Jan 30 2013 1:00pm

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Return of the Crimson Guard, Book Two, Chapter Four, Part Two

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen on Return of the Crimson Guard, Book Two, Chapter Four, Part TwoWelcome 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 readers. In this article, we’ll cover the first half of Chapter Three of the second part of Return of the Crimson Guard (RotCG).

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.

Note: We will split Chapter Five at the roughly halfway point (pg. 456 in my print and Kindle versions) as follows:

Friday’s post ends with “Toc bowed: ‘I thank you, Imotan of the White Jackal.’”

Wednesday’s post begins with “Nait threw another handful of dried dung on to the fire and sat back in disgust.”

My print version separates these sections with some asterisks.

Also, Amanda will be catching up with her posting in the comments section this week.


Book Two, Chapter Four, Part Two


Back in the Otataral pit, a Wickan witch, Su, tells Ho that Yath found Grief and Treat “poking around down at the excavation” and that he plans to kill them and “introduce them to our guest down below.” As they head down, Su tells Ho she knows his secret, she can “smell” it on him—“the old ritual . . . the forbidden one.” He pretends not to know what she means and she relents, but says he could end all the trouble if he just brought “forth a fraction of what sleeps within,” which she believes possible despite the presence of Otataral. He thinks she may be right but fears the madness that would come.


They reach a large cavern and find Treat and Grief surrounded by a group of armed men, though neither looks concerned. Yath accuses Ho of conspiring with the two. Su, meanwhile, notices something about Treat and Grief that makes her laugh, something else she “smells.”


The group take Treat and Grief farther down to another cavern to show them part of a jade giant—the mouth—and looking on Ho thinks of how inconceivably large the entire statue is if just the mouth is this big. He thinks how they’ve been studying the thing for 30 years and learned nothing. They bring them to the mouth’s opening and Grief realizes it leads to a throat (immeasurably long, Ho’s group have discovered) and he says he hears a “sighing or whispering.” Ho tells Su he heard “screams of the insane” and she responds she heard “Inconsolable weeping.” Yath does something and a burst of air comes out of the mouth, hurling Grief across the cavern. To everyone’s amazement (and to Yath’s dismay) Grief is alive. Yath orders them killed but Grief says they are allies and offers them a chance to escape to Quon and take vengeance on the Empire. Yath scorns the idea due to the Otataral, but Grief meets all their objections, saying the only thing stopping them is the proximity/location on the island, adding if they go to the mine-head, he and Treat will have them out in a few hours. They head out.


Ho asks Su about Treat and Grief but all she says is “there are Malazans and there are Malazans.” As they talk, she notes how it is she’s never seen him angry, and wonders where his anger, along with his ambition, went to. He refuses to answer.


Ho arrives at the mine-head where a crowd has gathered and learns Treat and Grief climbed the wall a while ago. Grief brings down the platform and tells them five at a time can go up. None move at first but eventually people agree to see what’s up there, Ho and a scholar named Devaleth Omptol among them. They go up and Ho learns that all the ore they’ve been mining for the last few decades has just been dumped  as worthless. Grief leads him to the guards, who are imprisoned but alive. Ho wants to gain his revenge on the chief officer, but Grief says he can’t allow that; the men surrendered to him and thus have his protection. When the officer mocks Ho, he slaps him unconscious, to Grief’s surprise. Grief says they have a ship coming tonight.


Ghelel joins Commander Ullen (to whom she’s been growing closer) and Jhardin. The two tell her they’ve been discussing rumors of what happened at Unta, where a pirate army trying to rob Imperial Arsenal supposedly blew up half the city. Jhardin dismisses them, but Ullen and the mage Bala think there’s more to them than first appears. As they discuss tactics, Ullen explains that their army has to defeat Laseen while she can afford to just wait for their alliance to fall apart, which would happen if they can’t take Li Heng. Ehra, a very young girl, a Seti scout, arrives, frozen and suffering from exposure. She reports to Ullen and Ghelel tries to give the girl her cloak and convince her to stay to warm herself, but the girl refuses and leaves. Ullen tells Ghelel the girl is used to it, and when Ghelel angrily asks if that means she and the Seti are “less than us . . . Coarser? Feel less than we do?” he says that’s not what he meant. He continues, saying the girl’s group had captured a runaway from the raiders and the prisoner sketched the raider’s sigil on the cloth Ehra has just delivered. Ullen looks at it (the Crimson Guard sigil) and is shocked and dismayed, calling for Jhardin and Captain Tonley to attend him immediately. He orders Jhardin back to his command south and orders Tonley to send the news to Urko at Command. Jhardin tells Ghelel they leave in an hour. She tells Molk to get ready and why and he disappears.


On the march, Ghelel asks Jhardin if he believes the news and he says yes. When she asks why Ullen was so afraid, he tells her Ullen served on Dassem’s staff and as Choss’s adjutant. Ghelel realizes he must have fought in the wars of consolidation and is upset he hadn’t told her so and also upset at herself for not knowing he was worthy of respect/faith simply based on Urko choosing him. She wonders where Molk has gone then sees flames ahead and yells the raiders (The Guard) are taking the monastery. Jhardin orders a ride to the bridge.


The Guard are already holding the bridge by the time they near it. Ghelel and Jhardin ride ahead to parley, meeting up with Cole and Lean of the Guard. Ghelel asks passage south and the Guard says all who wish to go south may, but none may come north. Jhardin asks if they expect a “flow of desertions” and is told yes.


Hurl tells Storo Liss is watching east, saying there is a “blank spot where there shouldn’t be.” Storo dismisses it and says the besiegers now have enough soldiers to attack. She tells him Silk says they’re ready.


Silk, Rell, Sunny, Jalor, Hurl, and Storo all meet at the temple. Hurl notes that Silk has removed all the Malazan gods and spirits and he says the temple has been reconsecrated to the city itself. They follow a long tunnel underground, past a series of wards and barriers that have been removed. They meet Ahl and his brothers Thal and Lar at the end where there is a well with a huge chain held up by two longswords. Silk says pull the swords and Ryllandaras will be released even farther underground where he can make his escape to the northern plains. Silk has Rell do it and after he does so tells him he should keep and use the swords. Just before they leave, they hear words echoing up from the well.


Bill’s Reaction to Book Two, Chapter Four, Part Two

Here’s a pretty big hint that Ho is more than he seems, from Su: “I smell you . . . I smell the old ritual on you magus. The forbidden one . . . Everyone thinks it lost . . . Just bring forth a fraction of what sleeps within, magus.” We don’t have a lot of things referred to simply as “the ritual,” and “forbidden” and “lost” would also be a few clues to just what she is referring to here. Later we get another clue: “I don’t recall ever seeing you angry. Where did your temper walk off to?” And then we have to wonder how Ho has the strength to backhand a man off his feet.

I do like the bit of humor that centers around Yath in this section. It begins with Ho’s joke about his killing Grief and Treat by talking them to death, and then continues with his so confident statement that Ho is Malazan because he’s from Li Heng, the “very centre” of the Empire, a statement so ignorant (especially with what the reader knows is now happening at Li Heng) that Ho can only stare dumbstruck for a moment.

And so now we get the big reveal about what is at the bottom of the pit, what the scholars are studying—a Jade Statue. But as is often the case in this series, with the reveal come more mysteries: Why a throat? What is the noise the magi here? Why do they hear something different?

We’ve had Yath mentioned as dangerous, murderous, overall not so nice, but here’s something a little different: “Yath laughed and howled like a madman possessed.”

And we’ve obviously had lots of clues that Treat and Grief were not what they were. Now we’ve got Grief surviving what clearly was a death blow. Or, does he? Note how Ho doesn’t say that Treat slapped his “near-dead” or “seemingly dead” friend but his “dead friend’s face.” Su gives us more clues with the “hard to kill, these two” and the “Come recruiting?” (one might also argue the name “Grief” is kind of a funny clue).

Yath: “Believe me Mezla, I want revenge upon your Empire more than you can possibly imagine.” File.

I like the little scene where Grief realizes that leaving the prison isn’t as easy as he has assumed it would be. I actually wish it had been a bit longer.

The scene with the Seti girl in Ullen’s tent shows us again just how naïve Ghelel is when it comes to war. A good heart, but little understanding.

I like the sense of urgency when Ullen learns of the Crimson Guard—thought that was conveyed nicely. As well as another little aside via Ghelel and Tonley that the Guard may have outlived themselves, the same sort of thing we saw Shimmer wonder as she walked down the streets of Unta and saw simple confusion.

Lean and Cole’s response to the “legitimate army or mere brigands” was a nice bit of humor to vary the tone in this section, coming after the urgency of the Guard information and before the scene with Ryllandaras being released.

I’m glad we got Hurl’s line about Shaky in this scene when they’re heading underground, after Silk performs his bit of magic and she thinks “were Shaky with them he’d be asking something like ‘How’d he do that?’” One of my favorite aspects to this series is that the dead aren’t forgotten, something I think we see far too often in other novels—folks being killed and an immediate response and then 50 pages later it is as if they never existed. It’s rare in this series that we don’t see how death has long-term affects on people, how people are mourned for weeks, months, years, and lives.

The journey does a nice job of conveying just how scary Ryllandaras is, as we see all the ways he’s meant to be kept down there—warrens and hug stone blocks and copper barriers and silver and iron etc. I am a bit surprised as we pass through all these that we don’t get some interior monologue from Hurly wondering if this is such a good idea or not.

And if she didn’t wonder then, you might think she’d wonder at those words that float up. Just a little creepy....

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

1. aaronthere
hi. first post as an up to date reader. i'm reading the ICE books for the first time, and decided to do a reread of the erickson books at the same time.
i'm curently on DG and just got to the scene with Ryllandaras meeting Icarium and Mappo as the 6 wolves. good timing! my question to those on this thread more knowledgeable than me, do we ever find out how the jackall gets imprisoned?
Jamie Watkins
2. Treesinger
I love this book and this re-read. I am almost finished with a Moment of Light and am getting ready to order a new book. What are the next two Malazan books that we are going to review?
Jamie Watkins
3. Treesinger
Re Aaronthere,
I believe that the text implies that Kellaved and Dancer along with the other mages imprisoned Ryll the jackall.
Brian R
4. Mayhem
@treesinger - the next is definitely Toll the Hounds, but we haven't yet decided whether it is stonewielder or dust of dreams after that.

@Aaronthere - well done recalling our earlier meeting with Ryllandaras - six desert wolves in DG, twelve in HoC when Karsa meets him again.
Interesting, that ... wolves, not jackals.
It seems Ryllandaras has managed to become both soletaken and d'ivers both. And the crazy part of himself was trapped under Li Heng and worshipped as a god by the Seti.
But keep that idea of separation in the back of your mind, it will come up again.
5. SSSimon
I agree with Bill's comment on the scene where they're leaving their prison: it could have been longer. To me, that part was more interesting than the jade giant.

Re Treesinger,
my guess would be ICE's Stonewielder and then SE's Toll the Hounds (can't wait for that one!).
Amanda Rutter
6. ALRutter
Sorry for the late response to this one, guys - real life caught up with me briefly and left me a little delayed, but here is what I have to say about this section:

More mentions of the "guest down below" in the prison as we go back to Ho and are introduced to Su (who is amusing). This particular remark of Su's makes me wonder: "Takes you longer than anyone to admit you're human just like the rest of us, doesn't it?" Are we implying that Ho is not quite human? That seems to then be emphasised by the whole ritual thing that Bill already pulled out. Also, when Ho says 'Queen' who does he mean? After all, we know about the Queen of Dreams but we are also becoming more familiar with Queen Ardata, thanks to Skinner...

I find this scene with the prisoners facing down Treat and Grief interesting, in terms of the fact that even those considered to be peaceful groups can turn into a witch hunt with only a little prodding. Especially when those who would oppose them feel too apathetic to try.

Also, it seems that Su has smelt something interesting about Grief and Treat - but then we've always known that they weren't quite what they presented themselves to be.

This is an odd book in terms of POV changes. Right now it feels quite disjointed and as though we're reading several short stories that have been entwined together, and there still isn't quite enough to draw them together. This with Ho, Treat and Grief is one particular POV that is taking a long while to really get going, and feels distinctly unconnected from the rest of the story.

Hmm. HMM. So one of those mysterious jade statues has come to rest here in this mine. And it is *weird*. I find these unusual alien constructs one of the very oddest parts of the Malazan series. I can handle gods, and demons, and strange magic systems that can't clearly be explained, but enormous jade statues that fall through the sky from another universe are just too weird.

And I suppose that Grief and Treat are some of our Crimson friends? Going by the whole not being dead thing. And the way that Su asks whether they are recruiting. What interest do the Crimson Guard have in this mine - are they searching for Prince K'azz? Ah, no, instantly answered - they are there to bring people back to fight against the Empire.

A lot to take in now that Ho's storyline is beginning to shift forward - yay! First of all, the idea that is touched upon: that of somebody who has been imprisoned for a long time and essentially put their life on hold, and then, when offered freedom, wondering what to do with their life. It's quite poignant. Then the idea that the Crimson Guard are a real force, where even a mage looks at them and wonders what use he is in a world where they can take down twenty-five people at a time. Poor Ho. Lots of grim thoughts for him.

How *horrible* to find out that the soul-destroying work you've been doing for six or so DECADES has just been discarded and not even been used! This is just a nasty form of punishment - sort of like those outer circles of hell, where you spend eternity rolling boulders up hills only for them to roll back down to the bottom.

Ah, now Ghelel has started hearing about news of the pirate fleet - which must be the Crimson Guard, considering that Cawn is mentioned - so at least these two storylines are now on a collision course.

I absolutely love, love, love that part of the scene where the sigil is recognised and the pirates are confirmed as being Crimson Guard. We've been given hints that Ullen is a strong soldier, a good tactician, someone familiar with war - so to have him turn white from shock and instantly start issuing commands to combat them (even forgetting the Empress' imminent arrival) really packs a punch.

I also quite like Ghelel's shy approach towards Ullen - it reminds me of just how young a girl she is, one with her first crush.

In fact, I like as well the young Seti girl and Ghelel's attempts to keep her warm. This whole scene is handled very well and makes me feel very warmly towards the characters involved.

I really enjoyed this exchange!
"We've tried to keep as low a profile as possible."
"Obliterating half of Unta?" the Marquis snapped. "Burning Cawn to the ground?"
The man smiled, baring sharp teeth. "As I said - a low profile."

And then a quick trip back to Hurl et al - where Silk does not seem to be getting on too well, looking ill and out of sorts. Wonder what is causing that, or whether it's simply the stress of deciding to open Ryllandaras.

And that poem spoken by a disembodied voice - that is damn creepy and doesn't make me feel any more comfortable about Ryllandaras being freed.
karl oswald
8. Toster
its interesting to see what's happening around rell. almost mirrors dassem in a way. he's gathered a group of the elites to him, he's 'in' with the cadre of people who command the city - who just so happen to be his old buddy's. he rushes to where the fighting is hottest, etc.

also interesting is that silk chooses him to pull the swords, and then encourages him to keep them. we're about to find out why, but ryllandaras interrupts silk. could be he just thinks rell's old swords are worn out, but there could be something going on underneath the surface. just sayin...

a nice little humorous tidbit that didn't get mentioned is this exchange between hurl and silk regarding the city 'worshipping' itself.

"... sounds incestuous."
"Just old fashioned."
"That's what my uncle said."
"What happened to him?"
Hurl cocked her head to study the ceiling as they walked along.
"Come to think of it, nothing happened to him. he lived a long life in a rule of terror over a huge family of idiots. choked to death on a bird bone."
Silk gave a long thoughtful nod to that, "there you go."
"Yup. there you go."
9. SSSimon
Amanda, interesting comment about the jade statues being "too weird". For me, its the dream sequences which are "too weird". I really can't get my head around the consequences of some of them.
10. Craig.
I'll second both the jade statues and the dream sequences. The statues definitely stand out more though, they have such a random and vague feel to them for some reason, and they don't really pique my interest at all.

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