The Valdemar Reread

By the Sword: The Price of Command

Before I do anything else this week, I need to apologize. I suggested that this week’s blog post would feature a pig. And alas, it will not. I got overexcited and neglected to count chapters. It’s coming next week.

This week, the book starts a new section titled “The Price of Command.” The most obvious price Kerowyn is paying for command is her sex life.

Which is a huge relief. If the burden of command is loneliness, the burden of blogging a re-read is finding something interesting to say every time two characters hook up (and then again when their psychic horses comment on their hook up). That’s not hard when the scenes themselves are interesting. And there are some – I like the Kero/Daren scene, and there would be quite the hole in the Last Herald-Mage trilogy with no sex. To be really worthwhile, a sex scene has to be the most important thing happening in the story at the moment that it occurs. It has to tell us something about the characters, and it has to contribute to the plot. Most of the sex in the Valdemar books is pointless. I would rather these characters kept their pants on and had pleasant conversations about non-romantic topics. I would prefer that these conversations be related to the plot, but I keep a running list of acceptable alternatives. These include, but are not limited to; Weather, regional cuisine, the lyrics to “The Crafty Maid,” road maintenance, seasonal infectious disease outbreaks, and comparative politics.

I should acknowledge that Kerowyn HAS had other lovers. She reminisces about past relationships with a Healer and some minstrels (one at time, not all at once).   None of these relationships lasted long, or provided the sense of true connection for which she yearns. Her life is too risky and her responsibilities too great for her to truly devote herself to a partner. Captain Kirk delivered a monologue on this problem in “The Naked Time.” The Skybolts are Kerowyn’s Enterpise.

Kerowyn is pretty deeply engaged in her inner monologue in this section, so we get to read a detailed discussion of the sexual proclivities of other mercenary captains. Kerowyn received her guidelines on sexual ethics for military commanders from Tarma, and these seem to be widely accepted by her peers. Kerowyn is probably not unusually starved for close companionship, at least not as compared to members of her peer group, but her sense of isolation is aggravated by frequent dreams of Herald Eldan.

The cause of these dreams is never made clear, but I am inclined to believe that Eldan plays an active role in them. In the dream described in this section, Eldan and Kerowyn have a conversation about ethics and then have sex. In my experience of dreaming about ex-lovers, you get one or the other, not both. So I assume that Kerowyn and Eldan are actually communicating.

Ethics was not on my list of most interesting conversational topics this week, but it’s not bad. Eldan has never understood why Kerowyn is willing to sell her sword. He’s skeptical about mercenary morality. Kerowyn takes a pragmatic approach – she and her troops need to make a living, and if wars are going to be fought, someone honorable might as well do the fighting. Lackey has provided some details about the Mercenary Guild throughout these books. Bonded troops follow certain rules, most notably regarding looting. The Mercenary Guild represents mercenaries’ legal interests, provides arbitration in some circumstances, and offers loans and other financial services. Fascinatingly, this group also maintains the power to excommunicate individuals through a quasi-religious ritual (it played a major role in the Oath books). Kerowyn maintains that mercenaries do honest work. Eldan seems to be wrestling with that notion.

These dreams also raise interesting logistical questions. Assuming that Eldan is actively involved in them, what process is involved? Is he asleep too? Are Eldan and Kerowyn in the same time zone? Is Eldan doing this voluntarily? Eldan’s previous difficulties in getting a message from Karse to Valdemar demonstrated that he is not capable of MindSpeaking from Valdemar to Menmellith without assistance. This raises the possiblity that one or more Companions are providing the raw power for this exchange. I love hints that Valdemar’s fate is carefully crafted by a shadowy cabal of Companions almost as much as I hate sex scenes. The short term need for a military strategist will be explained soon, for readers who haven’t taken on the Arrows trilogy yet. The reasons why the Companions need to lure in a mercenary captain currently deployed along the Karse/Rethwellan border are less clear. I think it’s worth noting that if the Companions are working to recruit Kerowyn, they made a deliberate decision to facilitate Eldan and Kerowyn’s sleep sex. Companions can be kind of squicky.

When she’s not sleeping, Kerowyn is leading the Skybolts in action against a crusading army of Karsites in and around Menmellith. Over the past several years, priestesses have come to dominate the ranks for the cult of the Sun Lord, which makes Kerowyn anxious about Need’s loyalties. In the last section, Need was protecting Skybolts against magical attack when they were in close proximity to Kerowyn. In this section, those protections have been expanded to include all non-Mage Skybolts, which is a pretty snazzy advantage on the battlefield. But using Need to fight a force with so many women in positions of power is a dicey proposition. Kerowyn hasn’t really been a good partner to Need. She’s been enjoying the benefits of Need’s Healing powers and her protection against Magical attack for years, and during that time has rescued only one woman in peril. Kerowyn notes that Need seems lethargic. I’m worried that Need is depressed.

Despite Kerowyn’s concerns and mine, the conflict with the Karsites wraps up quickly. The Skybolts take out the shrine the Karsite troops have been rallying around, and the Karsite lines collapse. Kerowyn and her army collect their pay, plus a grateful bonus from Daren, who was there with the Rethwellan regulars. The Skybolts head for Winter Quarters in time for the annual horse fair put on by Kerowyn’s cousins. A delegation from the Valdemaran military is heading their way.

Tune in next week when Valdemar’s problems spill over its borders! And also, there’s a pig. For real.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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