Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of The Star Scroll! This week we have a battle that goes in directions no one expected. Several plot lines come to an end, a number of secrets are finally revealed, and we get a glimpse of what’s likely to happen next.
So This Happens: Sioned and Rohan tuck Pol into bed and discuss what just happened with Pol and Andry. They don’t like Andry’s reaction to Pol’s interference. There’s going to be conflict. That frightens them.
Pol sneaks out while his parents are talking. He finds Tallain with Sorin, Riyan, and Tilal, all polishing Maarken’s armor. He joins them. So does Tobin, briefly, and then Maarken.
Tilal offers Maarken the sword he bought for Davvi, with Davvi’s permission. Pol watches the others dress and arm Maarken. Pol reflects on how badly he wants to be his own champion. Maarken indicates that Pol should belt on the sword. He gives Maarken two knives, as well, for backup.
Andry appears suddenly and warns Maarken to be done before nightfall. He’s concerned that the sorcerers will attack once the stars are out. Maarken isn’t convinced, or particularly worried.
There is a bit of tension between Pol and Andry, but Pol defuses it.
Hollis appears, haggard and wild. Pol ushers everybody else out.
When Maarken comes out, he’s not in a happy frame of mind. Pol is furious at Hollis, reflecting on it, silently, in some detail. Andry makes things worse by trying to excuse Hollis. Pol tries his father’s trick of glaring Andry down. It works—for an instant. Then they’re at odds again, a situation that Pol fears will be permanent. “There was too much power on both sides.”
Pol muses on “Why power?” until distracted by his parents and a company of others. His mother gives him a coronet to wear: emphasizing his rank. The mood is tense.
Rohan fusses with Maarken’s gear and tells him where they’re going and what to do when they get there. By law they have to do this outside the Rialla.
While they troop over to the field of combat, Andry obsesses over Alasen. He wants to take her to Goddess Keep and teach her to use her powers. He’s dreaming of marriage and children when interrupted by the sight of the crowds waiting to see the duel.
Pandsala appears, “empty-eyed.” Andry decides that he needs to “bring [her] back to the discipline of Goddess Keep.” Nor is she the only one. He ponders this at some length. He’s going to take Pol in hand, too, he thinks. He’s going to take control of all the Sunrunners, in or out of the Keep.
Maarken is tense, and not only because of the fight ahead. He’s confused about Hollis. He recalls their meeting in the tent. She was distraught; she warned him strongly against the sorcerers. She was also cold and evasive—and when he saw her again in the crowd, she was holding Sejast’s hand.
When he reaches the field, Ostvel stops him for a round of instructions and good wishes. Ostvel promises to watch out for “your lady.” Maarken can’t let himself think about that. He has to focus on the battle.
Masul appears in Princemarch colors, on the horse he almost killed in the race. Everybody gets the message.
The proceedings begin. The preliminaries are long, involved, and detailed.
Masul demands that Maarken not use his powers, and that he remove his rings. Maarken wonders if Masul believes the myth that Sunrunners have no power without their rings. Andry is scornful, and says so, in giving permission.
Maarken is amused. He gives his rings to Pol to keep—which does not amuse Andry. Pol points out that Maarken still has them, in the paler skin where they used to be. Which proves to Maarken that Andry has “flair” for sassing off enemies, but Pol has “genius.”
Maarken heads toward the place of the duel. As he does so, he feels Hollis with him.
Segev meanwhile is anxious. Mireva has some power in sunlight, but the weather is cloudy. It’s all on him.
He ponders his options and assesses the opposition. Meanwhile the fight begins. Segev settles in. In an hour, he’ll act. He’s very pleased with himself.
And I’m Thinking: Lots of setup here. Some drama with Hollis, and some foreboding with Segev. The big news of the day is the rapidly escalating tension between Pol and Andry.
Andry’s ideological inflexibility is in full display here. Goddess Keep controls all the Sunrunners. No exceptions. It doesn’t even occur to Andry that he might not be training Pol, and he has no clue about Pandsala’s crimes.
Pol of course isn’t going to go along with anything Andry comes up with, and Sioned stopped even beginning to do it long ago. Andry isn’t just setting himself up to butt heads with Pol here; he’s about to trample on Sioned’s turf. That’s not going to go smoothly. At all.
Meanwhile we get gorgeous outfits and elaborate ceremonies and a role for most of our very large cast of characters. The real action, clearly, is yet to come.
So This Happens: We see the fight through Riyan’s educated eyes. Masul has been well trained, but there are a few gaps. Maarken, much better trained, finds and exploits them—and uses psychology to drive them home. Riyan worries that that’s too much of a gamble.
Meanwhile Miyon’s squire brings an offer of a wager to Rohan and Sioned. Sioned offers very large stakes. Riyan has no idea what she’s up to.
The fight goes on. Masul isn’t as susceptible to mockery as Maarken may have thought. Then he’s down—but Maarken is confused and striking at nothing. Riyan senses power there, and recognizes it as similar to what happened when the assassin died. Which is proof that Riyan has sorcerous blood.
Meanwhile Maarken continues to flail, and Masul is back up and on the attack. Sioned doesn’t understand. Pandsala does. Rohan asks Sioned to do something about it—though she has no idea what she’s fighting, and there’s no sunlight to use.
Sioned calls in all the Sunrunners, never mind the injunction against Fire in the duel, and fights the sorcerer. The battle is fierce. Then Pol offers her all his raw power. She uses it even while she hopes he’ll be safe.
Pandsala manages to regain her autonomy. She assesses the situation, and zeroes in on Segev—whom she recognizes, with passionate hatred, as Ianthe’s son. She attacks—and he counterattacks, with Merida poison that kills sorcerers, and iron that kills Sunrunners.
He gloats. All the Sunrunners will fall through their connection with her, and feel her pain. All but Pol, who has the old blood, too; Segev doesn’t know from where, but he recognizes it.
She dies. Segev triumphs.
The Sunrunners are in agony, and in chaos. Sioned has no power to save them.
But Hollis does. She sees Segev kill Pandsala. She doesn’t understand exactly what’s happening, but she’s able to keep some part of herself separate. She knows she’s dying. She hallucinates a page from the Star Scroll, with the word for death by treachery.
She sees Maarken struggling in the circle. She realizes she’s been drugged with dranath, and she knows who did it and how.
The Sunrunners are starting to recover now Pandsala is no longer channeling her pain into them. Maarken is almost done. Masul is mocking. Segev is gloating and laughing.
Hollis kills Segev.
Meanwhile, in the circle, Masul is toying with Maarken, getting ready for the kill. Until Rohan’s two throwing daggers embed themselves in his throat.
He takes a little while to die. He knows who did it to him, and is astonished.
Rohan goes to take charge. Pol looks after Maarken, and reassures him that he hasn’t failed. “You went out to fight a man, not a sorcerer!”
Miyon is outraged. Rohan has had enough. He broke the law by killing Masul, and if he has to he’ll break the law by invading Miyon’s lands. Miyon gets out of there while he still can.
Chay tends to Maarken. Gemma offers to serve as physician, with Danladi’s help. Of most concern is Maarken’s crushed wrist; that might not heal completely.
The mopping up continues. Late in the day, Tallain brings word that Pandsala is dead. Naydra has taken charge of the body; Rohan asks her to see to funeral arrangements. Mostly he feels relief, though he also grieves.
Gemma has done what she can for Maarken, who will recover, she says, though his wrist is still a concern. She asks for a singular payment: that Danladi be married to Kostas. Danladi knows exactly what he is, and she still wants him. Rohan reflects, in amazement: “Danladi was surely unique among Roelstra’s daughters in that she seemed to have not a jealous or possessive bone in her body.”
When Rohan gets his breath back, he realizes this is a good thing. He gives permission. He also thinks, and says, that Kostas will be happy with the arrangement, once he’s had a good look at Danladi’s “pretty face.”
Afterward, there is teasing between Chay and Rohan about this latest development. Then it turns serious as Rohan acknowledges that he had no clue about what was really going on. Chay puts him to bed, claiming the authority of an older brother.
And I’m Thinking: Having the fight happen from outside seems like an odd choice, though it becomes apparent that Riyan is the viewpoint character because he can spot sorcery. It does rather take the tension out of the main event, or what’s supposed to be the main event.
Then again, the real action is sorcerous, and the physical battle is actually a minor part of the proceedings.
We get some violent closure on the bad-guy front: goodbye to Segev and Masul, and Pandsala ends the only way she really, logically can. She doesn’t precisely redeem herself, but she dies as she lived: defending Pol and his father.
Meanwhile the good guys are breaking laws right and center. Sioned never has blinked at using Fire to get the job done, and she doesn’t care what the price for that is, either—right up to and including using Pol ruthlessly to feed her power. After all his angsting and his moral-prince posturing, Rohan deals with Masul in the most practical and coldblooded way possible. (And I’m wondering, does he practice throwing knives every day? Just for fun? Or is he just, you know, a natural genius?)(No, don’t answer that.) He’ll deal with Miyon the same way, if it comes to that.
I’m sure there will be more angsting. Lots of it. Meanwhile, the tables are cleared. Pandsala is out. Masul and Segev are out. Maarken is damaged but alive. We don’t know for sure what happened to Hollis yet, though the signs aren’t good. And we’ve got another marriage in the works, because politics will hardly stop for something so minor as a massive magical battle with an as yet incomplete list of casualties.
Judith Tarr’s first novel, The Isle of Glass, appeared in 1985. Her new space opera, Forgotten Suns, will be published by Book View Cafe in April. 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 has won the Crawford Award, and been a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and the Locus Award. She lives in Arizona with an assortment of cats, two dogs, and a herd of Lipizzan horses.