When we left Hardorn last week, Kris had been tragically slain, and Talia was being hauled off by guards while Rolan fled Hardorn’s royal palace.
This week, we’ll look at chapters 10 through 12, which are split between two locations. We start with Talia in Ancar’s dungeon and then move back to the Valdemar-Hardorn Border where Queen Selenay and her entourage are waiting to meet her envoy. We’re nearing the final chapters of this trilogy, and Lackey is going to begin to resolve some of the loose threads in this plot.
Trigger Warning for torture and sexual violence within these chapters.
In Hardorn, Talia has an arrow in her shoulder and has been hauled off to a cell for kind of a lot of rape and torture. Hulda and Ancar don’t need information from Talia. They’re planning to ride with her to the border, and control her in order to manipulate Selenay.
Hulda’s back! Her new hobby is exposition. She was Ancar’s nanny before coming to Valdemar, and she left Hardorn and replaced the original Hulda (Elspeth’s dad’s childhood nanny, from the kingdom of Rethwellan) because she felt that Elspeth had the potential she was looking for in Ancar’s future wife. Why? Because Elspeth comes from a long line of Gifted royalty. Hulda also helpfully explains that she and Ancar have been getting information about Valdemar from Orthallen, who has been plotting against the throne for years. Ancar and Hulda are also both Mages – the first ones we have seen in the series. It turns out Mage-craft isn’t just good for building roads. Ancar and Hulda use their powers to prevent Talia from MindCalling back to Valdemar and to protect themselves from her MindGift.
Talia needs to warn Selenay, so with the help of the merchant she saved from lynching back in Arrow’s Flight, she sends Rolan back to Valdemar with two arrows – a headless one for Kris and a broken one for herself. Her merchant friend also smuggles her some argonel – a usually fatal painkiller. All Talia wants is to die, but the ghost of Kris appears in her dreams. Let’s take a second – Kris has a ghost! He persuades Talia that it’s not her time to die, and also possibly bandages her wounded shoulder. Talia waits for a sign that her message has been received, and gets it when Ancar and Hulda reveal that Selenay has turned back at the border. They make out while crushing Talia’s feet and then leave Talia in her cell, where she drinks her stash of argonel.
Meanwhile, back in Valdemar, Dirk and Elspeth are riding with the Queen’s convoy towards Hardorn. Elspeth is anxious to apologize to Talia for the argument they had before Talia left, and Dirk just wants to talk about Talia. When Rolan arrives with Talia’s arrows, Dirk collapses with grief. While Selenay begins planning for war, Dirk and Elspeth carry out a phenomenal and historically unprecedented rescue in which Elspeth uses her untrained but unusually strong Gift of FarSight to guide Dirk in finding Talia, and then Rolan and all the Companions lend their strength to help Dirk Fetch her back to Valdemar from Ancar’s dungeon.
Talia is unconscious and badly injured. The Healers do everything they can for her, but she remains unresponsive. At long last, Dirk (who had a hell of a case of backlash and a relapse of pneumonia) rises from his sickbed and confesses his love for Talia, and then calls her back to herself and there’s a lot of weeping. Dirk is still an idiot, so he’s still not sure that Talia loves him until she turns the full force of her MindGift on him to demonstrate the depth of her feeling, and then there is more weeping while he holds her very, very gently, because she still has a ton of traumatic injuries from all the torture.
Our last loose end is Orthallen. Talia knows for certain that he is a traitor, but it has to be proven. She lays a trap to confront him with evidence of his crimes, and he responds by going completely berserk, in the finest and most dangerous tradition of berserking. Talia is completely helpless, so Elspeth takes him down with a throwing knife to the heart.
And that is why the cover is falling off my copy of this book. Because in the critical moment, the princess shakes loose a throwing dagger and takes down the villain without a second thought. Then she vomits and has hysterics, as one does. It’s been nice having Talia as a protagonist, but when we return to this era in Valdemar’s history, it’s going to be Elspeth’s turn.
What’s the worst thing about Hulda, Ancar, and Orthallen? How close is Valdemar to destruction at the hands of a Mage-fueled Hardornen army? Tell me in the comments and tune in next week, when we’ll wrap this book up!
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.