Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of The Star Scroll! The politics are intricate, the cast of characters expands even further, and the plots and plans come thick and fast.
So This Happens: Sioned has been avoiding Rohan for three days. This is not a normal state of affairs. Finally he confronts her, in private, at breakfast.
Then she tells him about the dragon’s magic. He asks if she could repeat the experience. They discuss the workings of individual magical colors, and he says he wants to try to communicate with dragons.
Sioned observes that Rohan’s motives will of course be pure, but others might want to use dragons for war. But she agrees to try, with Feylin’s assistance.
Pol and Feylin are waiting for them with Feylin’s daughter Sionell. Sionell gets her hair ruffled. She names the room they are in, with Sioned’s formal approval, the Summer Room. Sionell, as Sioned and Rohan know, has a serious crush on Pol, who appears oblivious.
They discuss the census of dragons. The population is increasing, but the females have to have caves to lay their eggs in or, as Sionell states, they die. Sionell is an expert in dragon lore.
There are plenty of caves at Rivenrock, but dragons will not go there since so many died of the Plague. They discuss the dragons’ intelligence, again. Rohan reflects that if they can communicate with the dragons, they might be able to lure them back to Rivenrock.
Feylin notes that dragons are capable of finding new caves if old ones aren’t usable. She thinks they know about Rivenrock, they just won’t go there.
Pol notes that dragon sires fight so that the strongest survive. He sees a parallel with Rohan’s handling of the princes. “It’s the laws that make the greatest strength.” He looks to see if Sionell is impressed. Sioned is amused.
Sionell asks Pol to come out and see her pony. Pol says he needs to stay and discuss dragons with his parents. Sionell is not amused. The adults, however, are highly amused.
Rohan tells Pol they are going to Skybowl to see the dragons, but Walvis will stay to look after Stronghold, and therefore so will Sionell. Pol is relieved. Rohan then teases him about teaching him another princely skill: “how to beat a woman at chess.”
There is teasing as Sioned takes up the challenge. They play chess, with more teasing. “The main thing about playing chess with a woman is always let her win—even after you’ve married her.”
The teasing turns into a three-way tickle fight, with Pol as the laughing loser. Maarken and Tobin arrive, with more teasing, to let them know the Fironese ambassador is on her way up. They make hasty repairs to selves and furniture, just in time for her arrival.
Lady Eneida needs help. Prince Ajit is dead, and he had no heirs. The bloodlines are complicated, but one of the potential claimants is Pol.
That would end Firon’s existence as an independent princedom, but the alternatives are even less pleasing to Firon’s council. They want Pol to take the office.
But Rohan is not on board with this. He wants to wait until the Rialla, when the princes will gather and a decision be made. “The law is the law and must be observed.”
Eneida is not happy. There’s a serious chance that Cunaxa will annex the princedom before the gathering. Rohan tells them to contact Sioned on sunlight if that happens, and he will assist, “according to the law.”
Once the ambassador leaves, they discuss the situation. Pol explains why they have to take Firon. Tobin is furious that Rohan insists on waiting. Rohan tells Pol to explain why they have to do this way. It’s a done deal, Pol says, but this way is legal.
Tobin points out that if Cunaxa invades in the meantime, that will mean a fight, instead of a peaceful, and quick, transfer of power.
Then Chay appears and shows why Rohan isn’t worried. He’s going to do some military maneuvers up that way, and make Cunaxa much too nervous to do any invading. Tobin is still furious. Pol is awed. Sioned and Rohan are amused.
There is further discussion of princely duty and the rule of law. Then Rohan asks Tobin to develop a proposal to divide Firon between Princemarch and Fessenden—thereby keeping the High Prince from seeming too greedy for power.
They continue to discuss the disposition of various territories and the courting of various princes and potential princes. Tobin is skeptical, but everyone else admires Rohan’s brilliance. Tobin just wants Rohan to “take it all, and right now.”
Sioned wants to put Walvis in charge of the “maneuvers.” Maarken is a candidate, but he has other obligations involving Andrade and the Rialla. Rohan suspects she has ulterior motives.
They get rid of the Chay family, with amusement, some of which is due to the fact that now Sionell will have to come to Skybowl. Pol is not amused. His parents are much amused.
Pol observes that his claim to Firon comes from Sioned as much as Rohan. Sioned goes blank. Rohan covers it with further discussion, and Pol has more to say about being a prince, with Rohan leading him on until Sioned recovers her composure. Then Rohan tells him to go and compliment Sionell on her new pony. Pol is not amused. His parents are much amused.
Once Pol is gone, Rohan and Sioned discuss the lie attached to his birth. They also discuss the situation with Firon, the necessity of a regency, and the fact that Ajit, like Roelstra, despite numerous wives, was unable to produce a living son.
Then, from the window, they watch Walvis playing dragon for the children, and the children play-fighting him, topped off by Sionell involving the overly dignified but yearning Pol by throwing him her sword. He slays the dragon, and Rohan exclaims over how amazing she is and how perfect she is for Pol.
He and Sioned indulge in teasing. Below, Pol escapes from Sionell, who takes off after him. Rohan opines that he wants to build Pol a pretty palace, halfway between Stronghold and Castle Crag.
Sioned bets the wife he brings there will be Sionell. If she wins, she wants Feruche. Rohan reacts with furious denial. Sioned pushes back. She wants to erase all memory of Ianthe, and make it “ours…. If you won’t rebuild it, then I will.”
And I’m Thinking: This chapter is classic Rawn. Elaborately detailed descriptions, equally elaborate and detailed political machinations, clever Rohan is perfectly clever, perfect Pol is perfect, and Desert-contingent gigglefits galore. The women are not only uppity, they’re driving their men nuts in a truly Eighties-retro way, and while Tobin doesn’t get what she wants, Sioned is bound and determined to.
Sioned is one seriously possessive person, especially when it comes to Pol’s birth. “Ours,” she says, not for the first time. It’s pretty clear she’s protesting too much, and also pretty clear she’s riding for a big, big fall. At full speed. With dragonfire afterburners.
Eighties Me finds the family stuff annoyingly cutesy (or just plain annoying) rather than actively objectionable, but 2014 Me is giving the tickle fight the side-eye. There’s something just a little skeevy about a pair of adults ganging up on a fourteen-year-old boy and tickling him till he cries for mercy. Even if they are his parents, and even if it is supposed to be all in good fun.
I guess it’s supposed to make them relatable. It makes me see why people want to call Social Services. They’re bullying heck out of the kid, and they spend an awful lot of time sniggering at him behind his back.
They’ve got him all sewn up with his future bride, too. Because real choice doesn’t happen when Sioned is involved. When I stop to think about it, she’s kind of a controlling bitch.
Versus poor Tobin, who would like to be, but nobody lets her. Tobin’s lot in life is the short straw, early, often, and always.
Has anyone else noticed that the women are all feisty, the kids are all adorably silly, and the men are always perfect? That’s female gaze in action. Women are complicated, relatively speaking. Men are kind of one-note. And gorgeous, of course.
So This Happens: Andrade in Goddess Keep is feeling her age. She wonders, and Urival echoes her, why the ancients left Dorval for this rainy place.
Andry has been working on deciphering the historical scrolls. He’s found a clue to their meaning: a symbol that indicates a word is to be interpreted as its opposite. The scrolls are full of apparent contradictions, and this explains them. They’ve been designed to conceal the truth behind a cloud of confusion.
These contradictions are the key to the Star Scroll. Its spells are written in the same way, to conceal their true composition. The unwary or unwanted reader would try the spells and fail.
They test it by reading the bit about dranath. The text says it cannot enhance powers. The symbol says it can.
This is a revelation to the Sunrunners. They know it’s addictive, and they know it cures Plague. Now they’re being told it increases power.
Andrade says she will not believe it. She dismisses Andry. Once he’s gone, Urival calls her on the lie. She responds that Andry has manipulated her, and that she’s glad she’ll be gone when he’s the “properly devious Lord of Goddess Keep.”
Andry reflects that he’s made a mistake in trying to convince his superiors about the scrolls. He has big plans, and he sees himself in Andrade’s place, ruling over everyone, especially princes.
Andry doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with that. His brothers have claimed worldly power. Andry wants to rule over them all.
Hollis comes to call him to dinner. He approves of her, and of his brother Maarken’s choice of her, but he isn’t sure his parents will agree.
He remembers how Hollis had avoided him at first, then he told her outright that he knows she’s his brother’s Chosen. Now they’re friends.
She teases him about his reluctance to eat. He teases back. She reminds him that tonight is the occasion of “the presentations” of new Sunrunner candidates, and notes that there are six—not nearly as many as they hoped for. Andry has trouble understanding why anyone would refuse to become a Sunrunner. Hollis reminds him that most people have lives and families. Andry has all those brothers; he can be spared. Others can’t. Andry still doesn’t see why everyone who could be a Sunrunner doesn’t want to be one.
They pass by the candidates, and Andry notices one very self-possessed young man who gives Hollis the eye. Hollis blushes, to Andry’s surprise.
Andry sits down to dinner, and reminisces about special times at home in Radzyn, with Tobin preparing sackfuls of taze and Chay baking fruit tarts for the occasion. And flour fights, of course. And, we can presume, gigglefits. And teasing.
Andry watches the presentations and tries to see them as Andrade would. He particularly notices the young man from the hallway—as does Andrade. He also notices that the boy gives Hollis the eye again.
Andry goes after Hollis to find out the boy’s name. She pretends she didn’t really notice, but she also observes that he acts as if he’s had sex quite some time since. His initiation won’t be his first time.
Andry remembers his own initiation, which was embarrassing, and Maarken’s comment that it’s much better with a woman one loves. The point of the initiation is to “demonstrate the difference between physical desire and genuine love, and how infinitely preferable the latter was.”
He hopes he’ll find out someday. Meanwhile he’s sort of in love with Lady Merisel, who wrote the scrolls. He reflects on some of the things she’s written, and on the amazing qualities she’s shown in the text.
He wants true and Chosen love. And he doesn’t like having to wait for it.
The boy from the presentation, who has given his name as Sejast (who is actually Segev), is congratulating himself on his performance. Including his choice of the woman who will come to him on “his man-making night,” not that Mireva hasn’t taken care of that already.
He remembers that night, and his brother Marron’s shock and surprise the morning after. The woman who served him looked much younger than Mireva, and made sure he knew how much more of a man he was than his brothers.
It was in fact Mireva, as he soon discovered. She praised his prowess, and warned him not to be so impressive in Goddess Keep. She mocked the Sunrunners’ weakness and their perversion of the ritual, as well as the lack of age or superior power in those who did the initiating. He expressed relief that Andrade would therefore not be doing it, while flattering Mireva, who is not that much younger.
Segev sets the memory aside and goes over his plans for his time in Goddess Keep: to put up with lessons and classes while cultivating Hollis, and gradually and subtly addicting her to dranath—until she is willing to help him steal the scrolls and escape. Then when he is gone, she will die for lack of the drug.
He knows about the Sunrunner who died that way, and about the night Masul was born, as well as Ianthe’s loss of any chance to marry Rohan. Not that that troubles him, if that had happened, he would not exist.
He remembers little of his mother, but he does recall the night Feruche burned: he is still terrified of fire. Then he reflects on his alias here, which means “dark son” in the old language, and on his plan to get his first ring and addict Hollis to dranath. That will prove to Mireva, he is sure, that he and not his brother Ruval should challenge Pol.
And I’m Thinking: Things are getting complicated in Goddess Keep. The enemy’s within the gates, and dranath, every villain’s favorite anti-Sunrunner potion, is about to make a serious mess of Maarken and Hollis’ wedding plans.
Or so we may hope. It didn’t make a whole lot of difference to Sioned and Rohan. Maybe this time the threat will be nastier.
We get a good view of Andry’s interior landscape, too. He clearly loves his family and remembers them fondly (oh, the cuteness of Chay the warrior prince baking fruit tarts), but mostly he’s about the ambition.
He’s an interesting foil for Segev. Segev is fairly simple in his thinking. Deceive Sunrunners, corrupt Hollis, steal the scrolls. Segev just wants to end up challenging Pol. Andry has all sorts of plots and plans and goals and ambitions. And he doesn’t worry too terribly much about whether it’s a good idea to want that much power. He just knows he’s the one who should have it.
There’s a kind of sunny naiveté even to Andry, when it comes to the enemy in their midst. No one seems to expect any such thing, or consider that it’s possible. They just happily, and blindly, take him with the rest.
That’s going to bite them hard, and soon.
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 and she’s currently running a Kickstarter for a series of novellas about horses and magic in contemporary Arizona.. 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.