WARNING: This post contains spoilers. Except I don’t think they should be spoilers, which is why I’m going to go ahead and spoil them. By now, I may have gotten some of you hooked on the excerpts, so in fairness to that, I will lead with an excerpt from Mehen’s POV, and follow with the post.
The ancient wood swallowed Mehen and the Harpers, the sun lost behind a canopy of emerald leaves. Even in the heart of Ches, the forest felt mild, the air brisk but nothing compared to Everlund’s chill. A carpet of feathermoss and brittle bracken muffled their footsteps, but the sharp, grassy scent of broken plants marked their path wherever they trod.
Daranna checked Mehen’s pace often, but he wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of being the slow, ungainly creature she expected. He knew how to move through the wood, quickly and stealthily. They made camp late and broke early the first night, and by the time they stopped on a high hilltop for the second night, Mehen had to admit at least that the Harpers weren’t the worst folks to be traveling with.
Not as good as his girls, he thought sadly, digging an acorn cap out from beneath one of his foot-claws. He rubbed his sore foot.
“I may owe you a boon,” Khochen said, dropping down beside him. “Daranna swore it would take eight days with you along. I wagered a gold piece we could do it in five. I think you’ll win me my gold yet, goodman. Many thanks.”
“Thank me when you’ve won it,” Mehen said. “Don’t tempt the gods into your business.”
“But they are so easy to tempt, goodman.” Khochen tilted her head. “You must tell me what to call you, at least. ‘Goodman’ is terribly stiff, ‘Mehen’ is too familiar, and no one can tell me your clan or family name—”
“Mehen is fine. And don’t pretend you don’t know perfectly well I have no clan name.” He scratched the empty piercings along his jaw frill. “You know the difference between clan and family, you know what this means.”
“A hit!” she said clasping a hand to her chest. She considered him silently, that twitchy smile mocking him. “I have guesses,” she said. “The size of the holes, the placement. I’m no scholar of Tymanther, but I think you were somebody once.”
Mehen glared down his snout at her. “I’m still somebody: I am Clanless Mehen, Son of No One, Father of Farideh and Havilar.”
Khochen’s smile softened. “But you were Verthisathurgiesh Mehen. Once.”
All these years, and the sound of those words spoken aloud still sent a shock of shame and anger through Mehen. “Don’t you dare say that name,” he said, his voice a hiss. “I am clanless, and that means forever.”
“Indeed,” Khochen said. “I know that well enough too. But someone is looking for your old self.”
Mehen sighed and folded his arms, and all that sudden shock turned back to annoyance. “Let me guess: a dragonborn, clanless, but freshly enough to tell you that they, too, were Verthisathurgiesh once. Wears a symbol of the Platinum Dragon big enough to stop an axe. Tracked me out of Tymanther, but then the trail runs cold. They start asking, you think of Lord Crownsilver’s bodyguard.”
Khochen smiled. “An excellent guess, goodman.”
“I get one every five or seven years. They get themselves expelled from the clan for swearing too loudly to Bahamut. They’re lost and lonely. They’ve heard the tale of the favored son who called Old Pandjed’s bluff and took exile over obedience and they assume—every karshoji one—that it was the same ‘sin’ as theirs. That I will know their hearts and be their mentor, and turn them into the sort of warrior Verthisathurgiesh will be so proud of, that they will make an exception and bring them back into the fold.” Mehen fixed Khochen with a hard stare. “They are wrong on every count. Don’t encourage this one.”
Khochen’s eyebrows raised. “Your clan doesn’t talk about what you did?”
Mehen snorted. “Doesn’t sound like it.”
“That’s peculiar. Can’t warn anyone off unless an example’s made.”
“There are some things, where if you make an example, you give the young ones ideas,” Mehen pointed out. “Pandjed is nothing if not canny. He knows the difference.”
“So what did you do?” Khochen asked.
Mehen held her gaze. “I told you,” he said. “I told Verthisathurgiesh Pandjed he could exile me.”
“Does Verthisathurgiesh Pandjed do everything you tell . . .” Khochen trailed off and peered into the distance over Mehen’s shoulder, down the hillside and into the depths of the darkening forest.
Mehen traced her gaze—nothing there. Not at first. Then the flash of magic, purple and gold, far into the distance peeked through the trees once more. He narrowed his eyes as it flashed again.
“Company,” Khochen noted, coming to her feet and retreating to Daranna’s side. A few quick, whispered words and the four scouts were on their feet once more, slipping through the trees toward the strange lights.”
Want to continue the story? Pick up a copy of The Adversary starting December 3rd at your favorite local bookstore (Or pre-order from major booksellers). You can also order a signed copy, here at slushlush.com
Okay, discussion time. Again: some of you may consider what follows to contain SPOILERS. If you don’t want SPOILERS, skip this and come back later. Again: HERE BE MILD SPOILERS.
So what did Mehen do? You’ll finally find out in more detail in The Adversary, though less detail than I would have liked, and that’s for a couple of reasons.
There are a few big obstacles writing Mehen. First, he’s The Dad. Whenever Mehen is in the story, there needs to be a reason the twins aren’t coming to him. The older they get—the more sure of themselves they get—the less true that will be, but making sure Mehen doesn’t just get to take over the problem is important. It’s the same reason so many fictional teenagers are orphans—parents get in the way of kids finding out who they are. But Mehen’s his own character with his own conflicts—learning to stop trying to run his daughters’ lives is part of his growth. Finding the balance between those two issues is the trick of writing Mehen right.
Secondly, you have the Dragonborn Issue. Dragonborn aren’t human. It’s my opinion that with non-human characters, if you don’t make them feel different, they don’t feel like their own complete culture. They turn into guys in rubber masks. But to do that culture justice, I need space to explain and explore it. A social structure where a father threatens to exile his son—where that’s not an idle threat and is clearly a big deal—and the son says “Do it, I dare you”? I want to see that in detail. I want to understand what that world is like, what Mehen’s family was like, and that means I want to take you to Djerad Thymar. But for the last several books, that’s just not been an option—so it’s hard to explain what happened to Mehen the way I want to.
But the last reason is one I really struggled with. You see, Mehen is gay.
Mehen has always been gay. The moment I came up with this character, he was a dragonborn, a single dad, a warrior exiled from his homeland, and gay. Why? I don’t know. He just was. But telling you all that? Was a problem.
You see, certain folks in charge of things really didn’t want to see gay male characters. Our core readers, they felt, wouldn’t like it.
I didn’t like that. But there wasn’t a lot to be done about it. I could write it anyway and potentially force my editor (who agreed with me, by the way) to cut scenes I didn’t want cut so she wouldn’t get in trouble. I might have gotten dropped and not allowed to write another book. Or nothing at all might have happened—this might have been the sort of “rule” that could be broken and what could the Powers That Be do about it? I didn’t know which it would be. If I asked, I might be told “No” and that wasn’t on the table—even though it didn’t impact the story at the moment, I couldn’t make Mehen straight any more than I could make him female or an elf or give him a spellscar.
(…I mean, I probably could have. But it wouldn’t have been Mehen. )
So I opted for the path of least resistance: I left hints, planning to build them up to a point where I could point at them and say “It’s always been there. It’s canon. Didn’t you notice? Well we can’t change it now.” If you read Brimstone Angels there’s a scattering of hints that Mehen prefers men. Arjhani is a male dragonborn name, and I never used a pronoun to describe him. When Mehen is entranced by Rohini, she doesn’t do a thing for him—not until she looks like a male orc (which he thinks is weird, because orcs? Really?). When Lorcan tells the twins Rohini has charmed Mehen, they say it’s not possible—and while Brin assumes that they mean it’s because Rohini doesn’t look like a dragonborn, they mean they don’t know she can change her gender. It’s all there, but it wasn’t enough to tip anyone off. I was too careful.
In retrospect, this wasn’t a plan of which I’m terribly proud. From the start, it bothered me. Making something this fundamental about a character into a surprise! quickly felt gimmicky and not worthy of Mehen. The book I hoped to set in Tymanther got pushed out, Mehen had to take a break from Lesser Evils to avoid a character overload, and the longer things went, the more I chafed—and the more it felt like a dumb gimmick.
Which brings us to now. The new Powers That Be want the world in all its many shades and splendors. They want to see characters who look like everyone, love like everyone. Which means Mehen can just be who he is and I don’t have to figure out a way to trick the people who sign my royalty statements.
And it means that I realized how much I didn’t want to wait for that book where I could get to Djerad Thymar and show you where Mehen came from and what he lost. It sounds melodramatic, but I feel guilty for shoving Mehen into a symbolic closet, especially since his sexuality (and because he’s The Dad, I’m sorry, I know a ton of you just cringed hardcore at that) isn’t something he’s remotely embarrassed about. True, he probably doesn’t think it’s your karshoji business, squishy, but there’s a difference between being reserved and hiding yourself, and I can’t help but feel I made Mehen do the latter just to make someone else happy. Which is why I don’t really want this to be a spoiler anymore.