Welcome to the Malazan Reread 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 part of chapter sic of Stonewielder.
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.
Borun calls Ussu to a post where they listen to an approaching force. Borun says he’s sent out a scout to ascertain the size and intent, adding there are 15000 troops on the far side that can’t be abandoned. Ussu thinks “yet.”
The scout says it’s a very small force and when asked by Ussu, adds they don’t seem to be pressing as hard as they could. Ussu and Borun are mystified as to the intent and wonder if it’s just a bad commander.
Suth is part of a force drifting downstream on logs when he gets caught up on rocks beneath the bridge, then rescued by sappers who inform him the bridge is mined.
Borun tells Ussu the attacking force withdrew and Ussu is upset the defenders (commanded by the Envoy) didn’t press them.
Devaleth thinks back on the incredible pace of Greymane’s forced march, though she herself rode a donkey. She sees Greymane as in his element—out in the field with regular soldiers and considers him more than a bit of a mystery. As they marched, the land itself seemed to fight them via sinkholes, flash floods, and landslides—though nothing untoward happened in Greymane’s vicinity. When she finally, on the night, asks him how he’s avoided the reach of the Lady, he laughs and tells her the soldiers think Devaleth is the one protecting them, telling her “the truth isn’t really what’s important… What really matters is what people come to agree is the truth.”
Under the bridge, the crazy saboteurs begin to disarm it (keeping the munitions of course).
Borun finds Ussu finishing up an unsuccessful scrying. When Ussu asks for another prisoner, Borun hesitates because she is Malazan, but Ussu tells him “We are at war. We must do what we must.”
When Ussu grabs hold of the new victim’s heart and frees his warren, he is immediately grabbed by the Lady who tells him to join her. But then she herself is interrupted and Ussu catches a vision of a bright blade. The Lady releases him, yelling “An interloper! She is here… How dare she!” Ussu snaps back into reality to find himself being strangled by the dead victim, around whose neck he now sees a pendant marked by the sigil of the Queen of Dreams. At the rise of her presence, Ussu feels shame and hears “You have betrayed me, Ussu,” the words coming not in anger but in “sadness and regret.” The voice fades away and Borun beheads the corpse, freeing Ussu. All of his apprentices have had their minds wiped. He tells Borun he thinks there is something wrong at the bridge and as the Moranth commander leaves, Ussu thinks to himself: “Perilous indeed is my research, yet I am helpless without it. What am I to do? Betrayer to both sides? In the end, is there to be no sanctuary, no refuge for me?”
Suth and the sappers are attacked by bowmen. They hide for a while amid the timbers, but archers are preparing to come out underneath on boats. Explosions begin and the saboteurs charge.
Rillish, watching, orders a charge, thinking Greymane is still hours away.
The Envoy rides up to Borun and Ussu and asks why they blew the bridge. Ussu tells him it was the Malazans, offering up as well the possibility that a fully blown bridge (it’s only partially destroyed now) would strand a third of the defenders on the far shore where they might surrender. The Envoy exits and Borun remarks he and Ussu will be blamed no matter what happens. Reports come in of Rillish’s charge.
Suth sprints across an open area and takes an arrow in the leg. He lands near Kyle, who calls Urfa over to deal with Suth’s injury. Suth passes out.
Rillish sets up to hold one end of the bridge, and then is told the saboteurs are attempting to repair it enough to cross the army.
When Ussu wonders why there is still fighting on the bridge, Borun admits he’s been holding his people back, seeing this as a relatively minor battle in a longer war. Borun adds that nobody wants to face the enemy with the bright sword. Ussu wonders if he should try and deal with him, but is too exhausted by his fights with the Lady and the Queen of Dreams. They see a group of priests head down to deal with Kyle and Ussu follows to see what happens.
Kyle faces off with the four priests, who take arrows and a Suth-thrown spear through their bodies to seemingly no effect. As they throw energy bolts, Kyle manages to take down two of the priests but is knocked unconscious. Suth picks up Kyle’s sword, but before he can do anything, Peles arrives and takes out the other two priests. Rillish and Kyle meet and talk about Greymane’s expected arrival this night.
Ussu returns to the command area, thinking since other powers are clearly involved, perhaps it was time to strike a bargain with the Lady. The Envoy is raging about blowing the bridge now, but Borun and Ussu tell him he had his chance and, ahem, blew it. They order a withdrawal of the far side. Ussu assumes they’ll fully withdraw, but Borun instead points out that Greymane is clearly interested in speed victory for some reason and so it is in their interest to delay him as much as possible.
In Banith, Ipshank, and Bakune head to a hiding spot in a tavern while Manask disappears “like a fart in the wind” to arrange their disappearance. After several days, Bakune and Ipshank discuss travel plans, with Ipshank saying he and Manask will stay and Bakune also refusing to go, each having their own reasons they will not divulge. Bakune thinks now that he is a fugitive, he is free to pursue his inquiry in ways he never could have before. The two guards assigned him by Karien, Hyuke and Puller, appear at Bakune’s table (to himself he names Hyuke “Cat” and Puller “Mole). They tell him they thought he might have orders for them on account of “all the bodies” of young people that have been turning up with greater frequency than before. They warn him things will be even worse next week during the Festival of Renewal, celebrating the rise of the Lady. Bakune says they’ll wait until then to act.
Kiska and Leoman backtrack the path of the daemon migration, with Kiska thinking that Chaos Whorl sounded an awful lot like the vortex that swallowed Tayschrenn. Her thoughts are interrupted by a sudden squirming coming from inside her sack. She ties it to her belt without looking inside and they continue. She probes Leoman’s role in Sha’ik’s army but before they get too far they come across a huge rotting fish being dragged by a “scrawny old man” and also being fed upon by two ravens. The man seems to have lost his wits; Leoman thinks he’s a mage who lost himself in Shadow and went insane. Kiska cuts the rope binding the old man to the dead fish, and she and Leoman walk on. The old man follows them, telling them voices are driving him crazy, telling him “Do this. Do that.” He’s forgotten his name, so Kiska offers several and he chooses Warran. He thinks he came from where they are going and suggests a shorter path around the big lake and to the Whorl that will also avoid the pesky giant crabs. They follow him, with Kiska noting that the ravens seem to be following as well. Warran tells them after he’d caught his fish he had a large regret in “not thinking ahead… Because it is one thing to catch what you’ve always sought. After that it is quite another mater. The question really should be: what do you do with it once you’ve caught it?” Kiska wonders if he is as crazy as he seems.
I don’t actually have a lot to say about the entire bridge assault, as I think it’s mostly all pretty much there on the surface and mostly simply moves plot along. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I find it all quite enjoyable and clear; I’m just not sure there’s a lot to talk about (though perhaps you’ll all prove me embarrassingly wrong).
But a few quick notes on that section:
Again, I continue to find Ussu to be among the most interesting of all these characters for many reasons.
I like his insight and sharpness, as for instance when he asks about whether the Malazans are pushing as hard as one might expect them to.
I like his self-awareness, as when he thinks “Invaders. How odd to hear that from our mouths when we ourselves are invaders.” His sense that he is “not getting any younger.” (Also a nice parallel to the scene we just had a little while ago with Hiam). His recognition that what he does is not pretty, is simply (in his mind at least) necessary.
I enjoy his relationship with Borun, especially as the Moranth have always been such a mystery and such an absent presence (if you know what I mean). When Borun shows “unease” about bringing in the Malazan prisoner, that’s an interesting little moment. Is he concerned that his friend might be pained by performing such acts on one of his own? Is he worried he might not do it? Is this compassion or pragmatism? (I fall on the former)
I find his apparent prior connection to the Queen of Dreams to be interesting in its own right, and doubly so in this context of what seems to be a long-simmering war between the Lady and the Queen of Dreams (Will the Lady and the Queen of Dreams throw down outside of their surrogates, a la Spite and Envy? And what is it between these two?)
The foreshadowing involving a possible “bargain” Ussu considers with the Lady.
The sense of conflict and fear and exhaustion and regret and despair in those lines: “Betrayer to both sides? In the end, is there to be no sanctuary, no refuge for me?”
Seeing Kyle’s impact on the Lady’s priests, and then her inability to strike directly at Greymane (as Devaleth tells us), the Lady has got to be seriously ticked off at whoever is making all these magic swords out there…
We’ll have to see if Greymane’s line about “the truth isn’t really what’s important… What really matters is what people come to agree is the truth,” will play itself out in some important way going forward.
Did anyone else really want to see what would have happened if Suth had used Kyle’s sword? I sure did.
That’s the second time Peles has shown some surprising capability. The wolves are strong with this one…
Good insight by Borun into Greymane’s desire for speed. Is there some reason for this urgency on Greymane’s part?
Might it have something to do with this upcoming Festival? Certainly Bakune’s storyline seems to be heading toward some major rise in the action on that night. Might there be a convergence of events then? And why the sudden need for more bodies? Is it connected to the invasion? To something with the Stormriders? Something else we are unaware of?
Speaking of mysteries—what is in Kiska’s sack? How tempting must it have been to look inside? In case you’ve forgotten, this is the provenance of the sack:
“The Void that took the High Mage opened on to Chaos and there your trail will take you. When you reach its borders open this. The thing within will then lead you on.”
Kiska wrapped the sack in her cloak. It was dirty, as if it had been buried. From what she could glimpse inside all it seemed to contain were broken twigs and a few scraps of cloth.
It seems our few twigs and bit of cloth have come to life, perhaps.
Warran. Crazy old harmless guy? Crazy old not-so-harmless guy? Harmless not-so-crazy old guy? Not so harmless not so crazy old guy? Any guesses from our first-timers?