Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of The Star Scroll! At last we get a serious dragon fix. The bad guys get their innings, and Andrade gets hers.
So This Happens: The Desert crew are skipping rocks in the lake at Skybowl. Sionell defeats Pol resoundingly. Pol is not amused.
A dragon mistakes one of Walvis’ stones for a fish. A flight of young ones settles to drink, and seems to mock the one who made the mistake.
Sionell wants to go closer. She doesn’t think they’ll hurt her.
The dragons play in the lake. Pol is enchanted by them, exactly like his father.
Sioned tries touching the colors of a small female. She pushes too hard and terrifies all the dragons.
Rohan scolds Sioned for risking her life. She doesn’t think it was that dangerous, but he points out that she could be lost in a dragon’s colors. He can’t get her to promise anything, but he guilts her with hope she’ll live to see her son grow up.
She promises not to try it again without Maarken for backup. Rohan grudgingly accepts. There is teasing.
Dragons’ screaming wakes everyone in the middle of the night. Pol and Maarken are up at the top of the gatehouse, watching dragons fight on the shore.
Rohan orders everyone indoors. Dragons don’t fight so late at night, but two males are engaging in battle.
Rohan rushes out toward the one who has lost, grieving for him. Pol wants to try to help him. Sioned thinks he should be put out of his misery. Rohan calls for his sword, but Chay reminds him of his oath never to slay another dragon. Walvis offers to take his place.
Sioned offers another way. She takes Maarken with her to the water, and weaves moonlight to give the dragon peace. He’ll sleep his way into death.
That’s an art of the eighth ring. She allegedly has only seven. Sioned does things Andrade doesn’t know about, and this is one.
Maarken opines that it will be possible to touch a dragon with care, if they choose the right one. Meanwhile Rohan strokes the dying dragon, and thanks Sioned for what she’s done.
Two days later, Pol sulks because his father has gone to Tiglath without him—because of the danger from the Merida, but he’s convinced it’s because he’s too young.
They did let him join in the planning sessions. He reflects at length about those, and especially about the transformation of Tobin during this meeting from fluffy aunt into her father’s tough-minded daughter.
Rohan is awesome, of course. The perfect High Prince. Pol reflects at further length about the plans that have been made, imagines the camp at Tiglath, and badly wants to see what’s happening.
He wants to spy like a Sunrunner. He knows he can. But he’s too responsible.
Then he reflects that he’ll be going on a long, wandering progress to Castle Crag and then to Waes for the Rialla. He reflects on the mountains, and on snow, which he’s never seen.
Sionell shows up to ask if he wants to go riding. He doesn’t. She stays to talk to him about Sunrunner genetics—why some inherit it and some don’t.
Sionell wishes she could be a Sunrunner and touch a dragon. She needles him about wanting to, and says she knows things about him that he doesn’t want her to know. There is a fight, some of it physical. She says she knows he wants to touch the dragons so he can tell them to come back to Rivenrock.
She knows because that’s what she would do. That wins his respect. She knows a lot about dragons. He asks if she’ll teach him. She says she will, if he’s nicer to her.
He’s starting to realize she might grow up pretty. Before he can tell her so, the walls start to shake. The dragons are mating, she says.
Sioned and Maarken are assisting Feylin in dissecting the dead dragon. The scene is highly detailed, and includes one very ill scribe. Sioned is coping better, though she notices that Maarken is rather green. They talk about the ethics of dissection versus slicing up enemies in battle.
Feylin is a scientist. She’s here for science. The others can’t conceive of human dissection, though they’re marginally all right with taking a dragon apart. However, Maarken notes that dragons, like humans, have colors. That changes things.
When the procedure is over, Sioned and Maarken summon Fire to burn the remains. Then the dragons’ mating howls reduce Feylin to white-faced fear. She can watch them, even dissect them, but their voices terrify her.
The young dragons come back to drink from the lake, including the small female Sioned tried to touch. Sioned enlists Maarken to help her try again.
Again, the wild complexity of dragon colors overwhelms her. She faints.
Maarken is terrified. He didn’t join the working, and he doesn’t know what’s happening. He and Feylin try to wake Sioned, but fail.
Meanwhile the little female circles and cries. She’s worried, Feylin says.
Sioned comes to, with no memory of touching the dragon. She has a massive headache.
The little dragon comes to check on her, and indicates she’s glad Sioned is all right. Maarken says, “I’d say you’ve made a friend.”
And I’m Thinking: Desert-crew cuteness would be gaggingly sweet if it didn’t lead to amazing scenes with dragons. Sioned takes point, of course. Sioned is always the first into the fray.
Pol is quite a bit of a bore here. He’s all work and no fun. Sioned does a fairly decent job of de-serious-fying him. There’s an Eighties moment—Pol finally realizes Sioned might be worth noticing, so of course he has to think she’s shaping up to be pretty.
Then again, that’s pretty contemporary, too. It’s always about the pretty with girls.
The female characters are certainly holding their own, and Pol is appreciating their strength and intelligence. We get another good view of Tobin in action, and Sioned is doing what she damned well pleases, whether Rohan approves or not.
But really, it’s all about the dragons. The death scene is quite moving, and so is the little female’s concern for Sioned. The dragons make it all worthwhile.
So This Happens: A bit of history: During the Plague, the palace of Waes was burned to keep the disease from spreading into the city. By the present time of this book, the house in the city to which the surviving royals have retreated has expanded tremendously.
Lady Kiele is taking advantage of one of the many exits. She slips off to a much less noble house, where she finds Masul. He looks strikingly like Roelstra, and is being taught to act and talk like him. She wants his hair given red lights to recall Palila, as well.
She also wants to know why he’s late. He was followed, and the followers talked about helping him with “power more potent than the faradh’im.” He doesn’t want help. Therefore he “started killing them before they killed me.”
She is not amused. He should have questioned them. She also wants to know why he has a highborn accent. He declares that he’s the son of Roelstra and Palila. She isn’t impressed. He admits that he learned the accent from former servants of Castle Crag.
She tests him in various ways, and warns him to keep his temper in check. He has to work with people as well as lord it over them.
Masul has had a rough go, with people staring and whispering. Kiele is physically affected by his strong male energy.
She points out that only five people know what really happened the night of his birth, and three are dead. Pandsala and Andrade, who survive, are not his friends and will oppose him strongly.
He agrees to be a good boy. She tells him to grow a beard, to hide his face and identity before the Rialla, then to shave it off and reveal himself there.
Kiele is busily plotting away, determined to control him, however headstrong he is. Meanwhile he is to stay where he is until she can move him to a manor near the city—where, he taunts her, she takes her lovers. She loses her temper. He mocks her with sexual innuendo.
She stalks off in a fury. When she calms down, she’s creeped out by what she’s seen in Masul’s eyes. She remembers the same smoldering sexuality in her father—and this comes very close to convincing her that Masul is his son.
When she returns to the royal residence, it’s in an uproar. “Princess” Chiana has arrived—a title Kiele will not tolerate.
Kiele loathes Chiana, but she pretends to be “all honey and silk,” while enjoying the prospect of “Chiana’s frantic humiliation at the Rialla.”
They meet and greet, with suitably honeyed words. Kiele can’t wait to see what Chiana will do when she finds out about Masul. Chiana, she notes, has grown into quite the beauty.
They exchange family gossip. Lyell demonstrates some basic intelligence. Kiele is not pleased by that.
Then Chiana asks about her putative brother. This catches Kiele completely off guard. Lyell fills the gap, telling Chiana, “Don’t worry your pretty head about it.”
Which is exactly what Chiana will do. And that pleases Kiele.
Prince Clutha is reflecting on the political situation, both past and present, and about how much more at ease he’s been under Rohan’s rule. He is concerned about Lyell and his wife, and he ponders the identity of his squire: Riyan, the Sunrunner son of Ostvel of Skybowl. Clutha will be knighting him at the Rialla, then he’ll go back to Goddess Keep for further training.
This is Andrade’s experiment. She’s trying different approaches with different Sunrunner lords and princes. Clutha wonders what she’ll do with Pol.
Riyan ponders his situation, how it differs from Maarken’s and Pol’s. He isn’t worried about balancing the two halves of his life. Riyan isn’t intended to rule; he’ll be a liege man, like his father Ostvel. He’ll serve but not rule.
Right now he’s thinking about a girl, and happens to see Kiele sneaking out. This distracts him from the girl and makes him think about her frequent excursions into the city, on which he’s followed her now and then, but never far enough to see where she goes. He’s also curious as to why she invited Chiana for the summer, since she’s well known for hating her sister.
Riyan can’t stand Chiana. He’s curious enough about Kiele to go down to where he saw her, and to try conjuring moonlight, which he’s not supposed to be ready for yet. He rides it to Goddess Keep and tells the watcher he has news for Lady Andrade.
Andrade is neither amused nor impressed. He doesn’t know enough to get home safely. She asks why he’s in Waes, and he says he’s been left there to keep an eye on Lyell and Kiele. He tells her about Chiana.
She’s pleased with him after all, but she warns him not to try moonlight again or she’ll have his hide. He’d get shadowlost. She tells him to stay where he is and keep watching, and tosses him back to Waes, much chastened by the experience.
Andrade tells Urival and Andry what’s up, and says she’s sending another Sunrunner to Waes. Andry, eagerly, not quite volunteers. She reams him for that eagerness and for the arrogance of youth and ignorance.
When he’s gone, Urival warns Andrade not to lean on him too hard or she’ll lose him. They compare him to Sioned, for both arrogance and headstrong tendencies. But Sioned has a “healthy fear” of her power, and Andry has no fear of anything but Andrade—and that won’t last.
Urival points out that “He’s like her in that he can be led by love. Not fear.”
Andrade is not in it to make anyone love her. Urival tries to convince her otherwise, but she won’t listen.
Urival leaves. Andrade is in a bad mood. She’s tired of controlling everybody. And she’s afraid. Andry won’t stay under control. She knows what he’s going to do. He’s going to use the scrolls.
And I’m Thinking: Bad guys get to be wonderfully bad again, and much more complex than the good guys—though there’s a fair spice of plot-stupid in the mix. There’s the requisite quantity of snarking and sneering, but Kiele and Masul strike sparks off each other, and Chiana is just plain wonderfully horrid.
We’re getting some good setup for a right mess at the Rialla. It’s making fair sense that Masul is Roelstra’s offspring, considering how randy the old man was, though one does wonder how and why he finally managed to sire a son after all those daughters. Maybe he just wasn’t trying with the nameless servant woman, and for once he succeeded?
Andrade continues to be a legend in her own mind. Andry continues to be much scarier in potential than in actuality. We’re getting a lot of telegraphing there, and a lot of what my editor calls “the tell”—right before she whaps me upside the head and tells me to show it.
It seems as if we never really got to see Andrade pulling all the strings. We were told over and over that she did it, but now we finally spend time with her in Goddess Keep, she’s ready to retire. She’s passed the baton awfully prematurely, considering that Andry is not, at this point, ready to take over her position. Nor will he be for a long while to come.
The plot’s certainly getting nice and thick. We’re just about ready to throw everybody together and see what happens at the Rialla.
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 is now in print. Her new novel, a space opera, will be published by Book View Cafe in 2015, and she just completed a Kickstarter campaign 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.