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 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.
Book Two, Chapter Three, Part One
Ereko, looking down on Kyle aboard the Kite, labels him the “Soldier of Light,” paying especial attention to his sword, whose power “appalls” Ereko. Considering the others, he thinks the Guard from Assail “carry secrets that should never have left that land,” and he increasingly fears Traveller. Kyle wakes and asks Ereko about the nearby glacier, formed of a great Jaghut ritual whose remnants—icebergs—they now sail through. Ereko mentions that Kyle’s people are the Jaghut’s enemies, though the reverse is not true. Ereko then tells Kyle a tale, saying the Founding races are those who “established civilizations and societies complete with writing and tools,” and they are “to one degree or another ‘children of the earth,’ beings of bone, muscle, and blood.” But there are also the Eldest, “entities born of pure energy such as some believe the Elder Gods or the Elient.” And then there are Ereko’s people, the ancestors of the Thelomen, Toblakai, Teblor, and Trel—“the first children of the earth...the Thel Akai. Those Who Speak.” He tells Kyle he and his people were there when civilization rose on Jacuruku and they advised and supported it, until a warlord (Kallor) arose. Because they opposed him, Kallor swore to wipe the Thel Akai from the world, and now only Ereko remains. Stalker, who has been listening, says he heard of a Kallor allied with Brood against the Malazans in Genabackis called “The Warlord.”
Toc the Elder meets Choss and the Seti chiefs in the command tent to discuss the siege of Heng. Toc and Choss tell the atamans there are more soldiers coming and they need to wait. One of the atamans, Redden, says some of the Seti are souring on the alliance and reference the “Wildman of the foothills,” who speaks against the Seti allying with anyone, but especially the Malazans. Redden says the Wildman is coming and may challenge for leadership. Toc thanks Redden for the news, saying the Seti will have to adapt to change or be consumed by it, then telling them again to be patient as the soldiers coming will be enough to finally take Heng.
Toc, Choss, and Imotan, the White Jackal shaman, discuss the Wildman. Toc suggests coordinating an attack with their people inside Heng, not to take the city but to appease the Seti desire for fighting and improve relations. Toc says he is surprised Imotan doesn’t agree with the Wildman, and Imotan replies he actually does (or at least with most of it) but since the Seti spirits tell him Heng must be besieged, he is with Toc. Toc orders Captain Moss to find the Wildman and report back.
Cowl and Skinner enter the Warren of Thyr and when Skinner asks why this one, Cowl tells him it’s because it is “without a guiding presence;” it has “no eyes.” They are met by four Tiste Liosan who tell them to surrender as they are now the Liosan’s slaves. Skinner knocks them all out in a few seconds and he and Cowl continue.
The Liosan (Enias, Jorrude are two of them) awaken and when one says they need to follow Cowl and Skinner and bring them justice, Jorrude and Enias reply they need to continue their quest to find/bring back Father Light, who has “turned his face from his brothers.”
Skinner and Cowl sight a tall tower and though Cowl wants to exit immediately, fearful of who might be in it, Skinner demands they go forward. Cowl thinks how Skinner has grown more “even more imperious than when he left us” and wonders what new powers Ardata gave him and why, wondering as well why she let him go after doing so. They continue to the tower.
They enter the tower and find an empty, dusty circular room with one window facing out to Kurald Liosan. Cowl speculates it is a research or observation structure and/or possibly a communication tower. Skinner, against Cowl’s advice, steps in front of the window and soon an entity of some sort appears. It asks who they are and when Skinner starts to name them the entity cuts him off, saying, “These titles are meaningless. You are not he—that is plain,” then blasts the tower with power, stunning the two, before disappearing.
Heading into the Golden Hills, Rillish asks Chord what the Wickans are all shouting and he replies they think the young child is Coltaine reborn. Rillish is unsure, but decides it isn’t his “truth” to judge and also realizing if Nil and Nether and the others accept it, he might benefit from their belief. Rillish spots the soldier who helped him escape the fort—Corporal Talia—and asks Chord for her name. Chord says she is the swordsmanship instructor and suggests Rillish spar with her to get back in shape, but Rillish says regulations bar such training between commissioned and non-commissioned soldiers (too many “accidents.”)
Chord brings a bottle to Talia and suggests she go share it with Rillish, telling her the lieutenant has a thing about regulations and rank. She says she’ll disabuse him of that concern.
A few days pass while the Wickans argue and plan amongst themselves. Rillish worries about his relationship with Talia and issues of favoritism. He decides he can resign, but there’s no army superior to resign to. He goes to speak to Nil and Nether, noting that the Wickans seem to have come to a decision and also seeing how some look at the Malazans with what he considers justified hostility. Nil tells him he and Nether are now advisors to Coltaine reborn and want to enlist Rillish as captain and military advisor as well. Rillish suggest a Wickan would be best, but Nether says that would only be true if they were fighting a defensive war. But rather than driving the invaders off the steppes, they are invading Unta. Rillish asks why and Nil says to force the Empire to renegotiate their treaties. Rillish then offers his resignation to them as senior officers, which turns the crowd even more hostile and threatening. Coltaine reborn accepts the resignation, then Rillish accepts the position. Before leaving, Coltaine reborn tells Rillish to “Turn their swords.”
SCENES ELEVEN AND TWELVE
Nevall Od’ Orr, the Chief Factor of Cawn, is told that hundreds of ships have appeared in the harbor. On his way there, he wonders if this is Laseen’s army, thinking Cawn is the “port of choice for any inland expedition.” Realizing it’s too soon though, he settles on it being the fleet he’d heard rumors of from Falar. His guard captain Groten tells him they fly the flag of Tali and Nevall thinks that the promise of the land going back to independent states seems to have been false and that Tali would once again rise as the supreme power. Nevall assumes Cawn would join “until fortunes changed.” Aboard ship, Ullen watches Nevall’s palanquin and guards approach and hail the ships as “liberators.” Ullen thinks how much he hates this city.
Urko rides west, allegedly to scout the road to Heng, but Ullen thinks it’s just to get away from the Cawnese before he killed them. V’thell marched the Golden Moranth off with Bala. Ullen stayed back to organize things. He eventually heads out with the rearguard, thinking ominously that these corrupt, rapacious, greedy Cawnese hadn’t realized that once this army deals with Heng, they’ll be coming back through Cawn to get to Unta.
Well, this chapter has picked up at the same level of intrigue and interest as the last ended with. Clumsy sentence there, but I’m sure you get the gist. Kyle is now the Soldier of Light thanks to that sword he carries—exactly what was done to the sword for this to have happened? Or who did that sword originally belong to before it came to him?
I was particularly amused by this exchange:
“Truly? So old? As old as the mountains?”
Ereko raised his brows. “Goodness, no. Not that old. Only half so old, I should think.”
Oh. Only half. Not that old then.
And, damn. Ereko is the mortal enemy of Kallor. It’s fantastic to see names like this edge into the story and add to that background that has been fleshed out to the point that it feels real.
Isn’t this the truth? “This world has seen too many warlords.” This is true of any world, I think.
Humus soil. Hummus. So close that I read that just a little bit incorrectly... How gross that Toc is rubbing hummus into his hands!
I’m guessing that from the scene with Toc and the others, I should take note of the Wildman who is coming, especially with a curious observation such as this: “He renounces all such bonds—he names them chains upon the mind and body.” So, it’s quite clear that Esslemont and Erikson have conditioned me to always note the words ‘chains’ and ‘convergence.’
Oh, and of course Imotan, the White Jackal shaman. White Jackal again? You’d almost think we should be keeping that front and centre....
And once again the Liosan show themselves to be arrogant and behind the times. Having seen Osserc early on and then watched Silk using Kurald Liosan, it figures that Light is going to play a fair role in this novel. I am intrigued by the fact that Cowl is able to use multiple warrens, and has rejected using Chaos, Tellann or Shadow—the latter two because of too many eyes being present and seeing them. I didn’t think that many could tap into more than one Warren, but we’ve seen a few across the books now... Obviously Quick Ben, and Beak. Does Bottle? Who else?
So who or what is this entity who has taken up residence in Kurald Liosan—a being that seems unable to form a proper shape? Doesn’t seem to have taken kindly to Skinner, that’s for sure. And I think if I were Cowl I would have been hard-pushed at that point not to say ‘I told you so’!
I think it’s pretty realistic the way that Rillish first hears about Coltaine reborn and is mostly sceptical, but just seeing the ways it might benefit him. I think that’s exactly how most commanders would be. I like, as well, the way that he realises it isn’t any truth—whether Coltaine really has been reborn—that he should be involved with. It is a Wickan matter.
Love that little exchange between Rillish and Chord. Korbottle Dom!
“Questions of coercion” indeed. This is meaningful, as Chord sends Talia to Rillish. It must be a real consideration—that army leaders in the Malazan force are unable to approach female grunts as they wish in case there is that issue of them having coerced the lower ranked soldier into intimate relationships. I like that this is brought up here.
Rillish’s storyline is a good one, and I think, in part, this is because we have Coltaine back. Seeing him as a toddler is odd but heart-warming as well. Seeing him heading up these Wickans and leading elders is amusing. Rillish does throw over his allegiance to the Malazans too quickly, though, for my liking. The main reason seems to be Talia and questions of favouritism—which may or may not be an issue in the future, concerning a person who seems a casual dalliance. Was it too quick for everyone else?
So yep, now we get why Kyle is so special—he’s the Soldier of Light (presaging a bit perhaps our later meeting with the Tiste Liosan). Remember his meeting with the ascendant very early in the book and what Kyle noticed about his sword after the ascendant disappeared: “The swirls and curls of Wind seemed to dance down its gleaming length...the design now ran down both side...He didn’t remember Smoky engraving both sides.” Note too that Ereko says Kyle’s blade, like Traveller’s, has a “singleness of purpose.”
That’s just one big tease regarding Assail, those secrets they carry they “never should have left.”
I like Ereko’s conversation with Kyle, and it’s anthropological nature reminds me a bit of Erikson’s similar discussions. I especially liked how he refers to the “Founders” as those with writing or tools, implying perhaps the definition may lack a bit. That’s also an interesting aside about the non-founders being born of “pure energy.”
That’s a nice little detailed recap of who Kallor is and what he did. Wonder why an author might remind us of such a character....
And I agree, that’s a great, if depressing, closing line.
That’s a nice little insight into Toc’s character with his love of the plains, and an echo of what we saw last week with the reference to them not being just “barren.” And I think you get a sense as well of how he cares for the people and their way of life (with a hint of mourning its inevitable passing, at least to some extent) later in this scene when he says the Seti cannot just ignore the world.
Yes and yes on both the Wildman and the Jackal Amanda.
Ahh, those Kooky Krazy Liosan...Just a reminder, the last time we heard from Enias and Jorrude (back in HoC):
Lying on the smoking edge of the crater, sprayed in horseflesh and deafened by the blast, Jorrude groaned. He was a mass of bruises, his head ached, and he wanted to throw up-but not until he pried the helm from his head.
Nearby in the rubble, Brother Enias coughed. Then said, “Brother Jorrude?”
“I want to go home.”
Jorrude said nothing. It would not do, after all, to utter a hasty, heartfelt agreement, despite their present circumstance. “Check on the others, Brother Enias.”
“Were those truly the ones who rode that ship through our realm?”
“They were,” Jorrude answered as he fumbled with the helm’s straps. “And I have been thinking. I suspect they were ignorant of Liosan laws when they travelled through our realm. True, ignorance is an insufficient defence. But one must consider the notion of innocent momentum.”
From off to one side, Malachar grunted. “Innocent momentum?”
“Indeed. Were not these trespassers but pulled along-beyond their will-in the wake of the draconian T’lan Imass bonecaster? If an enemy we must hunt, then should it not be that dragon?”
“Wise words,” Malachar observed.
“A brief stay in our realm,” Jorrude continued, “to resupply and requisition new horses, along with repairs and such, seems to reasonably obtain in this instance.”
“Truly judged, brother.”
From the other side of the crater sounded another cough.
At least, Jorrude dourly reflected, they were all still alive.
You’d think they’d have learned. I love how Skinner just wades right through them in a second or two and they just step past. And how when they wake up, Jorrude and Enias quickly come up with reasons not to pay attention to their overly-enthusiastic “let’s go get them!” companion. We’ll have to see, if we see this, how they respond next time they meet a couple “worms” or “slaves” or “inferiors.”
Good questions on Cowl’s part about Skinner....
More reasons to like Rillish—the way he refuses to simply dismiss the Wickan belief in reincarnation, specifically with regard to Coltaine reborn. And while I liked his characterization when he says that doesn’t mean he’d just accept anything—i.e. slavery—it felt a little forced there, as if Esslemont was too nervous readers would take this as an endorsement of cultural relativism. And it felt more forced as we moved into the discussion of women. On the other hand, Rillish’s concerns about “coercion” felt very organic and a natural fit. An honorable man, that Rillish. Esslemont is making it hard on the reader to not really hope he survives all this....
Hee hee “spar” together. But you’ve got to like Chord as matchmaker in these scenes....
“Turn their swords.” When child Coltaine speaks....
“Groten.” Tell me you’re going to like any character named “Groten.” Even before we get to his palanquin and whipping and demoting and cheating and greed and... Based on Ullen’s thoughts, Cawn might want to be hoping this army either loses or gets whisked away by warren after the upcoming battle... reminds me a bit of the Crusades here.
Armies are moving into place, preparing to set sail, arranging their officers, making their plans. Things are getting ready to pop....
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.