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 Eight 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.
Trull’s group, on the mission from Mosag, have left the Edur lands behind and entered the icy wastelands, having been warned of Jheck, dangerous hunters on the ice. They decide to climb into a crevasse for the night.
The bottom of the crevasse is an old seabed with salt pools. They realize the ice is dying above. Theradas (one of the Edur on the mission) discovers recent signs of a path and a meeting place. Binadas, Trull, and Theradas go to investigate.
They find a rough-shaped altar with offerings. On the far wall is a plane of ice containing animals (wolf and caribou) caught in mid-flight. Some bodies have fallen out of the melting ice. Binadas says the scene was caused by warren and Trull speculates the Hold of Ice, while Binadas connects it to The Watcher (Gothos). Trull wonders where the old powers have gone and Binadas suggests they are left alone to “preserve the sanctity of our past.” They discuss their beliefs and consider the melting ice and undermining salt as possible metaphor.
In the morning, Binadas warns them they may be attacked for finding the shrine. They come across wolf signs and wonder what they hunt. Trull asks if the thing they’ve been sent to find is a “gift,” who is giving it. Fear replies he doesn’t know and Trull feels a sense of foreboding.
Trull wakes before dawn to find Rhulad had fallen asleep while on watch and that their camp has been robbed of all food. Rhulad protests that he had only sat to rest his legs; he hadn’t fallen asleep. Nobody seems to believe him and he feels betrayed.
They come across a spar rising from the snow—their goal. Binadas says the same spirit Mosag called up to deal with the harvest ships has been here below the ice and that the sorcery is not Emurlahn. Fear tells Binadas to sacrifice shadows to free it (“annihilation is demanded”) and warns them all not to touch it. Trull says this whole thing feels wrong and Rhulad challenges his courage. Trull questions what they’re about to do and Binadas says he may be able to learn more of the sword once it is freed. Binadas calls the wraith but says they fear to die and divulges they are not the spirits of Edur ancestors, though he doesn’t say more. They come under attack by a pack of Jheck as Trull shatters the spar. Rhulad uses the sword and then is killed before the Jheck flee. They cannot free the sword from Rhulad’s grip. They wrap him and put him on a sled in preparation for heading home.
As they prepare to travel, Trull wonders why Rhulad had taken the sword then begins to feel guilty over how he doubted Rhulad in so many ways. Fear tells him he wondered as well and discovered Rhulad had found other Jheck attacking from the rear and had lost his sword trying to fight them off. Trull feels even more guilty. Fear informs him Binadas has a broken hip and orders Trull to take rear guard for he fears pursuit.
They run throughout the night and the next day and Trull finds himself alone near dusk. He is attacked by Jheck and kills two wolves. He continues running, fighting off a myriad of attackers. Finally he reaches the group, then passes out.
The group marvels at Trull’s feats and Fear tells him leading the Jheck away probably saved their lives. Trull says he simply got lost. Binadas has called magically to the Arapay shamans and they appear on huge mammoth-like beasts to help. Trull worries about the sword and Mosag’s intentions for it. He wishes they had died back at the spar.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Eight
These words that were etched into K’rul Belfry remind me of nothing so much as “Time,” by Pink Floyd (my favourite song ever, by the way! [Bill: one of mine as well!] ) Check out these lyrics and compare the meaning behind them...
“Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.”
Theradas looks like a monster — will be interesting to see if his character matches his looks. Also, the whole process of being ‘blooded’ makes it all sound so formalised. The fact that he was supposed to be healed back to full fitness and wasn’t implies that most Edur are, and that war really is a game to them.
The Arapay live closer to these icy wastes and have advised that there are beasts and men who could hunt the group of Edur warriors, and how do they regard this advice? With contempt: “And they live in fear of the ice wastes, Rhulad, and so have filled them with nightmare beasts and demons.”
Erikson’s writing about the wind howling across the icy landscape gives me shivers, it is so evocative. And a nice little nod to Memories of Ice with: “He tilted his head to stare upward for a moment, wondering if that glistening, near-opaque canopy above them held the frozen memories of the past...”
Ice is not looked on fondly, what with the Jaghut and this comment compounds it: “The sentiment, then — if one such existed — was of old enmity. Ice was a thief, of life, land and righteous reward. Bound in death and blood, an eternal prison.”
The vista of ice — caribou bound in the moment of their death — emphasises the idea of an eternal prison. A Hold.
I think these are wise questions from Trull — and questions that we’re seeing answered at various points. I like the idea of having gone back to a time where the gods were still dormant and not as active in the lives of people — while the first four books of the Malazan series showed a time when the gods meddle all the time. It gives Midnight Tides a more hushed and expectant atmosphere — knowing that some of the events here will serve to kickstart events in the future.
“Why has Hannan Mosag sent us here?” A good question....
Oh, dear. Does Rhulad not realise how much he’s cursed them all when he says: “There’s nothing to worry about out here”? They won’t be expecting (the Spanish inquisition) attackers from below!
Trull is naive, isn’t he? I’m sure the Edur women will make use of Letherii slaves! And certainly he then recognises that naivety.
Oh dear... Not only does Rhulad fall asleep but then lies about it. Although, it could be that magic enabled the Jheck to come amongst them during the night and steal from them. In which case, I can see why Rhulad would feel so aggrieved and betrayed. Since the Edur use shadows and command wraiths with Emurlahn, it surprises me that none of these will countenance the idea that it is just possible Rhulad was telling the truth. Although here: “Possibly there was sorcery at work, although this did not — could not — excuse Rhulad’s failing.” Short-sighted there, to think sorcery couldn’t blind his eyes to what had happened.
Why don’t they listen to Trull’s questions about the sword before deciding to release it? Do they have so much faith in their leader Mosag that the possibility of his betrayal doesn’t enter their minds?
My immediate thought in the aftermath of the battle with the Jheck is that Rhulad is not dead. Is he about to rise as a zombie Edur? It would probably serve him right after snatching the sword that they all knew not to touch - or maybe he intended to die to regain his honour after being found asleep on his watch. I seem to be asking the same sort of questions as Trull himself...
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Eight
As we’ve seen several times before, this chapter opens up with a seemingly random, disconnected bit of detailed description. At first, (one assumes, as I think you did Amanda?) that the description is because Theradas will play an important role to come. Yet of course, by the end of the chapter, we know he does not. So what point then this detail? Is it just an author trying to flesh out a minor character, adding to the three-dimensionality of this world? Or are there underlying meanings behind spending the time to describe an Edur to us as perpetually scarred? Of Edur with “unseen wounds”? Of Edur associated with “festering”?
Jheck means “standing wolves”—turns out not simply creative nicknaming.
Note how Erikson prepares us for the crevasse to come at the very outset: “It was said that further out in the wastes there was water beneath the ice, salt-laden remnants from an inland sea, and cavernous pockets hidden beneath thin-skin mantles of snow.” And so the site they camp at becomes part of the natural background.
I also like how it plays on the same idea of things being “unseen.” The treachery of what lies underfoot.
As Amanda says, a nice nod to Memories of Ice, and the theme of ice as preserver, keeper of the past. Remember how Mael asked Gothos to “preserve” with his ice magics. We have as well an echo of Raraku, though under a different landscape: a sea that once existed, memories beneath the surface.
I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned it before, but this description of the ice as seeming to be almost sentient—inimical—reminds me of Michael Scot Rohan’s series The Winter of the World, which highly recommend.
More setting as precursor when the land is described “as if the solid world beneath them jostled in wayward migration.” Trull is already beginning to sense that his “solid world,” the world of the Edur he has always known, is about to be “jostled.” To what end he does not know, though he feels a foreboding.
That’s a great visual, the wall of ice entombing the bodies in mid-flight, mid-leap, mid-attack (that wolf a bit of foreshadowing perhaps). And as Amanda says, makes concrete Trull’s recent musing on the Hold of Ice as eternal (or near eternal as we see the ice is melting) prison.
And there’s a reference to one of the names in Feather Witch’s reading in the prior chapter: The Watcher, whom we know from the description here combined with the prologue must be Gothos.
More metaphor as Binadas and Trull speak and gaze at the ice, not particularly subtle either, though as they are each making a point to the other, there’s no authorial need for subtlety. Edur beliefs, their “truths” are under assault, their world growing “perilously thin,” and it is not surprise that Trull takes it further than Binadas, pointing out that what thaws rots: “the past is covered in flies.” Any wonder this guy ends up shorn?
It’s an interesting dream of Trull’s. Yes, probably just a little naïve on the whole slave thing I’d say. I like though how the dream is made more complex by not having it be a sex dream, a dream of lusting after Mayen (which would be a bit too soap opera-y), but a dream of lusting for what she represents to him: a freedom from consequence. A little Heart of Darkness-like there: Marlow listening to the beating of the drums along the bank of the river and being tempted to join them. And c’mon, admit it—you all thought that when he was “ever seeking to see that man’s face, to discover who it was . . . " y’all thought he’d see himself. C’mon, hands up. Yeah, thought so.
For all we’ve been trained as readers to like Trull and to dislike Rhulad, Erikson does I think make us feel just a bit uncomfortable with how harsh Trull is on Rhulad, here and elsewhere. One wonders just how Rhulad would have turned out with a different Trull that the one we see always doubting, always mistrusting, always scorning or disciplining.
And talk about harsh. Imagine this one mistake driving Rhulad for the rest of his life:
Rhulad’s future would now be dominated by the effort to regain [trust] . . . the young man’s future path awaited him, deep-rutted and inevitable . . . an unbroken succession of recriminations. Every gesture, every word, every glance . . . the tale would come out, sung with quiet glee among rivals . . . “ Nice life to look forward to. Nice way to live. And worse, Rhulad has to look forward to not only carrying this burden for himself, but to carry the burden of having “stain [ed] . . . the entire Sengar line.”
Well, more foreboding once they reach the spar: “a foul smell filled the air, of old rot,” then the association with the sea-demon, then the “setting sun’s red light flowed thick as blood,” then the sword described as “faint and murky . . . smudged form . . . strangely fractured and mottled.” Then the revelation that many shadow-wraiths will have to be sacrificed to claim it. Any surprise Trull starts to question just what they’re doing?
I like his somewhat funny though fully serious response when Fear says “This is not a time for doubt” and Trull says “It would seem this is precisely the time for doubt.” (note by the way how Rhulad tries to distract from his own issue, or paint Trull with the same brush by accusing him of cowardice). Fear it seems has concerns so is not going on “faith” I think Amanda. I think he is going on “follow the orders or chaos ensues.” Remember too the context that they ‘ve just fought civil war amongst the tribes to unify them—what would happen were those as reputable as the Sengars turned against Mosag? I think Binadas too has concerns, and thus his implication that freeing the sword might give them some actual knowledge with which to better make some decisions.
Interesting throwaway line from Binadas, revealing he knows the truth about the wraiths.
Good guesses with regard to Rhulad Amanda. I give you the shadows plea to Paran in Memories of Ice: “The Edur have sworn to destroy Mother Dark. You must warn him! Poisoned souls, led by the one who has been slain a hundred times, oh, ware this new Emperor of the Edur, this Tyrant of Pain, this Deliverer of Midnight Tides!”
More dark omens with the sword: “Splashes of blood were freezing black here and there, like a fast-spreading rot.” Omen. And perhaps metaphor.
And some more foreshadowing: “his shall be a hero’s funeral, one that all the Hiroth shall remember.” Truer words were never spoken....
I like Fear’s description of death. And how appropriate from an Edur, seeing it as shadow (though admittedly, hardly original).
That’s a bitter cup of guilt Trull is drinking now over his treatment of Rhulad and his suspicion.
An interesting image, given the context of what’s to come, that of the Jheck attackers always being the “same three, dying only to rise once again—and so it would continue.”
It’s a nice bit of characterization, that rather than revel in his victory, Trull at first declines any sense of responsibility (I just got lost; I didn’t purposely lead them away) then thinks of the Jheck he kill, and not just the Jheck, but their wives, their children, their grief and impending starvation due to the hunters he’s killed. Too often the “good guys” kill and we’re supposed to just cheer them on, though if one were to remove them from context, what they do isn’t often all that different from what the “bad guys” do. And even if we accept, as we should I’d say, intent as a difference, do we need accept indifference or worse, joy, on the part of the good guys as they kill? That’s why I’ve never been a fan of the action movie “death quip”—those funny lines delivered as the hero kills someone. The killing may be, almost always is, necessary. Making it funny is not.
And talk about a bleak ending to a chapter: “Would that we had all died, back there on the ice. Would that we had failed.”
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.