The Heritage of Hastur (pub. 1975) and its immediate sequel, Sharra's Exile (pub. 1981) are in some ways the heart of the Darkovan cycle - they mark the end of the Comyn and the sociopolitical structure of Darkover as it was and, as Regis Hastur comes into his own, the beginnings of a new Darkover (which would be penned, not by Bradley, but by her successors Adrienne Martine-Barnes and Deborah J. Ross from outlines and notes).
The Heritage of Hastur details the events surrounding Regis' coming of age, amid the unleashing of Sharra, the powerful matrix we saw before in The Winds of Darkover. It is also a key part of the ongoing conversation about the position of Darkover within the Terran Empire. In all these strands of the narrative, the one common theme is responsibility for and abuse of power. In a sense, the true heritage of Hastur - and all Comyn are called the children of Hastur - is a heritage of extreme privilege and power, and its potential for abuse, as much as it is a heritage of responsibility. As Danvan Hastur acknowledges, "In the far-back days, we were given power and privilege because we served our people, not because we ruled them. Then we began to believe we had these powers and privileges because of some innate superiority in ourselves, as if having laran made us so much better than other people that we could do exactly as we pleased."
As the novel opens, relations between Terrans and Darkovans have once more grown tense, and the key issue is the Compact - an agreement banning all long-distance weapons that holds sway throughout the six lowland Domains. The Empire has technically agreed not to allow such weapons to be taken out of the Terran Zone in Thendara, but Terran officials do not really take the agreement seriously, or enforce it rigorously, and they have allowed the sale of range weapons in Alderan territory - realising that the compact exists to protect all Darkovans from the devastating matrix weapons - like Sharra. Again, this conflict adds to the themes of responsibility, power and abuse that inform all the narrative strands of the novel.
This narrative focuses on two young men - Regis Hastur and Lewis Alton - whose circumstances and experiences are in some ways counterpointed, but in other ways parallel. Regis is the grandson of Danvan Hastur (and great-grandson of Lorill Hastur), heir to the most powerful family on Darkover, the hereditary Regents of the Crown - a vital role, as many of the Elhalyn, hereditary Kings of Darkover, have been incompetent or even mad in recent generations. But Regis doesn't want to be the de-facto ruler of Darkover, he longs for the stars. Unlike the Comyn he is destined to lead, he appears to be almost completely lacking in laran - testing indicates he has the potential, but that it has been blocked from normal development.
Lew Alton is also the heir to a powerful Domain, but unlike Regis, he has had to fight to be recognised. He is the son of Kennard Alton (last seen as a boy in Star of Danger) and Elaine Montray, who is half Terran, half Darkovan, but of the outcast Aldaran Domain, who Kennard met and fell in love with on Earth. Although Kennard married Elaine di catenas - the most formal style of marriage - the Comyn refused to acknowledge his marriage and Lew has always been treated by most as a bastard, carrying both the barbarian blood of the Terrans and the traitor's blood of the Aldarans. In order to have his son declared as his heir, Kennard was forced to prove before witnesses that Lew carried the Alton Gift of forced rapport by forcing rapport on him - an act that might have killed Lew if he did not in fact have the gift. Only in the Towers, where Lew proved to be a powerful and skilled matrix technician, has he felt truly welcome, although he has won some degree of acceptance among the Guards, where he serves as an officer and his father's second - the Altons being the hereditary commanders of the Guard.
The events of the novel do in fact begin in the Guard, where Regis is beginning his duties as a cadet, where Kennard is Commander and both Lew and Kennard's cousin and childhood friend Dyan Ardais - the Lord of that Domain - are officers, as is Regis' brother-in-law (and Lew's cousin) Gabriel Lanart-Hastur. Also in his first year as a cadet is Danilo Syrtis, son of a minor Comyn house whose older brother was paxman and sword brother to Regis' father - both of whom were killed by bandits carrying Terran weapons.
As new cadets, Regis and Danilo initially become friends, but are driven apart by the actions of Dyan. As cadet master, he has the power to make any cadet's life a living hell, and when Danilo refuses his sexual advances, Dyan uses not only his official power but also his laran to torment the young man. At the same time, Dyan attempts a gentle seduction of Regis - the difference in his approach to the two being that he sees Regis as a social equal and Danilo as a social inferior. Before too long, Danilo has rejected Regis' friendship and, driven to desperation by Dyan's action, draws a knife on Dyan and is sent home in disgrace.
Meanwhile, Kennard has asked Lew to travel to Aldaran to investigate the situation with respect to Terran weapons there, under the pretext of visiting his Lord Kermiac and his other Alderan kinfolk. When Lew, who has seen Dyan in action before, witnesses the public disgrace of Danilo and senses what was behind Danilo's reaction, goes to Kennard in protest, his father will not listen to him. Lew leaves for Aldaran, but with a heart filled with anger and disgust at the abuses of power he has witnessed. Arriving at Castle Alderan he is welcomed into the family as the grandson of Kermiac's sister Meriel. Here he meets his cousin, Kermiac's son Beltran, Kermiac's wards, Thyra, Marjorie and Rafe Scott, and the mysterious Raymon Kadarin, and is drawn into their plan to recreate the old pre-Compact matrix sciences, using the Sharra matrix. As he works with Kadarin and the others, training them to be a working circle, he and Marjorie begin to fall in love, despite the fact that Lew has determined that Marjorie is the one best suited to serve as the circle's Keeper.
Regis, having completed his first year of training, travels to visit his sister; en route, he stops at Danilo's home, where the two renew their friendship, and Regis, learning what really happened to him, swears to make it right. On his return to Thendara, despite being ill with threshold sickness, a malady that often strikes telepaths whose laran has awakened, he confronts first his grandfather and then Kennard with the knowledge of Dyan's abuse. Kennard, reading his mind and the images he carries from Danilo's mind, is shocked, but accepts Dyan's guilt. He also realises that Danilo is a catalyst telepath, a rare gift thought to be extinct, and contact with him can stimulate latent laran - and that contact with Danilo is what has woken Regis' powers.
With the promise that justice will be done, Regis returns to Syrtis with Gabriel who is to take Regis to Neskaya for laran training and then bring Danilo back to Thendara, but they discover that Danilo has been kidnapped by the Aldarans. Gabriel returns to Thendara to report the crime. Regis promises to wait for Gabriel at his seat in Edelweiss, but instead, he pauses long enough to name Gabriel and Javanne's youngest son his heir, and sets out to find Danilo.
In Alderan, Lew is horrified when he learns that Beltran has kidnapped Danilo, particularly since he himself, having guessed Danilo's gift, had speculated about asking Danilo to join their circle and use his gift to help more latent telepaths find their powers. Kermiac chastises Beltran, and when Regis arrives, assures him that both he and Danilo are guests under his roof and will come to no harm, and will be allowed to leave when the weather is better.
Lew comes to the realisation that working with Sharra is corrupting all of them, awakening lust for power and dulling their consciences, he decides that they must return Sharra to the forge folk and find another way to bring about their goals. But when Kermiac dies suddenly, Beltran imprisons Regis and Danilo, and tries to force Lew to continue working with the Sharra circle. Marjorie rescues the three captives, and they flee Aldaran Castle. Lew and Marjorie set out to bring word of the Sharra circle to Arilinn, while Regis and Danilo head toward Thendara. Lew and Marjorie are recaptured, and Lew is drugged and, now controlled by Kadarin, returns to the Sharra circle. As Sharra rages, destroying the city of Caer Donn and the Terran Spaceport there, telepaths across Darkover feel the impact, and a force is sent from Thendara to stop the fires, no matter what. Regis and Danilo meet the party, led by Kennard and Dyan, on the road, and head back with them toward Alderan.
Marjorie convinces Kadarin to let Lew recover from the drugs, and together they decide that Sharra must be stopped, even if it takes their deaths - and the deaths of everyone in the Sharra circle - to close the dimensional gateway that fuels it. As they enter the circle and prepare to attempt it, Kennard finally reaches Lew and adds his power to theirs. The gateway is sealed, but Lew is gravely wounded and Marjorie close to death; with the strength of desperation, Lew manages to teleport himself and Marjorie to Arilinn, but it is too late for Marjorie.
Despite the closing of the gateway, the Sharra matrix remains too powerful to be left on Darkover where its power could be raised again; Kennard decides to leave Darkover, taking the matrix and Lew with him, hoping that Terran medicine can heal wounds that Darkovan psi power cannot. The Terrans, now aware of just what kind of long-range weapons the Compact was made to control, promise to do their part in keeping it. Dyan accepts responsibility for his abuse of Danilo, and names him heir to Ardais as recompense. And Regis relinquishes his dream of the stars and takes his place as the Hastur heir on the Council. Hard lessons have been learned - at least for a time.
The Heritage of Hastur is the first of the Darkover novels to deal extensively with male homosexuality. It is also the novel that many readers point to as one that embodies Bradley's personal philosophy as an enabler of the sexual abuse committed by her husband, and an abuser herself. I am going to first discuss attitudes toward male homosexuality in general as presented in the novel, and then look at the instances of sexual abuse and how they are dealt with. But first, I want to summarise certain aspects of what has been revealed so far about Darkovan attitudes toward sex in general.
Sexuality on Darkover has two aspects, social, and reproductive. Social sex is by necessity non-reproductive, as it is a great disgrace to produce a child without a father to claim it. It occurs between men, between women, and between men and women. It is common in the Towers, but is also found outside of them. It is a personal matter, and is expected to take second place to the duty of proper procreation.
Reproductive sex is heavily controlled, because a child without an acknowledged father has no place in the community. Paternity is also important, especially among the nobility, because of the role that inheritance rights play in a feudal society. In Heritage of Hastur, we learn that having at least one heir, if not more, is a legal necessity for an adult male in direct line to the overlordship of a domain.
Thus men are expected to concern themselves with having heirs, and for this they need recognised relationships with women whose fidelity can not be questioned. These relationships span a wide range of options, including a highly formal style of marriage, legal concubinage, a form of common-law marriage, and the taking of mistresses. As long as the man is sure enough of the paternity of his child to acknowledge it, the mothers are not stigmatised and the children have a place in the family and in society. The higher the social status of the woman, the more likely it is that she will be married formally to a man of equal or higher status.
Women are often married young, well before the age of 20, unless they are marked for some training in a Tower, in which case their marriages may be put off for two or three years. Man may also be betrothed, or even married, at an early age. When discussing sexuality, it is important to remember that on Darkover, adulthood arrives early - around the age of 15. At this age, Darkovans take on adult responsibilities - they start work, get married, have children, begin training in Towers or in the Guards, whether they want to or not. As Regis says in speaking of the expected actions of a Comyn son: "It's all planned out for us, isn't it, Lew? Ten years old, fire-watch duty. Thirteen or fourteen, the cadet corps. Take my turn as an officer. Take a seat in Council at the proper time. Marry the right woman, if they can find one from a family that's old enough and important enough and, above all, with laran. Father a lot of sons, and a lot of daughters to marry other Comyn sons."
Nor are matters any different for women, as Lew thinks while watching Regis' sister Javanne at a party: "Javanne was dancing again. Well, let her enjoy herself. She had been married off at fifteen and had spent the last nine years doing her duty to her family."
Among the Comyn, sexuality and telepathy are strongly linked. Laran generally develops in early adolescence, and as Bradley constructs the physiology of psi, sexual and laran "energies" travel along the same "channels" in the body. As well, it is often mentioned that for telepaths, living in close contact is like "living with your skin off" - in a state of intimacy unimaginable among non-telepaths. It's also mentioned that telepathic men are often uninterested, or even impotent, with "head-blind" women. Telepathy both mimics and intensifies sexual bonding. As Lew says, in explaining why he refuses to marry at the command of the Comyn:
How could I tell Hastur, who was old enough to be my grandfather, and not even a telepath, that when I took a woman, all her thoughts and feelings were open to me and mine to her, that unless rapport was complete and sympathy almost total, it could quickly unman me? Few women could endure it. And how could I tell him about the paralyzing failures which a lack of sympathy could bring? Did he actually think I could manage to live with a woman whose only interest in me was that I might give her a laran son? I know some men in the Comyn manage it. I suppose that almost any two people with healthy bodies can give each other something in bed. But not tower-trained telepaths, accustomed to that full sharing.
With the exception of the cristoforos, whose attitudes toward sexuality, and particularly sexual expression between persons of the same sex are based on a remnant of Christian religious belief, Darkovans appear to have a relaxed attitude toward male homosexual expression - at least as long as the persons involved are either young, or if older, have done their duty to society by marrying and fathering children.
It was not considered anything so shameful to be an ombredin, a lover of men. Among boys too young for marriage, rigidly kept apart by custom from any women except their own sisters or cousins, it was considered rather more suitable to seek companionship and even love from their friends than to consort with such women as were common to all.
The Heritage of Hastur explores two instances of homosexual contact that may be characterised as abusive. The first, which occurs within the timeline of the novel, involves Danilo Syrtis, who comes to the attention of the sadistic hebephile Dyan Ardais while a cadet. While Danilo is not physically forced into sex, when he rejects Dyan's attentions, the older man responds with what essentially constitutes mental rape, by using his laran to infiltrate Danilo's mind - something telepaths are sworn not to do. There is a clear suggestion that Dyan has done this before, and that he has also had relationships with other young men, who may have been willing but were also under his authority as an officer of the Guard. Among his Comyn peers, his relations with consenting young men are not seen as problematic, but they clearly see his telepathic assault as wrong. In this context, it is important to remember that Darkovans are considered adult at 15, and capable of consent. By Darkovan standards, Dyan is guilty of abuse of power, but not of child abuse.
The second instance involves a single incident from the past, between 12-year-old Regis and Lew Alton, who is, as Bradley states in the text, "five or six years older than Regis." (It's interesting to note that reviewers have tended to cast Lew as ten or more years older than Regis.) Lew and Regis are foster-brothers, and Regis loves and worships Lew like the older brother he has never had. Lew is a telepath, Regis at twelve is just beginning to develop his laran. The two are out on the firelines together, in a situation of great stress.
And Regis had known Lew was afraid. He'd touched Lew's mind, and felt it: his fear, the pain of his burns, everything. He could feel it as if it had been in his own mind. And Lew's fear hurt so much that Regis couldn't stand it. He would have done anything to comfort Lew, to take his mind off the pain and the fear. It had been too much. Regis couldn't shut it out, couldn't stand it. But he had forgotten. Had made himself forget, till now.
Struggling with the simultaneous onset of puberty and telepathy, feeling Lew's distress and wanting to comfort him, Regis makes an effort to offer comfort that is both psychic and sexual in nature; Lew, not yet trained to control his telepathy, hurt and afraid and in need of comfort, responds in kind. Is this child abuse? Is Lew a homosexual pedophile? There is certainly no indication in the text that Lew has more than a minor interest in males as sexual partners; in fact, when he thinks of expressing his sexual desires, it is women he considers. Regis is the one who is drawn more to males than to females, who falls in love with Danilo. Regis is 12, Lew is no older than 18. The situation is, to my mind, ambiguous. Nor is it pictured as without consequence, for it is the intensity of the connection that causes Regis to block out the memory, and with it, his developing laran - until it is awakened three years later by the young man who will be his next lover.
It has become almost an article of faith in our society today that persons under some magic age - 16, 18, even 21 - are children, lacking in judgement and agency, incapable of freely consenting to sex. The problem is, that there is no sharp divide between childhood and adulthood and that not all people are alike or develop at the same rate. Even very young children are sexual beings, and it is not unnatural for age peers to engage in sex play. As children enter puberty, sexual interest increases, and many adolescents engage in sexual exploration. Consent is a situational thing. Can two 5-year-olds consent to "playing doctor"? Can a 12-year old consent to sexual exploration with a 13-year-old? A 15-year-old? A 17-year-old? A 25-year-old? The boundaries of free consent are fluid - at some point on this spectrum, the age range becomes too great, and issues of power and influence come into play, but at what point?
I think of my own personal experience. My first consensual sexual relationship occurred when I was 12, with a girl who was four years my senior. It was one of those boarding school romances - and anyone who tries to suggest that same-sex boarding schools are not full of same-sex sexual exploration doesn't know what they are talking about. Was my relationship fully consensual? As I look back, some 50 years later, my memories are of love, desire, longing, wanting to be with my lover as much as possible - to the best of my recollection, I was quite active in trying to seduce her, gain her affection. I was willing, and the only harm I took from the relationship came later, when my lover's parents pulled her out of school and put her into an institution because they discovered her same-sex desires.
This question of consent is particularly important for young people who are queer, because we may not always have age peers able to experiment in the ways we need to. Often we don't exactly know what we are or what we want, only that it is something different - and it may well be that the only people we can find who know what we want are older than we are, having gone through the stages of coming out to themselves that we are only just beginning. Regis' early experience with Lew may well read quite differently to such people, who have had to take different paths to owning their sexuality than most straight people do.
For my part, I read the narrative thread that deals with Regis' sexuality as a coming out story, with Regis and Danilo as a young gay men reaching an understanding and an acceptance of who they are and who they love. That's what made me love this book when I first read it, some 40 years ago, and that's still how it affects me.