Rereading Melanie Rawn

Rereading Melanie Rawn: The Star Scroll, Chapters 17 and 18

Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of The Star Scroll! This week we have murder, mayhem, a knife fight, a royal board meeting, and a whole lot of plots getting as thick as fantasy stew.

Chapter 17

So This Happens: Pandsala is granted an audience with Kiele. Pandsala is emphatically not amused to be kept waiting, and even less amused to have her nose rubbed in Kiele’s married state. But she has a purpose, and she gets right to it: she tells Kiele that Masul’s real father has surfaced and approached Naydra for money.

The game goes back and forth for a while, with Kiele pretending surprise and Pandsala laying it on somewhat thick. The conversation then shifts to Chiana, and how the plot to present Masul as Roelstra’s son means presenting Chiana as a servant’s child. Kiele seems astonished.

Pandsala shifts back to Masul’s father, and they discuss, in detail, the night Chiana and Masul were born. Pandsala prevails on Kiele to devote her energies to finding Masul’s father, and they part “on the best of terms.”

Pandsala returns to her own tent and proceeds to dispatch twenty servants to apprehend a “tall, green-eyed man” who may be leaving Kiele’s tent, and bring him to her—without informing the High Prince.

Meanwhile Rohan is up to much the same, instructing Tallain to find a certain man and bring the man to him. Then he and Sioned go for a walk by the river. She shifts quickly from small talk to the point: advising Rohan not to comb the area for Masul’s father.

They stroll on, mostly incognito, into the Fair. On the way they see Pol, guarded by Maarken and Ostvel, and wonder where Riyan is—with bonus sniping at Chiana’s attempts to catch his eye.

They intersect with Pol and company, with some chatting and some teasing about shopping at the Fair. Suddenly there’s a commotion, and a man is murdered on the bridge. Rohan and Ostvel run to the scene—and Rohan is attacked by assassins wearing Merida colors, while Sioned forcibly restrains Pol from joining the fight. But “Very few were a match for Rohan in a knife-fight; this man was not one of them.”

The attacker leaps into the river and drowns. Ostvel’s attacker is not so lucky. He is captured alive.

On the way to the scene, Sioned passes the original victim of the attack. His eyes are green, and he is dead.

A woman in plain clothes who identifies herself as the commander of Pandsala’s guard arrives with another captive, who is protesting his innocence. He was following the green-eyed man. Sioned sends the two of them to her and Rohan’s pavilion, and continues toward Rohan and Pol.

The would-be assassin is not Merida, Pol points out. His clothes were recently dyed and have stained Rohan’s and Ostvel’s fingers.

Sioned persuades Pol to “help” her up the slope, reflecting that he’s grown a great deal this year, and that she can’t and shouldn’t try to shield him from the realities here. “One did not try to protect men from life. Especially not princes.”

Rohan meanwhile is not participating in the sorting out of the aftermath. Sioned and Pol find him standing apart, brooding over his own excellence with a knife, and declaring that “The results are usually not worth the trouble.”

Maarken, not normally a man to drown his troubles in wine, is doing so tonight as he ponders the murdered man. It’s brought home to him forcibly “how precarious Rohan’s position [is].” And so is Pol’s, because in addition to being Rohan’s son, he has faradhi powers—and people are afraid of them.

While he broods over the fact that there is now no way to prove the dead man was Masul’s real father, Chiana appears and does her best to seduce him. Pol shows up just in time, yelling at him that Andrade has arrived.

Chiana takes her chilly leave. There is mild teasing about how little Maarken likes her, and how young Pol is.

Pol escorts him to Andrade, and is again poorly behaved, blurting out that Maarken was with Chiana. Everyone is tremendously amused but Maarken—and Hollis, who is standing with Andry and a stranger. She does not look well.

There is small talk and arranging of furniture and people, and some teasing. Andrade breaks it off by bringing up the subject of Masul’s father now being dead.

Rohan manages to shock Andrade by revealing that he knew Kleve was spying on Kiele. Maarken tries to share his amusement with Hollis, but she is not paying attention. The stranger is hovering over her.

Andrade takes Rohan to task for Kleve’s death and now the murder of Masul’s father. Then she interrogates Pol about his powers, before dismissing him along with Tobin and her family.

The viewpoint shifts to Andrade, who realizes her work is cut out for her with Pol, “to make a good, obedient Sunrunner of him.”

Then she pins Rohan and Sioned to the wall about their plans. Sioned is not cooperative; she takes Andrade to task for poor planning. They argue, until Rohan stops them. “The only thing I can trust,” he says, “is the truth.”

Andrade loses her temper over the ongoing problem of Roelstra, and flings her goblet to the floor. Sioned reacts by almost apologizing, and asking Andrade what she thinks ought to be done.

The meeting breaks up and the narrative shifts to Segev in Andrade’s tent, belatedly administering Hollis’ daily dose of dranath. He can only do this, tonight, by serving the drug in the communal wine bottle.

Rohan and Sioned are still in attendance on Andrade. They are discussing the murdered man, whose identity has been confirmed as the man who came to Naydra earlier. Segev is amazed that they’re talking so openly in front of him, but of course he’s a Sunrunner, so they believe he’s trustworthy. They continue to discuss the situation, and order the false Merida to be brought in.

Segev is shocked. The man is one of Mireva’s people. Segev excuses himself hastily before he can be recognized.

Once outside, he ponders the situation. Rohan makes him nervous. He reflects that he learned to fake the Sunrunner allergy to water, but hasn’t had to demonstrate it yet. He also reflects that he’s the first of his kind to learn both types of magic. It’s a heady sensation—and he enjoys “fooling” both mistresses of the powers.

Now he has to get rid of Mireva’s agent. He weaves starlight as no one but Sioned has ever done, and contacts Mireva.

She is impressed, but suspicious. He is quick to play at obedience, and gives her the news about her agent.

She is not amused. He acted without her orders, but that will be dealt with. He was “prepared.” So, she says, was Segev—who is suddenly alarmed.

She announces that “It is done,” and he humbly and obediently tells her all the news, including Kleve’s death and the fact that the scrolls are in Urival’s saddlebags. He promises to get hold of them by the time the Rialla is over.

Mireva is pleased. Segev is relieved to have escaped intact, and still nervous about how he was “prepared.” But he is also still determined to steal the Star Scroll for himself, and not for Mireva.

Meanwhile, Andrade instructs Hollis to fill Rohan and Sioned in about the scrolls. Rohan is skeptical about the ancient sorcerers. Hollis assures him they were real. Andrade is snarky about ancient Sunrunner ethics, and about Hollis’ reticence on the trip and now her apparent inability to shut up.

Sioned teases Hollis about marrying Maarken, which leaves Hollis nonplussed. Andrade sends Hollis to bed, and indulges in some further badinage about the match.

The false Merida is brought in, only to drop dead on the threshold, killed by starlight. Everyone is horrified, except Andrade, who declares this to be proof of sorcery. She orders the body removed, and tells Rohan and Sioned about the Star Scroll, which none of them has finished reading, but which she’s sure contains such sorceries as they’ve just witnessed.

They discuss ethics, briefly, then Sioned gives Andrade the packet of dranath that Rohan got from Roelstra twenty years ago. Andrade plans to experiment with it. She mentions that she doesn’t trust Pandsala. Sioned believes she’s wrong about that.

They go back and forth about the drug, and about Andry and Pol. Andry is headstrong. Andrade hopes Pol will not be. Sioned asks Andrade not to “bully” Pol.

Rohan and Sioned leave Andrade to, she says, get some sleep. They discuss the various angles of the situation, especially sorcery and Sioned’s own ability to conjure starlight. She’s terrified, she says—in part because she might possibly be one of them. Rohan reminds her that it’s not power that’s evil, it’s the person who wields it. She points out that the sorcerers are still hiding, pretending to be Merida and aiming to eliminate Pol, one way or another.

They go to bed, with some teasing.

And I’m Thinking: Lots of dragons coming home to roost in this chapter. Everybody’s more or less gathered in one place, and Mireva is seriously upping the ante on everyone’s plans and intrigues.

Chiana is really nobody’s favorite person. I feel sorry for her. Everybody hates on her so insistently, and there’s so much glee at the thought of her being humiliated. It seems we’re supposed to hate her, too, and find it terribly funny.

Segev on the other hand is fairly low-key. He’s evil, he’s plotting, he’s slithering along under everyone’s radar. He’s surprisingly charming, and surprisingly sympathetic, even while he’s doing and contemplating awful things.

Eighties Me, who has been coasting mostly, is rolling along with it here. 2015 Me is ready to throw the brake. All the Roelstra daughters are portrayed with varying degrees of condescension or dislike, and their cordial hatred of one another is an ongoing theme. It all comes down to their being raised as conventional women, fixated on grasping at power through husbands and sons and, in Pandsala’s case, the prince for whom she serves as regent. And they’re all Evil. Except maybe Pandsala. Maybe. Because Roelstra.

But here’s Pol, Not Evil. Because Rohan. The very best most perfect best knife fighter in the whole wide world but he is all angsty and conflicted about it. Paul Atreides would tell him to suck it up and deal.

Pol’s character whiplashes around a bit. He’s a loud and stupid brat here, versus his earlier too-perfect, too-well-behaved persona, when he’s not being reckless and headstrong, except when he’s being submissive and obedient. I get that he’s a teenager, and adolescent boys can be all over the place emotionally and behaviorally, but he’s a little hard to keep up with.

It’s interesting that the sorcerers, Segev included, have it together more than anyone. They snark and mock less, too, and they don’t hate on each other nearly as much as the rest of the villains. Mireva is a much better plotter than Andrade, and much less persistently plot-stupid.

 

Chapter 18

So This Happens: The princes’ morning meeting spins its wheels before Lyell’s scheduled (by Kiele) speech. Davvi suggests that the heirs come to see how these meetings work. Rohan approves. Pol, hastily brought in, charms everybody.

Suddenly four women invade the men-only gathering: Sioned, Pandsala, Gemma, and Eneida of Firon. The men are shocked. Sioned is charmingly steely. She isn’t planning to stay. She brought Gemma—after all, Gemma is Chale’s heir—and Eneida, who represents Firon, and Pandsala as regent for Princemarch.

She reminds them that she is holding a luncheon for all the rest of the women. This reminds the men that the women are off doing something together without them. It makes them very nervous.

Rohan settles down once she’s gone, and Lyell enters with Masul. Masul does not bow to Rohan. Pandsala is furious. Masul is amused.

Lyell gives his speech. He’s convinced that Masul is Roelstra’s son. Pandsala emphatically is not.

Masul gives his own speech. He tells the story of his birth. Pandsala strongly begs to differ. Masul points out his resemblance to his supposed parents. Davvi counters that this can be faked—and points to Pol’s green eyes, as proof that even he might be alleged to be Roelstra’s son.

Rohan “[dies] a little inside.” Because of course Pol is really Roelstra’s grandson.

The lords debate Masul’s appearance. Pandsala steadfastly denies his parentage. Rohan understands that the point of the apparent pro-Masul faction is not to defend Masul’s right to Princemarch, but to deny Pol’s.

As the debate goes on, Sioned speaks in Rohan’s mind. “Turn Chiana loose on him.” Rohan ignores her.

Rohan knows a Sunrunner can conjure the future—Sioned has done it. He wonders if one might conjure the past.

He stands up, and everyone suddenly ignores Masul. Masul is not happy about this. Rohan tables the discussion pending further investigation, and presents the agenda for the afternoon session.

The princes leave, in factions. Pol stays with Rohan, and asks what Rohan is up to. Rohan explains how he plans to keep the pro-Masul faction under observation, and also to see which way the other lords will lean.

This presents an opportunity for a father-son lecture session. We get another round of Rohan’s philosophy of law and government, with Pol providing the prompts. Rohan finishes with a bit of showoffery: telling Pol he knows Pol was getting ready to ride Chay’s horse before he came to the meeting, because of the hoofpick in his back pocket. This is another lesson: Be observant.

Meanwhile, another father and son are also engaging in a learning experience: Ostvel and Riyan. Riyan has filled his father in on what he’s observed of Kiele’s plot and its ramifications. There is mention (as happens fairly regularly) of Riyan’s mother Camigwen (who died offstage in Book One). They discuss Masul, they discuss Rohan. They talk about Rohan’s philosophy, and about what he will and won’t do.

Ostvel forbids Riyan to take action against Masul while Rohan is in watch-and-wait mode. Riyan pretends not to know what he’s talking about, while pondering how he can continue to spy on Kiele.

He puts this into action later in the day. He’s appropriated by Prince Halian to serve as guardsman for a tryst with Chiana. While the pair are occupied with each other, Riyan goes back to the manor where Kleve died.

He searches for a long time, finding little of any possible use except a woman’s earring. Then finally he finds a horrible, sickening thing: three severed fingers, two with Sunrunner’s rings. One ring is missing.

He speculates at length as to what happened. He also wonders at the “stupid mistake” of disposing of the body but not the fingers.

By the time he remembers his duty, he figures Chiana and Halian will be “impatient” for him to get back. But when he reaches the royal residence, they’ve left without him. He doesn’t care overmuch about the consequences.

He rides straight to the camp and the High Prince’s tent, and delivers the “proof” to Rohan and Ostvel. Rohan concludes that the missing ring is big enough to fit Masul. If Masul is caught with it, they’ve got him.

Rohan orders Riyan not to tell Andrade about this. Riyan replies, “I was your man the day I was born.”

Rohan provides him with an excuse for his absence, if he needs one. Riyan asks Rohan to make sure Masul and Kiele “take a long time to die.” Rohan is glad to oblige.

Riyan leaves. Rohan and Ostvel discuss the matter further. Rohan can’t do anything until Masul’s claim to Princemarch is disproved. Meanwhile he warns Ostvel that Riyan needs to be watched. Ostvel says he will see to it. Rohan promises him all will be well—but after he leaves, Rohan reveals that he doesn’t believe it.

And I’m Thinking: This chapter is an interesting combination of council-itis and gut-wrenching revelation. Masul’s reveal seems quite a bit less dramatic than it could have been, since happens in the middle of a board meeting. Seems as if it would have made more of a splash if it could have happened in a more public venue. I also find it hard to believe that Sioned would waltz off to a ladies’ luncheon and not find a way to at least stay for the big reveal—even if she does manage to attend in spirit, as it were.

This is especially odd since the plot has to stretch fairly thin to get everybody else important in there—though the bit with the women is nothing short of awesome. Sioned’s coup is beautiful. So is the bit about her ladies’ luncheon (even though the timing seems off) and the men’s feelings about it.

That may be one of my favorite bits, dragons and scenery-chewing villains aside. Men really don’t like it when it dawns on them that women don’t just roll into the cupboard like Stella Mudd when they’re not in active use. Women have lives and interactions of their own, where the men can’t see or hear. They talk to each other. Without men. (Never mind that the men are talking to each other right now, where the women traditionally are forbidden to attend.) That’s horrifying.

There’s your female gaze, 1989 style. It’s lovely.

All the father-son stuff, meanwhile, is clearly an author darling. There’s so much space devoted to it, and it goes over and over cherished themes and ideas. They’re not particularly sophisticated from the perspective of the academic historian or political scientist, but they show a depth of political and economic worldbuilding that was not common at the time. They seem like an answer to the Epic Fantasy War trope: exploring the morality and ethics of war, and the economics of empire.

And then of course, having gone into considerable detail on those themes, the story slams right back into action—though Riyan is terribly irresponsible about his investigations, not giving a damn if he’s missed, or seeming to worry too terribly much about being caught. If the enemy is really as dangerous as advertised—and as the severed fingers prove—he’s downright stupid to do what he does.

That’s a frequent issue: on the one hand, the world is terribly dangerous, with assassins, wicked princes (and princesses) and evil sorcerers. But then there’s the alternate universe the good guys live in, galloping hither and yon, taking long walks by the river, yakking away happily without any effort at secrecy (though Segev does wonder about that part), and generally acting as if they don’t have a care in the world.

I wonder about that, I really do. Segev remarks on it. Mireva is a hundred times the manipulator Andrade so loudly and frequently is advertised to be. The good guys are blissfully oblivious amateurs—and the real pros are just getting going.


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.

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