Welcome back to the Dragonlance Reread!
Last week, Derek lead a doomed campaign against the Dragonarmies. Meanwhile, Tas wandered off to the High Clerist’s Tower and found another dragon orb—and he may have figured out a way to use it. This week, more shrieks and yells and blaring of horns from the Dragonarmies…
“The sun rises. Darkness descends.” and “Dragon orb. Dragonlance.”
The day is a beautiful one, and Sturm, walking the battlements can even see the snow-covered plains of his childhood home from here. (I’m sure that’s not significant or anything.)
As pretty as the sunrise is, the dawn also heralds worse things—as Bakaris promised, the dragonarmies attack with first light. There are only a hundred knights left in the tower (plus a dwarf, a kender and elf), and Sturm can’t help but get a little melancholy. Why is he doing this, he wonders? He barely even knows the land he’s defending. The Knighthood is a shell of its former self, not worthy of the loyalty he’s given them over his life. Why is he here?
The answer, Sturm decides, is ‘his friends’. The other knights saw in ‘black and white’, but Sturm’s been taught to see through other eyes—‘even hourglass ones’. He owes Tanis, Raistlin, Flint, everyone—he owes them his freedom. If it weren’t for them, he’d be another dead knight on the field, blindly oathbound to men like Derek.
That said, a ‘long life’ isn’t exactly in the cards right now. By nightfall, miraculously, the Tower still stands—but half of its defenders are dead. Somehow this handful of knights has managed to repel the enemy army, but at incredible cost. His companions are all alive as well (Tas, adorably, had a very fun day—he’s never been in a siege before!), although Flint and Laurana are aware that they won’t survive another assault.
Sturm clings to a tiny bit of hope—if the dragonarmies are stalled for two days, reinforcements could arrive from Palanthas. He tries to convince Laurana to leave the Tower again, and again she refuses. They spend the rest of the night worrying silently.
In the morning—the second of the siege—the dragonarmies do the unexpected and retreat. The knights begin to cheer, but Tas’s heightened vision reveals the horrible truth. The dragons are coming—three of them. The Highlord’s armies have been pulled back so their aura of fear doesn’t disrupt their own forces.
There’s a moment of hasty plotting. Laurana volunteers to use the Dragon Orb. Flint and Tas dash to get the remaining men into position. And Sturm… stays on the battlements to buy them time. He and Laurana exchange a brief, but powerful, farewell, and she leaves to go muster the troops.
Back on the battlement, Sturm is having a moment. The sun sparkles on armor, swords, Laurana’s hair. He waves his sword in salute… then sheathes it and starts loosing arrows. His aim is good, and, although he doesn’t actually hurt the three incoming dragons, he gets their attention. The lead dragon, with the Dragon Highlord riding it, veers towards Sturm.
The dragonfear begins to take Sturm, and, in his mind, he hears the call of a trumpet. It baffles him, but then he recognises it: the ‘pure, crisp’ cry of the trumpets that he heard in his dream (back when Team Tanis were in Silvanesti, remember?). But Sturm refuses to give in. Pulling himself together, he salutes the Dragon Highlord—who, surprisingly, salutes back.
The encounter is brief.
Sturm swipes at the dragon, who dodges out of the way. It then approaches from beneath the battlements, to give its rider more space to attack. Sturm gets in a good clip with his sword—literally bloodying the dragon’s nose—but then the Highlord attacks, skewering Sturm with ‘his’ spear.
Off the battlements, Laurana assembles the knights, then sees Sturm fall. His sword bounces from the parapet and falls to her feet. She’s stunned—but aware that the dragonarmies are coming, as are the dragons themselves. Grabbing Sturm’s sword, she waves it in the air, yelling defiantly at the incoming dragons. Their riders jeer back, and their dragons dive after her.
Laurana sprints through the High Clerist’s Tower. Knights (and Flint) have been positioned at key points, all armored up and holding dragonlances. She keeps running, all the way to the center of the Tower, where Tas is waiting for her. He’s dusted off the Orb and has his glasses ready. He’s done the ‘pre-reading’, as you will, and warmed up the ancient magic.
Tas watches as Laurana plunges (mentally speaking) into the Orb, and frets—he remembers Fizban’s warning about mucking about with it, and worries that Laurana may be harmed. His concerns are justified as she ‘whimpers’ in pain, then shudders—but then she grows angry, stands up straight and, to Tas’s delight, glorious white light pours from the Orb. Laurana smiles, then collapses.
Outside, the dragons are having fun kicking the Tower to pieces, with the dragonarmies about to pour through the gaps. Everything’s coming up Highlord, but then the light hits. The dragons stop what they’re doing and fly directly towards the center of the tower, controlled by the Orb. The Highlord’s dragon stays in control, barely. The draconians, however, are driven mad. As part-dragons, they don’t get the full ‘command’ of the orb, and instead ‘dash off shrieking in a thousand directions’. With the majority of the dragonarmies dissolving into a gibbering wreck, the remainder follow suit (goblins—not so brave on their own).
The two blue dragons fly blindly towards the center of the Tower, compelled by the Orb. The purpose of the building’s unique layout is revealed as the dragons get trapped in its series of doors and portcullises. They’re helpless, and become easy prey for the lance-wielding knights. Their death upsets poor Tas, who has a soft heart (even for dragons).
One of the dragons gives out a last desperate blast of lightning, and the Tower explodes in flame and rock. The dragons are killed as it collapses, and the Orb is (presumably) destroyed as well.
Tas and Laurana flee into the daylight. Laurana breaks the bad news of Sturm’s death to Tas, then straps on Sturm’s sword and goes seeking Sturm’s body. (She then swaps the sword for a lance. This chapter has a lot of characters cycling through their inventory.) She finds Sturm and drags him clear of the Tower walls; admiring that he finally seems peaceful.
Then the Dragon Highlord reappears… Laurana shrugs off the dragonfear and grabs for the lance, but the Highlord beats her to it. Laurana threatens the Highlord, but the Highlord says that ‘he’ has no intention of defiling Sturm’s body. Much to Laurana’s surprise, the Highlord gently closes Sturm’s eyes, then takes off ‘his’ mask. Surprise! Kitiara!
Kit and Laurana exchange a bit of bants. Kitiara reveals that she knows about the party’s shared dream, because Tanis told her about it. She also shares that she left Tanis back in Flotsam, ‘to look after matters’. Laurana is… pretty shaken.
Kitiara gives Laurana a kudos for scattering her army all over the plains. She tells Laurana that she’s won the day, and, in fact, has three days before Kitiara will attack again (she has to rebuild her forces). Kit asks (insists, really) that Sturm get the funeral he deserves. And then wanders off (with the dragonlance).
Laurana asks Kit what she’ll tell Tanis (re: Sturm, apparently), and Kit says “nothing”, which makes sense. The remaining knights all try to look menacing, and Kitiara ignores them. She saunters back to her dragon and flies off. As a parting shot, she chucks the lance back to Laurana, saying that ‘you’re going to need it!’.
Everything else was gone: his ideals, his hopes, his dreams. The Knighthood was collapsing. The Measure had been found wanting. Everything in his life was meaningless. His death must not be so.
Brutal. But powerful. We’ve not had a lot of time with Sturm until this chapter. In Autumn, he was a sort of quaint character—a deliberate anachronism; a character with more of a shtick than real depth. But throughout Winter, Sturm’s become a deeper character, largely because his sole dimension (he’s a knight!) has been challenged. If you are defined by your knighthood, and the knighthood turns out to be a lie… what are you? Sturm’s been called unworthy by the knighthood, then he’s turned it about, and called the knighthood unworthy. What’s a man to do?
What’s interesting in this passage is, first, what Sturm settles on: his friends, and, I suppose, moral relativism. He decries Derek (and the Knighthood’s) belief in black and white—finding more truth, more wisdom and more honour—through his experiences with his non-human and non-Good (Raist!) friends. In a world defined by alignment, Sturm is having a crisis of Lawful faith.
What’s also interesting is what’s not here—Alhana. Sturm’s given about six paragraphs of love, with the (beautiful, naturally) Elven princess from Silvanesti. Although the star jewel makes a brief appearance, Sturm never refers to Alhana herself.
Sturm’s sun shattered.
We come down hard on Dragonlance’s clunky writing, but sometimes the books just get it right. And this—the moment of Sturm’s death—is, frankly, kind of perfect. Within its immediate context, this chapter —from “The fog lifted…” to “sun shattered”—is rife with weather metaphors. Similarly, Sturm (et al) are equating the passage of time, specifically, days, with their sense of hope. And, in parallel, each morning—each dawn—brings with it another onslaught. The way the chapter glosses over the actual siege in favour of conversations about waiting; essentially die-hard clock-watching, reveals the ‘real’ enemy here:
Outside of its immediate context, this is a beautiful way of capturing Sturm’s Icarian quest for honour. He is a man fighting a dragon, seeking a single transcendent moment of glory. This is, for better and for worse, his moment in, er, the sun.
“I left [Tanis] is Flotsam, to look after matters while I was gone.”
Monster(s) of the Week
Also, draconians, goblins, etc. But actual proper dragons.
Fun fact: did you know that this is the first time in the series someone actually uses one of the titular dragonlances in battle? (I’m not counting ‘against a rock’ as a fight). And against a dragon, too!
Alright, two-and-a-half takes, all of them quick, as I think next week will be more about the big feelz.
Half-take: Yes, Sturm’s death has been clearly telegraphed since the first few chapters of Autumn Twilight. Even he references the Forestmaster and her omen-slinging. And, in hindsight, every part of his arc does feel like it is building to his noblglorious death (I made up that word, and I like it.) But, damn—it still works, and even after reading it a hundred thousand times, I still want him to pull through.
Full take the First: Following on from the above—and with full thoughts on the emotional impact of Sturm’s death to come—the bit that gets me—even now? It is a huge surprise. I mean, he actually dies. In an epic fantasy book. Dead-dead. He’s the knight. Not the parent or the wise old man or the mentor or the fridged love interest. He’s a main party member, and he gets properly skewered.
Fantasy, which we all love dearly, is a tropey, archetypey, utterly predictable genre—and that’s ok. Those are the things we love, repeated over and over again, with slight variation. Which is great! We love that stuff! I don’t want to knock it. But how often do we get those moments of actual, this isn’t supposed to happen surprise? Because these are, I believe, the moments that stick with us the most. (Aside: GRRM gets two—Eddard Stark and the Red Wedding—but after that, unpredictability became… predictable.) Sturm’s death isn’t surprising just for what it is—the death of a major character—but for the context. Dragonlance is, superficially, at least, not a book that seems to be breaking any rules. But with this one savage stab of the spear, we’re in a whole different territory. If Sturm dies, anyone can die.
Full take the Second: Compare this to the book-ending Boss Fight from Autumn Twilight—in which the Heroes all joined up to poke holes in Highlord Verminaard. Autumn gave us a battle between individuals, which the heroes won—and then, arguably, led to a lot of misery. Winter is about the greater war. In fact, the Heroes lose the battle of individuals (sorry, Sturm), but ‘win’ because they get the three days they need to—hopefully—hold back the Highlord’s armies.
Is this because they’re a more ‘mature’ team of heroes now? Or is it because this is the team of ‘thinking’ heroes, not the team of ‘fighting’ heroes? Are we at the nadir of the trilogy, and the best they can accomplish is a tactical sacrifice? Or is this the turning point? To be discussed, I suppose.
So much happening! And that too, with only half of our lot—of course I’m wondering how things would have gone down had Raistlin been here to use the orb instead of Laurana but hey, she did pretty well, all things given.
I did so enjoy the fact that Laurana seems to be coming into her own. She’s really stepped up and a real sense of agency now—I feel like she’s finally bringing something to the table that isn’t being Tanis’ lovelorn ex-girlfriend and for that alone, I love these chapters. Sure, she obviously doesn’t have the kind of orb-connection that Raistlin does, but then who can? Also, it’s probably for the best that only one of the companions is so tightly connected to the orbs, isn’t it? Imagine Raistlin’s face when he finds out that Laurana managed to save the day with the orb. I can.
But I know I’m straying from the main focus here—Sturm’s death. Oh Dragonlance—killing off beloved characters since 1985. And yes, all these years later, it’s still tragic but it’s still also so terribly heroic, isn’t it? He stands his ground, goes down fighting and buys his friends the time they need. What kills me though—every time—is that he dies at the hand of someone who is a friend and was an ally, even though he may not know it. That Kitiara is the one to so casually skewer Sturm in the name of the dragonarmies gives rise to the usual complicated feelings I have regarding her: is she good, is she evil, even if she’s a mercenary does she have no loyalty to her friends? Clearly, she doesn’t because she’s decided she’s going to win this war and as much as I admire her ferocity and ambition, I can’t help but grimace at the thought of her so casually taking Sturm out and sauntering away at the end of it all. Yes, she acknowledges she knows him by saluting him and after it’s all over she insists he be buried properly, yes she closes his eyes, yes she seems to have some respect for him but she still skewered him. What is the point of insisting he be given the burial he deserves when she’s murdered him so casually, so heartlessly? Or so it seems right now. Will Kit feel any remorse for this? She says she will tell Tanis nothing about Sturm’s death—she must know how it would destroy him to find that the Love of his Life has murdered his BFF, she must know that this may destroy their relationship too. All this of course makes me further intrigued by Kit—she’s really, by far, the most complex character in Dragonlance for me. More so than Raistlin, easily so much more so than any of the others and a world apart from any of the other female characters. What’s she all about? Is she really so heartless? How does she sleep at night? Don’t get me wrong: I’m very sorry Sturm is dead and all but his death has lead to so much more potential for drama that I’m very excited to see how it all pans out. Even Sturm’s sword falling at Laurana’s feet—is this a metaphor? Is she brave one now, the one who will have the Knight’s heart and soul that Strum did? Has Laurana finally become…a hero?!
Yeah, okay, I’ll stop talking about Kit and Laurana now and have a moment of silence for Sturm. Until 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.