Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince! The war advances. Angsty Rohan is angsty, Andrade is Bored, and Pandsala shows her true colors.
So This Happens: Ten days after the battle, Rohan shows up at Chay and Davvi’s camp, leading an armed escort and bringing Davvi’s son Tilal. Rohan is angsting over being Prince and having to tell Chay what’s been happening. He puts on a show for the troops, then retires with Chay and Maarken for some private time.
He fills Chay in on events, including the fact that Sioned has emptied Stronghold of all but herself and a handful of loyal attendants, and sent everyone else on to other castles—and that Ianthe will be delivering a son at midwinter.
Rohan wants to go on about his woes and pains, but Chay stops him short. “Feel sorry for yourself another time—when you have the time.”
This application of toughlove works, for the time being. Chay has tried to get Roelstra across the river, but it’s not working. He needs Rohan to help him figure out how to win this war.
Rohan announces that he’s going for a walk and commands that a bed be made when he comes back. Chay seems pleased by this. “Now you’re a prince again.”
Urival and Andrade are settled in at River Run, reflecting that Davvi’s wife, Lady Wisla, has withdrawn to River View, and this is a good thing. Lady Wisla is a nervous whiner. They are here without Roelstra’s knowledge, but keeping track of everything through the Sunrunners around their part of the world who are able to communicate through the light.
Sioned has not been communicating. Andrade no longer trusts her. Urival is on her case about this. “You always forget people…. Did you think you could use the children the way you used the parents?”
Andrade retorts that she loves her family and hates Roelstra. Urival responds that she’s missed one important lesson. Now she’s set events in motion, she can’t stop them. She has to let things play themselves out.
Andrade is completely and uncharacteristically helpless. In spite of himself, Urival comforts her.
In Stronghold as the hot season advances, Sioned visits the grotto alone. She is missing Rohan, ducking Andrade’s attempts at contact, and working hard to keep her temper. Today she finds Ostvel there, playing Camigwen’s favorite song on his lute. This brings intense memories—and a contact that won’t be denied.
The Sunrunner trying to reach her is Pandsala, and her message is startling: I know things your prince will need if he’s to defeat Roelstra. Ostvel interrupts. Tobin has heard from Kleve, the Sunrunner in Tiglath. Walvis is bored and needs a battle. Ostvel isn’t all that happy, either: “I feel like one of Roelstra’s daughters caged up in Castle Crag.”
Sioned laughs suddenly, calls him brilliant, and runs off in search of Tobin.
Rohan meanwhile, no longer able to play the idiot, still manages to have trouble convincing his men it’s wise to feign a retreat. Chay’s captain catches on first. He’s drawing Jastri off to the Long Sand.
Rohan orders the land be stripped bare as they withdraw in complicated and confusing order. His commanders aren’t all on board, exactly, but they bow to his will.
This goes on for some time, until everyone is where Rohan needs him to be. Then Rohan waits. And angsts. And frets. And guilts over what he did to Ianthe, but remembering Sioned’s hard-edged, firmly logical counterarguments. “This prince will be yours and mine.” Not Andrade’s. Not Ianthe’s.
Finally word comes to Maarken on sunlight, that Jastri is on the move. He’s split with Roelstra and gone on the attack.
When he arrives where he thought to ambush Rohan, he finds Rohan and his army there, and another army under Davvi blocking the way back to the river. It’s a rout, and Jastri’s army is eliminated and he is killed. Rohan chooses not to have mercy.
Once he’s won the battle, over Chay’s protests he announces his intention to burn the bridges in order to prevent Roelstra from crossing the river. Chay’s reaction startles him. “It’s something Zehava would have done…. The grand gesture—and the warning.”
Before Rohan can finish giving the order to his archers with their fire arrows, the bridges go up in flames. Maarken has called down Fire—not asking permission this time. Not killing anyone, either, as he’s careful to point out afterwards.
Chay is anguished. Rohan is grieved. The army is thrilled. Roelstra, they hope, is terrified.
Rohan has an archer fire an arrow with one of Jastri’s two rings, right at Roelstra’s feet. The other he gives to Maarken. “This is the first of your faradhi rings.”
Rohan counts up the losses. They’ve been serious, and the army can’t afford more than one additional battle.
Suddenly, a hundred dragons fly overhead—all of this year’s hatchlings having survived, since there was no Hatchling Hunt. The army responds by giving Rohan a new title: Azhei. Dragon Prince.
And I’m Thinking: Tons of action in this chapter. Rohan’s angsting is pretty much pro forma by now. Rohan is always angsting about having to be Prince and having done awful things to Ianthe and having to do awful things to enemies in battle. By contrast, the women, especially Sioned, are grimly practical. Sioned knows exactly what to do about this situation, and she’s not letting anything stop her.
It’s the men who are most emotional here, and the most inclined to fret over the children growing up too fast and too hard. It’s a nice bit of genderbending for its time. Still is, heroic fantasy being what it tends to be.
And sure enough, Pandsala is hasn’t gone bad (or re-bad) after all. She’s a double agent. It doesn’t seem as if Andrade knows this, or else it’s not time for that to be mentioned yet.
Andrade is finally showing some human weakness, as opposed to the occasional and intermittent plot-weakness. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to her control-freak self that she would ever lose control of her pawns in the game she’s mostly been playing with herself—since no one else, even Roelstra, has her power or her singular ability to control events. She’s terribly shocked when it dawns on her, courtesy of Urival, who then has to try to make her feel better.
Rohan in spite of all his fussing over being Prince has no problem co-opting Andrade’s role as chief Sunrunner and giving Maarken his first faradhi ring. He’s also kind off offhandedly the brilliant strategist/Prince/power broker. He shows up, Chay puts a penny in the slot, his brain spins, out comes—STRATEGY!
At least here it’s ascribed to heredity. Zehava, of course, but let’s not forget Andrade is his aunt. He comes by it honestly on both sides.
And then at the end we get serious dragon shiny. This is obviously Adding Up To Something.
So This Happens: First rain of autumn. Pandsala and Roelstra in camp, having received news via arrow from Rohan that Davvi has been elevated to Prince Jastri’s princedom, since Jastri’s only heir is his ten-year-old sister.
Roelstra is not amused. He has counterplans of his own, along with his lifelong regret that he could never sire a son. He and Pandsala discuss those plans and the vassals who will carry them out, as well as the various failures that have led to enemy victories. He also offers to present Pandsala with a castle—namely, River Run, with a husband and the title of Princess of Syr.
Pandsala replies that she wants High Kirat itself along with the title, and the right to choose her own husband. Roelstra plays along, saying he’ll have it done by midwinter, after he’s removed Andrade from River Run.
Pandsala is puzzled by the repeated mention of midwinter. She pretends to submit to her father’s will.
Prince Lleyn meanwhile has been aggravated that his ships didn’t arrive in time for the battle. He lets Rohan and Chay know through Meath and Maarken that he’s sent the ships to Tiglath instead, and defeated the enemy there. Now he’s on his somewhat roundabout way to Rohan’s camp.
In the meantime Kleve has left Tiglath, so there’s no way to find out what’s going on inside. He’s on a mission for Walvis, its purpose unknown. Chay suspects it has something to do with Sioned.
There is teasing between Chay and Maarken. When that’s done, Rohan asks Davvi when the rains will come. He also mentions setting Davvi up at High Kirat, but Davvi, with all respect, wants to do that for himself. There is badinage about who gets which piece of Roelstra, which Rohan answers with the fact that he’s taking it all.
There is more father-son teasing, this time between Davvi and Tilal. Rohan is petulant, and jealous.
Rohan has made plans. He’s going to end the war, raze Feruche, and kill both Ianthe and the baby. He wonders if he can kill his own son.
Andrade in River Run is bored and impatient. She knows Roelstra will try to set up a rival claimant to High Kirat, but she also knows she can call the princes together any time and get them to approve Davvi. It’s just too much trouble, since that will cause Roelstra to show up at River Run with an army.
Bored Andrade is bored. And hates Chiana more than ever. She is precocious, and cunning, and reminds Andrade of Pandsala’s treachery.
Suddenly Chiana appears, crowing that her father has come with an army to fetch her. It is in fact true that Roelstra’s forces are here, though it’s only sixty men trying to camp in the mud.
Chiana is full of the conviction that her father will rescue her, they’ve lost, and she is a princess. Urival and Andrade counter that the last thing Roelstra needs or wants is another daughter, to which Chiana retorts that Ianthe and Pandsala have done perfectly well with their father. Yes, replies Andrade: because they’re useful. Chiana is useless. Chiana screams and bolts.
When Andrade reaches the walls, the enemy commander informs her that he has come to secure River Run against the usurper to the princedom. He is also ordered to provide escort if Andrade wants to leave, to take her back to Goddess Keep. There is no mention at all of Chiana.
Urival wonders, sotto voce, why Roelstra wants them out of River Run. Andrade informs the commander that she doesn’t want to go, and mentions Sunrunner’s Fire.
This is a bluff. The commander is not impressed.
Andrade is trapped. She needs to stay here, nearer the center of things than Goddess Keep. She wants out, now there’s no way to get out.
Roelstra knows this, Urival suggests. He’s looking for her to give him an excuse. She can’t contact anyone to any effect—except possibly Pandsala. Which would be, she says with considerable apparent sarcasm, “a brilliant notion.”
No, Urival replies: Meath. “So enchanted was she by the idea that she didn’t even mind the lecture he gave her about thinking everyone but herself a fool when she was the biggest fool of them all.”
Rohan watches Maarken communicate on sunlight, while reflecting that Chay is being a fussbudget about Maarken’s using faradhi. Maarken isn’t Tobin, untrained and taken unawares. Maarken, and Andry, will be well trained. “Chay had better get used to the idea.”
Rohan reflects on his father and the failure of his own “pretty plans,” and swears to himself that there will “something more” for the next generation—including his own son.
The ships have arrived. Chay corrects Davvi and Tilal: “Not ships—bridges!”
Maarken’s burned bridges have been repaired, but Roelstra is expecting an attack there. Chay has other ideas. The ships’ captains might not approve of their ships being used as ferries, Rohan notes, but Davvi isn’t sympathetic.
At that point Maarken falls over exhausted from working faradhi, and is not pleased about it. He has news: “Walvis beat the Merida!” He goes into detail, some of which he doesn’t quite understand, and ends by noting that Walvis now wants to march south “to defend Stronghold or come to us here.”
Rohan reflects bitterly on the news, which includes praise of Rohan’s power and foresight. Rohan has to be a savage prince in order to win this war and destroy Feruche. After that, he swears to himself, he’s done. No more barbarian. No more war.
The ships are deployed (the captains no happier than predicted), Rohan’s army is ferried across the river, and a weather delay ensues. The ships leave, taking Rohan’s chance of getting back across. Then news comes that Roelstra has moved, and his army has doubled. Worse, he’s turned the land in between into a lake, and salted it, thus ruining the soil for future agriculture.
Rohan calls Chay to his tent. Chay finds him well into his second bottle of wine. He wants to talk about how worthless he is and how his vassals’ trust in him is misplaced.
Chay responds that yes, Rohan is human. But Rohan isn’t about to be talked down. He’s on a full-on tear, complete with rant about having his very own Sunrunner. “What gives me the right?”
His fear of power, Chay answers. He’s not Roelstra. He doesn’t feed on it.
Rohan goes on for a while, but Chay keeps pushing back. Sioned is afraid of power, too, which makes her Rohan’s match.
Rohan is afraid of more than that. He’s afraid of taking and raising Ianthe’s son and Roelstra’s grandson.
Chay has an answer for that, too. A baby is innocent. “Ianthe may have the bearing of him, but he’ll be yours and Sioned’s to raise.”
Rohan is still not convinced. Yes, he’s afraid of power. And himself. “I’m not wise. I’m not clever…. All I am is scared.”
That brings Chay to a revelation. He’s always compared Zehava and Rohan, and Rohan has been the loser. Now he realizes that Rohan’s doubts and hesitations and constant second-guessing are what actually make him strong. “He would have followed either wherever they cared to lead, but with Rohan, he knew that the path would always be the right one.”
And I’m thinking: Angsty Rohan is angsty, but Chay gives back blow for blow. That’s Chay’s role in life, and he’s good at it. He’s a great foil for Rohan’s constant attacks of the poor-me’s.
Of course even at his most imperfect, Rohan is the perfect prince. Being Rohan and all.
Andrade is not showing herself well here. It’s apparent she has no clue about which side Pandsala is really on (though Pandsala may not be totally sure, either), and she’s colossally plot-stupid about letting herself get trapped in River Run, then having no faintest idea how to get out. Urival has to do that level of thinking for her.
Andrade is not nearly the master plotter she’s advertised as. Mostly she’s a huge control freak with a high religious office in a too weakly centralized political system. She’s the Peter Principle in action.
I’m wondering too about the whole bad-seed thing, considering how actively awful Chiana is. That doesn’t bode well for Ianthe’s kid in Rohan and Sioned’s hands. Surely the genetics will out, as Rohan fears. (Yes, yes, I know, I remember how that part turns out. But let me consider the ramifications here, and the inherent contradictions.)
Then again, I guess since sons Good and daughters Bad by definition, of course Chiana would turn out bad and Rohan’s son would turn out good. Because daughter. And son. Also, Rohan’s son. Big strong wonderful genes and Sioned’s nurture on top of bad nature. All Chiana had was Andrade’s lackadaisical and not very engaged form of child-rearing, mostly dumped on Pandsala and probably reminded at every opportunity that she’s the Big Bad’s unwanted daughter.
Hell, if I’d been brought up that way, I’d be a raving brat, too.
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.