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 Three of Midnight Tides by Steven Erikson (MT).
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.
An Edur corpse, slain by Letherii sorcery, is discovered by the Edur slaves. The Warlock King leads them in longboats to the seal grounds where the Lether ships are becalmed. Mosag calls up something from below and Trull hears horrible screams from the Letherii ships, covered in fog. When it ends, the Edur move in closer—the ships’ holds are now empty and shark carcasses float in the water. Shadow wraiths go on the ships to take them to Lether and Trull realizes this was a challenge to Lether. Trull realizes the Lether crime wasn’t supposed to go unnoticed and wonders why they would do such a suicide mission. He feels something is gone very wrong.
The slaves prepare the Edur corpse. Udinaas sets hot coins on the body so that the body is “sheathed” in coins. Once he’s done the widows begin their mourning as Udinaas muses over freedom and identity, the Letherii attitude toward money. The longboats return and Udinaas can tell by the silence they are greeted with that something terrible has happened. He can still hear a second heartbeat behind his own.
Trull lands and notes that both Rhulad and Mayen aren’t there to greet the returning warriors. Trull tells Uruth the Letherii died “without honor” and monstrously. Uruth is troubled and says this wasn’t an unveiling but a “demonic summoning.” When Trull says the magic wasn’t Emurlahn, Uruth says he shouldn’t have said so out loud. She starts to tell them what to do, but Tomad overrules her. Fear asks what Trull worries about with regard to Rhulad and Mayen. Trull asks what the Stone Bowl is that Uruth was going to send them to but Fear doesn’t tell him. Trull wonders to himself if the Warlock King has made them his servants and if the King himself is actually the master.
Udinaas dreams he’s kneeling in a firestorm, then he sees figures on a plain, impaled, marching, a sense of loss and betrayal. He is dragged by one of the warriors to “the Lady.” He sees Daughter Dawn—Menandore, who tells him he has Locqui blood in the body of a slave and she asks which heart he will ride. After giving “a coward’s answer” first, he says the rides the Wyval. She rapes him and leaves. Feather Witch finds him and when he tells her what happened she says he’s driven mad by the Wyval blood. She disappears and he sees a group of dragon in the distance, surrounded by Wyval and he understands they are going to war.
Trull stands vigil with the corpse of the slain Edur. He had earlier seen Rhulad go into the forest sneakily, toward where Mayen stood vigil. He thinks how Rhulad always has to win, “in everything he must win.” A tall figure (Silchas Ruin) with “twin, empty scabbards” steps toward him. Trull names him The Betrayer. It tells him to move back and when Trull refuses, it heads toward the forest edge. Trull says Father Shadow imprisoned him and Ruin confirms he is still imprisoned save when he dreams. Ruin says “they were shattered . . . I wonder, what did he do with them,” then disappears.
Udinaas wakes. He feels he now knows why he is where he is and feels himself amongst enemies, not Edur but Emurlahn. He meets Uruth who, seemingly upset, tells him to prepare cloaks for Fear, Rhulad, and Trull who will travel this night and to do so secretly.
Trull thinks of the Lether. He sees them in chains, knows he thinks why they worship an empty throne. He knows they justify all they do by the idea of progress, growth, their belief that debt “was the binding force of all nature, of every people and every civilization.” Father Shadow wanted a world where uncertainty could work against certainty. As he thinks, he realized Bloodeye never did make that world, had disappeared in this one. He feels despair. Fear and Rhulad join him and say Uruth is sending them to the Stone Bowl, a secret holy site deep in a nearby Trench. Trull wonders at an Edur holy site in complete darkness. Fear knows of it because he is Weapons Master. He says Tomad had forbidden this, but Fear answers Uruth takes precedence in matters of sorcery. When Rhulad tells Trull he doubts too much, Trull responds he saw Rhulad walk to the cemetery where Mayen was. Rhulad says he was protecting Mayen and Fear refuses to get involved. When Fear leaves them momentarily, Trull and Rhulad spar over Trull’s suspicions. In the Stone Bowl they find countless bones of “Kaschan, the feared enemies of the Edur (K’Chain)” along with Wyval bones and “the massive skull of an Eleint . . . crushed.” Fear explains how Kaschan sorcery attacked Mother Dark and set a ritual in motion to destroy all eventually. He says the skull is Bloodeye’s, that he was killed by Elder Gods and the Eleint, his skull crushed by Kilmandaros and his spirit made a prison. He says Mosag means to avenge this. Fear says Mosag seeks power and does not care where it comes from. He wonders who the “gift” they go to seek is from and tells them Mosag has been in the Stone Bowl. Uruth knows he is “drawing upon deadly powers” and his thoughts are “stained.” Trull says they better hope the Elder Gods are really gone.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Three:
Ouch. This Tiste Edur prayer makes it very clear that the Edur have no idea about what actually happened between the Edur and the Andii in the time of Scabandari: “Face to the Light betrayed by the Dark Father Shadow lies bleeding…”
Here we learn a valuable lesson: never steal seals from the Edur. This is revenge squared. Erikson does well not to show what this actually does for the Letherii; it makes this scene so sinister and dark. The creepy shadow wraiths, the presence from below, the fog hiding all details of what is occurring on the ships surrounding the Edur. Hannan Mosag is most definitely issuing a declaration of war, by the looks of things, and his timing is impeccable in terms of impact.
And I do think that Trull is asking some sensible questions, when he wonders who possibly, among the Letherii, thought it was a good idea to send these ships into Edur waters, knowing that it would mean their death. Or perhaps they were merely testing to what extent Hannan Mosag’s vengeance would go?
“Our shadows are dancing. Letherii and Edur, dancing out a ritual – but these are not steps I can recognize.” I think that Father Shadow would recognize the steps and the paths that Hannan Mosag is taking. They treat their enemies with the same viciousness.
I find this funeral process curiously obscene — the use of money to sheathe the corpse. Especially since the Edur do not seem to attach any use or importance to money on a normal basis. It seems odd, in fact, that this is not the way that the Letherii would treat their dead.
I actually sincerely disagree with this point: “The conquerors always assumed that what they conquered was identity. But the truth was, identity could only be killed from within, and even that gesture was but a chimera.” On the face of this, that might be so, but, when your whole life is controlled, when the manner in which you think and act is monitored, when you are separated from the rest of your people and submersed into a new society, it must be very hard to retain that identity. That identity might slip away with the intention to do so.
And a timely reminder that the Tiste Edur are as long-lived as their Andii cousins: “Is that what comes when you live a hundred thousand years?” Do the Letherii live as long? I’m guessing not. For some reason, that makes their slavery by the Edur even more offensive — their brief flicker of a life is stolen away by someone who will outlive them by an eternity!
What has taken control of Udinaas?
So… Now we find that Hannan Mosag has probably been pulling power from another source than Kurald Emurlahn. I wonder if I can take a guess? Is it that pesky Crippled God again, or is it another nasty that we don’t yet know about?
Is it only me who finds the name Fear causing some issues as I read? Occasionally I have to read and re-read a sentence when Fear’s name comes up to ensure understanding, because it is an actual word (and certainly one that is used frequently in this series!) Also, the name Fear seems to be an odd one for a warrior.
Wow, Udinaas’ dream is full of portents and foreboding. This Menandore, Daughter Dawn she seems to have something to do with dragons, what with her head dress and the fact that she is drawn to Udinaas, who, it is suggested, now has the blood of Wyvals within him and poisoning his mind. Is she Daughter Dawn an Eleint? The undead warriors call her the Lady, and there is a Lady listed under the people of the Dragon Hold. (There is a Queen as well, which she might be, but I’m thinking the Lady gives it away). And now she has “used” Udinaas. As an aside, I do not like rape, of men or women. It’s such a horrible plot device I hope that Erikson uses it to further the plot. What child is it that the Lady will have?
And are the dragons truly going to war? Against whom?
But, of course, Feather Witch prompts doubt that possibly this is just a bad dream, and that his mind his drifting through poison. It feels so very important, though. Especially the fact that an Edur goddess is visiting one of the Letherii.
The situation between Mayen and Rhulad feels as though it is a good illustration of Trull’s inaction, his silence. He uses the vigil to excuse himself from having to follow Rhulad to his possible tryst if he had some of his younger brother’s hot blood, nothing would prevent him from discovering whether Mayen is betraying Fear.
I like the fact that Rhulad is given this motive of competitiveness for going after Mayen it feels so realistic. Siblings are so often in desperate competition with each other, and will only develop a desire for a particular item toy, friend, sweet as soon as they see their brother or sister claiming it. I know that I did that with my brother, anyway! Desperate lust for Mayen would have felt silly and too associated with epic fantasy it’s a storyline I’ve certainly seen before. This more prosaic reason is definitely more effective.
What on earth does Silchas Ruin (because I think it is him) mean when he says: “They were shattered […] Long ago. Fragments scattered across a battlefield. Why would anyone want them? Those broken shards can never be reunited. They are, each and every one, now folded in on themselves. So, I wonder, what did he do with them?” Is this to do with Kurald Emurlahn?
Ha, so Udinaas is now working for the pleasure of Mother Dark? “Feather Witch would have been better, I suppose, but Mother Dark moves unseen even in things such as these.”
It does say a lot about them that the Tiste Edur worship an empty throne, doesn’t it?
Uruth seems to believe that Hannan Mosag is not to hear about this trek to the Stone Circle (which is hidden in darkness anything to do with the Andii? Heh, it is getting to the point now that whenever anyone says ice or darkness even in real life I start to think about their associations within the Malazan world, they’ve become so entrenched as ideas!)
Trull is so clumsy with his questioning of Rhulad concerning why he went to Mayen! I do like Fear’s dry comment that he has no need to ask Rhulad anything about it with Trull around. I have to question why Trull is so concerned by it it truly is none of his business. If Fear wants to turn a blind eye, it is not for Trull to bring it all into the open. I can see Trull having a hidden desire for Mayen, which is why he is so offended by Rhulad’s interest in the maiden…
This is so deeply profound the idea that a perception can become truth in someone’s mind: “Fear spoke to me not long ago. Of how one is perceived, rather than how one truly is. How the power of the former can overwhelm that of the latter. How, indeed, perception shapes truth like waves on a stone.”
I forget which warren is Kaschan? The warren of the K’Chain Che’Malle? [Bill: Yes.]
It feels, at the end of this chapter, as though we are finally given an indication of what this world and this story are all about. This story about the vengeance of the K’Chain Che’Malle against Mother Dark and the entire world. The fact that the world is spiralling into some black hole that the death of Mother Dark will indicate the death of Shadow as well. “The Tiste Invasions drove the Kaschan to their last act. Father Shadow earned the enmity of every Elder God, of every ascendant. Because of the Kaschan ritual, the eternal game among Dark, Light and Shadow would one day end. And with it, all of existence.”
Seems a fitting point to stop….
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Three:
I like how Erikson introduces Daughter Menandore so early, putting that name in front of us so we’ll be set for her actual appearance later on.
Well, that a pretty horrific scene. Note that it isn’t just Trull—the troublesome, questioning one—horrified by what happened there, by how vengeance was achieved. Most if not all of the Edur warriors are. But how many will express it?
I like how Erikson spends some time with this funereal ritual (the anthropologist in him again I assume). Too often we get shorthand versions of cultures—they’re a “horse” people, they’re a “wandering” people, etc. We don’t often see the actual rites and rituals that are regular, important, telling occurrences among them. This particular one, of course, is setting us up for an event down the road, but even were that not so, I’d still be happy this scene, the vigil, etc. were in here.
I’m not so sure Amanda, when you say “when you are separated from your people, your life controlled . . . it must be hard to retain identity,” you are disagreeing all that much with the sentiment “the conquerors always assumed that what they conquered was identity. But the truth was, identity could only be killed from within, and even that gesture was but a chimera.” I think Udinaas would agree it is hard. But doesn’t “hard” imply that the conquered then have control? Not that I’m saying Udinaas is correct—it is POV after all, not omniscience. And to be honest, I’m not sure what he means when he thinks even killing identity from within is a chimera, as that seems to contradict what he just said. That’s one of those times where I wish Erikson had stopped a few words short. The truth is identity can only be killed from within except that isn’t true? Is this clever for clever’s sake? Or Udinaas thinking through things and changing his mind? I like the first line of that section much better—it’s nice and crisp and clean and clear. And I think correct—conquerors do, in my mind, assume they conquer identity and so are always perpetually surprised at resistance, a reminder that identity remains.
Once again, we can see signs of just why Trull ends up shorn. Not simply because he questions, but because he does so out loud, in public; he speaks what some may silently think.
Trull’s question is a good one: Is Mosag the master? And if not, who is? We’ve seen this pattern before…. So, yes, Amanda, I would say your guess of the Crippled God is a pretty good one. It is, after all, his M.O. to work behind the scenes.
Well, Menandore sure makes an entrance, hmm? I’m not sure you’re supposed to “like” it, Amanda. But I think you mean that it being used to manipulate the reader? I know we’ve discussed this before. I do “like” it when it isn’t used bluntly to manipulate. I actually prefer its presence because not having it there to me glosses over to easily what really happens in war, or between those with power and those without. Don’t forget we’ve got two rapes where “seed” is taken. So what children come of it is, yes, something to look for.
The idea of dragons going to war is certainly a pretty big tease, I’d say. Remember the Ceda’s tiles reading of a Gate associated with Dragons—could this be it?
It’s sort of funny that the Edur think, “In darkness prowled deceit” but in shadow lies truth.
We also get, in a throwaway line, a pretty horrific bit of info about the Edur’s beliefs: they kill children delivered during deep dark—moonless dark it appears. One hopes they do all they can to prevent the baby from being delivered at that point.
We’ve seen the horrible side of the Warlock King, but in typical Malazan series fashion, we’re now offered up a different side of him. Not only has he unified the tribes, he has stopped (or tried hard to stop) the Edur focus on vengeance, seeing what it has done to his people, how it has weakened them. In this, at least, he certainly acts as a king should, as protector of his people, as shepherd. I also like how Erikson frames this topic, speaking of how the dead and the old are the first to incite vengeance so as to keep the old ways going and so give meaning/justification to their lives. We’ve seen something similar in the way the old men in Karsa’s tribe kept their ways going for much the same reason.
“Rhulad must win.” Something to keep in mind.
An interesting, weighted line from Silchas Ruin to Trull: “is it betrayal that strangles you?” How many meanings to that simple question. Is it Ruin’s power as “The Betrayer”? Is it fear that Rhulad betrays Fear? That Mayen betrays Fear? That Trull betrays the King?
I’m going with the shards being the shattered warren Amanda. If it’s something different, I don’t remember it from earlier readings, so that’s how I’m taking it at this point.
So we know that the Edur have their history wrong with regard to Father Shadow and the Betrayer. But it’s interesting that within that error Trull still comes up with one of the prevalent themes of the series—the war between uncertainty and certitude. We’ve seen this brought up multiple times now—the evils of certainty—and so here we have Father Shadow as the defender of uncertainty. Which does make sense—”shadow” is after all uncertain, in-between, unclear, while utter dark or utter light are both seemingly “certain” in what they are.
Once again, hard not to read these descriptions of Lether and not feel indictment of our own modern world, or if not indictment, at least echoes of it. A world justified by the idea of Progress. How often have we seen this done? Imperialism, Manifest Destiny, environmental destruction, the list goes on. A world where perpetual growth is seen as necessity—grow or die. But how much more stuff can we buy? And certainly we’ve all become a bit more aware of the way debt threads throughout all our lives, whether it be our own, our neighbor’s, or someone’s across the globe.
Poor Trull. Standing alone in a dusky woods over a corpse and some “rotting leaves” and realizing he stands on nothing anymore. And that’s before he learns what’s in the Stone Bowl.
Speaking of the Stone Bowl, which is a pretty heavy bit of knowledge to drop. The idea that in desperation, and in a really big version of “misery loves company”, the K’Chain put together a ritual that sealed off Kurald Galain, drove Mother Dark to the core of the Abyss, where she “devours” all matter until she herself is dead, and also all Light, all Shadow, and, well, just “all.” Lots of ways to read this of course. As Amanda says, that certainly sounds like a black hole. Or the ultimate death of the universe. Like entropy. Like the final victory of chaos. And let’s not forget we’ve got that wagon with the Gate being pursued endlessly by chaos—perhaps the very manifestation of this ritual? The thing we should keep in mind, with all this however, is that recall we’re getting this from people who may or may not really know the truth of it all. So we’ll have to see if we get any confirmation or rejection of this concept as we move forward. That said, the final death of all matter certainly ups the stakes a bit. Talk amongst yourselves . . .
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.