1979’s The Dancers of Arun is the second volume in Elizabeth A. Lynn’s Chronicles of Tornor.
Morven, Lord of Tornor, was obliged by custom to give his orphaned nephew Kerris a place within his household. Thanks to Kerris’ missing right arm, lopped off by a raider when Kerris was a child, that place can never be that of a proper warrior. But the otherwise useless young man does have a talent for letters. The Keep needs its scribes, even if it does not think much of them.
Orphan he may be, but Kerris is not utterly lacking in immediate family members. After years of silence, Kerris’ older brother Kel arrives to take Kerris south with him — that is, if that’s what Kerris would like. Having little to tie him to rustic Tornor, Kerris chooses to go south.
Kel is part of a group of wandering chearis, masters of an art that is one part dancing and one part hand-to-hand combat. We might call what they do martial arts. While chearis will not willingly kill, they are remarkably adept at fighting. Daring a cheari to personal combat is an express route to humiliation.
Many of the chearis have other gifts, which is how the town of Elath, which many Chearis call home, came to be called a witch town. Kel, for example, is telepathic. So, as it turns out, is Kerris. The pair share a mental link. This is a welcome revelation to Kerris, who has hitherto regarded this ability as a nuisance. Travelling with the chearis will give Kerris the chance to master this talent.
Although the region is currently at peace, that does not mean it is peaceful. Raiders have targeted Elath. Why is unclear; the raiders appear to have at least one witch-talent, the ability to shield their minds. If Elath is to learn what motivates the raiders, and how to end their raids, then the people of Elath and the chearis will have to find some way to speak to them.
There’s a fair amount of tastefully depicted sex in this book, which is fine by me. That said, I could have lived without the incestuous affair between Kel and Kerris. As I recall, problematic romance is a defining element of the Tornor stories; The Northern Girl has a rather questionable romance between superior and subordinate. Ah well. Still less off-putting than Heinlein.
This could very easily have turned into a story about a young man whose Very Special Power allows him to save his land from the Faceless Horde. That’s not the story Lynn wants to tell. The raiders have a reason to target Elath in particular and while their behavior is often regrettable, it is comprehensible. They are not Chaotic Evil. While killing all the raiders might be viscerally satisfying, casual genocide would violate the chearis way. Finding out who the raiders are and what their motivation might be allows for a better, if imperfect, solution.
Of course modern readers can feel free to ignore this little lesson, as we have learned that drone missiles can solve all foreign and domestic policy challenges.
Lynn’s prose is engaging. Her pacing is rather leisurely despite the brevity of the book. The focus is on issues of personal growth rather than on grand, impersonal geopolitics. Readers interested in a quiet story may be diverted by this narrative.