Welcome to the weekly Wednesday read of Skybowl! Finally we’ve reached the end. The long saga is over. The battles are done, the cast of hundreds get their various resolutions. Or hints at same, as lives go on (or not) and the world continues past the scope of the series.
Chapters 36-39 and Epilogue
Here’s What Happens: In Chapter 36, the battle has ended with collapsed Vellant’im and somewhat less flattened magic users. Maarken relays Pol’s order: the enemy are out but not dead, and are not to be killed. Sionell takes it on herself to pass this on. Chay sorts out Maarken and the rest.
Isriam and the High Warlord scuffle, and mostly knock each other out. The Warlord comes to, sees what’s happened to his army, and bellows a challenge to Pol.
We see the next scene through Isriam’s eyes. He’s all over guilt about what he’s failed to do. Then Fire blasts the Warlord.
Betheyn comforts Isriam. The rest of the women deal with Meiglan’s death. Sioned is in a rage. She’s not the one who destroyed the Warlord, Betheyn says. Pol did it.
Chay has to do more cleanup, first to see if Andry is alive, then to deal with Pol, who is fairly completely off his head. Some power through the White Crown puts him to sleep.
Ostvel deals with baby Larien, who was pulled into Pol’s great working. The baby recovers remarkably quickly.
More cleanup: Audrite takes stock of the children in the Attic. Jihan is still blazing with power.
At Goddess Keep, Elsen battles Norian to let him go to the fight. She plays the family card, and wins.
Edrel, out in the battle, also wins, in Elsen’s name. Here’s another not-there battle scene. Next we know, Edrel is “bleeding and senseless” and Norian is weeping, but the good guys have won.
There’s no battle at Balarat, on stage or off. The castle is full of entranced sorcerers. We get the story from Nolly, the cook. Then people start collapsing, and Yarin is brought out, significantly the worse for wear.
Tirel gallops up with Idalian, Rohannon, and Aldiar and explains about Pol and the great working.
Andrev is unconscious with the rest, but isn’t responding to stimuli. Then Tilal realizes his cloak pin has popped open and pierced his skin. He’s dead—killed by steel while Sunrunning.
As Tilal rages at the senseless waste, he receives a summons to Skybowl. He’s to take charge of disarming the enemy before they wake. Tilal swears none of them will ever wake again. (Spoiler: This is a fizzle. Never happens.)
Sioned takes stock, grieves, and gives orders. We learn that the sorcerer who put Pol to sleep is a woman. Sioned is tired, she has to process how she feels about everything including Pol killing with Fire, and now she has to sort Andry out, because he’s too far gone to release his Sunrunners from the weaving. She ends the chapter being glad she’s too tired to tell Tobin Andrev is dead and Andry is dying.
Chapter 37 opens with the hard stroke of fate (or karma as they might say in another world): “It took Andry five days to die.” In the process, Evarin is nearly destroyed, and Sioned puts him back together before going out to burn Meiglan’s body.
Andry is, by now, a dangerously radioactive and destructive weapon. Grim cleanup and disposal of the dead goes on.
Chay has to tell Tobin what’s happened to Andry. His brain is broken. He’s lost not in shadows but in light. Pol might help him, but Pol is asleep and won’t wake.
Finally Tobin tells Sioned to help Andry die the way she helped Meath.
Betheyn watches over Andry in the dark. He begs her to let him die. There is some brief discussion. Then Sioned opines that if they let the last daylight in, it will take him. Alasen also asks Sioned to help him. (Poignant, because Alasen was his first love.)
Andry’s death scene. Very touching. He’s alone with his father, who opens the shutters to the light—Chay has no magic, so is safe.
Andry’s funeral. No sorcerers participate. A dragon mourns him. Tobin is the last to stay, watched over by Sioned. Chay grieves, having lost three of his sons.
Sionell watches over Pol as all this goes on. Finally he wakes. He’s cranky. Sionell tells him about Andry. He grieves for his number-one rival, but he grieves most for Tobin.
Sionell tells him what’s going on, and fills him in on what’s still to be done. He’s limp and passive. (True to his usual pattern.)
They go back and forth on what they want. When he falls asleep, the name he speaks is “Meggie.”
The captured Vellant’im from Goddess Keep are loaded on three dragon ships and sent out from Goddess Keep. Antoun is on board, along with Edrel and Elsen.
There’s a lot of other cleanup, which is a bit hard to follow because it’s hard to tell who’s where. Sorcerers are very (very) gradually being outed and integrated. Yarin is not in good condition. We learn that Camigina is the one who put Pol to sleep.
Sionell and Pol discuss Chiana and Rinhoel, who are being their sweet selves in a tower of, one presumes, Skybowl. Pol insists on evidence and the rule of law. He has no idea what to do with the prisoners.
The Isulk’im arrive at Skybowl. (Pause while I am testy about random apostrophes. I have tried to be strong, for six books I have persevered, but GAH.)
(Random apostrophes are on the list of things not to do in fantasy naming. I think these books are one of the reasons for it.
(Anyway. Carrying on.)
There is a bit of backing and forthing about mutual hospitality. Then Kazander’s three formidable wives arrive, demanding to see “the woman who was worth the korrus’ life.” It isn’t about revenge. It’s about respect.
The wives tell Pol that the Isulk’im will guard the Vellant’im (grrr ap’os’troph’es g’r’r) on their march to Radzyn. He tells them he’s making Sionell his regent in Cunaxa, and asks them to be her advisors about the Merida, especially the children. The chief wife is wise and fierce. She agrees.
As they leave, the chief wife gives Pol the gift of her name. This is huge. He responds in kind. One of the younger wives reveals a gift of prophecy, though she speaks of a past vision and not of the future.
They leave. Pol ponders all the losses. All the grief. All the waste. Including his guilt for sending Meiglan to Dragon’s Rest, thus causing her eventual death.
He reflects on who he is and what he’s done and what he’s gained and lost. Rohan reshaped the world in a way that makes it easy for Pol to do what he needs to, or what he wants. As hard as it all has been for him, in the end it’s still much easier and faster than it might have been, because of his father.
He can do it alone, right? Because of Rohan and Sioned and even Ianthe. Because of all they gave him, or made him.
The Vellant’im are removed from Skybowl. Maarken fills Pol in on all the various news and doings. They talk about the sorcerers, but Pol is sulky and doesn’t wanna. So Maarken tells him other news, such as that Tobren now has a dragon—the one who chose Andry. The dragon comforts her.
The discussion of various plans and minutiae continues, first with Maarken, then with Ruala. They plan a New Year banquet.
Pol continues to be sulky and entitled, and to leave the messy daily stuff to everyone else. He does get busy with charters and seals and princely assignments and such. You know, prince stuff.
Isriam, much altered and broken, comes to tell him what happened at the sacrifice. Pol explains what happened and why Meiglan wasn’t protected: he delegated the job to the sorcerers while he was fighting for control with Andry, and they opted to join the larger working. So he’s feeling just as guilty as Isriam.
They go back and forth over what happened and what everybody did and who was at fault and who wasn’t and who can be excused and who can’t.
Betheyn comes in. Isriam ducks her and leaves. She and Pol discuss how Isriam is reasoning his way toward forgiving himself. She notes that Pol isn’t.
They discuss this. She is just a little bit steely about it. He’s all anguished about Meiglan. She’s all, Her eyes were full of you. He’s all, I’m so guilty, it’s so awful. She’s all, Everybody is guilty or no one is.
And so on and so forth. She gets testy. He finally turns a corner. It’s usually Sionell who sorts him out like this, he says.
He sends her to Isriam. Then he reflects that Sionell’s not here. He misses her. And Meiglan.
He reflects on how he can’t move on the way he ought to. He doesn’t get it. This isn’t a grand passion like Sioned’s.
It’s all guilt. On and on at length, it’s guilt. She never knew about Sionell.
Family interlude. Tobin is adorably cross. Chayla is adorably stern. Even Sioned is, well not adorable, lord no, but kind of monumentally cute about how Walvis is keeping the crowd of guests out of mischief.
Chayla leaves, sparkling. Tobin and Sioned watch the festivities and discuss Chayla’s healing process and how Sioned doesn’t know what to do for Pol.
This segues into an internal conversation with Rohan’s ghost voice about Pol and Andry, while Tobin talks aloud about the same subject. Sioned finishes the chapter by saying she feels useless. Also tired. (Coming down heavy on the foreshadowing here.) Tobin says that’s normal for their age. Sioned isn’t so sure.
In Chapter 38, Sioned is looking spectacular. The dress is a gift from Pol, recalling the (for many of us creepily) sexy Rialla dress he gave her years ago. This one is over-the-top flashy, and she wants to throttle him.
The twins are also gorgeously arrayed, as are various other family members.
And Aldiara, who is in tears over her hair. Sioned and Chayla do some expert hairdressing (including hair gel—hello, Eighties!—and some banter about its commercial possibilities). Hollis gives her a gift of jewels.
There is much banter and teasing and cuteness and a little romance: Tobin’s clued Chay in to Aldiara’s imminent entry into the family.
Everybody’s all gorgeous thanks to Pol’s generosity. Sioned’s eyeing Sethric and Jeni and thinking about matchmaking, with ghost-Rohan kibitzing.
The gathering is in full swing. Jihan wants to know where Sionell is. Sioned doesn’t know.
Sioned talks to Alasen about her gorgeous dress, which was liberated from Chiana’s wardrobe and extensively and tastefully remade. There is obligatory Chiana-dissing.
The social whirl continues. There is banter and teasing and family gossip. Ghost-Rohan inserts occasional comments.
Pol finally shows up, deliberately late and strategically unannounced, and startles Sioned half out of her skin. The banquet begins. We get the full menu, with the program for the entertainment.
Also, bad poetry. Lots and lots of bad poetry. Deliberately so: it’s supposed to be funny.
After dessert (described in detail), Pol hands out princedoms, with background and flashbacks to his decisions and his opinions thereon. Ghost-Rohan has a lot to say.
Sioned reflects at length about everybody, including various romances, various conflicts and interpersonal problems, and Pol’s various ways of dealing or not dealing with those for which he’s responsible. Sioned has plans to meddle with some of these, and she doesn’t care if ghost-Rohan approves.
Pol is being charming, teasing and bantering as applicable. Sioned reflects on the lies they’re telling to explain Jihan and Rislyn and further conceal the Ianthe/Lallante/Roelstra connection. They’re laying it on Meiglan, since she’s safely dead. Ghost-Rohan has an opinion on that, too.
More teasing and banter ensues. Finally Pol comes to Cunaxa, and Sionell, who is silent in accepting her new job. Then Meadowlord, about which Ostvel is adorable in Not Wanting It, as is Dannar in not being terribly upset about being heir to it.
The handing out of domains goes on. Sionell interrupts: she wants to give a manor to Visian and his people. It’s Catchwater, the one Birioc came from, in the middle of Merida lands. Also, she wants Castle Pine to go to Meig. Pol is good with that.
Chay and Sioned try to figure out what she’s doing. Meig is being placed to endear him to his people, a la Pol once upon a time, but they have no idea what Visian’s assignment is about.
Now princes are handing out subordinate holdings. Everybody gets something.
All that’s left is Goddess Keep. Pol won’t hand out that one. Antoun reveals that Andry revealed his choice of successor to Betheyn and Feylin: Chayla.
The family are shocked. Some are resigned. Others are absolutely not. She’s only sixteen!
Sioned shuts them down and gets the story out of Betheyn. Pol asks Chayla if she wants this. She says she does.
Sioned does the eye thing. Pol makes eyes back. No, he didn’t know.
When that’s all done, Pol takes his own oath, with new clauses: He’ll defend all people of all stations, and he’ll never again kill with power or use his powers against those who keep faith with the law and with him. Then he adds that lawbreakers will face the justice of his triple rank and heritage.
Everybody roars approval. Ghost-Rohan is pleased. He is also pleased with Sioned’s crowning touch: a dragon of Fire. Her last one, she vows to ghost-Rohan.
In Chapter 39, the wrap-up continues. Everybody is dancing in the hall. Pol has fixed up Rohan’s earring—the Fire didn’t destroy it—and is now wearing it. (Eeeuwww. Considering where it’s been. Eeeeuuuuwww.) Sioned doesn’t disapprove.
The dance continues. Sioned makes sure Jeni and Sethric end up together. There is banter. There is teasing. Chay is impressed with Sioned’s matchmaking skills.
Betheyn and Isriam settle matters, with nudges from Hollis and Tilal.
Chay has plans for Arlis and Elsen. They involve ships, including dragon ships. And a new fleet.
Sioned and Sionell discuss what Pol did to Chiana and Rinhoel, with flashback. He’s sent them to the Vellanti Islands. That’s nasty, Sionell says. It’s just, says Sioned. Then she gets Sionell to explain about Catchwater. It’s an old Merida stronghold, and the Isulk’im will keep an eye on it for her.
(Sionell is good at this governing thing.)
The dance goes on. Rohannon and Aldiara end up as partners. Tobin is pleased.
Amiel and Tilal give some happy and lucrative payback to a physician and her soldier Chosen—so the nobles aren’t the only ones getting rewards for service.
Chayla gets some surprises. Visian insists on accompanying her to Goddess Keep—and Kazander’s wives approve. They also have something to show her: Kazander’s premature daughter, who is alive and well because of her.
Pause for lengthy digression about Chayla’s taking over as Lady of Goddess Keep. Then the wives tell her they want to foster the baby with her when she’s older. Chayla accepts, and Names her Andra.
Sioned is looking for Pol, intending to do some matchmaking regarding Sionell, but gets distracted by more matchmaking elsewhere.
Pol is out by the lake, remembering a recent scene with his daughters and the pearls. He’s realized he has to keep them. He has a moment with the dragons, including Azhdeen, who abases himself: acknowledging Pol as master.
Pol doesn’t like that. He says he’ll never take control that way again.
Sionell appears. Azhdeen approves. They talk about the mirror (returned to Riyan minus the jewels), the crown (buried deep with the shovel thrown away), and Rosseyn (trapped forever in the mirror by Lallante’s hate).
They talk about power and passion, and about their dead. Pol declares his love for Sionell.
Scene break. Sioned finally slips out of the dance. She sees Pol and Sionell walking together, and feels a little smug. She listens for ghost-Rohan (having decided he’s not a figment, he’s real), but he’s gone.
She takes a walk around the crater and down memory lane. She tells Rohan it’s over, they won. Pol is the heir they both wanted. She weaves light, and gives herself to it.
And that’s it, except for her dragon’s scream of loss and grief. Sioned is gone. And that’s the end.
…Well, not quite. An Epilogue wraps the series. Pol is back in Stronghold, reflecting on his past, his losses, his plans, and, in the present time, his daughters. Then he goes back to a recent memory: the rest of the scene with Sionell.
Sionell didn’t fling herself joyfully into his arms. She needs time. When Sioned saw them walking, they weren’t even in the friend zone, they were in the prince-and-vassal zone.
Pol is prepared to wait. In the friend zone. Not happily, but he doesn’t have a choice. He’s quite down about it.
He does have a future. His daughters expect Stronghold to be rebuilt. They intend to start now, by washing the Flametower. That’s an ancient ritual and duty of the women in the immediate family in between rulers: cleansing the tower, then relighting the flame–bringing us full circle to the death of Zehava in the very first book. Pol considers logistics and decides who will guard the flame once it’s lit: the Isulk’im.
He tells his daughters let’s get to it. They remind him that it’s the women’s job. He says he’s starting a new tradition.
Everybody ends up helping. When it’s all ready, Pol goes up alone, pondering at some length the meaning of ritual and symbolism. Then he lights the fire. “His fire. For all of them, for however long it would burn.”
And I’m thinking: So there we are. I’ll do a wrap post next week, with thoughts about the whole series. Here, I’m thinking, well, that sums it up. Sioned moves on to join Rohan. All the other survivors have lives to go to, families to take care of, damage to repair.
And there’s Pol, being the great big solitary symbol: the one with the responsibility. The one they all agree to believe in. Faith being a very large component of human psychology–despite the frequent dissing of the superstitious Vellant’im and the cynical exploitation of the Goddess by Andry and his minions. This is true even if the one being believed in doesn’t totally believe in himself. (Pol’s arrogance comes in handy here. He’s much less riven by self-doubt than Rohan was.)
I’ll have more thoughts about that next week. I want to think about it for a while longer. Also about who the real protagonist is, and all the strong women characters, and a bunch of other things. If there’s anything you’d like me to address, let me know in comments, and I’ll see what I can do.
Meanwhile, what stands out to me right now is how alive this world is. It exists outside of the scope of the story. It will go on, and everybody will keep on living and teasing and fighting and loving. There are new surprises and new characters right up to the very end. Kazander’s wives—oh, to see more of them, and the culture they come from. Want…!
That’s good worldbuilding.
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.