Last week, Orthallen arranged for Talia and Kris to visit Valdemar’s neighboring state of Hardorn to continue discussing the marriage King Alessander has proposed between Elspeth and his son, Ancar.
Before we go any further with this week’s reread, we need to discuss the elephant in the room—which, in this case, is the cover art. The usual visual code for dire peril on the cover of a normal Valdemar novel is dramatic depiction of torn sleeves. This cover works to a different standard—Arrow’s Fall has the most ominous cover art in the 31-volume Valdemar series. Rolan is panicking, Talia has taken an arrow to the shoulder. The purples and blacks of the background suggest a dark and dangerous time. This cover promises tragedy, and chapters 6 and 7 deliver.
Valdemarans don’t leave the kingdom much—the prologue to Arrow’s Fall explains that Valdemar is on the edge of civilization and what lies beyond is unpredictable, dangerous, and frighteningly likely to follow you home and destroy your village. This section of Arrow’s Fall marks the first time Lackey sent her characters outside the country. They are going east, which is the more civilized direction.
This trip should be pleasant. Hardorn is an ally. Talia and Kris have resolved their differences. The situation with Dirk is on hold again due to his emo-pneumonia, but seems to be trending in a more positive direction. The rain that caused the recent catastrophic floods has let up. Kris admits that Talia was right about Orthallen. Kris and Talia aren’t on circuit, so they get to stay in inns rather than cooking and fumigating for themselves. Companions are really fast and Valdemar’s roads are magically paved, so the trip to Hardorn’s border is relatively short. A friendly guard at the border shows off Hardorn’s signal towers (they’re like Discworld’s Clacks), and that’s the last nice thing that happens for three chapters.
Kris and Talia travel into Hardorn without an escort, but they are supposed to check in with guard posts about their location and stay in Hardorn’s official hostels. In combination with the signal towers, this means that King Alessander and his son, Ancar, know where Kris and Talia are at all times. I’m excited to see a technological development that plays a role in the plot, but this is inconvenient for Kris and Talia. They can’t tell how closely they’re being watched, and they quickly realize that Hardorn is full of hazards.
Oatmeal with fungus in it seems like a grave misfortune in itself, but apparently the people of Hardorn are fine with it. Or maybe they just don’t have any way to leave scathing Yelp reviews of government-run hostels. The mushroom porridge served for breakfast at the first hostel Kris and Talia stay in makes Talia lose control of her MindGift. She’s not projecting wildly, but she can’t shield herself either, and her perception of others’ feelings comes and goes in unpredictable waves for days. This gets in the way of her efforts to find out how the people of Hardorn feel about Ancar.
The people of Hardorn love their king, but they’re pretty ambivalent about their prince. Even without Talia’s Gift, it’s clear that Hardornens (especially those using government-run hostels) prefer not to talk about Ancar. He scares them, and his spies are everywhere. When Kris and Talia finally reach the capital and meet him, Talia can’t read Ancar’s emotions—he’s being shielded by an attendant—but their brief meeting corroborates all of her concerns. There’s no way Elspeth is marrying him. This section offers our first look at Valdemaran spycraft. Kris and Talia have a secret code for communicating by tapping feet and squeezing hands, and Talia implants personalities onto some palace servants. When they’re finally left alone, Kris and Talia plot a quick getaway.
Unfortunately, Ancar is playing the Game of Thrones—Kris and Talia are characters in a vaguely romantic young adult fantasy novel, but Ancar has gotten tired of waiting for his dad to die of natural causes and has filled the musician’s gallery with archers. He plans to kill his father, attack Valdemar, kill Selenay, marry Elspeth, and declare himself Valdemar’s new king. Kris and Talia can’t get out of Alessander’s palace fast enough. They’re caught in the courtyard, just short of the palace gate.
As Kris and Talia attempt to leave the palace, Ancar’s henchmen shower them with arrows. They are both hit, but Kris’s wounds are fatal. Talia uses her Healing Gift to block Kris’s pain and he lives long enough to tell her that he loves her and doesn’t fear death. Then Ancar’s guards drag Talia away. Only Rolan escapes.
Kris was sometimes politically naïve and sometimes a little stuck up, but he was a great and loyal friend. His greatest flaw—his excessive trust of his uncle, Orthallen—was both a result of his loyalty and a cause of his death. No grave could hold so free a soul.
Hum the rest of the song, if you know it, and share your memories of Kris in the comments. Next week, we look at chapters 8-10 where Lackey lays the groundwork for several future trilogies.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.