Welcome to the weekly Wednesday read of The Dragon Token!
This week we finish this second book of the trilogy, where the good guys suffer more casualties, some of them grievous. The grieving widows get a grip and get fierce, and Pol takes a turn to the dark side—with unexpected help.
The Dragon Token: Chapters 23–27
Here’s What Happens: Pol is appalled in Chapter 23 to find Maarken getting ready to go out for a ride, amid a storm of objections. Chadric, the wise elder, points out that Maarken needs not to feel like a cripple. Pol, suitably schooled, announces that they’re both going out for a ride.
Meanwhile Sioned, pressured by Pol to make herself useful, helps Chayla in the infirmary. Rohan’s memory is always with her. She wallows in grief, until Meath comes to comfort her. This causes an epiphany, and a seismic emotional shift. Sioned smiles for the first time since Rohan died.
Rohannon, at sea, is not sick. Arlis says he’ll be knighted at Balarat, then asks him to do some Sunrunning. Arlis watches and reflects on how he looks compared to other Sunrunners at work.
Rohannon comes back and announces that Saumer is getting ready for an attack. Arlis is horrified. Rohannon can’t speak on sunlight except to his father Maarken, he’s never learned how. Arlis commands him to pass the message through Maarken, and stop the attack.
Pol and Maarken discuss Chadric’s lesson in people-handling, and what to do in the next (and hopefully final) stage of the war, along with Pol’s foibles and failings.
Back in the castle, meanwhile, Kazander et al. are leaving, with much drama and teasing. In the midst of it, Alleyn and Audran ask Pol to look in Camigwen’s mirror. Maarken can’t see anything, but Pol evidently can. Pol orders the mirror to be brought along to Feruche.
Maarken gets it, as does Walvis. The children are sorcerers, like Pol, like Riyan. But not Maarken or Jeni or Audrite.
They take the mirror down, and discuss it further. Maarken takes a moment to be bitter about his new disability, but quickly gets over it.
Suddenly Rohannon contacts him. They share news and reactions, then Maarken realizes Rohannon is on dranath. Rohannon says that’s why he’s not seasick. Maarken warns him that Yarin is a sorcerer. Then Rohannon tells him about Saumer.
Maarken strategizes quickly and gives instructions for Arlis to follow. Then he reams his son about the drug. Rohannon says he needs it to stay upright and Sunrunning.
Maarken is horrified, remembering Hollis’ struggle with addiction. While the departure and the mirror’s removal get sorted out, he reflects on his failure to tell Hollis about either his hand or their son’s drug use.
Sioned seeks out Sionell. They talk about widowhood and grief. They comfort each other.
Saumer gets his first conscious Sunrunner contact, from a very tactful Hollis. She educates him about his nature and abilities. He has natural talent. She tells him how to get into Faolain Lowland without attacking the Vellant’im. Saumer is quite pleased to find out that he’s another Sunrunner prince.
Chapter 24 begins with Tilal wandering down memory lane as he spends time with his brother’s widow, Danladi. She asks him what he’ll do now. Amid grief and anger, he says he’ll go home to his wife and his remaining children. She tells him to go to the mouth of the Faolain as commander of Syr’s army, with additional details. She is, he reflects, very much a princess.
Andry spies on Alasen and Meiglan on the road, with memory and regret for what could never be. He contacts her on the sunlight, and she rejects him forcibly. She should not be able to do that, he tells Evarin when he comes back to himself.
He concludes that someone, probably Pol or Sioned, has taught Alasen how to shut him off. He resolves to “explain things” to her when he gets to Feruche. He is Not happy about this.
Chayla meanwhile escapes from Skybowl by one of the passages Myrdal showed her, against her mother Ruala’s express command, to search for herbs she needs. She joins with some of the morning patrol, for protection (she’s rebellious but not stupid), and there’s an interlude with them, in which we get to know who they are and how they’re related.
While she hunts for herbs, she thinks about Kazander, then about Meiglan making music, then about Kazander again. She’s very much a sixteen-year-old girl, with the responsibilities of a much older woman, but emotions and thoughts suitable for her age.
Andry is still gnawing at himself over Alasen, while dealing with weather on the road. Suddenly a small group of riders appears, led by an unshaven Miyon, who is clearly headed for Feruche. None of them sees Andry.
Andry and Evarin speculate as to why Miyon is riding toward Pol. Playing politics, they conclude. Then Evarin wonders why Miyon isn’t riding for Rezeld as he promised the disguised Andry.
Andry hears the ominous chords swelling (and about time, too).
Meiglan and Alasen deal with a rockfall on the road, with bonus fuss about protocol by Alasen’s son Dannar. Alasen recalls Andry’s attempt at contact, and rebukes herself for not finding out where he is, while getting a solid mad on about Andry in general. This leads to a lengthy reflection on how she has finally decided to accept her powers in order to help, in this instance, Meiglan. Which in turn leads to a lengthy reflection on what Meiglan has had to do in order to get through this war.
Andry tries to contact her again. She drives him away again. When she comes to, she’s hanging by her mare’s reins over the edge of the rockfall. She has to be rescued, with suitable drama.
She lies about why she fell, leaving Andry out of it. Jihan suspects, but Alasen shuts her down. Meiglan knows what happened, but also keeps quiet.
Then she wonders why Andry tried again, and reflects at length on this, even starting to soften toward him. She stays alert, but he doesn’t come back.
Chayla is still in the meadow at sunset. Suddenly her guards are all dead, shot by arrows. A Vellanti lord appears in a brutally misridden Radzyn mare. Chayla realizes she’s wearing Maarken’s distinctive colors, and is a valuable prize.
She knifes him, but he has company. They capture her. The lord calls her Sunrunner Princess. “And everyone knew what the Vellant’im did to Sunrunners.”
Chapter 25 shifts scene to Faolain Lowland, where the hall is vast and so is Karanaya’s skepticism about secret passages. The family discuss, skeptically, where those passages might be, while the resident Sunrunner runs through Hollis’ directions. It’s actually Karanaya who spots the button that opens the passage.
Amid a great deal of sibling squabbling, they enter the passage, with further squabbling and discussion of what Saumer has in mind, and another squabble when they hit a dead end and can’t figure out the combination.
Finally they find the exit. They squabble some more. Then they go back the way they came, causing a passing servant to faint dead away.
Comic relief, it’s what’s for dinner.
Chayla is missing. Hollis and Sioned discuss mothers and children. They’re not seriously alarmed.
Andry spies on Miyon. He and Evarin speculate as to what Miyon is up to, and make plans for a bath when they get to Feruche.
Maarken is having a tantrum about being treated like an invalid. Pol has no sympathy. They go back and forth for a while, with discussion of plans for the next phase of the war.
Then Maarken mentions something Mireva said, about Andry and Pol working together “when dragons flew the ocean instead of the sky.” And of course now they are, as dragon ships.
Suddenly Hollis contacts Maarken, reacts to the loss of his hand, and lets him know they’ve found evidence of Chayla’s abduction. Pol is able to follow the conversation in snatches.
Pol saddles up immediately, and takes Kazander with him. He orders Riyan and the army to follow in the morning. Maarken comes to, finds that Pol is already in action, spends some time bemoaning his lost hand, then focuses on the immediate crisis. He’s riding with Pol and Kazander. Pol finishes the scene by pointing out that there are more ways to kill than with a sword, and “Andry can teach both of us how.”
So events are finally pushing the rivals together for real.
Miyon, on the road, meets with a Vellanti lord and his rather large escort. They bicker, and dicker, in broken English, over when to “take princess.” Miyon wins the argument, and goes to sleep much pleased with himself over Meiglan’s coming abduction and Pol’s inevitable “agony.”
Saumer discusses battle strategy with his stalwart second, who calls him on his salty language but admires his plans. Saumer is cursing the clear weather—he needs rain for concealment. As a Sunrunner, he appreciates the irony.
A midnight storm catches Alasen and company, who have to crowd into a small shelter, as well as Andry and Evarin. Miyon expected it, and just rolls over and goes back to sleep.
Alasen and company wake to a grey morning. The children are adorable. Jihan shocks Meiglan with Fire, to keep Rislyn warm. Alasen jumps in before Meiglan teaches Jihan to be ashamed of her gifts, then reflects on the various aspects of Fire. Jihan’s kind is the dangerous kind, which can actually burn.
Jihan prattles about colors and family and Fire and jewels. She tells Alasen what her colors are. Jihan is extremely, extremely gifted.
Then Laroshin the Sunrunner comes up with a man “whose face doesn’t fit,” according to Jihan. He claims to be a merchant, and asks if he and his companion can join the company.
Suddenly an army of Vellant’im attack.
Pol, exhausted, reaches Feruche. Sionell brings him the welcoming cup. He’s shocked to see how she’s aged. She gives him what news there is. Sioned is resting, she said, after searching for Chayla on starlight all night.
Pol realizes, many years too late, that he’s in love with “a woman who was not his wife.”
(Good going, Pol. Really good going.)
Alasen’s Radzyn mare is fighting as she was trained to do. People are dying. Neither Jihan nor Alasen can control the furious mare. Finally Alasen gets the mare to stop and tries to save Meiglan. She flings Jihan at Laroshin; they gallop away. Then Alasen sees Miyon pointing to Meiglan, and tries to draw the attackers to herself instead.
In the chaos that ensues, Miyon goes up in flames, Dannar drives Alasen’s mare into flight, and Alasen catches a glimpse of Andry in the middle of the fight.
Maarken, back with his family at last, insists on searching for Chayla. Tobin orders him to bed. Once he’s in his room, Hollis insists on seeing his maimed arm. Hollis is suitably indomitable, and firmly refuses to indulge his self-pity.
Sionell, grieving, stitches a battle flag. Her young son steps up, discussing the situation coherently and knowledgeably, as a lord should. He’s seven years old. They comfort each other.
Evarin calls Andry back to consciousness. They’re on a field of slaughter. Alasen has escaped. Evarin fills him in on what happened. Andry, with a head wound, doesn’t remember much. Meiglan and Rislyn have been captured.
Finally Andry remembers killing Miyon before the enemy can take Alasen. He and Evarin discuss the ethics of killing with Fire. Andry is, as always, totally ruthless and completely egotistical.
Kazander is taking a bath and plotting something that the Azhrei won’t like. He and a “ritual number” of his men will ride as Ros’eltan’im or Black Warriors—hereditary enemies of the Merida. He and his second in command speak of something called the White Crown, which has not been seen since Lady Merisel’s time.
And finally we come to the last chapter of this book, with a major shift in the direction of the war, and a whole new set of data to chew on. In Chapter 27, the much depleted family has dinner at Feruche. Pol tells tales from Skybowl, with some teasing. Sionell is bitter and angry, and Pol is all confused about her.
They talk about the man in the mirror. A Fironese, about Pol’s age, with “resigned” eyes. Sioned observes that only the sorcerers among them will ever see him. Sionell blurts out why Pol is one of them.
Hollis never knew. Sionell and Pol have a knock-down, drag-out fight. Pol stomps off. Sioned leaves, too, after telling Meath to tell Hollis the story.
Meath was not actually there, as Sioned notes when he shows up in her room later. She knew he was watching during the Ianthe episode. They discuss this. Then they discuss Pol and Sionell, and how Rohan felt about Pol’s conception. That he was “a living reminder that Rohan wasn’t perfect.”
(Rohan was seriously invested in his own perfection. Also his cleverness. And his subtlety. Doubts and fusses and all.)
They go on discussing Rohan, going over all the cherished themes. This segues to why Sionell did a bad thing. Pol doesn’t want Meiglan to know who he really is. Because, Sioned says, he wants to be “ordinary.” That’s why he married drippy, adoring, stammering little Meggie (who has been showing unexpected depths lately, but she still worships him with doglike devotion). Instead of the woman he should have married.
And now, Sioned says, he knows that. She hopes it doesn’t turn tragic.
Pol is in a complete taking over Sionell.
And there she is. She regrets what she said, she says. She also wishes he weren’t so ashamed of his parentage. It doesn’t change who he is.
Pol spins off on how everybody around is paying a terrible price, and all the enemy want is him. Sionell punches him in the face, and follows up with some home truths. This turns into laughter. “We always tell each other the truth and it’s always exactly the wrong thing to say!”
This ends in passionate sex. The aftermath is dark and rather cold. She needed that, she says, but she doesn’t love him. Not any more. He doesn’t believe her. He does his best to prove she’s lying.
Morning. Sioned observes that Pol looks awful. Pol can’t talk to her about his emotional tangle, but suspects she knows.
Suddenly a woman appears, with news about “the princesses.” Pol doesn’t stay to hear the details—clearly he thinks Meiglan has arrived. Sioned gets the undertones, and asks the woman to tell her the news.
Pol rides out and finds, not Meiglan, but Alasen with Jihan, exhausted, on a near-foundered horse. Alasen tells him what happened.
Back in Feruche, Alasen tells the whole story. Sioned watches Pol. He looks just as Sioned felt when Ianthe took Rohan.
Pol really is Sioned’s son in this instance. Wherever he actually came from.
Sioned and Sionell comfort Alasen, as do Hollis and Ruala. Sioned stays with the men. Pol declares that he’ll find them all.
Sioned notes, after he leaves, that he reminds her of his grandfather. Not Zehava. Roelstra.
And I’m Thinking: And that’s one hell of a wrap for this book. Events are happening quick and fast. There’s time for grief, and time for some hot sex, which we haven’t seen in this series for quite a while. Naturally, this being volume two of the kind of trilogy that is actually one very long book, we have some closure, but mostly the end sets up the action for the next book/section.
This is the book in which Pol finally has to grow up, without Rohan to lean on any more. Sioned inches back toward function, but she’s not particularly stable, either. Meanwhile Meiglan discovers hidden depths, and hidden strength, though it’s clear she’ll never be up to the standard of the rest of the Desert women.
It’s probably a direct consequence of this that Pol ends up with Sionell in his bed. Seeing Meiglan act like the rest of the women in his life tips him seriously off balance. Then he finally gets a clue about Sionell.
Twenty years too late, but there you are. Pol has been more or less frozen in late adolescence for all that time. His emergence into adulthood is accordingly clumsy and painful.
And of course, his big final mistake is a piece of genetic determinism. Roelstra the Big Bad showed his badness by being sexually promiscuous (as well as murderous and ethically bankrupt). Voila. Young Pol was all over all the girls. Grown-up Pol becomes the only unfaithful husband in his family. But then he’s always been the one who didn’t make the perfect marriage. Too much ego, not enough brains.
Which also is Andry’s problem, interestingly. He can’t blame it on Ianthe or Roelstra, but then again, he’s Zehava’s grandson. And he’s heir to what’s emerging as a legacy of genocide.
That’s the real dark undertone of the series at this point. This war is the consequence of events that the local culture has completely forgotten, but has to pay for. All the domestic details and adorable kids and perfect marriages are built on horror. As the cast-of-thousands catches on to this, the perfect marriages and the happy families start to unravel even part from the casualties of war.
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.