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 Twenty-Two 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 spoiler thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.
Gaskaral Traum creeps over to the Edur encampment and into Brohl Handar’s tent. He is just in time to prevent an assassin from killing Brohl Handar, thanks to certain “senses” he has about assassins. He reflects on the fact that Letur Anict is a very thorough man, hence showing us who is sending these assasins. On the way back to his tent carrying the body, he is accosted by two more assassins and sees them dead as well.
Brohl Handar wakes up before the battle refreshed. He is taken to talk with Atri-Preda Bivatt by someone with a gentle face (I am assuming Gaskaral Traum – see, this is where it is handy when Bill does the chapter summaries, because he knows these things!) They talk about the battle, including the fact that the Bluerose lancers are going to fight on foot, with their horses in reserve, to go up against the Kechra when they make an appearance. Bivatt also has only two mages remaining.
Toc Anaster watches the Letherii preparations. Once again, Torrent needles him about his cowardice and Toc replies that he won’t be leaving because Redmask has asked him to be ready in case the K’Chain Che’Malle fail. Toc also points out that no one knows anything really about the K’Chain Che’Malle, so how come Redmask seems to and why are they doing his bidding?
Lookback, Drawfirst and Shoaly—three Falari heavy infantry from 3rd Company—discuss Gesler and Stormy, and their creepy gold skin. Lookback wants to kill them. Drawfirst asks what the point is, because the cult of Fener is dead. Shoaly and Drawfirst explain to Lookback that they intend to fight and possibly die next to these marines.
Beak explains to Faradan Sort and Keneb that all the marines who went ahead of them are in the village. He shows again his unique form of power when he identifies many of them by their magic.
Beak makes it clear to Faradan Sort that they are in a whole world of trouble, and the Adjunct will not get there in time to save them.
Bottle has a rather incomprehensible conversation with Nep Furrow, the Dal Honese mage.
Koryk watches the Fist arrive, dwelling on the thought that the new marines from 3rd Company still have something to prove, because they took the easy route and now everyone knows it.
Keneb discusses the next step with the captains. Fiddler disparages Beak and Faradan stands up for him.
Corabb looks forward to the forthcoming battle, bristling with weapons; he wants it to be the glorious last stand that he didn’t get while standing beside Leoman.
Hellian is drunk – again. Skulldeath has announced his love for Hellian, and his desire to spread his seed in her perfect soil!
The Letherii, arranged ahead of the Malazans—the anvil to the Edur hammer—look upon their enemy with some shock at the fact that they are so few. The commander of the forces is impressed and seems reluctant to kill them all.
The K’Chain Che’Malle—who have been lying concealed in the mud while the Letherii and Awl draw their battlelines—leap out and make short work of the mages, thereby leveling the playing field.
Natarkas has his instructions from Redmask – but decides to go against them. He leads the cavalry force to engage with the Tiste Edur.
SCENES FIFTEEN through SEVENTEEN
Brohl Handar watches Natarkas begin his charge and begins to exult at the idea that they can win this battle. The oncoming Awl produce bows and begin peppering the Tiste Edur, causing carnage. As the Awl withdraw, the Bluerose cavalry charge upon them in turn. Brohl Handar forgets his idea of joining the rest of the Letherii and goes hunting those Awl who committed such damage upon his troops. Natarkas dies from a spear in the face, and his thought as he dies is of freedom.
The Letherii use their dead as a platform to launch into the Awl.
SCENES NINETEEN through TWENTY
Fiddler has decided to make his squad’s last stand against the Edur rather than the Letherii. He contemplates his forthcoming death and starts to decide what his last screamed curse will be. As he and Cuttle discuss whether they should advance and when, the magic from the Letherii mages begins – a vast sweep of magic that has been prepared for a week. Fiddler and the Edur realise at the same time that they have been betrayed by the Letherii and are about to get swept away by the same magic that threatens the Malazans. Suddenly a fragile silver dome of magic lifts to cover the Malazans.
Beak recalls the day that he tried to save his brother when he hung himself. As he does, he “sets ablaze every candle within him to make the world bright and to save all his friend.”
SCENES TWENTY-TWO through THIRTY
Fiddler can see among his companions the injuries that they keep hidden or are unaware of. Beak’s magic encloses the Malazans, turns their hair white and scours from them all injury and illness. Fiddler invites the Edur to come within the protection and Beak welcomes them in, barring the remaining K’risnan who is too full of chaos for purification. The Letherii magic lashes back onto the mages who summoned it, with a backlash blowing apart many of the Letherii. When Beak’s magic fades as he dies, the Letherii are brought the news that the Adjunct’s army has landed at the river and is advancing. The Letherii head that way. Fiddler offers the Edur the chance to leave and they decide to head for home; they are done with empire. Hood comes to meet Beak at the gate, an honour accorded to very few.
SCENES THIRTY-ONE through THIRTY-EIGHT
The Awl and the Letherii continue to annihilate each other in a completely senseless waste of life. Atri-Preda Bivatt is still underestimating her enemy and failing to defeat him. Brohl Handar has succumbed to his bloodlust. Masarch dies, while blaming Redmask for failing the Awl completely. The “tame” K’Chain Che’Malle turn on Redmask and kill him in a gory fashion. Toc realises the battle is over and considers killing the children under his protection to give them a quick death. He then sees an army approaching and tells Torrent to get the children to the army, while he buys some time. Torrent turns to witness what he believes is the death of Toc. Toc realises that not one of his arrows has missed as he races to join battle with the skirmishers. Despite this, there are too many and he is cut down, his face torn away as a trophy.
SCENES THIRTY-NINE through FORTY-ONE
The White Face Barghast (been a while since we’ve seen them, non?) appear from the warren of Tellann. They intended to kill the Awl, but the actions of Toc and his bravery hold back the sword of Tool. Torrent thinks he is going to die, but Hetan explains that Tool is not killing because of Toc’s sacrifice. Torrent passes over the bag that contains Toc’s pictures and writing. Tool realises that it is Toc who has died, and is distraught. He says that the Awl children will live.
SCENES FORTY-TWO and FORTY-THREE
Bivatt looks upon the new army massing with a sense of massive injustice. Her weary, battered force is about to face seventy thousand, perhaps more. Bivatt thinks that she might try to parley. Brohl Handar boasts about his survival from Letur Anict’s intentions to kill him, and Bivatt reveals that ten assassins have tried. When the new army raises standards, Bivatt realises they are the ones who have been raising the cairns and knows that they are all dead. With this knowledge, Brohl Handar heads to find Gaskaral Traum and asks the honour of fighting at his side.
Venitt Sathad kills Letur Anict.
Hetan fears that Tool will never recover from Toc’s death. She goes to join Kilava, who is near Redmask. Hetan tears the mask from Redmask and says that he is a Letherii man.
Hood waits to collect Toc the Younger. The latter believes his soul was sworn to the Wolves, but Hood reveals that Toc the Elder had sworn Toc the Younger’s soul to him a long time ago. Oddly, Toc still only had one eye.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-Two
For some reason, I thought that Gaskaral Traum was creeping over to kill Brohl Handar! Just a bit daft of me, I think, or maybe a clever bait and switch by Erikson? *winks* Best part of that scene by far is where Gaskaral Traum looks ruefully at all three bodies and thinks about how crowded his tent is going to be. I like that we learn here that, no matter how she personally thinks about him, the Atri-Preda has set a guard to ensure that Brohl Handar doesn’t die.
It’s amusing that Brohl Handar says this about his good night’s sleep: “As if the spirits of my ancestors held close vigil on me last night.” I get a sense of foreboding at the whole of these battle preparations. Neither side seems as though it is going to do well in the forthcoming encounter, especially with this mud that has been mentioned more than a few times.
There is something very touching about this sequence where Toc and Torrent are talking, in the way that it begins with Toc putting away his sketching kit from where he has been drawing children at play and then ends with the younger children throwing mud at each other, oblivious to the coming engagement. It is very sad. Also sad is the fact that Toc Anaster is stuck here, when there are Malazans on the same continent, and members of those who follow the Wolves.
Toc’s questions are very pointed and something that I have been dwelling on: “And what does he know? More to the point, how does he know? [...] So what in Hood’s name are they doing here? And why are they at Redmask’s side, seemingly eager to do as he bids?” All very pertinent.
I love the way that Erikson casually throws in the difference between the Walk and the Falari, and how their characteristics combined after the invasion of the Falari to make formidable heavy marines. It’s another example of how he has this exquisite background to the whole story, that he’s considered the way in which races develop.
Interesting that the cult of Fener is not dead amongst the Falari... Since Fener is still in existence, does that then mean that these worshippers will help him regain some power?
Oops, forgot entirely that Gesler and Stormy were Falari as well – no wonder the three heavies are so suspicious!
Oh, BEAK! I love this moment where he reveals to us his dream that he wants to become the hero thanks to giving to the Fist all the information he needs. That shy desire to talk to a real Fist. So sweet. And then that devastating power he has is once again revealed – this time as he tells them about Gesler and Stormy being reforged in the fires of Tellann. I can only imagine that Gesler and Stormy’s newfound skin and abilities are about to become fundamental, being as this is two scenes where it’s been emphasised!
*grins* Loving that the Malazans are completely sozzled at the point where Faradan Sort requests them all out on parade for inspection. NOT loving it where Beak thinks this: “They don’t know what I know, and neither, Captain my love, do you.” What is it that Beak knows? Having seen such a demonstration of his power and his knowledge, this bodes very ill....
Alright, what on earth is said between Nep Furrow and Bottle?! I looked at it a few times and really couldn’t work it out. It’s a pet hate of mine when an author makes a dialogue close to incomprehensible. I don’t mind working hard when it comes to the plot, but having to work hard just to read what it going on seems to me to be a fault of the author, rather than the reader.
More foreboding as we realise that the Edur have these Malazans bound in a trap – how are they going to get out?
Uh oh.... What has Beak got planned? “You’ll see. Everyone will because you’re all my friends and friends are important. The most important thing in the world. And I’ll show you.” I just feel as though he is going to do something for his friends that might well end up being a sacrifice.
I just love Corabb being jerked out of his daydreams of glory by Cuttle muttering about all his weapons. I can just imagine Corabb absolutely loaded down with spears and javelins!
Even in the depths of her drunken state, Hellian is sharp enough to see that the village they’re traveling through has been deliberately flattened in order to take away any cover. I like that about her, that she is able to think straight when it comes to battle. Have to say, I’m not as delighted by her as a lot of you – sure, there is some amusement, but it’s a real one trick pony and I’m fairly bored with it now.
Two things from that scene with Sirryn and the commander – first, it’s all gone a bit Thermopylae, hasn’t it, with the Malazan's last stand? And secondly, there is a pointed remark about how the Malazan mages don’t really have any attack magic – I think I can sense the Beak storyline reaching its crescendo!
Eep, it looks as though, once again, Redmask has managed to get ahead of Atri-Preda Bivatt. So far she has been very much on the back foot and far too reliant on her mages. This is one of those grey areas, really – because of Redmask’s attitude and the fact he is accompanied by two K’Chain Che’Malle, I have been viewing him as the bad guy. And yet Atri-Preda Bivatt is one of the Letherii, who I haven’t exactly been falling over myself to like either! Not really sure who I want to win in this showdown. Although realistic, this doesn’t exactly lend itself to making the storyline a gripping one!
Even when things go well for Redmask—the takedown of the mages who could decimate his force—something then goes wrong; here, the fact that Natarkas is not obeying instructions. Has to be said, it was probably something Redmask should have expected, what with him being such a tyrant and listening to the advice of the Mezla, Toc.
Man, this whole battle is just a catalogue of over-confidence and arrogance, the belief that no one can possibly come up with an idea that will overturn the existing battle plan. Here we see Brohl Handar show as much stupidity and lack of battle readiness as the Atri-Preda he derided and questioned....
OH, FIDDLER! And isn’t it telling that he no longer wants to pray to Hood? I guess Hood has just taken too many of his companions.
OH, BEAK! Damn. Such a short time we’ve known him, but this one hurts. The idea that he is unleashing all his power in order to protect his friends... Truly tragic. Especially knowing how everyone looked upon him. I am glad he had Faradan Sort in his last days. “And so he made his light burn yet brighter. He made of it a solid thing. Would it be enough? He did not know, but it had to be, for without friends there was nothing, no one.”
This is just so very sad and, at the same time, uplifting. Beak got his chance to do something heroic and ended up being reunited with his brother. Faradan’s reverence for him is just as it should be and fitting tribute to his actions. I love that Beak is accorded such respect from Hood. Although it is unutterably sad that Beak had to die... well, he went in a manner of his choosing and helped his friends. I feel happy about that.
And, after such a glorious section, back to the senselessness that is the Awl and the Letherii, carving each other to pieces. *sigh* They might be grinding each other down, but they’re grinding me down with them....
What an anti-climax that Redmask storyline was... I’m slightly puzzled as to why it even made it into the book. Unless it becomes important in the future? Why did the K’Chain Che’Malle suddenly turn on him? Just call me confused....
Ah, Toc... Once again, I am unsure that Toc is as dead as he seems on first look – although you can’t really have a face torn away and still live, can you? If you can, then Toc is about to go through yet more than any mortal man should ever suffer!
Damn. In the very moment of his death, as he thinks about Tool, here appears that selfsame Imass... Erikson has a sense of exquisite cruelty towards his readers, doesn’t he? Apart from Tool, who obviously I can remember pretty well, I am grasping at how he came to lead these White Face Barghasts, and married to Hetan. Damn. Time for me to re-read the re-read to work it out – unless some kind soul fancies giving me a quick 101? *flutters eyelashes*
Poor Tool. Wow, it seems I am saying things of that nature an awful lot in this chapter. It’s one of those tough ones to read....
DUN DUN DUNNNN – so Redmask wasn’t the true Redmask? He was just a Letherii? No doubt hired by Letur Anict, right? To stir up more dissension?
And Toc isn’t dead! What more does this guy have to suffer?
Epic chapter, guys – epic. And Beak’s moment was one of my absolute favourites so far. Glad he got his chance to shine.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter 22
I don’t think it was “for some reason,” Amanda, that you thought Gaskaral was going to kill Brohl Handar. I think it was the very purposeful taking us by the nose of Erikson. A nice little bit of misdirection. Twice actually – the misdirection on the assassin’s goal and then the misdirection via our sigh of relief to find out he saved Brohl, only to be caught out by the onrush of the two others. Also a nice little touch to have Brohl wake “surprisingly refreshed.”
Torrent may speak more wisely than he knows here: “Because he is Redmask, Mezla. He is not as we are . . .”
That horse is a consistent image running through this series – what we do to those animals (and as Toc makes the analogy clear, those people) who put their trust in us. And it sets us up for the battle scene when a few of these creatures seek their freedom amidst the chaos of battle.
What a great, if heartbreaking, image to close this scene on—the innocence of children throwing mud at one another—having a “mud war”—even as they are surrounded by what is about to become utter horror.
I also like how we get that little bit of history here, Amanda—that sense of the rich structure that underlies all this—the skeleton beneath the skin and dress that occasionally we get little glimpses of here and there.
Another Beak line: “And he knew, all too well, how all this was going to turn out and even that couldn’t make him anything but proud.” Coming after his dream, a dream turning reality as everyone marvels at him and listens to him, it’s even more poignant.
Yes, Amanda, those foreboding lines of Beaks’ are coming more and more quickly now, aren’t they? To a careful reader, they’re certainly sending us down a path.
I like how Faradan Sort defends poor Beak against Fiddler.
That description of Corabb, I have to admit, reminded me of old D&D days, when depending on your dungeonmaster you could seemingly carry anything and everything you thought you might need or want – weight and space be damned. (Oh, for Mappo’s bag o’ plenty back then!)
Beyond Beak, not a lot of people in this Malazan group are seeing their way out the other side of this, are they? One after another we get a sense of a resigned death march.
I like how the veteran commander has respect for what the Malazans have done, while we’re given more reason to detest Sirryn, with his puffed up chicken hawk denigration of the Malazans. And I like that “sigh” of the commanders as he contemplates destroying such fine soldiers, the utter respect at the Malazans forming their last stand circle, the “Errant bless peace upon their souls.” Even here, even with such a small role, Erikson gives us a rich character rather than a mustache-twirler.
“What I could do with a thousand such soldiers . . .” No matter how many times I see this line (and it has to be said, I see its ilk a lot), it still gets me.
Tell me this isn’t a grand metaphor – the Letherii building a bridge of the dead, stepping their dead and using them to advance.
And here we get our bit of major foreshadowing—the clash of these two civilizations—“One last time.” Is it the end of the Awl? The end of the Lether Empire? The end of both as they consume each other? (And here my inner geek rises once more as I think of Star Trek’s “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.”)
And oh, one of my favorite, favorite, favorite scenes in this entire thousands of thousands of pages. C’mon rereaders, tell me this doesn’t rank in your top ten moments of this series!
That realization by Fiddler that this is it.
That realization by Hanradi that they’ve been set up.
And then that glow. That tiny little light, that “candle of hope” that begins against all hope to grow and we all know now who that is, that “one who gives answer” and all those lines from him come painfully clear now even as we hoped we were misreading them. We know where this is going and all we can is watch and grieve it as it does.
And we know, even if Beak does not, why he thinks of his brother now. His brother he could not save, no matter how hard he tried. As he tries to save his “friends” now. And that fire that ran down his body so ineffectively before with his brother now becomes a roaring blaze of all his candles and not so ineffective this time, as it blazes hotter and higher and stronger. And if we had a small part of us hoping that maybe, just maybe, it’ll be enough and he’ll see it through, we get that line to slam that door shut: “Purification, Beak now understood, was final.”
And I love that imagery of everything glowing from within, all of them seeing through to the bones and organs – to the bruises and the breaks and the missing pieces and all the pain, the pain from without and from within, inflicted by others and self-inflicted. And those moments of looking forward, of Corabb who will not die from his cancer, of Bottle who will gain control of all that power, of Tarr – “solid as iron.”
And then it just keeps getting better, Fiddler meeting the Edur, offering them shelter, “because some things matter more than others,” and all those horrid trophies suddenly don’t matter, because “some things matter more.”
And then, as it gets better, it hurts all the more. Beak, aching for love in response to such tiny little things—smiles, laughter, a clap on the shoulder (and how can we all not stop and think for a moment of all the opportunities we’ve had and not taken to do just that for someone? Just such a small thing, a small moment of our time, a small bit of our energy and attention, and wonder how it might have changed someone’s hour, day, month, life . . . )—Beak, thinking of Sort, wanting a kiss, and then so Beak-like thinking of a kiss on the cheek, “although of course he would have something far more brave.” And then that slow burning away of him – the step-by-step litany of hits progress: “The muscles of his arms. His shoulders and neck. His legs.” You just want it to stop. And that effective use of space and brevity: “My friends.”
And then that killer image, that killer, killer image from Faradan Sort: “The bones of the arms seemed to be hugging the knees . . . Like a child hiding in a closet, a child seeking to make himself small, so small . . . Beak. Gods below . . . Beak.”
And I could tell you as I run through this scene I’m utterly dispassionate. But I’d be lying. And I could tell you I don’t have a lump in my throat. But I’d be lying.
To be honest, I wish we’d ended the chapter here, to let that linger a bit longer before getting interrupted with the Edur heading home and Beak’s arrival at Hood’s Gate. But since we’re here . . . I’m certainly glad we get to see this arrival, this respect by Hood (who doesn’t seem such a bad guy for Death, eh?). And the lumps keep coming – Beak getting to see his brother. And Hood’s pause (tell me that isn’t because Hood, Hood for Hood’s sake, has his own lump) when Beak thinks only of saving his dead brother, and Hood, Hood for Hood’s sake! Giving him the merciful answer: “Yes, Beak, you can save him.” And Beak finally getting to play with his brother.
But Erikson giveth and he taketh away, and so after the beauty of this entire scene, we’re left not simply marveling at Beak, but wondering, whom is Death waiting for?
He certainly has his choices, as we enter the utter madness of war – where not only the mud makes it impossible to distinguish the players, but their acts as well. Brohl, someone we’d maybe come to root for, seeking to “kill them all,” tasting the blood of his enemies like “honey.” Redmask, who is, after all, trying to save his people (ahem) betrayed by the K'Chain Che'Malle. The Awl being cut down, the last of them, until we get that strange army appearing and Toc sending away those children and drawing his bow out: Toc Anaster, last of the Grey Swords of Elingarth, a Mezla...and you get the sense from that intro that maybe now we know whom Hood awaits, for that’s the kind of line that gets told about the dead in tales of glory.
And oh, we thought we were done with Beak. But now we see Toc moving in a suicide action to protect the children and we sense this is not going to end well. We have his recalling the paltry few he trusted: “Tattersail. Ganoes Paran. Gruntle. Tool.” And those names are so bittersweet, especially sensing where this is going to go. And go there it does, slowly, painfully, and horribly at the end, his face cut away.
And oh, we think we’re done. For here are the White Face Barghast. And oh, we know who it is watching but not seeing the Fall of Toc. Seeing but not knowing. Until those words: “The horse-warrior. The Mezla.”
And then the inevitable ending seemingly for the Letherii and the Edur here. And onto the revelation of Redmask. I read it, Amanda, as him being Redmask – this was the secret he killed the Elder for in my mind. This is his defensiveness of that line earlier about showing himself to be one of them. Anyone else?
And another revelation—Toc being sworn to Hood. And then another—Toc the Elder lives. (And yes, Amanda, we will see him.)
And it’s nice, after such pain and grief and cruel plot points to end with a bit of humor and a sense that even the grand Lord of Death doesn’t know all: “Damned wolves.”
As I said, this is a stand-out chapter. Part of me feels bad even talking about it – like talking through a great scene in a film. But hey, it’s what we do, right?
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.