Deconstruction Roundup for May 26, 2023

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who has once again summoned the courage of the mediocre white man to throw proposals into a hopper.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorum Press

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are trying to figure out how to tie in various media properties to the horrors that you are currently experiencing.

In the Hand of the Goddess: Complications of Relationships

Last time, Alanna discovered the secret of her ember-stone, after she suffered several incidents of misfortune that left her only with a knife to fight an angry wolf with. Since Duke Roger was present, one might suspect it as “misfortune,” and with the ember-stone revealing the presence of Duke Roger’s magic leaving the corpses of the wolves, Alanna would be well advised to never be in the presence of Duke Roger if she can avoid it, since he’s pretty clearly on the path of trying to kill her and make it look like an accident of some sort.

Oh, and also, she went to Mistress Cooper for training on how to be a lady, which made both George and Jonathan drop their jaws at how she looked. While out in her skirts, Jonathan cornered her and kissed her and declared what he wanted from her, and after he came home instead of going to Delia, Alanna decided she wanted to let him have sex with her, because she’s been having feelings she doesn’t understand, and because if they’re both scared about the future, they can be scared together, or something.

In the Hand of the Goddess, Chapter 8: Content Notes: Continued boundary-pushing

Having decided that she wants to experience sex with Jonathan, which is entirely Alanna’s right, and an easier decision to make because she has a real working magical anti-pregnancy charm, Chapter 8 starts with Alanna being happy over the summer, because she has a functioning support system: Myles to advise her on tricky problems with running the Trebond estate, Mistress Cooper to teach and advise her about being a girl who is growing up into a woman, and Jonathan to teach her about sex. And the usual cohort of knights and squires around her. At the end of this paragraph of a happy summer, though, Alanna Gets a Bad Feeling that her happiness isn’t about to last, and then we cut away to another “Meanwhile, in the villain’s lair” scene to confirm for us that Lady Delia is exactly the kind of scheming bitch Alanna has made her out to be.

Delia of Eldorne paced in front of Duke Roger’s chair, her green eyes glinting with anger. “I don’t understand it!” she snapped for the tenth time. “I had him here—” She held out a slender white hand, pal up, before clenching it into a fist. “And now I suppose I’m to consider myself privileged if he dances with me once at a party!” She threw herself to her knees in front of Roger’s chair, looking up at him prettily. “Master, forgive me,” she begged. “I did everything you told me to. He just—” She stopped and looked downward, fluttering her heavy lashes.
Roger smiled and reached out, stroking her flowing, dark hair. “Don’t fret, pretty one,” he told her. “That young man is proving very slippery indeed. Fortunately, I have other plans ready to be put into action.”
“Other plans?” Delia breathed, her eyes wide. “Master, can I help? Can I do anything to assist you? Only tell me!”
Roger looked off into the distance, still stroking the kneeling girl’s hair. “There is nothing you can do for me now,” he remarked absently. “The next move on the board is mine.” He looked down at her again, his eyes unreadable. “But you must hold yourself ready. If all goes wrong, I will need your help more than ever.”
“Nothing could go wrong!” Delia protested violently. “Not when you have planned it!”
Duke Roger of Conté smiled again. “Perhaps you are right, my dear,” he remarked. “I hope so. In the meantime, be a good child and wait. Give Jonathan to understand that, while he is no longer attentive to you, your affections remain his.”
“And your other plans?” Delia whispered.
The sorcerer tugged his beard. “You will see,” he promised her. “I cannot move carelessly—not yet—but I think you know me well enough to be able to detect what I am doing.” He laughed outright. “No one else will be able to—I’ve made sure of that!”

Except this portrays Delia much more like a brainless bimbo instead of a scheming bitch, and I’m not really here for it. What actions she takes makes me want to put a higher pitch on her voice, like someone who is trying to be flirtatious and sexy, but comes across as less mature than she wants to. Or that she’s been mind-whammied by Roger into being a sycophant for him even as she tried to seduce Jonathan and capture his attention, at which point we basically withdraw any animus we might have had for Delia, since she’s not in control of her own mind while she’s trying to do this. Or that she’s hoping that being demure and sycophantic will get Roger to unlock her own sorcerous talents and teach her what he knows. It’s not really clear what Delia’s going for here, nor is it clear what the narrative is going for here, either. Because Roger told Delia to stand by and wait for whatever the signal might be. Or that she’ll be needed even more if things go wrong with him. If this is supposed to be a setup for “Delia will be the next villain after Roger,” we could have learned that, well, after Roger’s been disposed of and everyone thinks they’re safe again. Or the Delia’s learning and refining some magic of her own and the reader knows to be on their guard to see what she’s doing to Jonathan to try and magically entice him over to her.

The narrative swaps back to Alanna, where a fever has ripped through the population, making the queen even sicker than she was before, and to Alanna’s eyes, it seems less like it’s a natural consequence of the queen being ill and frail and possibly someone else’s handiwork at work. She asks Myles his opinion, and he immediately twigs that she’s not asking out of idle curiosity. Because, as it turns out, he also has some suspicions.

“I saw how much Duke Baird can do at the Drell. He’s blessed by the gods. A fever, a cough—Duke Baird can heal those things in a moment. But now he can’t. The only other time I saw him this helpless was during the Sweating Sickness.” She moved a pawn forward one square. “There are some people who think the Sweating Sickness was caused by a sorcerer. You were one of them, remember?”
“Do you think there’s a connection?” Myles asked.
“I don’t know what to think,” Alanna replied. Then she nodded her head. “Yes, I do, and I’m going to say it. Too many bad things happen to Jonathan or to people close to him. I think—”
“Alan, the queen was never very strong,” Myles reminded her. “The Sweating Sickness ruined her health. Her weakness now is probably natural. Think carefully before you make any accusations, please.” Myles drew a deep breath. “The enemy you will make is too powerful for you to accuse without evidence—and plenty of it.”
Alanna looked Myles in the eye. “You suspect him, too.”
Myles sighed and tugged his beard. “I have no proof, Alan. He’s too clever to be easily caught. All I have—all you have—is coincidence. You cannot accuse a man of high treason on coincidence.”

Myles is correct, and Alanna has been as well, in not accusing Duke Roger because she doesn’t have the definitive proof she needs to make the charge stick. Alanna produces the ember-stone, explains its use, and what evidence it gave her about the wolves, and the story about her obtaining it, leaving out the part where the Goddess visited her because she’s a girl. Myles prompts her at the end if there’s anything else she thinks he should know, a nod at the fact that he’s already aware of her secret, but Alanna takes it the other way and spills out all of her suspicions and the coincidences that have happened so far, a rather impressive list of things that have all been well over the line of “coincidence” and straight into “enemy action,” although none of them left behind any physical evidence that could be obtained and traced back to Duke Roger. Myles cautions her again that she has no proof and against giving in to her hate for the man that would make her reckless.

Myles grasped her by the shoulders. “Be careful. He’s too powerful to anger. You could easily be the one to die, and no one would know he was to blame. He can do it. You know he can. And if you’re out of the way, who will keep him away from Jonathan? He’s afraid f you, or he wouldn’t have risked exposure to make a friend out of you.”
Alanna grinned. Myles had just given her an idea. “I think I know someone else he might fear.”

But rather than pursue that idea of bringing her nuke-in-reserve out from the City of the Gods immediately, Alanna goes ice skating with the other squires and some of the knights. Well, okay, the narrative says she gets goaded into a bet with Alex (the one who tried to kill her earlier, the narrative reminds us) that she couldn’t make a lap around the pond on her skates. And therefore, because she’s not giving up the gold or the pride loss that refusing the bet would entail, Alanna takes a lap on skates. In trying to avoid thinner ice where reeds are poking through, instead Alanna falls through a weakened part of ice and has to kick off her skates and a fair amount of her sodden clothes to get out, after she manages to blast a hole in the ice with the power present in the ember-stone. Jonathan nearly gives the game away, but corrects his gendering of Alan in time and then scoops him up to carry him away. But not before someone notices that the ice has been sabotaged.

“Licking the ice?” she asked sleepily.
“I’ll be right there,” Jonathan said. He and Alex skated over to the cat. “Come on, Faithful,” he instructed sternly. “You’ll worry Alan.”
Alex was shaking his head. “I don’t understand. This pond’s been frozen for weeks. How—”
“Why do animals lick ice?” Jon asked, his voice odd. Carefully he knelt beside Faithful, keeping one eye on the wide hole in the ice where Alanna had gone through. He rubbed his ungloved hand near the hole and tasted. “Someone threw salt on this part of the ice,” he announced slowly. “See how it’s pitted and marked right here.”
“Murder,” Alex whispered, looking more closely. “But which of us is a murderer’s target? Could it be just a very bad idea of a joke?”
“I’m not laughing,” Jonathan commented dryly. “Are you?”

And, as I recall, Alanna is the lightest and smallest of the knights, and therefore if the ice was weakened enough that she would fall through, that ice has been very heavily salted, and neither Jonathan nor Alex should be anywhere near the salt markings for fear that their own weight will be enough to push them through as well. Unless Faithful is licking at a spot that’s salted enough to provide evidence but not enough to be structurally weakened, so that the others can obtain this information.

Once again, Duke Roger or one of his lackeys has managed to attempt to murder someone without leaving evidence of his involvement. As a villain, he’s frightfully competent, and very good at using others to do his dirty work rather than trying to do it all himself. Or at least disguising his own magical involvement when he’s trying to do things with his magic to kill or hurt others. He’s going to be hard to top in the remaining two books, unless he manages to be the greater-scope villain all throughout the rest of the quartet. With the way that Alanna is rapidly approaching the point of becoming a knight herself, it seems less likely, but we can see. Maybe that earlier scene that we saw between Delia and Roger eventually resulted in Delia trying to salt the ice, either at Roger’s behest or on her own as a way of trying to get rid of someone and prove that she’s a competent villain as well? That’s what the signal of “Delia’s still a villain, even though we won’t see her” was supposed to be, maybe?

After recovering from her near-drowning and near-freezing, Alanna sends a messenger through George to get Thom. The messenger eventually is found with five poisoned arrows in his back and his belongings ransacked in such a way that made it clear the assassins were looking for a letter or other written evidence of something. George tells her point-blank that when she rides to talk to Thom, he’s going with her, and then curses himself for not recognizing that she and Jonathan are in love. Alanna brushes him off by saying she has no idea what he’s talking about, and resolves that she’s going to give George the slip and get away herself. This goes over exactly as well as you think it does, and George is waiting for her at the gates, having been informed when she was planning on leaving and what route she was going to take by his agents in the palace. The two stop in Trebond to see Coram, who reads her the Riot Act about the company she’s keeping (to no avail), and they arrange to have Coram go to the palace to be present when Alan gets knighted. The two make it to the City of the Gods, and go to try and surprise Thom, who is not at all surprised they are there. The Master’s attitude also turns very frosty with Thom, when he was pleasant to Alanna and George before. Thom explains after he sends one of the novices out for some wine.

“They’ve been angry with me ever since I stopped playing the idiot and passed the written examinations for Mastery. Come in; sit down. Wine?” Thom rang a bell, and a servant in the white robe of novice came in. He gave the boy orders, pretending not to notice that Alanna and George were staring at him. When the novice was gone, Alanna sat down hard. Most would-be Masters did not even try for that title until they were at least thirty.
“You passed the written examinations for Mastery?” Her voice emerged from her throat in a squeak.
“Two weeks ago. It was easier than you think.” Thom shrugged, motioning George to take the chair beside Alanna while he sat in the third. “All that’s left are the spoken examinations, and the Ordeal of Sorcery.”
“You call that all?” Alanna demanded weakly.
Thom laughed at her shock. “I was ready for this more than a year ago. And now they can’t wait for me to finish and get out of here. I make them nervous.”
[…they get down to business…]
Thom smiled cruelly. “You came to protect her from a certain smiling gentleman,” he said. “Or did you think I had forgotten him? He hasn’t forgotten me. There are two people watching me here.”
“It’s just as well you’re getting your Mastery, then, isn’t it?” Alanna shrugged. If Thom could be matter-of-fact about it, so could she. “I need you at the palace.”
“Do you indeed?”
“Don’t take that arch tone with me, brother,” she said tartly. “I used to duck you in the fishpond. I’ll try to do it again if you make me angry. This is too important.”
Thom laughed. “So serious! All right, what’s the problem?”

They discuss the actual issue and all of Alanna’s suspicions and the ember-stone and what it does and the evidence it provides to help those suspicions. Thom asks to see it, asks a few questions about it, then throws it into the air and shouts a word at it that causes a “soundless explosion” sufficient to disturb everyone within a fairly large radius. The Master comes back to explain that Thom very casually used a word of Command on the stone, and the fact that the stone told him to fuck off indicated that it was, indeed, a thing of immortal origin, and also that Thom’s very careless use of high-power magic has disrupted a large amount of very delicate magic-in-progress.

“I see.” Si-cham’s smile was small and grim. “Very well. To teach you the virtues of warning your fellow scholars when you are about to play with the basic forces of Nature, your Ordeal of Sorcery shall be to set to rights the work you destroyed tonight.” The ancient Master nodded to Alanna. “Until tomorrow morning, Squire Alan.”
Alanna turned to her brother when the door closed behind Si-cham. “Couldn’t you make friends with them?” she wanted to know. “I like Master Si-cham. And the others—”
Thom shook his head. “They’re afraid of me because I’m better than they are. They’d hate me even if I went out of my way to be good to them; and I’m certainly not going to do that.”
Alanna frowned, worried. “You’re going to be very lonely,” she said frankly.
Thom laughed. “I have the Gift. That’s enough for me.”
“I wonder. It doesn’t seem as if it would be enough.” She remembered what the Goddess had said about learning to love. Thom would have a lonely life without love or friendship. She at least had friends. Was it possible she had learned to love, as well?
[…they collect Thom and head out in the morning. Eventually, George has a question…]
George watched her for a moment before adding, “Was he always so proud?”
Alanna raised miserable eyes to her friend. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “I don’t think so. He was different when we went home to bury our father. I could see then he was turning hard. I suppose that as powerful as he is, he has every right to be proud. Not everyone can harness so much magic. I never tried; I was afraid to.”
“A wise kind of fear,” George pointed out. “Besides, what would you be—a fine warrior and a great sorcerer?”
“It’s not that,” Alanna protested, realizing George thought she might be a little jealous. “It’s that he seems so lonely. And he doesn’t even realize it.”
George raised his eyebrows. “Do I believe my ears? Alanna the Heartless talkin’ for love instead of against it?”
“Don’t tease, George. He’s my brother. I love him.”
“He knows that,” George said, hugging her around the shoulders. “And I know I for one envy him. Now, eat up. We’ve a long ride home.”

I have a thought about this, and it’s the kind of thought that comes from someone who could have gone into the Gifted and Talented program, but didn’t actually go through with it. (I mean, I also have Simon and Garfunkel’s “I Am A Rock” in my head, but that’s mostly being used as the background music for these scenes.) There’s a certain kind of arrogance that being smart breeds in a person who has to go through the gauntlet of required US schooling. (And possibly other schooling systems as well. I can’t speak to that experience, just the US one.) The arrogance is usually a reaction to bullying or other negative social interactions, because US school culture has significant strains of anti-intellect in it. Other talents, like physical strength, sport skill, or artistic ability are less stigmatized, but being smart and doing well in class is almost universally considered to be a negative for someone among their peers, even if it often charts a reasonable path for post-required education and getting out into the world. In revenge for that, the bullied often adopts the persona to themselves, encouraged by platitudes such as “well, they’re just jealous of you,” (which they may be, but that does not fix the immediate problem) that everyone else around them is simply inferior to their intellect and ability. And the longer that someone can go without slipping, and the more times that they are made fun of for the times where they do slip, the more that arrogance and belief in the inferiority of others cements. And the arrogance gets replicated by choice of university that one is accepted to and attends, where the school’s prestige itself is often a substitute for the actual program that it studied at the place. And then again by where a person is employed and in what profession they put their degree to. The people who proclaim that “the people who I don’t like are looking down their nose at me” when they denounce “coastal elites” or similar have a kernel of truth, but their anger and derision is often misaimed, because the rich are the ones looking down their nose at them, but they want to scapegoat the angry person’s more liberal neighbors rather than admit their contempt for the “little people.”

Even though the term won’t enter the lexicon for a fair amount of time, Thom feels like he’s well on his way to identifying as an incel. With the additional danger to those around him that Thom has sorcery and quite a lot of it, and therefore if he ever decides to change from being smugly arrogant at everyone else around him because of their inferiority and embrace what often happens when men in power feel they are entitled to others, it might very well be that Alanna will have to deal with Thom as the villain of a later book, once he’s helped her knock off Duke Roger. Because that arrogance of superiority in your head not producing superiority out in the real world tends to grate a lot and give a fair number of people drive to acquire whatever means they can to prove their superiority in some tangible or physical way.

I didn’t go into Gifted and Talented, or to a school that would have pushed me hard on my academic talents until I either excelled or broke under the pressure, because the people in my life believed I hadn’t done enough of building relationships with other people. So I didn’t get that pressure to excel and also to try and find friendships. It was probably more likely I would have found rivals, and it would have been a guess as to whether I was able to break that cycle once I started attending university or not. I don’t honestly know if I ever learned how to socialize well and properly. I still remember being fairly of the opinion that I just needed to outlast all the other fools in the school and that things would get better once I went somewhere where there were more people with my interests and so forth. I made friends, I had people who thought of me as okay, even cool, even though I was pretty invested in the belief that I was one of the less-liked nerds of the school. I could have been Thom, though, laser-focused on doing whatever I needed to to stay better than everyone else and to acquire whatever I needed to prove it to everyone and display it to everyone.

The implications here are that the friendships that Alanna has made are keeping her from seeking power in the same way that Thom being surrounded by people who are making a study of seeking power and magic has accelerated his own desires until he’s gotten to the point where he’s done pretending he’s anything less than himself. It suggests to me that Thom believes he can out-power Duke Roger or anything else that Duke Roger sends after him. Given what he’s already accomplished as a prodigy, he’s probably at least got a case for it. He probably can beat Duke Roger in a raw display of power, but as the saying in my family has gone (which probably came from somewhere else), “Age and treachery beats youth and speed.” Since Duke Roger is generally very good at indirection and treachery, he could probably defeat Thom without having to confront him. And, on the way back to the palace, while they’re riding, George smells something wrong, but before he can explain, he sprouts an arrow, and then the ambush is on. It goes poorly for the ambushers, as George can put daggers in the attackers and Alanna is astride her warhorse, who she has trained to trample humans in her path, while she lays about with her sword. George says not to worry about his wounds and sends Alanna after the only remaining alive attacker to extract information. But other than learning the attackers were told “bring the boy an’ kill the man,” Alanna gets nothing, because before the attacker can talk, he’s magically choked to death and the ember-stone reveals that it was Duke Roger making sure there were no witnesses who could identify him as the one who ordered the failed attack.

Having blown up the ambush, Alanna gets the arrow out of George, rides them both to the nearest wayhouse and uses her healing magic to speed George’s recovery, having a moment of crisis and telling George not to die on her, because while he was confident the arrow that hit him wasn’t poisoned, Alanna’s still worried that he might not make it. He tells her he wouldn’t die from that kind of scratch, and he’s touched that she cares. Which she is unhappy about him needling her, but mostly she says she cares. The next scene jumps to Alanna’s eighteenth birthday, and everyone has presents for her, which turn out to be basically a full suit of armor:

the lightest mail shirt Alanna had ever handled, washed with gold. The other packages held a gold-washed helmet, a belt made of gold wire picked out with amethysts, soft kid riding floves, a gold-trimmed sheath for Lightning and a matching dagger, and gold-washed mail leggings to match the shirt. The smallest package, from her “Cousin George,” contained a black opal ring set in pale gold.
[…Then there’s the horse…]
Myles’s gift was a complete outfitting for the mare, made of well-worked leather trimmed with gold. Moonlight voiced her pleasure with a high-pitched whinny, while Faithful sat in a special cup for him attached to the saddle, purring with contentment. Alanna had to cry with happiness, but she hid her face in Moonlight’s mane. No one noticed.

Which makes Alanna believe that everyone’s going to hate her all the more when the truth comes out about her. Jonathan seems unconcerned about this, and when Alanna has the freak-out thought that she needs two knights to attend to her for the ritual, specifically during the ritual bath, Jonathan casually suggests Gary as the second knight, and then says they can wait for the instruction until after Alanna’s done. She says it’s because Jonathan doesn’t want anyone else seeing her naked, to which he says “Pretty much.” She retorts that he’s awful jealous for someone who’s trying to keep it casual, and he says he’s not very casual at all, but every time he talks about love or marriage, she redirects him firmly. Which Alanna does. Jonathan reiterates that he loves her, no matter what she believes, and then tells her to get some sleep, since her Ordeal is tomorrow.

Alanna lay awake for a long time, wishing he hadn’t said it, and glad that he had. She was going away when she became a knight. Nothing could change that. He would have to make a marriage that would be good for the kingdom. Nothing could change that, either. And yet—
She thought he was asleep. “I love you, Jonathan,” she whispered.
A long arm snaked around her, and he pulled her against his side. “I know,” he said. “I just wanted to be sure you knew it, too.”

And that gets us through Chapter 8, where both George and Jonathan continue to confess their feelings to Alanna, despite how many, many times she’s told them not to do that and to try and keep them off the subject they’re both so desperate to pursue. Alanna intends to become an adventurer when she’s become a knight. (A part we skipped over had Alanna meeting Coram’s trainee, who she believes will be able to run the place and serve well, so with Thom becoming a scholar and sorcerer and Alanna engaging in errantry, there’s still someone looking after Trebond.) Jonathan needs to be available to marry someone who the kingdom needs to be or stay on good terms with, so Alanna’s right that it’s not going to become anything more than two good friends fucking there. And it’s probably not going to become anything more than two friends fucking if she went with George, because as Lady Trebond, she would also be expected to make a suitable marriage for someone, whether to stay at Trebond or to go off to another fiefdom. Alanna’s the sensible one here, and the two boys are the lovestruck fools. Which is kind of nice to see, honestly. It’s a gender-inversion that I’m not used to seeing in a fantasy novel, much less one that’s marketed to teenagers.

Next week, Alanna goes through the Ordeal of Knighthood.

Deconstruction Roundup for May 19, 2023

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who has been watching all kinds of petty people do petty and harmful things using the apparatus of the State.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Ana Mardoll: Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings

A Live Read:

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are suddenly hip-deep in projects, but sure you’ll be able to pull it off in time.

In The Hand of the Goddess: A Change of Direction

Last time, Alan got kidnapped by Jem, who turned out to be one of the royal family of Tusaine, and Jonathan engineered a break with the official policy of non-interference to mount a rescue, which resulted in the capture of two of the three royal brothers of Tusaine, which then brought a swift end to the campaign and a total victory for the Tortallans.

Also, Duke Roger attempted to convince Alan that he wanted to ally with Duke Roger and enjoy health, wealth, and long life for doing so. Alanna refused him, suspecting that the offer wasn’t as generous as he said it would be, and because it also didn’t extend to anyone other than Alan.

The Tortallans are now back safely in the royal capital, which means that the most pressing thing that Alanna has to deal with are these strange feelings that she has for both George and Jonathan. Feelings she has so far refused to acknowledge as love.

In the Hand of the Goddess: Chapter 7: Content Notes: Boundary Pressure

This chapter is titled “Winter Lessons,” and it starts with Alanna heading back into town to see Mistress Cooper for something that requires a woman’s touch. But first, an update on the situation that’s going on in the love triangle. Alanna still intends to become a knight, and she still believes that everyone will want to throw her out as soon as they discover she’s a girl. Mistress Cooper doesn’t believe it will be quite so terrible, but then we get to hear about how the Prince is doing.

“He—he blows hot, then cold. Sometimes I’m his best friend in the world. And sometimes, he acts as if I’m poison. It doesn’t make sense. He—” Alanna blushed. “He kissed me, this summer. I think he wants to do it again, except he doesn’t. Sometimes he talks as if he doesn’t like George, except I know that isn’t true, because he comes into the city to see George when I’m occupied. He expects a lot from a person!” Alanna burst out, getting up to pace. “If I go to social events with him—and he makes me go—I have to have every hair in place. I have to have better manners than everyone else. I have to dance with all the ladies, as he does, even though no one else has to. I tell him I feel like a fool, and he tells me it’s better to be a fool who’s considerate than a fool who isn’t. But if I really talk to a lady—or even to Gary or Raoul—for a bit, he gets angry! He says I mustn’t lead the ladies on, and he accuses me of flirting with Gary and Raoul in the same breath!” Alanna sat down and gulped her tea, surprised at how much had tumbled out of her.
“You seem rather angered with Prince Jonathan,” Mistress Cooper observed.
Alanna turned a deep red. “I don’t know how I feel,” she muttered. “I just can’t figure out why he’s treating me this way. But that isn’t what I came about.” She drew a deep breath.

But before we get to that, let’s have a talk about how Prince Jonathan is being around Alanna. Lovestruck, obviously, and possessive, and jealous. He hasn’t been abusing his authority all that much, it seems, other than to force his squire to go to the same social events that he has to go to, and to make his squire do basically all of the same social things that he has to. Someone could take the belief out of that either that Prince Jonathan has decided his squire is his primary wingman to help him get through all of his social requirements, or that Prince Jonathan actually has an interest in his squire that’s the same interest he’s supposed to take in one of the ladies that he dances with, and he’s trying to hide it by making his squire do all the social things as well. This book kind of gets hampered by the fact that it’s being published in the 1980s, honestly, because we’ve had and discarded the possible narrative of a trans boy Alanna, which would have produced some other story, and now we’re having (and eventually discarding) a possible storyline of Prince Jonathan being either gay or bisexual and having to stay closeted about it because he’s a prince. Or of Squire Alan discovering he fancies the boys and the knights more than he does the girls and the ladies, and having to navigate his crush, and maybe the possibility that the prince loves him back in the same way. Which would also be another, different story, and might provide some new and interesting ways for Duke Roger to threaten Alan without necessarily acting in an obvious way against him. These both seem like the kinds of things that would inspire novel-length fanfic projects of their own. And because Tamora Pierce has been pretty good so far with the narrative right now, it would be interesting to see what she might do with those story ideas in the Tortall universe.

So, what has Alanna come to Mistress Cooper for, if not to complain about how much she doesn’t understand that Prince Jonathan has a crush on her?

“Would you teach me how to dress like a girl?”
Mistress Cooper raised her eyebrows. “Now, this is odd,” she said calmly. “Why such a request?”
Alanna made a face. “I don’t know. I just—I see all the queen’s ladies wearing pretty things, and I’ve been thinking lately I like pretty things. I’m going to have to be a girl someday. Why shouldn’t I start practicing now?”
If Mistress Cooper thought Alanna’s sudden wish to look pretty had anything to do with Jonathan, or with George, she knew better than to say so. Instead she agreed to help Alanna with her new project, beginning that night by taking the girl’s measurements.
Several days later, Alanna came to Mistress Cooper’s for fittings. As the older woman adjusted a hem, Alanna twisted, trying to see her back in the long mirror. “Hold still, Mistress Cooper ordered, her mouth full of pins. “You’re worse than a city lad getting fitted with his first pair of long breeches.”
“It doesn’t look right,” Alanna objected, trying to hold her body rigid while she turned her head. “It looks like Squire Alan in a girl’s dress.”
“That’s because we’ve done nothing with Squire Alan’s hair. Hold still!”
The dress properly fitted, Mistress Cooper fussed with the girl’s flaming locks and put some cosmetics on her flinching face. “I think you’re wise to start accustoming yourself to women’s gear,” she commented as she brushed dark color over Alanna’s eyelids. “Although you’ve a lot to learn.”
“If I’d known it was going to be this much fuss, I never would’ve asked,” Alanna muttered. Her friend laughed. “It’s just…I needed an adventure. I’ve been pretty restless lately.”
“Life in the palace is too tame for you?” Mistress Cooper asked sympathetically.
“Not too tame, precisely,” Alanna objected. I just need to go somewhere. I need to get away from—certain people.” She didn’t want to say that Jonathan had kissed her again only the night before. She didn’t want to remember it, because when she did she also remembered the strange and frightening excitement she had felt when he held her. Now she sighed, confused.

I have to say, this is pretty good for descriptions of hormonal teenagers, and especially for Alanna not understanding the first thing about what her hormones are telling her about all of this. I’d like to believe that Mistress Cooper will do her best to try and get it into Alanna’s head about what she’s feeling and what the potential consequences of that might be, but she probably knows she has to go slowly so as to avoid frightening Alanna completely. She’s probably going to be a lot more blunt with George about how he should handle Alanna and his own crush on her, because, well, he might be the Rogue, but he’s still her son and she’ll explain it to him in as many small words as is needed for him to get the point. (Which makes me wonder who will be doing the explanation to Jonathan. King Roald, presumably, but it might also be someone he designates to explain it to the prince.)

After she gets prettied up, Alanna looks at herself and says she’s beautiful, because, well, she hasn’t seen herself as a lady in all the time that she’s been Squire Alan. And she’s probably grown into that role a little bit, even though she’s also likely still binding in one way or another to try and avoid giving away that Squire Alan might not be exactly who he appears to be. Mistress Cooper laughs at Alanna calling herself beautiful and compares her unfavorably to Lady Delia and the new lady, Cythera of Elden. Alanna says that there’s nobody who can compare to Lady Cythera, but before she can sit down, Misterss Cooper tells her how to properly sweep her skirts out first, so she doesn’t rumple the dress.

“Not that way!” Mistress Cooper cried out in alarm. “You’ll rumple your skirts! Sweep them out—like this—and sit with them spread around you. And keep your feet together.”
Alanna tried this. It took several attempts before she got it right. “It’s going to be as hard to learn to be a girl as it was to learn to be a boy.”
“Harder,” the woman said, putting the tea on. “Most girls don’t have to unlearn being a boy. And now you have two sets of Court manners to master.”
“But I already know Court manners,” Alanna protested, getting the cups down.
“Do you know the different kinds of curtsy?” Alanna shook her head. “How to write invitations?” Alanna shook her head. “How do you accept an offering of flowers from a young knight, or a married man?”
“As if I’d be getting flowers from anybody!” Alanna snorted.

As opposed to the two people courting her that she already has, not that Alanna recognizes it as such yet. Or is actively trying not to recognize it as such, thinking that it’s one of those lines that she can’t cross if she wants to continue on her quest to become a knight. Also, I wonder how much more severe the social penalties would be if Lady Alanna forgot her manners at a crucial moment than if Squire Alan does.

If Alanna succeeds at getting her knighthood, and there’s no reason to believe that she won’t, how much of this set of manners and makeup is she actually going to use in this series? I can’t imagine that she’ll suddenly decide she wants to settle down with either George or Jonathan after getting her shield, and even if she does, this itch for adventure will probably bite her extremely hard as soon as possible and she’ll want to get back to being a man and going out as an errant. I’m not saying there isn’t a point to this, because, after all, Alanna’s allowed to want to learn how to be girly for whatever reason she wants to. I am curious as to whether these manners and methods she’s learning will have any kind of significance for her or whether she will put them to use at some later book, whether for courtly reasons or subterfuge ones or some other reason.

As it is, this particular trip of learning girliness, getting makeup, and the like is interrupted by George dragging Jonathan through the portal with the intent of introducing him to Mistress Cooper, only for both of them to be caught with their mouths hanging open at the lady they don’t initially recognize. But Alanna also gets to snark at them for staring and otherwise performing terrible OPSEC in front of her. And because of what Alanna’s wearing at the moment, Jonathan notices the ember stone she was given by the Goddess, recognizes that it’s magical, but Alanna shrugs and says that if it is, she doesn’t recognize what kind of magic it is or what it does. The scene changes into winter, which is very cold and very snowy, and eventually, the king starts sending out wolf-hunting parties after the wolves start getting desperate enough to start attacking humans. Coram reports moving the people inside the castle so as to keep them protected, and the king’s wolf-hunting efforts are successful, with the exception of one wolf, one called Demon Grey, who has been shot on three separate occasions but has so far refused to die, or to learn his lesson about attacking humans. Which eventually brings the entire muster out of the castle to find the wolf and kill him for good. There are wolves and boars killed on the hunt, but Demon Grey only shows himself when Alanna is in the presence of Duke Roger, who has supposedly killed a wolf that looks an awful lot like Demon Grey. First, Alanna’s horse (a replacement horse because Moonlight threw a shoe) throws her when the wolf shows itself, which means Alanna loses her spear. When she draws her sword and makes to stab the wolf with it, the snow underneath her breaks and all she gets to do is slash it as the sword flies out of her hand. Which leaves Alanna with her knife to fight a big wolf with. That, and Alanna’s characteristic lack of self-preservation. So she throws herself onto the back of the wolf and keeps stabbing at it while it tries to throw her off. Alanna eventually wins the fight by stabbing the wolf in the heart, and after it dies, the reinforcements move in to make sure she’s fine. And in reassuring them that she’s fine, Alanna discovers the true purpose of the ember-stone.

Alanna pushed Jon away gently, holding the ember-stone for comfort. Suddenly the colors, the sounds, even the smells in the clearing were very sharp. She was startled to see a bright orange glow around Roger. Even more odd was the fact that the same orange fire was fading from the bodies of the two wolves. Alanna looked at them and at Roger, puzzled. What was she seeing? The color of Roger’s magic was orange. What had that to do with the wolves?

Myles asks if Alanna’s okay, and she says she’s not sure. But, because Alanna has always been inquisitive and investigative, she immediately performs an experiment as soon as she can from the safety of her own chambers, using the Spell for Transforming on a spare shirt to change it into a wooden log. Then she throws it onto the fire with her magic and then grabs the ember-stone to see what she can see, and the violet of her magic is extremely present and visible while she’s touching the stone.

Before we get into that and its consequences, though, the narrative tells us that Alanna has been doing a fair amount of getting over her fear of using her magic.

The spell was a hard one, requiring power and cocentration, but she had both in plenty these days. Her weakness of the summer was gone, and the reserves of her Gift were greater than ever. She even wondered if she didn’t enjoy using magic sometimes.

That’s a marked change from the Alanna of the last book, who was afraid of using her magic. Perhaps it’s because of all the healing she did, or the fact that she now knows she’s fighting a war against an opponent who isn’t hesitating to use his magic to try and get an advantage over her, or kill her. Or all the magic she’s had to expend already to try and keep herself safe and alive in all the situations she and Jonathan have been in so far.

On the matter of the ember-stone, this entire string of bad luck affected Alanna when she was in the presence of the wolf and Duke Roger. The ember-stone has given her insight to see that Duke Roger’s magic was affecting both wolves, not that she understood it at the time, but if she had known what to do, she might have also seen Duke Roger’s magic being responsible for her horse throwing her and the snow breaking. Of course, she can’t exactly submit that as proof that the Duke is trying to kill her to get to Jonathan. Nor can she accuse him based on the conversation they had before Alanna was kidnapped, because she’s still a squire. I feel at this point that Alanna should be trying her hardest never to be in a situation where she’s alone with Duke Roger and there are no witnesses, because that seems to be when the “bad luck” strikes the hardest against her.

“I don’t think I’ve ever held it when magic was being used before,” she whispered to the cat. “I always kept it hidden in Roger’s class. I was afraid he’d guess something was strange about it. I wonder if it will always show me when there’s sorcery around?”
When did you see magic used before? Faithful asked.
“This afternoon,” she whispered. “The color of Roger’s Gift was on him and the two wolves.” She began to pace, still holding her pet. “And what’s the answer to that? What could he gain from magicking Demon Grey and his mate?”
Faithful hooked his claws into her runic, and climbed up onto her shoulder, perching there. Whom did Demon Grey try to kill?
“Me,” Alanna whispered. “He tried to kill me.”

Right conclusion! Still no actionable proof, of course, but it looks like Faithful has managed to get through to Alanna at this specific juncture to remind her of what everyone else has been saying as well about who keeps trying to kill her and who keeps being present or recently present at situations and plots where something or someone is trying to kill her.

I do have a couple of questions about this situation, though, and they’re mostly for my own understanding. In previous spots, we’ve seen the colors of various character’s magical skills. Alanna is violet, Roger is orange, Duke Hilam is red, and so forth. What I’m trying to figure out is whether those times before where we’ve seen those colors are because those colors have been a visible manifestation of the magic happening because the sorcerer wants it to be visible. Or because certain type of effects are accompanied by visible signs of those effects. If visible power is a conscious effort on the part of the sorcerer, it must then be possible to turn off the color effects for your magic if you are skilled enough or desirous enough that nobody can see whose magical power is driving a particular effect. If that’s the case, then all the times that we have seen the magical effects of something, is that because they wanted to be seen, or is it because the ember stone actually grants Alanna the ability to see the magic at all times that it’s touching her, or being worn by her? The narrative implies she has to have it in hand to see things clearly, but maybe grasping it is asking for a stronger amount of sense enhancement and the stone provides a passive buff in addition to that.

In any case, now Alanna knows what kind of gift she was given – the ability to see what magic is at work at any given time. Assuming she knows the color of the sorcerer, she’ll be able to know who did what. Right now, she’s most concerned with orange, of course, but it might be informative about a lot of other colors as well as to whose got the Gift around them. The narrative pushes forward to Alanna’s seventeenth birthday, to Alanna going to the chamber where the knightly Ordeal will be held, and Alanna frets that she’s only got a year and a half before she’s got to go in there and take on whatever is done to her. She doesn’t feel ready or prepared for it, but Faithful brings Jonathan to drag her away from the place and tell her not to brood on the matter. Alan also manages to sneak away from the dance after realizing she’s in no mood to socialize or sleep. The narrative also tells us that she might have also wanted to get away because she saw Jonathan dancing with Lady Delia, and likely to spend the entire night in her company, and she “didn’t want to be there when they left together.” Which prompts Alanna to open her chest of girl clothes and get herself dolled up again and go for a walk in the gardens as Alanna, after having another one of those thoughts she doesn’t know how to handle.

Touching her ember-stone and feeling the charm to ward off pregnancy beside it, Alanna grinned. She’d never do anything to get herself pregnant, of that she was certain. Still, she couldn’t help but think of…
Amused that she was silly enough to wonder what sex was like, Alanna peered out her door. The hallway was clear, and she was going for a walk in the gardens! What if Jonathan was with Delia? She was free and independent, and that was the important thing!

Curious hormonal teenager behavior, but she’s doing pretty well, because she has actual magic to help make sure she doesn’t get pregnant if she doesn’t want to. With such things, and with such things being effective, one wonders why there aren’t more young ladies who are procuring them and then indulging in their curiosity with the men they fancy. Discreetly, of course, because we all know that women get shamed if they conduct their affairs too openly or they do something that will tarnish their reputation or lower their bride-price. Not that I think that Jonathan or George would be good as Alanna’s first time, because they both have significant crushes on her and want to have her be their wives or at least very steady girlfriends. Of course, Alanna’s not going to reveal her secret to someone who isn’t completely trustworthy about it, so that limits her possible partners significantly, unless she’s willing to get herself dressed up and go find a sex worker for herself, assuming there are such people in the capital whose discretion she can rely on.

As it is, after she goes walking in the gardens. When she comes back to the bench where she left her cloak behind, the narrative gives us a little suspense about who the man might be that’s been watching her and is now at the bench, before revealing to us that it was Jonathan.

“How did you know it was me, Jonathan?”
He came forward, taking one of her hands in his. “I guessed. And then I saw how you walked and I was sure.”
Alanna made a face. “Mistress Cooper tries to cure me of walking like a boy, but it doesn’t seem to take.”
[…Jonathan inquires about the charm’s purpose, which then leads to Jonathan inquiring about whether Alanna would like to try it out, him kissing her, and Alanna realizing that she might very well want this, before shaking it off and stopping Jonathan from undressing her and trying right there in the gardens…]
“You’re fighting what has to be,” he said, “and you know it as well as I do.”
“I—I know no such thing,” she stammered. “I promised myself once that I’d never love a man! Maybe I almost broke that promise just now because of moonlight and silliness—”
“Stop it,” he told her sternly. He made her look up at him. “We belong to each other. Is that silliness? Surely you’ve realized all along this had to happen.” When she did not answer, he sighed. “Go away, before I change my mind.”
Alanna ran. Once inside her room, she bolted the door, undressed, and threw her clothes into a corner. This was what came of wearing a dress! Men get ideas when a person wore skirts! George vowed love to you without ever seeing you in skirts, a reasonable part of her mind said, but Alanna kicked that thought away. She paced nervously, snapping her fingers. Where was Faithful? She didn’t want to be alone when Jonathan came back to his room.
Suddenly her knees weakened, and she sat on the bed. Of course Jonathan wouldn’t come back. He’d go to Delia now. He didn’t want Alanna, he just wanted a girl to have fun with. Oh? said that nasty, unreasonable corner of her mind. Then why did he say what he did? Why did he say you belonged with him?
Hadn’t the Goddess told her to learn to love? Did she love Jonathan?
A sound in the other room startled her. He hadn’t gone to Delia! He was preparing for bed in his own room, moving quietly so he wouldn’t disturb her. He hadn’t been looking just for amusement!
Alanna’s lip quivered. She wanted Jonathan’s love. To be honest, she had wanted that love for a long time.
She rapped on the door between their rooms. “Jon?”
He opened the door. His eyes were bright as he looked at her. Alanna swallowed. “I’m scared. Help me, please.”
Jonathan’s voice was rough as he said, “I’m scared, too. At least we can be scared together.”

And that closes out Chapter 7, with Alanna deciding she does want to have sex, and she does want to have sex with Jonathan. Or at least that she wants to have a relationship with him, but I’m pretty sure that they’re going to have sex after this chapter ends. She’s taken appropriate precautions with regard to pregnancy. One would hope that the anti-pregnancy charm would also have an enchantment against STIs, but outside of the specific cultures that were being devastated by HIV/AIDS, the talk about STIs doesn’t really make it to the mainstream until even the hardcore fundamentalists have to admit that HIV/AIDS is not just God’s judgment on the sexually promiscuous and those who have non-het sex, so I’m not going to fault anyone in this kind of world for knowing that they needed to guard against those kinds of things.

The thing that we’re going to have to watch for is to see whether Jonathan wants to continue the relationship that he has with Alanna, or whether after he’s had the amount of sex that he wants with her, that he’ll take someone else to his bed or tell her to go away. Additionally, I have a slight beef with Jonathan for pressuring a girl who isn’t fully enthusiastically consenting, and that he, as a prince, can learn to be patient and wait for the person he wants to sleep with to make the decision that she wants to sleep with him, without feeling nervous, without worrying that she’s breaking a vow to herself, without worrying about whether her quest for knighthood will be derailed if she gives in to her own passions and decides to sleep with him. At the end of this chapter, Alanna may be consenting, but she explicitly says she’s afraid, which doesn’t really qualify in the enthusiasm department. (Yes, the enthusiastic consent framework is being backported here, but even without that, if Jonathan wants Alanna and wants her to stay with him, he has incentive to wait until she’s ready for him and does want him, rather than having sex with her at the point where she would be likely to regret having done so when she sobers up and feels less afraid in the morning. Or when she’s had some time to think clearly about the matter, rather than letting her fears and her feelings sweep her away into rash decisions.)

I wonder if some of the messiness here is meant to be more realistic for the target audience, so they can sympathize with the rush of feelings that accompanied first crushes and puberty and all of the confusing things that came from the hormone dump and the development into the adult body and brain and all of the new capacities that came with that. It’s certainly more realistic that this is how Alanna’s first time goes, rather than something that is planned out and happens without a hitch, or otherwise is cleaner and less potentially terrifying and otherwise enthusiastic and fun all around. But we’ll have to see in the next chapter how the fallout from these actions goes, and especially how Jonathan and Alanna navigate the still impressive power differential between the two of them.

Deconstruction Roundup for May 12, 2023

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who has been helping others prepare themselves for the hot weather that is coming.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorum Press

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are having a moment of “eep” about the unexpected expenses that have come due.

In the Hand of the Goddess: The Kidnap Plot

Last time, Alanna made good friends with the people who were helping her defend what was supposed to be an unlikely attacking point, that, the longer we stayed with her and the troops, we found that the place had certain tactical disadvantages that hadn’t been remedied, and also, there was a traitor in their midst, who was the person that spent their time trying to dig barbs about how Squire Alan was a spy for the royals and trying to drive a wedge between the troops and the squire. Alan and the fort defenders acquitted themselves excellently when the traitor knocked out his sentry partner and then tried to sneak attack the prince.

Unfortunately, Big Thor died and while Alanna ordered the capture of the traitor, he hasn’t been snagged. And beyond that, Alanna was exhausted from having fought and been wounded, and being exhausted from an extra-long shift with the healers to disabuse her of the idea that war has anything glamorous to it. So while the Dark God was there to collect Thor, Alanna merely passed out.

In the Hand of the Goddess: Chapter 6: Content Notes: Torture threats

Chapter 6 starts with Alanna coming to, with her arm bandaged by Jonathan, who helped preserve Alanna’s gender secret, but also tells her that one of her muscles was wounded enough that she’ll be out of action for a while. Faithful lets her know that she’s been unconscious for three days, which makes Alanna exclaim it’s somehow not possible for someone to have slept that long. And Jonathan to wonder aloud, again, whether or not Faithful can talk to Alanna. Before that particular bit of metaphysics gets rehashed, Alanna debriefs Jonathan about Jem Tanner’s treachery and Jonathan, in turn, brings Alanna up to speed about the political situation they’re still in.

“Treachery!” he snapped. “Merciful Mother, we should have guessed!” He sat down, suddenly dejected. “And we can’t do anything about it. My father’s instructions remain the same. He’s even thinking of giving the right bank to Tusaine.”
“If they’re given the right bank, they won’t stop till they have the entire valley,” Alanna said frankly.
Jonathan nodded. “But no one can convince my father of that. He takes being called “The Peacemaker” very seriously.”
“He did establish peace after the Old King’s conquest,” Alanna said fairly.
“Yes, but this time he’s wrong!” Jonathan growled. He brooded for a few minutes before smiling and taking her hand. “Look at me. You’re not awake five minutes and I’m burdening you with my problems. Mithros, I’m glad you’re all right!”

It would be nice to have some idea of what King Roald is like when he’s not potentially under the influence of someone who can turn other people’s wills to his own, to know whether this is the kind of thing that he would be considering normally, or whether he would be thinking about his own kingdom and the intent of Tusaine and whether he would be saying “I’m going to make peace, all right, by kicking their sorry asses all the way back to their capital. If you get the opportunity to rout them, cross the river and do it.” Jonathan might know at this point, or he might not. Sir Myles, who is arriving shortly into the scene, probably would know. Faithful warns Jonathan and Alanna that someone is on their way, so they can not be improper in the presence of anyone else.

Myles entered the tent to find a very pale Jonathan picking up a book as his very red squire drank from a water bottle. His hazel eyes flicked from Jon to Alanna, and Alanna wondered once again how much Myles knew, or guessed, about her identity.
“It’s time you came to,” Myles remarked, his quiet voice even. “Do you realize you’ve been asleep for three days?”

It would be an interesting story, although not likely to be this specific story, where Sir Myles is suspicious of something, but what he’s suspicious of is that Squire Alan fancies men, and Prince Jonathan might be at least receptive to those entreaties. Or that Prince Jonathan might fancy men, and Squire Alan is receptive to those entreaties, or something like that. Because that’s the kind of thing that might happen between people who have gone through intense martial training and several situations that have been designed to kill them already. Sir Myles might caution about being too open with their affections, since Jonathan is still going to have to marry and produce heirs, and Alan is going to have to marry and produce heirs for Trebons as well, but might otherwise not discourage it, because, after all, the two of them can’t produce illegitimate heirs together, and once they both end up with their wives, they probably won’t do anything with each other again.

Alanna is absolutely out of action when it comes to fighting, but because she has to keep busy, she eventually ends up with the healers again, not as a magic healer, but as someone who can do the little tasks that don’t require magic. Jonathan stops by frequently to talk and to heal some himself. The healers eventually chase Alan off and he ends up with the smiths, helping out as an extra pair of hands mending weapons or manning a bellows, and even though Alan’s still not up for fighting, because Jonathan’s troops took the brunt of the Tusaine attack, when Alan signs on to be a sentry, they’re glad for the relief. Which then leads to a visit from Duke Roger. Who compliments Alan for his actions during the fight and finding the truth about Thor. And who has a proposition for Alan:

Suddenly Duke Roger said, “We are not friends, are we, Alan?”
Alanna tightened her hands on her spear. This was coming to grips with a vengeance! “No, Your Grace, we’re not,” she replied evenly.
Without the light of his Gift it was hard to read the Duke’s face. “Might it be possible we are enemies?”
Alanna thought about this, and about his reasons for asking. “I don’t know,” she said finally. “Perhaps you should tell me.”
“I could be a very good friend, Alan.”
Her throat was dry. What kind of game was he playing? Was this a warning—or a threat? “I have no desire to make you my enemy, sir. I’d like to live to a ripe old age and die in my sleep.”
White teeth flashed in a grin against his shadowed face. “I can sympathize. Such an ending could be yours—if we were friends. Many things could be yours.”
Alanna shifted her hold on the spear; her fingers were getting numb. “I would have to be assured that my other friends have the same chance, Your Grace,” she said boldly. “Frankly, I doubt that’s your aim.”
For a long moment he said nothing. Then she saw his broad shoulders life in a shrug. “I see. Thus, as long as you feel this way, we will be…”
“Less than friends,” Alanna supplied diplomatically.
Roger bowed. “I appreciate your honesty, Alan of Trebond. Not many dare to be so open with me.”
She smiled crookedly. “Not many have insanity in their families, either.”
This drew a laugh from him. “I see. Well—good night to you, Squire Alan.”
Alanna stood, a little stiff from the dampness of the river. “Your Grace.” She watched Roger fade into the shadows. “He has style,” she remarked quietly.

He’s got something, all right. With the way that Duke Roger is, one woners whether he was trying to lean on Alan there and see if he could convince him to join forces. Or, to confirm his suspicions that Alan can resist his persuasive magic or other such efforts and therefore he has to resort to other means. It’s a diplomatic exchange, in that Alanna makes sure not to directly accuse Duke Roger of anything, and Duke Roger makes sure not to do anything that would be obvious proof, only to offer his belief that it would be a very good idea for the two of them to become friendly with each other, with what is pretty clearly a threat behind it, but not something that Alanna could take to anyone else and say it was a threat. Especially not someone who would have an easier time of convincing the others that he was the wronged party in the matter.

And speaking of backup plans coming to fruition, a fog rolls in that makes Faithful curl up and go to sleep and gets Alanna to feel extremely tired, but she’s able to shake off the desire to sleep, at least until she gets a rock to the back of the head. Alanna’s suspicions were fully roused when she couldn’t wake Faithful up and her nose was itching, which meant sorcery was afoot. So Alanna gets kidnapped by Jem Tanner and a couple of other people, but Jem Tanner’s haste means he tells them all to leave the cat alone, even though there was some sort of orders involving the cat that they were supposed to execute. That will come back to bite them in the ass, almost assuredly, as the beginning of the next scene is a sentry reporting Alan’s kidnapping to Jonathan by bringing the still-asleep Faithful to him. Jonathan tries to wake the cat with sorcery, which promptly makes him fall asleep. Sir Myles decides not to try and use any kind of magic and instead douses both of them with a bucket of cold water. Jonathan pops back awake, but Faithful does not. Eventually, Faithful comes around, realizes what’s happened, lets out a yowl of fury and dashes off into the night. Which means it’s time for some interesting decisions to be made.

He gripped Myles’s arm. “Myles, we have to do something! If they find out—”
“Hush, Jonathan!” Myles interrupted. “We’ll do all we can.”
The sentry who brought Faithful cried out, “And that’s nothing! We’re bound here by the stupidest lot of orders ever writ—” His captain and two noblemen were staring at him. He gulped and continued, “Saving your presence, Highness, my lord, but it’s true. Micah and Keel are chums of mind, and Squire Alan saved this eye, not two weeks ago, and we can’t help them!”
Jonathan put a hand on the man’s shoulder, smiling tightly. “We’ll see, my friend.” He nodded to Myles. “I’m off to the fort. Maybe Roger will have some idea of what’s going on.”
Myles tugged his beard. “That’s possible,” he said thoughtfully. “That’s very possible.”

Myles is a sly character after all. He’s had that sense about him for most of this book and the last one, that his drinking is as much a guard against people poking too much as it is a way of not having to think too hard about all the things he’s seen or done already. He confirms this for Jonathan when Jonathan comes back for more advice after a complete lack of ransom demand or any other kind of activity regarding finding the missing trio.

When Jonathan returned to camp he found Myles staring into a full mug of brandy. To his surprise, the shaggy knight wasn’t drinking.
“This is too serious for drink,” Myles said, guessing the prince’s thoughts. He nodded toward Faithful; the cat was lying with his head on his paws, his eyes wide and unblinking. “He’s worried. That makes me worried. I can’t be convinced that Alan’s capture was not the sole object of this raid.”
Jonathan sat down, twisting his hands together. “Myles, I can’t leave him over there,” he whispered. “He—”
Myles shook his head. “Don’t.”
“You’re about to tell me why Alan of all people should not be left among enemies for very long. I would rather hear it from Alan, when he’s ready to tell me.”
“You already know,” Jonathan accused.
The older man smiled. “Let’s say I’ve formed an educated guess. I can wait to have it confirmed.”
Jonathan scowled, rising to pace again. “If Alan stays on that side of the river, you won’t have to wait much longer.”
Myles saw Jon was eyeing the river. “Your father was very specific, Prince Jonathan,” he pointed out softly. “It would mean the head of any man who tried to rescue them. I hope you’ll warn the others, because I’m afraid a rescue is exactly what they have in mind.”
Jonathan stared at Myles. Suddenly he had an idea, a wild idea, but an idea nonetheless. “Perhaps the punishment would depend on who led the rescue!”
Myles met his stare with calm eyes. “I would be obligated by my oath to your father to stop a rescue attempt.”
Jonathan smiled, knowing what the knight was really saying. “Of course, Myles. Oh, what will you be doing after the evening meal?”
Myles tugged his beard. “I think I’ll ride down to the fort to confer with our commander. I shall probably be there very late.”
Jonathan nodded absently. “You should take a couple of men,” he murmured, thinking hard. “We don’t want you kidnapped, with our security so poor.” He strode off, his walk purposeful.
Watching him go, Myles began to chuckle. “That young man gets more like the Old King every day.”
The cat stretched, suddenly looking better. Yes, he agreed.

So Faithful can talk to Myles, then. But also, that’s a fantastic plan that’s being hatched, and how convenient that Sir Myles and some guards will be away from the camp when a harebraned idea kicks off involving Prince Jonathan and, as the narrative shows us, a little more than thirty more men. Jonathan only told one soldier about the plan, but that one soldier very clearly had the ear of everyone else in the camp. The narrative then cuts away to Duke Roger hearing about what’s just happened and the flagrant disregard of the king’s order. He immediately knows why Jonathan’s gone rogue and berates Sir Myles for not having taken more steps to stop them. Sir Myles points out that Jonathan is at least smart enough to not tell anyone who would stop him from the plan, and furthermore that he’s pretty sure the king won’t behead his own son, nor will he separate the heads of those who followed the prince. Roger fumes and snarls, and eventually forbids anyone else from helping this along, while also saying to post archers to cover the retreat, and then retreats to inform the king of what’s just happened. Myles gets to snicker a little bit, I’m sure, about how easily this plan went off, but the narrative then heads over to Alanna, finally, waking up from being knocked out.

In short order, after the Tusaine guards promise handsome rewards for cooperators and are rebuffed by everyone, Alanna picks the locks on the chains of the other soldiers captured with her and discovers that her chains, specifically, have been created to prevent her from picking them and from using any magic to free herself as well. Because those chains have been specifically so set on her, Alanna’s pretty sure at this point that she’s the only real target. Thus, she gives orders that if the other two can get free, they are to go back to the camp and leave her behind.

There is some commentary, though, about how this war has been waged that’s worth paying attention to. First, from the Tortallan soldiers:

“Sorcery—fah!” Keel growled, spitting on the ground. “No decent warrior uses sorcery!”
“No decent warrior uses traitors, either,” Micah told his comrade. “And Duke Hilam’s done both. He’ll stop at nothing.”

And from the captain of the jailer guards:

The captain shook his head. “Not that one. His Grace wants to talk with him personal.” He scowled. “A filthy way to fight a war,” he muttered.

And then, after time has passed and Alanna’s done the picking of the chains:

“Captain,” a male voice hissed, “if you continue your objections, I will see to it that you’re given a more unpleasant command—under the noses of the foot archers, for example.”
“I don’t like fighting a war this way.” It was the voice of the captain who had first visited them. “It isn’t honorable.”
“I believe in results, not honor.”

The speaker who believes in results is Duke Hilam, and we’re about to meet him as he blows in the doors with his sorcery (this one colored red, as opposed to Duke Roger’s orange and Alanna’s violet), stunning the men lying in wait for him. Before we get to him too much, let’s go back over how the non-noble men have been talking about the way the war is being waged. The two Tortallans talking about how sorcery is not in the toolbox of a decent warrior are in the presence of someone who uses sorcery regularly, under the command of a sorceror-general. And it’s interesting how little Duke Roger has been using his sorcery with regard to warfare, and the same for Duke Hilam. The magic on display has so far been limited in scope and in targeting, rather than sorcerers raising great chunks of rock to sling at each other or imbuing arrows and spears with power to affect their accuracy or lethality. While it’s entirely possible that combat sorcery is the equivalent of dropping nuclear weaponry on your opponent, with the associated theory of mutually assured destruction keeping them to tactical use, if any, at least to hear the way these two talk about it, and the Tusaine captain’s objections, it seems more like it’s one of the rules of chivalry and honorable war to not drop sorcerers on the battlefield. Which also makes me wonder what kind of war they think they’re waging here? I know that at least some of the wars supposedly fought in the world are the ones where the nobles fight, the peasants die, and anybody noble who gets captured is civilly ransomed back to their side, but otherwise treated with humanity and as the guests of their captors. It’s like the Tusaine were also thinking of this as a border skirmish, or an exercise to exercise the troops and maybe get some land in the process, or something like that, where nobody is taking this as a serious contest, and the presence of traitors and sorcerers keeps disrupting their belief that this is a contest to be decided honorably on strength of arms and chivalry. We know the Tortallans have gods that they could be fighting for the honor of, but I wonder whether the Tusaines do, as well, and whether that’s what everyone has really been thinking about this, and it’s only Duke Roger, who wants Jonathan and Alanna dead, and possibly Duke Hiram and his lot that want to fight this as srs bzns.

In any case, Duke Hilam quickly shows his colors as someone who might be enjoying the war and violence a little too much to be someone who should be in command of any troops at all. (Which is going to make him and Duke Roger very interesting adversaries, assuming they are adversaries at all, which they might not be.)

“I thought something like this might occur. Who picked the locks?” His beautiful eyes flicked at Alanna. “You?”
Alanna stood braced, her arms folded across her chest. “Who wants to know?”
The nobleman smiled cruelly. “I’ve heard about your bad manners, Alan of Trebond.”
“Funny. I always heard the men of Tusaine possessed some trace of honor.” She glanced at the captain, who was turning beet red. “Isn’t it odd how rumor lies?”
Someone else stepped through the open door. “Don’t let him get the upper hand, brother,” Jem Tanner warned. “He’s tricky.”
[…Alanna tries to kill the traitor with her bare hands, and the guards sling her down to the ground and tell her not to do it again…]
“Kill the viper, Hilam!” he urged. Micah and Keel were coming to. “Before he finds a way to trick you!”
Alanna looked at the well-dressed man. So he was Duke Hilam, the one responsible for this long, hateful summer. It was hard to believe so much trouble could come from such a small man.
Duke Hilam covered a yawn. “I’ll kill him when I’m ready, brother,” he announced. “Not a moment sooner.”
Alanna stared. “You’re brothers?”
“There isn’t much of a family resemblance.” Hilam grinned cruelly. “That’s what made Jemis an ideal spy.”
Then Alanna remembered that the three royal brothers of Tusain were King Ain, Duke Hilam, and Count Jemis. Jemis—or Jem—was rarely seen in public, because he rode around the land, sending reports to Prime Minister Hilam. A spy indeed!
Boiling mad, Alanna stuggled to her knees. “Forgive me for not recognizing you sooner, Duke Hilam,” she spat. “Your sweet nature should have—”
Hilam kicked her down. “I’m not amused by you, prisoner. Don’t try my patience.”
Alanna curled up around the side he had kicked, sweating with pain. No one was watching her two companions; all attention was on her and the Duke. She looked up at him, boiling mad. “You are brave, kicking a chined prisoner. They must sing heroic ballads about you on winter nights!”
Hilam grabbed her chains, yanking her to her feet. “I’ve heard about your tongue, Squire.” He was smiling calmly, that frightened her. No one as angry as Hilam smiled, unless he was insane. “Perhaps I’ll cut it out.” He threw her against the rear wall and advanced on her.
Alanna struggled to her feet, never taking her eyes off him. “Behavior I’d expect from the goatherd’s bastard, not a nobleman,” she taunted as Micah and Keel inched toward the open door. “Perhaps your mother tricked your father?”
Hilam hit her again, knocking her to her knees. Micah and Keel bolted out the door, running for all they were worth. When Hilam turned to follow, Alanna grabbed him, wrapping her arms around his torso. The Tusaine was stopped from throwing a spell after the escaping men by the magic that kept Alanna helpless.

Alanna has learned how to channel her anger over time, clearly, but this is tactically provoking your opponent, and so I’m having a little bit of disjoint here. Yes, I know that for some people, being pissed off focuses them instead of making them wild, so it’s not out of the ordinary, but “boiling mad” compared to Duke Hilam’s smiling while mad seems like it’s supposed to be a study in contrasts. Yet, Alanna expert provokes Hilam and everyone else into focusing on her so the others can get away, and, when Hilam moves to stop the others from escaping, Alanna uses her own magic chains to stop Duke Hilam’s sorcery. That doesn’t sound like “boiling mad” to me, that sounds like someone who is trying to get her compatriots away and correctly assessing that she can make the sociopath focus too much on her by provoking him into abandoning his tactical responsibilities.

I’m having a little trouble envisioning how Alanna succeeds at ensnaring Hilam, unless Hilam is short enough that Alanna can throw her chains around his waist over his head. But if she were going to do that, over his head, I would have expected her to stop at his throat and start trying to choke the life out of him, since he was the one who was stupid enough to get within her range. In any of these cases, if Hilam is close enough to Alanna to get ensnared by the same magic, he’s close enough for Alanna to deliver a world of hurt, or make him her own hostage and start trying to bargain. And lost in this scuffle is Jemis, who will speak in just a few lines, but who did not make an attempt to stop the retreating soldiers, and who was also not anywhere close enough that someone could make an attack of opportunity against him as they ran. Yes, they’re trying to get away, but unless there are guards around that would make it improbable (and they, too, have vanished from the blocking), I would expect one or both of the soldiers to try and stab the traitor as they ran out if the opportunity presented itself. Or, if they couldn’t get any weapons, to at least punch his lights out in such a way that he’d remember in the morning.

Anyway, back to Hilam and Jemis.

“Don’t follow!” Hilam ordered, yanking out of Alanna’s hold and slapping her. “This is the one we have to worry about!”
“Let me have him,” Jemis urged. “He’s been an annoyance to me for a long time. I could have killed Prince Jonathan that night if he hadn’t been there.”
Alanna could hear shouting in the distance. She crossed her fingers and prayed her friends would escape.
“He’s been an annoyance to many for a long time,” Hilam snapped, his clean-shaven face grim. “Before I let you play with him, he’s going to tell me something about Tortall. He’s going to tell me all Prince Jonathan’s plans and all King Roald’s plans. Then he will tell me things that don’t interest me at all, but he’ll tell them because he’ll say anything to stop the pain.”
“Pigs might fly,” Alannsa snapped. She spat in the man’s face.
Hilam wiped the spit away, his lovely eyes thoughtful. “You’ll take a while to break.” He smiled suddenly, and her stomach sank. “That will be quite enjoyable. Only think, you’ll have the doubtful fame of being the one responsible for my taking this entire valley. How does that sit with your much-loved honor, Squire Alan?”
“Perhaps your mother betrayed your father with a warthog,” Alanna said thoughtgully. She would just get sick if she listened to what he was saying. “You both certainly have a warthog’s manners. Jem there even has a warthog’s looks.”
Jem lunged for her, only to be stopped by one of the guardsmen.
“Jemis is very rash,” Hilam told Alanna. “I’m not. It’s going to take far more than these little barbs to pierce my armor&mash;”
“Perhaps my sword will pierce it, then?” Jonathan asked coolly from the doorway. “Thank you, Faithful. You seem to have led us to the right place.”

And the rescue arrives, before anyone has to contemplate what kind of torture Alanna would have to suffer once Duke Hilam discovered it was Squire Alanna rather than Squire Alan. Now outnumbered, Jemis and Hilam are taken into custody and Alanna is freed. Before we get to the end of the chapter and see how things turn out, Hilam is at least suggesting here that he and Duke Roger, or some of Duke Roger’s agents, have been in collaboration with each other. And the focus on capturing Alanna suggests that Hilam and Jemis are working with Duke Roger, if only, y’know, someone could get them to admit it. Preferably at this exact point, where it’s unlikely that Roger will be able to silence them before they can talk. And with the magic-suppressing chains that Alanna currently has in her possession, if they fetter Duke Hilam with it, then he won’t be able to use his sorcery to alert Roger to the situation.

Now, I don’t expect Alanna or Jonathan to have picked up on this at this moment. They’re still in a tactically unsafe situation, and therefore they’re going to have to retreat to somewhere within Duke Roger’s influence before they can interrogate their prisoner properly. Especially with the other bank on high alert and waiting for their return. But as soon as everyone’s safe, I feel like Alanna and Jonathan would want to lead the interrogation of Duke Hilam and Count Jemis. Preferably at some point in time where Duke Roger is distracted with something else and can’t interfere. That could produce some kind of proof, on the assumption that there’s a way of magically recording a confession and verifying that such a confession has not been tampered with along the way. First, you get yourself out, then you start thinking about intelligence possibilities. And if Duke Hilam was unwilling to provide any actionable intelligence, Count Jemis did engineer sneak attacks and cause the deaths of many beloved and loyal Tortallan soldiers. Which is not to say that Alanna or Jonathan would endorse any kind of torture or psychological warfare, especially not against another noble, but you know sometimes the sentries take matters into their own hands against the prisoners, especially the ones who are very mad about the betrayal and the deaths of their fellows.

Anyway, once Alanna fills Jonathan in on the situation they’re currently in, and who they have in their custody, everything goes smoothly from there.

“Jonathan, the soldiers are all right. But these two”—she pointed to Hilam and Jemis—”are King Ain’s brothers.”
“Jem Tanner, a king’s brother?” Micah gasped.
A slow grin spread across Jon’s face. “I think I know how we are going to leave this camp safely. We’re taking two guests with us, two very important guests. And I’m sure we can think of a fair ransom. Don’t you, Duke Hilam? I know King Ain will not think peace is not too small a price to pay, nor for his brothers’ lives.”
King Roald was not pleased, but—as Myles and Jonathan had known—he could scarcely behead his own son. Instead Roald negotiated the Drell Peace, in which Tusaine vowed to relinquish all claims to the valley forever. King Ain was willing to agree to much more: He wanted his brothers back to rule his lands for him. By the end of August the peace was signed, and Alanna and her friends were able to go home.

I’d like to believe that meant that Tusaine gave up more than just claims to the Drell Valley in perpetuity. (Which will only last as long as someone decides to abide by the terms of it, so there’s probably going to be a good number of soldiers posted to the fort and any of the new forts that will be built in the new territory for generations to come.) It’s too bad that the king’s brothers were ransomed back to Tusaine for the claims of peace and the like, because that will leave them available to be villainous again in some later time. Even if King Roald made them pay dearly for what happened. Unless it was ruinous for Tusaine. Or unless Hiram and Jemis were very firmly convinced they wanted to turn their eyes elsewhere and make sure that King Ain did the same.

But this is an adventure story with hero girls who can do at least as much as the boys can do, if not better, and therefore the matters of politics are left as an eercise to the reader. They’re probably not the kind of thing that Squire Alan would concern himself with, even if they might concern Prince Jonathan, and Squire Alan might be on the bloodthirsty side to be able to do any intelligence-gathering. So another opportunity to build the case against Duke Roger goes by the wayside, because despite what Duke Hilam was willing to do to Alanna, the knights and nobles of Tortall are presumably more chivalrous than that, and therefore will not resort to torturing out the information they want to know from people who definitely do know what’s going on and who encouraged them to go out on a campaign like this. Even the one who committed atrocities against them and spied and could therefore be executed as “Jem Tanner,” traitor.

Having had their fill of combat for the year (and thankfully, the campaign having wrapped in time for the conscripts to get back to tend to their fields and get their tithes in on time,) the army heads home and chapter 7 ends, with “medals for everyone” as the possible result, rather than “off with their heads.”

Deconstruction Roundup for May 5, 2023

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who recognizes that the 4th of May has a lot of significance to a lot of people.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorum Press

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you continue to grieve the loss of a household animal companion.

In the Hand of the Goddess: Bad Tactical Decisions

Last time, Tusaine decided they were interested in invading Tortall, and thanks to George’s intelligence, Tortall was able to mobilize a force and send them as reinforcements to the border. By “accident,” Duke Gareth’s horse threw him in such a way that he fractured his leg in three places, which made Duke Roger become the commander in chief of the army. Roger decided he was going to put Jonathan out into the field as a commander in a place that theoretically would be difficult for an enemy to sneak up on them and surprise them. Roger puts Jonathan, Myles, and Alanna all in the same place in the field, and the king tells them before they leave that they are only to defend one bank of the river, and not to pursue to the other bank of the river, for any reason at all.

As they say, what could possibly go wrong in this situation?

In the Hand of the Goddess: Chapter 5: Content Notes: The Horrors of War, Vomit Indiscretion

Alanna comes in, and is cheered by the veteran look of the troops and grateful that tents have been erected and horses are being taken care of, and eventually finds the mess where she gets to listen in on the conversation of the troops. And also, someone notices her purple eyes and the rest of the soldiers all crowd around to look at her. And then someone decides to start trouble.

“How did a wee fella like you get to be the prince’s own squire?” Thor asked as the others muttered among themselves.
“That ‘wee fells,’ ,” someone said coldly, “is one of the best fencers at Court. He beat a full Tusaine knight in a duel lest year, all by himself.”
Alanna felt her hackles rising at the unknown man’s tone. Thor looked up, scowling. “So you’re back, Jem Tanner. Always full of the news, aren’t you?”
A young man with a nasty smile sauntered over to their table. Alanna thought he might be good-looking if his eyes weren’t so cold. As it was…
“Enjoying your association with us common folk, Squire?”
She didn’t like him. “I was.”
“Leave th’ lad be,” someone protested.
“I just want to make sure he takes a good report back to his masters. What were you talking about? How much you liked being left to hold Fort Drell until the enemy was so entrenched that it’ll take a thousand armies to dig them out? Your opinion of the king’s tactics? The king’s personal habits, perhaps?”
Alanna stood, her face white with anger. “I spy for no one, you remember that, Jem Tanner,” she snapped. “And keep a civil tongue in your head!”
The man laughed. “Big words, little fellow!”
A large hand weighed Alanna down. “Softly, lad,” Thor told her. He turned to Jem. “You’re right quick to pick fights with stranger-lads who’re better raised than you. When will you be so quick to pick a fight with me?”
Jem sneered. “I was doing you a favor, warning you of the royal spy in your midst, my stupid friends.” He left the tent.
Alanna drew deep breaths, fighting down her temper. The men reassured her that Jem was mean, that his words meant nothing. Only Thor was silent.
Are you spying for His Highness?” the big man wanted to know.
Alanna grabbed her plate. “I was eating my lunch. I guess I’ll do that somewhere else, from now on!”
Thor grinned and pulled her back into her seat. “Steady there, Squire. Can you blame us for wantin’ to know? Spare me a noble’s pride. Give us the news from the capital instead.”

You know, that big flare of temper, combined with an instant dislike of someone, where did that last happen? Oh, yes, with Duke Roger, wasn’t it? And the Ysandir? So it sounds like the immediate anger and dislike is in fact a godly signal that Alanna is in the presence of an enemy, since she seems to be otherwise able to keep herself level-headed, including in situations where her friends are trying to kill her. Her anger, and temper, and hitting overdrive around someone else is almost always a sign that Alanna needs to start at beating the snot out of them because they’re working against her, and possibly continuing on to stabbity-stab. Not that it’s something that she can do with impunity or without evidence, but it seems like when Alanna takes an irrationally strong dislike of someone else, it’s because they’re dangerous to her and should be disposed of as quickly as possible.

Also, what is it with people in stories who, by rights, have already become extremely disagreeable or insubordinate and are a detriment to troop morale still being allowed to hang around the troops? Jem Tanner had better be someone whose skills to the army are nigh-indispensable, or else he should have been dismissed or put at the front lines in the heaviest fighting area so that when he dies, they’re glad to be rid of him. Especially because he apparently likes to “sharpen his tongue on her, something that young man often did.” And therefore, as someone who’s creating a fair amount of trouble for morale, should be shipped out elsewhere at this point.

Big Thor is basically the opposite of Jem Tanner, and he and the men teach Alanna a fair amount of the life of a soldier. Alanna learns how to fight properly and sneakily with spears and axes, and in return teaches them some of the finer points of fighting with a sword. Myles stops by frequently, and offers history lessons for anyone who wants to hear him. “As she got older, Myles’s practical way of looking at things made more and more sense[,]” the narrative tells us, so hopefully that means that Alanna is slowly having all of the inflexibility of chivalry replaced by a more utilitarian, practical outlook that still tries to be chivalrous, but not to the point of becoming Lawful Stupid about it.

With Big Thor as her guide, she learned many interesting things during those long, firelit evenings: how to play dice without losing every copper she had; songs that would make the hardiest palace stableman turn pale; even when to keep quiet and listen.

In addition to keeping her from shiving Jem Tanner from the constant barrage of insult and needling.

Alanna gets restless waiting for something to happen, while attacks happen all around her position, and eventually, she goes to Duke Baird and offers to join the healers, because she doesn’t “like to waste her time.” It turns out very instructive.

If she had ever had a good opinion of war, it vanished by afternoon. Men died as she watched, and they didn’t care about what they had fought for. They only cared about pain and the Dark God’s arrival. Alanna could only help a little.
She didn’t notice how much time had passed until the torches were lit. The daylight was nearly gone, and she was starting to tire. Each time she used her healing Gift, she exhausted herself a little more; but she couldn’t stop, not while men were suffering.

Eventually, Jonathan finds her, because Big Thor said she was here, and informs her that Faithful and Myles are worried she’s going to kill herself. Once Duke Baird realized how much time has passed, he curses and tells Jonathan to get Alanna away, because she doesn’t have the training for working long shifts.

“He’s been here all day?” he asked Baird, who followed them.
The Duke nodded. “And he’s saved more men than I can count. Go to bed, lad,” he ordered Alanna. “You’ve done more than your share here. The worst is over.”
Alanna was still arguing as Jon mounted Darkness and swung her up before him. “My, you’re a quarrelsome little fellow,” he murmured in her ear as they set off. “You’re dead on your feet. Why didn’t you stop?”
Alanna leaned back against her prince, feeling very tired. Darkness, ignoring the double burden, picked his way along the river path. “They needed help,” she rasped.

Well, that’s certainly learning how to use her Gift to heal, I suppose. And like Alanna does, once she’s going, she tends to do to completeness, if not to excess, if she can. Jonathan muses about whether or not he should make himself useful by being in the healer’s tent, instead of being in strategy sessions where Roger makes decisions and never consults Jonathan. When Faithful accuses Alanna of “snuggling up to Jonathan like a lovesick girl,” she snaps awake to read him the Riot Act, but it’s interrupted by Jem Tanner on guard patrol. Faithful then snipes at her about the need to have discretion if she’s going to fall in love with the prince, unless she likes being the subject of gossip, which riles Alanna up more, but she remembers they have an audience, and Jonathan is very curious about whether or not Alanna and Faithful are talking.

After she’s been safely set to her tent, Alanna is by herself, and that’s when the memories start hitting.

She kept remembering the men she tried to heal, with their terrible wounds and the glazed look of pain in their eyes. She remembered every cut, every broken bone, until her stomach began to roll. She couldn’t make herself think of anything else.
Her body rebelled. She rushed out to the back of the tent, where the little she had eaten that day came up violently. She struggled to be quiet; she wanted no one to witness her shame. Warriors were not supposed to throw up at the sight of blood and dying.
Cool hands soothed her head, steadying her. When she stopped heaving, Jon gave her a dipperful of water. Gratefully she splashed some on her face and rinsed her mouth out.
“If Faithful told you, I’ll skin him,” she whispered hoarsely.
“No,” Jon replied. “I was coming back and I heard you.”
“You must think I’m an awful sissy.”
There was silence for a moment. Then he replied, “I threw up after my first skirmish.”
Alanna looked at her friend, startled. “You never.”
“I did. I just didn’t have anyone to hold my head for me.” He ruffled her hair. “Don’t tell the men, will you?”
“I won’t tell if you won’t.”
“Done.” He held open the flap of the tent. “It wouldn’t do for them to think we’re sissies, would it?”

I appreciate this part of the writing. Not specifically the part where Alanna’s emptying her guts, and that Jonathan did the same on his first battle, but that the narrative has included that not only has Alanna been picking up on Myles’s practicality, but also that the first sign of the aftermath of war has soured her on the concept entirely. And possibly Jonathan as well. And, we hope, the same for all the others for whom this is their first action. Because that is, unfortunately, the way that most of us figure out that violence and war is not all its cracked up to be or glorified in certain kinds of programs. We see the aftermath of it, and then, if there has to be war and fighting, it comes only when absolutely necessary, because now we understand what happens when we commit lives to the matter of war. (Certain elements of the anti-war movement here in the United States decry the increasing use of drones and other remote warfare weaponry, because it abstracts the cost into things that happen on a screen, and therefore that realization of what it means to take lives doesn’t set in.)

Also interesting to me in this exchange is the use of the word “sissy,’ given that it’s usually an appellation applied to men about womanish behavior and not being sufficiently manly to take lives or witness the end of life without being weepy or violently sick. Alanna, of course, is a woman, but this entire exchange about being a “sissy” sounds much more like a couple of bros having the conversation (and, you know, supporting each other in the recognition that bravery has nothing to do with whether or not you lose your lunch at the sight of death and injury and the consequences of war.) For as much as the narrative and others want to keep reminding us that Alanna is a woman, she’s done her very best to absorb the bro culture of the knights and squires and to act accordingly. Jonathan choosing to speak of his own situation would be read as “I am confiding this secret in my squire because then we have something to be loyal to each other over, a secret shared that we promised to keep with each other,” if it were between two men. That it’s between Jonathan and Alanna, who has already shared her biggest secret with Jonathan, seems much more like reciprocation of trust and also a very intimate gesture, possibly as a way of talking about his feelings for Alanna without saying anything aloud about it.

Also, “sissy,” at least in the current parlance, has also taken on the meaning of being an effeminate, likely gay, man of a specific type. I know that in the parts of the previous decades that I’ve lived through, the effeminate man part has definitely been there, but as I got older and more cosmopolitan, the implication of being gay seems to have also become associated with it. I suspect this is much more my understanding getting greater, and that being a “sissy” has always had at least the implication of being effeminate and gay, and thus why it had power as an insult among men.

The plot progresses with Alanna lugging a replacement spear for Thor as she heads to the point that he and Jem Tanner have been on guard duty. Faithful runs into a small woods that keep Alanna hidden from the guard post.

She was remembering that Jonathan had objected to this little wood that isolated the point so effectively. The enemy could easily cross here and pick off Jonathan’s and Imrah’s men if the sentries were unable to give the warning. Things would be easier for everyone if the trees were chopped down. Roger had talked the prince out of it, saying he didn’t want men tired out with woodcutting if the enemy attacked, which they did almost every day. His words were reasonable, and Jon had given in.

Which is to say, a clear tactical disadvantage was left in place at the insistence of Duke Roger. And if they didn’t want to cut the woods down and use the lumber to their advantage, they probably could have burned the woods down and made sure to have water handy to put out the fire when it was needed. But again, Duke Roger manages to convince other people that he should be listened to, rather than people going “Well, sir, if exhaustion and manpower is your concern, here’s some other alternatives that would accomplish the same goal.”

The woods provide cover for Alanna to observe that there is a sneak attack underway and the sentries are nowhere to be found, so Alanna books it for Jonathan’s camp and tells them to sound the alarm for the incoming attack. You know, the one that Duke Roger said would be improbable and unlikely to happen. Myles arrives and delivers intelligence that other camps have similarly had attacks on their sentries, so the Tusaine intend to pinch them between themselves. Jonathan goes to contact Duke Roger and request reinforcements, Alanna tells Faithful to stay out of the fighting, even if he wants to deliver intelligence, and then has to tell Jonathan that he’s not going to be able to order her out of the fighting. Alanna gets herself dressed in quilted leather. “Plate was much too heavy[,]” the narrative says. Given Alanna’s small stature, wearing a significant amount of her body weight in plate would hinder her mobility significantly, and if she couldn’t pick herself back up after being unhorsed, then she’d be a helpless knight. So better to pick something that will provide her with protection and mobility. And she’s also got a shield to help with protection, which helps her out significantly. That said, plate’s major advantage over other types of protection is that it resists being cut or pierced extremely well, even at close range, so if Alanna could be wearing some kind of plate, she should be as a way of protecting herself. If she has mail at her disposal, that’s still much better against hacks and slashes than what she’s putting on. But what she’s putting on is much better than nothing at all – quilted material with leather on top of it is still pretty good at stopping pointy things.

(This should bring up an interesting sidebar about just how much fortune the Trebond holding has at its disposal, actually. Even though Alanna is the prince’s squire, there’s still a certain amount of money and material Alanna has to bring to the yard to maintain her horse and her armor and her weapons. If Trebond is struggling, they may or may not be able to contribute enough to keep Alanna afloat. George might supplement some funds if he can find a way to do it, and Jonathan might do the same, and so might Sir Myles, so it’s not that Alanna would find herself unable to continue due to a lack of money, but it would be a different angle of story if Alanna is charging into battle under-armoured because she can’t afford plate compared to her doing it because it’s too heavy for her to wear. But also, soldiers absolutely do drills and strength conditioning on the idea of being able to not just move, but fight in plate when the time comes for them to do it.)

Also, also, one of the primary duties of a squire is to get their knight properly suited up for the exercise of battle. Jonathan should be having Alanna dress him, and then herself, rather than leaving her to dress herself first and then attend him. In any case, they all go out to fight, and things seem to be going well, until Alanna spots that Jonathan’s back is exposed to the enemy, rallies the troops to her, and plugs the hole. At which point someone shouts a warning to her about an opponent bearing down on her, and she is only barely able to get her shield up in time to take the blow from a mace. She has to fight another mounted attacker. But, because she’s Alanna (and, given how much there was the bit about the rant about “fire” as a command in a pre-gunpowder society, because the author did some homework), she’s going to be able to hold her own against him.

The enemy knight was big, and he wore thick plate armor as if it was made of air. It was a struggle for her just to ward off his mace. Gripping Moonlight’s reins in her teeth, she guided the well-trained mare with her knees alone, watching for an opening. As the knight lifted both arms to deliver the blow that would shatter her shield and her arm, she saw her chance. Swiftly Alanna slid Lightning into the opening between the knight’s arm and chest armor, thrusting deep. With a gasp of surprise, her enemy fell from his horse, dead.
Alanna has no time now to stop and think about the first man she had killed. Jon was still in danger. She pressed forward again, the men from her camp behind her. She threw her now-useless shield into the face of an attacking knight, running him through while he was blinded. Another knight rode to engage her, swinging a two-handed sword. Alanna nudged Moonlight to the side. Gripping her axe in her left hand and Lightning in her right, she tried to circle the new attacker.

Before it’s all done, Alanna is able to hurt the two-handed sword-user, knock Jonathan off his horse to prevent him from being sniped by an archer in the trees, and hold on long enough for Duke Roger’s reinforcements to arrive and drive the attackers back to their boats. Duke Roger piously reminds them not to follow across the river. (At this particular point in time, someone should have an idea of whether pressing is a tactically sound idea or not, and if nothing else, the Tortallan archers should be lining up for a shooting gallery to get as many of the Tusaines in the boats as their bow range will let them fire.)

Also, because I suspect the author has done some research, I very much like that the fighting in this situation is neither clean nor cinematic, but instead a matter of taking advantage wherever it is offered and conveniently forgetting any and all of the rules of chivalry when it’s a decision between you dying or him dying at the end of the day.

In the aftermath, Alanna wants to know where Big Thor is, is told “something happened to him” and that Jem Tanner accused Big Thor of knocking him out in treachery. Alanna and the captain both call bullshit on that, and Alanna orders Jem Tanner held on her authority. From there, Alanna goes looking for Thor, and eventually finds him, he says that Jem Tanner betrayed them, blinded Thor, and then asks if Alan would hasten his death. Until he realizes that Alan’s hurt and rescinds the request. She felt him falling away gently, slipping into a long, dark well. Alanna rose. Thor’s chest was still, and he was smiling. She smiled back at him shakily, and then the world spun; her knees trembled and gave out.
Great Merciful Mother, she thought with disgust as she fell. I overreached myself.
A huge shadow figure was bending over her. “Thor,” she sighed, recognizing the Dark God. “You want Thor.” Reaching out a hand that was blacker than night, the God touched Alanna’s eyes. She closed them; if this was death, she didn’t care anymore.

Not that there’s any doubt about Alanna dying, but that is the end of Chapter 5, where Alanna has proof of Jem Tanner’s treachery by the testimony of his guard partner, or, for that matter, on the word of Alanna alone, really, if she has the authority to demand that someone be held on the suspicion itself. That said, if Jem Tanner is still alive, that means he’s going to be a conspirator, rather than a pawn, so we’ll get to learn more about him when we see him next, I suppose.

Also, good timing on Alanna’s part to get the sickness out of the way before the slaughtering, so she doesn’t have that particular thing happen to her after the battle is done. Less good that she keeps trying to push herself with an injury, but in her own logic, she wants to find Big Thor before someone less friendly to him does. And also less good that she’s in the mindset of just keeping going until she collapses from sheer exhaustion because she wants to help and feels like she has to. (Possibly because of that prophetic bit about needing to heal at least as much as the amount of killing that she’s going to be doing?) Hopefully she’ll have an opportunity for an extended rest to bring her back up to fighting trim. Or that will keep her down where she can use her brains instead of her sword arm for a bit. And, if I were a smart field commander, with the amount of action that Jonathan has been seeing lately, I’d think someone was gunning for him and his and bring them all inside the fortification, rather than leaving them out on a potentially exposed plain, but we know that Duke Roger does not have Jonathan’s best interests at heart, and therefore, there will be some amount of contriving to keep him in a place where the next secret surprise attack will succeed at eliminating all of the problems standing in Duke Roger’s way.

Deconstruction Roundup for April 28, 2023

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who continues to try and replicate a perfect situation and fails at it. A lot.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Ross: A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you had a good time observing your coworkers go for fun and play.

In the Hand of the Goddess: Combat Exercises

Before we get started, apparently Song of the Lioness is getting a 40th anniversary issuance, and they’ve commissioned new cover art for it. Which bring Alanna back to the cover art, as opposed to the symbol ones that I’m working from for covers, but it also renders Alanna in a style that’s a lot more like the current state of 2D animation, if that makes sense? She wouldn’t be out of place in She-Ra, or Avatar: the Last Airbender, rather than, say, the more Pixar-esque vision I had for her (I was making her a bit more Merida-like in my own head, I guess.) In any case, new cover art, and possibly a 40th anniversary afterword, if it’s substantially different than the 30th anniversary afterwords that we’re working with here.

Getting back to the story. Last time, a wild boar made of magic tried to kill Alanna as she was roughing it in the snow, and then Alex tried to kill her in a friendly spar and was immediately remorseful about what he had done, like he wasn’t actually in his right mind when he was trying. Despite all of these attempts, however, Duke Roger has been careful so far not to leave any tangible evidence that could be used to prove an accusation, and so Alanna continues on. Oh, and there’s the rumblings that a neighboring kingdom is looking to invade and take territory.

In the Hand of the Goddess, Chapter 4: Content Notes:

Chapter 4 starts with George delivering troubling intelligence, gathered from the Rogue in Tusaine and his agents, and it’s pretty clear that not only is Tusaine planning on invading, they’re already pretty close to their destination, since the mountain passes have already cleared. The chosen place, by Alanna’s tactical brain, is not the kind of place you want to fight a war.

Alanna looked at the tiny map. “What a stupid place to fight a war,” she whispered. “It’s enclosed by mountains. Neither side will have room to turn. The mountains will slow down reinforcements, supplies. And we’re going to be doing a lot of fighting in the river.” She folded the map and stuck it in her shirt. “Thanks, George.”

Such a space as that favors the defenders, I would guess, assuming they can get armies there in time to be able to wait out a siege or fight in such a place where the attackers keep getting forced into specific lanes that the defenders can make very painful to have to cross or to be unable to get enough of their forces through to effectively defend themselves. George gives the fort not much more than a week once the attackers are in place, which suggests that there’s enough forces in the attackers that they can overwhelm without being stalled. Either way, the situation looks dire for those who were hoping to avoid fighting and for those who were hoping they could get enough troops in place to win their defensive fight.

Alanna goes to Sir Myles (Myles of Olau, again) and drops a strategic hint that they have the same friends, and therefore, Myles should trust the source of her incoming information.

“You have some friends in the City,” she replied softly. “A young burglar named Marek. An old man who forges called Scholar.” She smiled. “They say you’re a good drinking companion. I could’ve told them that.” Myles opened his mouth to speak, but Alanna shook her head. “I’m not asking you to admit anything. I’m telling you I know Marek and Scholar and their friends. I’m friends with the man who rules them.”
“The Rogue himself?” Myles whispered. “How?”

Alanna says it’s a long story she doesn’t have time to explain, but lays out the ask she made of George to get good intelligence, and says this is the result. Two thousand foot soldiers and one hundred and fifty knights are on their way to the fort, and with the passes being open, Myles realizes they don’t have nearly enough time to get defenders in place. He says he’ll talk to the king to get troops deployed, and won’t mention the sources of his intelligence. And has opinions about who is leading this campaign and why.

“Gareth and I tried to convince Roald that Hilam would do this. If we were dealing only with King Ain, there’d be no trouble. He just wants to be left in his pleasure gardens with his wives. But Hilam—”
“Has notions? Alanna suggested.

Fair enough. It’s not out of the ordinary for there to be ambitious members of the court, especially people who are related to the king, and who set their own machinations in place to see if they can’t become more powerful. Duke Roger is doing it one way, Hilam is doing it with an army instead.

The advance force is quickly (as armies go) called forth, and Duke Gareth is set to lead them over, until, that is, his horse inexplicably throws him due to a combination of restlessness and a loose saddle-cinching. Which breaks his leg in three places and makes him unfit for command. (Also, Jon orders that everyone hold their formation, including Sir Gareth (his son), both for discipline and also because there’s nothing Sir Gareth can do that Duke Gareth isn’t already doing.) After watching the entire affair, Alanna is convinced the entire thing is sus and goes to see Stefan for confirmation.

“Thought ye’d be by,” the hostler grunted. “Ye’ve a real nose for trouble, ain’t ye?”
Alanna grinned stiffly at George’s man. “What makes you think I didn’t come here to cosset my horse?”
“Then why whistle me up?” the potbellied hostler wanted to know. “Except to chat, which ye do now an’ then. Except now you’re wonderin’ how Duke Gareth’s beast, what’s gentler even than yet own, happened t’ throw His Grace this mornin’.”
“Well, yes,” Alanna admitted.
Stefan opened the folded blanket. “Mayhap I’m wrong. An’ then again, mayhap this’s why.” He showed her a large prickly bur stuck firmly in the blanket’s weave. Alanna worked it loose with difficulty. “They’s a cruel scratch in th’ poor beat’s back where it was,” Stefan went on. “An’ who cinched His Grace’s saddle so loose? They be so many new folk here for th’ army, I don’t see all I should.”
“Then none of the regular hostlers saddled Duke Gareth’s horse?”
Stefan shook his head. “ ’Twas a newcomer. An’ mayhap he was that afraid for his life when Duke Gareth was throwed, an’ mayhap not; He’s gone.”
Alanna mulled this over, handing the blanket back to Stefan. “Thanks for keeping this for me,” she said finally.
The hostler shrugged. “I knew ye’d be askin’,” he said frankly. “Best be careful, though. Us of th’ Rogue knows what happens to them as asks too many questions .By the by—have ye heard who leads in Duke Gareth’s place?”
Alanna shook her head.
“His Grace, th’ Duke of Conté.” Stefan chewed on a straw, his pale blue eyes fixed on Alanna. “Interestin’, havin’ a sorcerer-general, eh?”
“Very,” Alanna said dryly, ignoring the sinking feeling in her stomach.

A far-too-convenient accident that throws Duke Gareth and allows Duke Roger to assume command. There is evidence here, in the burr that’s in the blanket, and the improperly-cinched saddle, but all that would prove is that it was not accidental, and it would be extremely easy to blame it on someone acting as a Tusaine spy who has now disappeared, their act of sabotage completed, and Duke Roger could use that to cement other people having a good opinion of him by rallying the troops that they’re going to go out and pay Tusaine back for what happened here.

Gotta say, it is different having a villain who is competent about not leaving evidence of his villainy around for others to get suspicious of or to accumulate toward an accusation. And who is not so egotistical as to believe that he can flaunt his villainy in front of others and still be able to get away with it. Or to believe in the inevitability of his success that he dangles his plans in front of the hero just to gloat. Alanna’s gut feeling and the bur is all she’s got so far to fuel her suspicions that Duke Roger has just set this up.

Stefan tells Alanna she has a visitor, who turns out to be George, who has come with intelligence, but also who knows that Alanna has a question for him as well, and very specifically, tries to help Alanna through the proper thinking about the accident.

“Who benefits?” George wanted to know. “And stop thinkin’ of fightin’: start thinkin’ of power. Who gains the most power from His Grace’s ‘accident’?”
Alanna, about to retort that no one gained, remembered the man King Roald had appointed to Duke Gareth’s place. Suddenly she swayed, feeling ill.
“Not a commander you’ll be trustin’ in the field, is he?” the thief asked softly.
Alanna was trembling. “I have to think about this.”
George nodded. “Think on it all you may please,” he said. “And watch where he places Jonathan and those loyal to Jonathan.”
[…George can’t come on the trip because he’d be deposed as Rogue if he left his people behind for as long as the campaign will take. Alanna would like to have him there, but she knows she’ll have to make do with Faithful and Myles…]
“[…]Watch for more accidents.”
“I don’t think He wants to hurt me,” Alanna demurred. “Just learn my secret.”
“I believe he wants you out of the way before he goes further with his plans.”
Alanna had to laugh. “What threat could I possibly be to him? No, I’m not as suspicious as you are, George. It must come from your line of work.”

And yet Alanna continues to ignore her gut feelings about how this is a bad situation that she’s in. George is giving very sensible advice to her about what to be careful of and watch for, and he’s assessing the danger better than she is, perhaps because of his profession and how much he has to watch out for those who intend to kill him and plot against him. Still, he’s presumably at least managed to instill a little more healthy suspicion in Alanna to not take the orders of Duke Roger at face value.

And then, having delivered information and advice, George once again tries to woo Alanna with the thought of going straight after Jon ascends the throne, and hints that the perfect woman for him is someone who already knows who he is and what he’s done, and who isn’t likely to scream at opening his treasure box and discovering all the ears he’s collected so far. Alanna sees the unsubtle hint for what it is and tries to put George off the subject, pointing out, among other things, that she’s noble and he’s not as a way to try and dissuade him. George isn’t taking no for the answer, and Alanna is having feelings that make it somewhat harder to enforce her boundaries. But eventually, after George kisses her a few times, kisses she did not invite, he tells her that he won’t talk about marriage and love with her again until she brings it up. Alanna, for her part, promises not to let George’s feelings for her ruin their friendship. And, of course, muddying things further are those feelings she has for him.

His mouth was warm and comforting. Alanna had not forgotten the last time, and she had discovered that she liked his kisses. Relaxing, she let her friend hold her tightly.

As opposed to kneeing him in the balls or similar for what he did the last time and continues to do this time. But, of course, because she has some physical feelings for him, Alanna doesn’t exact revenge on George for what he did the last time. Because she still has to learn how to appreciate and not fear love and her feelings. At least George has realized that continuing his pursuit is likely to backfire on what he wants.

The strategy meeting the next day starts well, right up until Alanna gets to see where Jonathan’s command has been placed.

[“]The river here is broad and shallow, although the current is quite strong. A determined enemy could cross, although there is no room on the right bank for a proper camp because of the cliffs. Raiders would have to escape the notice of every lookout above the fort; but with a foggy night and cunning, there is a danger. I have decided to place Prince Jonathan and his knights just below the falls. […With the garrison of the fort and someone within shouting distance…] Of course we should see any enemy movement well in advance of an attempt to cross, so I feel this gives my young cousin an excellent command post without placing him in undue danger.”
Alanna, sitting behind Jon’s chair, could feel the prince stiffening with anger. She shot a glance and the king; Roald was nodding approval. Duke Gareth had planned to keep Jon with him at the fort so the prince could witness firsthand how a war was waged, but Roger obviously did not feel this was necessary. The Duke of Conté went on: “Since this is my cousin’s first command, Sir Myles will be his advisor. It is our hope, my uncle’s and mine, that the prince will listen well to a man of such wisdom.”
“And very little battle experience,” Alanna heard Myles mutter in his beard.
“We have but one thing to add,” the king said, rising. “Until we have fully thought through the moral issues of our holding the right band of the Drell, which was Tusaine’s until our honored father’s time, you have our royal command to defend the left bank of the river only. You may not cross, in pursuit or in seeking active battle.”
The commanders stirred and murmured. Not cross the river? Not drive the Tusaine back to their own border? The king’s voice flicked out like a lash. “We fight for the left bank only. See to it.”

After Roger dismisses them, there’s a few short chapters of the troops riding out, getting a view of the opposing forces and their camp, seeing where they’re going to be stationed, and handling a complaint from Faithful that he very much preferred where they were, rather than where they are.

Alanna, stroking the dusty cat, had to agree. She had bad feelings about this “new home,” very bad feelings indeed.

So, what I can expect is that there will be a dense fog rolling in that will prevent the lookouts from seeing the Tusaine troop movements as they attempt to cross the normally-raging river that has inexplicably calmed itself at the exact moment the Tusaine troops decide to cross, catching Jonathan’s troops by surprise and neatly producing a situation where Jonathan, Myles, and Alanna all end up on the business end of Tusaine weaponry. How unfortunate that this strange confluence of improbable events all happened exactly as Duke Roger foretold and left him as the only heir to the throne. I’m not saying that this work needs to have more subtlety in the villain’s machinations to the reader, because he’s doing an excellent job of leaving no traces and cleaning up after himself, but George and Thom continue to be the only people who aren’t making excuses for Duke Roger or who keep downplaying their suspicions of him.

Additionally, based on the proclamation of protecting the left bank and being ordered not to pursue or engage across the river, despite it being territory that Tortall has somewhat recently held, makes me thing the king is equally as sus as everyone else is when they have had an unknown amount of exposure to Duke Roger and his magical abilities. Since “The Peacemaker” is sending troops to defend a fort, he should presumably be interested in any opportunity that lets him take the territory around it as well and apply a brushback to Tusaine so they decide it’s a bad idea to try it again. Or at least understand how bloody trying again would be. Because fighting a defensive war is a miserable thing to do, especially if someone gives you the opportunity to obtain a quick victory instead.

In any case, Jonathan, Alanna, and Sir Myles have just had their danger levels increased severely, and with Duke Roger there to personally supervise and lend his magic to the opposition, we can hope that Alanna continues to stay in the hand of the Goddess and protected from the villain’s plans.