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 Four of Toll the Hounds (TtH).
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 spoiler thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.
Traveller lands ashore, his ship wrecked in the shallows, and is almost immediately attacked by a plains bear (“driven here”), which he kills and eats. He heads inland.
Nimander, Skintick, and Desra debate power. Nimander worries about Nenanda and how Clip is influencing him, then is tormented by the two voices in his head, his lover and Phaed, speaking to him. The group reaches fields of strange plants fed by corpses wrapped in rags dripping black fluid. They can see thousands of such “scarecrows” over distant fields. They head toward the town beyond the fields and are met by a priest of the Dying God, who tells them the former cities of the Pannion are rising in this new age of Saemankelyk, and that the Dying God’s body lies in the city of Bastion. He mistakes them for traders from Black Coral. Clip says he wants to travel to Bastion to see this god.
Seerdomin makes his way through the city to the Great Barrow. At the barrow, he prays the same prayer he does every day, asking not for redemption but giving the Redeemer his “paltry” gift of company to aid the Redeemer in his great loneliness. He asks the Redeemer to bless the pilgrims with peace. Afterward, the High Priestess, a young woman, speaks to him, calling him the “Benighted,” which she says is a title of respect and that they believe the Redeemer has chosen him to guard this children. He tells her he refuses the responsibility and leaves.
Endest Silann flashes back to when he was an acolyte in the Temple of Mother Dark entering Kharkanas during a time of chaos. The city is riven by civil war, corpses line the streets, in the sky colors and light “spread in waves that devoured darkness.” The Priestesses are convulsing in the temple and the male priests/acolytes flee. Rake arrives, the “blood of Tiam ran riot through him, fired to life by the conflation of chaotic sorcery.” Rake tells Endest to come with him to the Temple, saying “The crime of this day rests with Mother Dark,” and Endest realizes Rake means to confront her.
Endest sits in his room feeling the “stain of Light upon his soul.” He recalls Rake telling him to hold the way open for him despite how Mother Dark might rage against Endest. When Endest replies he has sworn his life to Mother Dark and that she is the creator of them all, Rake responds, “Yes, and she will answer for it.” On their way, Rake asks if Endest will await him on the “day at the very end . . . Until the moment when you must betray me . . . You will know the time, you will know it and know it well.” Endest remembers another conversation, a recent one when Rake asked what was rising in the Great Barrow—if it was Itkovian, if Itkovian was becoming a new god. Endest had to say he didn’t know, as he’d been “closed to such things . . . since that day in the Temple.” Rake had apologized for forgetting and said he’d ask Spinnock. Endest thinks he still waits (for that moment).
Back in the early flashback time, heading for the Temple Endess and Rake walk past the bodies “of various factions: Silchas Ruin’s. Andarist’s, and Anomander’s own. Drethdenan’s, Hish Tulla’s, Vanut Degalla’s.” Before Rake reaches the doors, Mother Dark’s voice speaks, telling him “Be warned, Anomander, dear son, from Andii blood is born a new world . . . You and your kin are no longer alone, no longer free to play your vicious games. There are now others.” Rake tells her he is neither surprised nor horrified, adding, “It could never be enough, to be naught but a mother, to create with hands closed upon no one. To yield so much of yourself, only to find us your only reward—us slayers, us betrayers.” She is horrified to realize he has Tiam’s blood in him and he tells her “Like you, I have chosen to embrace change . . . There will be wars between us (the Andii and the others), and so I shall unite the Andii. Resistance is ending. Andarist, Drethdenan, Vanut Degalla. Silchas is fleeing, and so too Hish Tulla and Manalle. Civil strife is now over.” Mother Dark replies, “You have killed Tiam. Do you realize what you have begun? Silchas flees, yes, and where do you think he goes? And the newborn, the others, what scent will draw them now, what taste of chaotic power? In murder you seek peace and now the blood flows and there shall be no peace, not ever again. I forsake you Anomander Blood of Tiam. I deny my first children all. You shall wander the realms, bereft of purpose. Your deeds shall avail you nothing. Your lives shall spawn death unending. The Dark—my heart—is closed to you, to you all.”
Spinnock muses on the eventual fate of his sword as he oils it in the High Priestess’ room. He notes the Priestess has walked more often lately in the Darkness and asks if Mother Dark has forgiven them. She laughs bitterly and tells him the “visions are growing more fraught.”
Spinnock heads for the tavern and his game with Seerdomin, whom he knows is troubled by something having to do with the Great Barrow, something that has caused his friend to give up his daily trips there. He worries that Seerdomin’s loss of faith will mean his own loss of hope. He stops to visit a priestess of the Redeemer and asks if there is a crisis of faith among them. She tells him Seerdomin “denies us in our need,” though she won’t say what that need is. She does say Spinnock can’t help his friend, and that she and the believers “await the Redeemer, to end that which afflicts his followers.” When she adds the Redeemer is unafraid of the Dark, Spinnock warns her it would be unwise for the Redeemer to think of embracing the Andii, for “such an embrace will destroy him. Utterly.” And, he thinks to himself, “us as well.” He offers to help, but she refuses aid from him or Rake.
Kallor walks the plains of Lamath, musing on the futility of history, of the ephemeral nature of achievement, the banality of life and death. He kills a hare. He doesn’t care.
So, let’s just contemplate this for a second. Traveller has been shipwrecked, his ship filled with corpses. He has gone for three days without water and at least as many without food. But when a bear attacks him, he takes it down, despite grievous wounds. A freaking bear. Yep, Traveller is totally the Chuck Norris of this chapter… Interesting aside there, regarding the fact that because he and Hood had such a fervent disagreement, now Traveller has nowhere to go in the event of death.
It’s funny reading the paragraph dealing with that sapling showing nature taking over the huts once inhabited by a long-lost tribe. I say that because I was walking last weekend around what was once a theme park in England, many years ago. It was like a post-apocalyptic experience, what with the deserted carpark—simply acres of empty space—and the signs pointing to what used to be the entrance. And, even there, nature was beginning to find a way to claw back what was taken from it: moss spreading across the concrete, cracks where tree roots were shifting. It’s truly amazing—and this paragraph reminds me of that: “No wound was too deep to heal. No outrage too horrendous to one day be irrelevant.”
I love this idea: “Nimander wondered if he had discovered the face of the one true god. Naught else but time, this ever changing and yet changeless tyrant against whom no creature could win.” This is the sort of god that I could see as truth!
Poor Nimander, utterly haunted by his past and what he sees as his failures. He doesn’t seem quite sane right now, with these voices echoing in his head. I’m going to be interested to see Nimander’s journey here. It strikes me that he’s either going to descend into madness and cause all manner of problems, or he is going to find some sort of redemption in this journey to Anomander and afterwards.
Scarecrows? Or are those rag-bound figures something more sinister? Ever since watching Human Nature (Dr Who) recently, scarecrows are not something I really want to think about! Yep, suspicions confirmed—dead people. These Tiste Andii are real innocents and unaware of the world if their first thought was scarecrow.
Ah, how true is this? “Necessity, now there’s a word to feed every outrage on decency.”
Saemankelyk? This is from the Dying God? This is the kelyk we’ve seen mentioned previously?
Pilgrims have started to attend the Great Barrow where Itkovian is buried? Isn’t this the sort of thing that can inspire ascendance and impending godhood?
I sincerely like that Seerdomin wears his uniform to go to the Great Barrow—wearing his guilt openly, as Erikson puts it. It shows a humble regard for what happened and respect to those who fell, I think. Although you could look at it another, darker way—what would people think if, say, someone wore an SS uniform on pilgrimage to a place where Jews were killed as part of the Holocaust? I hesitate to mention that, but in some respects it is the same as what Seerdomin does here (no offence meant, please don’t take any, just looking for a way to relate it).
I like the idea that the more recent offerings on the Barrow might seem mundane, but offer more wealth because the people giving them could ill afford to lose what they give. Now that reminds me of the little church mice in the Disney version of Robin Hood—giving away their one saved coin.
Who is this woman who calls Seerdomin Benighted? To which people does she belong? And is she saying that the threat of Seerdomin is what protects those who come to the Barrow? I wasn’t quite clear on that.
Ah, such intriguing glimpses into Kharkanas and what happened when Anomander fell out with Mother Dark—when can we read Forge of Darkness?
This line: “See me, Lord, see how I still wait.” Endest Silann is one of the saddest characters we’ve seen yet—such unwavering loyalty, such pain as he still serves his Lord as a shadow of his former self. I am loving the melancholy, but it is deeply sad.
Does Mother Dark know something of what is to come, when she talks about chaotic power?
I can see some denseness emerging in Erikson’s prose here, to characterise the chapters where he deals with the Tiste Andii. I guess because they ponder weighty matters we end up hearing about them, but it can make it slightly hard going. Mind, you all know that I am not as much a fan of the philosophical leanings as Bill is!
This kelyk is being dripped into the story here and there, with another mention from Spinnock. This mention seems to imply that the Tiste Andii find it a benefit of the new world they inhabit. Do they know its origins? Is this why the Tiste Andii are sinking under the weight of ennui?
Wait a minute! Is this conversation between the Priestess of the Redeemer and Spinnock implying that Itkovian might embrace the Tiste Andii and take on their grief and pain?
Kallor as well stepping onto the page? The players are truly gathering at this point, aren’t they?
I just want to point out some of the language surrounding Traveller’s landing on shore
- “Another wave descended onto the wreck like an enormous fist…”
- “…dragging the entire hull back into the deeper water.”
And surrounding the bear: “it was driven from the grasslands inland onto this barren, lifeless coast.”
Note the active nature of those descriptions and file that away. I’d also point out that despite it seeming a life-threatening event, it is actually pretty fortuitous apparently that the plains bear attacked, seeing as how Traveller was near death from dehydration and starvation, especially as this land seems a bit barren.
Also, yes, file away that thought re Hood: “When a man has forsaken Hood, the final gate is closed. Oblivion or the torment of a journey without end—there was no telling what fate awaited such a man. In any case, Traveller was in no hurry to discover an answer. No, he would invite Hood to find it himself.”
Note how we have an early musing in this chapter on the ephemeral nature of civilization and we close with Kallor’s musings on the same topic. One which we’ve seen many a time in this series as again and again people walk over pottery shards, over old stone tools, over once-living now-dead cities, etc. The whole series in many ways is “Ozymandias” writ large. It’s an interesting theme, set against the long-lived characters we also see.
I too like Nimander’s lines in this vein as to whether or not the one true god (how often has that phrase been used?) is simply Time itself. The following lines are some of Erikson’s most poetic as well.
That’s a sharp characterization of Desra: “This was how she seduced men, by giving back to them versions of themselves.” As well as a sharp indictment of those so seduced.
And speaking of indictments: “Necessity, now there’s a word to feed every outrage on decency.” Sure and we could put that on humanity’s tombstone.
Yep Amanda, this is the same kelyk mentioned earlier.
OK, we’ve got a few gods to keep straight in this book now—the Dying God, the Crippled God, and the Redeemer. Just a fair warning to try and keep them all straight going forward.
The “scarecrows” are bad enough, but how about this simile used for the plants: “their skull-sized rootballs lined like rows of children’s heads . . .” Clip: “Tonight, no one drinks.” Ya think?
Lots of ghosts and haunting in this book: Seerdomin here walking through ghosts on his way to the barrow. Nimander’s ghosts. The ghosts down in the basement of K’rul’s bar. People haunted by regret: Murillio, Challice. Endest haunted by his memories. The book begins seemingly with a pair of ghosts. People thought dead (Rallick, Vorcan) returning. The killed in Dragnipur.
And a lot of guilt/regret to go with it, and thus some who feel the need for atonement, as Seerdomin attempts to achieve at least slightly by wearing his uniform, “although he well knew that some things could never be purged, and that redemption was a dream of the deluded.” Is he right?
If one weren’t already led to like this character, I think this prayer alone might do it—one who kneels and asks the god for nothing for himself. One who sees what is being done to the god, or the once mortal soul, and pities it, feels compassion for how it is “armoured” and feels empathy for its loneliness, and so offers the god simple “company.”
Must. Not. Reference. Forge. Of Darkness. My ship. My crew….
This is an interesting POV from Endest with regard to Rake’s confronting Mother Dark: “Youth was a time for harsh judgment. Such fires ebbed with age. Certainty itself withered.” Followed by “The fool fell into line . . . followed the first who called. The fool gave away—with cowardly relief—all rights to think, to choose, to find his own path. And so Endest Silann walked the crimson corridors . . . two strides behind Anomander.” We’ve been conditioned I think to view Rake’s choices as “right.” But these lines seems to cast at least a little doubt on that. Those last few lines are also interesting outside of the Andii context if one applies them to the many gods we see here—what do those lines say about the followers of the Redeemer? Of the Dying God? The Crippled God? Any god? One could also ask that about his later lines regarding loyalty: “the exchange that was surrender in both directions. From one, all will, from the other, all freedom.”
And talk about ominous—what will that day of betrayal be? And if it’s mentioned here, can we assume it’s coming up?
That sounds like a heck of a curse from Mother Dark. I guess at this point I’ll just say file all this away and we’ll see what comes up in comments.
Poor Endest. Despair just seeps from these pages.
And then on to Spinnock’s musings of the inevitable loss of his sword, including what he prefers not to think of, it lying rusting in the grass next to his own bones: Look on my works, Ye Mighty… And then his fear that Seerdomin’s problems will take from Spinnock the only thing holding him back from despair.
And there’s a mind-shaking thought—the Redeemer taking on the grief of the Andii. If that of the Imass was almost too much for him, what then of the Andii? It boggles the mind to think of. As far as the Andii and their ennui, no Amanda, the kelyk has nothing to do with that—it’s what they’ve been facing for ages. It is why Rake does what he does (or did)—flying around in Moon’s Spawn, taking on causes. Keeping his people engaged in the world, trying to keep the embers from falling coldly into ash.
And after all the despair and ennui of the Andii, we see Kallor feeling the same sense of all things pass, having the same question—what makes anything worth doing? And so does doing merely become opposing “banality”? And if that is all “doing” is for, than does that mean one can “do” anything?
Well, I’ve said we’ve got arrivals yet to come, and this chapter opens and closes with two: Traveller’s to begin, and Kallor’s to end. More pieces onto the board. And all roads, apparently, lead to Darujhistan. Can you say convergence?
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.