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 ten 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.
Just a note that Amanda will be adding her response into the comments as soon as she can.
Torvald leaves for his diplomatic mission on board the same ship as Brood and the Rhivi elder and they begin to converse.
The Malazans under Fist K’ess arrive at the river crossing at Dharvan, on the way to meet up with those under Fist Steppen. Word has come of a large force of Rhivi heading toward them. K’ess decides the crossing is a poor defensive area and orders them to move on, after considering Captain Fal’ej’s handsomeness and her nice birthing hips.
Captain Fal’ej yells at herself for getting distracted by K’ess, whom she is sure would never get distracted by the likes of her. She passes on K’ess’ order to the sappers to keep an eye on the bridge to make sure it’s sturdy enough for their passing.
As they near the monastery, Yusek begs the Seguleh not to kill everyone in it. At the entrance, they are welcomed in and told the monastery’s faith is Dessembrae. When Yusek is led by an acolyte to her own area, she warns the acolyte her companions are Seguleh, and they’ve come to kill someone here. The acolyte, who has heard of Seguleh, calls that unlikely, adding while she appreciates Yusek’s concern, “the man you speak of has no interest in their challenges. They will leave empty-handed.”
The next morning she wakes and watches as some of the monks work through some exercise/devotional movements, then later joins by Sall and Lo who are watching more physical training. Sall tells her Lo will challenge, but the one they are here for will not show himself, nor will anyone point him out. He admits, much to Yusek’s amusement, that being ignored as the Seguleh ignore others is “most frustrating.” When the monks pair off into a swordperson/unarmed opponent practice, with Lo’s permission Sall “cuts in” and he and his opponent run through the motions amazingly fast. After a pause they go again, and Sall manages to get his wooden blade past the other’s defense. The woman leading the training steps in to replace the acolyte and she and Sall go. Sall is thrown, much to his “utter astonishment” and as Lo walks off, Yusek notes the look of “crushing shame” that comes over Sall.
She speaks to Sall alone later, and he tells her he has been shamed and can no longer be counted amongst the Agatii, the Honoured Thousand, the “select warriors,” adding he will have to repaint his mask. He explains that Lo is Eighth, amongst the ruling Ten (the Eldril) and that he is Lo’s son. Yusek imagines the burden that must be. She tries to encourage him, then asks if he’ll teach her some moves. When he tells her he is unworthy and it would be improper, she keeps at it until he agrees to teach her some tomorrow.
Krute meets with Humble Measure and accepts a contract for the Legate’s death
Rallick watches as Krute exits Humble Measure’s workplace. He can tell the contract has already been agreed to and thinks he’s “in the crosshairs.” He decides he has only one place to hole up and hopes someone doesn’t mind houseguests.
Aragan receives a summons to the Legate’s. As they head toward Majesty Hill, Aragan notes the trench being constructed, forming a large arc, though he can’t discern its purpose. Through Ebbin, the Legate’s “speaker,” Aragan is told the Malazans are to abandon South Genabackis or face annihilation. When Aragan points out the Legate has no army, the spokesman says the people will throw off the Malazan “yoke.” Aragan dryly notes only to replace it with a new one, but the Legate responds, “We merely advise and guide, just as a caring parent wishes the best for his children.” Aragan is dismissed and as he exits, he wonders if that really was Lim under the gold mask. He knows war has been declared, but he doesn’t know by whom or against what, “He felt as if he was facing a ghost, a shadow. Who is our enemy?”
He returns to find Topper (the Claw emissary from the Emperor) waiting for him. Topper tells him he observed from a distance since there were powerful magi there. Aragan tells him they were ordered to withdraw to Cat, leaving the southern lands, including Pale, which Topper says will not go over well. When asked what he thinks, Aragan says it’s time someone pushed back against “whatever it is that now squats on Majesty Hill.” When Topper says Mallick chose well in his ambassador, Aragan points out most of his promotions were by Laseen, which makes Topper cringe and then Aragan recalls that Topper had failed to keep her alive. Topper replies there is a lesson there, “in our line of work we all die alone.” Aragan doesn’t get the lesson. He tells Topper he’ll take care of their “special assets,” who won’t be very happy.
Spindle briefs the other Malazans, saying they’re building some sort of foundation, but he has no idea for what. He tells them there are few guards, but two scary mages, though one he thinks let him go for some reason. Fisher adds that Envy too supports the Legate. Topper walks in, causing a moment of chaos, and when Picker says the “Empire’s found us,” the Clawmaster rolls his eyes and says the Empire never lost them. After a bit of sparring over whether they are retirees or deserters, Topper tells them he wants them to contract as “free agents.” On Duiker’s suggestion, Picker sets the price at the formal decommissioning of the Bridgeburners and Topper agrees. The job is to stop the building of the Legate’s wall, adding he will provide cover in case of “complications.”
Leff and Scorch realize no one is coming back and they decide to take up pay with Ebbin, whom Scorch has seen with the Legate.
They enter the crowded Great Hall and are met by Captain Soen who fires them. Ebbin interrupts, somewhat distractedly, and tells Soen the two are his guards. Soen looks at the Legate and then says OK. Ebbin wanders off and Soen tells the two to get cleaned up and return when presentable. They exit.
Bendan’s Malazan army, under Fist Steppen, travel through the Dwelling Plains, losing people and animals due to the pace and lack of water. Tarat, their Rhivi scout, notes some tracks and tells the Sergeant a column has passed by, but it’s something she’s never seen before, though it reminds her of “an old story.” She startles suddenly and tells them she has to speak to the commander immediately. Sergeant Hektar and Bendan escort her.
Tarat tells Steppen the signs point to only one people; she says the Seguleh are on the march. Bendan laughs, calling them “scary stories for children.” Under Steppen’s questioning, he admits they’re real “down south” and are good at “puffing up their reputation,” adding his is the typical opinion of those from Darujhistan. Steppen dismisses them and as they ride off, Tarat tells Bendan if he laughs at her again she’ll kill him. He says fine,” wondering at why she’s so “prickly.”
It’ll be interesting to see if Torvald ends up sticking with Brood and the Rhivi elder. I like how we get to see a less serious/intimidating side to Brood with his amusement at being taken as a traveling strongman.
Speaking of less serious, even in the midst of fear and possible war, the human heart (or other organs) keeps going, what with the little attraction going on between Fal-ej and K’ess, though neither is aware it’s mutual. Will this lend a nice warm bit of comic relief to the storyline, or set us up for some tragedy? Romance can go either way in this series.
We actually start out with a decent amount of humor in this chapter, moving on to Yusek begging the Seguleh not to kill everyone, even if they lift a “ladle” in their direction (something about that image just cracks me up—I’m thinking of Sir Lancelot’s charge into the marriage reception in The Holy Grail). And then the irony of Sall’s frustration at being ignored and Yusek’s pleasure in such frustration.
I like too Sall’s response here, how he lowers his eyes, just sighs. I like too his self-deprecating response about having to repaint his mask. We’ve had a few little moments of humanity in Sall that endear him to us as readers and so when he fails and then reveals to Yusek his shame—at being unworthy of the Agatii, of having failed in front of his father—and when she thinks what a burden his life must be, we feel for him in a way that breaks through the stoic, faceless, emotionless, almost machine-like image of the Seguleh. And when he agrees to teach her, you have to wonder as a reader if a relationship will begin to form between them (whether capital R or not).
Ahh, vindictiveness. Spite. Such human emotions. As Krute says, you can’t often go wrong counting on that. Still, you have to wonder if he is overestimating his guild’s capabilities here. Plus, his firm belief that Vorcan is behind the Legate doesn’t exactly breed confidence in his competence.
So where is Rallick going to try to hole up. Who might mind houseguests? I can think of one pretty easily.
Well, we now have open hostilities declared between the Tyrant and the Malazans. It must be kind of weird for Aragan to have no sense of what it is the Malazans are actually facing, and having to tangible enemy—no army to fight. It will be interesting to see what moves he sets up, beyond sabotaging the wall.
Speaking of which, I love the response when Topper walks into the bar, the marines diving all over the place, pulling out weapons, while Duiker just sits there and points out how he walked in the front door, and how Topper rolls his eyes (and can’t you just see that) at the idea that they have all been cleverly hiding from the Empire this whole time. And yea, now we get to see a mission.
You have to imagine Scorch and Leff are being moved into position to do something, all this shifting around they’re doing, though this scene seemed a bit drawn out for that purpose.
I admit too, I’m not sure what this last scene adds. We know the Seguleh have gone through here, we know the Malazans are gathering to meet, that the Rhivi are on the march, and that most people think the Seguleh are semi-mythical. I guess it does keep Bendan in our heads, so there’s that. What with the open hostilities, the contract, the armies almost in place, Brood on his way, etc. at the halfway point of the book (52% done) perhaps things are about to spin into motion.