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 Twenty-Two 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.
Trull’s force meets with Rhulad’s, while Tomad’s is still heading toward them from the north, the three planning to meet near Brans Keep in the probably decisive battle. Trull joins Fear and Rhulad. Rhulad asks how far Trull will push him but then says he’s missed Trull. Rhulad calls for wine—he’s developed a “taste for it”—and tells them Mayen is pregnant. Rhulad admits her heart remains with Fear, and since the child will never inherit (Rhulad being basically immortal), the offer is to let Fear raise the child with Mayen, whom Rhulad would give up. Trull is stunned by this and thinks Udinaas had a hand in it. Rhulad adds that Mayen is addicted to white nectar, as is the child seemingly. Fear accepts the offer. Later, Trull asks Udinaas why he doesn’t fear Rhulad. Udinaas says he understands debt and is Rhulad’s friend, to which Trull replies “Never betray him.” Mosag arrives and says something a demon from Brous has been freed and needs to be dealt with.
Seren’s group arrives at Letheras and Iron Bars says his group will escort her home.
Brys sends a message to Tehol to stay home and then another to Tehol’s guard saying simply “Gerun Eberict.” Moroch Nevath asks when Brys last saw Turudal Brizad and Brys says they think he has fled the city. Moroch tells him Brizad is the Errant, adding he’s learned there have been Brizad’s (different name, same person) for generations and you can see his face in tapestries and paintings. Moroch says Brizad asked him to do something because Brys will be too busy and now wants Brys’ advice. Brys says he should do it and Moroch leaves. Brys finds the Ceda asleep on the central tile and says he’ll have to move so the king can enter. The Ceda refuses and says he’ll kill anyone who tries to move him.
Trull’s group going after the Brous demon arrives at the village, which is filled with corpses. They find a Forkrul Assail named Serenity. Serenity tells them they are “discord” and it desires “peace.” It attacks, killing Rhulad, then running as it is pressed by the Edur and their two Kenryll’ah demons. The two demons pursue while the others wait for Rhulad to return.
Sandalath Drukorlat and Withal watch as Rhulad screams then eventually settles. He declares Sandalath a “betrayer” and tells them he was killed by a Forkrul Assail before heading off toward the CG. Withal heads to his shack and Sandalath mocks his prayers.
Ezgara enters the new palace, moving around the Ceda, and is declared Emperor as befitting the prophecy of the Seventh Closure.
Seren’s group has marched through a city filled with looting, corpses, mobs, fear and chaos and have arrived at her home. Iron Bars says they’ll find their new employer and then he’ll look her up again. They leave and she enters, finding a dead owl inside.
An omniscient pov noting that the Seventh Closure won’t actually arrive for two days and then listing several ongoing events:
- Gerun Eberict’s soldiers cutting their way through citizens on their way to the ceremony
- Tens of thousands of starlings whirling around the old Azath, now Hold of the Dead
- Tehol heading to Selush’s
- Kettle, now fully alive, sitting on the steps of the Azath tower
- Brizad watching the starlings
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-Two
The Lay of Skinner is one of the poems I’ve actually enjoyed thoroughly. I like the two ways of seeing peace, through death and through dearth of noise. I like the distinction between unmoving and never-moving. We’re seeing the aftermath of a battle in this poem, which is a pointer to where we might be heading soon in Midnight Tides.
Oh, I’ve missed the use of the word “convergence” and finally we see it here. *grins*
It strikes me that this is patently untrue, given that we’ve seen a number of discussions about how simple warfare cannot destroy either the Letheras or the Edur: “…and there the fate of Lether, and indeed of the Edur empire, would be decided in a single battle.”
These are ominous sounds and sights to accompany Trull’s first encounter with Rhulad since things started going south for him. Giving an indication of what is to come?
Certainly there is immediately a distinct difference between the way Rhulad greets Fear and then Trull—with the former, there is a hand on the shoulder; with the latter there is distance and an irritation when he is asked a question. Doesn’t bode well for our fave Edur, does it? He is certainly antagonistic, but then softens to say that “we’ve missed you.” Which of the “we” has missed Trull and which is looking to start a fight with him?
This is a wonderful section:
“By the Sisters, what has awakened you, Rhulad? Who has awakened you?” Trull snapped his gaze back to Udinaas, and mentally reeled in sudden realization. “Udinaas? This…this slave?”
For now, at least, Rhulad is truly a tragic character—one who recognises the pain he has caused, recognises that his is an eternal burden if he chooses to make it so. I guess at this point he might be thinking that he is “better the devil you know” when it comes to the sword—if he chose to relinquish it, then the Crippled God would find another to take it up, whereas if Rhulad keeps it and recognises that it is a burden rather than a gift, then he is more in control.
Hmm, so Mayen’s addiction has passed on in some degree to the child she bears. Might be a factor later, just marking it.
I sort of like that Fear gets Mayen back, but, once again, she isn’t really getting any sort of say in things, is she? Being passed around like some sort of unwanted gift! I seriously don’t envy her the life she has right now.
Fear must truly love Mayen, to be willing to take on her and a child under the scornful gaze of the Edur, to whom there has been no precedent of this sort of thing happening.
This exchange bodes ill:
Trull studied the slave for a half-dozen heartbeats. “Never betray him, Udinaas. Never.”
The Letherii’s gaze skittered away. He drank more wine.
“I heard you,” the man said in a grating voice.
Ouch—that is a really pointed dig at Hannan Mosag, as he advises them to deal with a demon and they remind him of what occurred last time they did him a favour. A dark chortle, to be sure.
Oh, I was SO close to realising who the consort was! Must confess, the Errant had sort of crossed my mind, since a few of you hinted he would be important later in the book, but it seemed a bit of a leap to guess it. Seems there were less clues about the Errant than about Mael. Interesting that we’ve had two gods to guess in this tale….
I think Brys does well here, considering he’s told that a god has been walking the palace all this time!
And another little funny: “May the Errant be with you.” *snorts*
What has Ceda painted on the tile? Who does he now represent?
Oh, this chapter is bringing the comedy moments:
“Or pee? I need to pee.”
“You should have thought of that before we left,” the first demon said.
It is enormously funny contemplating these two demons jigging up and down because they need the loo! In fact, in all these exchanges, do the demons not come across very much as children?
They freed a Forkrul Assail? Uh oh!
Now this is utterly scary—Serenity (and presuming all Forkrul Assail) sees discord merely in the tumult of voices around it, and wants to bring peace. This is the same peace we saw in the poem at the start of the chapter. The peace of the grave. The Forkrul Assail will kill everyone to achieve this. My god!
And they’re pretty nifty fighters as well, non? From the descriptions, it sort of reminded me of a martial arts expert going up against somebody who is just a street fighter with no finesse—all those flowing movements and hits that manage to achieve more damage than if more force were used.
This shouting between Withal and Sandalath—is it the type that might become love? Maybe not… It’s interesting that Sandalath says that the sword isn’t evil, it’s the person wielding it—especially since we’d sort of seen a different side of Rhulad in this chapter. Or perhaps the Rhulad that appears before the Crippled God is the true Rhulad, without his multiple layers—the selfish boy who just dreams of power.
The Letheras are determined that the prophecy is about them, aren’t they? To the point of crowning emperor someone who isn’t going to fit the role: “Ezgara sat on the throne. Looking old and frail and lost.”
Seren is actively putting herself into a situation where she might end up raped again. Why, why, why? “Seren Pedac’s…empire,” she whispered. And she had never felt so alone.
A dead owl? Interesting link back to the owls we saw at the start of the novel.
This is a real understatement: “Unpleasant birds,” he said to himself, “starlings…” They certainly are, given that they accompany one Serenity!
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-Two
I love how Rhulad, Emperor of the Edur, Wielder of the Sword of Life and Death, can still get irritated by mention of his mother. Some things are just universal.
I really like the interaction among the brothers here. The way they speak mostly honestly, the emotions bared, the stark recognition of what had gone before, the way they admit to “missing each other” and bemoan warmly, humorously the absence of Bidinas. There is a warmth here despite all that has transpired and one gets a glimpse of what might have happened had Rhulad had a chance to mature into an adult Edur, had we seen him as other than an obnoxious adolescent. And it is, of course, all made more poignant, tinged with sorrow, since we as readers know this is merely the lull before the storm, the little oasis in the desert, and we’re merely waiting for the precipitating event that will plunge them all into the shorning of Trull. It’s really well done by Erikson I think to give us this moment to add to the emotional richness of the novel’s events.
Rhulad does come off as changed here: the willingness to give up Mayen and the child, the acceptance that Mayen loves Fear not him, the confession that he had committed a wrong in taking her, the resigned bitter knowledge that the sword is at least as much “burden” as prize, his sorrow over Mayen’s addiction and mature acceptance that her path back will be long and hard, his quick decision-making/leadership when Mosag brings the news of the demon and his willingness to deal with it personal. But most movingly I think, the way he wants to reach out to Fear and touch him but then, fearing error, looks to his big brother Trull (Trull of all people) for guidance, and the way he accepts it. It’s a great scene I think, nicely and simply summed up in “Brothers, and nothing more.”
Also hard not to like Udinaas in this chapter and sympathize with him (not always easy to do). The way he is portrayed as “exhausted.” The quiet sad dignity in his responses to Trull: I understand the notion of debt,” “I am his friend,” “A subject who’s not afraid of him.” But as you say Amanda, how ominous that warning from Trull sounds.
That’s simply a great moment, the reference to a new quest from Mosag. The humor of it, of course, but I also love the slow build-up to it: how Trull gives us the joke—”Would that Binadas were here”—and then there is the slow, slow movement of the joke from line to realization one at a time and only amongst the brothers, leaving Mosag out of the joke.
Ahh, and now it can be told! I give you this, from page 253:
Ceda: “Who forwarded the Chancellor’s request?
Brys: “What? Oh, Turudal Brizad.”
Ceda: “Ah, yes. Such an errant, troubled lad.”
And thus for the lack of a capital letter….
We’ll see much more of the Errant now that he’s been revealed.
And yes, that line “May the Errant be with you” cracks me up each time, including now as I type it.
Well, Brous certainly look a little different from last we saw. Perhaps a little lesson in letting sleeping barrows lie….
Not only are the “I have to pee” and “I think of retching every time I look at you” funny, but I like how Erikson conveys this is merely the tip of the iceberg of these two via Rhulad’s “We’ve had to listen to you the entire journey. No more, lest I decide to kill you first.” Or the Edur version of “So help me, if I have to turn this car around…” They are indeed “strange tyrants.”
Yes, you’ve now gotten the horror of the Forkrul Assail and their obsession with peace and order. As for their “Nifty fighting” Amanda, well, um, must keep quiet, must hold off until later books must keep comments to self for now….
Continuing the humor, I also enjoyed Withal’s dry respose to Sandalath’s concern over Rhulad’s screaming: “It isn’t his first visit.”
As for love, well, vastly different man and woman thrown together into a rough situation with only themselves to count on. We know what Hollywood would do with that, will Erikson?
How’s that for an image: “Holding the Lether crown on a blood-red pillow.” Do you think the ceremonial folks specifically asked for “blood red”?
Still humorous, but more bitterly, darkly so, is Nifadas’ intoning “This day, Lether becomes an empire.” Hmm, let us count the humorous contrasts:
a) he’a a eunuch
b) that “blood-red” pillow
c) the having to move around the crazy guy—now that’s a sign of being all-powerful
d) the hordes of onlookers—you know, the dozen or so
e) the last remnants of the almost-defeated army readying a last defense
I’m not sure we needed that “old and frail and lost” line at the end of the scene.
And if we didn’t’ get it from the ceremony, we get it from the sights and sounds of Seren’s movement to her home and that parallel to Seren entering her own home—also dusty, also empty, also with a high-backed chair. I like the parallel, though I could have done without it calling attention to itself with “Seren Pedac’s empire.”
Yes, that owl. I’ll just cut and paste part of my earlier summary of owl appearances for ease and convenience and as a reminder:
The first time we see Trull: “The owl had dropped silently from its branch . . . plucking the mouse from the ground . . . The figure [Trull] who jogged across the glade a dozen heartbeats later saw nothing untoward . . . The owl froze motionless in its hollow . . . Once it had passed, the owl resumed feeding. Dusk belonged to the hunter, and the raptor was not yet done this night . . .”
When Silchas appears to Buruk, Seren, and Hull: [Buruk] “The birth of empire, oh yes, but who shall rule it? . . . Thirty paces ahead, unseen by any of them, an owl sailed across the path, silent on its broad, dark wings. There was blood on its talons, blood around its beak.”
All the owl references have something to do with death. The first one is connected to Trull (who does not see it). The second one is connected to the fulfillment of the Seventh Closure. And then another association with Trull. And death.
And now this one. Not quite the last:
You can tell you’re nearing the end when you get a telescoping out look at a bunch of important places/people. Two more days!
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.