Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of The Star Scroll! This week Pol enjoys the perks of power, a number of crucial conflicts come to a head, and Rohan is very, very clever.
So This Happens: Young Pol is bored. He is also sulky. Big things are happening and nobody will tell him about them.
Day 4 of the Rialla: Aunt Tobin’s big breakfast party. Nobody is paying attention to Pol. Nobody is including him in their plans.
Pol finds Ostvel struggling to get a fire going in the firepit, and ignites it with Fire. That gets him attention—but not in a positive way. The disapproval is universal.
Pol notices that Masul has gone white. He’s been reminded forcibly that the rival he wants to displace is a Sunrunner.
Pandsala rescues Pol, a kindness that makes him actually start to like her. She takes him over to a group that includes Gemma, Chale, Kostas, and Tilal. Tilal pulls Pol aside for a private talk. They discuss a bit of politics, then Pol invites Tilal to the Fair, with complaints about how nobody ever tells him anything. Tilal is indulgently wise about spoiled adolescents, and offers to get permission from Pol’s parents.
Pol spends some time reflecting on his relationship with Tilal, Tilal’s history, who he is, what lands he controls, and so on, before they meet for their trip to the Fair. Sioned isn’t happy, Tilal reports, but she’s too busy to punish Pol.
There is some teasing about Tilal and girls. They discuss their plans for shopping, then get to it, including a beautiful sword for Tilal. Pol asks him if he plans to have the rest of the garnets he won in the race made into a bridal necklet. Tilal tells him sharply to mind his own business.
Pol buys a very fancy goblet for the innkeeper’s wife in Dorval, to replace the one he broke. The merchant also presses him to accept one for himself, a political message: Firon wants Pol to be its prince. Pol is reminded that Tilal has a claim to the princedom, too, but he says he doesn’t want it.
Shopping done, they go for a walk in the woods, with Tilal teaching Pol how to walk silently. Suddenly they come on Gemma resisting Kostas’ advances.
Tilal stops Pol from leaping in. Pol reflects on the severe penalty for rape, which includes castration of the rapist—as Gemma is reminding Kostas. But Kostas has built himself an alibi, and he’s not deterred.
That sets Tilal off. He confronts Kostas. They draw swords on each other. Gemma springs between them. Pol pulls her away and pulls rank on them all—with some inner trembling, but he knows what he’s doing.
It works. Pol asks Gemma to choose between the brothers. She says it’s not Kostas she wants. Pol presses Tilal to ask her to marry him. Before he can cooperate, Kostas attacks. Pol breaks up the fight with Fire, and again asks Tilal to ask Gemma to marry him.
Scene break. Sioned is tired, and Andrade and Pandsala corner her after Tobin’s party. She is not planning to “blister [Pol’s] behind.”
Andrade calls on her to bring everything to a head—both her plans and the plans Sioned has made with Rohan. “We all want the same thing in the end.” There are dynastic marriages to make, princedoms to claim or assign, and enemies to neutralize.
Sioned is not playing. Andrade wants to consolidate everything under a Sunrunner High Prince. Sioned and Rohan want a union of princes held together by law and by mutual consent.
They argue this at length and with heat. It gets acrimonious. Sioned makes it clear that she’s planning to train Pol herself rather than hand him over to Andrade. Andrade, shocked and appalled, storms out, followed by Pandsala.
Sioned isn’t as sure of herself as she pretended. She came very close to giving way to Andrade, through habit developed since childhood. She also realizes that she’s speaking someone else’s words anyway: Rohan’s.
Sioned reflects on the nature of obedience and the imperiousness of princes. Rohan doesn’t want a blindly obedient Princess.
Sioned is torn between Sunrunner training and royal necessity. She wants to do what Andrade wants. She can’t do it because she’s spent two decades fostering Rohan’s dream.
She wants to rest, but Rohan will be coming back. She won’t tell him about this confrontation. She doesn’t want to worry him.
Pol is back, and not talkative. He’s not happy, either.
He is happy to give her her present: a scandalously tight and low-cut green silk gown. She tries it on, and Rohan, arriving suddenly, approves. Also, he ruffles Pol’s hair.
The gown is extremely scandalous, as they note, in detail. Rohan meanwhile is tired, and his wife and son worry.
Pol asks him, somewhat indirectly, about arranging marriages, and eventually confesses that he’s got Tilal and Gemma together, which does not amuse Kostas. He describes the scene, and Tilal’s response to his ultimatum, which amused and bemused him considerably. He’s also amused that his parents are so shocked and surprised.
And I’m Thinking: This chapter, as relatively lighthearted as it is, is all about the uses of power. Sioned and Andrade finally duke it out, Pol tries his wings as a prince (after proving that he’s still a sulky adolescent) and shows off his magical powers, to the shock and awe of all, and we get more hinting at Rohan’s not so slow fade. This reminds us that most of what’s going on here is about Pol as High Prince—and in order for him to achieve that office, Rohan has to be dead.
Eighties Me takes Sioned’s internal monologue more or less in stride. She’s been choosing Rohan over Andrade for twenty years; the only surprise is that Andrade has never figured it out. One would think—but Andrade is so consistently clueless that it’s no great surprise.
2015 Me wonders, deep in the moment here, if Sioned is even aware of how she’s spent her life surrendering agency. First she surrendered it to Andrade, then as soon as she discovered her Chosen love, she surrendered it to him. She could just as easily have been Andrade’s perfectly obedient servant; since she’s bonded to Rohan, she does everything for and about him—even when she’s resisting him.
She’s a perfect Conservative wife. She’s strong-willed, assertive, and endlessly energetic, but it’s all for her man. On her own she’s in favor of Andrade’s kill them all and let the Goddess sort them out philosophy, but because she’s the good wife, she obediently opts for the more chaotic model of letting the vassals sort themselves out—guided and sometimes pushed, of course, by the High Prince, to make sure they end up doing what he wants them to do.
It’s all about manipulation. Pol is learning this himself, and using Fire to enforce it. I get the feeling that’s not going to be as much fun as he currently thinks it is. It’s not going to be that easy, either.
It’s interesting to get a sense of the author’s voice here. Pol and the other young people are seen a bit from on high, with quite a bit of condescension about how young and foolish they are.
I’ve been noticing, too, how the author seems a bit nonplussed by how old her initial cast of characters is getting. We’re frequently reminded of it. I get the sense of them as the ur-characters, and the younger generation haven’t really found their way in as truly main characters yet, though they’re numerous and varied and very active.
Andrade finally gets hers, and I feel her pain. She’s put them all in place, she’s got them where she wants them, and it’s time to seal the deal. Then her primary instrument stands up and says a flat No. That’s been a given for the reader since early in the first book, but it’s still a shock to her system.
The spoiling of Pol, meanwhile, proceeds apace. He does another outrageous thing which his parents can’t raise the energy to punish him for. They’re quite limp around him really; they can’t deny him anything.
Offstaging continues. We get the denouement of the Tilal/Gemma scene through Pol. Building suspense is fine, but it would be nice to get the payoff onstage.
So This Happens: Tilal and Gemma appear at Clutha’s feast that evening, incontestably Chosen. Kostas is nowhere to be seen.
There are many other blissful couples, too, but one in exactly the opposite state: Maarken and Hollis. Sejast/Segev is Hollis’ shadow, as always.
Andry is worried about them, but distracted by Alasen. Meanwhile Chiana holds court, as does Andrade.
Sioned is going “just the slightest bit mad.” The political situation is getting critical. The situation with Masul is about to blow wide open.
Sioned is quite close to Pol’s mood in the previous chapter. Luckily dinner ends early, and Tobin invites Sioned for taze.
Rohan, alone in his pavilion, reflects on the advantages of education in music, while overhearing Ostvel and a few of the younger generation singing. Then he attends to a bit of business, and we get some good news about dragon populations, and alliances both military and marital.
Tallain appears to announce Prince Miyon’s steward. Rohan and Tallain share amusement.
The steward has come to inquire as to the size of Chiana’s dowry. Rohan’s amusement continues, and there is chuckling after the steward leaves. In fairly short order, Miyon himself appears. He thinks he’s very clever, and he demands to know what Rohan will give to marry Chiana to him. He is very blunt, and his demands are numerous.
Romance is not for the younger generation, Rohan notes. He is equally blunt, and he calls Miyon on all of his plots including his dealings with the Merida, refuses his demands, and dismisses him.
Miyon is spitting mad, and says things that Rohan has arranged to be overheard by Chale and Davvi. When Miyon has stomped out, Davvi warns Rohan to be careful, and Chale reminisces about younger Rohan, before Rohan asks him what he thinks of Gemma and her new Chosen. They agree this is a great good thing, though Kostas isn’t happy.
Then Chale admits that, like Miyon, he’s concerned about Pol as both Sunrunner and Prince. He goes on to say that he’s on Rohan’s side of the Masul issue. Chale loathed Roelstra, and Gemma will never forgive the late High Prince for making her brother Jastri bear the brunt of his battles.
Rohan points out that he killed Jastri. Chale says he will never forgive Rohan for that, but Roelstra bore the ultimate responsibility. Princes have to be “reasonable people,” he says, if they’re going to survive. Miyon hasn’t learned that and is therefore dangerous.
So is Sioned, Rohan says with a smile. They end in amity, with some cheerful banter.
Sioned is furious with Rohan for turning Miyon down. Rohan counters that nobody is cleverer than he is, and reminds her that Miyon has Merida at his court. As in, assassins who tried to kill Pol.
Sioned is not that easy to manipulate. Rohan counters again that yes, he’s made “an open enemy,” but now everybody knows it and will remember it. “I regret that you disapprove, but it was my decision to make, not yours.”
Sioned replies that he’s used her, and Tobin, too, and she doesn’t like it. He responds, “You have yet to learn that sometimes people have to be used.” Sometimes he hates doing it, and sometimes it’s “a rollicking good time.” Then he says he needs to sleep, because tomorrow is not going to be pleasant.
Sioned prevails on him to let her use magic to help him sleep. He notes that she will anyway, then gives in.
Morning. The vote. Miyon votes as expected. So does Chale. Masul is mocking.
The vote continues. All the princes get their say. Davvi delivers a shocker: Giving Princemarch to Masul will violate the same agreement that made Davvi Prince of Syr. Clever Rohan managed to miss this nuance of the law he rules by.
The voting continues, with some snark and some byplay, and an extended lecture on the rule of law and rights of war by Saumer of Isel, which balances Davvi’s speech and ties the vote.
This triggers Rohan’s Plan B: Andrade’s conjuring of the past. There is opposition, but it’s eventually settled that Andrade will perform the working tonight at sunset. Masul is mocking. Also arrogant.
Rohan, after everyone has left, is appalled at himself—again. “What have I done? What am I about to do?”
And I’m Thinking: Yes, we get it. Rohan is appalled at what he’s set in motion. Also, Rohan is very, very clever. Cleverer than anyone else ever. And he might just have out-clevered himself.
Contrary to her complete submission to Rohan’s goals and plans in the previous chapter, Sioned finds herself at odds with him once she realizes how he’s manipulated her. She’s furious about that, but she’s incapable of staying angry with him. She gives in fairly quickly and reverts to nurturing wife. Which shows she has some free will, but Chosen Love conquers all.
Miyon is unusually clueless for a Rawn villain. They’re generally more ept with the plotting. But he’s the younger generation, and it seems he’s skipped a few classes of Princehood 101.
It’s interesting that Sioned keeps doing and saying things that would align her morally (though never politically) with the bad guys. All that really keeps her in check is her emotional enslavement to Rohan. It’s kind of creepy, and kind of tragic.
So is the way everyone continues to hate on Chiana. No one likes her, and no one wants her except for her dowry. Poor thing never did get a fair deal in this life. I give her points for being so gleefully obnoxious about it all.
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.