nodded stiffly, rose from his chair, and rushed out of the room, ignoring K’rall’s and M’valer’s outraged expressions.

Oh, for fuck’s sake, finally. I still think it a terrible thing that K’lior waited until H’nez did himself in by his own words and actions, instead of sending him off or demoting him to a flyer as soon as it became apparent he was unsuited to leadership, but there’s probably some unwritten rule somewhere that I’m not aware of, being just a reader of the book and not fully immersed in dragonrider culture and how bronze riders work. Anyway. H’nez has been neutralized for the moment, although I’m not counting him out to try something when he thinks nobody is looking, because guys like him don’t just slink off or merely wait their time out.

Fiona offers to go back in time, but she’s nixed because she’s the heir and there’s no way they’re risking the juvenile queen on this mission. As Fiona explains it to Xhinna, the riders are going to use the position of the Red Star, and then calculate what it should look like Ten Turns ago to get their picture, which should sound rather familiar to us, given that the position of the Red Star was what was used for the giant time hops that Jaxom and Ruth led, and several other intentional-or-otherwise time hops that have been done before. Given that dragonriders keep time by the Red Star, which is apparently the most regular object in their orbit, it makes sense that it keeps getting used for time-point fixation. So T’mar and the weyrlings pop back in time to do their thing, which resolves a certain number of the paradoxes involved and will hopefully bring those weyrlings back to full alertness when they stop crossing their timelines. Xhinna and Fiona and F’jian all talk about the lack of riders in the Weyr, and how they would much rather be in the past, growing up, even though their dragons can’t actually carry them, much less send them back in time.

When Fiona yawns, Talenth tells her to go to bed, and says she’ll be in shortly, but she has to think first. Which is the latest in a few signs that Talenth might not be like other dragons, but it’s been small things like Fiona can tell Talenth to listen for other riders, and that works perfectly well, but is actually somewhat unusual for dragons when noted. Fiona is awoken in the middle of the night by the same mysterious queen rider she saw before, who has an imperative for Fiona and Talenth: come back with her to Igen Weyr, so that the other weyrlings will see them go and do the same thing themselves. Because this rider, whomever she is, is from the future and now has to make sure that her own past happens as she remembers it. So Talenth, Fiona, and Terin make the hop with the queen rider. Xhinna is left behind at the insistence of the queen rider, which I’m sure will sour whatever relationship Fiona and Xhinna had. And the chapter closes with Fiona puzzling out who this mysterious rider might be from the future.

Who was this person? Fiona wondered. Who rode a gold and could bring them back in time?
A growing sense of wonder overcame her as she considered the most obvious answer: Could this be Fiona herself, come back from the future?

Well, if it is, we have the Lessa Paradox all over again. Although, I suppose, given the chronologies involved, it would first be called the Wind Blossom Paradox, or the Lorana Paradox, long before it became the Lessa Paradox. In any case, we keep having these situations that are extremely vulnerable to the Bootstrap Paradox happening with greater frequency as the new author settles in, and that’s not a trend that I want to see continue. Aside from my annoyance at how directly Pernese time travel interferes with itself and the grumble I have about the bootstrap paradox, the reliance on time travel as the solution to all problems and the construction of narratives that require time travel to solve makes it sound like the new author doesn’t feel confident in their ability to tell the story they want. There’s so many more things on the table to pick up and run with, like the terrible similarity between Lady Holder and Weyrwoman that Fiona is experiencing. Or how all the people that Fiona keeps putting in positions of usefulness see the world. There’s Thread and heretofore unseen illness and a lack of knowledge that is punishing everyone and a race against the clock to find a solution. That’s good enough without having to bring time travel into it. There’s so much going on that things that could be explored more get rushed past. Maybe not all of it makes it into the final work, but Fiona is more of a plot device than a character at this point.

Chapter 12 starts next week.

Dragonheart: Terrible Decision-Making, All Around

Last time, Fiona learned a lot more about what it means to be a weyrling and what sort of responsibilities she’s going to have to take on a a Weyrwoman supervising them.

Dragonheart: Chapter 11: Content Notes: Trolley Problems and Faulty Logic, Gaslighting

I reached out
And you were gone.
I cried out
But you had flown.

(Fort Weyr, Morning, AL 508.1.19)

Cisca and Fiona debrief about the incident in the morning, and Fiona mentions her mysterious voice told her things were going to be fine despite this setback. (It was there, but the mysterious voice isn’t doing much but being reassuring, so it’s not always important.) The two of them then try their hardest to convince everyone else that everything is going to be fine as well, despite no actual evidence of progress. Fiona gets to go drill the weyrlings today. Tajen and T’mar are going to try Fiona’s suggestion of trailing firestone sacks behind the dragon. Fiona ships J’gerd off to drill the older weyrlings, and Xhinna gives Fiona advice about drilling the younglings – all things are tests, especially anything that looks like a mistake or a missed command. Fiona does well, especially when Talenth gets involved and when Fiona rotates who is giving commands.

Xhinna proved as adept at drill as Fiona had expected, giving her orders in a well-timed cadence that actually made the drills work better.
“That was amazing!” Xhinna told Fiona when they finally called halt, he eyes shining with joy. “I could almost feel how they’d be in the air and–” She cut herself off abruptly and dropped her eyes to the ground.
Fiona could guess what the other girl was thinking: that it was something she’d never experience. She wanted to say something to reassure her, to give her hope, but she couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t sound false or silly.

Talenth ends up promising Xhinna an egg from her clutch, when the time comes. And this is another one of those times where I really have to boggle at the hoarding of knowledge and material by everybody on Pern. Like, the fife and drum corps is not a new concept in any sort of way, and yet it seems like Fiona notices Xhinna’s natural cadence and this is some sort of novel idea and improvement to the previous drill idea. We already have Harpers for the Weyr, so how hard would it be for an apprentice drummer to be put on loan to a Weyr to practice their rudiments in such a way that gives the weyrlings a beat and cadence to practice their drill to? And since it’s not like the dragonriders need any sort of secrecy to fight Thread, why not have a drummer on hand when fighting a Fall to keep time and tempo so that the dragons fight Thread as efficiently and rhythmically as possible? Maybe the Songmaster can compose a song for the weyrlings to memorize that contains their drill in it, so all they have to do is hear the right command and the tempo and they can do it. There’s always the possibility that a weyrling will be without rhythm at all, of course, but it’s always interesting to see how many things are being rediscovered that should never have been forgotten in the first place.

Drill goes well, T’mar and Tajen say the trailing firestone idea works, but they don’t particularly like it compared to having weyrlings do resupply. Even though having six sacks floating seems to make this idea work fairly well. The return of the rest of the fighting groups means a leader meeting where everyone’s numbers are basically terrible, and that’s worse because High Reaches won’t help (because of the time plot) and Telgar won’t help (because there’s an asshole in charge). Fort currently has about a wing’s worth of reserves over the minimum needed to fight a Fall properly. Fiona suggests that wing could be the firestone reserves, using the same technique of floating sacks behind, and then the reserve wing could join the fray and patch holes that might have appeared through casualties, a suggestion swiftly adopted and then assigned out to be put into practice with the next day’s drill.

Fiona is getting a lot of mileage out of the outsider perspective trait, since Cisca and company seem to be actively encouraging Fiona to examine all of their issues and practices to see if there are improvements to be had, and Fiona seems to be coming up with solutions on the regular.

The more the book gets into the details, though, it continues to leave out a lot of things. Like, is firestone mined to a certain size and weight so that there’s a standard-within-tolerance expectation of how long a flame a dragon can sustain per rock? (Does it change depending on the dragon’s color? If so, is every dragon wing composed solely of one color?) Does an attacking wedge of dragons sustain their flame for a set amount of time before peeling off and letting the next wedge smoothly take their place while they float back to the back of the queue to reload? How does a wing or wedge or flight accomplish resupply without Thread advancing some amount of ground, given that the point is to make sure no Thread touches down?

These things don’t have to be explicitly said in painstaking detail, but they should be known, so that when characters speak or act, they’re doing so in a way that shows the author has thought of it and plotted it out. You need a series book of research, even if the research itself doesn’t need to go into the narrative.

As it turns out, the next day, Xhinna and Terin present Fiona with a new problem – the next scheduled Threadfall will go through sundown and dragons do not see well on the dark. Fiona runs the problem past the other Weyrleaders, and everyone goes “…shit.” Some of the Thread might freeze, but there’s going to be space for Thread to burrow that the ground crews aren’t going to be able to cover. The Weyrleaders are appreciative, even if it means having to do more things.

“You have a habit of finding difficult friends, don’t you?”
Fiona looked up and saw that he was smiling at her.
“Don’t stop,” Cisca told her heatedly. “We need these sorts of friends; they keep us from making terrible mistakes.”
“Indeed,” K’lior said, his expression thoughtful. He raised an eyebrow toward Cisca in some secret communication that seemed to Fiona that they were dragons communicating telepathically.
“Yes,” K’lior said after a moment. “I think we shouuld encourage this Terin to stand on the Hatching Grounds.”
“Nothing short of a full revolution for you, is there?” Cisca wondered, her eyes dancing at Fiona.
” ‘Need drives when Thread arrives,’ ” K’lior quoted in reply.

And so, at least at Fort, we seem to be headed in the direction of getting plenty of eligible candidates from places unexpected to sit for dragons. Which is excellent, and it’s nice having Weyrleaders who think this is a good idea, rather than trying to obstruct it for any sort of TRADITION reasons or otherwise. Cisca and K’lior seem to be both practical and pragmatic, except when it comes to getting rid of people that needed to step down or be dismissed, I guess. Which can be a big flaw in the wrong conditions.

Fiona continues to do the thing she does best, in providing outside perspective to the dragonriders that sorely need it.

“What about the watch-whers?” Fiona asked. “I know my father’s Forsk will be eager.”
“Watch-whers?” K’lior repeated, running a hand through his hair in exasperation. “What could they do?”
“They can see at night,” Fiona replied, undaunted. “And I know that father has been training with Forsk, getting guidance from Kindan, M’tal, and Nuella.”
K’lior groaned. Cisca looked at him worriedly. “The watch-whers,” he explained. “When M’tal was here at the Hatching, he wanted us to train with the watch-whers.”
“And you said no,” Cisca guessed.
And I said no,” K’lior agreed disconsolately. “Could you imagine H’nez…?”
“He would have been apoplectic,” Cisca agreed.
“Well, there’s nothing we can do about it now,” K’lior said with a heavy sigh. “We’ll fight the Thread tonight and see if perhaps we can train with the watch-whers before the next Fall.”

Or, perhaps, the consequences of not being able to throw H’nez out on his ear when needed will come back and bite the Weyrleaders in the ass more directly. Also, watch-whers are an important part of things, and the fact that they can see in the dark and eat Thread should not have become part of lost knowledge, but again, Pern.

As it is, the first night-time raid is a disaster for K’lior, because the dragons can’t see, but it turns out the watch-whers and Nuella turn up to help them out anyway and remind everyone that they’re the night crew for Thread, because the watch-whers will eat the stuff up. There’s some concern about how there aren’t enough watch-whers to fight a full onslaught if all the Thread is live (since, remember, they work on heat-vision, they can tell what’s live and what’s dead in terms of Thread), and Cisca is put out that she missed out, but mostly it’s “Nuella was flying upside-down and said hello. Since she’s blind, I’m not sure she noticed,” from K’lior, to which Cisca says, “Yeah, no, she noticed. I’ll bet her mate will be unhappy about that stunt. And also, don’t get any ideas.”

H’nez is grounded for the next Fall, due to injured dragon, and T’mar has Fiona accompany him to the Harper Hall. Once Fiona gets under the archways, she’s lifted off her feet by an unknown person, who nearly gets kicked in sensitive areas for assaulting her like that, before Fiona identifies it as Verilan, and the two have a conversation about how much Fiona’s grown before heading in to Zist’s office, where Bemin, Kelsa, Zist, and a few others are seated. Kelsa tells Fiona that she’s pregnant, which nets an “About time” from Fiona. (Exact quote.) Fiona rattles through the reasons why there might be so many dignitaries present, but those reasons have been covered, it’s mostly to be sure that Fiona’s okay with it. Which she is, and thinks that both her mother and Koriana would have wanted it. Koriana gets named, Lady Sannora does not, but such is the way with siblings, I suppose.

Then they get to the real reason they called for the meeting – Fort Weyr is getting a healer again, a newly-promoted master by the name of Tintoval. She will hopefully have a better tenure than the last healer did, perhaps by virtue of being someone H’nez is less likely to get into duel fights with, even if H’nez will have to be told, repeatedly, that he has to listen to her. T’mar also wants to relay the news about the watch-whers fighting Thread, but Forsk was apparently in the thick of it, so everyone already knows.

When it’s time to leave, Fiona notes there aren’t enough straps to make sure everyone’s secure in. T’mar brushes off her concern, so Fiona gets a grip on one strap with one hand and holds on to Tintoval with the other. There’s a little turbulence on the way back, and Fiona hurts herself holding everyone down, which provokes T’mar into a fit that Fiona could have been lost. Fiona is pretty pissed that they endangered the new Healer and doesn’t understand why T’mar, and then Cisca and K’lior, are pissed at her in return. I follow Fiona’s confusion, even as the whole thing is supposedly explained by K’lior and Cisca.

“But T’mar was–”
“–wrong,” K’lior finished for her. “He should have used the straps.”
“He said he didn’t have any,” Fiona protested.
“He could have borrowed some from the Harper Hall,” K’lior replied. “Master Zist is used to dealing with dragonriders and is smart enough to keep some on hand.”
“As, no doubt, does your father,” Cisca added.
“Then you agree–”
“I do not agree with your public humiliation of a wingleader,” K’lior interjected harshly. “T’mar’s a good man; he would have learned his lesson without your childish outburst.”
“Childish!”
“Childish,” Cisca agreed, but her tone was softer than K’lior’s and she shot the Weyrleader a look that Fiona couldn’t fathom. K’lior shrugged in response, leaving Cisca to continue, “An adult would have realized that T’mar would punish himself harshly for his error and–”
“–an adult would accept the realities of being a queen rider,” K’lior finished.

Cocowhat by depizan

Yes, T’mar should have made better choices. Also, Fiona’s a Weyrwoman, it’s within her remit to remark that T’mar made poor choices. Fiona is not in the wrong, here, which makes it even more aggravating that Cisca and K’lior are acting like she is, even after having acknowledged that Fiona isn’t wrong.

“And let someone else die?” Fiona demanded in anguish and fury, her eyes filling with tears.
“If need be,” Cisca answered softly. She gestured to herslef and Fiona. “Without us, there would be no queens. And without the queens, there will be no Pern.”
“So our queens are nothing more than brood mothers?” Fiona demanded sourly. “And you and I are–” She found she couldn’t finish the sentence and so said instead, “But what about Tannaz? Why did you let her go between?”
“It wasn’t my choice,” Cisca told her. She shook her head sadly. “You know that it wasn’t really Tannaz’s choice, either. Kelsanth was dying; there was no cure.”

Fiona finally comes to the terrible conclusion herself, that being a queen rider and a Weyrwoman isn’t any more free than being a Lady Holder would have been, especially in this situation where queens are precious and need to be protected. Which is the sort of thing that’s been more obvious or less obvious as the previous series have gone on. Fiona exchanged one cage for another, but at no point was she ever going to be free.

Cisca and Fiona have a heated exchange about whether Fiona’s going to give up in despair because there’s still no cure for the dragons, or whether she’s going to fight it all the way through, and then when Fiona resolutely says she’s not giving up, Cisca asks her

“Will you be a leader and an inspiration, or will you be a whiner and an embarrassment? Will you bear your responsibilities, or bow under them?”
“But–to let her fall!” Fiona wailed. A torrent of emotions broke over her and she began to cry.
Realization dawned on K’lior’s face. “You aren’t angry at T’mar–you’re angry because you would have let her go!”
“I held on!” Fiona declared, holding up her aching arm as proof.
“Of course you did,” Cisca replied proudly. “You’re a Weyrwoman.” She glanced to K’lior. “We’ve never questioned that.”
“But,” K’lior persisted, “if it had come to letting her go or falling with her–”
“I would have let her go!” Fiona cried, dropping her head into her hands and shaking it in shame and sorrow. “I would have let her go.”
Strong arms wrapped around her and she was pulled tight against Cisca’s tall body. “Of course you would,” Cisca agreed with her, “because that’s what you would have had to do to protect Pern. You would have hated yourself for it, probably never have forgiven yourself, but you would have done it.” Cisca pushed her away and put a finger under Fiona’s chin, gently raising it so she could see the girl’s eyes. “And that’s what makes a great Weyrwoman: doing what has to be done even when she hates it.”
“That’s why you let Tannaz go,” Fiona said with sudden understanding.
“Yes,” Cisca replied, the words torn out of her, and again she crushed Fiona in a tight embrace, the sort of embrace a mother gives her daughter; the sort of embrace Fiona had always longed for. A short moment later, however, Fiona pushed herself away and glanced toward K’lior. “And that’s why you called me in here.”
The Weyrleader nodded, a corner of his lips turned up in a bitter smile. “Better to know your mettle now than when we are in worse straits.”
Fiona nodded. She stood as tall as she could and said to K’lior, “Weyrleader, I apologize for my outburst at Wingleader T’mar. I was distressed and took my temper out on him. I regret it.”

Cocowhat by depizan

Cocowhat by depizan

Cocowhat by depizan

I don’t even understand this sequence. Fiona’s really mad at herself that she would have engaged in self-preservation when the chips were down, and that’s somehow emblematic that Fiona will be able to make the hard decisions when it’s time, and that’s what they want in a Weyrwoman, so now Fiona understands their position, accepts it as correct, and apologizes for it?

I don’t know if that’s gaslighting, but if it isn’t, it sure as hell is in the same family. T’mar’s still wrong, Fiona’s still justified in taking it out on him, his feelings be damned, and Cisca and K’lior should be supporting her rather than telling her she was wrong to do it and convincing her that she’s really mad at herself instead of at T’mar. He might very well beat himself up about it in private, and that’s well and dandy, but everybody, including Fiona now, is trying to make the greater sin in that Fiona said something and was harsh with him, rather than that he endangered lives.

“Seriously,” Cisca said, turning again to Fiona, “it is often hard for a young Weyrwoman to accept the realities of her position.”
“To let healers die that I might live,” Fiona said by way of example.
“If that is what is needed to protect your queen and the future of Pern,” Cisca responded emphatically.
“It just doesn’t seem fair,” Fiona said softly.
“It isn’t fair,” Cisca agreed. “It’s up to us–Weyrwomen and Weyrleaders–to make it as fair as we can.”
“And when we can’t,” K’lior added, “it’s our responsibility to make certain that no sacrifice is in vain.”

Cisca also says she expects Fiona to deal with T’mar on her own before the Weyrleaders go out to formally meet Tintoval.

But we’re still talking about different things here. T’mar didn’t follow safety regulations and endangered lives through his carelessness. Fiona told him there were problems, but he blew her off. Consequently, Fiona injured herself trying to make sure that T’mar’s carelessness didn’t cost the life of the Healer the Weyr desperately needs. Everyone is yelling at Fiona that she can’t endanger herself for other people, because she’s too precious. If that were the case, really, then Fiona shouldn’t be let out of the Weyr for any reason at all. Like she wouldn’t be let out of her Hold ever, either as someone to be married away or when she was properly married, because she would need to produce at least an heir and a spare to ensure succession.

This does not tie into “sometimes, as a leader, you have to make choices that will kill people,” unless everyone is tacitly admitting here that T’mar’s carelessness was instead a deliberate test to see if Fiona would let Tintoval go and only care about herself. Which is an extremely shitty thing to do to Fiona and Tintoval, even if T’mar was confident there wouldn’t be any real danger and they could catch Tintoval if she were jostled out of her seat. There are way many more ways of doing a test like this, and in reality, with Threadfall already underway, there won’t be any need to test this idea, as Fiona, should she ever become Senior, will have to send riders out to die, or at least be okay with the Weyrleader doing so.

This entire sequence seems to be here for the purpose of gaslighting Fiona, inflicting trauma on her, and making it very clear to the reader just how little has changed for Fiona because of her Impression. And, just, ugh. It’s fucking terrible, because it’s all about prioritizing the feelings of a dude over the very real problems that Fiona is absolutely right to point out.

The narrative goes on with Fiona showing Tintoval around, answering questions, and coming to see one of the sick dragons, where I am reminded that names ending in consonants are men’s names, not women’s names, and therefore there’s the possibility of confusion if someone hasn’t seen Tintoval before hearing her name. “A new healer,” the voice inside began hopefully. “Does he–”
He broke off as they entered. S’ban was dressed elegantly in wherhide breeches and a thick blue sweater accented with a gold chain around his neck. For a moment his face showed his surprise at Tintoval, and then it darkened. “I’m not sure that Serth will tolerate a woman’s touch,” he warned them. When Fiona opened her mouth to argue, the blue rider amended quickly, “I mean, a woman who is not a queen rider.”

And, along with name confusion, we get slapped with the casual sexism of Pern. (Yay.) Because there’s no reason to believe that the dragon gives a damn about what gender the person is that’s trying to heal them. Instead, it’s the rider assuming that Tintoval can’t be capable, because she’s a woman, never mind that she’s just recently been promoted to her Mastery and so is exactly the person that can fill the great big gaping hole in Fort Weyr’s ability to keep the people and the dragons healthy.

Tintoval explains she was named because her father, also a blue rider, expected her to be a son so much that he had her named before they knew. This would be the perfect place for a trans narrative, where Tintoval says, “And he was right about having a son, even though I look like this.” and we get representation and someone doing important work. But that’s not going to happen. Instead, we get more of Tintoval being competent, some teasing of Fiona from Tintoval about her crush on Kindan, which leads into wanting to think about the problem of catching riders too injured to fly their dragon well, a few bits of reaction to the Weyr seeing Tintoval for the first time, and Fiona being deliberately snubbed from the Weyrleader’s table (there’s no place for her) because she hasn’t apologized to T’mar yet. So Fiona goes to do it, and we get more of Fiona gaslighting herself and others joining in.

“She didn’t,” he [Bemin] would probably have said, “and you weren’t angry with the bronze rider because of that.” She could imagine him sighing and drawing her close. “Lying does not become a Lady Holder, particularly if she lies to herself.”
[…Fiona sees T’mar and makes her way over…]
“Wingleader T’mar,” Fiona began, “I wish to apologize t you for my outburst this morning. I should not have been angry with you.” She bit her lip and forced herself to continue. “The truth you spoke was not one I was prepared to hear. I regret my harsh words.”
[…T’mar accepts it and makes a place for her at his table…]
T’mar waited until she was seated, then leaned in close to her. “You are not weyrbred; you learned something to day that our children know as soon as they can talk.”

Cocowhat by depizan

Then why the fuck is everyone coming down on Fiona like a ton of bricks? Unless nobody actually stopped and thought for half a second about how Fiona doesn’t understand this truism of their life and perhaps someone should explain it to her.

“I am holdbred,” Fiona agreed, “but my father is a Lord Holder and many of the same truths apply to Lady Holders as [they do] to Weyrwomen.” She frowned. “It’s just hard to accept.”
“Harder as a Weyrwoman, I believe,” T’mar told her. “As a Lady Holder you could renounce your claim, but as a Weyrwoman…” He shook his head.
“Is it always this hard?” Fiona asked him frankly. “Am I the only one…?”
“No,” T’mar assured her. “I think every Weyrwoman battles with this issue.” He waved a hand toward Cisca. “I know that she did, before Melirth rose.”

No, you’re not the only one. Every Lady Holder being trained up to be a nice marriage token and then household-runner, every Weyrwoman, basically every woman on Pern has the same issues that you’re running into, Fiona. Those that choose to strike out on their own, like Thella or Kylara, or even Brekke, had she been given half a chance, are almost invariably painted as villains by both society and the narrative (who wants to make sure that there are no women that want something different and that might be sympathetic to the reader in their wanting). So your options are to conform to the society that insists your value is only in how well you play a narrowly constricted role for men or to strike out and risk the wrath of that society and the narrative itself.

It’s hard to accept because Pern requires doublethink on par with the United States’ constant talk about Freedom, Liberty, Equality, and the bootstraps illusion, when even cursory research or examination of a perspective other than a privileged white man shows that all the talk being talked has basically no walk being walked behind it. Fiona thought that she could get out of the cage of being a Proper Lady Holder by ascending to a position that theoretically is above just about everyone, only to discover that she doesn’t have any of the actual power that comes with it, and by the time that actual power comes around, she won’t be able to use it except in approved ways anyway, because she’ll have to have a minder/husband/Weyrleader by her side instead of ruling the place by herself. Or at least being able to do what she wants to do, instead of what everyone that’s putting her on a pedestal expects her to do.

We haven’t seen Fiona have that realization and the mental breakdown that’s likely going to follow from it. There’s hints of it, because Fiona continues to be super-anxious about what will happen when Talenth rises to mate. (I don’t think it’s solely about the sex part, even if that’s what the conscious worry is about. I think Fiona is worried that when Talenth rises to mate, that will slam shut the last door Fiona has to get out of the situation before she no longer can. Fiona is facing an existential crisis at thirteen. The same one she would be facing as a Lady Holder, to be sure, but the stakes are, somehow, much higher than she would have expected to have as a Lady Holder. I kind of want to see what happens when a dragon goes to live with the watch-whers or something similar, where the dragon and rider simply close themselves off completely to being found by anybody else and go find a community of similar renunciants and lives out a life without having to become a Thread fighter, or leader, or Weyrwoman. Not that someone could hide dragons easily in the inhabited lands, but maybe some raids and a few other things to get a space for themselves and their dragons established and they could just opt-out as much as possible from the life and destiny set in front of them. That would be nice to have as an option.

There’s still nearly half of this chapter to cover, and this post is long enough already, so we’re going to stop here. I keep thinking back to the beginning piece, where the author mentioned rising tensions between dragonriders and holders, and have to wonder how much of this conflict between what’s expected in dragonrider culture and what’s expected in holder culture is really all that different, at least for the women allowed to participate in either realm, and how much of the conflict is really between the world as it is described to us and our own sense of ethics and morals about the treatment of others. But maybe that’s because I’m looking at this series with a lens toward showing where things don’t make sense, rather than being swayed by the presence of neat dragons and potential world-ending threats and engaging in some reader self-insertion (which is really easy to do in all of these novels) that might make me want to be more apologetic for Pern than I might otherwise be. Because it’s still got a decent concept, even if the executions leave a lot to be desired.

More next week.

Dragonheart: The Power of Logistics

Last time, Fiona had to deal with a significant amount of death of dragons and riders, as several of her mentors took the one-way trip to hyperspace. The Weyrlingmaster stayed behind when his dragon died in his sleep, and was officially de-contracted in the ritual expression of grief. Fiona and the weyrlings and weyrgirls (specifically mentioned) ran through the first aid exercises meant to make them competent and instinctual about how to triage and treat dragons coming back with Thread injuries. About the only thing it seems to be helping with is making sure Fiona is too run ragged to think existential crisis thoughts.

Furthermore, rather than finding having a dragon to be freeing from obligations and social structures that insist she repress her emotions and always act like a proper lady, it’s become radically apparent that being a Weyrwoman is all of the things that would have been expected of her as a Lady Holder, with the extra terrible of knowing her emotions are contagious to the people around her.

Dragonheart: Chapter 10: Content Notes: Joke about underage boys being seen sexually

Thread falls
Dragons rise.
Dragons flame,
Thread dies.

(Fort Weyr, morning, AL 508.1.13)

When you have to repeat the poetic lines from earlier, and furthermore, you’re repeating the less good stuff, that’s probably a sign of something. Like someone needed to hire a poet.

Chapter Ten starts with Fiona unnaturally perky about the possibility of Threadfall. Apparently, everyone at Fort is keyed-up about being able to hurt the visible menace, rather than suffering from the invisible one, and they’re chomping at the bit to get a Fall under their belts, since everyone else has already done one. Fiona and Cisca are both very nervous about who might not come back, although Cisca asks Fiona and Xhinna not to let her nervousness be known widely, because Senior Weyrwoman Who Sets The Example and all that.

Fiona doesn’t get to put her drill practice to work because when she tries to catch the first injured dragonrider, T’mar, she misjudges the distance, so she’s knocked out and concussed by the weight of the rider falling fully on her. After Kentai runs the concussion protocol on her, and grudgingly gives her the casualty report, Fiona checks in with Talenth, who apparently wasn’t worried because the mysterious dragonrider from before assured her that Fiona would be okay. The same voice tells Fiona she’s going to be fine and (presumably uses an Imperius on Fiona to) gets her to go to sleep.

When she wakes up, Kentai is summoned and more of the concussion protocol is put into place, which forbids Fiona from any klah, much to her and T’mar’s protestations. Kentai tests to make sure her pupils are reacting equally, but asks Fiona if she knows what he’s testing for and she tells him correctly. So Fiona is down for another day, although with Kentai learning that H’nez basically fought every other bronze rider weyrling in his class (and again, reasons why H’nez should never have been put on the leadership track at all) and Fiona promising she won’t leave Xhinna behind if she and Talenth decide they’re going one-way to hyperspace after hearing that Lorana was at Fort, looking through the records, but then had to leave abruptly.

And then, somehow, despite the fact that Fiona has been concussed and asleep, she wants to go see T’mar under the guise of seeing the injured riders, and Xhinna apparently can tell immediately that she’s at least in infatuation with T’mar (Xhinna refers to T’mar as Fiona’s boyfriend) and I’m paging back through the book trying to figure out where this sudden connection happened, because I can’t find any sort of indication where Fiona has suddenly seen T’mar in a new light, other than the crash-into-hello. Fiona is equally abrupt with T’mar when in his gratefulness that Fiona caught him and saved him from breaking his legs, he mentions that she should not risk her neck for him and Fiona comes to the conclusion that T’mar really only cared about her dragon.

Where have we seen mood swings like that before? Oh, right, with Tullea, but since we’re inhabiting Fiona’s head, the narrative lets her realize what she did and then apologize to T’mar for it, who waves it off and they talk about what Lorana found in the records before the topic comes to making promises.

“I wouldn’t be so quick to make such a promise,” T’mar warned her. Xhinna gave him a stubborn look and he went on. “No one ever says words with the thought that they might one day have to eat them.”
“I won’t!”
“You wouldn’t be the first,” T’mar observed mildly. “I’ve had to eat my own words countless times; that’s why I give you such advice.”
“How did they taste?” Fiona asked, surprised to see her humor returning.
“Awful,” T’mar replied with a grimace. “But I was always grateful after I’d eaten them.”
” ‘Be careful what you wish for, you might get it,’ ” Fiona repeated the old saying.

Later on, they’ll also quote “Don’t count your eggs before they’re hatched,” but at least that one makes plausible sense, given dragons and eggs and such. I’m less certain about wishes fulfilled, but I can see it being said to children that dream of being dragonriders, or Lords, or Crafters, as a discouragement or a a way of getting them to ask questions about how people higher on the social strata treat the people underneath them.

T’mar chooses not to say anything to Fiona and Xhinna about mating flights and his experience of them, and the next scene picks up with the casualty numbers from Ista and the council of leaders trying to figure out what to do with their own injured and dead, given that they now know some dragons are sick without the sign of the cough and so some dragons were lost without knowing it would happen. And, props for consistent characterization, I suppose, but H’nez continues to be an asshole.

“J’lantir,” H’nez snorted derisively. “The man lost his whole wing!”
“But we found out why, didn’t we?” M’kury retorted quickly. “And without them, we would have had even more holders die in the Plague.”
“Holders!” H’nez snorted once more. “Who needs–”
“I was a holder, H’nez, in case you’ve forgotten,” Fiona snapped angrily, her hands balled into fists under the table. “And without J’lantir, I wouldn’t be here. Think on that.”
“Actually,” Cisca added drolly, “perhaps it’d be best if you just think, H’nez.”
H’nez’s eyes flashed and he tensed in his chair, his anger obvious to everyone. Outside a dragon bugled loudly, answered by another higher-pitched dragon: Melirth and Talenth. The sounds seemed to recall him to his senses, and with some effort, he relaxed in his chair.

H’nez does apologize after having been put in his place, yet again, and really, I don’t care how good of a leader he is during Threadfall, he’s a fucking toxic liability and should be expelled. I realize that the book is published a decade before there’s any sort of widespread public discourse about toxic masculinity and people in positions of power behaving badly and needing to be truly called to account for it, but H’nez has done more than enough to get bounced in the here and now, even if you don’t take into account his past. So yes, reading through the lens of the now, rather than of the then, but it’s also objectively, fractally, terrible.

As Fort’s people try to work through the issues of flying light, Tajen suggests riding along with T’mar so that T’mar’s arm can continue to heal and Tajen can catch firestone sacks and otherwise do the heavy lifting. This makes Cisca suggest the possibility of having healthy riders work with healthy dragons, even if it’s not the Impressed pair. M’valer dismisses the idea immediately, with the same reaction as if someone had suggested M’valer willingly sunder his Impression bond. The suggestion isn’t shelved or adopted, mostly waiting to see how Tajen and T’mar do as a partnership.

Fiona ends up assigned to helping Weyrlings with their drilling requirements. Since she’s small, young, and inexperienced, she’s very nervous about it. Tajen and T’mar offer their counsel to Fiona, Cisca introduces the two seniormost weyrlings that generally run the rest of them, J’keran and J’gerd, and then basically leaves Fiona to sink or swim. Fiona manages to get the two of them to work in harmony by suggesting that those who speak too quickly need to think more and those who don’t talk at all need to speak up. She introduces them to K’lior, collects her key to the firestone shed, and then has to divide up the work for everyone, knowing they’re going to be hauling around full sacks of firestone. Xhinna arrives and relays another key piece of information – Fiona has to have someone count how much firestone is leaving their stores. Fiona nominally asks Xhinna to do the count, but Xhinna wants something more challenging – to join in filling the sacks of firestone.

“We’ve what–twelve weyrlings to fly firestone?” Fiona asked out loud.
“Eleven,” someone else called out. “V’lex was injured in the last Fall.”
“Thirty-three weyrlings to bag–”
“Thirty-four,” Xhinna put in stoutly.
“You’re not a weyrling!” one of the younger bys complained. “You’re a girl!”
I’m a girl,” Fiona said warningly.
“Were you addled in your shell, D’lanor? She’s offering to help,” another weyrling put in, eyeing Xhinna with a combination of surprise and awe.
“And what will happen when you’re all in fighting wings?” Fiona asked.
“Well, there’ll be more weyrlings,” J’keran suggested cautiously.

Fiona realizes that figuring out who’s replacing them is her problem, not theirs, and while someone suggests V’lex as proper counter, a new young girl, named Terin, pipes up and says she’ll count. While the boys are skeptical about her (and her claim that her father was a dragonrider), Terin demonstrates aptitude with numbers quickly, by being able to calculate in rapid succession, having been told that the start point is 164 sacks to start with (one sack per active dragon) and each weyrling will have to have two more, the weyrlings will need 328 sacks additionally, which works out to about five sacks for each of the fillers to cover the starting requirement and then about ten sacks each for the weyrling reserves. Which then means they’ll have to be carrying about thirty sacks per weyrling. Given that each sack is two stone (28 pounds), (Also, imagine me giving the book the side-eye about how a weight measure that’s archaic by 21st century Terran standards somehow manages to make it all the way to far-future Pern, despite the fact that science had already standardized on kilograms for units of mass and weight for several decades when the book was written), thirty sacks is sixty stone (840 pounds), and that’s way too much weight for any one weyrling to carry by themselves in one trip. Given that, between a snatch and a clean-and-jerk, the Terran world record holder lifted 1067 pounds in September 02019, that’s not even a “maybe,” that’s a “no fucking way”. Fiona says they’ll have to do it in halfsies, which is still “no fucking way!” because that’s asking weyrlings, each and individually, to carry 420 pounds each individually, in the worst-case scenario.

On second glance, however, it seems like my initial impressions are completely wrong, because the narrative suggests that the weyrlings are running a relay where they fill their firestone sack, then run it out to the waiting wing of dragonriders, before running back and filling another. Transporting the weight one sack at a time is a much more doable operation.

“It’d be quicker if the younger ones just did the bagging and the older ones distributed,” Terin said, her tone reminding Fiona somewhat of Xhinna.
“Excellent suggestion, Terin,” Fiona replied, gesturing to J’gerd to implement it.
“Are you hoping to be Weyrwoman yourself, then?” J’gerd asked the young girl teasingly before hoisting a firestone sack and trotting off toward H’nez’s waiting wing.
“Don’t listen to him,” Fiona said to Terin. “He’s just annoyed he didn’t think of it himself.” The younger girl’s expression brightened.

If Terin continues in this manner, she’ll make an excellent headwoman when Fiona becomes Senior.

Fiona also watches the last sack of the initial thirty go from storehouse to waiting wings, and since it takes “several minutes” for a runner to get there “at a trot,” Fiona has Talenth ask the next wing to be loaded to locate themselves closer to the storehouse so things move faster. Which apparently ruffles the feathers of some of the bronze riders, according to Cisca, but Fionoa points out it’s better this way and Cisca agrees with her.

After seeing Cisca off, Fiona sends out for water. When it arrives, after making sure that the runner is assured that it’s new firestone, not old firestone, Fiona says it’s on her orders that everyone get a drink. And then, when they’ve brought enough to get all their full riders supplied, Fiona calls a rest break, makes sure everyone has food and gets fresh air, and then sets them back to filling the rest of the sacks so that the weyrlings can resupply the riders. After that round, Fiona wants one more round of resupply, and realizes there’s no way in hell that the weyrlings are going to be able to keep up the pace and requirements for an actual Fall, when they have to resupply the riders up to eight potential times. They’re starting on resupply three when Fiona puts F’jian in charge and goes to tell Cisca they’re going to need a lot more bodies if they’re going to keep up this pace. Fiona suggests more of the weyrfolk youngsters get detailed to firestone resupply, which Cisca accepts and suggests that by putting it more firmly in the weyrfolks’ hands, that will free Fiona up to do other things. Like accompany Cisca on Melirth to see if the weyrlings and riders are performing the firestone exchange maneuver correctly.

The maneuver was quite tricky, Fiona decided as she watched one of the fighting dragons catch up with a weyrling, come alongside, get the weyrling’s attention and then, with a heart-stopping flip of the wings, dive into a spiral to a position directly underneath the weyrling, near the firestone sack.
The load was transferred neatly from weyrling to dragonrider, and then the two veered away from each other, the wyrling’s dragon lurching slightly from the sudden weight reduction.
“Well done,” Cisca murmured in Fiona’s ear. Fiona nodded in agreement. “Watch carefully: the trick’s the same for the flamethrowers we’ll be using.

It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that the sacks are tied on to the weyrling dragon’s riding harnesses when they first leave the station. I’m guessing it’s something like saddlebags are on a horse, but that doesn’t really explain why there’s this spiral flip to get into the correct position. Presumably, it could be much more like a mid-air refueling of an aircraft, where getting in the right position is a matter of careful positioning. I’m also assuming that the dragons don’t get refueled while they’re in the middle of the Threadfighting fray, which would presumably make it easier to get a good approach for a resupply run and have both dragons maneuver to make it easy to release and transfer firestone. Perhaps in a pinch, a weyrling with good depth perception could drop the sack so that it could be grabbed in passing by the flying wing. There’s a lot of wasted and potentially dangerous motion involved in the resupply as it is described and observed, and even then, I can’t really picture what the maneuver looks like well enough to suggest improvements. Later on, as Cisca, Fiona, and K’lior are describing possible new ways of resupply, the firestone sacks are instead described as “trailing”, suggesting that the weyrling is actually letting the firestone sacks float behind them so that the fighting dragon can approach at a lower altitude and snag the goods for themselves. Which makes sense, then to get the attention of the weyrling, since the fighting dragon is about to imbalance them suddenly, and having warning makes that an easier thing to react to. It still seems like a lot of dangerous motion, though.

After seeing the weyrlings at work, Fiona gets to go home and collapse into bed, exhausted. Not half as much as Xhinna, whom Fiona insists should bathe first and then get some muscle salve worked in as well. (Fiona orders Xhinna not to put on her nightgown after she’s done bathing.) Fiona snuggles up after salving Xhinna and bathing herself, thinking it’s like they’re sisters and Xhinna’s warmth is just right to curl up to.

The next day, Fiona’s conclusions are repeated back to her, and she’s given the assignment to train with the weyrlings. The results of the experiment with Tejan and T’mar are encouraging, but not conclusive, because nobody really wants to test whether another dragon will let someone else’s rider drive them. There are more sick dragons, with deaths soon to follow. There’s hope that a cure will be found, now that the rooms at Benden have been. And Fiona suggests that perhaps one of the fighting wing’s dragons could carry the wing’s entire firestone resupply load when needed. K’lior thinks it will cause some loss of unit cohesion, but Fiona points out there’s always the possibility of injury or fatality punching holes in wings anyway. K’lior is willing to give it a shot. I think he should be more enthusiastic about trying it, given that they’re going to be using cobbled-together wings anyway, and so being able to fight when you’re one short somewhere seems like a thing that should have taken on some extra significance this time around.

Fiona reports to the younger weyrlings to learn the drill of flying in formation. Which is something that’s been skipped over pretty heavily in earlier books, so it’s nice to see a little bit of it getting put to use here. What the drill is, essentially, is the weyrlings assembling in the correct formation on the ground, without their dragons, and then being drilled on moving in the formation, including the arm motions and other parts that go along with the movements. They generally do it slowly, by themselves, until they have enough mastery that T’mar allows the weyrlings to do it by leading their dragons through the same exercises on the ground. At the break, Tajen looks at Talenth’s musculature, lets her fly and glide a little bit, and checks again, telling Fiona, and then Cisca and K’lior, that perhaps letting the current crop of dragonets do a gliding exercise once a day will help with their muscle development, so that when it comes time to fly, they’ll make the transition easier. Which seems like the sort of thing that someone who has expertise in dragons would already know through long practice and experimentation with it, but lost knowledge and Pern.

K’lior and Cisca both make an inappropriate joke.

“I suppose,” Cisca said carefully, “that if they [the weyrlings and dragons] drilled no more than once a day [on flying and gliding], it wouldn’t be too great an inconvenience.”
“And you could watch all the pretty youngsters,” K’lior teased her.
“K’lior!” Cisca growled back warningly. “They’re far too young for me, you know that!” She cast a sidelong glance at Fiona, “Though maybe for our junior Weyrwoman…”
Fiona blushed furiously, shaking her head in denial. Cisca’s eyes danced as she enjoyed Fiona’s discomfort, but then she took pity on the youngster and turned back to Tajen, asking, “Have you discussed this with T’mar?”

Because even if the whole thing is a setup to get Fiona to blush and stammer about the potentially cute weyrlings, they’re not very old, any of them, and it’s really not a good look on K’lior or Cisca to be sexualizing them in any way. Even if they’re going to be expected to take on more adult responsibilities, that doesn’t mean they’ve become adults. And not a few chapters ago, everyone was insistent that Fiona be allowed to enjoy a childhood of some sort, over Fiona’s objections. That’s apparently disappeared by this point.

Cisca and Fiona suggest that a single dragon, like a queen, could trail enough firestone to resupply an entire wing by him or herself, which K’lior is intrigued by, but is definitely not risking the senior dragon or any Weyrwomen on an experiment like that in a Threadfall condition. Cisca gives Fiona credit for the idea and for suggesting Xhinna as a second to help Cisca deploy the firestone.

The rest of the chapter is a time marker, as Lorana cries out and loses Arith because she didn’t know what she was doing with the potential genetic cures. Fiona hears it and has similar amounts of anguish from the event. But like all the other events that happen where dragons die, eventually the exhaustion of the body takes over and there is sleep.

So we’ve done a lot of drill and Fiona is slowly collecting people and power to herself, in slow but steady measures of making her into a Weyrwoman that will be able to smoothly step in and take over when the time is right.

And with Arith having gone, there’s still plenty of time before we make it to the solution that will eventually involve Tullea and new generations of immunity coming for the dragons. So we’ll keep slogging on until we get through this particular work. More next week.

Dragonheart: And What Now?

When we last left everyone, a heel that had no business being in charge of anybody was recalled immediately from Fort because dragons were dying, after spending a full chapter antagonizing a Hold and their people.

Dragonheart: Chapters 8 and 9: Content Notes: Assisted Death, End-Of-Life Planning, Advance Directives, Suicide and Suicidal Ideation

Weyrfolk, keep your duty dear
Provide for every dragon and for Weyr.
When the Red Star comes on nigh
By your efforts will dragons fly!

(Fort Weyr, Afternoon, AL 507.13.25)

Well, if we didn’t know it before, I guess that tells us it official pronunciation of “Weyr.”

Plot-wise, H’nez arrives to see J’marin, Fiona, and Xhinna tending to the very sick Asoth. Since H’nez is there, J’marin asks Fiona and Xhinna to tend to others, which let’s is in that Fiona believes Melanwy is plotting something to attack her, because she doesn’t talk when Fiona enters a room, and Tannaz isn’t talking to Fiona, either. This is after Fiona had walloped Melanwy with persuasion already, so Melanwy may just be aggravated at that. Cisca certainly doesn’t think there an issue, but she asks Fiona to keep an ear and an eye out, anyway.

Xhinna, for her part, stays firmly glued to Fiona’s side, which seems to have engendered a thought among the blue and green riders.

“Just because she’s not right for a queen doesn’t mean she wouldn’t suit a green,” L’rian had assured Fiona the only time the subject had arisen.
“A green?” Fiona had asked. “But greens only have male riders.”
“That’s because no one’s ever thought to put a girl on the Hatching Grounds,” L’rian replied, ” ‘cept in front of the queen eggs.” His lips curved up briefly at the notion. “She might even Impress a blue.”
“A blue?” Fiona repeated, surprised.
“The dragons choose,” L’rian had assured her with a knowing look, “not the riders.”

Fiona points out Xhinna has to get on the Grounds, and L’rian nonchalantly indicates Xhinna would take a chance, were she encouraged to by a queen rider.

There’s a good thing and a terrible thing in this exchange. The good thing is that the author is providing us with a hint about where Xhinna’s attractions lie, so long as they know about the shorthand of dragon coloration. It’s not as good as out-and-out saying Xhinna’s romantically interested in Fiona, but it’s better than pretending only men can be anything other than heterosexual in dragonrider culture.

The terrible thing is the claim that nobody has thought to put all the candidates in front of all the eggs, and thoughtlessly adding “the dragons choose” right after it. Especially in this story, where Fiona has Talenth by virtue of a dragon choosing outside the standing candidates. It’s not impossible, but I would think it highly improbable that no dragonet at any point has bolted for the queen candidates and said, metaphorically, “this one’s mine.” Even though I know the Records are always a hot mess for the purposes of the plot, there should be a Record, if not a fucking song, about the girl who Impressed a not-gold dragon.

Unless that’s supposed to be shameful in some way and the earlier Weyrs quashed the Records of it happening or misrepresented it as a dragon that failed to thrive. But if that were the case, then L’rian wouldn’t be openly advocating for Fiona to find a way to get Xhinna to stand for a dragon again. So this has to have happened before. And several times more before Mirrim and Path. By the time it gets to the Ninth Pass, dragonrider-ing should be a pretty mixed-gender affair.

Again, the dangers of writing the past when the future has already come to pass, but for the most part, when you’re handed a canon like Pern, fix-it is going to be a necessity, and it’s a question of how obvious you are going to be about it.

Going forward, after L’rian’s insinuation, Fiona and Xhinna go out to let Talenth feed. The first time was a bit rough for them both, but Talenth has it down, now. Fiona is hit by a wave of confusion, Xhinna provides temporal references, and Fiona’s aggravation at herself bleeds through in how she talks to Xhinna. T’mar intercedes smoothly, telling Xhinna she’s wanted in the kitchen, before having a come-to-Jesus meeting with Fiona about Xhinna.

T’mar moved forward to stand beside Fiona. He glanced down at her and said conversationally, “I’ve discovered that when times are hard, I need my friends most.”
Fiona glanced up at him, her expression blank even though she had a gnawing suspicion of his intentions.
“So it is a shame to see you treating the one person who is most attached to you so poorly,” T’mar finished, catching her eyes with his own.
[…Fiona doesn’t deny it, although she’d love to, and complains that history has its eyes on her…]
“You generated quite a bit of gossip by having Xhinna stay with you.”
“She helps me,” Fiona declared simply.
“She’s with you all the time,” T’mar observed. “Night and day, it seems.”
Fiona flashed him an angry look. “We’re friends!”

Say it! Say it, you cowards! Acknowledge, on page, and use the words: Xhinna is a lesbian!

And Fiona is potentially bi, if her denial is the kind of denial that’s usually put in place when someone doesn’t want to acknowledge that part of themselves. Which still annoys me that we can openly talk about how Fiona has the hots for Kindan and has from an early age but we can’t say out loud that Xhinna has the hots for Fiona. (And maybe everybody has the hots for Cisca, regardless of their gender identity and sexual preferences.)

“I know that,” T’mar replied. “But have you considered what will happen to Xhinna when your Talenth rises and chooses a mate?”
From the look on Fiona’s face, it was obvious she hadn’t.
“That’s Turns away!” she declared.
“And in all those Turns, where will Xhinna’s affections lie?” T’mar wondered, shaking his head firmly. “No matter what your intentions, it will be a brutal adjustment for her to make.”
“But she’s my friend!” Fiona blurted, her face twisted into a sad expression. “Why can’t she still be my friend?”
“She can,” T’mar agreed. “But only if you keep her as a friend.” He gestured back toward the kitchen cavern. “If you treat her like a drudge, just because you’re out of sorts–and we all are–then what sort of friend will she be?”
“And,” he continued as he saw Fiona gulp as she absorbed his observation, “if you aren’t careful to respect her emotions–all of them–what sort of pain will you cause when your dragon rises to mate?”
“And what about me?” Fiona demanded. At T’mar’s puzzled look, she went on, “What about my emotions when my dragon rises to mate?”
“You’ve about three turns to figure that out, Weyrwoman,” he replied shortly. He shook his head. “Not as much time as you’d imagine.”

And then we have T’mar saying that Xhinna might get hung up on the possibility of another person coming into Fiona’s life. Which makes sense, although I’m looking askance at it because a Weyr is the place I would expect all sorts of partner configurations to be valid and normalized in, especially when there are dragons involved. It’s one of those things where I would expect the Weyrfolk to have jealousy studiously drilled out of them and monogamy to be seen as an impractical Holder thing, since they care about bloodline and succession.

Given the option to be really radical, Pern is unable to expand its horizons, but that’s not Pern’s fault, that’s the writers’.

So Fiona apologizes to Xhinna, because she snapped at her, and asks Xhinna to continue helping her, because she’s going to need a good friend when she’s a “right proper wherry” around the mating season. Xhinna stays on.

The chapter ends with Fiona waking up on the middle of the night and crashing the plan to sneak Kelsanth out with Asoth, Panuth, and Danorth, and have Tannaz and Melanwy (and the riders of the other sick dragons) go one-way to hyperspace. Because the dragons aren’t going to last any longer, and the riders, because of the extremely tight mental bond they share, basically prefer oblivion to life without their dragons. (Insert your favorite caustic rant about how that is a terrible design decision to have humans basically get rid of themselves with their dragons.) Fiona is unhappy that nobody was planning on stopping by to say goodbye before disappearing, but most unhappy that the riders are making this choice.

Which, you know, there’s an entire conflicted everything in our times about assisted death, which could be talked about, except that Fiona’s considered too young to understand it, past “this is the choice the dragonriders are making, you’ll understand it yourself if you ever have to do the same.” Dragonriders have always been in favor of assisted death and, as L’rian puts it, being “remembered as a dragonrider”. In our times, degenerative diseases of body and mind that have no cures make it a question of lucidity and advance directives and someone’s will, like it’s presented here, but the metaphor falls apart because this situation could have been entirely avoided if Kitti Ping and company hadn’t decided they wanted to bond dragons and humans together so tightly that they would both disappear if one died. If it had been set more like how watch-whers bond, and their level of emotional attachment, then there wouldn’t have developed the tradition of disappearing with the dragon into hyperspace, because of their magnified and shared pain. And, of course, when dragons die, the grief of all the other dragons and riders gets magnified into Fiona, who manages, with Xhinna’s help, to get back to her bed and pass out from the grief until morning.

So that’s Chapter 8.

Blackdust, crack dust
Floating in the sky,
Dragonriders do trust
Thread will soon be nigh.

(Fort Weyr, the next morning, 507.13.26)

Rather than spend time with grief and sorrow, as we did in an earlier chapter, Chapter 9 picks up with a warning, as spotters at Fort Hold have sighted the black dust that is frozen dead Thread, the harbinger of the real stuff coming soon. Fiona is requested to the records room by K’lior. Cisca hoped Xhinna would bring klah (and there’s your signifier of how others might see the relationship, Fiona), but essentially they’re poring over the newly rediscovered Threadfall charts and trying to make heads or tails of several of the features, and waiting to see if they’re accurate (while warning the places that will be in the way of Thread if they are).

At the meeting that follows, H’nez continues to demonstrate he should not be in a leadership position anywhere.

H’nez professed no faith in the Threadfall charts when K’lior mentioned them.
[…the Weyrs need alerting, even the Asshole at Telgar…]
“I’ll go to Ista,” P’der said.
“I can imagine how Weyrleader C’rion will feel to be briefed by a wingsecond,” H’nez drawled.
“Are you offering to go instead?” K’lior asked, cocking his head.
“I’ve my wing to attend to,” H’nez responded. “They suffered grievous losses.”
“We all did,” Cisca replied, her eyes flashing. H’nez did not reply.
[…with that settled, everyone readies to leave, but H’nez has one more question…]
“The question is,” H’nez replied [to the Weyrleader,] as though speaking to a particularly slow weyrling, “how are we going to survive Threadfall with sick dragons?”
[…Cisca chews him out mildly for not recognizing the work already being done. K’lior orders drills to be run, even if the leaders aren’t back by then, because K’lior realizes they’ll have to work with casualties…]
“By the First Egg, that’s more like it,” H’nez declared. To T’mar he said, “You go and spend time with M’tal, while we do real work here.”
“His job is no less important, H’nez,” K’lior said warningly.

I realize this is sort of the standard villain trope that’s evolved over the course of the series (a person who, were it not for the weird ironclad Rules regarding who is in charge in this feudal arrangement, would long since have been demoted, deposed, killed, or otherwise gotten rid of), but H’nez is beginning to rival The Asshole At Telgar for sheer asshattery, even if he won’t be responsible for a mass telefrag because of his own arrogance. (OR so I hope.)

Also, K’lior continues to be a better Weyrleader regarding Thread than M’tal ever was, since he explicitly acknowledges the need for drills with wings that do not have all their regular component parts.

The plot continues with T’mar heading off to Benden, and Cisca putting Fiona to work so much that she’s basically perpetually exhausted. Even when Fiona realizes it’s a technique to keep her mind off of her grief and the inevitable conclusion that all the dragons, including hers, will get sick and die, and then the planet will be overrun by Thread, she’s still appreciative of Cisca’s deliberate efforts to keep her too tired to think. Fiona also deliberately tries not to learn the names of the new dragons that are sick, as a way of trying to deny the conclusion. In talking with T’jen about fighting drill, Fiona wonders why she isn’t doing it, but remembers there aren’t enough queens now to do it. Then, as part of the keeping Fiona exhausted bit, Cisca sends word that Fiona’s going to drill the medical procedures for injured dragonriders.

“The drills are a lot of fun,” Xhinna told Fiona. When Fiona looked at her, surprised, she added, “We’ve been doing them at least once a month for the past Turn.”
“All because your Weyrwoman believes in being prepared,” K’lior remarked, casting a fond look at Cisca.

Oh, so K’lior is equally as terrible a Weyrleader as M’tal is, it’s Cisca we have to thank for having a lick of sense about anything involving Thread. Tell me again why the Weyrwoman isn’t actually the person in charge of everything? (All together now: The Patriarchy. Yay.)

We don’t actually get any of what those drills entail (and also, if they’ve been doing them for the last several months, that would seem like the sort of thing Fiona would remember, except we can handwave away anything that Fiona should remember as being swallowed up by the fog that’s affecting her and all the Weyrlings), because they’re scheduled for tomorrow, so the narrative doesn’t have to deal with them right now. Instead, we jump to Fiona going to visit T’jen and finding him not all right and asking for the presence of the Weyrleader. Because Salith apparently passed away in his sleep, rather than going into hyperspace. When Fiona asks about this and whether T’jen was going to go with Salith, T’jen (who is de-contracted by the narrative as soon as Fiona thinks that he would now be known as Tajen, his birth name) says no.

“No,” Tajen replied firmly, “we’d talked it over, Salith and I.” He paused, lips screwing up into a grimace. “I didn’t want to set such an example for the weyrlings, even though I never wanted to lose Salith. Sometimes, all you have are bad choices.”

I’m surprised this isn’t a more common stance by many dragonriders, honestly. And also, it suggests that with the possibility of talking about it with your dragon and figuring it out in advance might mean the survival of more dragonriders past the deaths of their dragons. After we get over the ritual of grief, Talenth and Fiona talk it over and decide that Fiona’s going to go with Talenth, like Tannaz chose to. And like J’lantir and his chose to. I want to see more of this. On-screen considerations, or the understanding that these decisions are not made because someone is making a choice after a tragedy that they had not actually considered. The possibility of Thread killing any dragon or rider on any given day really should suggest that all riders in or around a Pass should have had this conversation, or been encouraged to have it, and it’s an accepted and expected part of Weyr culture. (Like, I am imagining an entire binder full of advance directives for the Weyr in the Healer’s office, and the Healer and Weyrwoman insisting that all riders need to have updated ones on file.)

But we don’t see a lot of these things, because Weyr culture sees a dragon dying as something more akin to a permanent visible disability or mental illness, and so there’s no up front frank talk about the possibility of dragons dying in the line of duty, and the dragons and the humans need to talk about what their end-of-life plans are in advance.

We also get to see a formal ritual of acknowledgement and grief at the loss of a dragon that doesn’t take their human with them.

The sound of feet rushing around the corridor alerted them to the approach of Cisca, K’lior, H’nez, T’mar, and M’kury. Cisca entered first, something in her stance and the way she moved making it clear that the others were to wait for her.
“Tajen,” Cisca said quietly, “I grieve for your loss.”
K’lior entered, bowed to the ex-dragonrider, and repeated her words. “Tajen, I grieve for your loss.”
“Tajen,” H’nez said, his eyes downcast and tear-streaked, “I grieve for your loss.”
“He was a great dragon, you were a great pair,” T’mar said when he approached. “I grieve for your loss.”
M’kury came forward then, but even though his mouth worked, he could make no words, instead reaching out beseechingly with one hand to Tajen, who took it. M’kury grabbed the stricken brown rider and embraced him in a tight hug. When finally they broke apart, M’kury found the words: “I grieve for your loss.”
“And I recognize your courage for remaining behind,” H’nez added into the silence.
“It wasn’t courage–” Tajen protested. “I needed to set the right example for the weyrlings. No matter what may come: ‘Dragonmen must fly when Thread is in the sky!’ ”
He looked up at K’lior. “I don’t know what we’re going to do with the body, however.”

Cisca does, and it involves using slings and hoists to get it to where dragons can carry the body, and then they’ll dispose of it in hyperspace. Because they don’t have the skills to do an effective autopsy, much less the knowledge that doing an autopsy is a good idea for gathering information about the thing that is killing the dragons.

Also, it stings that it’s so quickly that the dragonrider contraction is lost. Military officers and enlisted are still referred to by the rank they achieved when they retire from the service, so it seems like it would be a better idea to keep the contraction as an honor to the service provided as a dragonrider, rather than going “well, you’re not part of the club. We’re sorry for the situation, but you’re not one of us any more.” Despite the fact that the grief is probably real and heartfelt, the use of the non-contracted name just makes it ring hollow.

I will also note, for fairness’ sake, that H’nez is not being an asshole at this very specific set of sentences in this book. Clearly, even he has a limit, and the death of a dragon has reached it.

Xhinna offers to stay the night with Tajen, to which Fiona offers her the sweater she is wearing, and the gesture seems to convince Cisca and K’lior that Xhinna is a good person after all. (Now that she’s been given a chance to prove it, and has done well in the company of a person they actually respect.) The next morning, after talking over end-of-life decisions with Talenth, Fiona sets herself to the idea that today is the first aid drill. Cisca and K’lior, at breakfast, share to Fiona that they think Xhinna should stand as an actual candidate for the next Hatching. (Because we can’t have Xhinna sneaking on again when she’s supposed to be a Good Guy, now can we?) The actual drills themselves make everyone glad they’re just doing drills, because it doesn’t go well for anyone, including Fiona, who struggles mightily to remember what she’s supposed to do. In addition to that, Talenth takes her first glide on wings after running off an edge and making Fiona very worried about bad results until Talenth finally unfurls her sails. Many of the weyrlings have the same brainfog that Fiona does, which makes it hard for them to describe symptoms nor to respond appropriately to them. Cisca says this is to be expected and not to show concern about it or everyone will feel terrible. And that the next time this is happening, Fiona might be the one running the drills.

A cold shiver went down Fiona’s spine as she imagined seeing Cisca mount a sick and dying Melirth for a final ride between.
Suddenly, Cisca grabbed Fiona’s arm and tanked her around so that she could meet her eyes squarely. “That is exactly what I need you to avoid,” the Weyrwoman said sharply. In the distance, Fiona heard Talenth’s plaintive cry, and she could almost feel the alarm spreading through the weyrfolk and weyrlings. “They look to us, Fiona. We set the tone. Our dragons reflect it.”
A shadow fell beside her and Fiona felt her free hand grasped by someone else. Xhinna.
“It’s all right.” Fiona’s words of reassurance echoed exactly Xhinna’s words of reassurance. The two girls looked at each other in surprise for a moment and then burst out laughing. Fiona could feel their mood travel to the others, could feel Talenth’s worry disappear.

There’s an additional power to a Weyrwoman that hasn’t really been touched upon before, and a justification as to why Weyrwoman always have to be so chipper and glad-handing and concerned about everyone and otherwise doing an exhausting amount of emotional labor. Apparently, the mood of the Weyrwoman is the mood of the queen dragon, and the queen dragon’s mood leaks out to the other dragons and their riders. If Fiona was hoping that being a gold rider would be an escape from the pressures and requirements of being a Lady Holder, she’d learned that instead, she has to keep up the facade forever and always, without reprieve or time to think about herself and her own real feelings at any time. Way to make something that’s supposed to be the best thing ever into the worst thing ever.

The drills improve with time and practice, but the last drill is a situation that’s supposed to be as close to the real thing, with dragonriders arriving suddenly, faking their injuries and the reality that goes with them, and Cisca yelling constantly in Fiona’s ear to simulate the urgency of an actual emergency, without time to think, only to do what you’ve been trained to do. It doesn’t go particularly well for Fiona, but it’s not terrible, either.

That night, Fiona’s light sleeping continues to pay plot dividends, as she pops awake when she feels someone moving around in the dark. It’s not the dragon and rider that take the one-way trip to hyperspace, nor the cough that’s pretty clearly infected a lot of the riders, but someone headed to the Hatching Grounds. Fiona’s not quite good enough to avoid waking Xhinna, and the two follow the person until it’s revealed that it’s Tajen, who has come to the Grounds to try and find his confidence that things will work out, that the designers of the dragons would have done their utmost to make sure nothing like the surprise of Thread would happen again. Fiona is still trying to put up that they’ll get through it okay, but both Xhinna and Tajen are trying to tell her that she can’t lie to herself about it. The chapter closes with a callback to Beyond Between, although someone who has only read the main series novels wouldn’t recognize it as such.

“No one really knows what between is,” Tajen replied. “If a rider dies with her dragon, does the dragon go between to the same place?”
Is there a place?” Xhinna wondered.
“The only ones who could tell us never come back,” Tajen replied. He gestured toward the entrance and started them walking back out of the Hatching Grounds. “What does your heart tell you?”
Neither girl had an answer she could put into words.

Because the most we’ve ever seen is a limbo state for dragons and riders that went into hyperspace with no particular destination in mind, or for those who went with the wrong dragon, as Moreta did, and so she has to wait for her own dragon before she passes on into heaven, or whatever afterlife happens beyond that limbo.

Nobody knows, rider or Terran reader, and the general unfairness of the universe always makes it possible that someone goes to sleep one night and doesn’t wake up the next morning. I don’t really like thinking about that eventuality, mostly because I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished enough with life to be satisfied with it right now. And because thinking about those things is trauma-related for me, of those times where I realize now that I was far farther along the path of making a conscious decision about my own life than I understood. Things are better now, but existential questions have always been something that makes me feel scared, small, and dreadful.

More next week, and hopefully on a less triggery topic.

Dragonheart: Answering Questions That Needed It (And Those That Didn’t, All The Same)

To recap: Fiona found a scamp named Xhinna in her Weyr and has decided to keep her on as her personal assistant. This has a lot of problematic implications, starting from Fiona’s presumably light-colored skin and queen rider status contrasted with Xhinna’s explicitly dark skin and back-of-the-kitchen-caverns status. While Fiona insists that Xhinna is not her personal drudge, and gave H’nez the high-class equivalent of the finger when he suggested that Xhinna was extremely well-suited to being a drudge, Fiona also apparently made it a game for Xhinna to be silent and accepting of orders around Melanwy, who suggested that Fiona “found a leash” for Xhinna, rather than standing up to her in the same way that she did with H’nez. Even though everyone admits that Melanwy is not all there mentally, there’s a reluctance to move her into retirement.

Dragonheart, Chapters 6 (still!) and 7 (finally!): Content Notes: Speciesism, classism

So, Fiona and Xhinna go back to Tannaz’s quarters, and Melanwy orders Xhinna to change the towels and get clean ones for Tannaz. Fiona says the better course of action would be to burn them, because they’re infected, and Melanwy dismisses the idea out of hand as a waste of supplies.

Melanwy’s expression abruptly changed to contempt. “Well, of course,” she sneered, “and we’ll just send to the holders for more.”
“Yes, we will,” Fiona responded through gritted teeth, anger coursing through her. “And you’ll address me as Weyrwoman!”
“You!” Melanwy repeated. “A mere strip of a girl, barely two months Impressed?”
“Yes, her,” a new voice declared loudly from behind Fiona.
Fiona was so angry that she couldn’t look back at Cisca–she kept her gaze locked with Melanwy’s, making it clear that young or not, she was not going to stand for such poor manners.
“You’re no better,” Melanwy muttered under her breath. “Should’ve been Nara.”
“But it’s not Nara!” Cisca responded sharply. “Nara is dead, her dragon’s gone between, and I am the senior Weyrwoman of Fort Weyr!”
There was the sound of dragons roaring in acknowledgement.

Well, shit, I guess sticking up for your own is definitely a Weyrwoman trait at Fort. Or, at least, sticking up for the office of the Weyrwoman when it’s being challenged by somebody, regardless of what their rank is or was.

Also, Fiona’s right, and that should have been part of the corpus of knowledge that Kindan rediscovered and then spread widely during the Plague Years – you have to dispose of biohazards properly. Which, in places where you don’t have effective sterilization, means destroying them so that you can be reasonably sure the infection doesn’t spread. Yes, it’s wasteful of resources, and the Holds are going to be salty about it, but the Weyrs hold the threat over them of “if the dragons die, you die,” so the Holders are going to have to suck it up and send more towels. They won’t have to be the finest of linen, since they’re going to be used specifically for dealing with infections and then they’re going to get burned, too, but they’re going to have to be made and sent.

Talenth asks if Fiona’s okay, and Fiona reassures her she is. And then, something that hasn’t been seen since, oh, the beginning of the original series makes a sudden reappearance.

“I’m sure Melanwy had just forgotten, Weyrwoman,” she declared, still staring at the old headwoman. She gestured to the archway to Tannaz’s quarters. “You’d best help Tannaz with her bath–we’ll take care of things here.”
As if in a daze, Melnwy nodded and turned to obey. Finoa was surprised the older woman hadn’t continued to argue: it was as if Melanwy had suddenly lost her spirit. In the night outside the weyr, dragons bugled again.
“You need to be careful when you do that, Fiona,” Cisca said quietly.
Fiona turned on her heel and found the Weyrwoman standing right in front of her. “Do what?” she asked, bewildered.
“Dragonriders can sometimes force people to their will,” Cisca explained. “Not many, and most not as well as you just displayed. It’s a dangerous gift and you can find yourself using it on others unwittingly. Later, Melanwy may feel that you forced her, stripped her of her will.”
“You mean,” Fiona asked with some fear, “I can make people do things they don’t want to do?”
“Yes,” Cisca said. “Dragonriders learn to recognize it and defend against it, but others…”
Xhinna had pressed herself tightly to the wall, her eyes going warily from Fiona to Cisca and back again.
“But,” Fiona began slowly after a long silence, “doesn’t everyone work to get people to do things they don’t want to do?”
“There’s a difference between cajoling and forcing,” Cisca replied. She waved to Xhinna. “You cajoled Xhinna into helping you; you forced Melanwy. Do you feel the difference?”
[…Cisca explains Fiona is going to have to learn when she’s using her power to lean on people, or she’ll always draw on it and never know whether anyone does something for her willingly or because she’s compelled them…]
Cisca must have guessed her thoughts. “You may have used the power before, but you wouldn’t have been nearly as strong as you are now that you’ve Impressed.”
Footsteps echoed and then K’lior walked in.
“Queen riders are the strongest,” he said, catching one of Cisca’s hands in his. “Bronze riders are next.” He grinned over at his Weyrwoman. “We learn to resist the power early on.”

They also mention that when Talenth rises to mate, Fiona will learn a lot of control over her power in having to use it to keep her dragon under control as well.

With Melanwy still whammied, Xhinna suggests that the towels could go to Ellor, who would make a fine headwoman. Cisca agrees, and Fiona sets to changing out the glows and otherwise cleaning and straightening the room, behavior she thinks the people at Fort would be surprised at. Fiona wants to think it’s because she’s maturing, but, according to the narrative, she knows deep down her behavior is to convince herself she’s not a monster.

Also,

Cocowhat by depizan

Talk about bringing something back from the early episodes. I know there aren’t all that many times where there are the dragon roars like that in the series, but if each of those times is when a Weyrwoman imposes her will on another, it should be pretty easy to know when the Weyrwoman is exerting her powers.

The way this is set up, it also seems like new queen riders go through this process of learning they have the ability to override the wills of others on the regular, and then learning how to control that impulse to use that power. For as much as K’lior talks a big game about bronze riders being able to resist and fight a queen’s ability, I don’t think he’s done a whole lot of disagreeing with Cisca to this point. More importantly, though, I’d be really interested in reading the story where the Weyrwomen essentially keep the entire Weyr in thrall in the name of having it run in its most orderly and efficient manner. Or because they want to run it in a self-serving manner. If both dragon queens and queen riders can impose themselves on others, somebody has to have tried it, right? Or are we supposed to think that’s what the Weyr under Kylara might have been, with as many people as she took to her bed?

Such a promising idea there that’s essentially going by the wayside because we’re still doing the “dragons are sick and need a cure” story from a different perspective. K’lior and Cisca talk about this incident with each other right afterward, and Cisca says it basically means Fiona’s going to be an awesome Weyrwoman, because she’s got enough power to overwhelm Melanwy. K’lior and Cisca finally decide it’s time for Melanwy to be officially retired from being headwoman and Ellor put in her place. That particular line of thought is shelved by the approach of the wingleaders for a conference about the approach of Thread. Each of K’lior’s wingleaders are given a description as they enter. H’nez is first, described as “bold, decisive, and unwilling to admit error. Not quite foolish, but given to moods.” That “unwilling to admit error” is something that shouldn’t put H’nez in any leadership position, but as we’ll find out, there aren’t enough mature bronze riders for there to be a bronze leading every wing, and so H’nez gets to be one by default, rather than by merit.
T’mar’s next, and it’s basically described as being the rider your rider could be, except for this mysterious affliction that’s taken him off his A-game. M’kury is described as one of K’lior’s weyrmates, and his hat is that he’s blunt in the extreme, which is a virtue K’lior wants. V’ney has the opposite hat, and is the person super-concerned with manners, which makes him great in the Weyr and things that are practiced, but noted to be slow to react to changing situations. M’valer and K’rall wear the “old guys” hat, and since they’re nearing 50, K’lior’s pretty sure they’re not going to make it through the upcoming Pass. The last two are S’kan and N’jian, and they’re the dragonriders-out-of-water, because they’re both brown riders in leadership positions, because of the lack of bronze riders to lead. K’lior privately admits that even if he had enough bronzes, he wouldn’t necessarily displace them as leaders, now that he’s seen them work. K’lior has very high praise for them.

In fact, K’lior admitted to himself, it was a pity that queens were almost always caught by bronzes, for those two brown riders would both have made excellent Weyrleaders.
“It’s not right, browns leading wings!” H’nez had complained when K’lior had first implemented his plan, and the grumbling had never ceased since. And no matter how hard K’lior or Cisca praised the brown riders or encouraged them, the resentment of H’nez, K’rall, and M’valer always kept S’kan and N’jian feeling unworthy.

I mean, in any other society there’s the possibility that the leader of the group might say “This is how we do this thing, and you can either be welcoming or you can leave.” But on Pern, where dragon genetics decide destiny, social order, and other such things that would make [your favorite white supremacist] have multiple orgasms, of course you can’t just toss out the bronze riders and subject them to competent leadership. It’s unnatural and wrong and explicitly goes against the genetic instructions encoded in the dragons by the Ancients. (Except, of course, that the protagonists are generally right when they promote brown riders to Wingleader status.)

M’kury asks what they’re doing here this late at night.

“I was already well into a nice beer and was looking forward to some–” He broke off with a meaningful glance toward Cisca.
“I’m not sorry to interrupt your revelry,” K’lior replied just as briskly, “particularly as you have made it plain to everyone how tender your backside was after the last time you–”
“All right!” M’kury broke in with a hand upraised, conceding defeat. “Forget I spoke.”
“Forgotten,” Cisca said, her eyes dancing. She wondered which poor weyrfolk was dealing with M’kury’s latest attentions–the young bronze rider seemed to have a different bedwarmer for every one of a sevenday.

A little bit of sex humor there. And being a bronze rider, as I recall, makes M’kury at least heteroflexible, if this particular jibe of K’lior’s about his ass being hurt from the last person he took to bed. Mostly because Pern has never said there are sex toys on the planet. There have to be, but it’s never been actually acknowledged, so the best we can get is that M’kury had a lover with a penis who took the penetrating role with him. Or that he really enjoyed getting flogged or spanked, which is also a possibility that would keep him only interested in women, if H’nez’s definition of being a bronze rider is the official one for all bronze riders.

Also, it’s nice to acknowledge there’s other alcohol in existence other than wine, because beer brewing is one of those things that happens a lot, at varying levels of sophistication, potency, and flavor, throughout Terran history, because turning water into wine, beer, or spirits is one of the earliest and still most effective ways of making sure most of the things water is carrying with it die and stay dead. And since Pern is an entirely new ecosystem, it’s going to take a long time before the humans can handle the native bacteria and other microscopic organisms through their own evolutionary processes. So, hooray, beer, not because I particularly enjoy drinking it, but because it’s something that would make Pern extremely weird if it didn’t exist.

Anyway, the meeting itself is to assign and disperse watchriders to the Holds to keep an eye out for either live Thread or the black dust that is frozen-dead Thread that will signify more active Falls coming soon afterward. H’nez gets the first assignment to go out and look, and he takes the other two older bronze riders’ wings with him to post. K’lior says the sick dragons are not to go out on this assignment, over H’nez’s objections that it’s not nearly as bad as he’s making it out to be. When it’s pointed out that the presence of dragons might make the Holders angry about the loss of their fire-lizards, Cisca silently relays to K’lior that he might want to choose differently, but K’lior makes it a point to tell H’nez that they should be extra-courteous, to the point of making sure they stop by and say hello at every hold, major or minor, and do their best to identify the people who will be helping with Threadfall as ground crews so that everybody gets familiar (and hopefully friendly) with each other. Cisca also mentions she’s setting Melanwy to look after Tannaz and Kalsenth full-time and putting Ellor in as interim headwoman. Having set everyone to their duties, K’lior dismisses the lot of them.

“Others,” Cisca chimed in with a grin to M’kury, “might want to carefully consider whether it would be wise to resume their activities.”
“No problem,” M’kury declared. “They’re both waiting for me in my quarters!”

And on that supposedly salacious note, Chapter Six is finally brought to an end.

Holder looks up to the skies
For signs of promise and demise
Thread will fall across the ground
Unless brave dragons do abound.

Or if knowledge could have been preserved in some way so that Tubberman’s grubs would spread far and wide and otherwise protect the ground from Thread. But losing important knowledge is a staple of Pern.

(Fort Hold, Morning, AL 507.13.23)

The first part of Chapter 7 is “Lord Bemin hears an alarm, goes out to see that it’s dragons, worries that Talenth is dead, but because H’nez is a complete dick to him, knows Fiona and her dragon is fine.” And Bemin gives his slights as good as he gets them, and then spends the night in the Harper Hall, where wager reward trade hands in front of him and Kelsa about how long Bemin was going to hold out (Nonala beats Verilan) and whether or not Bemin was going to say he loved Kelsa or not (he does, so Verilan gets his two-mark piece back from Nonala). Where we start getting useful information is H’nez overseeing the ground crews, and being relatively impressed with the speed and accuracy of the flamethrowers against the mock-Thread burrows. The leader of the ground crews, Stennel, mentions that they’d have been a lot faster off the mark if they still had fire-lizards, as they had them trained to spot burrows and summon help. H’nez is not impressed with this, thinking it a slight to the dragons that protect everyone from a deadly Thread rain. Stennel also helps us figure out the voraciousness of Thread and its spread pattern.

“According to the Records, if we don’t find the burrow in the first hour, then it’ll be too big to fight with the flamethrowers,” Stennel replied. “And then we’d have to get dragons to flame it.”
“Hmph,” H’nez grunted noncomittally.
“If we don’t spot it within eight hours, the Records say our best hope is to fire the whole valley around it,” Stennel continued with a frown.
“Fire a whole valley?” H’nez repeated doubtfully. “I’m sure whoever wrote that Record must have been in error.”
“It happened about ten times in the last Turn of the Second Pass,” Stennel persisted.
“Who told you that?”
“It was in the Hold Records,” Stennel replied. “I read them myself.” He stood a bit taller as he continued with a touch of pride, “I wanted to know, as best I could, what we were to expect, my lord.”

The pride I hear in Stennel’s voice is both in being a literate person who’s not part of the nobility, a feat unto itself, and in being able to interpret the records to get useful information out of them, which, given what we see of Records from the Harpers, is also a feat unto itself. It’s a well-deserved note of pride, and it also shows up H’nez’s lack of knowledge about what goes on at the Holds, not that he actually gives a shit.

Stennel also mentions that his ground crews are also his firefighting crews, and wildfires in high winds and Thread burrows have the same basic problem of being able to get out of control quickly, so what they’ve learned about fighting fires adapts well to fighting Thread. H’nez shrugs it off, as well as Stennel’s question about whether or not the flamethrowers can be adapted to the new firestone.

Wait, what?

“I’m sure glad they found the right stuff–although getting our stone is much harder now.”
“Harder?”
“Aye,” Stennel replied. “No one wanted to dig it before, when it was necessary for the dragons. Now it’s only necessary for the ground crews and no one really wants to go looking for it. Which is why the Mastersmith is working to see if he can adapt our flamethrowers to use the proper firestone,” he went on, shaking his head. “Last I heard, he hadn’t much luck, but I don’t get the freshest information all the time.” He cast an inviting glance toward the dragonrider. But if he was hoping for illumination, he would be disappointed.

So the flamethrowers aren’t using HNO3 as their fuel source, but the highly-volatile rock that gave dragons indigestion and that exploded violently if you whispered the word “water” around it? How does that work? There’s no reason for me to believe that Pernese technology has advanced to the point where it can use a solid fuel source in a controlled combustion reaction so as to produce a stream of flame that’s useful and that the entire contraption doesn’t messily explode in a chain reaction that backs up into the fuel tank and explode that (and the wielder) Propelling solid rock fire is bad, propelling lit gases from that solid fire is difficult to control, and I really can’t believe that they’ve somehow managed to liquefy the unstable rocks into a form that can be used as a controlled flame source, given how much trouble Tarik and company had just getting it out of the ground without it exploding, and the weyrling at the games who exploded the storehouse because they brought too much moisture in the air with them.

I have trouble seeing this situation work.

H’nez also proves again to us why he should be sent away to Telgar, because his attitude would most certainly fit in better there.

Why was it, he wondered, that holders were so easily iritated? They certainly weren’t properly deferential, not even the women.
[…and H’nez disappears back to the Hold…]
It’s always good to show the holders their place, H’nez reflected as he and Ginirth emerged once more from between, this time over the courtyard of Fort Hold. A group of holder women and children scattered as he guided Ginirth down for a landing. He spotted Lord Holder Bemin striding out into the courtyard from the Great Hall in response to the commotion and allowed himself a grin as he noticed Bemin quickly school his irritated expression into a bland look.

Gee, I wonder why holders are so easily irritated by the person that believes themselves their superior in every way by fiat and right and acts like it? It’s a mystery nobody will ever be able to solve. The narrative helps us out some, in that when H’nez is winding Bemin up again, V’ney appears a day earlier than his scheduled relief and tells H’nez in no uncertain terms to get home, because there are sick dragons that aren’t going to make it through the night. After H’nez departs, V’ney immediately sets to making up to Bemin, because he knows H’nez has done things to upset him.

“My lord,” V’ney said in the stillness that followed, “I’d like to apologize for any ill will H’nez might have engendered between your Hold and my Weyr.” He shook his head and continued, “He’s good with his riders and flies well–but he enjoys making trouble with everyone when he’s on the ground.”
“So I had noticed,” Bemin said wryly.
V’ney snorted. “You mean that you couldn’t understand why a dragon would choose to be ridden by an ass?”
Bemin’s lips quirked upward. “I hadn’t put quite those words to it, actually.”
“Then you’re a very tolerant person,” V’ney allowed.

And that’s the end of Chapter 7, with H’nez getting recalled and V’ney immediately beginning damage control. H’nez really is a better fit for Telgar than for Fort, mostly because he’ll have a kindred spirit in the Weyrleader there.

It’s probably not a good thing that it’s literally the plot of “dragons are getting sick and the Weyrs are quarantined” that’s stopping H’nez from getting bounced from Fort. (And I still maintain he really should have been bounced well before this point.)

More next week.