Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Dragon Prince! This week we begin a new section, with two new chapters. Rohan and Roelstra finally meet, Sioned and Tobin go to the Fair, and Sioned attracts attention in dangerous places.
Part Two: The Rialla
So This Happens: Rohan sets out for the Rialla with a relatively small retinue and no great state. Tobin and Chay, having left the children behind with their grandmother in Stronghold, are taking a sort of second honeymoon. Sioned is not in good condition, but Rohan can’t afford to single her out. He concentrates instead on his three new vassals, and on the remarkable virtues of Camigwen and Ostvel as organizers of the expedition.
Rohan makes a point of thanking Ostvel, and in the course of conversation, Ostvel is not shy about the fact that he and Cami are nightly lovers but not married. Nor does he forbear to note that Cami, as a Sunrunner, had other lovers before him—which makes her all the more “persuasive,” as he puts it.
Rohan agrees that women make for interesting predicaments, and that he expects to find himself in a fair few of those at the Rialla. That kills the budding friendship between Rohan and Ostvel, but Rohan has to keep up the façade for the sake of his political plans.
The company crosses the River by bridge, saving the faradh’im from the torture of a water crossing. In camp on the other side, Rohan studies Cami and Ostvel at work and contemplates his future with Sioned.
A very tired and drawn Andrade intercepts him. They discuss Rohan’s “scheming,” and the blow Roelstra has dealt to Andrade’s pride by using a renegade Sunrunner. Andrade fills Rohan in on the personalities of Roelstra’s legitimate daughters, and warns him to remember Sioned’s feelings.
After dinner Rohan slips off alone—and barely escapes assassination. The assassin gets away, leaving behind a glass knife. Rohan conceals the attack and the knife, as well as the message it conveys: that the Merida, who originated as a guild of assassins, are out to either intimidate or kill him.
The viewpoint shifts to Sioned, as the scene shifts to the Rialla. Sioned pauses at the top of a hill to take in the extent of the field and identify the various lords’ tents by their different colors. Roelstra’s violet is not yet there.
Cami tries to pick a fight with Sioned over her failure to insist on her proper status as future Princess, but has no luck. Sioned is otherwise preoccupied, between trying to serve as Rohan’s eyes and ears at the festival, and worrying about the renegade Sunrunner.
She worries too about Rohan’s power over her, and her willingness to make him her first priority. She will not go renegade, she promises herself.
Then she reflects on the discovery of gold in the dragons’ cave, and on what it will mean to the Desert, before circling back to her concerns about divided loyalty. Rohan appears just then, and she knows, to her great dismay, that “she would betray anyone and anyone for him.”
Rohan stops to talk about his own doubts and fears, and his worries that Roelstra will see through his plotting. He’s not really paying attention to Sioned’s dark mood, or her own doubts. He asks her to say that she loves him; that his deceptions here are worth it, and that when it’s over they can go home “and love each other in peace.”
Before Sioned can reply, Rohan is called away. She goes to bed for the rest of a sleepless night.
Shortly after she rises at dawn, a commotion wakes everyone up. The High Prince has come to the Rialla—early, to catch everyone off balance.
He arrives in an elaborate barge ornamented with a figurehead of his pregnant mistress. His eligible daughters are on board, along with his mistress, as is Roelstra himself.
Roelstra seems to be looking for someone. Sioned can easily guess who.
The faradh’im, Sioned included, are regaled with information by a random man who stands next to them in the crowd. He knows all about who is who and what they’re up to, and he offers to escort the Sunrunners closer to the action.
Through all of this, Rohan is nowhere in evidence. As the highborn kneel to the High Prince—all but Andrade, who merely bows her head—Rohan finally makes his entrance.
He arrives with loud fanfare, looking as if he barely had time to finish dressing. He has also, Sioned notes, avoided kneeling to the High Prince. His family is as amused by this as she is.
Rohan immediately launches into an extended show of fluttery apology and barely contained hilarity, which his family continues to share. Roelstra, apparently oblivious to the byplay, presents his daughters. Rohan remarks on how many are here and how many are left behind, and introduces his own family, finishing off with a pretense of solicitude for the High Prince’s tolerance of the day’s heat. With that, “the welcoming farce [was] over, all points going to Rohan in a game few were yet aware was being played.”
Andrade’s enjoyment of the show ends abruptly as she sees Sioned’s face. “Sioned had eyes only for him, and in those eyes was her heart.”
And I’m thinking: This chapter is all over the place emotionally. Sioned is a mess, and Rohan is exceptionally full of himself. After all his fretting about Sunrunners’ sexual initiation, he doesn’t seem to focus on that in his conversation with Ostvel about Cami; he seems to be more fussed that they aren’t married and are obviously lovers. 2014 Me, of course, snarls at the “women are such wicked alien beings” slant of the discussion, but then again, maybe we’re meant to want to thwap the clueless males.
Rohan spends time getting to know the common people, which casts him in a good light. We get a picture of the contrast between the Desert and the pastoral richness of the rest of the country, and we also get to see the range and variety of the people who rule it.
The big payoff, the meeting of Princes that we’ve been waiting for since the beginning of the book, is a grand spectacle. Wonderful visuals; great setting. Roelstra doesn’t seem to have much going on; he comes across as rather flat, and we don’t get much sense for what he’s thinking, except that he seems to be totally missing the undertones of Rohan’s performance.
Which I’m not buying, either in the Eighties or in 2014. There’s enough snickering, sniggering, eyerolling, and muffled snorting that I can’t see how anybody would miss it, least of all as old a master of intrigue as Roelstra has been set up to be. I might buy that he’d take Idiot Rohan at face value, but then again, would he really? Wouldn’t he be a little bit suspicious?
Rohan is playing a classic role. He’s the Scarlet Pimpernel, he’s Zorro, he’s Lord Peter Wimsey, he’s Francis Lymond. He’s the royal fool who’s really a hero-genius.
Trouble is, we’ve been told too often that he’s brilliant and clever and perfect and it’s all about him and everyone thinks about him all the time. We’re also told that nobody can possibly guess what he’s up to, even while he makes a point of telling everyone at every opportunity. It’s hard to believe his over-the-top performance can really fool anyone, especially with his whole family barely able to contain their hilarity. They’re telegraphing loud and clear.
They’d never survive in Westeros is all I can say.
We won’t talk about the random guy with the dialect, showing the Sunrunners the sights. He’s supposed to represent the simple folk, I think.
So, all in all, not Rohan’s finest hour, or Sioned’s happiest one.
So This Happens: The scene shifts radically to Crigo in the throes of dranath withdrawal. Crigo has no memory of arriving in Roelstra’s tent at the Rialla. His last memory is of the night Sioned caught him spying on Stronghold. He remembers her vividly, though he doesn’t know who she is.
Roelstra startles Crigo fully awake, demanding to know what happened that night. Crigo tells him about the faradhi, and about her emerald ring. He claims not to know her name, but under pressure from Roelstra, manages to remember a redheaded girl at Goddess Keep named Sioned.
Roelstra lets slip that Andrade is at the Rialla. Crigo is appalled. Roelstra orders him to drink his dranath, and he obeys.
Crigo realizes with sudden joy that he can destroy Roelstra by revealing to Andrade that Roelstra corrupted a Sunrunner. Then Crigo’s joy dies. He wouldn’t be here if Roelstra had any fear of betrayal. Crigo is powerless. “The game, as always, belonged only to Roelstra.”
With another radical shift, we move on to Chay and Tobin. Tobin is dressed for shopping at the Fair. Sioned is going with her, along with Cami and, for escort, a faradhi named Meath.
After an exchange of banter which puts them on a first-name basis, they set out for the Fair. All ranks are equal today, Tobin says. Meanwhile, the faradh’im express their discomfort with crossing the bridge over the river. Except Sioned, who grew up by the River Run and learned to tolerate it.
This interests Tobin considerably. Sioned is a Prince’s daughter, she realizes. She wonders why Rohan and Andrade haven’t mentioned this.
The shopping expedition is a great success. Sioned treats the others to lunch, and in the process, Tobin learns more about Sioned’s family and connections. She also learns that Sioned is estranged from her family, which is good news. With no ties to her old life, she’ll embrace her new one in the Desert.
The shopping continues, with much teasing and many detailed descriptions of the loot. They are all particularly enthralled by a display of toys, including a doll. This makes Sioned wistful about having a little girl of her own.
Suddenly she is jostled by a quite unpleasant young woman: Princess Pandsala, accompanied by her sister Ianthe. Tobin loathes them and is determined not to see either of them married to Rohan.
The Princesses are rude to Sioned, calling her Tobin’s “waiting-woman,” and syrupy sweet to Tobin. Tobin is quick to inform them that Sioned is a faradhi.
The barbed byplay continues. Ianthe recognizes Sioned as Andrade’s candidate for Rohan’s bride. Sioned shrugs off the prospect. “It seems Prince Rohan is the concern of the whole Rialla,” Ianthe meows.
The Princesses go on about their shopping. Tobin calls them bitches, and Sioned both observes that Rohan wouldn’t survive past the birth of his heir, and sighs that they are beautiful. “And you’re not?” Tobin asks.
Tobin and Cami are set for more casual shopping, but Sioned is on a mission. She zeroes in on a silk merchant’s stall, and pays gold to have a dress made for the last day of the festival. She then buys a white linen shift, two blue crystal goblets, a pair of slippers, and a bottle of wine.
With that plus all the rest of the haul, they return to Tobin’s tent, and then to a secluded spot beside the river. There, Sioned explains what she’s up to.
Roelstra’s daughters are virgins. Sioned is going to seize the advantage and seduce Rohan—to Tobin’s enormous relief. Cami will help her with the spells, because they’re usually reserved for fardadh’im of at least eight rings, and Sioned only has seven. Tobin asks to learn them as well, to put them to her own uses.
Roelstra, meanwhile, is bored. He has, however, learned something from Pandsala and Ianthe: their impressions of Sioned. The rest of his daughters have picked up other rumors at the Fair, most having to do with Rohan’s rejection of Sioned, and her rejection of him. There is much exclaiming over how very handsome he is.
There is also much cattiness about Sioned’s stubbornness and her “headstrong nature,” which, Roelstra professes, makes him like her a great deal. Palila advises the princesses to be “soothing,” and to admire and fuss over Rohan, because that’s what men like.
Once the princesses have gone to their tents, Roelstra stays to get Palila’s impressions of their states of mind. Palila is repulsive to him in her pregnant state, but he values her “instincts.”
She obliges him with her assessment of his daughters’ chances. He won’t go for Ianthe, she says. “Rohan is too young to appreciate intelligence in a wife.” She declares that Pandsala is the better choice.
With harem politics out of the way, Palila attempts to seduce Roelstra. He, however, has his sights set on Sioned—whom he has not yet seen.
Just as he leaves, he asks Palila why she prefers Pandsala, since she spoke up for Ianthe before. She changed her mind, she replies, after seeing Rohan. Roelstra accepts this—or appears to.
And I’m Thinking: An awful lot happens in this chapter, most of it revolving around Sioned. Most of it strikes ominous notes, too. Crigo saw her emerald ring, which we just know is going to be significant later, and Roelstra has taken a fancy to her, sight unseen. He has a thing for skinny, tanned redheads, apparently. That can’t be good.
The shopping expedition goes over the top with teasing, byplay, banter, and details of the items purchased. The encounter with Roelstra’s daughters happens about the way one would expect, considering the personalities. The Princesses are catty, Tobin is nasty-sweet, and Sioned reacts by getting fierce.
Clearly nobody remembers how badly Rohan reacted to Sioned’s sexual experience. It’s treated as a huge advantage here. She’ll blow the virgin Princesses out of the water.
Tobin wasn’t a virgin when she was married, either, which makes her a sort of honorary Sunrunner. Like her untrained but powerful magic and, here, her easy friendship with the faradh’im.
After the last chapter, in which the Desert contingent was acting like a pack of political amateurs (and laughing loons), I’m about ready to see Roelstra teach them a good, hard lesson. He’s so gloriously horrible.
Though I’m not sure why he had to bring Crigo along. He’s risking Andrade discovering what he did to a Sunrunner, and getting himself in serious trouble for it. As carefully as he’s hidden this so far, I can’t see how it computes that he’s risking discovery now.
Still—Roelstra is quite a bit more wily than anybody else. Including Andrade, who lost me when she got the giggles over Rohan’s bad acting. I’m betting on Roelstra for at least the next few turns of the plot.
Judith Tarr’s first epic fantasy novel, The Hall of the Mountain King, appeared in 1986. Her YA time-travel science fiction/fantasy/historical novel, Living in Threes, appeared as an ebook from Book View Café in 2012, and will debut in print this fall. Her new novel, a space opera, will be published by Book View Cafe in 2015. In between, she’s written historicals and historical fantasies and epic fantasies, some of which have been reborn as ebooks from Book View Café. She lives in Arizona with an assortment of cats, two dogs, and a herd of Lipizzan horses.