Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Dragon Prince! This week Andrade and Pandsala choose sides (or do they?), Sioned and Rohan get out of jail, and the war ramps up, with special bonus moral dilemmas.
So This Happens: Andrade has a prophetic nightmare about Pandsala and her family, faradhi, and killing with Fire. She wakes on the road, disguised as Pandsala’s servant, and afflicted with Chiana as a stowaway. The news from elsewhere is almost uniformly bad: Tiglath under siege, Tobin and the twins safe in a nearly deserted Stronghold, and no sign of Rohan or Sioned.
Now Pandsala has disappeared, and taken the horses. Chiana remains (snidely and wickedly) with Andrade. This is a disaster. Roelstra will now have his own Sunrunner, of his own bloodline.
Andrade does not take this calmly. She declares, for the world to know, that she will side with the Desert against Roelstra. Roelstra is “a walking dead man.” For the first time, Andrade regrets the vow that forbids her to kill.
Sioned is alone and imprisoned in the dark. Ianthe shows up to taunt her, and informs her that son number four is now gestating. She also informs Sioned that she and Rohan can leave; she wants them alive when Rohan’s son is born, but then they’ll die.
Sioned counters with a threat of her own: Ianthe’s hate, which is life to her, will end when Rohan’s son is born.
Ianthe leaves the door open. Starved, skinny Sioned goes in search of starved, skinny, despairing Rohan. The first thing he does is tell her he had sex with Ianthe. She replies that she knows—and she too is “soiled goods.” “I lost track of how many used me.”
They fall into each other’s arms, briefly, then ride out under Ianthe’s eye. Sioned is busy planning Ianthe’s death at midwinter, when the long-desired son is born.
Meanwhile, Roelstra is dealing with impatient young Prince Jastri, who wants a battle. Roelstra is playing the long game, and letting both Chay and Davvi wait for the fight they’ve been preparing for. Roelstra, if says so himself, is ever so clever.
Suddenly Pandsala appears, flashing Sunrunner rings and declaring what a terrible time she’s had for the past six years. Pandsala is here to drive a bargain, and she’s not kind about Roelstra’s advancing age or what Ianthe’s pack of sons will do to his empire once he’s dead.
They concur in mutual distrust, but agree to work together against Andrade and the Desert. The first thing Roelstra asks of her is to find Rohan. She protests that she is only an apprentice, but manages to conjure a vision of Rohan, Sioned, and dragons out in the Desert.
Roelstra already knew this—Ianthe informed him before she let Rohan go. Chay, he says, does not yet know it. This was a test of trust.
Pandsala drinks wine—in terror of dranath, but Roelstra has passed his own test of trust by not enslaving her to the drug.
Rohan rides out into the Desert. He is in a terrible state of mind, unable even to look at Sioned. He rides right into a battle of dragons.
As the battle begins, Sioned’s horse goes wild, injuring her, and both horses bolt. The dragons’ fighting arouses Rohan sexually, but Sioned screams, “You will not rut with me the way you did with her!”
Rohan snaps. One of the dragon loses and dies; the other flies away. Rohan succumbs to hysteria, while Sioned huddles in misery. Rohan’s remorse is deep, and her misery deeper. “Oh, Sioned,” he laments. “What have I done?”
And I’m Thinking: The emotional volume here is cranked to 11. Everybody is ranting, raging, hating, and despairing—and everybody’s swearing to kill their opposite number. On the good-news side, Rohan and Sioned get out of jail, but that’s only because Ianthe lets them go.
I personally agree with Pandsala that it doesn’t make sense. Roelstra’s rationalization that Ianthe did it “for reasons of her own” is a bit heavy on the hand-waving. Really, any sensible villain would keep them locked up tight and pull them out on baby day, let them see the baby, then chop! Plot wants them running around loose, therefore…
Pandsala’s treason plays a riff on a theme that might be the truth…or it might not: If you’re born evil, you stay evil. Chiana looks like a classic case. She was taken from her family as a newborn, but she’s bad to the bone. Even allowing for the amount of nurture she’s evidently had from Pandsala, there’s still zero sense that she picked up anything from the good guys at Goddess Keep. She’s pure distilled essence of bad seed.
Which makes one wonder why she stays with Andrade. She’s already stowed away once. Why not sneak after Pandsala, too?
Unless of course she’s planning to serve as a spy—kind of hard since she’s absolutely up front about which side she’s on. There must be an Excellent Plot Reason for her to stay where she is, where she continues to be demonstrably Evil in front of Andrade.
Makes me wonder how it all started. Was that family always evil, or did they develop it gradually? Is Roelstra the first generation of True Evil, or…? In spite of his obsession with carrying on the dynasty, he never talks about his ancestry at all. Everything’s focused on him and his descendants.
As for Andrade, I don’t think her coming out for the Desert surprises anybody anywhere. Speaking of family ties and nature over nurture. It seems awfully pro forma for her to have waited even as long as she did, or to need a precipitating event, though it makes for a nice bit of scenery-chewing, and we get to see yet another Sunrunner access her inner emotional fire.
The killing with Fire theme is getting pretty obvious. We know exactly what’s going to come of that. Meanwhile, we get dragons, and we get to see Rohan being, however dimly and confusedly, a Dragon Prince.
So This Happens: The morning after Pandsala arrives, Jastri gets his battle—and a rout at the hands of Davvi and his troops. Roelstra however gets a foothold across the river, and Chay withdraws to discuss strategy with his captains. Chay has a Plan to destroy Roelstra in two battles, which “are all we can afford.”
When the captains have been dismissed, Maarken points out that Chay doesn’t need troops to burn the bridges over the river. Maarken can do it with Fire.
Not only is Marken ringless and therefore clearly untrained, Chay won’t let him kill people with Fire. Chay is loudly emphatic, to Maarken’s shock. Maarken realizes what Andrade did when she married her sister to Zehava, and what the results are in this generation—and he thinks his father is accusing him of being power-mad.
Chay isn’t doing that. He is seeing something important about faradhi princes: “Born to one kind of power. Born with quite another.”
Maarken is torn between his two sides or selves. Chay realizes that Rohan would understand, and Sioned even more so.
For the time being, Chay makes the decision for his son. He forbids him to use Fire in this war. Maarken accepts the order.
Meanwhile Tobin and Maeta stand atop the Flametower in Stronghold, watching the arrival of the Merida army. Tobin volunteers to join the archers. Maeta isn’t Chay (whom she calls “your great roaring stallion of a husband”), and she’s happy to let Tobin join the fight. She will also make use of Tobin’s sons to run arrows to the archers.
Tobin takes her station with a good supply of arrows painted in Radzyn’s colors. She has to suppress giggles when the Merida herald rides up, dramatically, to demand surrender. Someone else shoots an arrow into him, and he retreats.
After “a short wait,” the actual army rides up, with both men and horses dressed in leather armor. When they’ve filled the canyon in front of the gate, the dragon-bone horn sounds at Maeta’s command, and the archers, including Tobin, mow the enemy down.
Then one of Stronghold’s archers falls. A dozen Merida archers are perched on the ledge above the canyon. Tobin is nearly shot herself. She and the rest of the archers on her side of the gate return fire.
A second archer falls, and the Merida gain access to the tunnel beyond on of the gates. Tobin discovers she’s wounded in the thigh, as Maeta calls for a “regrouping” above the inner gates.
Maeta slaps a salve-smeared bandage on Tobin’s wound, and the pain goes away. Maeta mentions that she’s sent Tobin’s twins to “the back passage by the grotto”—Tobin has no idea what she’s talking about. Then she sees her sons in the courtyard, just as the Merida break down the gates. Suddenly she switches from warrior to mother.
At that moment, Sioned guides Rohan through a passage he hadn’t known existed, which deposits them beside the grotto. The inner courtyard is empty, but Rohan hears the sounds of battle beyond. He boosts Sioned up onto the wall, then she pulls him up, and they take in the battle.
Rohan dives for a sword and leaps into the battle. Sioned stays on the wall—and starts strafing groups of Merida with Fire. She is completely and happily off her head—until Rohan calls on her to stop. She hasn’t killed anyone, but they’re all severely burned.
Rohan appropriates a horse, and Tobin gets hold of her sons and gives them a verbal and physical walloping. Then she sees Myrdal supporting a barely conscious Sioned, and goes to help. Sioned is in terrible shape; Tobin helps her into the castle, and tells her that Rohan has gone off to join (and probably lead, as Sioned notes) Ostvel and the rest of the force that has come from Remagev.
While Tobin cleans up Sioned, Sioned tells her how they walked from Feruche after the dragons spooked the horses. Merida were watching for them at Skybowl, so they had to go on past. Sioned wonders if she killed anyone with Fire. Andrade would disapprove, she says, “But it wouldn’t be the first time—or the last.”
Tobin tells her that Andrade has ordered the Sunrunners to fight on Stronghold’s side in the war. Sioned responds that “she did that the instant she ordered me to come to Stronghold.” Then, as she falls asleep, she tells Tobin, “You must tell everyone…there’s going to be a son.”
Ostvel and Rohan between them trap and eliminate the Merida, capturing ten survivors, whom they put to work dealing with the dead and wounded. Rohan is barely able to stand, but the survivors are done, he orders them to sever the right hand of each of their countrymen, “dead or not.” The nine regular soldiers will take their bags of severed hands north to “your masters.” The captain will take his bag south to Roelstra, “as a gift from me,” along with the message that Rohan will not take Roelstra’s hand but his head. He warns the captain to “leave Skybowl alone”—because by the time the captain gets there, Rohan’s troops will destroyed the Merida.
The captain and the rest of the survivors will go on foot, as Rohan and Sioned did, without water. Rohan leaves them to it and goes into the castle, where he meets Tobin, limping and demanding to know if it’s true he’s going to have a child. Rohan answers that he is, then closes the door of his chamber on her, and stands looking at Sioned.
Rohan reflects on whether Sioned can bear to nurse Ianthe’s child, and if she can, that he will have to endure it, too. Then he lies down and weeps.
Tobin and Ostvel find both of them asleep, and speculate as to why Ianthe let them go. Sioned sleeps peacefully. Rohan does not. “Tobin saw that youth had fled her brother’s face, and mourned its loss.”
She and Ostvel conclude that they’ll find out “as much of [what happened] as they’ll care to tell,” and leave them to sleep.
And I’m Thinking: When the action finally gets going, does it ever. It’s fast, it’s ruthless, it gets the job done with maximum enemy casualties and minimal friendly losses. Rohan channels his father in his handling of the Merida—there’s nothing soft or peaceful about it. Sioned has completely given herself over to the Princess side (or rather, to the side that’s Rohan’s Chosen), though she doesn’t seem to have killed anyone this round.
Finally! Tobin gets to be Tobin! She uses her archery training, and the female commander Maeta is totally cool with it. She does switch over to Mom again when the twins get in trouble, but it’s warrior mom, and even in tending Sioned, she’s doing what any soldier would do for a fallen comrade. It’s a genderflip, and it’s completely and casually just, you know, happening. There’s mention of what Chay will say when he finds out, but nobody is fazed.
Eighties Me remembers my mother and aunts, who married and started their families in the Fifties, talking about their men in similar terms. Letting themselves be throttled down when things were going well, but when things got difficult, they did whatever they had to. They were too young for the Rosie the Riveter generation, but they remembered how the women stepped up when the men were off fighting The War, as they called it (it’s always The War when it’s the big one of your generation).
They eyerolled regularly at male posturing, too, even while they tolerated or even encouraged it. Boys will be boys and all. Meanwhile, women kept the house safe and protected the kids, and if they had any kind of education or training, they used it as much as they could find ways to manage.
For me this chapter rings as true as anything in the book. We get Tobin’s giggles about the Merida herald, which hark back to Amateur Hour at the Rialla, but that passes quickly. Nobody’s snickering or chortling once the battle gets seriously under way. It’s bam, bam, bam—hard action, and no quarter. And it’s the women holding their own, with nothing said about weak womanhood. They just do what they have to, same as the men.
It’s interesting that when Maarken wants to use Fire in battle, his father reels him in, and he acquiesces. It’s Sioned who’s completely relentless and not at all hesitant, who does exactly what Maarken isn’t allowed to do. That’s going to resonate, it’s clear. The moral struggle between royal and Sunrunner has only just started to heat up.
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.