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The Shattered Chain summary

by Leigh Kimmel

Short version

Several women are forced to confront the boundaries of their lives on Darkover. Rohana Ardais must masquerade as a Free Amazon to free her sister from a Dry Towns chieftan. Magda Lorne masquerades as a Free Amazon to free her ex-husband from a bandit and ends up having to take the Oath for real. Jaelle must consider just what it means to be a Free Amazon.

Complete version

Part One of The Shattered Chain begins in Shainsa, one of the Dry Towns in a desert land that lies beyond the borders of the Domains. Night is falling, and a company of Free Amazons from the Domains are busy setting up a stand in the market. This is quite an attraction to the Dry Towners, for in their lands women are kept chained and carefully under the control of a dominant male. The local idlers mock them, and one such crude proposition leads to an unpleasant confrontation. However, their leader is able to smooth it over so that they are not driven from Shainsa.

Finished setting up camp, the women talk among themselves. It develops that one of them is not an oathbound Renunciate, but the Lady Rohana Ardais, travelling in disguise to help them on their mission. Her sister Melora was kidnapped by Jalak of Shainsa, the local warlord, and brought here as a concubine. Her kinsmen's attempts to rescue her all failed, and Rohana believes that the Free Amazons are her last hope.

Some days pass, and just when their leader, Kindra, is despairing that their goods will run out too soon, Jalak and his entourage arrive. All the Free Amazons watch as the company parades through Shainsa in barbaric splendor. Now they need only wait for nightfall before they can attack.

The wait seems endless. After supper, they sit together and sing the "Ballad of Hastur and Casilda," a song very important to the traditions and beliefs upon which the power of the Comyn, the rulers of the Seven Domains, is based.

Finally the time comes for them to strike. They trick their way into the Great House of Shainsa, Jalak's stronghold and infiltrate his bedchamber to rescue Melora, heavy with child. They also locate her daughter, Jaelle, among Jalak's other daughters. Their mission complete, they flee into the desert, heading for the Domains.

They make two stops the first night. During these rests the various women are able to talk more about their respective backgrounds. Almost all have stories of abuse at the hands of various men, although most not so severe as the experience of Melora. All the same, they have been treated as the means to others' ends, rather than ends unto themselves.

They journey for several days, the desert slowly giving way to scrubland as they grow closer to the Domains and safety. They are nearly to Carthon, a city on the river that marks the boundary between Dry Towns and Domains, when Melora goes into labor at their campsite. She had been hiding it in hopes they could reach Carthon that night.

Unfortunately, something goes terribly wrong with the birth of her son. Already suspecting that she is dying, Melora demands that Rohana promise to treat the child as blood kin. Kindra then brings Jaelle to see her mother's last moments. Afterward, Kindra goads Rohana to slay the infant and revenge herself upon Jalak for her slain kinsmen who had tried to rescue Melora and instead died in his torture chambers. Rohana refuses, and instead gives the child the name of one of those kinsmen and decrees that he shall live in that one's stead.

In Carthon they hire a wet-nurse for the infant, then continue to Thendara, capital city of the Domains. Rohana speaks of the traditions of the Comyn to Jaelle, then introduces her to several kinsfolk. However, Jaelle declares that she would prefer to be fostered among the Free Amazons, and after some heated discussion Rohana allows Kindra to foster the girl.

Part Two takes up twelve years later and introduces Magda Lorne, a Terran Agent in the great spaceport that has just been built in Thendara. She has just gotten off duty from an undercover visit to the native town, and changing from native garb to Terran uniform gives her an opportunity to reflect on the differences between the mores of the two cultures.

Moments later she is called into the Legate's office, where she is introduced to Lady Rohana. Rohana wishes to ask a boon of the Terrans. Her son Kyril has disappeared and she feared foul play until hearing a hint that the youth might have taken employment among the Terrans as a lark. She shows a locket containing a portrait, and Magda is astonished to discover he is almost a twin of her ex-husband, Peter Haldane, who has been out on a mission for an unusually long time. They explain about the coincidence, and Lady Rohana departs, still unsure as to her son's whereabouts.

Time passes, and Magda gives little thought to the incident. While she is busy updating her linguistic reference files on the latest Darkovan slang, they receive a summons to Comyn Castle, the seat of the power of the Comyn in Thendara. There they meet Lady Rohana, who tells them that a bandit of the high Hellers by the name of Rumil di Scarp claims to hold the young man in his fortress, Sain Scarp, and must be ransomed by midwinter or he will be sent to Ardais in pieces. However, when she hurried home to Castle Ardais, she found Kyril waiting there for her, albeit delayed by heavy snows and frostbitten feet. Since Kyril's whereabouts are established, this can only mean that Peter Haldane has fallen into Rumil's grasp.

There is bad blood between the mountain bandits and the Terrans, which means that Peter dares not reveal his worthlessness to Rumil's schemes. However, the Terran Legate believes it impossible to send his forces to rescue Peter. Magda believes that she can do it, but there is the problem of Darkover's restrictive culture not allowing a woman to travel alone. Rohana, recalling her own mission to the Dry Towns, suggests that it may be possible if Magda disguises herself as a Free Amazon.

Some days later, after an unpleasant night in a tent and with a snowstorm coming on, she comes to a travel shelter and discovers it already occupied by two groups -- some rough men who may be bandits and a company of genuine Free Amazons on the road to Nevarsin. For a moment Magda considers going on to the next shelter, but she decides that would be more suspicious than sharing the Free Amazons' hospitality and hoping that Rohana's briefing will enable her to pass as one of their own. They are led by Jaelle, who trys to trip her up when she claims the patronage of Lady Rohana. That test passed, Magda settles in with them and over supper gets to hear their table talk of how they punished two women who were putting on a show of the supposed love secrets of the Free Amazons. She takes it as a warning that they suspect her.

That night, Magda overhears the men talking and wonders if they might have some useful information about Peter. She intends only to listen in on their conversation, but gives herself away and instead is attacked by one of them. Jaelle's Free Amazons have to rescue her, and then subject her to intense grilling about her origins. It soon comes out that she has never taken the oath of the Renunciates, but instead is travelling in disguise. She explains her mission, or at least as much of it as she dares without giving away the fact that she is Terran. The women are all impressed with her courage, but stand fast on one thing -- that she must not be allowed to masquerade as a Free Amazon.

Magda protests that Lady Rohana was permitted to travel among Free Amazons as though one of them without taking the Oath. Jaelle explains that such a woman must have the approval of the leader and the consent of every woman in the company. Magda then tells her to just give the permission, but Jaelle explains that such permission must be given beforehand, and cannot be granted retroactively. The law is utterly inflexible on this matter, and the offense cannot be obviated. A woman who has invaded the privacy of the Renunciates by masquerading as one of them must take the Oath and make truth of her lie. Magda thinks that a rather light punishment, but Jaelle warns that the penalty for taking the Oath falsely and then breaking it is death, and every Free Amazon has the right to enforce it.

Magda is torn between her Terran and Darkovan sides. Her Terran background says that an oath taken under duress is null and void. Her Darkovan childhood tells her that an oath is sacred, no matter the circumstances of its taking. She asks if there is any other choice, and Jaelle says that she has an obligation to her Guild-sisters to protect the privacy of her order. If Magda refuses to swear, she will be taken as prisoner to the nearest Guild-house until she is willing to take the Oath or until midwinter, at which all the members of the Guild will gather in reunion. At that time their judges will hear her story, and she may be only sworn to secrecy and released.

Magda offers to promise secrecy, but Jaelle explains that she lacks the authority to administer such an oath. Only the judges of the Guild can, and only on midwinter-night. Magda knows that this is no answer, because that day is also the deadline for ransoming Peter. Feeling no other alternative, she agrees to take the Oath. Camilla, one of the older woman of the company, suggests that Jaelle is rather young to administer the Oath, and offers to do it in her stead. Jaelle argues that if she is old enough to be elected leader, she is old enough to punish intruders and administer the Oath, and refuses to be spared the duty.

The ceremony begins with a proof of Magda's femaleness. She must bare her breasts before the assembled women, and any who doubt can order her stripped naked. While the Terran part of Magda's mind coolly observes the cultural significance of what she is experiencing, the Darkovan side burns with shame. When the women are satisfied that she is indeed female, Jaelle has Magda repeat the Oath. As she does, Magda feels that the Terran and Darkovan halves of her personality are tearing in opposite directions.

When it is over, Magda then discovers that she will not be set free to complete her mission. Instead she must be taken to the nearest Guild-house for a year of training. She must unlearn the cultural conditioning of a patriarchial society and learn new ways of behaving and relating to the world. Magda protests that her mission is a matter of life and death, but Jaelle refuses to discuss it until the morning. Magda agonizes over her options as she tries in vain to sleep.

Magda continues to agonize the following morning. She considers breaking her oath and escaping to rescue Peter, even if it will mean having to leave Darkover forever. However, she considers that Peter has also been raised among Darkovans and is as much Darkovan as Terran in his socialization. Would he be willing to receive a rescue that was based upon the breaking of an oath?

Magda tries one last time to plead with Jaelle, that her mission is a matter of life and death. Jaelle explains that the Oath has now severred all loyalties to men, and her first loyalty is to the Guild. However, when they arrive at the Guild-house she may plead her case before the Guild-mothers, the leaders of the Guild, and it is possible that someone will be sent in her stead to ransom her kinsman.

Jaelle then breaks up the company. The other women will continue on their journey whiel Jaelle takes Magda to the nearby Neskaya Guild-house. The other women hurry on, leaving Jaelle and Magda to gather their things. Just as Magda is considering knocking Jaelle unconscious, they are set upon by two of the bandits from the previous night. These men are determined to have their revenge for being humiliated by women. Even as she considers running, Magda reflexively pulls her knife and defends Jaelle's life at the risk of her own.

In the moment of her triumph, with one bandit dead and the other mortally wounded, Magda realizes that she was about to betray the very woman who had saved her the previous night. She then sets herself to tending Jaelle. Fever sets in, and Jaelle spends the next day and night delerious. The following day, when Jaelle begins to recover, they talk about the situation and the whole truth comes out, that Magda is a Terran raised among Darkovans, going to rescue a fellow Terran. Jaelle, now endebted to Magda for her very life, feels she must find a way for Magda to honorably rescue Peter. She realizes that this could be considered part of Magda's employment with the Terrans, and a Free Amazon is required to obey the commands of her lawful employer. Jaelle also has no great love for Rumil di Scarp, and will enjoy freeing a captive from him.

The next day they set forth, and Jaelle makes the grim decision to forge forth through the high and dangerous pass of Scaravel. If snow closes it, getting to Sain Scarp before midwinter will be physically impossible. They are delayed when Magda's pack-beast breaks a strap and they have to stop in a village to get it mended. They force their way through heavy snowfall, even after darkness. Then they encounter banshee-birds, the terrible blind and flightless hunters of the high passes. Magda loses her pack-beast in an attack, but they are able to get through and safely to the other side.

They arrive at Sain Scarp and Magda announces herself with her new Free Amazon identity, continuing the falsehood that Peter is indeed Kyril Ardais by saying that she is working under Lady Rohana's direction. When Rumil mocks them, Jaelle announces herself as a kinswoman of Lady Rohana and threatens to spread the word that Rumil di Scarp does not honor his bargains. Rumil then hands Peter over. Only after they are safely away from Sain Scarp does Jaelle finally ask Peter to confirm that he is indeed not Kyril Ardais.

Part Three begins some time later, at Castle Ardais. Jaelle had sufferred a relapse of her infection while on the trail from Sain Scarp, and she has been recovering here for some time. She has only confused fever-memories of the journey there, and of Peter helping her along the way. She wonders if she has inadvertantly broken her Oath by her delerious calling to him for help. Peter and Magda then quarrel over where Magda's loyalties should properly lie.

Jaelle's wounds are not healing properly, so Lady Rohana calls the court leronis, Dom Gabriel's sister Alida, to heal them with laran. Alida also discovers that Magda's wound is not healing properly, although without the severe poisoning that troubles Jaelle. However, they must first persuade Jaelle to consent to the treatment. Jaelle has had a bad experience with laran, and she doesn't want to repeat it. Only Peter's appeal to her beauty finally wins out. While Alida works on the wounds, Magda is drawn into rapport. This can only mean that Magda has laran, although she has never really believed in psi powers.

They are snowed in on midwinter's eve, and thus perforce spend the holiday at Castle Ardais. They are aware of some underlying hostility from Dom Gabriel, but he has enough courtesy to avoid putting it too crudely. The gift of fine clothes, with its covert message that the Domain-Lord does not wish to see women in trousers at his banquet-table, leads to a discussion of the significance of clothes among the Free Amazons. In the following festivities, Jaelle becomes ever more strongly attracted to Peter, and Magda more aware of it. After the main celebration, when the younger folk go to the lower hall for dancing, Magda and Peter quarrel again.

In the days that follow, the snowstorm continues. On the first clear day, Jaelle wants to continue the journey to Thendara. However, Dom Gabriel quickly points out that this is only a break in the winter, and they had best remain at Castle Ardais until true spring. Jaelle's relationship with Peter grows steadily, although she strives to keep it within the bounds of propriety and give Dom Gabriel no reason to complain of it. The additional time allows Magda to see other aspects of Darkovan life and reflect upon them in leisure. Jaelle must settle some old differences with her cousin Kyril. This leads to a confrontation with Dom Gabriel that triggers one of his epileptic siezures.

Finally the weather clears and they journey to Thendara. On the trail Peter complains that Jaelle is ignoring him, and she explains that she must not indulge her fondness for him, lest she cause dissention among the guardsmen that accompany Lady Rohana and her ladies in waiting. When they finally arrive in Thendara and go to Comyn Council, things are sorted out between Terran and Darkovan. When the Terran Legate protests that he cannot spare Magda to spend a year housebound in the Guild-house for training, Jaelle explains that she will be living with Peter in the Terran HQ and can do much of the same work, only from a native Darkovan perspective. Both Magda and Jaelle set off on their new lives in new environments.

copyright 96-99 Leigh Kimmel
HTML version by Fabrice Rossi (

source file (Last modification: Wed Apr 21 17:21:45 1999)