Welcome back to the Dragonlance Reread. Last week was pretty epic. The tide, she hath turned! Disco dragons and Dragonlances and Golden Generals and Knights and Palanthians are reclaiming Krynn from the Dragonarmies, and, as they say in every bad television episode ever, “nothing can go wrong!”.
Except, well, it can. Because Kit is clever… so what are the forces of Evil up to? Let’s have a looksee.
“The Penalty of Failure” and “The Knight of the Black Rose”
Lord Ariakas, astride a massive red dragon, is attempting to make a landing at Dargaard Keep. Once beautiful, this crumbling ruin now looks like the web of a poisonous insect. They land and Lord Ariakas thunders about. He finds the Acting Commander Garibanus filling in for him for more ways than just military. If you know what I mean. Wink. As Garibanus stumbles out of Kitiara’s rooms, Ariakas punches him into a heap of cracked bones and splatter and heads up to Kitiara.
Ariakas, we are told, is the Commander in Chief of all the dragonarmies, a brilliant military genius who reports directly to the Dark Queen. He had started to consider himself Emperor, but now, after the army’s recent defeat, he isn’t so sure—and he’s furious.
Ariakas has always had rage issues, what with having killed his own father many years before, after seeing his father kill his mother back when he was two. His mother was attempting to run off with the toddler Ariakas at the time—before his father, cleric to the Dark Queen, raised him to be evil. Didn’t work. Ariakas is power hungry, in love with war, still furious, and, yes, evil.
He barges into Kitiara’s bedroom and forces her to the floor with a command to kneel before her executioner. As he heaves his sword to slice her head off, he pauses to admire her sexy sexiness and beauteous beauty. At this moment, his wrist is gripped by someone even stronger and fiercer than him—a death knight, a ghost (kinda?) that appears to serve Kitiara. Or, as she explains, is in a mutually beneficial service with Kitiara.
Ariakas, even in his fury with Kitiara, has to admire her muscle. The death knight turns out to be the Lord Soth, Knight of the Black Rose, keeper of this castle and commander of a skeletal troop. Kitiara and Ariakas have an ego-argument, in which he insists they have lost and she insists they have not and that everyone has played into her hand. She then blames him for the fiasco with the good dragons discovering what was being done to their eggs.
Ariakas is somehow even angrier, but Kit is calm, and insists she has a plan. She is gathering a battalion off on one side, and will attack when least expected to. Ariakas insists that Laurana’s troops may stand their ground, but Kit insists that Laurana is a woman in looooove and that will be her weakness. Ariakas feels Kit knows something about Tanis’ whereabouts but decides to play along, asking what her plans for Laurana are. Kit tells him that the Dark Queen has asked for Laurana personally.
Suddenly there is a terrible ‘wailing keen’, so awful that it makes both these hardened warriors afraid. Kit takes Ariakas to show him the source. Lord Soth, seated on his throne, is surrounded by his skeletal warriors, with ‘dark hags’ singing to him. Kit agrees to tell him about the song (which is about Lord Soth’s painful downfall) and apologises to Ariakas, saying that she will not fail him again. Ariakas threatens her with a fate worse than Lord Soth’s if she does.
Kitiara tells Ariakas (and us), the story of the Knight of the Black Rose, who was passionate and noble but had no self-discipline. Though married, he fell love with an elf maiden, whom he seduced, lying to her and bringing her to live with him at Dargaard Keep, promising to marry her. His first wife vanished mysteriously. The elf maiden stayed true to him, even though he was clearly Bluebeard, and she prayed to Mishakal that he be allowed to redeem himself somehow. The gods were ok with this, and gave him the ability to stop the Cataclysm, but at the loss of his own life. As he was on his way to stop the Kingpriest and restore his own honour (by, um, dying), he was, in turn, stopped by elven women, disciples of the Kingpriest. They convinced Soth that his elf-lover had been unfaithful to him. He went into a jealous rage, rode back to the Keep, accused the innocent elf maiden and, whammo, the Cataclysm struck. As it did, a chandelier fell on the elf maiden and her child, burning them to death. With her dying breath, she called down a curse on the knight, condemning him to ‘eternal, dreadful life’. Soth and his followers died in the fire too, only to be reborn as ghosts.
Then we have some verse, courtesy of the hags that sing, about stains and cancers, sharks, snakes, crib death (no, really), women screaming, hell on earth forever, etc. etc. dramatic drama.
‘Stay on our knees and bow your head, as the condemned do when they come to the block. For I am your executioner, Kitiara. Thus do my commanders pay for their failure!’
This Ariakas guy… yeah, no. Not nice.
Monster(s) of the Week
A red dragon. And Ariakas, because come on, we all know he is.
Lord Soth, because, Lord Soth. Plus, undead hosts.
So this Lord Ariakas—am I meant to feel sympathy for him, based on his backstory?
Neither parent won in this case, both ended up brutally murdered by someone they loved and Ariakas grew up to be a power hungry monster regardless. He’s really such a crappy human being. There’s this certain misogyny in his treatment towards Kitiara, too. Sure, he thinks she failed him as a commander, but let’s not forget he also seemed to have been her lover. He enters the room furious as her having lost the battle, and pissed at her for having taken on another lover while he was away. He drags her half-clad out of bed, makes her kneel at his feet and is about to slice her head clean off. Its an entirely uncomfortable scene, especially given the fact that we haven’t ever seen Kit in any sort of subordinate or submissive role before—especially not to a man. And that then she needs a ghost to save her… well, that’s just not on.
I very much believed that Kit can charm her way out of any situation, and this seemed like the perfect time to show her at her absolute manipulative, charming self, but instead we have her kneeling on the floor and a (male) ghost appearing more powerful and able than her. Sure, she manages to get Ariakas to calm down a bit later, but the chapter still ends with a straight up threat of death from Ariakas. I don’t like it, and I really hoped for more for Kit.
Moving on to this poem. All I want to know is, there’s cancer on Krynn?!
I had forgotten Lord Soth! HOW DID I FORGET LORD SOTH? Pretty sure I spent most of my formative years stomping around the playground, pretending to be the Death Knight. I mean, who wouldn’t? He’s the most extremely cool, adolescent-dudeboy fan-service character you could imagine: evil, but honourable, basically super-powerful, friend-zoned by Kitiara, gothy, emo, badass, etc. etc. He’s a teenage dream.
Two Lord Soth fun-facts:
He wound up in Ravenloft, D&D’s ‘horror’ setting, in what probably deserves further study as an example of, I dunno, proto-MCU universe-building foresight or something. It is an interesting example of world-hopping and setting-hopping. D&D was always really clever like that—between Planescape, Ravenloft and Spelljammer, they had at least three ways of letting players travel between settings and ‘cherry-pick’ their favourite parts of each. It also shows that Lord Soth was always a fan favourite. He even got his own novel—a Ravenloft one, in fact, not a Dragonlance once.
Death Knights were invented by the award-winning Laundry Files author Charles Stross. Seriously! Scrounge up your copy of Fiend Folio and look at who created this—frankly—iconic monster. Isn’t that fun? (In a moment of serious nerdery, I had him sign my copy of FF at a con. I’m not sure how he felt about that. Sorry!)
But, hey, we also have Lord Ariakas!
This chapter is just badass upon badass. We had Kitiara set up as the Big Bad, then we had some Ariakas name-dropping, then we finally meet him… and he’s immediately put back in his box by Lord Soth. Complicated!
As noted in a previous guest post, Krynn is all about nominative determinism. Here’s a hint—if you want your son to grow up to not be a Dragon Highlord, don’t name him something with a lot of sibilants and harsh ‘k’ sounds. “Should we call him Snuggle McPugglepoo or… BANESLAUGHTER DAMNATROKK?”
As Mahvesh points out, I’m not sure if we’re supposed to feel sorry for Ariakas or not. Regardless of authorial intent, what I’m taking out is… he’s not very nice. And has a real problem with women. (In fact, this chapter isn’t full of great women: Ariakas’ mom (dead), Soth’s first wife (dead), Soth’s second wife (seduced, dead, cursing), Elven Clerics (sneaky, evil, probably dead), Hags (evil, shrieking, un-dead), and Kitiara (powerful, evil, and… reduced to naked kneeling).
There’s something very melodramatic about these chapters. Lots of screaming gothickness, angry storming about, naked people being cast around, seduction, betrayal, doomed quests, billowing capes, collapsing castles. Team Evil is very committed to its style.
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.