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, and finally comments from Tor.com readers. In this article, we’ll continue our coverage of Crack’d Pot Trail.
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.
Crack’d Pot Trail Part Six
The group reaches the wellspring, but there’s no sign of Nifty or the two woman. Calap suggests they should eat Sellup tonight, and Brash says they should eat her now (assuming she hasn’t gone bad yet), adding Flicker should be the one to suggest it. Flicker replies that it’s an awful idea. First, she’d complain the whole time; secondly, her undead curse remains even to the smallest piece; and finally, it’s possible eating an undead would make one also undead. Calap wonders bitterly where Nifty is, with his “undying fan,” something Calap would “kill for.” Flicker tells Calap he’s worried about where Calap’s story is heading, but Calap says it’s the only one he recalls all the words to. Brash accuses him of cheating, and Calap tells them both they should steal as well; it’s just entertainment their audience wants. In response to Flicker’s worry, Calap replies he’s more concerned about Flicker’s story, saying, “It’s too close to what’s really going on here.” Flicker disagrees, but says in any case his task is different from theirs. Calap complains Snippet will just ensure Flicker lives longer than him and Brash, and then Flicker has clear sailing to the ferry. Brash though says Flicker won’t last long because he knows about Flicker and Relish and if necessary, he’ll tell Tiny about them. Rather than appear alarmed, Flicker tells them they can discuss it later. Brash though gleefully says Flicker’s tale will go wrong, and although Flicker might have been nice to him earlier, it was only because he felt safe. He denounces Flicker’s “condescension” and announces he is a true genius. Calap piles on, saying he’d always hated Flicker, and tells him the story he’s chosen to tell is “stupid,” because what Flicker is stealing from isn’t done happening. Eventually, he says, the audience will tire of Flicker simply repeating what has already happened and they’ll all feast on Flicker and enjoy it. Flicker replies that the “truth of the tale is not where it is going, but where it has been.” As they move to drink, Steck rides up and tells them he’s found the tracks of the others nearby. The host invites them all to drink, wondering if maybe the water will be enough to get them to the ferry without eating anyone else, but Tiny says no chance: “We eat the artists… It was decided… Besides, I’ve acquired a liking for the taste.”
Flicker drinks next to Purse Snippet, who angrily calls the others “tyrants.” Flicker though points out they too have eaten human flesh. She asks where his story is going, and when he says that’s to be determined, she says he’s just like the others. He makes a joke, and when she wonders if any of them will ever see his “true self,” he tells her, “We shall see.”
Tiny chooses Calap Roud to tell a tale and after a moment’s fruitless complaint, Calap picks up his Imass story with the Fenn in the chief’s tent telling through gestures a tale of woe and grief. The maiden who greeted him is overcome with love. The other Imass meanwhile watch in misery, especially with the Fenn eating more of their slim food supplies. The Fenn then speaks Imass, telling them he’s the last of his people, “son of a great warrior cruelly betrayed, slain by those he thought his brothers.” Calap is interrupted when Arpo asks what the “Maned Sisters of the Iron Hair” are (a mountain range) and then complains about people naming everything instead of just calling mountains “the mountains” and rivers “the river.” As the talk degenerates thanks to the Chanters, Tulgord Vise tells Calap to get on with his tale of betrayal and vengeance. Calap continues. The Fenn’s father, an elder wise man of his people, had said they needed a sacrifice, and the clan chose the Fenn’s younger brother. The Fenn tells how none noticed his uncle “and the hard secret unveiled in his face.” The Uncle had raped the Fenn’s mother, and his brother was the result, though none knew it. That night the Uncle killed the Fenn’s father and mother and took the Fenn’s brother (his son). The Fenn tracked them, finding the half-eaten corpse of his brother, and then finally confronting his uncle and killing him. The gods send him a dream of returning home to find all dead, the Wheel split, leaving him alone, and he knows it to be truth. Tiny interrupts, saying it’s time to move on. Calap asks if it’ll be Flicker’s turn then, and Tiny says “Soon… Then we vote.”
They eat and drink and begin moving again. Apto points out how thirsty the Dantoc must be, since she drank two heavy skins. Must explains she holds to a belief in water as the “secret of all life,” meaning she must avoid “undernourishment… Or something like that.” Apto remarks on how Must sounds sometimes like a herder and sometimes like a scholar.
Flicker says how “moments of malice come to us all… A life lived is a life of regrets.” He asks us if we think as he began his tale again if he did so filled with spite or with a sense of cool indifference. He tells us to decide. He begins by telling them “the mortal brain is an amorous quagmire… Man and woman both swim sordid currents in the gurgling caverns of unfettered desire.” He goes on in that vein and challenges us to deny it. He continues, telling how such desire was rampant as well amongst the pilgrims and how inevitably “love will find a way.” He tells of a woman among them, sister to three warriors, one who “daily cast” a baited net. He does not look at Relish, but guesses she is more likely to be smiling that blushing or gaping in horror at his story. Flicker continues, describing an elder poet who slept with the girl while her brothers slept. Calap Roud manages only a shouted, “But I—“ before Tiny kills him.
Flicker notes how many think “the gods stand in wait for each and every one of us… [that] Someone has to pay for this mess,” adding that many as well like to think they would “boldly meet such immortal regard,” even as they carry their “sack of excuses all this way. Our riotous justifications.” He gives a litany of confessions, ending with the confessor asking the gods, “If you gods are not to blame for your own miserable creations, then who is?”
As the group stares at Calap’s corpse, Relish, nonchalantly checking out her fingernails, announces, “As if.” Realizing the absurdity of Relish having sex with Calap Roud, everyone turns to look at Tiny, who asks, “What?” The Host complains they’ll never find out what happens to the Imass and Fenn, but Flicker tells them he actually knows that story. Apto says that’s good, as Flicker’s own story is likely to get them all killed by its end. Purse Snippet though calls that unacceptable, and when Vise says it just means Flicker has to tell both stories, Calap says fine, much to Brash Phluster’s dismay, who realizes that only extends Flicker’s life most likely. When Flicker refers to his “small role” in Calap’s death, Steck mocks him, but Flicker points out he had “stated with sure and unambiguous clarity that my tale bears only superficial similarity to our present reality.” Must goes to get his butchering tools.
I’ve mentioned before how Erikson had done a nice job of adding some tension/suspense to the plot, and now that continues to edge upwards with the disappearance of Nifty and the two others. Suspense over what they’re doing out there and also over what might happen to them out there.
Calap’s gives the age-old advice of artists—“steal what you can!” Or as T.S. Eliot put it: “immature poets imitate; mature poets steal”
I love how the conversation in this scene so nicely sets us up for what happens with Calap Roud at the end of today’s post, with Calap talking about how he thinks Flicker’s story will get them killed (it does get him killed) and how it is too close to what’s “really going on” (save that it’s the change Flicker makes to what really happened that gets Calap killed). It’s a brilliant bit of plotting.
And of course, the reader is set up to forgive Flicker his later role in Calap’s death by this conversation too—the way in which the two artists turn on him, threatening to tell Tiny about Flicker and Relish, reveling in how Flicker will die before them, Phluster flipping Flicker’s earlier generosity towards him, and Calap telling Flicker how much he has “always” hated him and then crowing about how he’ll “feel good” when he finally “carves” Flicker up and eats him.
On the other hand, as much as we dislike these two in this scene, you have to have a soft spot for the Host when he tries to convince them that maybe they don’t have to actually eat anyone again, that maybe drinking the water will suffice (after all, the human body can go a pretty long time without food). But he’s shot down pretty quickly, and in a manner that makes us dislike Tiny, well, I was going to say all the more, but is that possible by now?
Purse Snippet’s line, “Will we ever see your true self, I wonder?” is a nice stand in for the reader. After all, we have no idea if any of what Flicker is telling us is “true,” a point he has played with several times already.
I actually am enjoying Calap’s story about the Fenn warrior, but beyond the tale itself, I couldn’t help but notice all the alliteration: “grief gripped,” “weary wandering over the wealth,” “shell-strung,” “brold bear,” etc. Now, in a modern prose tale that would seem to be the mark of some poor writing, but an ancient oral tale? That fits right in, the alliteration serving to not only add to the musicality of the work and keep the attention of the audience, but in a simply pragmatic fashion allow for a greater ease in memorizing it (perhaps why this is the only one Calap recalls so well)
The epic, poetic nature of the poem though is so nicely ruined by the debate over the naming of things, a nice little jab at a good old fantasy trope.
I also like the interruption with the confusion over the uncle and mother (though I’m not clear who interrupts to say they didn’t understand) and how Tiny immediately gets it. Big shock.
But the final interruption seems like Erikson just toying with us.
More winks and nods as to something odd about the Dantoc. After the strangely heavy chamber pot, we now learn she appears to be oddly thirsty. And Mister Must also shows himself to remain a bit of an enigma, with his varied speech. Might there be some weight to his line, “Disparate my learning, sir”?
The shift into Flicker’s thoughts on malice and regret is a bit dislocating. Why, we have to wonder, is he now talking about malice? What does he regret? What does he mean about perhaps acting out of spite? Or in a coldly, “poisonous [ly]” calculating fashion? We’re a bit lost here, but it all makes perfect sense by the end, once he turns the story onto Calap. But until then, we’re also wondering where he’s going with what seems at first glance to be a confession of sorts. Is he going to try to brazen it out? I can’t at all remember what I thought the first time I read this. This time around I was already chuckling a bit as we moved into this scene, anticipating what was coming. This would have been a good scene to have Amanda for, to see if she called it or not.
“Oh dear.” Perfect.
Though I was chuckling, and though as I said earlier, we were set up to accept this move a bit more easily thanks to how ugly Calap Roud was earlier, and also as well just out of a sense, as Flicker says, of belief in “self-preservation,” I still like how Flicker doesn’t let himself, or us, off the hook completely easily. He still places it in a moral context, pointing out our predilection for justification and excuse-making, asking us if this is self-defense or mere spite. In other words, he forces us to think beyond the action, which is why these novellas are elevated beyond the light side trips out of the “serious” Malazan world they could have been.
“As if.” Also perfect. Can’t you just here the tone in that? And the fingernail-examining? Perfect again.
I like how Brash is so powerlessly indignant over how Flicker has maneuvered himself into having an audience desire to keep him alive to here the end of not one but two stories now. He must be gnashing his teeth to ruin here.
And who can trust a writer, right? You think you know where he’s going, especially in such a “thinly-veiled” tale, and wham! Can’t trust the bastards at all…
Bill Capossere writes short stories, essays and plays; does reviews for the LA Review of Books and Fantasy Literature, as well as for Tor.com; and works as an adjunct English instructor. In his non-writing and reading time, he plays ultimate Frisbee (though less often and more slowly than he used to) and disc golf.