Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Dragon Prince! Ianthe goes into labor, Sioned sets off to do something about it, and the war comes to a dramatic and wildly magical conclusion.
So This Happens: Sioned’s plan for Ianthe’s baby is on its way to fulfillment. Tobin and Maeta play a major role in working out the logistics. Ostvel is only brought in when it’s too late to object.
They all know that plan includes Ianthe’s death.
Sioned spies on Ianthe in envy of her sons and her pregnancy, and in hatred when she sees her own emerald on Ianthe’s finger. Sioned is going through her own phantom pregnancy as Ianthe comes nearer to giving birth. Then, forty days early, Ianthe goes into labor.
She rides to Feruche with Tobin and Ostvel. Sioned has been teaching Tobin “certain faradhi techniques.”
They infiltrate the castle through a hidden door. A guard happens upon them and recognizes Sioned. She stops him with Fire, and Ostvel kills him with a knife—to her fury. Ostvel is not about to let Sioned do any killing with faradhi, and “Anyone who sees us must die” rather than betray the intruders to Ianthe.
In spite of these reservations, no one else either finds them or dies. Sioned is in a dangerous mood. She pauses by a window over the courtyard, with the celebration of the child’s birth below, and strafes it with Fire.
Tobin and Ostvel are appalled. Sioned is obsessed. “There has to be Fire.”
They find Ianthe in her bed, weak and alone with the baby. The servants have fled.
Ianthe screams and howls at Sioned. Sioned is perfectly calm. This is her child. “My son, now and forever.” Ianthe “stole” him from Rohan’s body. Sioned is taking back what’s hers.
Ostvel manages to extricate the baby from Sioned and get him out of his blanket, which is in Roelstra’s colors. Sioned confronts Ianthe, and wrests her emerald off Ianthe’s finger. Ianthe continues to scream outrage and threats. Sioned prepares to destroy her with Fire, making sure everyone recalls how Palila died on the barge at the Rialla.
Ostvel kills Ianthe with a sword, thwarting Sioned’s planned revenge and saving her from the crime of killing with Fire. Sioned, now completely off her head, unleashes Fire in the room. In the process, she sears her cheekbone and nearly loses an eye.
Ostvel smacks a small amount of sense into her. She continues to rage that Ianthe “was mine to kill!”
Ostvel drags her out. Tobin has already left with the baby, running with him through the burning courtyard.
As Sioned runs after her, a man on fire runs into her. She doesn’t want anyone but Ianthe dead. She stops to put out the fire and try to save him, “begging his forgiveness.” Ostvel pries her loose, as she falls into a sobbing fit of remorse.
This isn’t unfolding the way it did in her prophetic vision. In the vision, her forehead was scarred, rather than her cheek. “There was supposed to be Fire—but not this way!”
Ostvel insists that she not take responsibility for the deaths her Fire caused. She doesn’t listen until he threatens to knock her down and carry her.
The horses are gone—stolen. Tobin is waiting with the baby.
On their way to take shelter in the empty garrison below Feruche, they fall in with the crowd of refugees. There have been numerous casualties. Ianthe’;s sons are presumed dead.
Sioned doesn’t reveal herself. “At least with Ianthe,” she says, “I would’ve known I killed deliberately, and taken the consequences…. I wouldn’t have the luxury of pretending it was an accident.”
The crowd goes on down the main road that leads toward Princemarch. Sioned and her companions slip away to the garrison and watch while Feruche burns.
Sioned can only focus on holding her child. She leaves everything else to Tobin and Ostvel. The burn on her cheek is “a stinging reminder that the power to make visions real did not necessarily include the wisdom to make them just.”
Urival in River Run is riding sunlight, spying on the various realms, and comes, in shock, to the ruins of Feruche. Among the refugees he sees three horses of Chay’s unmistakable breeding, wearing the “distinctive blue saddle blankets of the Desert.”
Guards are riding these horses, and each one is carrying a child. Urival concludes that Ianthe is dead. She would never let her sons be handed over to anyone else.
Urival also spies three people walking toward Skybowl. He recognizes Sioned even in a hooded cloak, and sees the child in her arms. He knows what she’s done.
He goes to tell Andrade, but she has her own news, which she relays with high glee. She’s been spying, too, and two hundred of Roelstra’s troops have camped on a dragon hunting ground. They’re under attack from a swarm of furious hatchlings. It’s grand comedy, and both Andrade and Urival enjoy a good laugh.
Andrade wants to share the fun with Rohan. She sends Urival to help with the move out of River Run while she sends word to Maarken about the dragons. Urival doesn’t remember what he came for until after he’s left; then he decides to let it go. Andrade “would find out soon enough.”
Urival has gone to inform “men wearing Roelstra’s regimentals” about the move. This is a feint, and the men will be glad to get out of the hated uniform. Roelstra’s own captain has been lying to Roelstra’s messengers while his men are imprisoned. When Andrade’s men leave, they’ll take all the horses, to keep the captives from escaping and warning Roelstra before the next big plan goes into motion.
Urival remembers how all this came about—chuckling at the memory. Andrade pretended to accept the escort to Goddess Keep, but once Roelstra’s troops were inside the castle, Lleyn’s men captured them in batches and locked them up in Davvi’s wine cellar. The captain meanwhile was allowed out to recite his lines to Roelstra’s messengers—assisted in his deception by a knife held to his back.
Andrade has therefore been able to choose the timing of her departure. The only problem has been Chiana. She did not handle the troops’ capture well. Urival is expecting her to cause trouble with the move.
Then he forgets about her while he gets busy with preparations—until it’s time to go and she’s nowhere to be found. Andrade tells him she got hold of a horse and left already. Urival is more glad of that than not. “And then, because Andrade’s excellent news had already been spoiled, he told her the bad news about Feruche.”
Roelstra is not having a good morning. First he gets news of the dragon attack, which only thirty-five men have survived, and which everyone blames on Rohan and his Sunrunner witch. Then Chiana shows up, screaming, “I want to see my father!” and throws herself at Roelstra.
He sees both himself and her mother in her, and repeatedly calls her Treason. She tells him Andrade is on the move with Lleyn’s troops. He decides to believe her, but tells her Andrade is powerless. She insists that her name is Chiana, and that she is a Princess. Roelstra is delighted with this show of spirit.
Pandsala is put to work cleaning up the child, delegates the job, and gets back to her father in time for the third blow of the morning: a scout with an arrow in his shoulder, gasping, “Your grace, the Desert attacks! Now!”
And I’m Thinking: The plot-stupid, it (literally) burns.
There’s plenty of flash and fire in this chapter, and finally Sioned gets the baby she’s been wanting, and foreseeing, since before she even met Rohan. She’s quite believably off her head; she has one thing on her mind, and that thing overwhelms everything else. Her remorse after she calls the Fire adds some depth to her character and to the situation. And there’s a horror-movie inevitability in the survival of Ianthe’s three sons (well, four, counting the newborn, but that one was always intended to make it out alive).
Ianthe gets a properly dramatic sendoff, complete with fiery funeral. Ostvel saves Sioned from the unpardonable sin of killing intentionally with Fire—intention being key, as it turns out.
But oh, the stupid. All their careful planning and intricate plotting and meticulous setup, and they go to Feruche on horses that can be recognized from space—but even if the horses weren’t obvious, their saddle blankets are a big blue neon arrow strobing, SIONED GONNA STEAL THAT BABY HERE.
Then they leave the horses unguarded, make their big secret raid (conveniently unencumbered by interference except for the one guard who exists to point toward how Ostvel will make sure Sioned doesn’t kill Ianthe with Fire), burn down the castle because Sioned is off her head (see above), and not only do they have to walk home, they’ve given Roelstra a huge honking clue about what they’ve been up to.
That same clue is flashing in the sky for any Sunrunner with a handy sunbeam to find. If a Sunrunner can spy on anyone as long as there’s light to do it by, not only is it impossible to do anything out in the open without being seen, but anyone with anything to hide should be taking measures to keep from being caught. Mostly, nobody does.
That’s a blip in the worldbuilding. Not thinking through all the consequences.
Andrade and company meanwhile are back in Amateur Hour, guffawing over Disney-film slapstick with baby dragons and wicked soldiers. Urival, who really should know enough to put the pieces together, gets so wrapped up in the show that he forgets to tell Andrade that a vital military installation ruled by a key player is now in ashes, and it’s obvious the Desert is involved. He and Andrade both fail to get why Chiana’s disappearance could be a problem, and that disappearance is partly the fault of his forgetfulness.
Fantasy Alzheimers? Or plot in the driver’s seat? Sunrunners can see all, know all, but the only reason for them not to pay attention here is to make sure the plot keeps rolling along.
Though Teen Me would have loved the dragon sequence. It is pretty funny.
So This Happens: Meanwhile, back in the south, Rohan and Davvi and Chay are all dressed up in fancy armor, about to start a battle in which, as commanders, they can’t participate (though that turns out not to be exactly true). Davvi is grinning at the news from Andrade about the dragons. There is badinage. Rohan reflects that the story has been great for morale.
This fight is a surprise attack. Rohan intends it to be the last battle he ever takes part in. Chay agrees, to Rohan’s surprise.
Tobin meanwhile is arguing with Ostvel while Sioned does her best to ignore them. Tobin argues that no one recognized them and no one will know where the baby really came from (despite flashing blue neon saddle pads and Sunrunner spy runs). Ostvel counters, “You’d base the boy’s life on a lie?”
Sioned quells the argument. “Only a mother may Name her child. This baby is mine.”
The baby is trying to nurse, but Sioned had no time to take herbs that would cause her to lactate. They have to reach Skybowl or the baby will die.
Sioned promises Tobin that they will be in Skybowl that night. She will Name him—in Rohan’s absence, but she is determined. She informs Ostvel that she will never forgive him “for stealing Ianthe’s death from me.”
He replies coldly, “Easier to never forgive me than to never forgive yourself.”
Sioned is still drowning in guilt. She prays that the baby will never condemn her for the lives she’s taken.
Davvi and Rohan are in the thick of the fight. Rohan is wounded, as, much less seriously, is Tilal. Tilal drags Rohan, with horse, out of the battle.
Chay, also wounded, forces Rohan to let his injury be tended. Rohan insists he’s going back in as soon as the painkilling salve has a chance to work. They’re winning, Rohan says, or almost.
They discuss tactics, with Chay taking the lead. There is badinage, and some teasing.
Night is coming. Rohan has yet to see Roelstra, but Roelstra’s defenses are failing. Maarken illuminates the darkening field with Sunrunner’s Fire. Rohan fights on, hunting for the High Prince.
Suddenly Tilal sees a company of riders coming up from the south. Rohan thinks it may be Roelstra, and hacks his way toward them. The salve has worn off; his wound is getting worse. He is absolutely determined that no one else should kill the High Prince.
Then he discovers that the riders aren’t Roelstra’s. They’re Andrade’s. She screams at him: “You’ve lost him!”
Rohan isn’t about to settle for that. Andrade declares she’s riding with him. He accepts that but warns her not to interfere, and sends Tilal and Maarken to Davvi with orders to clean up after the battle.
Chay arrives with an escort of warriors. He sends Andrade’s escort, who are Lleyn’s sailors, to help mop up the battle. The captain and his troops are eager, but he asks Rohan to burn the ships before Roelstra can seize them. Rohan promises not to let that happen.
Urival announces that he’s riding with Rohan. Rohan is bitterly mocking to both Sunrunners. “Come along, Aunt. Come savor the outcome of your work.”
Sioned has made it to Skybowl and fed the baby goat’s milk. The castle is nearly deserted. Those who remain seem to accept that the child is Sioned’s.
They gather for the Naming ceremony, without Rohan. Ostvel remembers the Naming ceremony for his son Riyan, when Camigwen did the Naming.
Sioned begins the ritual according to tradition, but adds a new section, reminding the child that he is a prince, and that he has greater obligations than other children. She then weaves starlight into the ritual—a thing that has never been done before. Sunrunners work with sun and moon, but never the stars.
She conjures the colors of Tobin and Ostvel, and of Rohan. Then she conjures her own, and flings the completed structure out across the Desert. She names the child: “Pol… Born of starfire.” The woven colors settle into the earth of the Desert, and Sioned finishes with the traditional bestowal of the child’s name.
Tobin realizes that this ritual is unique and unprecedented. With Sioned she travels on starlight toward the battle. She sees Chay and Rohan and Andrade facing off against Roelstra. There is a parley: Pandsala speaking for Roelstra, and Chay for Rohan.
The Princes will settle their feud in single combat. Andrade is furiously opposed.
Tobin watches, able to see but not hear, as the Princes face one another. Rohan is obviously wounded. The faradh’im make a circle of Fire. Andrade is visibly crushed, unable to stop what she long ago set in motion.
The duel begins. Tobin sees the flash of a knife among Roelstra’s people. She combines forces with Sioned, Urival, and Andrade, plus a less accomplished faradhi and, at the last instant, “a tiny, raw gift that surged up in answer to Sioned’s need.”
Andrade is caught off guard. The combined powers of Sioned and her allies take control, and create a dome of starlight over the combatants.
The viewpoint shifts to Rohan in the magical circle. What appears to be the knife hits the dome and bounces off. Roelstra is mocking. The dome is like an echo chamber; the noise inside is stupefying.
Rohan’s wound is causing considerable trouble, until he can no longer use his sword. Roelstra, less seriously wounded, looks like winning the duel. Then he makes a mistake. “I’ll teach your son to kneel.”
That sends Rohan over the edge. He realizes that this is his son’s grandfather. And he kills him with a knife through the jaw into the brain.
Andrade labors to unravel the different components of the dome. She recognizes the adult Sunrunners, but two are new: one she knows already (revealed in the next paragraph to be Pandsala), and one she recognizes as she gets a good look at it. “The Sunrunner Prince. Rohan’s son.”
Andrade comes to to find Chay in a near panic, afraid she’s become shadow-lost. Andrade reassures him that she’s too tough for that.
Urival wants to know what happened and what she (presumably Pandsala, but possibly Sioned) did. Chay doesn’t care. Rohan needs Andrade, and he needs her now.
The armies are motionless, in shock. Andrade enters the circle to find Rohan alive. Chay carries him to a fire that Urival has made.
Andrade stays to contemplate Roelstra’s dead face. Roelstra is smiling: “Like her, he finally had what he wanted, though not quite in the manner planned.”
Andrade sees Roelstra’s body wrapped in its own cloak, then does what she can for Rohan, who is deeply asleep but far from dead. As the Princes are placed on litters—Roelstra with his banner reversed to signify that he is dead—Andrade realizes that the night is almost over. Chay indicates the sky. “Dragons,” he says.
Andrade finally understands Rohan’s love for the dragons. “They belong to you, Dragon Prince.”
Chay begs to differ. The dragons belong to the Desert. So does Rohan.
She envies Rohan. She’s never owned or been owned by “anything but my rings and my pride.”
Chay counters, “To claim anything you have to be willing to be claimed in return…. You have to give yourself, first.” Which Rohan has always known.
Andrade points out that she gave Rohan Sioned.
To which Urival responds, “Do you think she was yours to give?”
Andrade is not amused. A dragon roars. She wonders “what it would be like to be both possessed and free.”
Tobin comes to to find Sioned channeling starlight, and baby Pol mirroring her. Tobin realizes the immensity of what Sioned has done in combining all the forms of light into a single working. She also realizes that “There would be no protecting the child from his heritage. Sunrunner and Prince.”
Tobin realizes further that Sioned could have killed the man with the knife, but didn’t. And she understands what Pandsala did: that she was betraying Roelstra all along.
Tobin explains to Ostvel what happened in the duel, since he wasn’t included in the working, and tells him that Sioned used the stars. Pol was part of it. He’s much too young, but it’s clear what he is. Sioned hopes that someday he can forgive her.
And I’m Thinking: If the last chapter fell down on plot-stupid, this one amply makes up for it. It’s a bravura piece. Pitched battle, first en masse, then in single combat. Big huge magical extravaganza, using powers that have never been used before: starlight, and newborn Pol. Roelstra and Andrade learn the lesson of “Be Careful What You Wish For.”
The threads of plot weave together beautifully. Tobin gets to see the start of the duel, without sound effects; then we go down into the magical circle and fight it out with Rohan and Roelstra. We get the end we’ve been waiting for, but with a distinctive, Roelstra-esque twist.
The Naming ritual is lovely. Sioned’s additions pull in the theme that’s run throughout: power and responsibility, and what it means to be a Prince or Princess.
This one does it for me. It’s flashy, it’s fancy, it tangles itself up in moral ambiguity, and the good guys to really work for their win. I love me some good fantasy battle, and the magical working is spectacular. Of course we get Pol involved—in the classic tradition of magical newborns shared by the inimitable Alia Atreides of Dune.
It’s all good. Complete with dragons. They’re pointing toward something big, we all know that. Meanwhile, we’ve got a nice, chewy finish for the evil High Prince, and just a bit of wrap-up to go. That’s next week. Then on to the next!
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.