Well, the title of this chapter is kind of misleading in retrospect. It seems like it would mostly be about… Duke Roger of Conte. In point of fact, it’s mostly about the rising tensions between Tortall and their neighboring nation, Tusaine. This chapter isn’t quite “war were declared” but it’s pretty clear that we’re getting there. But then again, the last section of this chapter isn’t just about Duke Roger of Conte – it’s from his point of view, as well.
The Tortallan court receives a diplomatic visit from Tusaine, and while some tension is present from the start – mainly surrounded a disputed border between the two countries – it only gets worse as time goes on. At the center of the action are Jon, Alanna, and their friends. Jon is the heir to the kingdom and kind of has to be at all the important meetings, dinners, and balls – Alanna gets to be there because she’s his squire and she’s basically there to serve the wine and indiscreetly listen in.
The big event of this chapter is one party in particular, where a cocky-ass Tusaine knight declares that even a Tusaine child could handle a sword better than the full knights of Tortall. The room goes like… record-scratch quiet. It’s noted that every knight in the room has their hand on their weapon “with the exception of Myles who was watching and drinking”, because Myles is the most relatable character always. We catch a glimpse – possibly one of the only ones – of angry drunk Raoul, which is brought up later in Kel’s books (where he doesn’t drink because he doesn’t like what it does to him). We also get a hint of what an asshole Alex actually is, including that he might even be evil!
Alanna ends up fighting the knight – she being only a squire serves to humiliate him. He “technically” wins, but then pulls a major foul and actually tries to murder her. There’s a beautiful cold fury moment when she stops holding back. And Alanna – one of the most ferocious sword fighters of her time, even at the age of 15 – not holding back is a wonderful thing. At any rate, she refuses to kill Cocky Knight, despite the fact that he would have killed her. She ends up catching some shit for that, but I love her response: “If I killed everyone who was stupid, I wouldn’t have time to sleep.” You tell ‘em, girl.
The fight itself is amazing, especially the revelations that 1) Alanna was not giving it her all at first, and 2) she’s ambidextrous. Cocky Knight tries to throw insults at her to shake her throughout the duel, but it turns out that her cold silence only throws him off, not the other way around. Cocky Knight might be good, but he is no Alanna the Lioness. And I love that after he tries to kill her, Duke Gareth – another formidable swordsman – offers to step in and put an end to it, and Alanna refuses. She’s got this.
The bit preceding the fight is kind of repetitive – it’s literally just three or four pages of different people talking about how good Alanna is and how she’s totally gonna kick this guy’s ass. I mean, it’s true, and that’s exactly what happened, but I don’t know that we needed it stated so many different times from nearly every major character, you know? Let her badassery speak for itself.
After the fight and a small scene after it where Alanna defends her decision to Myles, an interesting thing happens. The POV switches to Duke Roger, who just saw all this go down. POV switches are pretty uncommon – if not lacking entirely – in Pierce’s later Tortall books, so their presence here is kind of incongruous. It’s not a bad thing, and it’s not poorly done or anything, it’s just not typically what I expect from her.
So, Duke Roger makes it as clear as possible throughout his, like… two page section of the chapter that he is EVIL. He is an evil, bad man. He’s swishing about in his black magic robes, chugging wine, lamenting his previous underestimation of Alan, but no more, he declaims! He ponders that his squire Alex had not disclosed the true extent of Alan’s abilities, perhaps out of jealousy or perhaps out of a lack of awareness. The narration reveals that – of course – he was truly the one behind the Sweating Sickness, as a scheme to kill the king, the queen, and Jon over the course of a few years, all of the deaths looking natural enough that no one would be suspicious. And he decides that in order to kill Jon, he’s going to have to kill Alan first.
- Alanna calmly noting the pool of her own blood nearby thinking “Try not to slip in that.”
- The normally placid, courteous, well-spoken king gloating to the Tusaine ambassador
- “Just because he behaved badly is no excuse for me to behave badly” because Alanna is extremely Lawful Good