Welcome back to the Dragonlance Reread!
Last week Kitiara got down and dirty with Tannis, while Derek and Sturm just got on each others’ last nerve. This week, Sturm barely keeps his anger in check, and Tas goes for a bit of a plot-development wander…
“A kender’s curiosity. The Knights ride forth.” and “Death on the plains. Tasslehoff’s discovery.”
After Sturm’s knighting, he and Flint walk the battlements of the High Clerist’s Tower. Flint’s filling his knightly friend in on the adventures he missed. Sturm is understandably sad to have not seen Huma’s Tomb, but Flint reassures him that they’ll go back ‘when this is all done’.
Flint prattles on (poor Flint doesn’t get many lines, and, in this scene, he’s largely a backdrop). Sturm contemplates Palanthas, and their lack of fighting spirit—the city is much more defensible than the Tower.
Their shared melancholy is interrupted by Derek, who is now full-on frothing bonkers. He rants about about Sturm and Gunthar and their conspiracies and how Laurana is Sturm’s mistress and their testimony was bought and the Moon landing was fake and where’s Gunthar’s birth certificate anyway, huh?
Sturm holds back from chucking Derek over the side (well, Flint holds him back), but then Derek shares the real point of his visit: he’s leading a charge tomorrow morning. No more ‘skulking’—time to take the fight to the Dragonarmies.
Meanwhile, Tas has a wander. The High Clerist’s Tower, we learn, has some fairly cryptic architecture. There’s a solid (whew) octagonal wall on the outside, but there’s a troubling lack of internal defenses. In fact, there are three great big doors, all practically welcoming people into the heart of the Tower. This central bit—the old part of the Tower—is almost entirely abandoned. The Palanthians extended the defenses with a more modern addition, and that’s where everyone hangs out. Being abandoned, the Tower itself is somewhat ‘off limits’. Except for Tas, who is always good for a bit of plot-poking.
Tas wanders through one of the three big doors and finds himself in a long, wide hall, with a strange combination of jagged columns and odd portcullises and, well, dust. Tas wanders further and further into the heart of the Tower and finds a single, very odd thing in the center. (CLIFFHANGER)
Meanwhile, the next morning. Derek lines up a hundred knights and a thousand footmen, the bulk of their forces. Sturm and Laurana watch, aghast, as Derek readies them for battle against overwhelming odds. Alfred, still kind of useless, tried to change Derek’s mind overnight, but failed—and being bound by the Measure, feels he needs to go along with this crazy plan.
Sturm gives his own men a choice—since he orders them to stay, they can avoid the battle without losing their own honour. But as Afred points out, if Derek’s men do carry the field, Sturm will be executed. Sturm adds that he’d willingly die that death.
In the Highlord’s camp, handsome Bakaris is awoken by a minion—the Knights are taking the field. Rubbing his proverbial hands together, Bakaris marshals his own forces.
We’re spared sight of the battle, instead, the narrative sticks with Laurana in the tower. While they wait for word of the battle’s outcome, a messenger arrives from Palanthas. The road is open, which is good news, I suppose. Laurana refuses to leave, as much as she secretly wants to—she insists that Sturm needs all the help he can get. The two have a long talk about, of all things, Tanis. Sturm misses his best friend. Laurana wants to impress him, even in his absence—she can’t abandon her friends (or his), else he’ll never respect her. Sturm is worried because the dragons are coming—they’re already outnumbered, starving and surrounded. But as soon as the dragons arrive, they’re completely overwhelmed.
Another messenger approaches later, at night. This time, it is Bakaris. (He’s handsome.) The battle was a complete rout, and he’s bringing back the bodies of Alfred (headless) and Derek (nearly dead, but not quite). Mostly, he wants a chance to gloat. Bakaris is kind of a tool, and Laurana shoots him in the arm to make a point that she could’ve shot him in the head. As far as diplomacy goes, it is a little lacking, but it is very satisfying for everyone concerned (except Bakaris).
Despite all evidence to the contrary, the maddened Derek rambles on a bit about how the Dragonarmies ran before him and the Knights won the day. He then dies, with Sturm (quite kindly) saying that he goes ‘bravely—like a true knight’. (Actually, that could be serious sarcasm, but that doesn’t feel very Sturm.)
Tas confesses to Laurana what he’s found in the tower—another dragon orb. He then shares even more—he knows how they work. Gnosh told him that there are words that appear in the orb, and Tas has his magic glasses. So he could, probably, use the orb. Somehow. Laurana stresses that if even a single dragon arrives, they’re doomed, so with that encouragement, Tas dons his glasses and gets to orbing…
‘Why insult the door’s purpose by locking it?’
–Kender expression. This made me laugh.
“Where has the Measure gotten us? Divided, jealous, crazed. Even our own people prefer to treat with the armies of our enemies! The Measure has failed!”
–Sturm doesn’t throw a tantrum often, but when he does, he makes it count. Well done, Brightblade!
“I’m staying. It’s what Tanis would do—”
“Damn it, Laurana. Live your own life! You can’t be Tanis! I can’t be Tanis! He isn’t here!”
Monster(s) of the Week
The assorted hordes of darkness. (offscreen)
I find Krynn’s rich history fascinating, especially as it only ever occurs as the occasional plot-point. Everything everyone does, everywhere they go, they’re surrounded by ruins and lost magic and broken cities and relics. But the sense is that it is all forgotten—that civilisation has fragmented. The gods are gone, the magic is lost; there are entire structures that sit in the middle of trade routes that no one even visits.
The absence of history hurts. It gives Krynn the feel of a world in decline. The characters are constantly being reminded of their own ignorance, surrounded by objects and powers and mystical artifacts that they can’t use, all made by more knowledgeable people in the past. The balance of Good and Evil is also interlinked: while cities like Palanthas ignore what they ‘should’ be doing, the Dragonarmies gobble up isolated cities and territories, all of which are the shattered fragments of larger, ancient empires.
And, yet, where there is a sense of history—of connection with the past—it can also be counterproductive. Sturm’s rant against the Measure—and the foolishness of the Knighthood—is one strong argument. The Knights stick to tradition, often without even considering the alternatives. Their fixed behaviours and attitudes are dragging them down. The Elves as well are living more in the past than in the present, too busy thinking about their ancient role to meet modern challenges.
Functionally, this feels like one of the side effects of Dragonlance’s simultaneous development as both a game work and a series of novels. The landscape needs to be littered with adventure hooks, mysteries and ‘dungeons’. Thousands of tiny plot hooks. The richer the world’s history, the more nooks and crannies there are to explore.
But thematically, this is also rich territory—we’ve written in the past about how this is a series about rebellion; trusting individuals, not institutions. But it is also a fantasy that explores our connection with the past, and how, although we need it, we can’t risk being defined by it.
Jared always makes it so hard to follow up with something equally clever! He’s right, as usual—the world of Dragonlance was created to work as a boardgame would—each roll of the dice must lead us to a new twist, a different turn, a change of scene. But that’s me saying that now, as someone who knows that this was part of a game. I didn’t back then, and so the world of Dragonlance to me was just this mysterious sprawl with much, much unexplored territory that was home to many adventures to be experienced. There’s always a new place when you need one, and an ancient source of magic and power waiting around in some ruins to be discovered. Sure—we don’t really have a single unified canonical history (do we?), but even this world in ruin, this sprawling Krynn of destroyed towns and fragments of old civilisations is exciting an
Just in these chapters alone, we have mention of the Tower of the High Clerist, the Westgate Past, the Habbakuk Range of mountains separating Solamnia from Palanthas, the Gates of Paladine, the Age of Might, the Vingaard Keep—and all this just in a couple of paragraphs! Sure, we don’t really have details on all this in any straightforward infodumpy way (though let’s face it, Dragonlance isn’t a stranger to infodumps), but how intriguing are even just the names alone? Just the potential of these incredible places, the suggestion of this mysterious history and the centuries of ancient civilisations and gods and heroes and monsters and warriors who have made up Krynn…just the suggestion used to take my teenage breath away. And it still does in some ways—I love suddenly meeting new groups of people, randomly coming across bits of magical antiques, running into strange creatures, all of it. I love finding out about the past in pieces, putting it together and realising that no, it still isn’t everything Krynn is, but it’s what made the characters I love who they are, and that’s enough for me.
Next week: less waxing lyrical from us, more shrieks and yells and blaring of horns from the dragonarmies.
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.