Bet you guys never thought you could discuss rape/purity culture in the context of a story about dragons, did you? And yet here we are, dealing with the fallout from Frelt’s rapey, selfish proposal to Selendra. Let’s break this down section by section.
I’d first like to point out how gracefully Walton introduces us to dragon culture a piece at a time, relying on the reader’s prior knowledge of similar novels about humans to help fill in the gaps. Specifically, in dragon culture, color is everything. We’ve already seen (or at least heard) of what happens to young dragons who are too green. And now we come to realize how important color is to maiden dragons as well. Maidens are varying shades of gold, but when they first become aroused by a potential mate, they turn pink. After they lay their first clutch of eggs, they turn red.
When Selendra makes her way into the dining room, she is blushing pink. We know, because we read about it last week, that Frelt deliberately leaned over her, pressing her physically even though it was clear that this was not polite dragon behavior, and especially poor behavior for a parson. We know that from Frelt’s perspective, he had deluded himself into believing that this was all very romantic, and he was even considering carrying Selendra off to rape her until she reminded him that she is under her brothers’ protection.
Penn and Avan are rightfully angry on her behalf, but they take entirely the wrong approach to it. Instead of comforting their sister, as Haner is doing, Penn frets about Selendra having to marry Frelt after all if her scales have turned color. And Avan actually chides Selendra for going down to meet the parson alone. Haner leaps to her sister’s defense, angrily pointing out that Frelt is a fucking parson, and if anyone should be “safe” to be around it should be dragons of that persuasion, especially because they are Immune. She also points out that Selendra went down to greet him just to be polite, and that Avan knew she was, and if he had been so worried about it then he would have gone down with or instead of her.
The brothers are hung up on this color thing, knowing more about the world than their sisters, who have spent their entire lives at the Agornin establishment. Because female dragons have the most visible sign of lost “virtue,” if not virginity, they are shunned by good society and therefore easy prey (in multiple ways) for dragons who are so low as to take advantage of that fact. Penn and Avan are worried about Selendra even being able to have a legitimate marriage, because a maiden’s worth is measured in gold – both the gold of her dowry, and the gold of her virgin scales. The idea that Selendra would be forced to marry the very dragon who sexually assaulted her is very much related to various cultural practices that force a rape victim to be married to her rapist, and also the idea that a woman has somehow lost “value” for having been raped.
The Sisters’ Vow
Haner takes Selendra straight to Amer, having confidence that their old nursemaid would know what to do. Amer asks Selendra specific questions about what happened in the corridor as she prepares herbs and sets a kettle on the fire to boil. Selendra is understandably shaken, more so now that when she was actually in the moment (which is a common feeling for victims of assault). She talks about how Frelt deliberately leaned on her and re-affirms her determination never to marry him.
As Amer prepares the special tea, she very seriously informs Selendra of the possible consequences of taking this medicine. As she says, it’s not magic, but medicine, and some dragons react differently to it. Either the tea will restore Selendra’s maiden color and she will live her life as she would have, or the tea will fail to restore her color in which case she’s no worse off, or the tea will work so well that when Selendra really does become attracted to a dragon and accepts his proposal, she will not be able to blush pink the way she should. Selendra is taking a risk here, possibly giving up marriage and dragonets just to avoid having to marry Frelt, but she chooses to drink the tea, fully informed of the situation.
Haner takes Selendra down to their sleeping cave for her to rest and allow the tea to do its work, as Amer washes up and burns the herbs she used on the kitchen fire. As Selendra lays down on her gold to sleep, she and Haner make a vow to each other not to marry unless the other approves the match, and can come live with the married couple to look after the dragonets. They also promise to combine their dowries to put one of them at advantage, so they will each say they have sixteen thousand crowns, rather than eight.
Surprises for Penn
As much as I dislike the cultural influences that led Penn to consider forcing Selendra to marry Frelt, I do feel sorry for him during this section. After all, he and his siblings have all suffered a significant loss, had contentious family issues about the inheritance, and had an obnoxious intrusion of privacy in the form of Frelt’s stupid proposal. He prays to the gods for a solution – any solution – that would allow Selendra to have a proper marriage to a dragon she loves.
Avan, meanwhile, is coming up with solutions of his own, and he approaches Penn with his suggestion when the parson comes down from his perch on the mountain. Avan has high-ranking connections in Irieth, and knows a good-natured Exalted couple who might be willing to take Selendra on as a consort. She wouldn’t be officially married, but she would be in the care of dragons Avan counts as friends. Penn is disgusted by this idea, even though the Church doesn’t explicitly forbid it, and says that Selendra would basically be at the mercy of anyone who took her as a consort, and that it would be beneath her. Notice how the two of them are discussing this without even thinking about consulting Selendra about it. They are the ranking Agornin males, and assume that they have control over the females.
To Penn’s surprise, he finds that Selendra has turned gold again, and is informed by Haner that all she needed was rest and some special tea from Amer. Penn thinks he has a good idea of what Amer gave to Selendra to drink, and this is definitely a big Church no-no.
Of course it is. Anything that allows females more control over their lives and bodies is going to be a church no-no.
Penn confronts Amer in the kitchen, asking her explicitly what she gave Selendra, and Amer neatly side-stepping the question and turning the blame to Frelt, which is exactly where it should be. She points out that Selendra was only alone with Frelt for a few minutes, which is far too short for Selendra to have lost her virginity, if not her color (go Amer!). She also hints that she might need to stay with Selendra to make sure that she stays gold, and asks Penn to take her into his household’s service. She plays every card she has, including the I-watched-over-you-when-you-were-little-and-don’t-you-forget-it card.
Penn agrees to allow Amer to come with Selendra to Benandi, though he’s not sure how he would explain this apparent extravagance to his wife. Which is something we’ll find out about next week (I think).
Chapter 3, Video 1
Chapter 3, Video 2