Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Return of the Crimson Guard, Book Two, Chapter Five, Part One |

Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Return of the Crimson Guard, Book Two, Chapter Five, Part One



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 readers. In this article, we’ll cover the first half of Chapter Five of the second part of Return of the Crimson Guard (RotCG).

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.

Note: We will split Chapter Five at the roughly halfway point (pg. 456 in my print and Kindle versions) as follows:

Today’s post ends with “Toc bowed: ‘I thank you, Imotan of the White Jackal.’”

Wednesday’s post begins with “Nait threw another handful of dried dung on to the fire and sat back in disgust.”


Book Two, Chapter Five, Part One


Nevall Od’ Orr (“once” chief factor in Cawn) goes to meet the Empress’ fleet. He tells Ranath, a Claw, that the Guard took everything, but Ranath knows the Guard didn’t take all the cash and says the “throne” (making no distinction between Rel and Laseen here) will have everything inside every trading house’s vault, as well as the commitment of troops.


Tinsmith, now Captain, calls a meeting of the Harbor Guard, which is now part of Laseen’s force. With Tinsmith is Temper, who has been training them mercilessly. Tinsmith announces they’ll march right out and tells them that they are the “anchor” of the battalion. He continues on with a description of the force’s organization/deployment.


Possum watches as Laseen exits then rides off. He follows, collecting info from his network as he does so. He wonders at a plan of Ranath’s that will “double Laseen’s forces eventually,” concerned about where the “intelligence behind the deal [came] from.” Coil, Possum’s least favorite commander, rides beside him and seems to make some veiled insinuations, including possibly that she was the “source of all these initiatives and unexplained actions on the part of so many of the Claw.” He thinks he would strike now to get rid of this parallel command structure, save for what they have coming up. He vows to kill her himself, though, afterward, if she survives.


In Unta, Captain Tazal reports to Rel in the throne room, telling him Jurda fort surrendered to the Wickans due to not enough defenders. Rel asks what Tazal would advise now that Dom is gone and Tazal says one war at a time—the Wickans have hit the Empire at a bad time and so they should negotiate with them, buy them off, then deal with them once the other issues have been resolved. Rel mutters to himself that he wishes to wipe the Wickan “vermin” from the world, but agrees and names Tazal as the envoy.


Rel is surprised that Oryan is still around, but Oryan tells him the Wickans aren’t such a big deal and that Rel’s flaw is his focus on personal grudges and vendettas, adding that Rel will never succeed until he changes this. Angered and insulted, Rel eventually agrees, then asks about Taya. Oryan replies there’s no been no news since she joined Laseen’s fleet. They are interrupted by a clerk with news of two noble families insistent on a hearing regarding a property dispute. Rel tells him to divide whatever property in half, even if the property is a slave. He assumes this will cut down on such disputes.


As the Kite travels around the coast of Jacuruku, Traveller is in a fever. Kyle asks Ereko what the mages did to him, but Ereko responds it is Traveller’s own illness he’s carried with him for months, an illness Ereko has seen grow over time. He adds it is the sword: “That is not a blade meant for any human . . . It brings with it the memories of terrible things . . . It was forged ages ago by the Son of Darkness, Anomandaris.” He says the sword has had many names and that Traveller choosing Vengeance “eats at him like acid.” Ereko says all they can do is pray and as he falls asleep, Kyle prays to Father Wind.


Kyle “wakes” in the Crippled God’s tent. He offers to help Traveller in exchange for Kyle’s sword. Before Kyle can say much, the Queen of Dreams, enraging the Crippled God, interrupts and takes Kyle away. She tells Kyle he is haunted and shows him Stoop, saying “He was banished to Hood’s most distant Paths . . . Yet not utterly for his Vow holds him still. . . [He is] linked to you . . . He chose you to speak to.” She explains that Stoop, as one of the fallen Avowed, has become one of the Brethren. She points out the Kite and Kyle falls asleep.


Kyle wakes to a nervous Ereko, who makes it clear he had some role in Kyle’s recent adventure. He tells Kyle of the Crippled God, saying “That was the poison corrupting the Warrens . . . He, or it, is broken, shattered. His presence here has infected this land . . . We are no doubt a sickness to him for he is from elsewhere. He was brought here unwillingly and now suffers eternally. I pity his plight.” Ereko then apologizes, saying he didn’t expect such a forceful response from those involved, but the good news is it forced the Queen of Dreams’ hand and now Traveller is awake and better. Traveller tells Kyle he realizes he was just suffering from “bad dreams,” and thanks Kyle for his “faith.” He adds that they are close, however, and whatever happens next Kyle must not interfere. Kyle agrees.


They arrive at some ruins which Ereko labels the Dolmens of Tien, which Ereko says must be where K’azz is imprisoned. They land and Ereko leads them toward the center of the Dolmens. As they walk, Traveller asks Kyle if he thinks it wise to release K’azz and Kyle responds that without him the Guard has become a group of murderers. When he names Skinner, Traveller has a strong response. After Kyle explains, Traveller wonders what in fact the Guard “should be” if and when K’azz can return it to that “better” aspect and also if even K’azz can deal with Skinner.


They reach a flat circular plaza at the center and rather than cross, Traveller suggests they work around it. Kyle notices as they do that nothing moves across or lands on the center, “as if the space were somehow sealed off.” They reach a point and Ereko says they have to dig. They reach a stone that covers a hollow and inside find a “desiccated corpse” that Traveller says, “might be him.” Ereko apologizes to Kyle and as Kyle asks for what, a warren opens and Kallor appears. He greets Ereko, saying the two of them have “played the longest waiting game in history.” He tells Ereko to step forward so he [Kallor] can “complete my last remaining vow.” Ereko tells everyone else not to interfere and when Traveller, with tears in his eyes, tells the frantic Kyle he had made this agreement with Ereko, Kyle replies he made no such agreement and reaches for his sword. Traveller stops him and tells the others to stand down, saying, “It is his [Ereko’s] decision.” Kallor runs Ereko through and then, standing over him says, “What’s this—breathing still? I think I will take the head.” Traveller tells him he will not allow it. Kallor asks if Traveller wishes to fight as well and mocks his desire for vengeance. Traveller responds that Ereko made him forswear vengeance. He assures Kallor Ereko will die soon of his wounds and tells Kallor to leave. The two, both proud and stubborn, face off, and Traveller runs Kallor through, though Kyle notices there is no blood on Traveller’s blade. Kallor, stunned, asks Traveller who he is and when Traveller answers, Kallor cries out for the Chained God’s assistance. A portal opens and Kallor disappears into it. Traveller is about to go in after him but Stalker shoves him aside. The portal winks out and when Stalker says he thought Traveller had said he wouldn’t strike Kallor, Traveller responds “that was long overdue for another friend.” Kyle rushes to Ereko, who tells him he goes to join his people whom he has missed, adding that Kyle shouldn’t mourn, “Do not give in to sorrow. I will always be with you, yes? This was necessary.” Traveller says farewell and they watch as Ereko’s skin turns to stone and then crumbles into dust and blows away, “return[ing] to the Earth, his mother,” Traveller says. When Traveller says it is time to go, Kyle blows up, saying Traveller could have prevented this and telling Stalker that Traveller might as well have killed Ereko himself. He takes all that is left of Ereko—his necklace of a single amber-like stone—and follows the others back to the ship. An old man named Jan comes from the village and asks for passage, saying he was shipwrecked here years ago. They head out and Kyle regrets his words to Traveller. Looking over, he sees Traveller’s eyes fixed on Jan.


Inner Li Heng is attacked. Imotan, the White Jackal shaman, finds Toc and tells him to get all his people inside, warning that Ryllandaras is coming. Toc thinks it impossible, but when Imotan says he’s done what he could and leaves, Toc decides to send a message to Urko that the Seti are warning of a “dangerous presence” and then orders Moss to take a troop and warn the perimeter. He decides not to bother Choss with this “utterly outrageous claim.” An hour later, a woman, covered in blood, walks up to him and tells him everyone is dead near the creek. Toc calls his men to arms and tells them to escort all the civilians behind the walls. Screams ring out and he thinks even Kellanved hadn’t been able to kill Ryllandaras and he wonders what if anything they can do against him now.


Storo climbs the inner wall to meet Hurl, telling her if it weren’t for Ahl and his brothers they’d be overrun by now. She tells him “it’s begun” and he looks out to see Toc leading panicked civilians in through the outer gate. Storo tells Hurl to wait until they are clear then “do it.” When she questions the necessity, saying they’ll all be slaughtered, “soldiers and civilians alike,” Storo replies they have no choice then leaves. Hurl watches as the final besiegers/civilians enter through the gate, wondering if the last soldier who comes through, his armor rent and torn, had actually faced off with and survived Ryllandaras. The gate shuts and Hurl readies herself to give the order, thinking, “What has happened to me that I could do such a thing?” She orders munitions to be blown and the outer gate is destroyed. She has a glimpse of something huge and fast coming through and she weeps.


Toc orders a retreat and heads off to find Choss.


Toc tells Choss Ryllandaras is back, which horrifies the commander even as they start to hear the screams as Ryllandaras begins the slaughter. As Choss thinks, Toc recalls how it was Choss who got the army through the nightmare of Dassem’s fall at Y’Ghatan. Choss says it’s Heng that Ryllandaras hates and that their army is just in the way. He calls up all the sappers and their munitions.


Hurl tells Storo the besiegers are abandoning the assault to deal with Ryllandaras. Storo guesses they’ll withdraw and redeploy off the plains to fight Laseen. They notes a continued assault led by sappers on the Inner Gate and a nervous Hurl tells Storo they need to get rid of them. A huge blast blows up the Inner Gate and Hurl and Storo realize Ryllandaras is now their problem, just before Hurl passes out from being struck by shrapnel.


Hurl awakens in a guardhouse filled with the wounded. She watches as a group of soldiers try to fight Ryllandaras, a man-jackal three times the height of the soldiers. She watches Rell fight Ryllandaras, then she fires a sharper just behind the creature. Rell faces Ryllandaras alone and even as she marvels, Hurl grabs another sharper and moves closer. Ryllandaras reaches for her and she throws it then collapses.


She wakes to soldiers pulling her back and then Fallow the healer appears, mentioning he’s also worked on Storo. She passes out again.


Toc and Choss leave the city, closing the gate behind them. Captain Tonley rides to meet them, saying Urko has begun raising a palisade and Choss says they’ll join Urko tonight. Toc asks what about the Guard and Choss says “we’ll make them an offer. They want the Empire broken, don’t they?” As for Heng, they decide to leave it to Ryllandaras. Toc says he’ll talk to the Seti. As they ride, they discuss Rell’s feat in holding off Ryllandaras and Choss says Dassem drove the jackal off, “but he was favored by Hood.” Moss says he’s heard of that kind of fighting before from someone in Genabackis and says Rell must be a Seguleh. When Choss asks what he’s doing here, Moss reminds him Storo’s company was from Genabackis. Toc says Moss appears to know a lot about Storo and decides to send Moss as envoy to the Guard.


Toc rides out to meet the Seti. He comes across the Wildman of the Plains who advises him not to meet with Imotan, saying any vows they’ve exchanged were between Toc and Imotan, not the Seti. Toc thinks the Wildman is an Imperial veteran, possible an NCO. He offers him and his warriors a place in the fight against the Empire, but the Wildman says there is no difference between the Empire and the Talian League. When Toc says the Seti and others would be nearly independent, the Wildman mocks them as empty promises or lies. Toc replies he should carefully consider the offer, saying they will win, that Laseen is so desperate she’s “dragooned all the old veterans on Malaz.” The news seems to shock the Wildman, who rides off after warning Toc not to pursue the allegiance. Toc rides on to meet Imotan. The two discuss Ryllandaras and spar over whether the Malazans had earlier “freed” the Seti from Ryllandaras or not. Imotan says the Seti are a lost people but are now finding a way back. Imotan says Toc shouldn’t have come and Toc notices that relationships seem to have changed. Toc asks the Seti to join in the battle against Laseen, saying it is the last request he will make of them and all obligations will then be considered met. Imotan agrees.


Amanda’s Reaction to Book Two, Chapter Five, Part One

This scene with Nevall Od’ Orr was fantastic right up to the point that he says: “Yet another fleet to sack us.” For me, that shows a lack of trust in the readers of the book, that they won’t already have made the connection and enjoyed the fact that the former Chief Factor of Cawn is experiencing a new fleet on its way.

Ah, poor Nevall—sneaky chap trying to hide all that gold, and now having it torn away from him. He might have known the Claw would know about it though, right? The bit I found most interesting about their conversation was this though:

“The Claw, now, is it? I’ve lost track of all the changes.”

A shrug. “It’s all the same shell game.”

That Master Sergeant—that old veteran that Nait looks at so doubtfully—what’s the betting that he is more than what he seems, hey? I suspect he won’t have any issues with keeping up with all those young’uns.

I like the way that Esslemont writes about Laseen—the way in which she is able to command a crowd and has such presence, despite the fact that she isn’t wearing any marks of her rank. This, for me, presents a side to Laseen we haven’t really yet seen. Sure, she commands with an iron fist, but there is a lot of respect for her. She sort of reminds me of Margaret Thatcher.

Hmm, who has Ranath been chatting to that he is able to do a deal that will double Laseen’s forces?

I like the mysterious exchange between Coil and Possum—it seems to represent exactly the politics and backstabbing nature of the Claw, and the fact that they seem to be flailing a little right now in terms of direction and who is in command. And who is Coil, anyway?

Poor Tazal. This is a guy that I feel sorry for—stuck in the influence of Mallick Rel now that he’s been promoted to Fist. Here is the bit that makes it worse: “Here he was, a mere garrison commander just raised to captain, never dreaming of seeing the inside of the Throne room, being asked for advice from the most powerful man in the Empire?” He’s so naive and I can see bad things in his future.

There are some good links here, in that Mallick Rel is fixated on trying to destroy the Wickans, to the point where both an inferior and an uneasy ally have to try and talk him down. “Though I dearly wish them utterly destroyed they are currently no dire threat, true. No fearsome Wickan curses winging my way.”

Now we know as well that Taya is on the ships with the Empress’ fleet.

Ack, and then just another quick reminder of how horrendous Mallick Rel is, with his decree on the property dispute—that even slaves should be split exactly fifty-fifty between the two claimants….

This information about the sword carried by Traveller is not new, but certainly is the clearest we’ve heard—the fact that he chose vengeance as its name, and that the choice eats into him. Mind you, out of the choices of Anger, Rage and Vengeance perhaps the latter is the least terrible?

This is a statement that I think could be applied to many of the characters in these books: “He thought of the bewildering array of Gods, spirits and heroes he’d heard mentioned since leaving Bael lands. None appealed to him.”

Hmm, so, apart from the fact that the Crippled God has clearly made an appearance in Kyle’s dreams, trying to seduce away from him the sword he carries, I’m not sure what is going on with the woman and the one-handed old man, who appears to be Stoop. Kyle does seem to have a number of people now haunting him.

This here is something that sheds a little light on the character of the Crippled God: “We are no doubt a sickness to him—for he is from elsewhere. He was brought here unwillingly, and now suffers eternally. Myself, I pity his plight.”

The image of these many hundreds of menhirs is very cool and the idea that Prince K’azz is hidden within one of them just helps to heighten that feeling. The conversation between Kyle, Ereko and Traveller at the end of the sequence as they walk through the menhirs and discuss Prince K’azz is a little confusing, because not all of the dialogue is attributed and hence it can be difficult to make out who is talking.

Is there no one at all in this series of books who stops to contemplate and wonder whether someone who has been buried—someone super powerful—should be brought back to the surface?

Ack. Kallor. Not nice to see him back on-screen, considering that the last time we saw him he was doing for Whiskeyjack. That brings back some bad memories.

And it seems those memories are to be compounded now, by the fact that Kallor is the tool by which Ereko falls. I confess that I didn’t feel all that much at Ereko’s fall. We haven’t spent too long with him, I guess, but I feel as though I should have felt more about his demise. Especially with Kyle providing the human element to the scene. But it felt quite hollow and empty.

Hmm, is there any question at all about who Jan really is?

Now that is a terrifying scene, where Toc chooses to disregard Imotan’s warning about Ryllandaras and then sees this ghostly woman in the torn dress who says that everyone is dead….

I feel even more respect for Hurl now that she finds it hard to look Storo in the eyes, thanks to his decision to release Ryllandaras.

I feel much more for poor Hurl than I did at Erekos’ death—her feelings about the part she has to play in this massacre is haunting. “Now she too shared Quon’s Curse. The blood it would spill from this night forward would now also steep her.”

This really is a horrifying plan of Storo’s… It seems a form of very cruel justice that Ryllandaras is to be his punishment.

Rell truly is astounding—this scene where he battles against Ryllandaras is fabulous. The confirmation that he’s one of the Seguleh doesn’t come as a massive surprise!


Bill’s Reaction to Book Two, Chapter Five, Part One

As I mentioned earlier with regard to the Guard and Cawn, it’s easy to feel a bit of schadenfreude over the factors getting their hidden vaults of gold taken from them by Laseen, but one wonders about the effect of al that’s happened to the regular folks of Cawn who haven’t been profiting greedily. Assuming there are some such, of course.

Ranath’s bit of walking on a knife-edge, guessing who is calling the shots—Rel or Laseen—is interesting, coming from someone in the Claw. I especially liked his line: “The gloves are off . . . the claws are unsheathed.” Well, the “glove” is Rel’s group, the Claw is Laseen’s—so which is it?

And now we’ve got Temp in the game, “the old tanned and scarred veteran for whom many had already come to nurture a precious hatred for having drilled them mercilessly.” One has to chuckle to read Nait’s estimation that “the geezer’ll drop [on the march] and he’ll be sure to step on him on the way past.” More likely Temp will be kicking Nait forward then eventually picking him and carrying him. We don’t see much of Temp here though, beyond the introduction. One has to wonder about meetings between such Old Guard loyal to Laseen and Old Guard fighting Laseen. Will we get to see match-ups one on one?

Does anyone else always chuckle and wince every time they read “Korbolo Dom: Sword of the Empire”?

A short scene with Possum but one that raises some intriguing questions:
What is this deal that Ranath proposed that would double, “eventually,” Laseen’s forces? Where did that idea come from? And just who is this Coil? And what is she involved in?

The relationship between Oryan and Rel is interesting. Oryan is clearly disobeying orders and feels secure enough to insult Rel (with the truth, not gratuitously) by pointing out that Rel gets too obsessed with his personal feuds. We see I think some of Rel’s danger as well in that he can, if led to it, master himself and set aside his personal feuds for his greater goals. Not that it makes Rel any more likable or respectable, with his blatant racist thought in this section, referring to the Seti as “vermin,” “unwashed illiterates,” and thinking of himself and his kind as the “more cultured” and clearly superior.

So what is Taya’s mission with the fleet? I’d say we know what is hoped for there.

There seem to be a lot of special swords on that ship with Kyle, huh? So if Traveller’s new sword Vengeance is having this effect, does it imply he’ll eventually and not too far off in the future need to get rid of it somehow?

Clever Ereko, telling Kyle to pray, assuming, I’d guess, that Kyle has caught the attention of those who might hear. Though as he later apologizes for, he wasn’t quite expecting what happens.

Speaking of swords, the Crippled God seems to have a penchant for the special ones as well

So now we find out who/what the Brethren are that we’ve been hearing about. Was anyone else thinking though that this felt a little anti-climactic in that it would have been nice to have Stoop speak to him at that moment?

It’s been a while since we’ve really referenced the Crippled God, so it’s interesting to note that we get some empathy/sympathy for him here from a character we’re clearly meant to be predisposed toward.

So Traveller and Skinner might appear to have an appointment perhaps, judging by Traveller’s reaction to his name. We’ll have to see if that happens or not.

A few comments on the Ereko-Kallor scene. Was this merely the completion of a “fated” event or was it “necessary” because something will ripple outward from it? We’ll have to see.

I know we’re supposed to feel sad here, but I have to confess the scene didn’t do much for me emotionally. I never felt all that connected to Ereko; he’s a likable character and all, and you have to like his peacefulness, but I never connected with him as a character and this was all so foreseen that it had little impact on me. And because I don’t feel all that much for Kyle either, the impact on him doesn’t much affect me as I assume it’s supposed to. Curious as to how others felt.

I obviously don’t like Kallor in this scene, but I do like his ennui-line about vengeance: “And now you want revenge. Yes, yes, it’s all so drearily predictable.” I can just imagine him saying it sounding so bored and impatient with the whole thing over so many lifetimes. I also like his “I appear not to have fled.” But I do think it a little odd that he doesn’t question more Traveller’s claim that those who have met him would run beneath the waves. That’s more than the usual bravado, it seems to me.

Kallor’s mockery seems a bit strained, considering it comes right after the “Chained One, aid me!” cry. Not the only time he’s had to be thus rescued, either.

Jan. The “mystery” seems a bit forced and weak to me, but anyone care to comment?

A few points on the whole Ryllandaras deal: One is that it seems just a little shortsighted to me that nobody out of Storo et al never thought the beastie might be turned against them. Really?

Toc’s mostly complete dismissal of the shaman’s warning seemed a little forced, but much more so to me was his decision to not tell Choss because Choss had too much to think about. We’re given so much in the ensuing pages about all these vows between Imotan and Toc and the respect etc. it seems a little unlikely to me.

While I like Rell holding off Ryllandaras, it’s a nice scene, I’m a little lost on the logistics of what is going on with Hurl in that scene.

Speaking of Rell, we now get the big reveal (which turns out I revealed last post—thanks again Fiddler!) that he is a Seguleh. Though of course we still don’t know why he’s with Storo’s group.

Captain Moss also remains a bit of an enigma, knowing a lot about a lot and seemingly having survived a fight with Ryllandaras.

And, while on the topic of enigmatic characters, just who is this Wildman? We’ve now had several characters spot him as a Malazan veteran. Now Toc thinks of him as possible an NCO and he seems quite dismayed to learn that some of the “old vets” from Malaz might soon be in the field. Hmmm.

I really liked the discussion between Toc and Imotan over Ryllandaras. The way it shows the disconnect between cultures and the arrogance of the “more civilized” culture that everything they do that seems obviously good “frees” or “liberates” the “more primitive” culture. The inability to consider that a different culture might have a different view and that a culture can’t be “done for” so simplistically, as if they are children. This is actually one of my favorite conversations in the entire book, short as it is.

Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.

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


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