Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Sunrunner’s Fire! This week we’re focusing on one long, dense chapter. Rohan and Sioned reach some uncomfortable conclusions, and Pol reveals his true intentions. With special bonus dragon lore (and a bit of offstage dragon gore).
Chapter 18 — Stronghold: 32 Spring
So This Happens: Rohan and Sioned engage in a somewhat lengthy private discussion of the situation with Pol and Meiglan, whom Sioned refers to as “that girl.” Pol has been fully briefed on the nature of the honey trap, but Sioned tells Rohan about her latest conversation with him, and his continued failure to escape the trap. Pol admires her looks and her music, and Sioned believes he means for his mother to mind her own business.
The conversation shifts to Sioned’s twitchiness not only about this but about Ruval. It turns into a mild quarrel over whether Pol is smart enough not to marry Meiglan. Rohan urges her to trust her son, who is no longer a child; they’ve been overprotecting him and it’s time to stop. The discussion continues in this vein for some time, with reference to Pol’s lack of real life experience as compared to his father at the same age, Pol’s relationship with Rohan as compared to Rohan’s relationship with his own father, Pol’s lack of real life experience, the nature of youth and age, Pol’s lack of real life experience due to never having been tested, and the real root of Sioned’s anxiety.
Pol is another Ianthe son. She believes it’s time to tell him the truth. She isn’t sure he’ll take it well. Rohan tries to reassure her that Pol knows she’s his “real” mother. They go back and forth about which is worse, lying to him all his life or having conceived him in rape. Sioned is afraid the truth will shatter Pol’s sense of who he is. Rohan thinks Pol will be able to handle it. Sioned is bitterly skeptical.
Pol meanwhile is out on a recreational ride to Rivenrock with a large group of family and friends. His horse is impatient and wants to run. Pol knows it’s not a good idea, but lets him go. When he slows down, he admires the Desert in spring. Maarken and Andry catch up with him. Andry agrees with Pol’s astonishment (which others have teased him about). They discuss, lightly and with teasing, being Desert-born and getting excited about spring flowers. Andry is full of jokes, memories, and teasing.
While the interlude goes on, Pol reflects on how hard Andry must be working to pretend he can stand Pol. Pol feels guilty about his own deception in that line. The teasing and reminiscences continue.
The rest of the party catches up, with Meiglan in the rear. She’s a timid rider. Feylin mildly teases Pol about riding in the races at the Rialla. Pol says he plans to, startling her, because he has to win his Chosen’s wedding jewels. Feylin blows past this. They discuss ways of finding spouses. She’s not in favor of the Rialla as a marriage market. They go on to discuss winning a spouse in a war, as Feylin did; she believes it’s a more “honest” approach. Pol jokes about starting “a little war.” She teases him about his looks and his arrogance; he replies in kind.
The conversation shifts to the caves and the failure so far to lure the dragons back to Rivenrock. They discuss what little they know of dragon intelligence and communication. Feylin notes that they don’t understand dragons any better than they understand (clearly much less intelligent and unmagical) horses. They go on to discuss other abandoned caves and the reasons for the abandonment, with reference to climate change and ecological shifts, plus dragons’ being smart enough to go where the food is.
They further discuss dragon intelligence, with reference to the dying dragon with whom Pol communicated. Pol has a higher opinion of their intelligence than Feylin does. She argues that he projected his own emotions and analysis on the dragon. He continues to argue that dragons might be persuaded to find new caves, as Sioned persuaded them to do at Dragon’s Rest, or return to old ones, such as Rivenrock. He also argues, persistently, that dragons are “a lot smarter than you’ll admit.” The argument, which is mild, turns into teasing about Feylin’s scientific inclinations, including dragon necropsies. Riyan interrupts, hinting strongly at a private audience. Feylin takes the hint and leaves.
They begin with nudge-nudge-wink-wink about not letting anyone into the dangerous caves that might collapse—actually the caves full of secret dragon gold. Pol then tells Riyan he’s giving him Feruche. Riyan protests that it should stay in Pol’s family. Pol reveals that Hollis has had a vision that the twins will be her only children. Riyan continues to protest, because he can’t imagine anyone but Sorin in Feruche, and asks for time to think about it.
Pol is not taking no for an answer. He has long-range plans that need Sorin in Feruche. Riyan admires his likeness to Rohan’s equally long-range intelligence, and agrees to take the holding, pending a member of Pol’s family to pass it on to. There is a bit of teasing about Riyan’s unmarried state. Pol says he doesn’t plan to wait as long as Riyan has.
The family invades at that point, led by the twins. Andry provides magical entertainment. They troop off to lunch, with Pol reflecting on the past of this place, including his grandfather Zehava’s mortal wounding. This segues into a reflection on how Rohan has made sure Pol hasn’t had to “live by the sword at all.” This turns to reflection on how family outings are usually much more casual, but Meiglan “deserved elegance.” He’s trying to determine whether her shyness is real or feigned; he reflects on what Miyon is hoping to accomplish, basks in her beauty, and concludes that he has “decided to be enchanted.”
He recalls how Rohan used to play this same game, and how, much more recently, Pol shocked his chamberlain and his squire by being concerned about clothes. A flashback ensues, with alarm from them, because of who she is, but Pol teases them about his predilection for “really beautiful” females. Rialt lists all the reasons Meiglan is not suitable. Pol counters with all the reasons those reasons aren’t valid.
He finishes with a declaration that he plans to make her his wife—then in the face of Rialt’s shock, confesses that it’s all a game. He’s playing the same one Rohan played with Roelstra, for similar reasons. He swears Rialt to secrecy and asks him to play the part of disapproving elder. They briefly discuss whether Meiglan knows what’s going on. Pol doesn’t want to hurt her, but it’s important to let Miyon think he’s winning.
The flashback ends with Rialt warning Pol not to get caught in the trap, and Pol reflecting in present time that he really is attracted to Meiglan, though he isn’t sure why. He decides it’s because he doesn’t know if her fragility is genuine or an act. He determines to be careful, and to do most of his acting away from her, in case she really is innocent. He reflects on the game and his guilt at deceiving his family, and how Rohan played the same game. Rohan has always been patient but Pol never has been. He wants to actively move events in a particular direction.
The company rides up into the canyon. Riyan is trying to court Ruala, thwarted by the twins. Feylin conducts the tour, taking pleasure in shocking the Sunrunner, Nialdan, with tales of dragon cannibalism and dragon necropsies. Pol is relieved that Meiglan is too far back to hear this. He rides with her, accompanied by the voluble Chayla, who wants to see dragons. This goes on a bit, and Chayla calls Meiglan “Meggie.” When Pol gets Meiglan alone, he asks her about this. She is shy and he makes a misstep about her nurse, who, it turns out, is dead. Pol tries to smooth things over. Meanwhile Riyan finally gets Ruala to himself, and Pol is amused.
There is a sudden scream. Meiglan’s horse runs off with her, with Meiglan riding badly. Pol pursues them back out in the Desert, where he finally catches the mare. Meiglan is in shock. When she comes to, she is terrified—showing abuse reactions. Pol comforts her, even while he wonders if she’s faking it. She begs him not to tell her father. While he looks into her “big brown eyes,” he decides she’s an innocent, and promises to keep the secret. The chapter ends with his telling himself that he was manipulated, that his “fierce instinct to protect” was intentionally triggered, and that he would have done the same for any fragile, needy person.
And I’m Thinking: So Pol isn’t nearly as stupid as he’s been made out to be. I’m glad of that. He’s actually pretty relatable here, and he’s being remarkably mature and complex about it. Though he does end the chapter in a fine state of denial.
The music of doom is rising in the background. He doesn’t know who he really is yet, and his parents’ long talk about how he’s never been tested is just begging for him to get slammed up one side and down the other. Not to mention what will happen when happy-smiling-Andry finds out that Pol is half sorcerer and, maybe worse, a Roelstra grandson.
Pol giving Feruche to Riyan is not going to go over well with Andry. I can tell that from here. And there’s still that honey trap getting ready to snap shut.
Feylin continues to be awesome. She’s having such a good time grossing the poor Sunrunner out. Makes for a striking contrast with poor quivery Meiglan. And Sioned of course has the casual disgust of the professional woman for the useless bimbo her son insists on hanging out with. It’s all very realistic, though Meiglan may be just a wee tad overdone.
Judith Tarr’s first novel, The Isle of Glass, appeared in 1985. Her new novel, Forgotten Suns, a space opera, was published by Book View Café 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.