Rereading Melanie Rawn

Reading Melanie Rawn’s The Dragon Token: Chapters 18–22

Welcome to the weekly Wednesday read of The Dragon Token!

This week, a whole lot of things happen. Notably: Andry’s plans start to go pear-shaped, Skybowl deals with a somewhat puzzling attack, and the Desert (and the dragons) strikes back.

The Dragon Token Part Four: Chapters 18–22

Here’s What’s Happening: Part Four and Chapter 18 open literally in midsentence, as Feylin talks medical advances and the state of the war with Audrite in Skybowl. They agree that Rohan is still universally beloved, and Pol hasn’t won a lot of hearts yet. But it’s early days.

I’m thinking he’s had over thirty years to do something about that. The fact he hasn’t says a lot about how much less a person and a ruler he is than Rohan. Everybody either resents him or doesn’t know him. So what’s he been doing all these years?

Yes, yes, I know, this is supposed to be about how great men’s offspring aren’t usually all that great, but the heir could be just as great, or at least well liked, even if different. The fact he isn’t…ehhh. Makes it harder to relate to the character, and pushes reader sympathy distinctly elsewhere.

Does Pol have any fans? Or does everybody bounce off toward someone else? Readers who read this as teens and wept when Rohan died—what was your take on Pol?

Anyway. The two ladies have plenty to say on the subject, along with some speculation as to what will happen once the war is over. They assume their side will win. Which is interesting, too.

Audrite has had about enough of war. Chadric is a very understanding husband, and worries with her about their sons Laric and Ludhil. They both miss Graypearl terribly.

The domestic angle on the hardships of war continues as the Sunrunner Hildreth sends her elder son to Dragon’s Rest with Meiglan and company, but keeps her younger son (who has a cold) with her. She worries, too, and shares with her husband some lightness about her sons and women and the desire for grandchildren. Hildreth is still trying to find Andry and ream him out for (she thinks) calling on her crippled brother to defend Goddess Keep, but without success.

Andry, meanwhile, is out in the weather, riding toward Alasen and Andrev. He wants to try to protect both, though he knows they won’t allow it. He has plans to get Miyon to Rezeld, and he knows just how to do it.

Dinnertime at Skybowl. Walvis takes stock of everyone’s emotions and actions, starting with Audrite. Jeni is attracting plenty of young male notice, he notices, and she’s handling it masterfully. There is teasing and chuckling and reminiscing—patented Rawn interactions, in short.

Suddenly Daniv brings news that Vellant’im are headed toward Skybowl. They discuss what to do about the dragons. Feylin is fierce. So is Audrite.

Plans are in motion, and this attack was anticipated and orchestrated, but it’s much bigger than expected. Pol is on the way. Meanwhile they see a man in white (a color reserved for the Lord of Goddess Keep) leading the army.

The defenders are casual and not terribly concerned. There is teasing and banter. The enemy taunt them and call them women. They are flattered, and discuss what the enemy women are like.

All this laughing and teasing has a point. It improves morale.

Chadric comes out to fight. He’s old but doughty. And he needs to get his hand in. Walvis understands this.

Walvis is waiting to signal the attack. The sign it’s near is “a faint white-gold smudge on the horizon.”

Scene switch. Chiana and Rinhoel in distinctly substandard quarters at Rezeld, seriously unhappy about having to wait twenty days, incognito, for their allies to arrive.

They are plotting to take control of the manor. Rinhoel is plotting more murders, but his mother calls him on it. He allows as how that might not be the best way to get everything he wants. She schools him in other styles of evil overlordship, including the art of seducing the lady of the manor, who once tried to seduce Pol.

Walvis, having gambled on a sandstorm, is caught in it himself. A rare actual battle scene rages, with men and horses fighting hard. A dragon roars. Jeni guides the men back to the castle—taking out one of the enemy in the process. She is not a willing warrior.

Walvis takes stock. Chadric survived—Audrite is having her second meltdown of the day over it. Daniv is wounded. Feylin is singularly unimpressed by it all.

You just have to love these classic Rawn strong females.

Meath watches Sioned say goodbye to her family and reflects on how the twins really aren’t her blood relatives, but they manage to look like her anyway. Sioned worries about how quiet Jihan is, and also about Jahnavi’s widow, who is acting the same way she did when Rohan died. They discuss various aspects of this subject.

Meath is careful not to push her too far. She’s still drinking, he thinks.

Actually she’s working on a medicine for the children’s fever. She goes looking for ingredients and stumbles in the dark, which causes a strong flashback to her imprisonment in the older version of Feruche. She discovers that the emerald she’s been wearing for years has unexpected powers in the dark, awakened by her blood.

Kierun finds her and helps her back to the light. She goes back to her room, but finds she’s not tempted to drink.

Evening in Skybowl: some wounded, no dead. It’s a victory. Walvis presides over a feast. They all wonder why the Warlord sent so few to the attack.

Amid other domestic details, Walvis notices that Jeni isn’t there. He decides to mention it to Audrite, who’s most likely to understand how she feels about her first (and probably last) kill.

Much later, Jeni slips into the castle, and finds the children Audran and Alleyn waiting for her. She tells them she was out trying to talk to the dragon, whose name is Lainian. But she doesn’t know how to be a Sunrunner, and she can’t talk to him.

On their way to bed, the children see a dark man in the mirror that belonged to Jeni’s father’s first wife and Jeni’s namesake, Camigwen, who was a Sunrunner (but actually a sorcerer, though she never knew where her powers really came from). Jeni (whose mother Alasen is a Sunrunner, and so is she) can’t see him.

Long break here to dig into the Melanie Rawn wiki and figure out what all this is about. (Aha. The kids are sorcerers through their mother Iliena.)

(Resisting urge to go totally down the rabbit hole of the wiki.)

(Really. Resisting.)

In Chapter 19, Arlis and Rohannon are having a difficult time in Einar, getting the fabulously rich and highly selectively deaf Lord Sabriam to provide any help with their part in the war. Finally, after seven days, Arlis announces that they’re leaving, with or without usable ships, for Goddess Keep.

Suddenly Prince Laric appears, with Arnisaya and Camanto, and gets things moving. Arlis starts to wonder why he’s been kept from leaving Einar. Laric says he’s off to Snowcoves to deal with Yarin. Arlis offers to help. Meanwhile there are numerous undercurrents between Camanto, Arnisaya, Sabriam, and Sabriam’s wife.

Andry arrives at Dragon’s Rest after an ice storm. All the shiny colors make him giddy. He assumes a magical disguise to enter the castle, discovers that Alasen just left, and impersonates a messenger in front of Lisiel, telling her that no one knows where Chiana is. They indulge in a bit of obligatory Chiana-dissing.

He manages to elude anyone who might recognize him, until he runs smack into Evarin while busy plotting ways to get at Miyon. He makes a fast recovery, gets Evarin to the library, and endures the inevitable confrontation.

Laric and Arlis sort each other out similarly but with less tension. Arlis decides Goddess Keep can fend for itself, and opts for Snowcoves instead. They discuss the Yarin situation. Rohan’s style versus Pol’s comes into consideration. We’re in a new regime, Arlis points out.

Andry gets all the news from Evarin. He’s not pleased that Meiglan has been sent back to Dragon’s Rest. Evarin tells him Hildreth really, really doesn’t like him.

Andry is amused. Hildreth is a plant, he explains. He also knows Pol (though it’s more likely Sioned) has one in Goddess Keep. It’s a game, he says. Evarin is suitably impressed. (Hildreath might not be all that devoted to Andry, according to her own viewpoint in Chapter 18.)

Miyon actually ends up summoning the “courier,” who tells him he’s a Merida. Miyon is scornful. The courier leads him on a good long way in plotting for and against Chiana and Rinhoel as well as the Vellant’im, Pol, Andry, Meiglan, and Jihan.

Miyon ties himself up beautifully in knots of complicated intrigue. The upshot is that he’s tidily tricked into leaving Dragon’s Rest.

Until the “courier” slips up. He doesn’t know about the dragon tokens.

Miyon sends him away and calls for the tutor Catallen, whom he means to send to Stronghold. With a dragon token.

Andry collapses into a very private bed, with considerable guilt about using Meiglan and Jihan the way he just did. This has to be the first time he’s ever had such regrets, and it shows his Desert heritage getting stronger the longer he’s away from Goddess Keep.

He thinks he’s succeeded in getting Miyon to Rezeld. He still doesn’t know what he’ll do once that happens, which is a serious falling down on his part. Maybe, he thinks, they’ll all kill each other.

Pol and company ride out the sandstorm in Desert fashion, with their horses. Then Pol has an idea, which involves night fighting.

His, Maarken’s, and Riyan’s dragons interrupt, outraged at their putting themselves in danger. Riyan proposes they use the dragons. Pol realizes Azhdeen loves him—fiercely and protectively.

(Pause for fierce dragon-love. Love these dragons. Love.)

Pol passes out and misses a lot of action. When he comes to, Walvis is there, and Kazander tells him Azhdeen has started a battle.

Camanto, having evaded both noble ladies, takes a servant to bed and reflects on his brilliant plans, which are proceeding, he thinks, brilliantly. He’s studied Rohan and he’s all about getting what he wants without the effort of war. Laric can do that part. Camanto will nobly lead from the rear.

The girl offers him a special ointment that will enhance his pleasure. Lord Sabriam uses it, she says.

It is, of course, poison.

Next: A battle scene! Pol is not in charge. He’s not fighting well, either, after his experience with the dragon. Kazander, commanded by Maarken, gets him out of the battle.

Azhdeen comes down with a wounded wing. Pol tends him. Just as he starts to send the dragon away, the enemy in white (we know, though Pol doesn’t, that it’s the priest) and a large troop of Vellant’im descend on them.

Pol is bravely defiant. This buys time (inadvertently) for Maarken and company to rally and fall on the enemy. Pol and Maarken end up back to back, fighting as a single unit, while Azhdeen wreaks havoc.

Then Maarken loses his left hand. As Kazander comes to the rescue, Pol cauterizes the wound with Fire.

Pol, deafened by dragon-howls, realizes the battle is over. He takes stock, and ends up in Maarken’s room. Maarken is sleeping, watched from outside by his dragon.

Rohannon has had no luck getting Sabriam’s Sunrunner to teach him the art. He takes dranath with the intention of conjuring moonlight to get the news from Snowcoves. This goes on for some time and in some detail, until he stumbles across a diarmadhi ritual. He recognizes Yarin at the center of it.

Once back in his body, he hears Camanto’s shriek, followed by the thud of his body crashing to its death. In the aftermath, the nobles try to figure out why he died. This leads to Rohannon’s telling Laric about Yarin. Laric and Arlis decide to leave in the morning.

This in turn leads to Rohannon’s remembering a recipe from the Star Scroll, for a burning ointment. Camanto was murdered—with sorcerous help.

Rohannon has to tell Arlis why magic doesn’t get practiced in battle. Iron hurts sorcerers but kills Sunrunners.

Rohannon makes an excuse and leaves. On his way out, he overhears Sabriam accusing his wife of adultery with Camanto, and disinheriting his heir, Isriam. Rohannon realizes Sabriam had Camanto murdered, and is working with the sorcerers just as Yarin is. They all have to leave immediately or be murdered, too.

As Chapter 21 opens, Pol is now thinking of himself as “the Azhrei.” He asks (orders) Feylin to help his wounded dragon. Feylin overcomes her fear, gets Pol to put the dragon to sleep (she’s seen Sioned do it), and treats his wing.

They discuss the prognosis, Feylin’s fear of dragons, and Azhdeen’s (and Pol’s) dramatic role in the battle. This segues to the fact that this was not a total victory, and the next one has to be. Pol has to face the High Warlord—and he has to do it with magic.

He goes on to discuss who the Vellant’im are. They’re not fighting for the sorcerers. Of whom there are two kinds: like Mireva and like Ruala. This is connected with Lord Gerik and Lady Merisel. And it’s connected with the Azhrei.

Feylin helps him understand that this has something to do with religion. It’s about destroying dragons and Sunrunners (or the dragon prince) for their sin. They still don’t understand why the enemy can both worship and kill dragons and Sunrunners.

After Feylin leaves (tough and wonderful to the last), Pol prevails on Azhdeen not to fly. The effort takes a lot out of him. He faces the fact that the next battle will be a single combat, just like Rohan back in the day.

He reflects on what he is, how he was raised, and what he has to do.

Somehow he gets the feeling Andrade wouldn’t be happy with what he’s decided. He knows Andry won’t be.

Amiel of Gilad, meanwhile, discovers that his pregnant wife Nyr has disguised herself as a soldier and come along to the war. They have a roaring fight, until they finally come to terms.

As they go on, they find no live Vellant’im until the fifteenth day. The man is wounded. Amiel commands him to be tended—until he’s strong enough to steal a horse and lead them to the enemy.

This doesn’t work. Amid bits of intimacy and a great deal of traveling through empty country, Amiel and Nyr decide to rough him up a bit.

Then Nyr proposes to shave him. That does it. He leads them east, until they see ships heading for the mouth of the Faolain River.

Amiel wonders if anyone knows how to sail one of them.

Miyon leaves Dragon’s Rest with twenty soldiers. Lisiel and company are more than glad to see him go. He’s glad to leave—but he’s not headed for Rezeld.

Andry has no clue. He wakes up and puts on his spell of disguise—just as Thanys passes by outside. She senses the spell, harks back to Mireva (whose side she was not on), and concludes that there’s a sorcerer in Dragon’s Rest.

Azhdeen is not an easy patient. As Pol struggles to cope with him, Jeni fills him in on how everyone is doing, and asks him to teach her how to talk to her dragon. He agrees, starting with teaching her basic Sunrunning.

She is frustrated that she hasn’t learned anything—and that she hasn’t had her sexual initiation, either. Pol does not find this comfortable listening.

He starts teaching her, and notes that Lainian is being really considerate of her, compared to, say, Azhdeen. She’s not afraid. The scene ends with what reads as a definite and mutual flirtation.

Hm.

Yeah.

Pol, she’s sixteen. Good grief.

Laric and company get the hell out to sea, where Laric observes that Rohannon the Sunrunner doesn’t get sick on water. There’s further reflection on the situation, notably Sabriam, but he hasn’t done anything to stop the exodus.

Then Rohannon (who says he’ll be deathly ill by noon) figures out why Sabriam hasn’t acted. There’s a major storm coming. Arlis says he can outrun it.

Laric and Rohannon discuss Rohannon’s peculiar form of water-sickness, and Laric worries that Rohannon might not make it alive. Rohannon insists he’ll be fine. He gets to work Sunrunning—assisted by dranath—and concludes that the enemy are no threat for now.

Meanwhile, in Goddess Keep, Torien (unlike Jayachin) isn’t worried about the enemy, either until he discovers that Valeda has gone to help Andry. She left a letter, with advice and instruction, including “Don’t let that fool Jayachin bully you.”

Hear the ominous chords rising on several fronts.

Lisiel, in Chapter 22, discovers a series of departures from Dragon’s Rest: the “courier” left as expected, but Meiglan’s maid is also gone, and so is Evarin.

Evarin has gone after Andry. Andry is following Alasen through very rough and steep country. Andry is headed via Elktrap Manor to Feruche.

Meiglan is on that road, headed toward Elktrap. She is missing her own bed, and feeling terribly weak and useless. Her mind spins through various cycles of negativity, including her perception of Pol’s reaction to the way she executed her brothers, and her reaction to his dream of peace at Dragon’s Rest. She thinks he’s a fool.

She’s never had a critical thought about him before, and it horrifies her. So does the memory of the widows, Sioned and Sionell, and the fact that her own first act as High Princess was to kill. She can’t ever let anyone, least of all Pol, know how she really feels. She has to keep playing the role of High Princess.

Pol, having little else to do in the very well-run organization that is Skybowl, proceeds with his instruction of Jeni. She’s outstandingly gifted; she perceives sunlight with all her senses.

This goes on for quite some time, but it’s grand magical writing—the kind of thing one comes to fantasy for. Pol has to mumble for a while, of course, about wishing the war was over and he was back home and the world was at peace, which leads to fretting over the future political situation. This is very Rohan-like of him, and that’s kind of interesting, if also fairly standard by now, but the magic makes up for it.

Jeni tries to talk to her dragon, and passes out. Pol can’t explain to the dragon what he’s done, so opts to wait. Suddenly Sethric charges up, all set to rescue the damsel.

Pol sorts him out, quite deftly in fact, including the dragon situation and the potential marriage situation. He’s channeling Rohan like a champion here.

Sethric, for his part, explains the urgencies of war. And then the author makes sure we know Pol really isn’t as good as Rohan at this High Prince thing. Pol doesn’t internalize. He externalizes. With weapons.

They go on talking about war and politics and what will happen after, which Sethric observes that no one else seems to be talking about.

The dragons interrupt. Pavisel teases Azhdeen awake, and the dragon sire convinces Lainian to let Jeni go. Pol extricates her, teases her lightly about Sethric, and sends them both to Feylin for treatment of her headache.

Pol wonders exactly how the dragons communicated, and ponders how he might use it.

Andry spies on the continent, sees Andrev getting knife training (and using a Rohan trick), and Tobren helping Chayla with the wounded, and has all sorts of strong feelings about children, war, and the unfairness of it all. Andry nobly resolves to help Pol, because Pol needs him.

Then he contacts Torien. The Vellant’im have vanished. Andry is sure some are headed for Goddess Keep. He gives Torien the news as he understands it, including his conviction that Miyon is headed for Rezeld. They agree to “share a laugh” over the (they think inevitable) results.

Jayachin meanwhile is presenting a problem. Andry suggests giving her a squire (i.e., spy), which will be an offer she can’t refuse.

Andry moves on, takes note of where Arlis is going, and resolves to make him pay for it later. Then he comes to and moves on with Evarin.

The High Warlord luxuriates in Chay’s former tent, now liberated from Radzyn. He’s pleased with the war so far, including the failed attack on Skybowl, and plans to lure the Azhrei to Stronghold. Then he does significant but still mysterious things with three dragon tokens (which contain key information) and a map of the Veresch.

Yarin allows Tirel to sit in on a meeting of the Regency Council. He assures Idalian he hasn’t said anything. They agree that Laric is coming and will take care of Yarin, including Yarin’s failure to celebrate Tirel’s birthday.

Aldiar appears, tells Idalian that Laric is en route, and urges him to get Tirel out as fast as he can. Idalian does not trust him. Aldiar explains the situation bluntly: Tirel will be a hostage when Laric and Arlis get there. Idalian resists. Aldiar leaves, frustrated.

Idalian ponders the meeting. He considers how he might manage an escape, does not understand why Aldiar seems to be on their side, and realizes his life and Tirel’s are both in serious danger.

 

And I’m Thinking: Lots going on here. Lots and lots. Piles and piles of characters, and tangles of intrigue and conflict and alliance and just general interaction everywhere.

And dragons. The dragons always get me.

I finally hit peak cast of thousands and had to find a wiki to figure out who was who. Still not completely clear on some of the relationships, and kind of losing track of who is related to whom or who did what to whom, but the big picture isn’t too complicated.

Yet.

Clearly we’re headed toward a one-on-one between Pol and the High Warlord, though the way things have been going, that might get royally spiked. There’s a whole other book yet to come, as well, so we’re not going to get our denouement quite yet.

Pol does seem to be growing up a bit, which is a good thing. Or else he’s channeling Rohan. Except we’re reminded early and often that he’s not subtle or clever. He’s a jock. He’s all on the surface and when he has a problem, he generally just kills it.

Except he’s not really that shallow, at least when he’s channeling Rohan. He studied hard with the father-professor, and some of it stuck.

He’s also looking ahead, unlike anyone else. Some of it is native laziness, but some is upbringing and general sense of what the world should be like—as Pol realizes he’s someone who can actually make the world be the way he wants.

I still don’t like him. But by the end of this section, he’s quite a bit less of a pain that he has been to this point.

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.

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