Keep leaving those comments! On the last day, I'll be picking a winner who will receive three books, Veiled Rose, Moonblood, and Starflower, all in one fell swoop.
The duke's bargain. In the opening of this chapter, we see the Duke of Shippening, who has all along been surprisingly cavalier with the Dragon, starting to questions the wisdom of making bargains with such a mighty ally. The problem with being allied with the devil is the devil lies.
The Dragon follows his own code of conduct. But part of that code is a perfect willingness to turn truth on its head or simply to burn it into nothing whenever he sees fits.
Now bring Fidel and his son. The Duke is completely surprised to learn that he not only has King Fidel imprisoned, but also Prince Felix . . . Prince Felix whom the duke has presumed dead for many weeks now! I think the Dragon takes pleasure in watching the duke--always so confident in his buffoonery--squirm.
Fidel and Felix are dragged up from the dungeons, Felix very much alive and kicking! Fidel tries to bluff his way out, claiming Felix isn't his son and telling the soldiers to let him go unharmed. The Duke, knowing full well who Felix is, is about to slit Felix's throat right there in front of Fidel and . . . .
. . . . and I can't help wondering while reading this, WHERE is MONSTER? Surely he's got to be nearby, still watching over Felix, even under the Dragon's nose! I'm a little irked at the writer-me of years past for not bringing Monster into this scene. It would have been a perfect heroic, if futile moment, for our favorite blind cat.
Oh, well. I guess it wasn't meant to be.
But seriously, writer-me of back then, you should think about these things!
Anyway, moving on . . .
The Dragon's plans. The Dragon stops the duke from hurting Felix. He looks into Felix's eyes and sees the dragon poison lurking deep inside. And he hints at the possibility of transforming Felix even as he transformed Una.
No hurry. But the Dragon has other plans to occupy his immediate future. He won't bother with Felix just yet, but orders him and his father chained up in the yard. Meanwhile, he intends to find Una wherever she fell and gnaw upon her bones.
This really gave me the creeps, reading it years later. I'd forgotten about that promise of his, and that he actually was setting out to do it. It's just . . . horrible. But that does make for a very convincing villain in the end! He is the Death-in-Life, and he is the Destroyer of Dreams and Devourer. He is truly the embodiment of evil.
Standing in the way. But before the Dragon can follow through with his evil intention, he is stopped by a lone figure standing in his way. A figure the Dragon does not at first recognize.
We have known since the beginning of this novel that the Dragon has been intent upon wounding "his Enemy." And he focused on taking and transforming Una because he knew that would be a wound that would cut his Enemy to the quick! It is never overtly said who the Dragon's Enemy is, but it doesn't take a whole lot of digging to realize that it's Aethelbald.
Which makes this moment all the more interesting, I think. If the Dragon hates his Enemy so much that he would hunt down someone as insignificant as Una and wreck all this havoc . . . don't you think he would recognize that Enemy when he sees him?
Instead, the Dragon says, "Do I know you? You seem familiar."
At the sound of his voice, however, the Dragon immediately recognizes the Prince of Farthestshore. But his reaction is again not quite what you would expect. He laughs!
"What are you made up as?" he demands. "Look at you, pathetic creature, a little man-beast! Never thought I'd see the day that you, my Enemy, would reduce yourself to such a state."
So now we know something new about our hero. This human form he wears as the humble Prince Aethelbald is not his natural state. It is so unlike his true state, in fact, that his bitterest enemy did not recognize him!
Later on the series, we glimpse the Prince of Farthestshore in other forms. But we do not see him in the shape of a quiet, unobtrusive man until much later. I don't believe he even went by the name "Aethelbald" until he came to woo and win Una! But that's all information for another story at another time . . .
A history. The Dragon hints at a great deal more history between him and the Prince as well. He speaks of being bound to the Gold Stone (recall the picture of the sleeper on the golden altar?) and of being stronger now than he once was. The strife between these two goes back farther than we can know from this one simple story.
A girl dressed in white. Just as the Dragon begins to taunt Aethelbald, telling him that his Beloved is lost to him, Aethelbald steps to one side and reveals Una. Though the Dragon calls out to her, "My daughter, my sister! You cannot live without your fire, and I still hold your heart!" she is no longer his. Aethelbald has given her his own heart so that she no longer needs the Dragon's fire to survive.
And he will now claim her heart back from the Dragon.
Epic battle. We all knew it was coming! We've been reading this book waiting for this moment! The moment when the Dragon and Aethelbald will fight for the heart of Princess Una, a vicious and yet symbolic battle of Good and Evil in the vein of all the classics we know and love, in the vein of the Great Story that speaks to the truth of our hearts.
Awwwww. In the middle of all this tumult, even as he makes ready to plunge into the inferno and battle his enemy, Aethelbald kisses Una again and promises he will return for her. I had forgotten about that! It actually made me go, "Awwww!" and maybe even a smidge of a fan-girl, "Squeeeee!" It was very romantic. Usually Aethelbald gets shuffled into such a tight corner of Christ-figure character that the romantic part doesn't get any time to shine. But the fact is, this is an allegory that deals with the symbol of the Church as the Bride of Christ. And that is a great Romance.
We understand the Romance in part through the smaller-scale romance of love and marriage. Which is why, I believe, so many girls get lost in romance novels and bad relationships, because they're hunting for that big-scale Romance and don't know quite what it means!
Finding a balance in Heartless was tough. Aethelbald is the Christ-figure, but he's also the romantic hero. And while he is a type of Christ, he isn't supposed to be Christ himself, because this is another world, not our world. Some people in reviews have been VERY uncomfortable with that storyline. And I am sad about that. But personally, I do love the symbol, and I really enjoy how it played out here.
And the romantic in me really likes that moment where he kisses her before they both plunge into danger: Aethelbald to fight he Dragon, Una to rescue her father and brother.
(Maybe a good moment for an illustration? Any of you talented artists out there? Perhaps consider this for the fan art contest???)
Una heroic. Una finally gets a good heroic scene in this chapter when she hastens across the burning courtyard to liberate her father and brother from their chains. She grabs the keys fallen from a soldier's hold and hurries to find the one that fits their lock.
And then the Duke of Shippening grabs her.
Felix heroic. Roaring like a lion, Felix jumps on the Duke of Shippening, knocking him off his sister. Una takes the moment to grab the keys again and manages to free her father. Fidel then turns to face the duke, throwing his chains at the duke's face . . . a good maneuver, I think! Turn what you have on hand into a weapon.
But then the Duke grabs Felix and is about to make an end of him.
Then Aethelbald takes hold of the duke's blade in his bare hand, pulling it out of the duke's grasp and rescuing Felix . . . all setting up for one of the more important symbols to come in the next chapter.
Just in time, Fidel grabs his children and drags them behind the stone. Fire roars over them, filling all the world. The duke screams for an instant, then his voice is cut off forever.
And when the fire passes, Una jumps out and looks to where Aethelbald and the duke were but moments ago. And she sees only charred bones.
My Personal Favorite Lines
1. The soft gold melted at the touch of his hands, and the elegant curves sank into an unlovely lump. He tossed it back to the pile with a smile. The shape was nothing, the beauty unnecessary. All that matter was the gold. (p. 341)
2. His black cloak billowed into black wings, and his body became long and sinewy and horrible by the time he reached the broken gate. The men of Shippening scurried from his path like so many cockroaches scuttling into safe nooks in the rubble of the wall. (p. 343)
Questions on the Text.
1. What do you think it means when Aethelbald tells the Dragon that he has come to claim Una's heart?
2. Given everything that has happened, do you think it is still difficult for Una to trust Aethelbald when he says he'll come back for her? Or do you think she is now free of those doubts?
3. Favorite lines?