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 Reaper’s Gale by Steven Erikson (RG).
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.
Redmask worries the Letherii have tainted him as his banishment hadn’t killed him, which is what usually happens to tribal individuals who are banished. He approaches an Awl camp and is approached by a group of young warriors who don’t believe he is actually Redmask at first. He criticizes what they’ve done, they accept him and offer him their clan, telling him there is nothing left; he’s returned too late and all the clans are either destroyed or greatly reduced by the Letherii. They also tell him how the Ganetok clan contracted with the foreign wolf mercenaries seen earlier, who fought well while the Ganetok fled. Redmask plans to challenge Hadralt, leader of the Ganetok clan and then lead them against the Letherii. When Masarch, the young clan leader, says it’s impossible, Redmask says he will take Masarch and a few others to steal herds from the Letherii after the young warriors do their Death Night.
Udinaas is getting tired of the group’s constant in-fighting. He thinks he did more for Rhulad than Fear or any of the Edur and resents Fear’s hatred of him. He thinks Seren might take his side if she took one, but she’s too focused on not doing so. He wonders if she knew what it meant to accept Trull’s sword and thinks she must, and he wonders what happened to Trull when he returned to Rhulad. He notes the floor mosaics underfoot, images of war between long-tail and short-tail K’Chain Che’Malle, with the short-tails winning battles followed by the Matrons employing mutually destructive sorcery. They near the end of the passage and Seren goes to scout after some sniping amongst them. Ruin asks Udinaas what gives meaning to his life and Udinaas mocks Ruin’s meaning of revenge. Ruin says he’s considering turning on their pursuers and Fear warns him against it while Udinaas says have at it. Kettle wonders why none of them like each other and Udinaas says they’re all just tortured by themselves.
Scouting, Seren comes across the garrison and is almost caught by a patrol. She returns and tells the group they’re past the fort, but Ruin says there are wards up the trail. Seren asks if he can disarm the wards or just put the garrison to sleep using Mockra and he says he’s never heard of Mockra, but he’ll just kill whoever is in there and leaves. The rest stay and Seren thinks she should do something but tries to tell herself it isn’t her business.
The K’risnan Ventrala in the fort senses the orthen (sort of scaled mice) swarming outside then, as his chaotic power surges inside him, he senses another presence out there heading their way. Atri-Preda Hayenar hears shouting and is blown off her feet. Ventrala feels immense power sweep over him, brushing aside his own chaotic power, then the fort wall explodes. Hayenar finds the compound devastated, Orthen swarming over and eating soldiers, and Ruin slaughtering others. She tells her soldiers to retreat and an Edur orders her to countermand that retreat to stall Ruin until the K’risnan arrives.
Ventrala’s power has abandoned him and he thinks how Mosag had made promises for those loyal to him, conspiring against Rhulad, stripping the Emperor of everything until he was alone in his madness. A wraith appears and mocks him, tells him Ruin has killed all the Edur while the Letherii mostly ran away and that Ruin is now approaching. Ventrala set himself to face Ruin, realizing that Mosag’s words (and through him the Crippled God’s) were lies. Ruin appears and Ventrala tells him it isn’t the Crippled God pursuing Ruin’s group but Mosag and that the CG has no interest in taking on Ruin. Ruin gives a message for Ventrala to bring to Mosag and says he’ll be merciful this once, then leaves. Ventrala thinks Ruin knows the Crippled God better than them all and rather than hate the god, Ruin feels pity for him.
Ruin leads horses back to the group and tells Fear their pursuit is from Mosag, not Rhulad, and that Mosag seeks what they do. He tells Fear they need to settle their differences now and Fear replies that while he accepts that Ruin was betrayed by Scabandari, that the Edur cannot offer reparation or appease Ruin’s need for vengeance. Ruin tells Fear the Edur cannot ease his desire for vengeance, then informs him that Bloodeye was partially responsible for the sundering of Shadow but that Ruin is more upset over the betrayals before then, especially the betrayal of his brother Andarist, whose subsequent grief drove him mad. Fear accuses Ruin of planning to betray Scabandari but simply getting beaten to it and Ruin answers that he will not allow Bloodeye’s soul to be freed. Fear says he needs Scabandari to free Rhulad from the Crippled God and when Ruin says that would be impossible even with Bloodeye, Fear refuses to believe him. Ruin tells him Bloodeye’s soul is perhaps already being used, though he refuses to say by whom, then promises Fear that the day he takes on the Crippled God, Rhulad and all the Edur will be free and they can discuss reparations then. Fear accepts that.
Wither appears to Udinaas and tells him the Orthen come from the K’Chain Che’Malle world. Udinaas points to Kettle and asks if Wither believes in innocence, saying he doesn’t generally but he’s already grieving when he looks at Kettle, grieving “innocence when we kill her.”
About to steal the herds from a Letherii drover camp, Redmask thinks of the legends of the war between the Awl and the “Kechra” (K’Chain Che’Malle). Redmask knows the K’Chain merely mostly ignored the Awl, that their migration had simply reached the other side of Awl lands and continued. He believes the Letherii think they have a moral right to possess and therefore he has a moral right to defy them, even if it destroys both. He orders his small squad to prepare over their objections it’s crazy.
Sixteen-year-old Indebted Abasard walks among the herd thinking how nice it is out under the sky and how his family seems to have found new life. He discovers his two dogs killed and then notices the herd is being stolen. He begins to run back to camp.
Redmask kills the last of the Letherii shepherds, save for Abasard who ran away, and begins to cut off his face.
Abasard sees Redmask’s two K’Chain Che’Malle slaughter the camp. He tries to save his sister and is killed.
Redmask returns to his small squad and they begin to head out with the herd. Masarch hears the screams from the camp and thinks Redmask will defeat the Ganetok leader and lead the Awl against the Letherii and believes perhaps it is not too late.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Four
Four days into the Wildlands—that just happen to be east of Drene—that just happen to contain DRAGONS! Dragons and K’Chain Che’Malle? Are these guys enemies? We haven’t really heard much connecting them to each other so far, have we? Or it is just one of those things that I’m neglecting to remember?
I like this where Erikson points out how banishment can affect different peoples in a different manner—the Awl and other tribespeople do not suffer banishment well, because they’re from a very close-knit and dependent community, while the Letherii do not have the same ties. I think we’ve seen this big city, dog-eat-dog attitude enough from the Letherii! Interesting that Redmask sees himself taking on some of the hated qualities of the Letherii. Also makes me wonder whether freedom from his tribespeople is a good thing or something that has proved to be negative? His association with the K’Chain Che’Malle makes me think the latter. Or both: “...anonymity proved both bane and emancipation.”
With Erikson it is never a good sign when even a character doesn’t know what they have become! *grins*
I’m intrigued at this point by any indication of the K’Chain Che’Malle’s motivations, or any idea as to what their plans are. It seems that their matriarchal society is enforced by this: “Each time after slaying the beast, Sag’Churok would yield the carcass to Gunth Mach, until she’d eaten her fill.”
I really wouldn’t want to be the guy in charge of the Awl when a dreaded man from legend walks out of the night and proceeds to tell you all of the ways in which you’re putting your tribe in danger from the Letherii. I appreciate that there is definite scepticism about who he is, originally, because I read too many books where people take something strange like this in their stride.
Does the Grey Sorcery and the mercenaries refer to the army of Togg and Fandaray that we saw in an earlier chapter? [Oh yes, just had it confirmed in a later paragraph!] On the face of it, it’s pretty despicable that the Ganetok allowed the mercenaries to die rather than fight alongside them—I wonder if Erikson will overturn this initial thought by the end of the book.
Ugh, I remember how much I really started to dislike Udinaas. “I did not ask to be there, at the madman’s side, struggling to guide him across that narrow bridge of sanity, when all Rhulad wanted to do was leap head-first over the side at every step.” Yes, but Rhulad trusted Udinaas. The slave was the person who managed to keep a little hold on Rhulad’s sanity, and deserted him. But he was a slave, I guess.... Bah, too many shades of grey! When do the bad guys get horns and tails [Bill: Short tails or long tails?] to help me out?
Ah! Some useful insight into the long tails and short tails—the fact that they seem bent on mutual destruction, the fact that “the winners never won because the losers refused to lose.” Hmm, that sort of stubborn attitude is something we’ve seen in The Bonehunters. I think it might be bad news to see them go up against each other.
It also says something about these K’Chain Che’Malle and K’Chain Nah’ruk that they would so immortalise such horrific scenes.
Poor Kettle! So innocent! “Why don’t any of you like each other?” I can see why some of you found these sections difficult, what with all the bickering and hating on each other! But I am still intrigued by Silchas Ruin and what sort of meaning he will make of his life.
The scaled mice that Seren sees? Something to pay attention to because she calls their behaviour odd? Or is that too much of a signpost?
I do not respect Seren right now. She has watched Silchas Ruin head towards a garrison that she KNOWS he is going to tear apart, and she does... nothing. Yes, Silchas isn’t exactly easy to stop, but, hell, I’d want to know I’d tried something rather than have the blood of hundreds on my hands.
Silchas is as BADASS as Anomander Rake! Colder, darker, more inhuman. He really is very draconian in his attitude. And I think that the Atri-Preda is wise when she tells the Edur that once their K’risnan has slapped the “gnat” down (!), she will regather her troops to go up against Silchas. I would be hightailing it as quickly as possible if I were in their situation!
Hmm, so Hannan Mosag is still conspiring against Rhulad, even with everything that has happened so far?
“The Crippled God is not ready for the likes of you.” Said about Silchas. Now... is this just a misconception of Ventrala, or is it true the the CG simply doesn’t have an answer to a being as powerful as Silchas Ruin?
Oh, how intriguing! “A god in pain is not the same as a god obsessed with evil.” That is a different perspective on the Crippled God. And then this as well: “Perhaps, without his broken, malformed worshippers, he would have healed long ago.” Silchas Ruin definitely shows a lot of empathy for the Crippled God—is this maybe the way to look at him?
I’m a little tied up with what Fear Sengar and Silchas Ruin speak about here, not entirely sure what is discussed. So Fear wants to find Scabandari Bloodeye in order to use him to free Rhulad from the Crippled God, while Silchas obviously wants his revenge against Scabandari after the betrayal he committed. Silchas mentions that someone might already be using Scabandari’s power—now we did see Gothos trap Scabandari’s soul into a Finnest, so where did that Finnest go; who is using it? I think the bit I don’t quite get is this: “The day I choose to move against the Crippled God, your brother shall find himself free, as will all the Tiste Edur.” What does Silchas mean?
Oh hai! “Kechra. K’Chain Che’Malle, the Firstborn of Dragons.” That’s new!
Very beautiful description of these plainlands where the Letherii have driven their herds—I suspect that Erikson has drawn on his knowledge of Canada to present these descriptions, especially the part where he writes: “...until at times he could swear he saw a curvature to the world...” My dad trained out in Canada for six weeks when he was in the Army, and he spoke of this strange quality to the horizon.
Oh, Erikson does it again—make me hurt over the death of someone I didn’t even know: Abasard’s so very brief appearance on these pages, his sweet observations of this new freedom and how it’s affected his family—well, when he gets torn down by a K’Chain Che’Malle, it does hurt.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Four
I also like that insight into the difference in the impact of banishment between a tightly-knit clan-based, rural sort of culture and a more faceless urban culture. It’s interesting how here in America we almost pride ourselves on the ways we self impose exile—the way we’re (or were, the Great Recession has clearly had some impact on this) a “mobile” society, happy to pick ourselves up and move from place to place leaving family, friend, neighbors behind. We also like that “fresh start” aspect of it; nobody knows me in this new place so I can begin anew with a blank slate. I like how Erikson gives us the darker side of that, the way always being able to start fresh can also mean always being able to leave responsibility behind.
With Redmask we’ve seen this “lure of the big city”—its anonymity, its “freedoms,” etc. before, when Karsa spoke of the same impact on his own tribes. I believe one other place as well. And how freedom and anonymity are double-edged swords.
We’ll learn much more about the K’Chain Che’Malle Amanda, much more....
I know what you mean, Amanda, regarding Redmask’s arrival—sometimes people prefer if their legends stay legends rather than rise and walk the Earth. I actually would have preferred a little longer skepticism—if anyone could throw on a red mask, they could probably carry the two ancient weapons I would think. Now using them might be something different....
I have to admit that while I don’t like the cruelty and brutality of the Death Night, I like the concept of it. On a more shallow level, I do like the sighs and “kids these days” response of Redmask to the young warriors.
Well, if Udinaas has had his “fill of the damned sniping that seemed to plague this group,” we poor readers probably aren’t far behind. *grin*
Millenia of warfare, Tiste, Letherii, Awl, K’Chain. It’s not the most uplifting picture of “civilization” down through time.
Poor Kettle (I just say you used the exact same phrase, Amanda)—what a great introduction to life amongst the living she’s getting. And sure Udinaas can be grating, but he does come out with some biting insights, doesn’t he? “We’re all just tortured by who we are.” And if that doesn’t speak the human condition, I’m not sure what does.
We’ve seen a similar mice scene with Ruin when we first met him, but I’m not sure I’d call it particularly significant.
I agree with you Amanda; it is difficult to respect Seren’s clinging to her. “I’m just a guide.” Interesting how this comes right after we have Redmask musing on one way people seek to avoid responsibility. Here’s another (so similar as well to the “just following orders.”) Not that she could stop Ruin, as you say, but not to make more of an attempt is tough to let slide by.
Personally, I think I’d take going down via Ruin’s singing swords rather than being “burrowed” into by a sward of Orthen. Not a nice image.
Ruin is indeed badass, Amanda. Cold in battle yes; we’ll have to see if that’s across the board. And I’m with you on the Letherii commander. Nice to see somebody showing some intelligence in these pages.
I’d say that’s typical Erikson that just as we think Ventrala is about to die, one of the horrible K’risnan, we get to see him reclaim some dignity and some sense of the truth. We just don’t get “easy” in this series.
On the Crippled God and Ruin, I’m not sure Ventrala really has a sense. He might think the CG isn’t ready for Ruin, but it’s highly unlikely he has any sense not only of the Crippled God’s plans but of the scope of his power. I also think the phrasing is interesting—not that the CG has no interest, but isn’t ready, as if it’s simply a matter of time while the CG gets stronger—it seems on the surface submissive, but it’s a bit of a passive-aggressive thing there, intentionally or no.
We’ve talked before how the Crippled God may not be the simple villain as presented earlier. I’m not sure, but this may be the most explicit statement pertaining to that yet (the reasons for the earlier discussion on this blur a bit). At this point Amanda, I wouldn’t say it’s “the” way to look at him, but it is without a doubt “a” way to look at him. In other words, it’s not a bad idea to reexamine past acts and responses and keep this in mind as future acts arise and responses arise. Note too how this scene ends with a bit of a reversal of Ruin’s image as well—we moved from the cold, heartless killer to someone thinking of him as “a Soletaken Tiste Andii with two knife wounds in his back, wounds that will not heal. Yet he forebears . . . He does not hate [the CG]). No, he feels pity. Pity, even for me.”
Oh, it’s so interesting rereading these references to the sundering and pre-sundering having now read Forge of Darkness. Sooo interesting.
So if Redmask sees the entire interconnected web of life, the question might arise as to what he will do if/once he brings the Awl back. Will he merely drive out the Letherii from the Awl lands and live and let live or will he continue on, taking from the Letherii as they took from the Awl? And what, as Amanda has asked before, is the K’Chain Che’Malle role in all this, what do they want out of it? Do they see a web of life and are just insinuating themselves into it, or is there something else going on?
Once again, you see the analogy to native races after first contact. We’ve seen it here with the cairn stones, the totem stones, “even the ring-stones that one anchored huts” being removed. One wonders if this is done out of malice, another way to intimidate or drive out, or simple ignorance. And is one really any worse than the other? And, as Redmask points out in this case, all for naught as the Letherii, who think they’re going to farm this land, won’t get much out of it before they desertfy it. Something Redmask has seen before in, ahem, Kolanse.
I’m wholly with you on Abasard, Amanda. I don’t know any other author who can make me feel so much so quickly. I mentioned in my review of Forge of Darkness (up soon here at Tor) how in that book some of the most moving scenes involved the characters who had the fewest amount of pages and one sees that here. This kid arrives on scene only to be killed, but you don’t (at least I don’t) feel that Erikson is using him as a cheap emotional prop, as is often the case with other authors who try this. There is such an economy of characterization and often a true sense of warmth for the character that it always feels sincere and is almost always moving. And knowing Erikson, we have a sense where this is going to go and so we read his love of the openness, his reveling in the effect it has on his family—his “frail little sister,” his grandmother whose cough his nearly gone, his father who is no longer stooped as he had been by both his physical and his metaphysical states. The sound of laughter. The literal and metaphorical “blossoming” that is anticipated. It’s all so painfully bittersweet for us as readers. And then we’re both so sad and so happy at the end, sad he dies (trying to save his sister to add to the tragic) but happy that he dies out there under the stars rather than in that hole back home.
And from the bittersweet to the simply ominous: “unleashed his own madness years ago.” That does not bode well for either side in this war, one would think.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.