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 Fourteen of House of Chains by Steven Erikson (HoC).
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.
A dozen wolves are pacing Karsa as he moves through the snow-covered mountains. Expecting attack, Karsa is surprised when the wolves speak to him in Malazan. He realizes it is a D’ivers and threatens them, saying he’s killed others. They say they no longer are interested in killing him, but want to warn him that he is on the trail of two people and they worry that should he cross one of them “the world will come to regret it.” He says he has no interest in fighting but can’t be responsible for what happens if he is crossed himself. The wolves reply that he should tell them “that Ryllandaras sought to dissuade you. Before you make your last living act one that sees this world destroyed.” Karsa considers it a “potent” warning and when Bairoth asks what he will do now, Karsa says, “I would meet these dire travelers of course.”
Karsa calls Ryllandaras’ words “portentous” and Bairoth says they were that, but “absurdly so. There are no powers . . . that pose such absolute threat. Spoken through the frenzied current of fear. Likely personal in nature.” Delum, however, is troubled, and reminds Karsa that the D’ivers was powerful and he advises caution. He finds a road and stops to sleep. He wakens and he hears rocks being moved from far ahead. He eventually catches up to the noise: a rockslide had buried half a city and one person was clearing rocks while another was sitting on a rock eating (Icarium and Mappo). Mappo speaks firs, offering Karsa some food, saying the mountain goat he was eating had fallen from the cliff: “You always see them scampering and clambering way up there, and so you naturally believe they never make a misstep. Well, another delusion shattered.” Icarium and Karsa eye each other for a long moment, then Icarium continues digging his way into the buried city. Mappo introduces himself and Icarium and Karsa says that name has appeared in his people’s legends. Mappo comments at this meeting: “A Trell, a Jhag, and a Thelomen Toblakai and we each are likely the only one of our respective kinds in all of Seven Cities.” He adds he’s heard of Karsa as Sha’ik’s bodyguard. Karsa asks if that makes them enemies and Mappo says not unless Karsa chooses so, though he advises against it. Karsa says Mappo isn’t the first to offer such counsel, saying a group of wolves did the same, though he doesn’t know or care what makes the pair so allegedly dangerous; if they get in his way he’ll just kill them. Mappo asks if they have reason to do so, and when Karsa says it’s up to them and Mappo responds then it would be best if they stay ignorant. He adds, though, that they already know a lot about Karsa: he’s formidable based on the Soletaken skin he wears (one belonging to someone Mappo and Icarium know though weren’t friends with), he has ghosts—both his two kinsmen next to him but also the “appallingly numerous” ones who trail behind him and “whose hatred for you is a palpable hunger” leading Mappo to conclude Karsa has been cursed. Mappo talks of convergence then, telling Karsa that “when curses collide . . . singular purpose. Powers and wills are drawn together, as if one must by nature seek the annihilation of the other. Thus, you and Icarium are now here, and we are moments from a dreadful convergence.” Icarium emerges then and tells Icarium he has traveled far to die. Karsa asks why he talks so much if he’s so eager and Icarium answers “I am never eager. This is a moment of pathos, I believe. The first time I have felt such a thing.” He asks Mappo if they have had these kinds of moments before and Mappo says yes. Icarium and Karsa face off and Icarium immediately (and shockingly quickly) breaks Karsa’s sword. Karsa punches Icarium and Icarium goes unconscious. Mappo then knocks Karsa out from behind, then looks at the two and says, “Better than I could have hoped for I think.”
Karsa wakes alone. He checks out where Icarium had been digging and finds a black statue of a seven-headed hound.
Six days later, he’s reached a small village with a tower in its center. As he crosses fields at night, he thinks, “The notion of a life spent tilling fields was repellent to the Teblor warrior. The rewards seemed exclusive to the highborn landowners, whilst the laborers themselves had only a minimal existence, prematurely aged and word down by the continuous toil. And the distinction between high and low status was born from farming itself . . . Wealth was measured in control over other people and the grip of that control could never be permitted to loosen. Odd, then, that this rebellion had had little to do with such inequities . . . [was] little more than a struggle between those who would be in charge. Yet the majority of the suffering had descended upon the lowborn, the common folk. What matter the color of the collar around a man’s neck, if the chains linked to them were identical? . . This blood-soaked Apocalypse was pointless, a misdirected explosion of fury that when it passed left the world unchanged.” He comes across a pit filled with garbage and the bones/bodies of the killed Malazans. Delum tells him a “place of haunting” is ahead, and Bairoth adds that the place is damaged, but the Elder power lingers.” He passes to the center of a group of barrows and to a stone ring. Bairoth tells him it is the burial place of a shaman and it offers a path via the dreamworld to greatly shorten the time of their journey. His two friends say they can guide him as they are between life and death and Hood cannot find them, which is partly why Hood hates Karsa, because “you have taken and would not give to him. Will not. Would you become your own Keeper of Souls. So he must now fear. When last did Hood know a rival?” Karsa says he’d break the chains and free his ghosts if he knew how and when Bairoth says his two friends would rather he didn’t, Karsa replies the two are probably the only ones who feel that. He then thinks “To cast of my enemies, I must also cast off my friends. And so Hood follows, and waits. For the day that must come.” Karsa enters the warren which begins as Tellann and then becomes Jaghut, and Bairoth tells him it is the border between two warring races, adding Karsa has already reached near the beginning of the Jhag Odhan. As he walks he passes rocks with bodies pinned beneath them and when Delum asks if he’ll free them, Karsa says no. Deluth tells them the bodies are not Forkrul Assail and while some are dead “many remain alive and will not die for a long time . . . do you no longer believe in mercy?” Karsa says he will not “undo what I do not understand.” He comes across a field of ice and bones and a tower. He enters it and finds a Jaghut female pinned. He notes the army didn’t kill her and she corrects him to say it couldn’t, at least no immediately, but the Tellann Ritual is slowly destroying the Omtose Phellack, which will mean the death of the Jhag Odhan. Karsa realizes it also will mean her own death and when he says she speaks as if the death of the Odhan is more important than her own, she says it’s because it is: “On the Jhag Odhan, the past lives still. Not just my fallen kin, the Jhag—the few that managed to escape the Logros T’lan Imass. There are ancient beasts . . . that have died out everywhere else, mostly on the spears of the T’lan Imass.” He asks if that includes horses and she says yes, there are a few feral ones, though many have been killed off by hunting Trell. Karsa asks why she didn’t stop the Trell and she says she was hiding, but was found by an Imass scouting party of eight, which she destroyed all of save one. Karsa says, “Enemies should be killed, not imprisoned” and adds he senses nothing evil of her. She tells him it’s been a while since she’s heard that word; “in the wars with the T’lan Imass, that word had no place.” Karsa declares he must answer injustice,” and frees her, despite the High Tellann sorcery. She is shocked at his ability and calls it “ignorance, honed into a weapon.” She asks how she can repay her and he answers with a Jhag horse and further talk of the seven T’lan Imass she destroyed. She, Aramala, tells him she will do so, then informs him she will free the half-bloods that are imprisoned and asks if he is curious at what the non-Jhagut half is. He frowns at that and she says there is much she has to tell him.
Karsa emerges from the warren at the edge of the Jhag Odhan. As he makes his way he finds he is walking through vast flint mines. Karsa thinks “IN this single valley, an entire army could have fashioned its weapons of stone,” and Bairoth tells him “you circle the truths as a lone wolf circles a bull elk.” Karsa enters a large cave and within it a large cavern where he sees a huge projection of pure flint. Beyond is another cavern filled with stone weapons: “hundreds upon hundreds . . . the next niche contained the same . . . Twenty-two chambers in all. The weapons of the dead. The weapons of the failed.” He calls upon the Seven and tells them he has delivered them here. Urugal appears and says, “You have found that which was taken from us, Karsa Orlong. You have freed your gods . . . you have found our weapons.” Karsa mentions the weapons might not be there and Urugal says “They did not fail us,” and when Karsa replies “But the Ritual did,” Urugal says “You understand then.” He informs Karsa that the Seven’s physical bodies are coming, held together “only by our wills,” though Karsa corrects him to add “and the one you now serve. “Urugal says it is time for Karsa’s reward and Siballe interjects, telling Karsa that the Seven have gathered the sacrificed Teblor into an army for Karsa to lead against the lowlanders. Karsa replies “I shall” and Urugal says the Seven gods of the Teblor will not become the Eight. Halad steps up to tell Karsa they will teach him how to make a flint sword for himself, but Karsa says he already knows. He moves to the massive projection of pure flint, but the Seven say none of the T’lan Imass have never been able to draw out a large flake from it, which is why they abandoned it. They suggest he try one that isn’t impossible, but Karsa rejects their advice. When he displays strange knowledge of stone and flint, Urugal demands how he came by such knowledge and Karsa replies: “Foolish Teblor. Or so you believed. So you would have us. Fallen Thelomen Toblakai, but he who has fallen can rise once again. Thus you were once T’lan Imass. But now you are the Unbound . . . From wandering to hold, from hold to house.” He moves up and prepares to strike a flake and thinks to his two friends: Hear me when none other can. One day, I shall break my chains, I shall free the souls that now hound me. You would not be among them, or so you have said. Nor would I wish Hood’s embrace upon you . . . I have fashioned an alternative.” Bairoth answers that see his intent and are impressed by his “genius,” they will accept the alternative. Their ghosts flow into the flint to find a shape, then he strikes and catches a shard of flint nearly as tall as he is. Watching, Halad whispers, “You surpass us.” Urugal says they will invest the weapon so it can’t break and Karsa is fine with that, but when Urugal continues that Karsa will become the Eight God, Karsa rejects him: “I man not as you Urugal. I am not Unbound. You yourself closed the chains about me. By your own hands you saw to it that the souls of those I have slain will pursue me eternally. You have shaped my haunting, Urugal. Beneath such a curse, I can never be unbound.” Urugal tells him there is a place for him anyway in the House of Chains, and Karsa says he knows—”Knight of Chains, champion of the Crippled God.” Surprised, Urugal says, “You have learned much,” to which Karsa, looking at his hands bloodied by catching the flint shard, says, “I have, T’lan Imass. As you shall witness.”
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Fourteen:
The crusade of 1147—an army regiment? Anyway, that extract concerning the Teblor already seems outdated considering some of the Teblor that we’ve met—and the growth that we’ve experienced watching Karsa over the novel so far.
Heh, I imagine I’m not alone in actually feeling a little sorry for those wolves currently hunting Karsa. They really don’t know what they’ve let themselves in for, right?
This trip of Karsa’s does feel a little contrived right now. Just heading off to find a mount is a strange reason to leave behind his carved gods, the people who he had given his (dubious) loyalty to. It seems like it is merely set up to have him in a particular place or meeting a particular person.
Here’s something—we’ve seen Quick Ben hold the souls of multiple people. Is there any chance that Karsa, through carving his followers/friends somehow imbued them with reality? I only ask because of the way that Erikson wrote the following: “Though he ran alone along the slope, he could feel the presence of his two companions. Ghost spirits at the most, but perhaps nothing more than fractured selves of his own mind. Sceptical Bairoth Gild. Stolid Delum Thord. Facets of his own soul…”
This seems like deliberate wording since “ascent” is such an important part of the novels so far: “Your entire journey thus far, Warleader, has been a descent.”
Ha, I didn’t even suspect that those wolves would be D’ivers—not least of which one we’ve met before: Ryllandaras. And we met him while associating with Icarium and Mappo! Are we about to catch up with those two brilliant characters? WAIT! Icarium versus Karsa? That is both a meeting I’m desperate to see and one that I feel should be avoided AT ALL COSTS! “But heed our warning: should you cross one of those travellers…the world will come to regret it. The world, warrior.”
Funny how Karsa automatically thinks that this world destroying entity is a demon, rather than a person (even a half-Jaghut person!) I think this says something about his state of mind. Especially as he then chastises Delum for referring to the wolves as a demon! I do like that Delum (who I consider to be, well, the least sharp of the three Teblor) to be he who defines the fact that demon can also refer to behaviour. With what we saw in Chapter Thirteen, I think we can now call Bidithal a demon, for instance.
Those pictographic images on the wall of the mesa remind me somewhat of Egyptian pictures.
I’ve missed Mappo. I love the way he greets Karsa—someone who is very large and bristles with violence—with merely an offer of some food. Mind, when you have to cope with someone like Icarium (and have done for countless years) I guess Karsa won’t really phase you too much!
This frank meeting of gazes between Karsa and Icarium ends in a complete dismissal on the part of the latter, right? This Karsa who thinks he’s all that just got slapped down silently by Icarium! *giggles*
Heh, I am amused by the fact that Mappo keeps having to pretend that Icarium is just a normal enough name, and this guy is definitely NOT the guy from the legends!
I forgot all about the fur that covers Karsa’s shoulders. Hell, I’m embarrassed to admit, but I can’t remember the occasion on which Karsa won this fur. And Karsa was cursed to carry his dead? Again, events seem to be sliding from my mind at an appalling rate—did this happen when the Forkrul Assail crossed his path? [Bill: The fur is the white soletaken bear he killed in DG when he went off by himself from the group. The curse—hold on…]
Ryllandaras now has a score of wolves as his D’ivers persona? Might this be thanks to the new influence of Togg and Fanderay?
Haha, the “battle” between Karsa and Icarium, having been talked up, is very amusing to me. And also deeply sad, again, dealing with Mappo’s task to protect Icarium at all costs from himself.
A seven-headed Hound! A statue of a seven-headed Hound? We’ve seen Hounds come alive from statues before—ouch, I really don’t want to see this one come alive. And I love the way that Karsa says: “He has lived too long, I think” about Icarium—it sort of echoes that way he sneers at Keeper for having a hobby. I think Karsa needs a hobby apart from killing! Also, what relevance the little bouquet of flowers? Is Mappo apologising? *smiles*
This is telling: “In any case, it seemed the rebellion was not quite as fierce here; either that or the unbridled bloodthirst had long since abated. There had been no widespread destruction of farms and fields, no slaughter in the village and town streets.”
Ah, another one of Erikson’s sharp observations: “Yet the majority of the suffering had descended upon the lowborn, upon the common folk. What matter the colour of the collar around a man’s neck, if the chains linked to them were identical?”
So this dreamworld, where an army passed, is a warren, yep? Which army? Huh, I did not make the connection at Karsa holding back the souls of people destined for Hood, so that the God of Death hates him and desires the souls he carries. And poor Karsa, as he realises: “To cast off my enemies…I must also cast off my friends. And so Hood follows, and waits. For the day that must come.”
This dreamworld with tundra and the smell of enlivened lichen and moss—T’lan Imass related? Heh: “The smell of rotting ice filled Karsa’s nose.” Jaghut! [Bill: Got ’em both in one.]
More and more and more threads to this story. A Jaghut female who has imprisoned an army to prevent them from destroying her. Someone who Karsa is drawn to, surely? And we see Karsa slide back somewhat in his development: “Stay back, warrior!” the Jaghut hissed. “This is High Tellann…”
“And I am Karsa Orlong, of the Teblor,” the warrior growled.
And then: “Never before,” she sighed, then shook her head as if in disbelief. “Ignorance, honed into a weapon.” Now that is Karsa ALL over…
And now our customary Dun Dun Duuuuunnnn moment of the chapter! “You passed through a place on your way here, where Jhag had been… imprisoned. I shall of course free those who have survived.”
“They are half-bloods.”
“Aye, so I am told.”
“Do you not wonder at what the other half is?”
This is the graveyard of the failed T’lan Imass, then, and here is where the “Teblor” gods have sought to reach. I think it is good that Karsa realised that these were not his gods before he had to be told, but why is he still doing their bidding, even knowing that they are being controlled by someone else?
Wait! Karsa is going to become the Eighth God of the Teblor?
Oh man, Aramala certainly gave Karsa a lot of knowledge, didn’t she? “Foolish Teblor. Or so you believed. So you would have us. Fallen Thelomen Toblakai, but he who has fallen can rise once again, Urugal. Thus, you were once T’lan Imass. But now, you are the Unbound.” The sneer became a snarl. “From wandering to hold. From hold to house.”
Karsa is going to take the role of the Knight of Chains? Somehow I’m disappointed in him….
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Fourteen:
I can see why you might feel Karsa’s trip is a bit contrived Amanda. I think the distance he has to travel works against Erikson in that it seems a long, long way to go for a horse.
I like the dry humor when Karsa wonders (I don’t think though he wonders it seriously here) about his two ghosts being part of his own mind: “or so it would seem, if not for the countless blood-scoring edges of Bairoth Gild’s commentary . . . the notion that he was delivering this to himself was beyond contemplating.”
“Powers vie for your soul,” is an interesting insight by Ryllandaras. We know one of them is the Crippled God. One (seven-headed) are the Teblor “gods” (though really proxies for the CG). Sha’ik another? And would that be Sha’ik former Felisin as tied to the Whirlwind Goddess, or would those be two other powers. Are there others vying for his soul? He’d be a good asset for just about anyone, one would think.
“There are no powers in this world—or any other—that pose such absolute threat.” Bairoth is usually a smart guy, but here I think he’s a little too sure of himself, and displaying the Teblor provincialism.
Nice little touch, that figure clearing rocks with an “almost obsessive rhythm”—yeah, almost.
I’m with you Amanda—there are so many characters and so many good ones, but even when you’re enjoying the ones you’re with, you miss the others. I also missed Mappo and I love our reintroduction to him as classic Mappo—offering food, nonchalant, amicable.
Maybe it’s just me, but Mappo’s lines about the mountain goats—”You always see them scampering and clambering way up there, and so you naturally believe they never make a misstep. Well, another delusion shattered.”—have a bit more substance to them than a funny story. I feel you could slide in “gods” for them, or maybe “kings” or “emperors” or “commanders” and it has a bit more depth to it. Not sure if Erikson meant that, but I like that reading so I’m gonna keep it anyway.
Love that stare-down between Icarium and Karsa.
Mappo’s line regarding Ryllandaras is interesting. Is the D’ivers’ growing power ominous and curious “given the chaos” in the sense that it’s too bad more chaos is being added by Ryllandaras, or is it in the sense that his growing power means there is growing chaos already and Ryllandaras is using it, or is it strange that one with chaos in his heart can fashion it into such power and growth? Or something else?
Again, good Karsa humor with the “love of words” line regarding Icarium.
I also like the “battle.” Erikson has certainly set us up here for something epic, world-shattering, life-changing. And instead we get “snick.” And then a “thump.” Then a “Bastard broke my sword” and “he knew no more.” Great subversion of reader expectations. Nice touch with the flowers, too.
“He has lived too long.” One wonders how many one could say this about.
Seven-headed hound. We have some references to link this with already.
I like the very tiny touch of Karsa knowing if any bridge in the area is going to survive the rebellion, it would be the Malazan-built one. Not that cheap Seven cities stuff.
Another example of how the “rebellion” is one that’s kind of hard to get behind: “it had been little more than a struggle between those who would be in charge,” and not in any way meant to address actual inequality. Once again, a line that echoes in today’s world.
Karsa seems to have learned his lesson from the Calm incident: “I shall not underestimate what I do not understand.”
While we’ve had lots of examples of rethinking the Imass, and this will be another one, that field of bones is also a pretty good reminder of what they faced.
And then it turns again: “In the wars with the T’lan Imass, that word [evil] had no place.” One would like to think in a genocidal war, the idea of “evil” might have popped up once or twice.
“I must answer injustice”—that’s gonna be one busy Teblor!
I love that characterization of Karsa: “ignorance, honed into a weapon.” Like you say Amanda, so Karsa.
Another one of those moments where the camera zooms in as the characters gather together to say something important, then the sound dies and the camera pulls out.
Bairoth’s line on Karsa circling the truth like a wolf around an elk is a nice echo of the earlier usage when Karsa was the elk and Ryllandaras the wolves.
That’s lots and lots of “failed.” Not exactly a forgiving bunch the T’lan Imass.
Urugal’s line on how the Ritual failed them reminds me a bit of the Bloodguard from Donaldson.
I think this is the chapter we really see Karsa come into his own. We see his growth, his understanding, his ability to plan, to hide his plans. Don’t be disappointed yet Amanda. Karsa may just be the tiger by the tail… Witness….
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 fantasyliterature.com.
Amanda Rutter contributes reviews and a regular World Wide Wednesday post to fantasyliterature.com, as well as reviews for her own site floortoceilingbooks.com (covering more genres than just speculative), Vector Reviews and Hub magazine.