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 Nine 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.
Rhulad, in agonizing pain, appears on the Crippled God’s beach and is met by Withal and the three Nachts. Withal introduces himself and the Nachts (they watch a strange nest ritual), then leads him to the Crippled God, whom he refers to as his master and implies his “gifts” are mixed blessings. The CG discusses peace and its effects on a culture. He tells Rhulad Mosag has betrayed him (the CG), seeking the power of the CG for peace rather than conquest. He has chosen Rhulad now and tells him the sword has much power, but it will be paid for by Rhulad’s multiple deaths. Withal sees ambition take hold of Rhulad.
Awaiting the delegation, Seren is relieved, thinking neither Buruk nor Mosag want war, despite those back in Lether who do. She thinks Hull too wants war and now must find a different way to get it. The Sengar sons return with Rhulad’s body. Seren has a sense of foreboding. Buruk wonders how Tomad will take this news as he once rivaled Mosag for the throne. Mosag and his K’risnan move toward the scene.
Udinaas is indifferent toward Rhulad’s death and thinks only that he’ll have to prepare the body. Mosag is furious that Rhulad touched (and still holds) the sword. He orders it cut from Rhulad’s fingers but Uruth says such mutilation is forbidden. Trull calms them by saying perhaps when Rhulad thaws the sword can be salvaged. They agree to delay any decision; Udinaas takes the body to begin preparing it.
Buruk doesn’t like what he heard about a gift of a sword or how shaken Mosag was. He worries about an alliance with the Jheck but Seren says no, they fought the Jheck. Seren is intrigued by Trull. She and Buruk wonder at the oddity of the sword being frozen in his Rhulad’s grip. Buruk thinks this is bad for the delegation, but Seren says perhaps not as the Edur are off balance and divided perhaps.
Udinaas is helped by several other Letherii slaves in getting the body to the preparation site. The others fantasize about looting the Edur barrows when Lether defeats them, then paying off their debts. Udinaas says some debts can’t be paid off with money and Irim says they all know he wants Feather Witch and they pity the impossibility of it. Udinaas is left alone to prepare the body.
Alone, Trull thinks how this conflict might tear the Edur apart and how Mosag should have shown restraint and handled it behind the scenes. He agonizes over his mistrust of Rhulad. He recalls the strangers watching the scene and thinks Mosag’s strategy is a debacle. He feels a sense of dread.
Udinaas has filled Rhulad’s nose and ears with wax and is placing gold coins on the body. He does 163 coins covering the front and pours hot wax over it, then waits for it cool before turning the body over and resuming.
Fear tells Trull the mourning has begun and that Mosag has declared their mission a failure and thinks they betrayed him. Trull says he wonders if Mosag wasn’t the betrayer and when Fear notes Trull doubted the mission from the start, Trull says he doubts it even more now, worried about the sorcery. Their parents and Mosag are meeting now to negotiate what will be done while Binadas is off being healed. Fear says he too feels something ominous is about to happen. Trull suggests they rest and before leaving, Fear says he hopes Trull is always by his side. He thinks how Theradas had told him the group had heard his battle with the Jheck and how he, Trull, has already forgotten much of it. He thinks on the burdens of the past and of memory, wonders how immortals deal with it. He falls asleep, filled with sorrow and despair.
Udinaas turns Rhulad’s body over and is readying to do the other side when Rhulad screams.
Trull is dreaming of the Jheck and is wakened by Rhulad’s screams. He and Fear head off to the preparation building. Mayen and Feather Witch are in the doorway, unmoving. Fear sees Rhulad, then orders Mayen to keep everyone out save Tomad, Uruth, and Mosag. He and Trull enter and see Udinaas trying to comfort the screaming Rhulad. They watch as Udinaas slowly calms him then removes the coins from his eyes. Trull is surprised by Udinaas’ gentleness and compassion. Udinaas starts to leave when he is done with the eye coins but Rhulad grabs him and Trull asks him to stay for a little while, though he knows Udinaas is exhausted. Trull is disturbed when Rhulad says he still holds the sword and smiles, saying, “this is what he meant.” Trull thinks all is changed. He turns to order Feather Witch but she runs away. Tomad and Uruth and Mosag enter.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Nine:
Huh! This time I don’t have much clue about the meaning behind the poem at the start of the chapter and how it fits into the novel, but it is downright disturbing with the images of the arachnid limbs tumbling you around and ready to eat you later.
I love this scene and the way it links back to the very start of the novel, with Withal serving the Crippled God. The way that Withal is so dry when he says that his god has seen better times, for some reason, had me snorting with laughter. I do find that sometimes Erikson’s moments of humour are lent even more levity by the events that have come before. And I do appreciate dry humour as well!
The sword in the ice was the one forged by Withal? This is how Rhulad (it is him, right?) has come to be sucked into the world where the Crippled God dwells? Now that I think on it, Rhulad has the right disposition to be a servant of the Crippled God—he is riven by jealousy, anger and bitterness about his current position; he is arrogant beyond belief; and now his body has been broken by the sword and battle.
Gosh, what a very cynical view of peace… “Peace, my young warrior, is born of relief, endured in exhaustion, and dies with false remembrance.”
The Crippled God wants war, doesn’t he? Not sure much because of war, but because he doesn’t want peace to exist. And he is giving Hannan Mosag the ability to take the Edur to war against the Letherii, but, as already observed in the previous chapter by Seren, Mosag wants peace. He wants the Edur to be left alone, to be powerful over the Letherii so that war does not happen again. Which must also be why he has united all the Edur tribes under one banner.
Hull’s dilemma is presented in truly stark terms. Either he sets aside his attempt to cause war, or he aligns himself with people he despises. No wonder he’s headed off for a walk!
Buruk is the first person to mention that Tomad Sengar was a rival claimant for the throne, with regards to the death of Rhulad and the damage to the other Sengar sons, but I am betting he won’t be the last…
We get a reminder that Udinaas and the Letherii slaves, despite being treated (mostly) kindly, have no feelings about the death of their Edur masters. Udinaas’ rather cold assessment of which coin will be used to dress Rhulad brings it home.
Now we see that the Crippled God, or perhaps some other player, is beginning to create conflict amongst the Edur, let alone between the Edur and the Letherii. I can imagine Uruth’s horror and disgust at the idea of Rhulad’s body being mutilated just so that Hannan Mosag can have a sword. There is another great emphasis on how much stock the Edur put into rituals and honour—first we have Trull stating that they have an obligation to Mosag to give him the sword, and then Udinaas using ritual to calm the agitation between the Edur.
Awww, Seren likes Trull!
It is chilling that Rhulad’s “jaw had opened in death, as if voicing a silent, endless scream” given that we know what happened to him after death, and what he goes on to.
Another indication of just how much the Edur set store by tradition is where Trull thinks: “But now there could be no chance of secrecy. The quarrel had been witnessed, and, in accordance with tradition, so too must the resolution.” I have to say, however distasteful it seems, I am with Trull when he muses on the fact that no one would have known had Rhulad’s fingers been “adjusted” come time for the burial…
It is interesting to see here the start of what made Trull such an enigmatic and mournful character in House of Chains. His feelings of guilt and remorse over his attitude towards his brother must definitely have been a contributing factor in how he developed over the years.
I love this paragraph—it is so utterly true. We never really know the significant events until handed the gift of hindsight: “They had passed through fraught events, all unmindful of significance, of hidden truths. The exigencies of survival had forced upon them a kind of carelessness.”
Another very wise and honest observation here about how people respond to death: “The Edur use coins. Letherii use linen, lead and stone. In both, the need to cover, to disguise, to hide away the horrible absence writ there in that motionless face.”
It’s an interesting perspective that Trull has concerning the Soletaken, and the fact that they are meant to be creatures of immense power. Were the Edur mistold, thanks to the draconean Soletaken in their past and present?
This whole scene that we are drip-fed, showing Udinaas treating the corpse of Rhulas is increasingly tense and ominous. If this were a movie, we’d be hearing that music, the type that is played when a girl is in a house alone and is creeping around and we just know that there is someone about to jump out on her…. Erikson writes this beautifully, building and building to that climax of Rhulad suddenly coming back to life!
Then we have Trull’s dream—equally dark and creepy. This is some atmospheric stuff.
I think me that we are starting to reach the point where Midnight Tides will start to accelerate. I simply could not put this chapter down, my skin creeping as I read those last few dreadful scenes. Especially where Rhulad is blind and deaf with panic. I love that he responds only to the words of a slave, which starts to shift Trull’s perceptions of which people count. I love this, especially because Rhulad would never ever have relied on a slave while full of pride and arrogance. It seems fitting that he has to now. I think I’m ready to move onto Chapter Ten immediately!
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Nine
Some of us talked in our last comments section about whether we felt, or should feel, pity for Rhulad, whether or not he is “tragic.” While much of that discussion will become more substantive as we see his later actions, this opening, with his first resurrection, I think does push the reader toward some sense of pity. What with the screaming and the weeping, the freezing cold, and all.
I also liked that dry “who’s seen better days” from Withal about the Crippled God. Talk about an understatement.
This is one of several dissertations on peace and what it brings or not to a culture. Here we get the CG telling Rhulad peace leads to a “dulling of the senses, a decadence . . . growing obsession with low entertainment.” One hears echoes of the end of the Roman Empire. And certainly more than one person has made such connections to what they see as the twilight of the American Empire (or perhaps the Western one, but living here, I just know what I know). This is why we have Jersey Shore and Housewives of Atlanta and a new Fear Factor, not to mention all those Kardashians (so I’m told—I don’t actually know who they are) some would argue. The CG then moves on to those value words—”honor, loyalty, sacrifice”—and says they become mere words, diluted by shallow overuse the more removed they are from actual use. At this point, I’m waiting for the CG to tell Rhulad he can’t handle the truth: “We use words like “honor,” “code,” “loyalty.” We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline!” Again, certainly a charge levied against modern western culture—the way these values get de-valued by being bandied about in campaign speeches, PR moves, corporate ads, etc.
The CG goes moves on to the veterans, sitting in taverns telling tales of the good old days, bemoaning the decline of modern society (something we saw in Karsa’s tale via his grandfather). And then speaks to how, in order to put the society back on the path to those prized values, an enemy must be found. And if one doesn’t exist, one must be manufactured. (no, this never has any modern real-world relevance). Not only does this revitalize the values (allegedly), but it has all those nice side benefits: the king gets to distract the people from domestic issues, the economy gets bolstered as people begin to profit off of war, and a greater sense of unified purpose begins to spread, thanks to the ease with which the war footing lets the ruling group censor/kill off those who might raise objections.
For all that we’ve had the Crippled God set up as the villain of this series, for all we’ve seen of the effects of his actions, we’ve had relatively little actual facetime with him and his acuity here in analyzing culture is perhaps a bit unexpected, whether one agrees with his statements or not. These are substantive matters, not the mustache-curling vengeful ravings of a madman.
I like how he goes to Withal as a soldier (you could hear that a few paragraphs ago in Withal’s “get on your feet” attitude toward Rhulad) and Withal’s response that those virtues belong to silence, that true soldiers don’t spin tales of their warring days because they lived through them (you’ll often hear this from veterans families—the way they rarely talk of their war experience) and how what angers him is not their devaluation so much as their twisting into a means of encouraging more war, the way they are used to garner more soldiers to live through those horrors.
There’s an interesting reveal with regard to Mosag—he did treat with the Crippled God but is trying to use the power offered simply to protect his people rather than conquer the Letherii, much to the CG’s dismay (and now we can cue the mustache twirling: “Misshapen fingers curled into fists. ‘Not good enough!'” This is an insight Seren has had herself with regard to Mosag.
And some insight into Rhulad that probably comes as less of a surprise—that ambition writ on his face when the Crippled God tells him of the sword’s mighty power, despite its great cost.
It’s a nicely gloomy, foreboding scene setting for what’s going to happen in the Edur village: “It had been raining steadily . . . Water flowed in turgid streams . . . Acrid clouds hug low . . . coating the wood and stone walls in oily soot.”
Speaking of visual detail, I also like that little line when Seren first sees Rhulad: “a wrapped form—hides of pieces of ice that wept steadily down the side.”
All this dread and tension has been building nicely—Trull’s concerns, the battle at the sword, Trull’s nightmarish, surreal battle as rear guard, his sense of dread, the visual details, now Seren and Buruk’s sense of dread foreboding, then the tension/fighting amongst the Edur—it all builds nicely to that scream of Rhulad’s when he returns.
The introduction of Udinaas in this context is interesting. One because we get him with rain running down his face—a description that in this context could be seen (as I mentioned in an earlier scene with Seren) as ambiguous with regard to whether it is actually rain or tears. But that possibility is jolted aside by his stark indifference—”A young Edur eager for violence—there were plenty of those, and one fewer made little difference.” But then later, that indifference is itself shoved aside by the surprising compassion and gentleness with which he deals with the returned Rhulad.
Note how Udinaas is subtly characterized as a sharp, knowledgeable observer when he watches the sled approach and notes Binadas’ limp (“There must have been considerable damage, to resist the sorcerous healing that must have already been cast upon him”) and the absence of Trull’s spear.
We answered this in our commentary section last post, but for those who missed it, yes, the Jheck are Soletaken wolves.
Seren: “Fear’s brother . . . interested her. Physically attractive, of course. Most Edur were. But there was more.” Just saying….
We see how guilt threatens to overwhelm Trull, and how he wonders that now with Rhulad dead, if they will have to “give answer again and again . . . to crowd the solitary question of his life.” How will this be affected by Rhulad’s resurrection?
Trull’s thoughts about the fact that the Jheck are Soletaken are a bit revealing—the way he refers to a people he’s never seen save this one instance as “primitive, ignorant, barbarians.” Hmm, wonder how the Letherii think of the Edur? I also like how their existence calls into question more of the Edur religion—making the Soletaken nature of Father Shadow and his kin—which had been a thing of awe and wonder—now “sordid.”
Fear admission of uncertainty, his acknowledgement that Trull among them all had been right to question Mosag and events, and his desire to have Trull always by his side are something to keep in mind for future events. Clearly we know things don’t work out for Trull and his kin/kind.
Memory, the past, history have always been major themes/subjects throughout this series, the objects of much examination and philosophical musing by characters. I like the way Trull makes his battle with the Jheck a metaphor for survivors remembering the past—those chaotic moments merging one into the other, disconnected. And then the image of the past as a barrow field filled with dark caverns.
And then that move to the Ascendants, something we’ve not seen considered for a while so probably a good idea to raise the issue again—the effect of living such long lives, the possibility that for some (maybe all), it becomes an “endless road of deed and regret . . . the bones and lives now dust . . . nothing more, because the burden life could carry was so very limited, because life could only walk onward, ever onward, the passage achieving little more than a stirring of dust in its wake.” Sound and fury, anyone? Perhaps this is why so much of the “action” in this series centers on a “march”—as a metaphor for life? And why we have the “Dust” of dreams? What will be “achieved” by the end? That, of course, would be spoiling….
Udinaas as precursor to the Occupy movement? Thinking about the 1% and how their world is so removed from most?
Love the ending to that scene: And then the corpse screamed. Good movement away to leave us there momentarily.
In earlier book sections, I’ve talked about how characters were getting moved into place and here we see that beginning for several of Midnight Tides‘ characters. Rhulad is now the sword-bearer and tool of the Crippled God, something his smile as he realizes he holds it still tells us he desires. Udinaas has been moved to Rhulad’s side, surprisingly to probably both Udinaas and the reader. That scene where he comforts Rhulad is so well done, is quite moving in its gentleness and sense of compassion, especially given the indifference we saw earlier from Udinaas toward Rhulad and given it is a slave-master relationship. Mosag is moved into place as an opponent of Rhulad’s. Trull remains in place as the questioner, the one who objects and fears the future, and now he is set not only against Mosag but his own brother. You’re right Amanda, things will start to accelerate and intensify from here on.
Amanda Rutter contributes reviews and a regular World Wide Wednesday post to fantasyliterature.com, as well as reviews for her own site floortoceilingbooks.com. She is the editor of young adult SF imprint Strange Chemistry.