Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Sunrunner’s Fire! This week the main event finally begins. With dragons!
Part Two: Year 728
Near Elktrap Manor, 3 Spring
So This Happens: Sorin and Riyan are appalled to discover a tortured, dying dragon. They try to comfort him, and we learn that they’ve come to investigate an earlier dragon murder in this same area.
Riyan manages to communicate with the dragon, learning more about how dragon communication works, and discovering that the dragon was somehow “pulled” out of the sky.
He then contacts Sioned on sunlight and gets advice as to how to help the dragon. He and Sorin discuss who might have done this, how, and why. Then Riyan notes that Sorin is not, according to his six Sunrunner rings, qualified to do what he’s proposing to do for the dragon.
Riyan is not a fan of Andry. He learned these skills from Urival and Sioned. He gets what he needs from the dragon: an exact description of the murderer. Then he lays a sleep spell on the dragon, at Riyan’s urging.
They free the dragon from the spikes that bind him, while reflecting on myths and facts about dragons, and agreeing that the murderer will be brought to justice. They also conclude that the dragon must have been captured by sorcery.
Riyan and Sorin withdraw to Elktrap Manor and meet their hosts, with much detailed description. They explain their mission to Lord Garic and Lady Ruala, and describe the murderer. Ruala recognizes him as a guest from three days ago, with a very fine, very spooked horse, and a need to wash blood from under his nails.
Garic and Ruala are unusual: they are fans of dragons. Garic opines that the dragon murders are a challenge, meant to draw out Rohan and Pol.
Once they’re alone, Sorin and Riyan discuss the need to tell Rohan and Pol what they’ve discovered. There is also some exposition about how wealthy Lord Garic is, and how he hid his wealth from Roelstra, but has been able to relax under Rohan; and further discussion about the law, which requires a dragon death to be reported immediately, and the fact that if they report this, they’ll be luring Rohan into a trap.
They decide to contact Sioned at moonrise. Meanwhile they discover that Lord Garic’s library contains ancient books, including a treatise on dragons. This leads to discussion of how the dragon was brought down, and that Andry needs to know such a spell exists. Riyan is not in favor of this, but Andry’s twin Sorin persists. Riyan grudgingly agrees to mention it to Sioned.
And I’m Thinking: Finally! Serious dragon fix! And Sorin gets to do what no other Sunrunner except Sioned had managed: to communicate with a dragon.
The battle lines are clearly drawn here. Ruval (for that’s who it has to be) is blatantly laying a trap for Rohan and Pol, and probably Andry as well, since he’s openly using sorcery. Though he may not have expected one of the Sunrunners to find out exactly what happened, by asking a dragon. Most likely he’s just trying to get Rohan and Pol all upset and bring them running into the trap.
I note that amid all the action and the character bits, we get a fair amount of economic and legal background. That’s the kind of worldbuilding that wasn’t so common in 1989; it was starting to appear in works like Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarrion series, but fantasy tended more toward the action-adventure than the nuts and bolts. In this respect, Rawn is a precursor to the likes of George Martin (who began writing his Game of Thrones series a few years after the Dragon Prince trilogy was published), with a grittier kind of story grounded in real-world facts and figures. But she’s still got the high epic grandeur going, with her elaborate palaces and her heroic, if lovingly flawed, protagonists.
Dragon’s Rest: 4 Spring
Pol goes flying off a green-broke filly, with much teasing from his Chamberlain, Rialt, including teasing about marriage. Pol, at nearly twenty-three, is under serious pressure to do something about this.
Rialt has come to report on the state of the realm. Pol reflects in detail on who Rialt is, where he comes from, and how Pol is not happy about the pressure to find a bride.
We get a parallel here: Rohan and Ostvel, Pol and Rialt. Rialt is likewise a close friend and a formidably competent administrator, and he’s been planning the Rialla for this year. Pol reflects more on Rialt’s past and the fact he’s a widower with two young daughters. We learn that Pol wants to have children. The hard part is finding a mother for them.
Rialt teases him about his temper, and he reflects further on the past, this time about their first meeting, during a tavern brawl, which included Pol’s use of Fire.
Pol withdraws to the gardens, which are described in architectural detail. Pol reflects on how he has come to love both the Desert and Princemarch; he serves as a bridge between them. This returns him to thought of children, which forces him think again about what kind of woman he will marry. She has to have faradhi gifts; that’s not negotiable. But he doesn’t trust anyone Andry has trained.
He reflects on his own training, and recalls how he tried to conjure his future, including his bride, but he only saw himself. This turns him to thoughts of Sionell’s teasing about his ego; then he remembers he’s late for a meeting.
His squire dresses him—he doesn’t care about clothes, but he’s always gorgeous—and there is a bit of teasing. The squire, Edrel, fills him in on the details of the embassy he’s about to receive. Pol continues to try to teach Edrel about teasing.
The formal audience begins. After a somewhat lengthy summary of preliminaries, the delegates come to the point: essentially, medical malpractice on the part of a young and inexperienced Sunrunner. Andry has not only refused to pay the fine levied against her, he has stated that Sunrunners are subject only to Sunrunner jurisdiction. This is a direct challenge to Rohan’s belief that the law applies equally to all.
Pol is furious at Andry. He orders the Sunrunner to be moved to a prison where she can have access to the sun—she’s been denied it—and agrees to talk to his father about this, though he’s aware that he’s being pressured to take sides in the dispute.
This a bigger mess than it might initially appear. Other jurisdictions are watching with interest—including Chiana at Swalekeep. Pol lets the lord and the lawyers know he’s aware of what this means.
Pol ends the meeting and immediately is contacted on sunlight by Sioned, who is aware of who’s been visiting him. She’s also aware that they’re putting on a show for the embassy, demonstrating that Pol is both Sunrunner and prince.
They discuss the dragon and the investigation, and agree that Andry has crossed a line. Sioned tells Pol to tell the embassy that Rohan will be informed. After somewhat more discussion, they end the contact, and Pol faces the “stunned” embassy. He stresses that the offending Sunrunner must be taken out of the dungeon and allowed the sun—adding that this will make things easier with Andry.
Pol informs them that he is leaving Dragon’s Rest but they may stay. Then he leaves, instructing his squire to summon Rialt and a small escort. The squire will stay to deal with the embassy, before dumping them on Chiana. There is a bit of teasing, and Edrel appears to be discovering a sense of humor.
When Pol leaves, Edrel is part of his escort. At moonrise, Riyan contacts him, and is appalled, warning him about the trap. Pol is not perturbed. He’s actually rather excited. He’s going dragon hunting—hunting a dragon’s killer.
And I’m Thinking: Lots of worldbuilding showing here, between the backstory, the gardens, and the legal and political situation. Andry is seriously challenging Rohan’s authority; what he’s doing is a major power grab, analogous to the way the medieval Church demanded that its clerics be answerable only to Church law. Secular law couldn’t touch them, regardless of what they did.
And it’s all intensely personal. It’s a family spat at base. Even Chiana, the butt of all the jokes, is family in her way. At the same time, it’s fantasy based on law and economics. The society of these books is undergoing profound change, not only because of magic-using royalty that communicates with dragons, but because the leader of that faction is seriously invested in the rule of law. Even when he’s breaking it, he’s doing so with full awareness of the consequences.
Meanwhile, my least favorite theme is on full display: the idea that teasing is love and anyone who doesn’t like it is a flawed character who just can’t take a joke. At least Edrel wins his sparring match with Pol, and gets to go on the dragon hunt. Points to the serious kid for that.
And here goes Pol, riding straight off into a trap. In that respect, he’s totally his father’s offspring.
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.