Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Midnight Tides, Chapter Eighteen

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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 Chapter Eighteen of Midnight Tides by Steven Erikson (MT).

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. Note: The summary of events will be free of major spoilers and we’re going to try keeping the reader comments the same. A forum thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.

Chapter Eighteen

SCENE ONE

The Nerek have survived the Lether sorcery at the Hiroth village due to being on consecrated ground. One of them now dreams, which hasn’t happened since the Letherii conquered them. The tribe accepts the dreams though they fear them. They send the dreamer and his brother to find Hull.

SCENE TWO

Fear takes Trull aside forcibly and tells him to stay quiet about his doubts. Trull says he will kill Letherii for Fear only, and recommends if he can’t accept that to send him back. He shows pity and horror at what is being done to Rhulad, refusing to see it as Rhulad’s power and wants to know who is doing it to him. Fear tells him to voice his doubts only to Fear and Trull agrees.

SCENE THREE

Moroch Nevath, Queen Janall, and Prince Quillas wait at High Fort, confident in their mage cadres and defensive measures. Wraiths, Edur, and Jheck arrive and the Letherii discuss battle strategy sure of victory. Moroch is the only one to feel uneasy.

SCENE FOUR

Trull waits with Ahlrada Ahn, Edur, Jheck, and the demons, realizing he knows nothing about these demons he fights beside. Both the Letherii and K’risnan use their sorcery in deadly fashion, then the battle begins and Trull rushes in.

SCENE FIVE

Moroch is on the battlefield, having lost both the Queen and Prince. He watches Trull kill the last Letherii mage, then seeks a horse for the royals. He slips and tears a tendon ( he thinks) and is surrounded by thousands being killed via sorcery.

SCENE SIX

The Letherii are fleeing. Trull, having just killed one of the Letherii mages, tells the wounded Ahlrada Ahn to get to a healer then re-gather Trull’s troop. Trull heads toward Fear.

SCENE SEVEN

Moroch watches Jheck Soletaken wolves killing the wounded. He witnesses the Prince taken prisoner and wonders at the speed and totality of the Letherii loss. An Edur tells him the Fort surrendered, as has the entire frontier, the Prince and Queen are taken, and the Edur march on Letheras. The Edur are letting the Letherii soldiers leave after giving up their arms. He heads south with them.

SCENE EIGHT

Trull finds a badly wounded demon who tells him in his home he was a fisherman, as were they all. He wonders why he’s been called to this world, this war. Trull goes to get a healer and finds Fear and the K’risnan surrounding a warlock suffering horribly due to the sword’s sorcery being channeled through him. Trull asks one of the Edur women to come as healer to the demon. When she refuses he strikes her. Fear tells him to leave it and orders Trull to ask forgiveness. Trull wanders off looking for another healer. He finds Hanradi Khalag’s sister and brings her to the demon. She tells him their name (Kenyll’rah) and agrees with him they have been “sorely used.” She heals the demon. He wants it released but when she says it won’t be allowed, he says he’ll have it in his charge.

SCENE NINE

Trull tells the demon he’ll hold him out of the fighting, but the demon says that would be cruel to force him to watch his people die but not share the risk. Trull says one of them must live to remember the others. He and the demon (“Lilac”) head to meet Fear, who is with the Prince and Queen and several officers. Fear tells Trull Rhulad will not ransom the prisoners; he wants them himself. Trull criticizes this and Fear withholds his angry response. Trull asks permission to have Lilac assigned to him and Fear agrees.

SCENE TEN

Lilac asks to see the river and tells Trull of his own river and the giant “Whiskered Fish” there (think giant “catfish”) that then crawl on land to shed their skins and live on land. Lilac asks what war this is and when Trull says a “pointless one” Lilac replies, “They are all pointless.” Trull says the Nerek and other tribes are broken, but Lilac wonders if they may not be and Trull agrees he might be right. When Trull also says their situation will not change if the Edur win, Lilac wonders why he fights. Before Trull can answer Fear arrives with a Letherii sword and wonders how such a corrupt people could craft such a thing. Trull answer it is because the Letherii are “forward-looking, and so inherently driven,” while the Edur look backwards. Fear thinks the Edur must thus harness the Letherii for them and Trull wonders what that will do to the Edur. Trull and Fear spar and when Fear turns to strike Trull Lilac stops him. Fear says Trull speaks treason and Trull asks against whom. When Fear says if Binadas were there he’d kill Trull, Trull wonders if that is what will happen to any Edur who dissent. Fear leaves and Trull weeps, comforted by Lilac.

 

Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Eighteen:

The Hold of the Empty Throne — since we were discussing the newly-created Hold of Death so very recently, might this be the Hold referred to here? Are we going to see someone take the Throne?

The Letherii conquered the Nerek, and now it seems as though they have been freed by the Edur, thanks to the consecration of ground and the blessing given by Mayen. Maybe this convoluted idea of people slaved by people shows that no one people are ever truly free of another?

It sounds as though the Nerek are preparing to make a bargain with somebody/something/some people: “Their fear holds them back,” he said, “and yet it is that very fear that will force them to accept.”

And this reawakening of the Nerek has also awakened their particular magic — and their gods as well?

So we see Trull being increasingly isolated by his doubts, suspicions and questions. He is being threatened death. We are coming to see the Trull that we first met in House of Chains, for sure. And… I have a LOT of sympathy for him. Yes, the new emperor is a tyrant and seems as though he is all-powerful, but why aren’t more of the Edur asking the same questions as Trull? If enough of them asked, then they would achieve something! Instead, they allow Trull to become more isolated, even though I’m sure he’s asking publically what everyone is actually thinking.

Janall and Quillas just seem an utter joke, truly, what with Janall wearing the fancy-pants armour that always seems to be worn by a person not taking a war seriously, and Quillas making daft pronouncements like: “They see the doom awaiting them […] and are silenced by terror.” Lucky they have Moroch with them, who seems to have more sense than the pair of them! You know in books and movies where you have characters and you’re just dying for them to meet their comeuppance? Janall and Quillas are two such.

Hmm, if I were embroiled in a war, then something like this might worry me a tad: “It occurred to Trull that he knew almost nothing of the huge, armoured demons bound to this war by the K’risnan.” I wonder if the K’risnan know any more?

You cannot deny that Erikson writes a damn fine battle scene — and something has struck me. In other series I have often found myself skipping battle scenes through boredom, or finding them repetitive. I eagerly await the battles that Erikson writes because they always bring the epic. I mean, those pillars of sorcery, the demons staggering while shot with multiple bolts, the Edur disappearing under a swathe of magic, the wraiths moving eerily across the battlefield. They do evoke a real sense of wonder.

How much does this magic wielded by the Edur damage them? I mean their souls, their morality, rather than their physical bodies. “What had the bastards unleashed?” And what did they do to ensure they could unleash it…?

I know that the Letherii are already facing demons and wraiths (and are remarkably sanguine about it, actually) but it must be pretty damn frightening to suddenly face men who become wolves as well!

I find it upsetting that Moroch is mostly bitter about the unfair element of the Edur having better magic this time around: “He and his people had been on the delivering end, time and again, until it seemed inherently just and righteous. Something went wrong. There was treachery. The proper course of the world had been…upended. The words repeating in his head were growing increasingly bitter. It is not for us to be humbled. Ever. Failure drives us to succeed tenfold.”

Oh, this is unutterably sad, as we find out more about the demons dragged into the war. In fact, it’s made me properly angry towards the Edur: “What war is this? Why have I been killed? Why will I never see the river again? My mate, my children. Did we win?” Heartbreaking.

Of course, it does lead to another act by Trull that is unforgiveable to the rest of his people, as he hits an Arapay woman. I don’t find it much cop either, I have to say. I can understand why Trull is upset, but this is not the way to get your way….

And now Trull is going to adopt this Healed Kenyll’rah — can’t see that ending well, either.

Lilac? *snickers*

Have to say, were I in Janall and Quillas’ shoes right now, I would be petrified at the idea of being requested by an emperor who cannot die….

And it seems there is no going back for Trull: “The world felt broken now, irreparably broken.”

Quoted for truth:

“What war is this?”
“A pointless one.”
“They are all pointless, Denier.”

Hmm, I’d say those who think the Nerek and the Tarthenal are crushed and their spirits broken have a nasty surprise coming….

This encounter at the end of the chapter between Trull and Fear shows how far Trull has truly stepped away from his people. It’s so sad. In fact, much of this chapter has been sad and upsetting. Bill was right last time out when he suggested our little comic interlude was simply a preface for darkness and sorrow. Poor Trull.

 

Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Eighteen:

This whole section with the Nerek is somewhat ambiguous, beyond the simple plot details that they have been saved by the consecrated ground and that they can now travel by magic—the “old paths.” They are following it seems a dream (of what we’re not told), the Elders are fearful (of what the dream reveals, of the outside world, of magic being awakened—not totally clear), the Elder who speaks is angry (at them? At the dream message? At sending them away? At Hull?), and the two Nerek have a mission to find Hull, for what reason we do not know (to thank him for his effort on their behalf, to save him from some foretelling of the dream, to pry him from the Edur, to hold him accountable for what his action brought to the Nerek, to use him as a tool?). The language is a bit ominous throughout I’d say: ashes, sludge, the river described as a snake, cinders, bloated bodies of dead animals, waiting sharks, harsh, knife-brother, gritty ash. The sentences are mostly short and harsh. All of this making that last line, “It would not take long” a bit foreboding I’d say.

This is an interesting turn for Trull. We see him at the start with nothing but anger and disdain and frustration for Rhulad. How much more effective, then, his sense of pity and horror and what is happening to his younger brother:

Our brother is doomed to die countless deaths. Die, rise, and die again. Our brother, Fear, the youngest among us . . . Are his deaths without pain? Without horror? Is he not scarred? How long, Fear, can his sanity hold on . . . He knows he will be killed again and again . . . Who is doing this to him?

Note the emphasis on “brother,” on Rhulad’s youth, on his “pain” and “horror,” on that sense of implacable inevitability, and of being victimized.

Like that image of the deer on the “killing field”—the incongruity of nature and warfare, of innocence and its opposite about to unfold.

Nice characterization of the Letherii military—how they’ve “taught” (supposedly) the Edur to use the weak as “fodder.”

I’d say assuming your opposing commander is a “fool” is poor preparation for battle, whether he/she be one or not.

I’d also say when the sole actual soldier with you is a bit uneasy, might be good to pay attention. I’d love to see the (I assume) eye roll from Moroch when the Prince says the Edur are “silenced by terror.”

Yes, the battle is “epic” in a different way and just a little disturbing in its objects and manner of death. I’d say as well it’s important to note that we should recall that many of those first ones we see killed are there against their will—the demon Trull hears “squeal,” and the hundreds of Andii wraiths wiped out by the Letherii sorcery. We’ll see again and again in this series, and have seen already, how the deaths due to sorcery are often described in stomach-churning manner, sickening not only to the reader but also to many characters who view the results—whether the victims be the enemy or their own.

That’s a lovely quietly sad moment when Trull looks at the end of his sword. I like how Erikson lets the reader pay attention to that or not. For me, it’s a moving line despite lacking “emotive language.”

Yep, must be awful when your sense of inevitable superiority is wiped away, and somewhat disdainfully as well. I think of the French at Agincourt, Cornwallis at Yorktown, the Spanish Armada, the fall of Saigon—times when the world seemed truly turned upside down for the losers.

And I’d say Moroch’s thought/wish that “We cannot be denied our destiny” is pretty clearly answered by the next line: “It began to rain.”

That scene with Lilac is indeed wrenching. Beginning with his face “twisted with pain,” then the description of his voice as “strangely child-like.” Talk about a heart-tugger description. Then his description of himself as a fisherman—something that often has such a tranquil, peaceful connotation to it. Made more so by the poetic manner in which he describes it, using “A caster of nets” rather than the more harsh “a fisherman.” And then his poetic setting: “Warm shoals, a yellow sky.” And the plaintive, unanswerable questions Amanda points out. The way we learn he is a husband. A father. That somewhere a lover, children wait and wonder what happened to him.

All is not well in Edur-land, despite the “victory” of the day. The description of the battle, the scene with the demon, the description of what the CG’s magic does to the Edur sorcerers, the sudden violence of Trull, the division amongst the Edur, Fear’s lack of “triumph,” Fear’s counsel that Trull lie,—none of this bodes well for if the Edur keep “winning.”

And then we get a mother who cannot find her sons. Another joyful moment of celebration.

And perhaps the Kenyll’rah name is stacking the deck a bit: “To sleep peacefully” Not to mention the individual name: “Lilac.”

Erikson seems to like that image of rain streaking down someone’s face. I think this is at least the third or fourth time he’s used it.

Rhulad’s claiming of the prisoners is yet another example in this very short chapter of how the Edur are being changed, and not for the better.

Another nice little unembroidered line/image—Trull putting his bloodstained hand in the river. I’m glad Erikson didn’t see the need to highlight the idea of cleansing, etc.

Note that description of Lilac’s world: lots of huge “whiskered fish” that can swallow a person whole and that crawl on land to shed their skins and then live on the land. And if fishing in such a place is as dangerous as hunting spiders, what does that imply about the spiders? I give you this reminder from the prologue to House of Chains:

“Verge of the Nascent
. . . The sea had been born of a river on another realm . . . the murky depths home to huge catfish and wagon-wheeled-sized spiders . . . Trull Sengar was dragged along [the shoreline].”

And this from later in the same book:

“[Onrack] arrived among the catfish . . . skin split, sleek four-limbed bodies tore their way free.”

And this:

“[Karsa] saw a . . . toothless mouth, gaping wide, sweeping up and around the corpse, swallowing it whole. A small grey eye behind a spiny whisker flashed into sight as the huge fish swept past . . . Torvald Nom was at the gunnel . . . ‘These catfish are bigger than sharks.”

“Why do you fight?” Good question Lilac. We know where this ends, it’s just a question of how soon.

We’ve had lots of intimations from several characters that winning this war may still mean the Edur lose. And now we get a more direct, concrete explanation of that as we see Fear talking about enslaving the Letherii and using their “natural drive to foment change,” something that seems utterly unnatural to the Edur. As Trull tries to warn, “I am not convinced theirs is the right way to live.”

And then it all comes back to certainty again. Remember how Seren, insightful as always, said she’d run as far from certainty as possible.

A nice metaphor—that river rushing on, “slave to relentless laws,” as we the reader know exactly where this current is taking Trull.

And just a great close to this chapter:

“[Karsa] saw a . . . toothless mouth, gaping wide, sweeping up and around the corpse, swallowing it whole. A small grey eye behind a spiny whisker flashed into sight as the huge fish swept past . . . Torvald Nom was at the gunnel . . . ‘These catfish are bigger than sharks.”

“Why do you fight?” Good question Lilac. We know where this ends, it’s just a question of how soon.

We’ve had lots of intimations from several characters that winning this war may still mean the Edur lose. And now we get a more direct, concrete explanation of that as we see Fear talking about enslaving the Letherii and using their “natural drive to foment change,” something that seems utterly unnatural to the Edur. As Trull tries to warn, “I am not convinced theirs is the right way to live.”

And then it all comes back to certainty again. Remember how Seren, insightful as always, said she’d run as far from certainty as possible.

A nice metaphor—that river rushing on, “slave to relentless laws,” as we the reader know exactly where this current is taking Trull.

And just a great close to this chapter.


Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.

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.

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