Welcome to the weekly Wednesday reread of Sunrunner’s Fire! This week a number of long-festering conflicts break wide open.
Chapter 21—Dragon’s Rest: 33 Spring
So This Happens: Ostvel is riding hard to Dragon’s Rest with Donato and a pair of guards. He’s feeling his age, and he’s had to struggle to find mounts and lodgings on the way. When he comes in sight of the palace, it seems serene, but Ostvel’s mind feels muddled and he’s suspicious.
He asks Donato to check it out, with some teasing and badinage. While Donato does this, one of the guards offers Ostvel an opportunity for some exposition about the castle’s defenses. The guard suggests that the attackers might have some surprises in mind; the other guard offers to reconnoiter. Donato can’t find anything wrong. Ostvel remains suspicious, and mentions sorcery; he’s also disappointed in Andry, who clearly didn’t warn the inhabitants about the approaching army.
Donato checks the moonlight again—and is horrified to discover there is an army, and it marches under the banner of Meadowlord. There’s no sorcery at work right then, however, and Ostvel sees an opportunity. He orders Donato to contact Stronghold, but not Andry. Donato gets hold of Riyan, then the riders go down to Dragon’s Rest and warn the garrison. While the garrison gets moving, Donato asks Ostvel to explain about Sunrunner rings and sorcery. Donato is shocked to discover he has sorcerer blood.
Then he’s seized by a communication on moonlight, first from Sioned, then Andry takes over, overwhelms Sioned, and throws Donato out of the weaving. Andry is, Donato reports, furious. He knows everything, and he’s taking charge. Donato is seriously upset. He doesn’t trust Andry. Ostvel sets to work defending Dragon’s Rest—he doesn’t trust Andry to do it, let alone at such a distance.
Donato is seized again, but this time it’s Sioned with word from Rohan. Rohan has a refinement on the plan, and it includes Sunrunner’s Fire. There is some teasing about Donato’s age, and Ostvel’s, first with Donato, then with the commander of the garrison. Ostvel ends up, somewhat reluctantly, armed with a sword.
While he waits for the action to commence, Ostvel flashes back to the night Pol was born. He worries that Pol will learn who he really is. He argued for a revelation when Pol was young enough to cope, but now Pol is a man, and it will not be good at all. Especially when Pol finds out who killed his real mother.
The flashback ends with Fire driving the attackers toward the defenders. There is more commentary on Ostvel’s age. The attacking army’s horses stampede through, followed at some distance by the troops. They are about to rally under a female commander, when they break down in complete panic, slamming into an invisible wall none of them can pass.
Nobody knows who is working the magic. There is speculation that it might be Sioned, but Ostvel notes that there are only stars to drive the working—and sorcerers work starlight.
And I’m Thinking: As often when the secondary characters take the stage, the story comes alive. Ostvel is a wonderful character, solid and strong, very human but also very much in command of himself and his world. He knows who he is and what he’s doing here.
There is a tendency to go on at some length about characters who are past their twenties, leaning heavily on the ravages of age. I suppose it’s an element of realism, but the thirtysomething author harps so.
Eighties Me, who has been reading along silently for some time now, was all of a year younger at the time, so the harping doesn’t make much of an impression. What matters more is that, considering the tendency of fantasy protagonists to be teens and twentysomethings (Tolkien’s example was not followed here; the mostly USian fantasy phenomenon that followed in his footsteps had, and indeed still has, a strong strain of American culture’s extreme youth-worship), having actual major characters in their fifties was kind of radical. Still is.
2015 Me, who hasn’t been thirtysomething for some time, is both impressed by the way these characters grow and mature and feel the changes in their bodies and minds, and somewhat impatient with the quality of protesting too much. Real fiftysomethings tend not to go on about it quite so early or often.
Still. For fantasy of its era, and American fantasy pretty much ever since, this is unusual and laudable.
And then at the end we know who’s doing the big magic thing. We also suspect that since it’s Andry, there must be sorcerer blood in the mix, since he can work starlight.
Unless of course it’s Mireva playing one of her complicated games. Or someone else butting in. Time, and further chapters, will tell.
Chapter 22—Stronghold: 34 Spring
So This Happens: It’s a beautiful spring morning, and Andry is exhausted. Pol is raging at him, blaming him for the attack. Sioned wants to discuss what Andry did. Pol continues to rage. Andry points out that he stopped the fight without loss of life.
Pol continues to make verbal stabs at Andry’s methods and means. Andry hates him more than ever. Finally Chay gets him to expand on what he did: it’s one of Lady Merisel’s techniques for fighting sorcerers. He goes on to explain in detail how he reflected the attackers’ fears back at them. The spell or device is called the ros’salath. Pol continues to hate him.
Rohan finally takes control. Pol is somewhat lengthily awed by Rohan’s personal power and charisma. Rohan takes Andry severely to task for what he calls the murder of Marron. Andry argues back, but Rohan is immovable. He gives Andry three days to get out of Rohan’s lands and any princedom in which Rohan happens to be, except solely for the Rialla. He also bans the use of the ros’salath. He makes this sentence irrevocable for as long as he lives. When Andry argues, Rohan reminds him that Goddess Keep is held by the gift of the High Prince.
Andry keeps protesting, but Rohan will not be moved. Neither will the rest of the family. Andry is appalled by their ingratitude after he saved Dragon’s Rest. They’ll need him someday, he says. They’ll be sorry.
The scene ends with Andry striding out, and Tobin grieving for the loss of another son.
Pol doesn’t want to go to his room, which still smells of sex. He’s bitterly embarrassed in front of his squire, and flees into another, unsullied bedroom. There he broods on what happened with Andry, which he sees as the consequence of Rohan’s ongoing inaction; he knows Ruval is somewhere in the castle, and he can’t sit passively and wait. He’s a man of action. He has to act.
He finds Riyan and Ruala—radiating happiness in spite of the circumstances—and they report that a guard is missing, so must have been Marron’s disguise. No one else has escaped. Pol learns that Ruala has knowledge from the Veresch. He orders her to tell him what she knows.
Suddenly she senses sorcery. Riyan also detects it through his rings. So does Pol—somewhat to Ruala’s startlement. He thinks it feels familiar. Ruala points to where it’s coming from.
Mireva and Ruval meet in the stables. Their plans are in shambles. Mireva is exhausted and trying to come up with new plans. Ruval has to find another disguise. She gives him a different, older appearance, for temporary use.
Then Ruval asks how the night went with Pol. Success, she says, until Andry caught him up in a magical weaving. Pol now thinks Meiglan is a deceitful whore, Mireva says, to her surprise and pleasure; and she had a wonderful time.
Ruval knows something she doesn’t. After a bit of gloating, he tells her about Andry—and about the grounds for the exile: Marron’s murder. They have a good laugh about the “truly honorable idiot” and his equally idiotic son.
Mireva takes time to purr about her night as “Meiglan” again. This turns into a spat with Ruval over his plans for Princemarch and who has more power over whom. Ruval gets the last word, and Mireva is left “seething with impotent rage.”
She retreats to Meiglan’s room, where Meiglan is still unconscious, and uses a stolen bracelet of Chiana’s to work a spell on that now captive lady. She lures Chiana to the ensorceled mirror, discovering in the process what Marron did to unravel Mireva’s spells, and forces Chiana to destroy the mirror. So is she punished for Marron’s meddling in Mireva’s plots.
As Mireva returns to her body, the door crashes open. Three sorcerers stare her down.
And I’m Thinking: Well, I got that “Meiglan” was really Mireva, but totally misread what happened to Pol in Chapter 20. He wasn’t ensorceled or kidnapped by a bad guy, it was Andry—through there’s quite a bit of question now as to whether he’s good, bad, or Chaotic Neutral (he can’t be Lawful, all things considered).
In any case, the bad guys are seriously on the run here. Their plans are a wreck, thanks to Marron’s massive stupidity and Mireva’s own overconfidence.
Meanwhile Rohan has finally been provoked into action, and he’s done something devastating: he’s broken up his family. Tobin’s grief is especially poignant. Nobody is in Andry’s corner any more, now Sorin’s gone. So that comes back around to the bad guys, one way and another.
We’ve had a three-way conflict all along: Goddess Keep, Rohan and company, and first Roelstra and now the sorcerers. Now the lines are firmly drawn. I get the feeling it’s only going to get messier from here.
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.