Please welcome Barbara Tomporowski to this little blog space who is dedicated to the written word, to social justice and to make the world around her a better place. She can be found at When Words Collide and The Cathedral Village Arts Festival.
It was always Raederle.
My gaze fell across my bookcase. It stands proudly, blocking the entrance to my room, unbowed by the volumes stuffed every-which-way until its doors barely close.
Since it was almost midnight, I side-stepped the bookcase and entered my room. And there, on the hardwood floor beside my bed, lay a special edition of the Riddle-Master trilogy by Patricia McKillip. For those who haven’t had the pleasure, the first book was published in 1976.
Raederle, a princess from the country of An, was fated at birth to marry the man who won a wraith’s crown in a riddle-game. She is seldom mentioned in the first book, although the memory of her windblown hair and laughter drives the prince to leave his turnips and claim her hand. It is in the second book, Heir of Sea and Fire, where Raederle comes into her own. Unwilling to let the lords of An argue over who should marry her, she leaves her father’s halls to visit her distant cousin, a pig-herder. The lords find her there, with her feet bare and her hair unbound. This lack of concern for appearance serves her well in the second and third volumes as she tromps throughout the realm, borrowing ships, bartering with wraiths, and seeking the missing Prince of Hed, a prince from an island so poor its main exports are beer and plow horses. His only desire is to read and brew ale, until three star-shaped birthmarks draw him into a mystery where riddles are more deadly than steel.
What she finds within herself, however, is more important.
In Heir of Sea and Fire, Raederle must come to understand her shape-shifting, elemental power. When she finally embraces it, she quells a band of undead kings:
She stripped light from the shields, from the armbands and jewelled crowns, from the flagstones, blazed a circle on the stones around [him]. She looked for a single source of fire in the room, but there was not even a candle lit. So she contented herself with drawing it out of her memory…The fury gave her dark insight into odd powers. It whispered to her how to crack a solid flag-stone in two, how to turn the thin, black rift into a yawning illusion of emptiness… (pp. 342-343.)
One of the things that draws me to Raederle is how she finds her own power. Turning her back on comfort and propriety, she learns to master herself, which frees her to experience the wonder of the lovely, pitiless land. For example, she initially refuses to fly in crow-shape, the traditional animal form of the Kings of An, until exhaustion compels her. Then she flies for weeks with the Prince of Hed, trying not to think about whatever they might be eating. The chapter ends with these beautiful lines:
Raederle whispered, “Your eyes are full of wings.”
“Your eyes are full of the sun.” (p. 426).
The male characters are excellent too. Bri, the beleaguered shipmaster. Har, implacable king of wolves. The Prince of Hed himself, who values books over crowns. Yet it is the women who inspired me. The far-seeing Morgol. Spear-wielding Lyra, who says, “I don’t take vows. I make decisions” (p. 442.) But in the end, it was always Raederle, who shaped my love of elemental things. The purple prairie crocus, the scent of straw and lilac, shadowy creatures gnawing in the garden.
The Riddlemaster seems innocent compared to contemporary fantasies. Its kisses are chaste, its violence circumscribed. Yet the prose hums, the characters fresh and authentic. I aspire to write so well.
To the west, a snowstorm batters Calgary. The wind will soon howl across the ranch lands and buffet the prairies. In Saskatoon, as I type these lines, the wind is already rising. I hope I’ll make it home tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ll curl up and reread Heir of Sea and Fire.
Bio: Barbara Tomporowski writes, dances, and photographs. She also sings badly, inflicting her garbled tunes on her closest friends and family. She aims to present the beauty and majesty of the Canadian landscape through the written word.