Welcome back to the regularly scheduled Dragonlance Chronicles Reread! Last week Kamila Shamsie dropped by to chat about the impact of both Kitiara and the absence of Kitiara (think of it as Schrödinger’s Kitiara). But now we’re back with our intrepid party, and their quest to find the lost-ish city of Xak Tsaroth.
When we last saw them, they’d passed through the remains of Que-Shu, and were struggling to deal with what they’d seen… This week’s chapters are hopefully a little cheerier—for the heroes’ sake!
As always, we’re going to keep the reread post spoiler-free, but the comments are open to any and all discussion, so proceed with caution!
Chill Dawn. Vine Bridges. Dark Water & Prisoners of the Draconians.
Everyone wakes in the chill dawn. There are vine bridges, dark water and then—draconians!
I’m kidding. Well, no, not really. They really do wake in the chill dawn and they’re all pretty miserable. Wouldn’t you be? Having just witnessed what is probably the complete genocide of the Que-Shu, Goldmoon and Riverwind aren’t the only ones haunted by what they’ve seen. Everyone’s traumatised, they’re entirely uncertain on how they’re getting to Xak Tsaroth and Raistlin takes this moment to point out that Goldmoon’s staff, for all it’s healing powers, has been why so many innocents have died. But Riverwind thinks that perhaps some of the Que-Shu managed to escape, which means Goldmoon is now the Chieftain of whatever remains of her tribe. This bothers him, but he is coldly focussed and the crew press on.
The broken road on which the companions are travelling manages to dump them into a swamp—in Tas’s case, literally. They manage to free him with the classic ‘break a branch and haul the kender out’ trick but in doing so they note that the ooze they’re surrounded by is crawling with big ass snakes.
Luckily, Riverwind suddenly recalls a path through the swamp that leads to ‘a broken city of evil’ via bridges webbed together out of vines, slimy and moist, spanning dangerously large ponds, thick with slithering unseen creatures. They make it across, sit down for a bite and Tanis worries about Flint’s rheumatism. Yes, really.
Of course, the only way to warm the dwarf up is for Tas to give him a shot or two of brandy, a shot or two that leads to a very drunk Flint and an equally drunk Tas uproariously exchanging jokes about the others and walking well ahead of the rest of the crew. They come to a massive tree laid across a massive pool of swamp water and declare it the best bridge yet.
Since nothing has happened for a page and this is Dragonlance, we, the reader, know something is about to go down. Oh and that ‘Ambush’ part of the chapter title warned us anyway. So to only the characters’ surprise, they are jumped by a couple of draconians. Though Tas manages to call out a warning to the others behind them, he and Flint are drunk and can’t fight the monsters—Flint swings wildly and topples off into the slimy waters below and Tas makes the wise decision to follow suit once he hears the draconians casting a spell. Meanwhile, the rest of the party are accosted by magic-using draconians, who knock Raistlin out first before magicking draconian ectoplasm webs over the others and rendering them unconscious.
Tas sees the ambush unfold, having survived the swamp pool and saving Flint’s ass too. Not sure how a drunk kender swam through swampy water and rescued a drunk dwarf at the same time but hey, let’s go with it. He sees the draconians attempt to pick up the magic staff, and then burn when they contact it. They then find a way to wrap it up and take it with them, because it is clearly important to them. The two now-sober, non-drugged friends follow the draconians through the brush to their camp, where they notice that the creatures are dancing around and prostrating themselves before a …giant black dragon! Tas notices that there is something strange about the beast, and ventures further to check out the scene.
Finally, a dragon! Oh no, wait…
Meanwhile the sleep spell is wearing off on the others, who wake to find themselves caged and sticky but apparently unhurt. (A bit like Fifty Shades of Gray.) Well, other than Raistlin, who seems to have been hit with a poison dart and is fading very quickly. Tanis, ever the diplomat, attempts to communicate with the nearby draconian soldiers, requesting that they give the antidote to Raistlin. This idea is obviously shot down and the draconians politely counter-offer to kill everyone. Caramon launches a single-handed weapon-less attempt at taking on the whole horde of monsters, but that too fails.
Suddenly the dragon speaks, and asks for the warrior to be brought to it, confusing both the companions and the draconians, who mutter to each other about how the dragon never speaks when the priest is away—and yes, the priest is currently away.
Lots of stuff happens now, and very fast—this is the full-blown action and fun stuff that want from our Dragonlance. The dragon (by now we’re starting to figure out something dodgy is going on) orders that Caramon be given his weapon so he can fight to his death. Meanwhile, Flint manages to get Tanis’ attention and tell him that the dragon is actually Tas, operating a massive wicker dragon puppet.
While they both agree that leaving their fate to the plans of ‘that rattle-brained kender’ is crazy, they also agree that they have no other choice. Goldmoon and the almost-dead Raistlin are sent off with Flint while the others bring up the flank for Caramon. The dragon goes into a wild frenzy, Caramon swings his sword and all hell breaks loose. Tanis manages to convince Caramon to take the magic staff and head for Raistlin as the dragon screeches something about preparing to die and starts to fly, just a little. While mayhem ensues at the camp, Caramon gets the staff to Goldmoon who lays it on Raistlin and pretty much begs the powers that be to fix him. Just as Raistlin is fixed (yay!), everyone sees the dragon go up in flames and rushes to rescue Tas from inside it. There is more mayhem and an emotional moment for Flint as he can’t pull Tas out. Sturm solves the problem by cutting the dragon’s head off, and, Riverwind’s help, they manage to make a run for it, dragon head held high between them. Eventually, they rely on Caramon’s brute strength to break apart the dragon head and let Tas out, unhurt.
Raistlin, now all fixed up—well as much as anyone can fix Raistlin—wheezes out laughter at the entire scene.
Monster(s) of the Week
The draconians: We learn in these chapters that there are two sorts of draconians—robed, magic-using draconians and military draconians. They don’t seem to be of the same species and they don’t share a common language either. There seems to be a high priest who is away but presumably held sway over at least this camp. We also learn that ‘one of them’ flew here and took the priest to confer with a Lord Verminaard about the staff. One of what? Who is Lord Verminaard? Only time will tell.
The dragon: I feel a bit silly putting this dragon here since we’ve already found out that it is in fact a puppet. But then I recall being very excited at the first mention of an actual dragon when I first read Dragonlance. Just for that one paragraph or so, I wanted to believe that this was indeed the real thing, the great dragon god of the draconians. Still, even with Tas in it, the dragon does manage to wreak major damage.
I’m also trying to decide whether Tas is the wizard behind the curtain here, or the god in the machine. I may have to go with god in the machine, what with the dragon being made of wicker mechanics and it ending the scene with great finality.
Yet another monster nod for Raistlin here, who again rises from the almost-dead and laughs at the destruction around him (fine, the Tas stuck in the dragon bit could be seen as funny too). Also, we find out that Tanis has never heard Raistlin laugh before, and that his laugh is a terrible, terrible thing, weird and shrill and mocking.
‘How precious it has become, now that it has been purchased by the blood of innocents.’—Raistlin (creepy as always and totally correct about Goldmoon’s staff)
‘There’s something strange about that dragon’—Tas
‘Like they’re not supposed to exist?’—Flint
These two are great!
A lot happens in these two chapters, both in terms of action and in terms of character revelations. I’m bothered by a few things here.
While it’s totally characteristic for Raistlin to point out how the staff is to blame for the many deaths, we learn that Riverwind blames himself, stalks away and Goldmoon ‘weeps silently’ at this realisation. Tanis gives her a little shoulder massage ‘rubbing out the tenseness he felt in the bunched muscles of her neck’. Now frankly, I didn’t realise they’d grown so close so fast. No wonder Riverwind is so pissed off all the time—who can trust these random strangers, so free with their back rubs?
Anyway, our Riverwind isn’t the jealous sort—not of Tanis, anyway. What he does have a problem with is being the Chieftain’s husband. He seems upset that he came back to find her running things, which is strange because, well—what did he expect her career choices to be, given she was the Chieftain’s daughter? A seamstress, a goat herd, a …you know what? I don’t actually know how the Plainspeople’s economy worked, other than Goldmoon’s struggles at paying the soldiers to keep them safe. Fiduciary issue coins?
Goldmoon’s goodness is exhausting. Not just is she an emotional wreck (fine, I know, I’m being harsh, let’s cut her some slack since her tribe has just been wiped out—but she does also get weepy at the sight of unicorns too, remember?), but she’s also everyone’s conscience. When Raistlin rejects Caramon’s help after he’s been fixed by the staff, it’s Goldmoon who looks at him in disgust; Goldmoon who recalls Caramon’s grief when Raistlin lay dying. Haven’t you got your own brooding man to worry about, Goldmoon?
Now Tanis. Good old Tanis. Good old boring Tanis. Tanis, ever the diplomat yes—but really, really?! Does he really think requesting a draconian to treat Raistlin is going to work, given they were the ones to poison him? I annoys me to think Tanis genuinely seem to believe everyone has a good heart somewhere under their scales. I just love to see him proven wrong, don’t you?
And what’s up with Raistlin’s laughter? He’s so cool. I mean creepy. Yeah.
The scene in the draconian camp is one of my favourites. It has Tas’s slapstick humour (but in a not annoying way), Raistlin being creepy (even if he’s inanimate for most of this), a ton of action and, when the party gets free, it is in a totally unexpected way.
It is interesting that the first time the dragon is introduced it is just as ‘a giant black dragon’. Compare this to the sixteen paragraphs of loving squee for the unicorn we met previously, and it is pretty clear that there’s something shifty going on here. Although the party react a little, mostly they are too busy getting on with their own caged-world problems. If anything, they all seem disappointed—Tas wanted it to be more ‘lively’; Sturm just thinks Raistlin will make fun of him. The false dragon feels like it is here to manage our expectations—to get the ’admin’ out of the way, so when a real dragon shows up, we can be properly amazed. Let’s hope the tactic plays out properly.
Pity the draconians though—are they… smart or dumb? They’re organised, they’ve got magic users, they’re not completely thick—right? Hell, the ambush was supremely well-executed. Even the planning behind poisoning the mage is tactically sound. But then… they’re fooled by a kender in a basket. And, weirder yet, if you’re so stressed out about wizards that you poison them, why do you put the giant warrior in a cage made out of bamboo?
The Annotated Chronicles—for those reading along in the footnoted edition—are pretty funny with this chapter. There are some excised lines (interestingly reinforcing that the cold and logical Raistlin is the one that kept the party moving after Que-Shu) and also a lot of funny notes from Tracy Hickman about the ‘wicker/basket weaving and black-lacquer painting skills of draconians’. Although the wicker dragon is a cool device, it really doesn’t make a ton of sense. Sometimes a set-piece is just a set-piece.
Finally, a great moment. Sturm gets to cut off the dragon’s head. Sturm being Sturm, he ‘took a deep breath’. Do you think he was wishing this was real? I bet he was. Poor chap’s spent his entire life wanting to fight a dragon, and here he is using his Ancient Solamnic Blade of Knightly Dragon-Whacking to tear apart oversized lawn furniture.
There’s a nice Dragonlance lesson here. Sturm is a man out of time—and, in many ways, a man in the wrong fantasy. He’s a proper epic, square-up-to-your-foe-and-challenge-them-to-a-duel sort of hero… in a world where the bad guys drug you from ambush. The great knight and his great lordly blade aren’t being used in a straightforward way to slay evil, instead, it is about creative thinking and cunning. Combat, as Caramon proved, wasn’t going to work in this chapter. So what’s a knight to do? Sturm’s still a hero—he does save Tas’s life after all, but that’s still an intriguing situation. We know Sturm is an anachronism—he was virtually introduced as such—but will there actually ever be a time or place for his concept of heroism?
Who knows? Maybe next week…
Mahvesh loves dystopian fiction & appropriately lives in Karachi, Pakistan. She writes about stories & interviews writers the Tor.com podcast Midnight in Karachi when not wasting much too much time on Twitter.