The Valdemar Reread

Follow Your Arrow: Orthallen

In last week’s blog post, Talia returned to Haven to take up the reins of her responsibilities of Queens’s Own Herald. She’s also picking up the threads of relationships that were interrupted by her internship—she has been reunited with Elspeth and Selenay, and, although I wouldn’t say they have a relationship at this point, Talia is back within shouting distance of Dirk. But in chapters 3-5 of Arrow’s Fall, the most significant presence in Talia’s life is Orthallen.

Orthallen lurked in the background of the last two books. In Arrows of the Queen, he threatened to remove Skif from the Collegium for two years of military duty. In Arrow’s Flight, he spread the rumors that undermined Talia’s tenuous control of her Gift. Now that Talia has taken her seat on the Council, the conflict between Talia and Orthallen is on center stage. In the opening chapters of Arrow’s Fall, Talia demonstrated her willingness to use the unique powers of her position to frustrate Orthallen’s plans. In the process, she inadvertently but very clearly demonstrated why Orthallen would like the Queen’s Own to drop dead.

Orthallen’s campaign against Talia is carried out on every available front. On the Council, Orthallen makes slighting remarks about Talia’s youth and inexperience. The Council is working to deal with a series of floods, sudden outbreak of raiding bandits. Most of the raids (and some of the floods) are in Orthallen’s lands, and Orthallen responds by demanding control of three companies of the Guard. It’s not clear where the bandits are coming from, and I suspect Orthallen of hiring them himself. The bandits set a fire that kills Christa, one of the students Dirk trained in Fetching, and almost kills Herald Destria.

This is the second time the unfortunate Destria has left a circuit early due to serious injury, but this incident also has serious implications for Talia and Dirk. Talia works with Destria’s Healers to treat the trauma that accompanies Destria’s burns. Meanwhile, Dirk mourns for his young student. When she died, Christa was using her Fetching Gift to “throw” children from a burning building to their parents. Dirk had showed Christa how to safely Fetch living beings, but hadn’t told her that, in extreme circumstances, individuals could use Fetching to transport themselves over short distances—knowledge that might have saved her when the building collapsed.

Dirk and Talia have not yet managed to have a conversation about their feelings, and the frustration of their unacknowledged lifebond only makes their stress worse. Dirk isolates himself from his friends and turns to drinking. Orthallen drives Kris away from Talia with his intrusive questioning. Kris is afraid to give too much information to his uncle, but doesn’t know if he can fully trust Talia either. Orthallen then orchestrates a plot to plant sensitive documents in Dirk’s quarters and accuse Dirk of attempting to blackmail Lady Naril.

Dirk’s youthful and disastrous affair with Naril, back in the middle chapters of Arrows of the Queen, lies at the root of Dirk’s problems with Talia. Naril convinced Dirk that he was unworthy of love, and now Dirk can’t bear the thought of stepping between Kris and Talia because he can’t believe that Talia returns his regard. When the incriminating documents are found on Dirk’s desk, Kris offers an alibi that Dirk would prefer not to admit to—Dirk has been spending his evenings getting far too drunk to leave his quarters or Fetch anything. Orthallen then admits to “accidentally” dropping a scroll that a passing Page inadvertently picked up and delivered, but the damage is done. Kris, Dirk, and Talia have a huge fight.

In desperation, Talia turns to Alberich for advice. WHICH IS AWESOME. Alberich is all practicality and no politics, but, as he points out himself, “I said I do not play the game; I never said I did not know how the game was played.” He cuts straight to the heart of the matter and confirms Talia’s instincts—Orthallen is out to get her, and his engineering of the conflict between her, Dirk, and Kris is part of that effort. Then Alberich makes Talia go back to weapons practice, because that is his job. Heartened, Talia turns to Skif for help reaching out to Dirk. WHICH IS ALSO AWESOME. Skif confirms Talia’s instincts about Dirk’s feelings for her and promises to talk some sense into his former mentor.

Unfortunately, Dirk has given himself pneumonia wandering moodily around Haven in the rain. He makes amends with Kris and then collapses while Talia watches helplessly from across the Dining Hall. And, while Talia was busy with all of that, Orthallen has been sinking his claws into Elspeth. With help from Rolan and Elspeth’s Companion, Gwena, Talia intervenes just before Elspeth compromises herself with a shady boy Orthallen has introduced her to. Talia and Elspeth also fight. Talia points out the conflict between Elspeth’s responsibilities as heir to the throne and her interest in casual romance. Elspeth accuses Talia of hypocrisy.

What’s an embattled Queen’s Own to do? Although the Council formally rejected Ancar’s proposal for Elsepth’s hand, Alessandar, Ancar’s father and King of Hardorn, hasn’t given up. The major objection was Elspeth’s age, and Alessandar wants to continue negotiations towards a closer alliance and possible eventual betrothal. Ever in need of allies, Queen Selenay has been planning a visit. She sends Kris and Talia to Hardorn in advance, as her ambassadors.

Whatever else may happen to her in Hardorn, Talia won’t be casting any votes in the Council for the next few months. Game, set, and match to Orthallen.

These chapters were packed with details and information that shed light on the plot and on Valdemar’s political and diplomatic situation. I’ve jammed in what I could—please feel free to use the comments to bring up all the things I left out, and tune in next week for chapters 6 and 7. You might want to bring a hanky.


Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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