Welcome to the Malazan Reread 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 the second part of chapter twenty of The Crippled God.
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.
Shorthand is guarding the water wagons and thinking how he likes his new nickname and imagines himself telling tales of the time he and his mates took on the K’Chain. Mid-fantasy, he is struck from behind by soldiers planning to raid the water.
The raiders drag off Shorthand’s body and start to look for the water.
Pores crawls out from inspecting the bottom of a troublesome wagon. Blistig calls him off the wagon and as he jumps down, Pores collapses a bit, meaning the knife aimed at his heart sank into his upper chest instead. Blistig thinks he’ll bleed out and leaves him. Pores sees “The Grey Man” come for him.
Balm wonders where Shorthand is, and as they near the wagon Throatslitter takes an arrow in his butt. Widdershins kills one of the raiders. Helian shows up and is told there are probably snipers out there. She orders an advance, but the raiders have taken off. They realize it was Blistig and consider killing him, but are interrupted by news that Pores needs a healer badly.
Shortnose leads a group after Blistig’s gang as the heavies hear the rumors that Shorthands has a busted skull and probably won’t live and that Throatslitter had been wounded and probably would.
Blistig is found and Kindly orders everyone back and tells them not to touch him, though Balm says Kindly’s threat of execution don’t mean much to soldiers who think they’re dead in a day. Balm informs Kindly that Ruthan Gudd, Sort, and Skanarow are with Blistig, and that the Fist has Pores’ blood on his knife.
Deadsmell thinks Pores should already be dead and doesn’t know what to do without his magic. He decides to try the “radical” and clamp the bleed and sew it up with the help of the T’lan mass.
Blistig tells Kindly his attack on Pores was an “execution” of a “traitor,” saying he’d (Pores) been saving water for the officer corps, and maybe the marines and heavies. Ruthan Gudd tells Blistig that water “reserve” was given to the children, surprising Blistig with their knowledge of his secret stash. He tells them their silly “all in this together” mantra is BS, that “it’s us highborn who’ve earned the greater portion. On account of our greater responsibilities, our greater skills and talents.” He scoffs at the idea of consequences, saying they’re all dead anyway; he did Pores a favor doing it quickly, since “she’s already killed us all.” Kindly tells Blistig he’s not going to execute him; he’s going to fight him. The two “fight” to no result. Blistig tells them again Tavore has killed them all and adds they all know it too; he can see it in their eyes he says. They walk away, with Blistig telling Kindly he’ll wait for him on the other side of Hood’s Gate. Gudd tells Skanarow if anyone waits for Blistig it’d be Pores, but she says she doesn’t buy the whole post-death retribution idea. He tells her he won’t let her die and she asks if he’ll forget her, “like all the rest.” He tells her that’s “the wrong thing to think. For people like me, it’s not forgetting that’s our curse. It’s remembering.” She begs him then to leave her and memory of her behind, words he thinks he’s heard before.
Blistig fantasizes about killing Tavore slowly. Deadsmell and the Imass walk by with Pores on a stretcher. When Blistig asks what the point of that was, Deadsmell punches him to the ground, telling him Pores has been made an honorary marine, and so Blistig stabbed the wrong guy.
Badalle watches as yet another Khundryl child gives Saddic a toy, something that had been going on all day. She wants to cry, wants Saddic to do so as well, but neither can; the Snake cannot. She wonders how Saddic survives all this (to meet with the poet) as she knows he does. She see Gall and Hanavat exit the tent, with Hanavat holding the new baby, then Rutt moving toward them, and she is struck by the absence of Held. She anticipates Hanavat’s rejection of Rutt’s need and then is stunned by Hanavat’s gift as “she stepped forward then, that old woman, that mother with her last ever child, this stranger, and gently laid her baby into Rutt’s waiting arms.” It is, she thinks, “a gift without measure,” and as she watches Rutt walk “like a king,” with them, she thinks “Saddic, I will tell you to remember this. These are the Khundryl, the givers of gifts. Remember them, won’t you?”
Fiddler walks alone at the front, wrestling with his doubts and thinks he is marching to his death. He is joined by the Bridgeburners: Whiskeyjack, Mallet, Trotts. He wonders where Quick Ben and Kalam are, and thinks how Hedge has “stepped out of this path. Can’t look him in the eye.” Whiskeyjack tells him Hedge is “where we want him” and that he’s “walked a lonely path.” Mallet adds that Hedge had probably thought he’d made it all the way back, only to find Fiddler “look away.” Fiddler realizes he needs to make it right by the dawn, before they all die, but Whiskeyjack tells him, “You think we’d see you put through all this for nothing?… Hedge [is] here to die beside you and that’s it? We sent him to you so you could just kiss and make up?… you’re not that important in this wretched scheme.” He thinks how the Bridgeburners “deserved a better way to die,” but one tells him “In your heads you’ve all built us up into something we never were.” Whiskeyjack asks Fiddler, who says he’s a Bonehunter not a Bridgeburner now, whose bones those are they are named after. He says “Nameless ones, long dead ones.” Whiskeyjack explains—“Bones of the Fallen,” then asks “who fell the furthest?” The Bridgeburners disappear, and Fiddler wonders if maybe Tavore knew all along, then thinks he’ll finds Hedge if he can.
Lostara Yil wants Cotillion back, wants to feel that power and will, and then would protect all she could. She wonders at Fiddler’s ability to keep to a straight line. He stops and turns to face them, then they come within ten paces of him—Tavore, Lostara, Henar, the Fists, Ruthan Gudd, Skanarow, Kindly, Blistig. They all stare at Tavore, and as the T’lan Imass draw close to her, Blistig says they’ll “get to” her anyway. In her mind, Lostara begs the Adjunct to give them something. She asks about options—and all are seemingly impossible. Blistig yells to the army that “she gave us nothing! We pleaded, we begged… she spat back in into our faces!” They ignore him, and he asks Tavore what power she has to command such loyalty. At Tavore’s command, Banaschar asks Lostara for her kit bag and takes out the gift from Bugg—the dagger—and hands it to Tavore. Banaschar tells her it needs her blood, and they all look at her. Tavore asks, “Haven’t you drunk enough?”
Fiddler is unable to watch, but he senses when she cuts her hand. The music he hears in his head deepens, fades, returns as she stabs the knife in the ground.
Water rises from the ground and they ready the casks to be filled.
I’m interested in this quick look from Shorthand about how the new name allows him to turn his back on the past that his old name connects him to. Having never changed my name, I don’t know whether people have that thought—that they lose a part of their past by doing it. Anyone who knows want to comment?
And I do like Shorthand’s view on heavies: “But it ain’t just size makes a heavy. In fact, I know a Dal Honese heavy no bigger than a toad, and no prettier either. It’s all attitude.”
I think when Shorthand gets taken down, I’m more disturbed by the actions of the regulars—watching the scuffle as they walk on. These faceless regulars don’t come off well here.
It amuses me the way the cook tells Pores they were waiting til it got really bad before using the grease on the axles of the wagon—what would constitute really bad, considering what they are going through?!
And then amusement at Pores’ little diatribe against Quartermaster Pores by Master-Sergeant Pores. Although that amusement quickly fades in the shock of watching Pores being knifed by Blistig in an attack that was meant to be fatal. I might have lacked respect for Blistig before now, but here is where he completely crosses the line. This wasn’t an attack in the heat of the moment, this was a carefully considered action.
One thing that struck me was Hellian’s instant response to try and find those who were wielding the crossbows—firstly, these aren’t the actions of a drunken sot anymore, secondly, it shows the support they have for each other in the event of an attack. And that just isn’t being seen in the regulars, who ended up melting away when they realised what was going down. The two crossbowmen were able to hide in the regulars, rather than being hauled up.
Having said that, we then are given this: “Just as the heavies weren’t all oxen, the regulars weren’t all pack mules. They’d seen, they’d listened. They’d made up their minds.”
This is a crazy thought from Deadsmell as he attempts radical notions of surgery: “Unbelievable. I’m dying, even as I’m trying to save another man from doing the same. And really, is there any point to this?” I think that this shows a form of compassion—continuing to try to save another human being when it seems utterly futile.
It is pathetic, but I can’t help laughing a little at the fight between Kindly and Blistig. It reminds me a little of the fight that Xander and Harmony had in Buffy.
The impact of that scene where Badalle watches the last Khundryl child being placed in the arms of Rutt, and him being gathered in to sit with them—well, that left tears in my eyes.
I love this scene where Fiddler walks among the ghosts of the Bridgeburners, particularly when he is reminded of how it really was with the marines. How they mutinied, and how bad it was for officers to try and take charge of them. Takes me all the way back to Ganoes Paran and his first few days among them. And then that moment when Fiddler realises why they are Bonehunters.
I know that Mael said she needed to wait until dire need to use the knife and bring the water—but surely Tavore could have done this a few days back, when there were still more alive? Why did she wait so long. The scene is good, but I am dissatisfied with her behaviour. As soon as people started dying from thirst and she knew they couldn’t make it—that was a dire need indeed. This just seems to be waiting too long.
This is a tough middle here of this chapter, with Shorthand and Pores both leaving us hanging as to their condition. Granted, we haven’t known Shorthand in any lengthy detail, but as we’ve said before, Erikson does a consistently excellent job of creating a fullness of character within a relatively short period of time. But Pores. How cruel an ending this would be so close to an ending. So one has to hope of course that the “radical” non-magical treatment works. I love how that’s the desperation play.
I have to say, even with all of Blistig’s goings on, I still remember being shocked by his knifing of Paran, and his walking away.
And I’ve said before I have a lot of empathy/sympathy for the idea of Blistig as broken, as a “normal” guy rather than an exceptional one. But it’s hard to have any sympathy for the guy who spouts the “hierarchy” speech.
But oh my gosh, sure we’ve talked about all the spectacularly cinematic scenes in this series—Draconus stepping into the world, dragons, etc., but I would love—love!—to see the Kindly-Blistig “fight.”
More mystery about Ruthan Gudd, or if not “more,” at least more reminder, and this one a poignant, painful one, in Skanarow’s understanding that he will go on, as he seemingly always has, and more poignantly her desire that he forget her, her desire that she not cause him pain.
And then one of another in a string of killer, just killer moments, in this last half of the book, the scenes that just rip your heart out of your chest and squeeze it tight: Badalle already defending Held-less Rutt, anticipating already Hanavat’s fear of him, her rejection of him, and then watching as Hanavat hands her just-born treasure of a child into his warped arms. You just need to pause there a while and let that scene—its aching pain and sharp, sharp beauty—linger for a while.
Then a different sort of pain, as we’re reminded in the Bridgeburner reunion scene of Whiskeyjack and that damn leg, of Mallet and his guilt, of Trotts. Though it doesn’t take long to enjoy the way they put Fiddler in his place a bit.
And once more into the black hole of What did Tavore know and when did she know it?
Love that music from Fiddler that Lostara thinks she hears.
And Mael’s gun comes off the mantel!
I like how Tavore, despite all this army has gone through, still checks to make sure this need is “dire” indeed. Icarias? Too far—yep. Imass can’t get us water? Yep. Think of the strength of will to wait until this moment to use Mael’s gift. (sure, there’s the cost too, but I prefer to think it’s the former more than the latter that makes her wait until now).
I like too how Blistig does get some punishment here at this scene—not the easy way out of execution, but the complete rejection—the befuddling, incomprehensible, maddeningly frustrating to him rejection—of his “call to arms” against Tavore.
This chapter begins with a birth and ends with a birth of sorts—water—the stuff of life after all, that will give new life to the Bonehunters, to the Snake. But for how long? That closing image has a bit of duality to it: the water of life, yes, but also rising like a threatening flood, forcing them to higher ground. The “thick as blood” as allusion to blood being thicker than water with regard to family, a word bandied about with regard to this army multiple times, but also the image of, well, blood.
And while the water rises, the jade strangers shine down on it all…
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 fantasyliterature.com.