Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of The Star Scroll! This week we’re reading one long chapter packed full of backstory and forestory and hints of what’s to come. And horses. Lots of horses.
So This Happens: Pol remembers being appallingly seasick three years ago, when he sailed from Radzyn to Dorval. He also recalls his first meeting with Prince Lleyn, and his first arrival in Graypearl.
Now he and Meath are safe on land again, recovering in Radzyn, with Maarken (now twenty-six and adorned with six Sunrunner rings) there to take them to Tobin and Chay. On the way, Pol asks him about Andrade; it’s noted that Maarken and Meath are old friends. Maarken tells Pol he’ll meet Andrade at the Rialla. “It’ll be a real family reunion this year.”
Andry and Sorin will be there, too. Andry is a Sunrunner, and Sorin is to be knighted.
Meath is headed to Goddess Keep in the morning with the scroll. Pol is annoyed that he wasn’t told. Meath tells him to enjoy it while he can.
Maarken and Pol chat about Lleyn’s sometimes firm application of discipline. Then Maarken spots his parents, who are inspecting the new foals.
During the reunion, Pol realizes he’s grown in his three years in Dorval. There is hair-ruffling, and teasing about seasickness. Then everyone concentrates on the foals.
Tobin and Chay are proud. Meath and Pol are complimentary. We find out that Rohan’s stallion Pashta died over the winter, at a great age. These are his last offspring—and they all belong to Pol, by Chay’s gift.
Pol immediately asks to give the two matched “golden” foals to his parents. Then Chay introduces him to the mare he’s to ride to the horse sale at the Rialla.
After lunch, when Pol is sent off to rest, Meath stays behind with Chay and Tobin. He asks for two guards to escort him to Goddess Keep. He won’t say why.
That secret he won’t share, but he does share another, in a very private part of the gardens. He tells them about the attempt on Pol’s life, and its aftermath.
Chay and Tobin are not amused, and wish there were a way to persuade Rohan not to take Pol to the Rialla. Meath wishes he could stay with Pol, but he has to take the scroll to Andrade.
After Meath leaves, Chay and Tobin talk about Pol, and how much he resembles his father. “It’s as if he had no mother at all.” They wonder when, or if, his parents are going to tell him the truth about his birth, and argue about whether it’s good or bad that it’s taken so long for him to learn the truth. Chay is concerned about what may happen if Pol finds out from someone other than his parents. Tobin declares that there’s no chance of that happening.
They go back and forth at some length. Chay brings up Ianthe’s three other sons, and the pretender. Tobin is stubborn. Pol must never know whose son (and grandson) he actually is.
One thing they do agree on. Pol needs protection. They’ll give him their son Maarken, who is both a warrior and a Sunrunner. “It’s another duty that Radzyn never cedes to any other Desert lord.”
Maarken meanwhile is playing truant. He’s stolen one of his father’s prize stallions, named Isulkian after the desert raiders who brazenly steal Chay’s stallions, use them on their mares, then return them “in excellent condition” after the mares have been bred. Chay would happily loan them a stallion, but “Borrowing a stud from under Chay’s nose was much more fun.”
Isulkian is full of it, and Maarken tells him to save it for the races at Waes. He needs to win jewels for a certain lady.
Maarken finds himself heading toward Whitecliff, the place where the lord’s heir brings his bride. Maarken plans to do so by autumn. He hasn’t told his parents about Hollis yet, though he knows he should. He feels just as silly and “adolescent” about her as his very middle-aged parents do about each other, and likewise Rohan and Sioned, and Walvis and Feylin of Remagev, and even Prince Chadric and Princess Audrite.
Maarken wants a lover and an equal partner, like all of these couples. He’s had multiple lovers, as well as Hollis—and when that happened, Andrade was livid.
Maarken was nineteen then, and a notorious magnet for the ladies. Prince Lleyn even complained to his father about it, and Chay showed him the letter when he was older and on his way to Goddess Keep, “with smug pride.”
Now Maarken reflects on his feelings for Hollis. They’ve been together for six years. He remembers how it began, when Andrade validated Rohan’s bestowal of Maarken’s first Sunrunner ring during the war against Roelstra. She gave him a plain silver band to wear with it, and sent him to the Goddess Wood to learn his future—and to be visited at midnight by “a faradhi woman [who] would come to him and make him a man.”
The one who initiates the young Sunrunner is traditionally concealed by a spell, but it’s known that only Sunrunners of seven rings or more have the power to work this magic. Hollis wore four rings when she came to Maarken. He recognized her, and spoke her name. She was horrified: “Andrade’s going to murder me.” Maarken responded lightly, that he was “too important” to kill, and that Andrade would have to go through him to get at Hollis.
Hollis pointed out another problem. He was supposed to be made a man, and she only had four rings. She couldn’t have done the deed properly, she said, teasing—which took Maarken a moment to realize. Then he teased her back.
They forgot that an elder Sunrunner would be coming at midnight—and very much enjoyed the time. When the “legal” practitioner of the rite appeared, she was indulgent, and left them to it.
Hollis was horrified, again. Maarken pooh-poohed the danger, again. “The hell with Andrade…. I told you, she won’t punish us.”
In the morning, when he conjured Fire at the Man-tree, he saw himself in maturity, with a mature Hollis beside him wearing the circlet of the Lady of Radzyn Keep.
Andrade was indeed furious, but when he informed her that he saw Hollis in his vision, she refrained from punishing either of them. Still, they couldn’t marry then. Maarken had too many responsibilities and too much to learn. Hollis was sent away to Ossetia, where she could communicate on sunlight but not be physically present. She advised patience until they had both earned their sixth ring, for conjuring moonlight, and had learned all they needed to know to be competent in ruling a holding.
Now, in the book’s present, Maarken wonders why he’s been so slow to tell his parents that he’s chosen a bride. Andrade has summoned Hollis and will be bringing her to the Rialla—which, Maarken knows, means she’s up to something. That worries Maarken.
He’s worried about his parents, too. They’re extremely wealthy, extremely powerful, and their heir should marry someone of equal birth and, hopefully, wealth.
Hollis is a commoner, the offspring of two Sunrunners at Goddess Keep. Maarken already knows firsthand how much “suspicion and envy” attaches to anyone who is both politically and magically powerful.
He pauses with his restless horse in a stand of trees within sight of Whitecliff manor. He’s going to bring Hollis there before the winter storms. He misses his twin brother Jahni just then, wondering what it would have been like for both of them to bring their brides to the manor.
Maarken reflects on Andrade’s machinations and especially her royal-Sunrunner breeding program. He has to be careful not to let her control his life—and he suspects this is why Sioned is so cool toward Andrade.
Sioned now only wears one ring: Rohan’s. Which makes everybody nervous. She isn’t under Andrade’s control.
The princes of this world are not happy about all the faradhi nobles Andrade’s plan has produced. Sunrunners are forbidden to kill, but nobles can’t be bound by this prohibition.
Maarken knows he’s going to run into this dilemma eventually. He suspects Sioned already has. He looks forward to talking this out with her.
He’ll wait to talk to his father about his wedding plans, he decides. He’ll talk to Sioned first. Then he’ll let everyone get to know Hollis in Waes at the Rialla.
And I’m Thinking: Whew. This is a lot of chapter, and a whole lot of major plot points piling up. We’re hammering on the “Sunrunners can’t kill but princes have to” theme here. And the “want to marry for love, have to marry for power” theme. It’s all coming down at (or to) the Rialla, as before. And of course, pretty much as always, everyone’s preoccupied with Andrade’s breeding program for Sunrunner princes.
We even get a more detailed view of the Sunrunners’ sexual initiation rite from the first book, this time with added twists and plot-turns. (Lots of breeding happening around here. Horses, humans. Sunrunners.)
The cast of characters is getting huge, and we’re setting up for the fourth generation, if we count from Andrade and her sister, who was Rohan and Tobin’s mother. I like Maarken—he’s got some smug privileged brat stuff going on, but it comes across as more down-to-earth than anything else. He’s less perfectly perfect than Pol, and he clearly has his own agenda.
His love affair with Hollis looks like a real match of equals. We’re not dealing with Chosen lack of choice here, but with true partners who have deliberately set up their lives to train for their future together. Much more practical than Sioned, who was pretty much thrown into it cold.
Most of the chapter is about filling in the new reader on events in the first book, and filling everybody in on what’s happened in the years since the first book ended. As usual in a Rawn book, at least as much happens offstage as on—but this chapter does its best to get it all in, and dramatize as much of it as possible.
Also, you know, horses. Love the desert tribes who make a game of stealing Chay’s fancy stallions. That has a real-world basis, and it shows a glimpse of the world outside the federation of nobles who gather at the Rialla.
I can really see here how these books have been so beloved by their readers—especially young women. All the perfect marriages may be irritating to our older, more cynical selves, but when we were young and it was the Eighties, they were a succession of dreams that we hoped would come true.
The constant teasing and hair-ruffling and even the bickering and the squabbling are easy to identify with. As exotic as the setting is, with its magic and dragons, not to mention its elaborate palaces and spectacular costumes, the people are comfortably human, with values and relationships that a modern American can recognize.
At least, that’s true of the good guys. The bad guys are fantastically nasty, though we don’t see them in this chapter. It’s all good guys.
What distinguishes the two, at base, is not what they do (because good guys can rape, steal, and kill, too) but how they do it. Good guys have fun. They tease, they joke. Bad guys may slash with an edge of wit, and they may chew the scenery with grand abandon, but there’s no lightheartedness in it. There’s always a hint of snarl, even when they’re smiling.
Especially when they’re smiling.
Even at their darkest, Rohan and Sioned can indulge in a bit of teasing. The Roelstra faction never teases. Everything it does, it does in deadly earnest.
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.