Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of The Star Scroll! Rohan takes Pol on a field trip to teach him about being a Prince, Mireva confronts a serious dilemma, and a deadly attack and its aftermath complicate matters considerably.
So This Happens: Rohan can’t exactly travel incognito, but he hates “fuss,” and traveling with a small escort and no fanfare does the job well enough. He’s pleased with what he sees of Pandsala’s rule of Princemarch, and he takes his time, complete with waltzing through the flowers.
Maeta is in charge of the guards, not by Rohan’s command. Her mother Myrdal sent her to protect Pol.
Pol needs protection. The mare Chay lent him is a galloping fool, and so is Pol. He has to be disciplined for running off—not by Rohan, but by Maeta.
Maarken is studying strategy and tactics with Maeta. Rohan and Pol are sharing quite a bit of father-son time.
Princemarch’s farmlands are incredibly rich. And it all belongs to Pol.
There is badinage about Rohan’s plans, Tobin’s intense dislike of needlework—“It’s only good for something to do with your hands when you want to strangle somebody”—and the terms of marriage contracts; specifically, which weapons are not allowed in Tobin’s and Sioned’s marriage chambers (knives and Fire, respectively).
Desert-raised Pol discovers mountains for the first time, in the Veresch. Rohan observes that as different as the landscapes and cultures are, Desert and mountain people share a sense that “they could not work changes on the land.”
Pol insists on seeing snow, the others’ discomfiture and incipient frostbite. Finally they ride down out of the mountains into a land with old dragon caves and human ruins, and even what looks like a smelting works, but it’s not in good enough shape to conclude much from.
Their travels take them back to the round of manors and lordly holdings, including Rezeld, which is an object lesson for Pol (and Rohan) in the necessity of personal visits to all of one’s vassals.
It’s also teaching Pol perspective. This small, undistinguished holding has brought out its best for the princes, and that’s quite a few cuts below what he’s used to.
Or so he thinks. Rohan sets him straight. The holding is actually quite wealthy, and the lord is concealing it. Rohan’s eagle eye has spotted the evidence. He makes sure Pol knows this, and goes into detail about how brilliantly clever and how preternaturally observant he is. He’ll be keeping an eye on this devious lord, he says, “and so should you.”
Pol is suitably awed. Rohan reminisces about an earlier episode, in which Sioned was equally awed. So was the lord, apparently, once Rohan blew his cover.
Pol laments that he doesn’t understand this prince thing. Rohan explains how he’ll let this lord know he knows, and what he’ll do to punish him, which will then make the lord respect the High Prince—and trust him, for not executing him because of the deception.
It’s just what the lord’s father did to hide his wealth from Roelstra. One has to be understanding—and trust one’s own judgment about one’s vassals. Who will fight to keep Rohan in charge, because he’s been merciful.
Pol is gleeful. They’re so smart, and that’s how they stay on top.
Then he wants to know why people bow to them. “They have to believe in someone,” Rohan answers.
Being a prince is about service—not the Goddess, that’s Andrade’s job, but the people. Zehava did it with his sword. Rohan does it with his clever brain.
There is a little teasing. Rohan says it’s “fun” to be smarter than everybody else. He takes joy in being Prince, and having the power to do things like give Remagev to Walvis. It’s all about doing good in the world.
The scene continues at length, with Rohan holding forth on what a Prince is about, and what makes a bad Prince like Roelstra, and why war is sometimes necessary and why Rohan works hard to avoid it.
Pol thinks it all makes great sense. He can do that, too: “As long as my wife’s pretty enough!”
Rohan’s reply is derailed by the arrival of a servant to clear away the dishes. Pol examines her and realizes she’s not what she seems. He checks after she leaves, but no one seems to be listening outside.
Rohan says he wants to sleep, and there is teasing about not having Sioned to sleep beside, and whether Pol snores.
Pol can’t sleep, and Rohan snores. He looks out and sees a figure in the courtyard, who looks like the servant girl, but much older. She smiles mockingly. Pol decides he’s had too much wine.
Mireva sheds the rest of her disguise and muses on Prince Pol, who is more than a Sunrunner. He feels just like Ianthe’s three sons. She tries to figure out where he got it—wondering about Sioned’s ancestors. Or maybe he gets it from Rohan, which would be real irony, since that would mean Andrade is part diarmadhi.
This concerns her. It’s dangerous.
She isn’t planning to kill him—yet. This new discovery may change things completely.
She discards the idea of going over to his side and teaching him her arts. Maybe she’ll teach Ruval how diarmadh’im discipline each other—methods that don’t work on faradh’im. That might be a bad idea: Ruval is headstrong and not trustworthy. None of the brothers is.
She decides not to make a decision for now. There’s plenty of time, and Pol is doubly vulnerable, thanks to his double heritage.
She ponders Segev, who hasn’t communicated in a while, and Masul, who killed four of her “strongest minions.” She wants to be able to use him when Ruval challenges Pol.
She ruminates at further length, about what to teach Ruval and how, and how impossible Roelstra had been to control, which was why Lallante married him: She was weak and he was strong and assertive.
Mireva has to be careful—“very, very careful.”
And I’m Thinking: Lots and lots and lots and lots of lecture mode here. This reads like an author pondering in depth a series of themes near and dear to her heart. She’s obviously thought a lot about power and the people who hold it, and it’s clear where her sentiments lie. She’s as much in love with Rohan as ever; he speaks for her, at great length, and Pol listens adoringly, hanging on every word.
As a reader, I’m wishing for less holding forth and more dragons. Rohan is just a little too in love with his own cleverness—and Pol comes across as Mini-Me.
Not to mention the sheer breathtaking sexism of Pol and his “she better be pretty” remark, which even in 1989 was not universally approved of. At the start of 2015, it’s more of an “Ow, really?”
Thank goodness for Mireva, though she’s found herself in a serious bind. We know, of course, that Pol is another Ianthe son, which is why he has the same combination of powers as the other three. It’s just a matter of time before she figures it out.
Or maybe not, since the more devious a character tells us she is, the more plot-stupid she can be.
So This Happens: Pol and Rohan arrive in Princemarch with great pomp and ceremony. This is Rohan’s first visit ever, because he wants everything there to be about Pol, and about Pandsala as Pol’s regent.
She fosters this by bowing to Pol first and Rohan second.
Pandsala is not what Pol had expected. She makes him very nervous.
She has messages from Sioned. Maarken apologizes for the fact that they’ll be taking the long way to the Rialla. Pandsala can cross water, unlike most Sunrunners.
Rohan and Pandsala discuss dragons, a new tapestry, and the situation at Rezeld. She shows Maarken and the Princes to their respective, incredibly lavish accommodations.
When father and son are alone, Rohan tells Pol that Pandsala is probably nervous, too. They tease each other, and Pol says it’s all too fancy for him.
It’s another lesson. Rohan explains (at length) Pandsala’s motivations and her difficult situation as both Roelstra daughter and Sunrunner. She has “a life” here, thanks to Pol, and she is devoted to him.
There is more badinage about dinner—but then it’s canceled. Maarken informs them that the heir of Prince Chale of Ossetia and his son went boating, and have drowned. Rohan is devastated.
Maarken has told Pandsala to “cancel everything.” Rohan approves, and notes that Maarken is a lot like Chay. He asks Maarken to be to Pol what Chay has been for Rohan.
They discuss the new heir of Ossetia: Princess Gemma, whose older brother fought beside Roelstra. She’ll be much sought after as a bride. But not, Maarken hastily says, by himself.
Rohan doesn’t press. Gemma will need his permission to marry. She’s the ward of Davvi, Sioned’s brother, so it’s not only politics, it’s personal.
There are further details of politics and personalities. Rohan needs Maarken and Pandsala to contact various personages on moonlight, including Davvi, Chale, and Andrade.
They then discuss the ceremony for the dead, and how Pol must not seem to have any interest in Gemma or the rumors will go wild. Rohan says Pol has no interest in girls. Boys his age grow up fast, Maarken replies.
Alone in the oratory, Rohan muses at length on funeral rites, marriage rites, and the joyless atmosphere of this place that Roelstra built. Stronghold, as renovated by Rohan’s mother, is a much more joyful place.
Pandsala comes to fetch him, and they discuss Pol. Rohan states that “he can be a terror when he pleases, and stubborn enough for six.” Pandsala informs Rohan that Pol is plotting to climb the cliffs opposite Castle Crag.
It’s a rite of passage, of which Rohan has heard: The object is to climb up, then rappel down. Rohan isn’t terribly concerned, and he says there’s no point in forbidding it. Pol will just be more determined to do it.
Pandsala protests. Rohan responds that he can’t control his son at all and isn’t going to try.
He demonstrates in the hall, with Pol and Maarken. Pol asks permission to climb the cliff. It’s good politics, he says. “As well as terrific fun,” says Rohan.
Rohan strings it out a bit, determines that Maarken will go with Pol if he insists, and says he’ll “think it over.”
Later Pandsala takes up the subject again. She’s figured out how Rohan is manipulating his son. Rohan is going to let him make the climb. Pandsala is still against it. It’s too dangerous—and too much like the adventure that resulted in two nobles being drowned.
Rohan is determined not to shelter his son the way he was sheltered. He tells the story of how he sneaked off to fight as a common soldier, to his parents’ dismay, but (of course) he did so well he was knighted for it.
They talk about being terrified of one’s father, and Rohan stresses that he’s giving Pol the freedom he needs to grow up properly. Pandsala finally comes around. Rohan is fatalistic about how Pol “is going to be who and what he is… so why fight it?”
Pandsala concludes that she’s seen the difference between Roelstra and Rohan: “My father never said ‘please’ to anybody in his life.”
Pol is well on his way up the cliff, accompanied by Maeta and Maarken. There is badinage. Pol reflects on his small size, and how he wants to grow—not just as a man, but as a prince. He notices that people tend to patronize him. He wants to be tall and authoritative, like Maarken.
Suddenly a climbing ring lets go. It’s been sabotaged. So has Maeta’s rope. She tells him to untie the rope between them. He resists. She insists.
She has to cling, untied, to the rocks. Maarken moves to help her.
Then an arrow misses Pol’s head, and another strikes near Maarken’s feet.
Someone in Castle Crag is shooting at them. Maarken is almost next to Maeta when an arrow with Merida colors kills her. Pol sees Sunrunner’s Fire atop the castle, immolating the sniper.
Pol grieves for Maeta. Maarken comforts him. Pol will find out who did this and kill him. Pandsala already has, Maarken says. She killed him with Fire.
Pol is furious. She should have waited to question the man. Maarken calms him down, but reminds him that she’s Roelstra’s daughter.
And Pol is Rohan’s son. He tells Maarken the arrows were Merida. Maarken knows.
Pandsala is in a rage. She’d kill the captain of her guard for letting the assassin in, but Rohan is there.
He is perfectly calm. He grieves for Maeta, but he’s not going to call down vengeance on the Merida. Pandsala destroyed the evidence, and without it, the law doesn’t allow him to start a war.
Rohan goes off by himself and indulges in a fit of raging self-doubt. He will not act like Roelstra, and he will not allow Roelstra’s spirit to taint Roelstra’s grandson Pol. Rohan smashes a window with a goblet adorned with Roelstra’s colors.
An exhausted Pol faces his father in front of a crowd in the banquet hall. They have to put on a princely show. Pol notices that everyone seems well disposed toward him, though some less than others.
Pol tells the story to them all, at Rohan’s request. He regrets that he didn’t complete the climb, that he failed.
There is universal protest at that. He says he wants to go again. It’s as close as he can come to flying like a dragon.
Everyone is amazingly indulgent at that: “Without meaning to, he had done something very clever.” Now everyone adores him for having survived the attack on his life, and for wanting to try the climb again. They’ve claimed him—and they belong to him.
Pol asks to hold Maeta’s funeral rite here. Everyone adores him even more.
Alone together, father and son finally can express their feelings openly. Rohan thinks Pol did a good thing politically by having Maeta burned in this country. But when he dies, he wants to be brought back to the Desert.
Pol protests that, and wishes he hadn’t made the climb. Maeta would still be alive.
And there would still be a Merida in Castle Crag, Rohan replies.
Sioned is going to be furious, Pol says. Maarken will explain, says Rohan, and Sioned will understand what Pandsala did. She’s done the same.
Andrade won’t be so cooperative, but Rohan doesn’t think she’ll punish Pandsala for saving Pol’s life. Not that he approves of it. She destroyed the evidence that would have given him legal basis for destroying the Merida. He can’t do it without that basis.
Pol understands. It might not even be Merida behind the attack—it might be Roelstra’s putative son.
Rohan thinks the Merida (or whoever) will back off now until the Rialla. Some people are not happy about how much power Pol is going to have. “You must know what we’re up against.”
That’s the first time Rohan has said we, Pol points out. He’s finally being looked at as an equal player in this game of princes. The scene ends in gentle teasing, with Pol sent to bed.
And I’m Thinking: This isn’t the Pol we’ve been told about, at length, in previous chapters: the perfect prince, who never does anything wrong, and who is always perfectly responsible. Suddenly he’s headstrong, rushing headlong, into doing whatever he wants; his father can’t even begin to control him. He has to be manipulated into thinking about things like safety and prudence.
Rohan is looking pretty limp here. Also, plot-stupid. He won’t even try to rein in his son, who needs man lessons anyway—on an open cliff face within clear bowshot of the castle. There’s no thought at all for any danger but the obvious one of inexperienced climber on dangerous cliff.
For a political genius, Rohan is kind of slow on the uptake. But so is everyone else. I don’t see how this escapade justifies Pol being accepted as an equal among princes. He did a stupid thing, he got a good servant and loved relative killed, and everybody adores him.
There aren’t any consequences for Pandsala, either. The terrible prohibition that binds every Sunrunner is just… a guideline. Sioned’s violated it more than once. Now Pandsala gets on board, with the special added bonus destruction of important evidence that Rohan needed to do the sensible political thing. Which he can’t now do because he’s totally bound by his own laws.
I almost wonder if Pandsala did it deliberately, as part of a complicated plot-within-plot. It does look, here, as if she acted out of nothing more than outraged temper.
But we’ll see. She could turn evil at any minute. After all, she’s Roelstra’s daughter, as we’re told in so many words. And we’ve had repeated reminders of Roelstra’s utter evil.
Meanwhile we’re getting some rather scary foreshadowing. Rohan is talking about his own death. Pol may become High Prince a whole lot sooner than he or anyone around him would want or expect.
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. 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.