Welcome back to the Dragonlance Reread!
Last week we (finally) got Silvara to confess her big secret! Well, we didn’t—but Fizban did. And he’s so beyond the Fourth Wall that he’s probably reading this now. (Hi Fizban!) With Silvara spilling and Fizban fussing and Laurana listening and Gilthanas gawking and Tas taking off, we’re now out of a) alliteration and b) the Kagonesti storyline. And, frankly, thank the gods of Good, Evil and Neutrality for it.
Let’s see what our other friends are up to, shall we?
“The Red Wizard and His Wonderful Illusions!” and “The Knights Trials”
You may not remember, but the last time we saw #TeamTanis, they were hanging out on the outskirts of the nightmare realm of Silvanesti. It was, to say the least, a tough time. And Tanis—you may be surprised by this—was feeling a little sorry for himself.
Now—mmmph day-weeks-months? later—well, let’s see.
We pick up in the occupied city of Port Balifor, on the Eastern edge of the continent (that is, if you’re following on a map, the opposite side of #TeamLaurana).
William Sweetwater is an innkeeper by trade, and his inn, The Pig and Whistle, is seeing dark days. The town is occupied (casually) by the armies of the Dragon Highlords. This part of the world is pretty uninteresting (scattered communities of humans and—good lord—Kender). So, rather than the rampant destruction we saw in Solace, Port Balifor is just kind of… there. Arguably (and in a fascist kind of way), William could be better off. The Highlords’ troops are well paid, and they like their booze. But William’s not all that appreciative of his new overlords, so he’s tripled his prices and watered his booze. Now his inn is almost empty—except for his friends—and he’s happy again. Well, relatively.
When #TeamTanis rocks up, William’s initially a little nervous. They are a weird-looking lot, after all. But William and his friend spot that the road-weary travellers are just that—and not Highlord spies—so they accept them with a rough welcome. William’s even happy to give them free food and drink, but Riverwind won’t take it. Things are getting tense, but Raistlin (of course) defuses the situation—a combination of sleight of hand and magical illusion makes the inn’s crowd happy, and earns them a night’s meal.
Raistlin (again) has solved the problem. The party is stony broke. They need to get passage on a ship to Sancrist. Plus, they need to be able to wander through occupied territory without causing a stir. Raistlin—or, “The Red Wizard and His Wonderful Illusions”—is the key. His combination of illusion and illusion is exciting. A show is born.
The rest of the party add their talents as well. Goldmoon sneaks in some songs of the Old Gods, and stealthily recruits more clerics—right under the noses (beaks?!) of the draconian soldiers. Caramon lifts things, because he’s Caramon. Tanis sees in the dark. (Which seems like a terrible idea, right? That’s basically showing off his elf blood!) And Tika—sigh—wears an alluring costume and dances.
They stay for a month, earning a reputation that even impresses the Highlord’s armies. Their cover set and purses full, they purchase a gaudy wagon and hit the road. The chapter ends with Tanis being glum, and thinking about his absent friends—especially Sturm.
Sturm is on trial—by the Knights of Solamnia. Derek (remember him? he was the really obnoxious dudebro knight) is accusing Sturm of all sorts of terrible things, including cowardice.
The Knights, we learn, have come down in the world. At a Trial like this, there should should be a High Clerist, a Grand Master and a High Justice. Sadly, only one of the positions (Justice) is filled, and the other two have stand-ins. Twenty other Knights are in the crowd, watching Sturm get verbally flensed by Derek.
The legal debate—who doesn’t love a courtroom drama?—is tense. Sturm technically should get the right to answer his charges, but in this case, he’s kind of hosed (legal term). He’s a squire, Derek’s a full-on Knight of the Rose (highest rank!). There are no witnesses. Which would mean Sturm would have to say that Derek is lying, which is, of course, simply inconceivable.
Lord Gunther, stand-in for the Grand Master and this chapter’s POV character, is a little miffed by this. He likes a bit of actual justice in his justice, and he’s not so happy about how Derek’s scheming seems to be undermining, you know… everything. Gunther helpfully explains the current state of Knightly politics. He and Derek are rivals for leadership. Derek’s return with the dragon orb has given him a big boost. Everyone loves Derek except for the youngest Knights (of the Crown), who think he’s kind of a dick, and would like a little progression in their order.
Gunthar slyly presents a few questions to Sturm. There’s a bit of three-sided courtroom chicanery, as Gunthar, Sturm and Derek all bat terms around. Is Sturm a coward? Well, he didn’t want to fight elves. But are the elves enemies? Were they… etc. etc.
When pressed—ordered, even—Sturm says not that Derek lied, but that he’s misrepresented him to “further his own ambition.” Derek’s pretty unhappy about this, and the room explodes into calls for duels and satisfaction. The arguments rage all through the afternoon. The younger knights think Sturm’s the bee’s knees. The older ones are furious. Sturm acts composed, but is a total mess—this is what he’s lived for, and there’s no point to it all.
Finally, Sturm is called forth for judgement. Much to his despair, he’s immediately stripped of his trapping and his titles (and his pay, which everyone finds amusing). But Gunthar goes on… the Lord points out that Derek doesn’t have witnesses, either. So in this legal stalemate, well… he’s going to make Sturm a knight anyway! Woohoo! And Sturm’s now going to be in command of a division of Knights that’s travelling to Palanthas! Woohoo! A joint command, shared with Derek and a crony! Eek!
The room explodes. Sturm is baffled and befuddled. He’s a Knight! Knights kind of suck! Argh! Afterwards, Gunthar gives Sturm a pep talk and the young Knight (understandably) breaks down in tears and then passes out, exhausted.
The next few days pass quickly, as Sturm has to resupply (he can’t wear his old armor, because of the stupid edict). After a brainstorm with Gunthar, he also realises that he has witnesses—Laurana and Gilthanas. Both elves of royal birth, both people that will vouch for the events as he saw them. Plus, the elves and Knights are headed towards a summit meeting, so this may happen earlier, rather than later. On that… quasi-cheerful? note, Sturm boards his ships and heads forth with his men to the city of Palanthas.
Monster(s) of the Week
Draconians and goblins, mostly hanging out.
Can anyone figure out the Highlords’ military strategy? This seems to be yet another random place that they’ve occupied. The military expansion must be costing a fortune. And who pays their goblins well?! Isn’t that the entire point of using goblins?! And—mild spoiler?—isn’t the entire purpose of draconians that you don’t have to pay them?!
“The people of Port Balifor…. had no knowledge of what was going on in the outside world.”
Broken record, but, again, the lines of communication in Krynn are TOTALLY BAFFLING TO ME.
“Tika offered to dance… Raistlin was dubious, but Tika sewed a costume for herself that was so alluring that Caramon was—at first—totally opposed to the scheme. But Tika only laughed at him.”
I think this borders on the right side of cute. Tika does make her own choice, and Caramon doesn’t have a say, and she’s (again) contributing to the party. But it is also… eh. I dunno. I like that she’s a useful party member, but I wish that use wasn’t based on her sexy wriggling skills.
That said, Goldmoon is referred to as “the most beautiful woman that William had ever seen” and “so beautiful was she that not a murmur escaped the crowd.” Just in case you forgot.
“Though he had won his victory, he was appalled by what the knighthood had become.”
Sturm’s got a point. And it is hard not to sympathise with the poor fellow. He’s spent his entire life wanting to be a Knight. Don’t forget he’s been dressing like one without ever even being officially sworn in—like that one kid in high school that used to wear Marine Corps fatigues all the time. The first knights he encounters for a while? Total dicks. And then when he gets to knight HQ? A wriggling mass of snakes. Sure, he’s been roped in, and, yay? But… this feels like the fulfilment of a dream than more punishment.
Maybe I’m high on the air of freedom, but, wow—these chapters are great! I’ve always been a fan of the books’ intermittent trick of flipping to third-party POVs, and I think, here, it is done incredibly well.
First, William is… well, kind of adorable in a very, very niche way. In the classic guides to Dungeon Mastering, the shtick for developing Non-Player Characters is to make them one-trick ponies. It makes them easy to remember and easy to role play. That’s our William, with his birthmark of a pig! I’d bet anything he’s a relic from the actual campaign…
But setting that aside, he’s also a really good device in a few different ways. First, again, we get the “average person’s” view of the war (“bamboozled; grumpy”) and of the party. Remember when we saw the team through Tika’s eyes, and they were stone-cold killers and amazing badasses? Well, by contrast—here’s a group of starving, dirty adventure-hippies that can’t even afford cheese. They’re struggling. This isn’t exactly Abercrombian gritty realism, but it also isn’t Forgotten Realms, where people roll out of their Vorpal Beds +2 and conjure magical breakfast. They’ve got practical problems in Krynn.
Second, I’ve a huge soft spot for literary and cinematic moments where ordinary people save the day. In a sense, William is just as “important” to the completion of the Great Quest as, I dunno, Riverwind. (I’d say Raistlin, but really, Raistlin is the only reason stuff gets done.) It is a nice moment to see people with average ability scores, ordinary lives and an absence of spell-slinging superpowers step up and lend a hand.
William, and the assistance of a bunch of extraordinarily ordinary people in an occupied backwater, are also in stark contrast to the Knights of Solamnia. These are our armored saviours?! They’re useless! They’ve got a fleet and plate mail and rituals and and and… good god, they’re spending their time on politics?! I really enjoy this scene (I’ve also a huge soft spot for legal dramas) and the main theme—the Knights are too busy following the rules of ‘Good’ to actually be Good—is pretty apparent.
Not to harp on about the alignment system of Krynn again, but it is interesting how the balance of Good and Evil (currently tilted towards Evil) is being restored. The traditional institutions (the elven kingdoms, the Knighthood) are struggling. But the grassroots campaigns—the young knights, the good-hearted innkeepers, the random members of the crowd who become clerics, our heroes—are cause for optimism.
I really wish I felt as strongly about mediocre medieval courtroom drama as Jared does, I really do. But… wow, I really don’t. It’s good to see that everyone is out of the woods and in the clear, but I’m not sure we needed this courtroom action to move stuff along. Or maybe we did. I’m a bit meh about Sturm’s issues, to be honest. I didn’t even feel bad for him when he finally broke down into tears. I feel like the Knights really put a lot of pressure on themselves, you know? This whole code they have… it’s very stressful. It kind of feels like the entire societal construct of masculinity that forces men into certain stereotypical roles, and in this case it’s one that Sturm has taken on for years by complete choice. So in that regard, I’m glad Sturm got to break down and cry when he wanted to, and I’m glad Gunthar was there for him. I guess the whole bro code is maybe okay after all?
Having convinced myself of this (though not of the mediocre courtroom drama), I’m still glad when we move on from Sturm and the bros he wants because Jared is right—the Knights are just too busy figuring out what it means to be good to do any actual good and it’s quite frustrating. So let’s move on to our actual heroes. Raistlin being reduced to a common magician in a pub?! But who am I to complain when the mage seems okay to do this to get some cash together? Never say he isn’t of actual practical help, he of the horrible cough and limited physical strength. And look! He’s even willing to let the others help! Tika’s dancing, Goldmoon’s singing and we’ve got a full on variety show here. I do wish the women were not reduced to helping via their physical appearances (whether it be Tika’s body or Goldmoon’s beauty and voice), but they do make the decisions to help and both appear to be doing exactly what they want, regardless of what the men in their lives may or may not feel about it.
These two chapters were a bit of a slow start to book 3 for me, but they are a bit of a breather, a resettling of sorts, a balance being found once again before we head out to greater adventures. Evil may be spreading, but the good guys are building their strength and they will move forward to vanquish whatever may come their way. They may not be tearing evil asunder yet, but oh there is thunder in their hearts.
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.