Welcome back 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 chapter three of Ian Cameron Esslemont’s Orb Sceptre Throne.
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: Amanda is on an editing deadline and will post her comments later!
Ebbin has breakfast, thinking how he’s been starting to feel almost as much a prisoner as a protected employee these past few weeks with Humble Measure’s guards (including Scorch and Leff), led by a Captain Drin, around. Today, for the first time, Drin and some guards are going to come down to the excavation, much to Ebbin’s dismay.
In the dig, Drin notes that all but one of the vaults had been opened, but the body with the and the 12th tomb hadn’t, as if the looters had been interrupted. As they remove the door of the final vault, Ebbin for the first time notices that it looks like it, and thus the others, had perhaps been pushed out rather than pulled out. Inside the tomb is a huge inhuman corpse, with taloned hands and feet. Ebbin catches a glimpse of a shining stone, and then, a yell comes from the open chamber where the masked body was fighting the guards. The body grabs one guard, pulls the mask off of its own face to reveal rotted flesh, and then slowly presses the mask onto the guard’s face. The body then disappears and then the dead guard rises and repeats the process with the other guard. Drin holds out for hours, but eventually is taken by the mask and now becomes the body on the stone table. Ebbin decides to leave.
SCENES THREE — SIX
Scorch and Leff spar over who lost the job with Lady Varada (Vorcan). The old hag who cooks warns them she sees bad things coming and gets mocked for her troubles. Ebbin climbs out and tells the guards what happened. They tell him to show them and he’s forced into it. They go down, and Ebbin almost immediately comes back up alone. He tells Scorch and Leff (the only two left) to stay at the site, and that he is going to Darujhistan. They’re interrupted by the appearance of a young girl (Taya) who calls Ebbin “Uncle” and says there is some sort of connection between them. She whispers in Ebbin’s ear that someone (Aman) wants to hear what he’s found down there. Scorch and Leff are about to object, and Ebbin stops her from killing them. The two of them leave, with Scorch and Leff saying how the girl had reminded them of Lady Varada. They leave too.
Picker, Spindle, and Blend have observed all this. Picker marks the well with a Malazan marine code, but then the lid gets blasted off and a masked figure climbs out and walks “regally” toward the city. The marines decide to give him “Plenty of room.”
SCENES EIGHT — NINE
Ebbin walks in a daze, seeing strange images, such as a domed palace or temple, flaming ruins, etc. They meet Aman, who keeps checking behind them. Ebbin, still seeing the images of Imperial Darujhistan laid over the current city worries he’s going mad. They go to Hinter’s Tower and meet the ghost there. Hinter says “they’d” though Aman dead. Aman asks if everything’s ready, and Hinter says yes, since he had not choice. They discuss how “he” is coming. Aman says there is “always a way. If it is nearly impossible to break in—then perhaps one must reverse one’s thinking.” He apologizes to Hinter, adding “No one has ever escaped him.” When Hinter says one did, Aman replies that he never believed that story.
Spindle, Blend, and Picker follow the masked figure into town past a bunch of seemingly crazed residents—weeping, seeing things, lying as if asleep. The gatehouse guards have all been killed. Spindle points out something in the sky.
Aragan is woken up with the news that the Moranth are fleeing the city. Heading outside, he catches sight of the Quorl lying west. He orders the garrison roused.
Blend says she’ll stick close to the masked figure, now heading to the Estate District while they tag farther behind. Spindle hands her some munitions.
An old witch yells out “Almost now! Almost!” then starts throwing up.
Chillbais, Baruk’s demon, sees something and thinks, “Oh no. Nonononononono. Not again!” and heads off to tell Baruk “that most unwelcome word.”
Rallick tells Vorcan of the killing in the Gadrobi district, and she asks if he thinks she did it on the side. He says he doesn’t know who did it, and she goes to bed. When he finally joins her, he thinks how she’s been sleeping badly lately. After a while, she starts speaking some strange language, then wakes to look out on the city. He lays a hand on her shoulder and then is suddenly burned as she reacts to something, saying, “No, how could.” She tells him to leave and not try to contact her, demanding he promise not to do anything—nothing—no matter what happens.” Shocked at seeing fear in her eyes, he agrees. Rallick leaves.
Looking out over the city (two layers of it), Baruk wonders if “he” waited until Rake was gone. He frees Chillbais, telling him his service is over, but the demon wonders to do what or go where? He hides in a chest.
Aman, Taya, and Hinter wait atop Despot’s Barbican, with Aman holding Ebbin tight. Looking down, Ebbin hears Aman say, “Father. We remain your faithful servants.” Aman tells Ebbin to stand, and he faces the masked figure. The other spread out to prevent interference, leaving Ebbin and the figure alone. The masked figure gestures, and Ebbin realizes he’s been holding the strange glowing pearl from the tomb this whole time. Ebbin fears what he’ll be asked to do, then has an epiphany: “A pale circle. A pearl . . . of course! It was so obvious. He would have to warn everyone.” His thoughts are interrupted by the masked figure.
At Vorcan’s/Varada’s, Madrun and Lazan Door’s dice game is interrupted by screams. They rush to help but Studlock tells them the Lady has said she is not to be disturbed as she is ill or in “withdrawal.” He leaves to prepare some medicine.
Baruk is interrupted in the middle of performing a ritual/spell of some sort. His arms burst into flame and his hands become taloned claws as he seems be yanked by some force and pulled toward the burst-in door.
Rallick meets Kruppe at the Phoenix Inn. Kruppe says they should drink to the “inevitable.” They open a bottle Kruppe says has been saved for just this occasion, but it’s empty. Though then Kruppe wonders if it was never full to begin with.
The old witch says “now is the time” and crawls inside her shack, clutching a bag.
Aman, Taya, and Hinter return to the masked figure and are surprised to see Ebbin still lives. They’re told he will “speak the Father’s will.” They’re interrupted by the appearance of Baruk (called Barukanal) who is dragged up the street to them. When Taya asks about the others, Hinter says they seem to have so far “eluded the Call.” When Taya asks what’s to be done with Baruk, Ebbin speaks, saying he’s to be punished. They look up in the sky.
Jan, in what he thinks is a dream, hears a voice calling him and sees his old master wearing a coarse wooden mask. Then that image explodes and he sees another wearing a golden oval. Jan finds he has no choice but to bow.
Jan wakes and meets with the ruling group, who all say they felt it too. Jan orders the ships prepared.
I like how Drin was at first seemingly going to be a regular old flunky, maybe a cruel guy even, but Esslemont then gives him some personality and ability: the way he notes the state of the tombs, his strength, his apology to Ebbin just before the attack, the way he forestalls the inevitable, his final look at Ebbin. It’s a nice bit of minor character work.
Maybe they should have listened to this old witch (is this the old witch from later? I wasn’t 100% sure, but thought it was because of the reference to smoke)
I have to say, I don’t quite get Ebbin’s action upon arriving at the top. Why not say what happened down there? It isn’t like these people live in a world without sorcery, undead, strange things happening, etc. Sure, if these guys had been roughing him up this whole time or something, maybe a macabre revenge, but his not telling them and bringing them down to certain death didn’t make sense to me (not to mention risking himself), unless the magic is already working on him, which isn’t quite made clear here (in my mind at least). The timing of his second return also struck me as weird—how were the other guards (the two he went back down with) killed so fast and so silently? Certainly they wouldn’t have just headed out without prodding Ebbin in front of them. This whole bit was just a little too muddy for me.
I like this constant overlay of one version of the city over the other.
Hmm, so who is the mysterious person who may or may not have survived this mysterious masked figure? And who is right—Aman or Hinter—in terms of whether that person did survive or not?
We’re getting a lot of set up/reaction to this return (and it’s clear it is a return)—the witch, Chillbais, Hinter and his group, Vorcan (do we believe Rallick can do nothing?), Baruk wondering if this is yet another ripple of Rake’s absence.
I think by now (hope by now then—apologies if this is jumping the gun) that we can say this is the fabled return of The Tyrant from Darujhistan’s past. Here are a few of our comments re the Tyrant from our earlier rereads:
- Baruk and Hinter the ghost converse at Hinter’s tower. Hinter says the return of the Tyrant would mean his enslavement
- Baruk asks leave to put Chillbais on Hinter’s tower, to warn if any of those trying to resurrect the Tyrant attack the ghost:
“Tell me, do the Tyrant’s children still rule Darujhistan? The Tyrant’s army still holds sway in the city, then?” “Who? We have no army.”
“Brilliant insanity! No Seguleh in the city?”
“No! Just stories, legends I mean.”
“So where are my masked stick-pivoting compatriots hiding?”
“An island… ”
“Now the sense of it comes to me. They are being held in readiness… Paranoid mages! Crouching low, lest the Tyrant returns, as one day he must. Returns, looking for his army!”
- Baruk tells Chillbais to fly to Derudan and invite her to counsel with him and Vorcan. The demon leaves and Baruk thinks of how Vorcan has left only the three of them to stop “if we can, the return of the Tyrant.”
- OK, the Tyrant is the past horrific ruler of Darujhistan, after Raest, who confusingly was also called, as many Jaghut were, a tyrant. Derudan was a witch and with Baruk and several others was part of the magic group that was sort of a shadow power in Darujhistan (the T’orrud Cabal)
- “There were servants hidden in the city, and they were even now at work. To bring about a fell return, to awaken one of the Tyrants of old.”
So now we can see perhaps why Baruk wasn’t so much looking forward to the Tyrant’s return. I love his underplayed “blast” when he gets yanked out of his house (and his human form).
So we’ve seen Baruk yanked by “the Call,” Vorcan screaming in her estate, and wait, this old witch? That might be a clue.
And I think we can guess where the Seguleh might be going…
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.