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 second half of Book Two, Chapter Six 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 Book 3 Chapter One as follows.
Friday will end with the paragraph starting “At the mid-deck, Yath had sat as well...”
Monday will begin with “‘What’re they waiting for?’ Brill asked, an arm over his shovel...”
Book Two, Chapter Six, Part Two
Nait sits feeling old and regretting the stupid things he’d done in his life. Tinsmith informs him that, of the others, only Least and Heuk are alive (Hands and Honey Boy died), makes him a sergeant, then tells him to make fortifications to prepare for Ryllandaras. Before Tinsmith leaves, he tells Nait that Temp was blown up by the Moranth munitions, though he and Braven Tooth were the reasons the line didn’t break. As they move positions, Nait is called over by the Falaran cavalry commander (Tonley), trapped under his horse and pincushioned by crossbow bolts. Nait gives him some wine and when the commander asks for the coup de grace, Nait refuses, but orders Brill to stay and grab a passing healer.
Later that night, Ullen is escorted to the brig to find Urko, V’thell, an unconscious Choss, and other league officers. He tells Urko their men are being kept outside the compound and Urko rages at Dom, who brags that finally a Napan name—his—has eclipsed the names of the Old Guard. Urko pleads for his soldiers, but Dom leaves. Surly arrives and says she wants the cooperation of their soldiers and the officers kept as guarantors. Urko and V’thell agree. Urko asks about Dom and Laseen says he’s of no concern.
Nait is looking for Brill, who hasn’t returned. Finally someone says he’d seen him when Brill had called over a healer. The man he’d wanted him for was dead, but Brill had said he’d been ordered to stay and so he was.
Nait, leading five of his boys, pretends he’s going out to “inspect” the defenses and the rest of the squad joins him, each carrying a Moranth munitions box which they’d stolen.
They find Brill asleep next to the Falaran commander’s body. Temp appears and says he’d appreciate it if they keep the “blowed up” story going, as he “first left Imperial service under sharp circumstances.” Temp basically impresses them into checking out what a group of Seti are doing, adding they’ll get their chance to do what they came out to do, which he mistakenly assumes was to try and take out Ryllandaras with munitions. They meet the Seti group and Temp has Nait call out for the Boar, whom he calls “sword-brother.” The Boar is there and he and Temp hug.
The Seti ride off to ambush Ryllandaras if they can while the Boar joins Temp’s group. They hear the sound of roaring and fighting and head toward it.
Ullen and Urko are marched near the walls and he watches horrified as his soldiers beg to be let in and for weapons while Ryllandaras is slaughtering anyone outside the walls. Urko begs the watching Laseen to send a sortie out. She asks what would stop his men from attacking hers and when he tells her he’ll pledge she reminds him he pledged his word to her before. She finally agrees, and Dom heads out. V’thell tells Ullen that the soldiers do not run because they “know their strength resides in the unit,” which he says is the reason the Moranth allied with them. Urko yells to his men that Laseen is sending help. Ullen is stunned to see that Laseen had already had the heavy infantry prepared for this moment. Ryllandaras eventually withdraws. Laseen tells Urko she needs him for the Guard, and he realizes she expects them to attack, though he can’t figure out why they would. They hear munitions fire and assume Laseen had planned for an ambush of Ryllandaras, but she says it wasn’t her idea. She exits.
The Marquis tells Ghelel Laseen defeated the Talian League and captured many of the leaders. She asks what they’ll do now, and he says they will head back to his home in north Tali, avoiding the Kanese who will try to capture them to present to Laseen. He expects reprisals—a culling of the aristocracy, reparations. He ends with saying she’ll become his wife to bring their lines together, so maybe some descendant down the road can try again. He leaves, warning her she’s under guard “for her protection.” Molk appears and says he could kill Jhardin and make it look like a Claw did it. She is shocked, and he, mistaking her, says it would probably be right to wait until after the marriage to kill him. He also informs her that the Marquis already has a wife, implying he’ll kill her. He says she has a choice—stay in or get out. She worries “out” means he’ll kill her, and he says she’d be dead already if that were his mission, performing a bit of magery to prove his capability. He tells her to get ready to leave tonight.
They exit the camp, and he tells her they’ll cross the Falls and he’ll escort her back to Quon. They reach the shore, and Molk is struck by a crossbow bolt to the chest. She sees a man in black toss aside a crossbow and come after her with daggers. Molk disappears, as does the stranger, and Ghelel realizes they’re fighting in the Warrens. She runs into the water and waits.
Molk appears and, dying, tells her he just fought two mages and they will send others, adding he’s sent the Kanese onto the Sentries trail. She thanks him and leaves him to die.
She runs and divests herself of all she has, on the run but finally feeling in control of her own life for the first time. She reaches a hamlet and tries to get someone to take her upriver.
Amanda’s Reaction to Book Two, Chapter Six, Part Two
I really love the fact that Nait has consider himself to have aged in a day. I mean, battle and close combat—and seeing people explode from the munitions you’ve thrown at them—has to change a person massively. So it is great that Esslemont pays tribute to this.
This reminds me a bit of Mat from the Wheel of Time: “And it wasn’t like he was some kind of glory-seeker or any dumb shit like that; no, he’d done all of it merely to preserve his precious skin.”
I do find it fascinating just how much of an effect adrenaline can have on a person. I guess we’ve all experienced a massive burst of adrenaline. My most recent was during a fall from a horse while cantering. It was a very easy fall, and I felt absolutely fine. Jumped up immediately, rode the horse back to the yard. It was only once I got back that I felt shaky. That afternoon, a few hours later, I completely seized up. Adrenaline had carried me through. And that was in a situation where I was in no danger of my life ending. Adrenaline is amazing in the way that it can carry a person through intense situations.
And I really do empathise with Nait, when he realises that he’s lost his opportunity to say nicer things to Honey Boy and Hands, to apologise for the way he acted.
Heh. I can see exactly why Nait leaps up immediately when told that Ryllandaras will be heading towards them thanks to the blood spilled. Although... I think a more sensible move would be to hightail it out of there! Going AWOL isn’t that bad, is it? Not when Ryllandaras is the alternative?
Eep! Temp has died? I just can’t see that this is true, not after the way he was set up as being somebody. I can see him coming back. Did anyone actually see the body?
The scene with the Falaran is such dark humour—stuck beneath his horse but wanting to drink brandy. And the heartbreak of him asking for death and Nait refusing.
Ah, it looks like we’ve got to some of why Korbolo Dom acts the way he does—jealousy: “Urko and Cartheron Crust,” the man called, stopping at the wall of stakes. “Amaron, Grinner, Nok, Surly... Do you have any idea what it was like to grow up on Nap in the wake of such names?” But, damn, it just doesn’t excuse his behaviour. He’s such a bastard.
I do like Laseen in this book. I like the flashes we see of the woman that she could have been, in a different position. I like the power and assurance she has.
It really is fantastic to see Nait here, assuming such responsibility, knowing that he now has men under his command. His instant response when hearing about Brill is to head out and get him. And now he has Kibb and his mates to deal with as well—boys who are becoming true saboteurs as they steal the munitions and carry them around. Awww, Kibb, Poot, Jawl and Stubbin—they’re breaking my heart already!
Ha, I knew Temp wasn’t dead! They’re trying to hide him, now that they know the Old Guard are being targeted, right?
And I love that not even Temp believes that Nait was just going to sneak out and get Brill, then head back to camp. Everyone thinks he’s some kind of hero, and circumstances keep putting him into the position.
I’m really finding it hard to remember who Temp might be calling sword-brother. I’ve even gone back over the commentary for Night of Knives (man, we did use to get a whole lot more comments on these posts. From 133 per post for NoK to 7 for RotCG) and I can’t find who it is.
Ack, Laseen is cold. Using the threat against Urko’s men to force his bond from him. I am enjoying all of the scenes where she is present, though—particularly here, where V’thell pays her such respect for the plans she has made. And the fact that she is getting Urko on board because she knows that the Guard are still a threat.
Poor Ghelel. First she finds out that she has lost the battle against the Empress, and then she receives this rather abrupt offer of marriage—and from a married man, no less, who is trying for a higher social standing. I’m not exactly sure why she doesn’t take Molk up on his offer here. And now we also see that Molk has been hiding his light under a bushel—what magic is it that he wields?
Damn, I didn’t want Molk to die—and especially not protecting Ghelel who, I can’t help but think, doesn’t deserve such loyalty.
Bill’s Reaction to Book Two, Chapter Six, Part Two
I like how Esslemont gives us this chapter’s aftermath of the battle, something we see far too little of in fantasy books, once the grand exciting battle is over. It begins with the litany of Nait’s wounds, in addition to his weariness and sudden sense of age. And we get his sorrow and guilt when he hears of Hands and Honey Boy, his immediate realization that death is permanent, making all those things unsaid and undone permanently so as well:
He thought of all the awful things he’d said and done to her and his face grew hot, his breath shortening. She’d taken all the those things to Hood with her; no chance for him now to take them back, or apologize, or tell her she was probably damn right.
Instead, here, we get
More shapes moved about the darkening battlefield; stunned wounded walked aimlessly; camp-followers searched for loved ones and secretly looted on the sly; healer brigades collected wounded.
The stink of spilled entrails and loosened bowels drove Nait to cover his face . . . Wounded called, or just moaned, gesturing helplessly to them as they passed . . . Gulls, crows, and vultures hovered overhead and hopped among the bodies, glistening with fluids and quarrelling.
By the time . . . their trousers and cloth leggings were painted red to the knees from pushing through the soaked grasses. Flies tormented them . . . Jackals or wolves were already here.
The stink wasn’t quite so bad yet . . . The flies, though, they were vile. Assaulting his nose, eyes and ears as if they preferred live meat over the endless banquet prepared for them.
You can only sustain a terror-pitch for so long—but gone also were the grimaces of pale nausea and flinches of disgust. It looked to Nait as if walking through the field of the fallen was pushing them down into the worst mood for any soldier, flat sadness.
I cannot recall at all what I first thought upon hearing of Temp’s “death.” If I thought he had actually died, if I went “Hmm, Old Guard dying? I’m withholding judgment.” If I thought it was cheap or not. On a reread (knowing it was coming), I like it, as it continues a well-trod path so a good reader will not simply accept it as fact (especially with the “blowed up” no body description) and also because it fits the reality of a battlefield where rumor (I assume—this is not the voice of experience) runs rampant, and confusion more than clarity reigns.
The moment between Tonley and Nait is a nice one: the lack of hatred and violence, Nait’s compassion in giving him the wine, the man’s good humor. Nait being torn about being asked to kill him and refusing but then assigning Brill to keep the birds off and try and get a healer. And then the news that Tonley died, which was quite effective.
I find the scene with the officers and the men of the Talian League to be very moving. The anguish of the officers for their soldiers, the quiet resigned respect of the soldiers who salute Ullen even as he is escorted into safety and they are left behind to face Ryllandaras on their own.
Dom. Nuff said.
Grinner. I’m drawing a blank. Anyone?
Anybody else chuckle at Nait’s pointing out the defense needing inspection because the poles were “tilting out already”?
Well, the Boar is getting narrowed down as Temp calls him “Sword-brother.” If you recall Night of Knives, you’ll have a pretty good idea of who the Boar is.
I liked the scene with Ullen and Urko and Laseen listening/watching as Ryllandaras attacks the Talians outside the walls; I think again you get a true sense of the officers’ anguish and pain. But I wouldn’t have minded it being a bit more sensory and concrete. My favorite part, I think, was Laseen’s “You did before.”
It’s interesting how many tidbits we get here to show Laseen’s ability to plan ahead and anticipate. One wonders, is this contradictory with the Empire falling apart? Or is it just that her skills apply only to the tactical militarily and not organizationally, with regard to actually running an Empire as opposed to fighting for it.
I’d forgotten about Jhardin’s, ahem, “proposal” to Ghelel. Part of me thinks it’s because I mostly just blacked out her whole section as I never cared much for it. If I did, I might have gone back and reread scenes with him to see if we were set up for this, because it still struck me as coming a bit out of nowhere. Did anyone else have that feeling?
The worst aspect of this bit with her for me was Molk’s death, because I found him the only truly interesting character in this plotline.
Following on the good battle chapter just finished, this was another good chapter covering the aftermath. Will there be another battle and aftermath though?
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.