When we left Valdemar last week, the Lady Elspeth had finally put an end to one of Valdemar’s long-term problems, the nefarious Lord Orthallen, with a well-aimed throwing knife. Herald Talia finished off another by revealing her feelings for Herald Dirk, a man who is primarily notable for being emo and having a face like a potato (although, to acknowledge his finer qualities, he Fetches like a boss).
Now, in chapters 11 and 12 of Arrow’s Fall, Valdemar faces still greater challenges: fighting Ancar’s army and planning Talia’s wedding.
The battle, obviously, is a pressing concern. Selenay’s forces wait at the border and gather reinforcements while Ancar’s troops march from Hardorn’s capital. Ancar has an army of three thousand men, allegedly mostly recruited from prison scum. Three thousand men is not terribly impressive, as armies go. But Valdemar is in worse case—Selenay has only one thousand defenders. As the Valdemaran force waits, reinforcements trickle in from around the country in devastatingly small numbers. And thus, my dire prognostications about the impacts of Valdemaran tax policies on military readiness are borne out. It is my hope that Valdemar’s leaders will weigh this situation when they consider priorities for the next fiscal year, and will re-evaluate their policy of using tax rebates as compensation for services rendered to Heralds.
Fortunately for Queen Selenay, Hardorn’s border guard defects to Valdemar en masse in response to news of Ancar’s treachery. This puts the ratio of Valdemarans to Hardornens closer to 2:3. Valdemar feels that Heralds’ MindMagic will be a decisive advantage, but they don’t know what to expect from Hardorn’s Mages. Valdemarans have somehow failed to notice that all the countries surrounding them have Mages. The only Mage these people know of is the dead one who’s guarding part of their northern border. They have not previously considered the possibility that live Mages not only still exist but could be used for offensive military purposes. They’re having a hard time adapting to the idea.
And indeed, when Ancar’s army shows up and attacks them with Mage-created monsters, things look bleak. But then! With no warning! Griffon gallops on to the battlefield! For those of you who may not recall, Griffon is one of Talia’s year-mates. He once had a crush on her, but possibly more relevant at this point is that he is a Fire Starter. It occurs to me as I re-read this that I would really like to hear more of Griffon’s story. He seems to wander around having fabulous adventures. In this case, he was having a one-night stand with a Herald Courier who happened to be passing through his circuit when she had a vision (she was a ForeSeer) telling her that Griffon was desperately needed at the Hardorn border, and all but flung him onto his Companion without his clothes. This is relevant to my interests.
Griffon attacks monsters until his compatriots suggest setting the Mage on fire. Griffon and another of Talia’s year-mates, Davan (one of a pair of twins we haven’t heard about since Talia’s Orientation class) search fruitlessly for the Mage until Dirk shows up on Rolan who links them all with Talia (still confined to bed by her injuries) so that she can use her Empathy show them where the Mage is and Griffon can light him up. As Griffon passes out from the backlash, the fighting turns towards more conventional methods. Valdemaran strategy and knowledge of the terrain win the day. Ancar withdraws his mini-army and creates a de-militarized zone to rival North Korea’s.
Talia is still in pretty rough shape, and while she’s crazy in love with Dirk, she’s also badly traumatized. To allow her time to recover, Skif takes Dirk up north to visit his family. This is really considerate of Skif, and I’m glad Lackey included this particular realistic touch in Talia’s recovery. I do, however, feel compelled to point out that this leaves readers with a love story that spans three books in which the protagonists have never actually had a meaningful conversation. They do converse after Dirk returns. This reveals that Dirk’s childhood dialect uses the second person singular for being schmoopy with lovers, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it meaningful. I’m glad they’re happy.
Elspeth is in charge of planning their wedding. Since Talia is just short of being Valdemaran royalty and also a war hero, it’s absolutely enormous. Elspeth plans an outdoor ceremony to accommodate all the guests and include the Companions. She also gets to wear a dress made out of some absolutely amazing fabric donated by Evan, the trader Talia saved from lynching. Evan takes his life debt very seriously. As part of the trainees’ gift to the happy couple, Elspeth also guards the stairs to Talia and Dirk’s apartment to protect them from any wedding night shenanigans. Dirk carries Talia to bed (she still can’t walk) and they find their final wedding gift—a bouquet of flowers LEFT BY KRIS’S GHOST. HE SOARS WITH FALCONS ON THE WING, YA’LL.
What do you think Kris’s ghost is going to spend the rest of eternity doing? What do Talia and Dirk see in each other? How awesome is Griffon? Tell me about it in the comments, and tune in next week when we will be saying goodbye to the Heralds of Valdemar trilogy by taking on the ballads at the end of Arrow’s Fall.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.