I had a conversation with another author once about “warrior women”—about the trope as it exists and the ways to subvert or twist it. Or more specifically the ways trying to subvert or twist it can make the whole character collapse into a pile of “huh?”
A Warrior Woman is often, after all, given characteristics we associate with masculinity—she is active, powerful, emotionally simple, aggressive and closed off. People often complain characters like this are “men with breasts.” So the answer is to add more feminine characteristics, right?
Ah, but you have to tread carefully there, too—many of the characteristics that we call feminine are incompatible with the warrior part. If she’s overly emotional, overly empathetic, what’s she going to do when the fight breaks out? If she’s a compromiser, she likely isn’t a warrior. If she’s not brawny and lets her companions go first, she’s lost that powerful edge that makes her a warrior.
This is one of those places where I think the trope is terrible. After all, much as we like to imagine they’re a rarity, women warriors have always been around–they can’t all have been men with breasts. The art, then, is to move past types and tropes, and flesh out a character who fulfills the definite needs of the role and then fills it in with her own details, eschewing what’s expected when it doesn’t need to be. She has to be a badass. She has to be deadly. She has to be confident, active, and aggressive at times. She has to be herself.
Which is something Havilar is very good at.
In a lot of ways, Havilar is the easiest character to write in this series. It’s not that she doesn’t change. It’s not that she’s not full of layers and nuance. I think it’s that Havilar, for all her contradictions, is completely genuine.
Havilar enters the series, a teenaged girl who is savantlike with a polearm, and not much else. She’s envious of her sister in some ways and frustrated by her weaknesses at the same time. She wants people to see her for her own person, but still Farideh leaving her is the one thing that scares her more than anything else. She carries her glaive like it’s a security blanket, and doesn’t bat an eyelash when faced with orc attackers. She also wishes for a prettier cloak and somewhere to wear a dress to. When given the chance to socialize with a boy her own age, Havilar is a little giddy at the prospect—but it never once occurs to her to do anything but be her delightful self with him. I love that.
When you put her together with that boy, Brin, a really strange thing happens. See, Brin’s a runaway noble from Cormyr, trying to escape his family’s dangerous plans to secure a place in the royal succession. He’s not sure who he’s supposed to be, but down in his gut, he knows the answer’s not anything the Crownsilver family will like. He’s not great with a sword, Torm only listens to his prayers sometimes, and he’s on the short side. When they started flirting with each other in Brimstone Angels, I thought, “This will be interesting. Once they get back to Cormyr, this will fall apart in an awesome mess! Drama! Tension! Poor Havi!” After all, on paper, these two are ridiculous.
But when I put them together, they keep getting stronger. He loves her for the way she’s so confident and always herself, and helps him be himself too. She loves him for his kindness and his bravery, and the way he makes her feel appreciated for who she is on her own, without Farideh.
It would take a lot to split these two up.
If Farideh had asked for details, Havilar thought, lying tangled in the rough sheets and Brin’s arms, she didn’t know what she could possibly say to give it any justice.
Much like kissing, it wasn’t how Havilar had expected—it was stranger and worse and also far, far better. She sighed and settled her head on Brin’s shoulder, careful to avoid butting his jaw with her horns.
“I feel,” she said, “like I passed through another plane. But no one told me.”
Brin chuckled and kissed her forehead. “I like that.”
“And tired,” she added. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been this tired. I don’t even want to move.”
“I’m going to pretend that’s a compliment.”
And, she thought to herself, I didn’t throw up. I have a lover, and I didn’t throw up. A faint breeze stirred the dirty curtains over the open window, cool on their sticky skin. She wondered if anyone outside heard them, knew what they’d done. She sighed again, content.
“Don’t laugh, all right?” she said. “I thought it would take longer. All night maybe.”
He didn’t chuckle that time; he ran his fingers up and down her shoulder. “But . . . it was all right?” he asked. “I mean, it would go better with practice—”
“Shush. It was perfect. The best.”
It hadn’t been like in chapbooks. At least not quite for her. Maybe for Brin—it seemed more like chapbooks for him. But Havilar figured that the fact he’d known a little of what to do after, when it became clear she hadn’t had the same experience—even if there was plenty of fumbling and giggling and not much serious romantic gazing—meant that their first efforts could be considered very good overall. She’d rather, she thought, laugh than be serious about something so messy and ungainly and personal anyway.
Brin rubbed his thumb over her knuckles, his skin so pale next to hers.
“Was it how you imagined?” he asked. “Am I . . . how you imagined?”
She pushed up on one elbow so she could look at him. “I really don’t know. It’s been so long, it feels like, since I wasn’t thinking about you anyway. I forget.”
“Two months,” he said, holding up his fingers.
“I can count,” she said and pinched him. He pinched her back, and this time she grabbed his hand and pulled it close. “It’s not as if I’m what you imagined.”
“No,” he agreed. He traced the edge of her horn over her forehead. “Not outside anyway. Inside . . .” Brin smiled and shook his head. “No, you’re better. Inside and out.”
Havilar snorted, but didn’t tease him about the accidental wordplay. It was too nice a compliment to spoil. He could have a princess, she thought, and he likes you better.
Brin glanced past her at the open window. “Ye gods, it’s still hot as blazes.” But he didn’t push away from her.
Havilar smiled. “Is it this hot where you’re from?”
“In Suzail, it’s not so bad,” he said. “The water keeps the city cooler. As long as you don’t go too far inland, it stays pretty pleasant.” He brushed a strand of hair over her shoulder. “The Citadel’s cooler still, but it’s up in the mountains, so it would be.”
“Does it snow?”
“Lots. I used to have to shovel it off the courtyards. It was supposed to build character.” He chuckled to himself. “Aunt Helindra would have dueled the holy champions herself and won by sheer temper if she’d known. It’s unprincely, shoveling. Anyway, it would always just snow another load the next day. So all winter, I was in the courtyard. Shush,” he said, before she could tease him like usual. “I can shovel snow.”
Havilar smiled—she wouldn’t have teased him, not anymore. Not when she’d seen for herself he was stronger than he looked. “It snows in Arush Vayem, too,” she said. “Right up to your knees. And then the winds come and blow it all around. No one tries to move it—you just stomp it down again and again until spring finally comes.”
“Well I suppose there are other ways to build character,” he said cheekily. He looked her in the eyes for a long moment. “After this, we can go up into the Stormhorns,” he offered. “I could show you the Citadel. Where I grew up. We could even stay the winter, if you like.”
“Will they let me stay? Let us stay?” she amended.
Brin nodded. “I’ll convince them and you convince Mehen. Then in the spring we can go to Tymanther and you can show me your mountains.” He hesitated. “I mean, you and me. I know Farideh can’t.”
“No,” Havilar said with a sigh. “I wouldn’t be welcome either. I’m the one who called Lorcan after all.”
“Summoned,” Brin corrected, but he was still playing with her hair, so Havilar didn’t pinch him for that. “Do they even know that, though? And anyway, you led him away. Surely they’ll forgive you.”
“That’s not how Arush Vayem is. The rules we broke, they’re the kind of rules too big to forget. We can’t go back home.”
He stopped. “That’s so sad.”
It was—the kind of sad Havilar spent a lot of effort not thinking about. She’d always thought of the future as a vast, uncertain mess, so why worry about it too hard? But Brin made her think ahead, think about the paths that were open to her and those she could never go back to again. It was strange to think of how much she’d planned without planning—she wouldn’t grow old in the little stone house; wouldn’t return from some adventure through the big, spiked gates; wouldn’t see if any of the handful of boys near to her age turned out to be interesting.
Havilar sighed, as if she could exhale all those feelings right out in a vapor. “Yes,” she agreed. “But maybe someday that will change. Or maybe our mountains aren’t that different.”
“And if you’d stayed,” he said, “we wouldn’t have met. So there’s that?”
She grinned at that, but a second thought made the smile soften. “I always would have left,” she told him. “I’ll always choose Farideh.”
“Don’t worry. I know.” And if there were anything she loved best about Brin it was probably that: he knew what she meant, even when she wasn’t saying it right. She smiled at him, pleased at the realization. “I love you.”
Brin went still as a rabbit, as if he were thinking she wouldn’t see him if he didn’t move. Even though Havilar couldn’t remember imagining this moment, she was sure this wasn’t how it was supposed to go.
“This is a court thing,” Havilar said. “Isn’t it?”
“No,” he insisted, and Havilar knew he was lying, even if he didn’t. “It’s just . . . it’s kind of sudden is all.”
“When was I supposed to say it?” He didn’t answer, so she added, trying for impudence, “Do you have a writ for this too in Cormyr?”
Brin didn’t laugh. “No, I don’t mean you weren’t supposed to.”
Havilar sat up. She hated this. She hated when he got snarled in old rules and expectations, and there was nothing for her to do but wait until he picked his way out. It happened now and again, and much as she didn’t understand it, she was prepared. Still, she thought, pulling the covers up and trying to decide where she ought to look, she wished in this case she might win out over all the odd rules of Cormyr’s court and Torm’s citadel tumbling around in Brin’s head.
He sat up too and reached for her arm. “Wait. This . . . It’s not what I meant. Please come back.”
“It’s fine,” she said, because she wanted it to be. “I just thought it, so I said it. You don’t have to think any way about it.”
He gave her a look, as if he knew exactly how much of that was a lie. “Havi, I’m sorry. I’m not trying to ruin things. Really, you just surprised—”
Farideh and Lorcan’s muffled voices filtered through the wall, sharp and angry, and Havilar shushed Brin. “Do you think they heard us?”
“Heard us what?” he whispered. “Talking? They haven’t been back that long.”
“I don’t know. The door shut earlier when we were lying about.”
“Are you sure?” Havilar asked. “She doesn’t want to know details. I promised.”
“I’m sure,” Brin said. He took her hand. “Look, can we just start over—”
Farideh’s cry sliced through the wall as if it were tissue, followed by a strange pulse, as if a spell had been cast. Havilar leaped off the bed and yanked on her leathers. “Something’s wrong.”
“Havi, they’re just arguing.”
“Then I won’t be long,” she said, pulling on her blouse.
“No.” Brin threw back the covers and groped at the floor for his own clothes. “If you’re going, I’m going. And we’re talking about this.”
A crash. Another shout. Another voice, that wasn’t Farideh, wasn’t Lorcan.
Havilar snatched her glaive from where she’d set it against the wall, blood thrumming. Here was something she could solve, she thought.
“Gods damn it,” Brin cursed. “Where are my breeches?”