Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Deadhouse Gates, Chapters 20 and 21

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Welcome to the Malazan Re-read of the Fallen! Every post will start off with a summary of events, followed by reaction and commentary by your hosts Bill and Amanda (with Amanda, new to the series, going first), and finally comments from Tor.com readers. In this article, we’ll cover Chapters 20 and 21 of Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson (DG).

A fair warning before we get started: We’ll be discussing both novel and whole-series themes, narrative arcs that run across the entire series, and foreshadowing, so while the summary of events may be free of spoilers, the commentary and reader comments most definitely will not be. To put it another way: Major Spoilers.

Another fair warning! Grab a cup of tea before you start reading—these posts are not the shortest!

Chapter Twenty

SCENE 1

As Ragstopper nears Malaz City Elan tries to convince Kalam to let him help Kalam kill Laseen. Kalam says he has no intention of trying to kill the Empress (Elan doesn’t buy it) and then asks Elan directly was sorcery working on the ship. Elan says they’re being tracked by someone who wants to ensure the cargo gets to where it’s going. Kalam tells Elan he’s supposed to make contact with friends outside the Deadhouse.

SCENE 2

Pust, Mappo, and Crokus all try unsuccessfully to open Tremorlor’s door. The D’ivers bloodflies are heading for them. Icarium wakens and draws his sword. The Hounds and D’ivers reach the House’s yard together and the grounds erupt, reaching for both. Fiddler tries the door as Mappo attempts to hold back Icarium, but it will not open. Moby climbs down Fiddler’s arm and opens the door. They all enter the House with Icarium lapsing back into unconsciousness. Pust tells them the Hounds helped Tremorlor take the D’ivers then escaped themselves. They look down and see a long-dead corpse on the floor. When they wonder where Moby is Pust tells them he’s a Soletaken. Apsalar says the corpse is probably the last Keeper (every House has a Guardian) and Mappo identities it as a Forkrul Assail. Apsalar says the layout of Tremorlor is the same as the Deadhouse in Malaz City. Moby returns. Pust tells Mappo to let the Azath have Icarium while he’s unconscious, but Mappo refuses. The Trygalle Trade Guild appear out in the now-quiet yard, led by Karpolan Demesand, who tells them he’s there via Quick Ben. He delivers a box of munitions to Fiddler, then leaves.

SCENE 3

Apsalar theorizes that Moby had thought he’d found the Path of Hands, had been drawn by the promise of Ascendancy, which was partly true as the Azath is in need of a new Guardian. Fiddler tells them they need to look for a portal which links all the Azath and Apsalar gives directions thanks to Cotillion’s memories. Moby leads them, passing a huge suit of armor he seems enamored of. The come across another body, this of a young woman, whom Apsalar identifies as Dassem Ultor’s daughter. She says Dassem recovered her after Hood “was done using her” (she’s described with “vicious wounds crisscross[ing] her slight form”) and brought here to the Azath before breaking his vow to Hood and cursing him. Apsalar says the portal is not far and when asked, both Mappo and Pust say they’ll join the group, though Mappo says he’ll probably exit at a different spot and Pust mumbles he’ll look for a chance of betrayal. They say goodbye to Moby and Crokus realizes Moby had been protecting them through the storms. When he worries Moby will be lonely, Apsalar says there are other Houses and other Guardians (all of them linked).

SCENE 4

After they head for the portal, Moby goes back to the suit of armor, from which a voice tells him “I am pleased my solitude is at an end.“

SCENE 5

Duiker is in the midst of a counterattack against Korbolo Dom’s forces, who have been constantly and relentlessly raiding since the surprising attack on Dom by the Khundryl three days ago. The Chain, down to five thousand soldiers, is dropping like flies from the raids and from exhaustion. Lull and the unnamed female marine meet Duiker and tell him Coltaine wants him, that they’ve met another tribe who seem content to merely watch rather than attack. Lull asks what Duiker knows of the tribes in this area and Duiker responds that they have no love of Aren and that the Empire has treated them well, paying for passage and not asking for inordinate tribute. He can tell from Lull’s expression that Coltaine has come to some sort of decision and he worries what it is. The three realize what they continue to fight for is the children’s “dignity.”

SCENE 6

As they come to the flat hill, they can see two old raised (15 arm-spans high) roads. The Crow Clan mans the raised road like a fortified wall. Coltaine tells Duiker he is sending him with Nile and Nether and a troop to meet the new tribe and try to buy passage to Aren. Lull tells Coltaine that the wounded, along with Corporal List, have refused to go with them. Coltaine tells Duiker to “deliver the refuges to Aren” and when Duiker mentions the possibility of betrayal, Coltaine says then they’ll all die together. Duiker offers the alchemical bottle delivered by the Trygalle Trade Guild but Coltaine refuses it, telling Duiker he, as historian—the teller of the tale—is more important. And that he should tell Dujek, if he sees him, that it “is not the Empire’s soldiers the Empress cannot afford to lose, it is its memory.” Lull tells Duiker that List sent his goodbyes and wanted to let Duiker know he has “found my war.” Coltaine prepares to attack. The unnamed female marine gives Duiker a piece of cloth and tells him not to read what’s on it for a while.

SCENE 7

Duiker leads the refugees out then takes Nether with him to meet two elders of the new tribe. He tells them Coltaine is offering a “collection from all the soldiers of the Seventh . . . forty-one thousand silver jakatas.” The tribal elder identifies that number as the annual wages of a full Malazan army and scorns Duiker for stealing the soldiers’ wages to buy passage. Duiker tells her the soldiers in fact insisted; it was a true collection. Nether adds more from the Wickans: all that they looted on the long journey, all that they have (and, it is implied, all they will have no use for when they die). The elders say it is too much, more than the treaties specify, and agree to take the remainder to escort the refugees to the Aren Road as well as feed and heal them.

SCENE 8

As dusk falls over the refugees, Duiker listens to their slow realization that they are being cared for, their tortured response to the kindness of the Kherahn tribe, even the possibility they may in fact make it to Aren, and that it comes at the cost of those sacrificing themselves in battle against Dom. Nether tells Duiker she can no longer speak to Coltaine. When he asks if it means Coltaine is dead, she says they would probably sense his death cry. She says she fears they will not make it, as it’s still going to be three leagues to Aren from the Aren Road to which the Kherahn will escort them. Nethpara arrives and tells Duiker some of the well off have purchased fresh horses and wish to leave now for Aren. They also mention that Tumlit “fell ill” and died. Duiker refuses them freedom to leave, worried it will cause panic. Nethpara starts to challenge Duiker to a duel and Duiker knocks him unconscious with the flat of his sword.

SCENE 9

After a day and night’s march, they arrive at the start of the Aren Way, a raised road with ditches to either side and cedars lining the tops of the banks on its 10-mile path to Aren. The Kherahn elder tells Duiker a large force is swiftly approaching and then asks if he’s sure Aren will open its gates to the refugees if they even make it. Duiker laughs and says basically we’ll see.

SCENE 10

They march past huge mass graves from when the T’lan Imass slaughtered the residents of Aren earlier. They can see the pursuing army behind, opting for the shorter cross-country path rather than the road itself. Duiker guesses the barrows, which will slow their pursuers, are too new to be on maps and this may just give the refugees the extra time they need. Nil, who has been sent ahead, sends to Nether that they can see the city and its gates are shut. Dom’s army seems to be coming slower than it should be. The first refugees are within a thousand paces of the city and its gates remain shut. Duiker orders Nether to ride ahead with the Wickans. Duiker passes refugees simply stopping and giving up. He scoops up an eighteen-month old and continues on. Aren has finally opened the gates and the refugees are streaming in, helped by the Aren City Garrison. Pormqual’s army, however, simply watches from the walls. Duiker hands the child to a garrison soldier—Captain Keneb—who tells Duiker he’s to report to the High Fist immediately. He also tells him the soldiers on the wall have been ordered by Pormqual to do nothing and they aren’t happy.

SCENE 11

Duiker looks back and sees the refugees who had given up, unable to move and too far for him to retrieve (and it’s clear the Fist won’t let his soldiers out of the city). He looks north to see a dust cloud over the nearest barrow, then the high pillar of the Whirlwind. He enters the city.

SCENE 12

Apt and the boy Panek are in Shadow. Cotillion joins them and tells Apt her reshaping of the boy will scar him inside. She replies and he tells her he [Panek] “now belongs to neither.” When she speaks again he smiles and calls her presumptuous, then introduces himself to Panek as “Uncle Cotillion.” Panek says he can’t be related because his eyes are different and that Cotillion had walked through walls and trees of “the ghost world as if ignorant of its right to dwell here.” Cotillion asks Apt if Panek is insane and is shocked at her answer. He then asks what Panek recalls of his other world and Panek says he remembers being told to stay close to Father, then being led away by soldiers who then punished him and all the children for not “doing what we were told” by nailing them to crosses. Cotillion gets icy then tells Panek he wasn’t hurt for not doing what he was told but because nobody could stop those people, that Panek’s father would have but was helpless. And that Apt and Cotillion will make sure Panek is never helpless again. Then he says he and Panek will teach each other: Panek can teach Cotillion what he sees in the ghost world, the “Shadow Hold that was, the old places that remain.” Panek says he’d like that, as well as meeting the Hounds (“cuddly mutts”) Cotillion mentions. Cotillion tells Apt she was right, she can’t do it alone and he and Shadowthrone will think about it. He says Apt has to leave, she has debts to pay, and asks if Panek would rather go with her or join Cotillion in settling the other children. Panek answers he’ll go with mother to help the man from before (Kalam), who dreams of the sight of Panek on the cross. Cotillion says that doesn’t surprise him, that Kalam, like Cotillion, is “haunted by helplessness.” He turns to Apt and says when he Ascended, he had hoped to “escape the nightmares of feeling . . . imagine my surprise that I now thank you for such chains.” Panek ask Cotillion if he has any children and Cotillion says he had a daughter “of sorts” though they’ve had a falling-out (Laseen). Panek says Cotillion has to forgive her and Cotillion replies the forgiveness should actually go the other way.

SCENE 13

Ragstopper enters Malaz Harbor just before midnight. Kalam can see a pennant flying above Mock’s Hold and realizes someone important is here. Kalam is beginning to think the Deadhouse is a possible escape route of last resort if things go wrong here. The crew is strangely asleep aboard ship and he starts to realize he has seemingly lost his will and control over his body. Elan appears beside him and tells Kalam his mind now betrays him. He continues, introducing himself as Pearl and saying Kalam is a legend among the Claw, and that Kalam would have been head of the Claw had he not left, no matter what Topper thinks. He informs Kalam that the Red Blades assassinated Sha’ik shortly after Kalam delivered the book. Pearl/Elan says the Empress is here to have a conversation with Kalam but the Claw takes care of its own business. He then stabs Kalam to weaken him and warns him three Hands wait in the city for him, ready to start the hunt, before tossing him overboard. His last words to Kalam are it’s a shame that Pearl has to now kill the captain and crew. Apt suddenly appears with Panek on her shoulders and strikes Pearl. He conjures an Imperial demon then leaves.

SCENE 14

The captain wakes and finds the sailors watching two demons fighting on deck. He orders the First Mate to get the dories ready to abandon ship and the First Mate calls him “Carther,” which the captain answers with “shut your face . . . I drowned years ago, remember?”

SCENE 15

On the trader that had been keeping pace with Ragstopper, the captain and First Mate comment that the Ragstopper is about to go down and get ready to help rescue people. Minala appears on deck atop Kalam’s stallion and jumps the horse into the harbor. The Captain, impressed by both her bravery and stupidity, orders the ship’s mage to clear her a path through the sharks and anything else ahead of her.

Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty:

Reading that exchange between Kalam and Elan, did anyone else get the picture of two boxers or fencers sparring warily as they get the measure of each other? Very sardonic, arrogant, and both hiding monumental secrets—although I think that Kalam is becoming a little disturbed by the measure Elan seems to have gained of him.

The tension is ratcheting up unbearably with Icarium’s posse. With the approach of the bloodflies D’ivers, and the fact that Tremorlor is trying to take Fiddler’s uneasy allies (the Hounds), and the awakening Icarium—all of it leaves me positively screaming with tension and flicking pages swiftly. Here is a great line to sum up exactly how I am feeling:

The pressure slapped Fiddler against the door’s sweaty, dark wood and held him there in effortless contempt, whispering its promise of annihilation.

And, eek, even the Hounds are terrified of Icarium….

Hounds howled from the farthest reaches of the yard, a triumphant, outraged sound that rose towards fear as Icarium’s own rage swallowed all else.

Heh, and then a slight release of tension as Moby arrives! I have to say, I adore how this little guy has wended his way through the plot of these first two Malazan novels (GotM and DG). We’ve been sort of aware of him now and then, and grown vaguely curious about him, but never really considered him a major part of the story. At least, I haven’t. But here he is again! Also intrigued by the continuing mystery of Moby—his additional weight on Fiddler’s arm and the way he drifts in and out of focus—there is magic at work here…

I also couldn’t help but grin at the idea that Shadowthrone, the double-crosser, was being double-crossed in turn by the Azath, although Apsalar’s reasoning is sound:

“That betrayal might have been instinctive, High Priest […] Five Ascendant’s in the House’s yard—the vast risk to Tremorlor itself, given Shadow’s own penchant for treachery…”

Also, just shouting out Apsalar’s respectful reference towards Pust—High Priest—when no one else in the group is using the same. Is Apsalar just being polite? Or is this Cotillion’s influence?

And there we go: Moby is a Soletaken. Oh, and now to try and work out whether we’ve already met his human form! Wouldn’t it be SO amusing if Moby was someone like Kruppe? *grins* [Bill’s interjection: Well, that would explain the weight.] I’m guessing we haven’t met his human form though.

Nice to know that Quick Ben is still looking out for Fiddler—and I should have realised that the Guild were delivering to Fiddler after visiting Coltaine! This is when I start doubting my own intelligence. I even found myself wondering, when Demesand said to Duiker and Coltaine that he had one more delivery, where he was heading onto…. *stupid*

I like the humour inherent in the Guild—they are faintly ridiculous with the manner in which they suddenly arrive—and their dialogue matches this:

“Now we must flee—ah, a rude bluntness—I meant ‘depart’, of course.”

And the package? Containing items from the Blue City’s streets? We’ve seen these explosives before! Which also lends humour to Fiddler’s assertion that Demesand hasn’t jostled the items too much.

Oh no, completely wrong about Moby! Looks like he’ll be stopping in the Azath for a…veeeeery…looooooong…time, if he’s to take over as the new Guardian. And it seems as though his true form is demonic—honestly didn’t see that. But I am incredibly touched by Crokus’s reaction on saying farewell to Moby—it strikes me that he probably sees this as losing the very last link to his uncle.

Here again is reference to colours associated with warrens: “a midnight flash.”

Who is the suit of armour? Who? Who? Who?! Yes, yes, I’m sure this is something that will be given to us at a later stage, but I can’t help myself trying to work out who it might be. Someone who has been in solitude for a long while and who has past association with the Azath—could it be Dassem? Or is it a god of some sort? Or the Azath—or, hey! How about a Nameless One, with their close ties with the Azath?

Then back to the Chain of Dogs… I have no words for the pain and chaos and desperation we’re presented with. Soldiers falling from exhaustion, horses writhing on the ground in death throes, decimated Wickan tribes. All is hard to read.

The scenes Duiker had witnessed were beyond horror, beyond his ability to comprehend.

Imagine this: imagine being a refugee here. Somehow you’ve survived thirst, exhaustion, death. You’ve stumbled on for months and months, across an inhospitable environment, driven on by the coldest of commanders. And now you can literally see your impending death, as it nips away at your heels. Who could honestly cope in that situation without madness setting in?

They were part of a tidal flow where no ebb was possible, where to drop back too far was fatal, and so they stumbled on, clutching the last and most precious of their possessions: their children.

These words move me utterly: “Five thousand soldiers… spitting in the face of every god…”

And again: “We defend their dignity.”

You know that something I had in my eyes last time out? Well, it appears to be back. Oh, dang it all… *feels tears* You know something? I’ll be back once I’ve retrieved my box of tissues. I have this awful feeling I’ll be needing them.

That image of Fist Coltaine standing alone, watching the army, his cloak fluttering—what an unbearably lonely scene. I can’t even imagine what thoughts must be going through his mind—to have run so hard and so long, and to see the end in sight, but perhaps not the end that he truly wanted…

How can I convey to you the feeling within me while reading this exchange:

“You should seek out a cutter,” he said.

“I can still hold a shield—”

“No doubt, but it’s the risk of infection…”

Her eyes widened and Duiker was felled mute, a rush of sorrow flooding him. He broke the gaze. “You’re a fool, old man.”

Please, it’s not just me so affected, is it? I’m so immersed in this world, in these characters. How can the impending death of an UNNAMED CHARACTER affect me so? Do you know the feeling when you want to read, but you almost can’t turn the pages for the dread and sorrow that you suspect lies ahead.

*pauses*

Sorry, guys.

“Lead the refugees to safety, soldier.”

“Yes, Fist.”

Can anyone deny right now that ”soldier” is the title by which anyone under Coltaine’s command would wish to be known.

“Stay in Hood’s blindside, friend.”

“I wish the same for you, for all of you.”

Coltaine hissed, wheeling to face north. He bared his teeth. “Not a chance of that, Duiker. We intend to carve a bloody path… right down the bastard’s throat.”

I’m honestly not sure how to cope with reading this. Do you know, there are less than five books that have ever made me cry. I cry at the drop of a hat when watching movies, even the most manupulative tosh, but books have to work hard to wring that sort of emotion. And I’m not ashamed to say I currently have tears streaming down my cheeks. I suspect I’m not alone. [Bill’s interjection: You may get five books that make you cry just in this series.]

This next moment:

“Do your soldiers know you have stolen their wages to buy passage?”

Duiker blinked, then said softly, “The soldiers insisted, Elder. This was in truth a collection.”

And this amazing passage:

Joy wrought with dark, blistering anguish, wordless screams, uncontrolled wailing. A stranger would have believed that some horror stalked the camp, a stranger would not have understood the release that the historian heard, the sounds that his own soul answered with burning pain, making him blink at the stars that blurred and swam overhead.

See? Even Duiker is crying. I’m allowed.

Ugh, the nobles are truly vile. Don’t think I’m alone in thinking Tumlit’s death is suspicious, since he alone provided a voice of reason amongst the nobles. And now they’re trying to weasel away from the rest of the refugees and sprint for their own safety. I’m so blisteringly angry at them.

Even in the depths of desperation, Duiker still recognises a kindness done. Although the Kerahn tribe did only as much as had been negotiated for payment, they conducted their duties willingly and imparted gifts and healing on the refugees.

Again, this chase towards Aren is desperately hard to read:

He saw a child, no more than eighteen months old, wandering lost, arms outstretched, dry-eyed and appallingly silent.

And finally:

Too much to comprehend, too swift, too immediate this end to that extraordinary, soul-scarring journey.

*draws a deep breath* Apologies that this commentary descended to a mere picking out of quotes—but you know. You’ve all been here. You know what I’ve faced, reading this for the first time.

*another deep breath* It feels really strange to have to move onto another part of the story….

It’s wonderful to catch up with Cotillion—he is rapidly becoming a favourite. And that use of “Uncle Cotillion” helped lighten my mood somewhat. I was also incredibly touched by his desire to make sure Panek knew that he had done nothing wrong, nothing to deserve crucifixtion. And who else has marked the fact that Cotillion makes clear Panek is neither one nor the other, will fit into neither world—suspect that might be of importance later on.

Hounds: cuddly mutts?! Umm….

That last line from Panek really tickles me too: “Does he imagine that he now walks unseen?”

Hmm, how much experience has Kalam had with the Azath before now? “He’d never liked the Azath, had no faith in anything that appeared so benign.”

Elan is Pearl! Of course! *bangs head against desk* How did I not make that connection? Y’know, y’all can tell me if you’re thinking the same thing about me. *winks*

“…in the Claw, we deal with our own.” *shudders*

Grr, I really appreciated Apt’s appearance here to tackle Pearl, and I found I could face his shoulder dislocation and pain with great equanimity. Funny, I liked Pearl/Elan right up to where he started against Kalam—and suddenly I dislike him intensely. This interests me—it shows me that despite my slight dissatisfaction with his particular storyline through DG, I still have fierce loyalty towards Kalam and won’t stand anyone facing him down.

Absolutely love Panek’s reaction to the appearance of the Imperial demon in front of Apt: “Let’s be quick with this one, shall we?” A child’s over-confidence? Or is Apt just that powerful? [Bill’s interjection: Yes.]

Actually, loving the end of this chapter and its little hints and connections a great deal!

 

Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty:

I like the image of Elan and Kalam standing “at the bow like a pair of Great Ravens”—the sense of menace, death, and sorcery that surrounds the two of them. And it’s yet another subtle way Erikson keeps major figures/ideas in front of the reader. With so many characters/concepts spread out over so many pages and years, it’s good to slip in the occasional reminder to the reader via these sort of small, subtle touches: similes, curses, etc.

I have to say that while I had figured out Moby was much more than he appeared by this point, on my first reading I didn’t see him being the one to open Tremorlor coming.

I like how Erikson ratchets up the tension momentarily as all we get at first is “stabbing pain lances the back of Fiddler’s hand” which Fiddler, and thus the reader, takes at first as the beginning attack of the bloodfly D’ivers. Then we get some disorientation via Fiddler with Moby blurring in and out of focus and growing heavier and lighter as he works his way down Fiddler’s arm. We’re not left to forget the horror of the situation though as Fiddler is screaming throughout this. Then it’s a great close to that tension as Moby reaches out “a tiny wrinkled hand.”

I confess just prior to that to a bit of satisfaction at the Azath’s attempted double-cross of the double-crossing Hounds.

I already mentioned Erikson’s penchant for keeping things before the reader and here we get another quick in and out example of that with the dead Guardian. To say Forkrul Assail will play a major role by the end of the series is a bit of an understatement.

Those with good memories (and you need one of those for this series) will recall what the Bridgeburners were doing in Darujhistan (the “Blue City”) with regard to the streets—mining them. Those without good memories merely need to wait a few paragraphs for the more direct explanation of what Quick Ben sent along via the Trygalle Guild (an act we were set up for by Quick’s mention to Kalam that he’d try and think of something to do for Fiddler when he learned he was heading for Tremorlor).

Another dead body, another offside reference to an event that will have major repercussions for the series. In this case, Hood’s use of Dassem’s daughter and Dassem’s subsequent breaking with Hood. More to come on that as we forge ahead.

Here’s some confirmation that Moby was indeed fighting battles alongside the group—once more, if you wait long enough (though granted “long enough” might mean books and years) often what is muddy is clearly explained, at least in terms of basic plot.

Guesses on whose voice that is emanating from the suit of armor?

“Five thousand soldiers . . . spitting in the face of every god.” That concept is one that will drive characters and events all the way through to the very end, and I mean the very end, of this series.

Lull and Coltaine’s brief conversation regarding the tribes gives us yet another example of the benign or enlightened aspects of the Malazan Empire. We’ve seen several such examples earlier and we’ll continue to see them throughout the series as a whole, and will see it contrasted by examples of other types of Empire as well. What is gained and what is lost in the conquering, perhaps by both sides, is a topic rife for further exploration.

Speaking of words that will echo down to the very end: “Never underestimate a soldier.” Woe to the commanders, emperors, and gods who do so.

Sure, you’ve got the catalog of deaths, the vivid descriptions of wounds and corpses, but the exchange between Duiker and the unnamed marine really drives home the situation these soldiers are in, and their clear-eyed knowledge and acceptance of it:

“You should seek out a cutter . . . the risk of infection . . . ”

Her eyes widened and Duiker was felled mute, a rush of sorrow flooding him. He broke the gaze. “You’re a fool, old man.”

Let’s not say we’re not prepared for the end of this book. But more on that when we get to that end.

Time and again in this series, I’m moved by small moments or lines dealing with the quiet humanity and dignity of Erikson’s soldiers. The single line where Duiker tells the elder that the soldiers insisted on giving up their wages is one such example.

Poor Tumlit, it would have been nice if the one noble we’re shown with some, yes, nobility, had made it to the end. And I confess that while I respect and understand it, I wish Duiker hadn’t used the flat of his sword on Nethpara.

Even an outsider tribe is aware of the possibility of betrayal by Pormqual if the refugees arrive at Aren. It’s a good thing to remember that through all this long march, all the fighting and dying, the Seventh has known throughout that such a possibility lay at the end. Think of that.

Soldiers on the walls. Watching. Watching. Ordered, in fact, to do no more than watch. Here’s a darker side of that famed Malazan discipline we’ve had referenced again and again. And darker is yet to come.

Captain Keneb—we’ve seen him before obviously, we’ll see him again.

Raise your hands those of you that didn’t get a smile at the image of “Uncle” Cotillion. And then didn’t have that smile wiped off by Panek’s tragically innocent matter-of-fact summary of how he and the other children had been punished for not doing what were told by being crucified. And then didn’t get a thrill of anticipation at how the voice of Cotillion—Dancer-Rope—God of Assassins went “strangely flat” upon hearing that. I liked Cotillion quite a lot in these very early books, and that feeling only grows as the series continues to the end. That battle some Ascendants fight to keep their humanity once they’ve Ascended is key to so much of what happens in the Book of the Fallen, and Cotillion’s ongoing struggle in that vein is one my favorite, most poignant story arcs. As his sorrow over the fracturing of his relationship with Laseen and his confession that it is he who needs forgiveness, not her. Note too how he describes that sense of empathy/humanity: Chains. A words with lots of meaning here and more so throughout the series. A word so often associated with the negative, though perhaps not here. Compassion. Chains. Armor. Audacity. Not a bad idea to keep a list of the single words that appear again and again in these books.

Those lessons of Panek’s—showing Dancer the “old places that remain”—will come in handy down the road

I know some folks haven’t been enjoying Kalam’s storyline. And it certainly hasn’t been carrying the emotional weight of the rest of the book, not to mention lacking in much of the sense of action (something recognized structurally I’d say by how much shorter his sections are), but oh is that about to change.

Just how many of those “drowned” Old Guard folks are walking around anyway? You haven’t met them all….

Chapter Twenty-One

SCENE 1

Felisin/Sha’ik looks down on the city from a watchtower, alongside the young girl she adopted. Heboric joins her and tells her L’oric is the “one to watch,” that he seems to sense that Felisin has made a bargain with the goddess rather than acceding to letting the goddess be fully reborn (Heboric says instead the goddess has been “remade”). Heboric asks Felisin when the goddess first turned her eyes to her, when she began the manipulations that would lead to this point and Felisin says she never did—that all the twists and turns of mortality (deaths, decisions) makes things too complex for the goddess to manipulate. Sha’ik Elder did have prophecies and visions, but they made little sense to Dryjhna and were too uncertain, not to mention that the goddess isn’t much for strategy. Heboric answers then that if not Dryjhna, someone/something must have guided Felisin as Sha’ik never would have had those visions, and he wonders if even gods are pieces on a board, as mortals are. Felisin replies with a quote from Kellanved: “Elemental forces in opposition”, words meant, she says, to “justify the balance of destruction with creation—the expansion of the Empire.” When Heboric asks what she’ll do about Dom’s atrocities in her name, she corrects him with “in the name of the goddess” and says Dom remains “unfettered” and so “free to answer his obsessions.” Heboric says it’ll take months to march to meet him and by then Dom will have done so much that Tavore will be more than justified in whatever harsh retribution she brings down on Seven Cities. Felisin says she’ll have the advantage over Tavore, as her sister will expect to face merely an ignorant desert witch, not someone who knows so much of Tavore’s mind. Besides, she says, as the Whirlwind lowers itself horizontal, it won’t take months—the Whirlwind is the goddess’ Warren and will take them South.

SCENE 2

Duiker and Nether go to the tower where Mallick Rel and Pormqual stand looking down, along with Nil and an unknown commander barely in control of himself. The soldiers on the walls are screaming in rage and outrage as they see Coltaine, with fewer than 400 soldiers left, still fighting his way toward Aren and being slaughtered by Dom’s thousands, close enough that Duiker can see individuals clearly. Duiker reaches for Pormqual but is held back by the Garrison Commander as Pormqual says there are too many. Duiker says a sortie would save them, to which the garrison commander replies Duiker is right but the Fist won’t allow it. Duiker turns and watches Bult die, then Corporal List, watches as a massive cattle dog, pinioned with arrows, tries to defend Coltaine and gets speared, then sees Coltaine being nailed to a cross as thousands of crows darken the sky. Kamist Reloe uses sorcery to kill the crows, refusing to allow them access to Coltaine’s soul. The garrison commander calls for Squint, his best archer and orders him to kill the man on the cross. As he aims, Squint realizes it’s Coltaine and then, weeping, kills him. The crows swoop down on Coltaine, Reloe’s sorcery shunted aside, and when the crows fly off Coltaine is gone. Duiker holds the archer, who appears to have broken by what he did. Duiker watches Pormqual grow more fearful as he gazes at Dom’s army and “shrinks into Mallick Rel’s shadow.”

 

Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-One:

Does Felisin—or, rather, Sha’ik, since this is how Erikson now chooses to name her—actually know this, or does she just think she knows? And is it the case with all gods? “Even goddesses cannot foresee unexpected deaths, those twists of mortality, decisions taken, paths followed or not followed.” Is this why all gods dread the appearance of Oponn in the eternal game, because it means carefully laid plans are subject to chance?

“Elemental forces in opposition.” This line describes most of the conflicts through the books so far.

And back to the Chain… *braces*

I’ve read it. And I need a hug.

Do you know the bit that affected me the most? The fact that eleven crows were needed to carry Sormo’s soul, but that thousands turned up to claim Coltaine’s.

And that’s all you’re getting from me. I’m a weeping mess. See you next week.

 

Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-One:

The conversation between Heboric and Felisin is certainly an interesting one. We’ve been given some hints and reasons to think that the goddess has been manipulating events to this point, but here’s Felisin, who seemingly has access to the goddess, saying no, that isn’t so (of course, we don’t know that she truly knows what the goddess is thinking). And when Heboric, seemingly accepting the idea, argues somebody must have been doing some manipulating, he wonders who might treat gods the same way gods treat mortals: as mere pieces on a board. Felisin offers up three kind of answers:

  1. it’s just a mystery sometimes
  2. “elemental forces in opposition” begging the question, who are the elemental forces
  3. a connection back to Kellanved, a connection that blows Heboric’s mind somewhat

I think, Amanda, that we see enough examples of mortals “surprising” the gods that we can take Felisin’s words as pretty accurate. That’s my view at least. I think as well, the more removed from “humanity” the gods are, either in time (being aeons olds) or emotional state, the more difficult it is for them to lay out “fates.”

I like the use of the word “unfettered” coming so soon on the heels of Cotillion’s use of the word “chains” to refer to human empathy/connections. Dom is the example of what one is capable of without those chains, “unfettered” by compassion or a sense of connection to others.

Think of what a cinematic image it would be to watch the Whirlwind “toppling.”

Really, what is there to say about Coltaine’s Fall that doesn’t rob it of impact? It is just so painful and when Erikson writes “the distance was not enough to grant mercy to the witnesses on the tower or along the city walls” he may as well be speaking of the reader as well. We’re agonized by the absences: “less than four hundred soldiers,” “The horses were gone. The Weasel Clan was gone,” (nice use of short hard sentences for impact). We’re agonized by who is fighting and in what numbers: “half a dozen old men and horsewives.” We’re agonized by the butchery of their ending: “Many of them no longer raised weapons, yet stood their ground even as they were cut to pieces.” By the vividness of the details: “their forearms shattered . . . their skulls crumpling.” By their sheer refusal to yield: “using naught but flesh and bone to shield their leaders, the ones who had led them across a continent to die.” By their names: Bult, Lull, List, Coltaine. By the unfathomable loyalty of a dog. And above all, by the knowledge that it needn’t be, that ten thousand soldiers are watching all this, watching and being shamed by what they see. It’s a measure of the agony of this ending that the moment of release is the killing of Coltaine, and even that, that act of supreme mercy, has as its result seemingly the utter breaking of the man who performed it. How will Erikson drag us out of this abyss?


Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for fantasyliterature.com.

Amanda Rutter contributes reviews and a regular World Wide Wednesday post to fantasyliterature.com, as well as reviews for her own site floortoceilingbooks.com (covering more genres than just speculative), Vector Reviews and Hub magazine.

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