Welcome back to the Dragonlance Reread!
Last week, we saw Laurana trapped, Soth… do Soth things, and #TeamTanis chase a red ghost in the lost city of Istar. Tough to top, right? Well, let’s see…
“I killed him once…” and “Apoletta”
We start with a flashback. Caramon is watching Raistlin take the Test at the Tower of High Sorcery. Par-Salian, the highest-ranking wizard in Krynn, is by his side, as Raistlin goes through the punishing ordeal.
The Test, Par-Salian explains, is there to ‘weed out the incompetent’. Higher magic is both powerful and dangerous, and the Order make sure that those willing to attempt it are as competent as they are ambitious.
Caramon doesn’t care. All he wants is for Raistlin to be safe, and the Test is definitely not safe. He’s ready to interfere, when Par-Salian does magic-fingers and shows Caramon what’s happening in the room…
Much to Caramon’s surprise, he’s seeing himself, wandering through the tower and finding Raistlin. Raistlin is bloodied and beaten, but, refuses to go with shadow-Caramon. Shadow-Caramon is carrying his wounded brother out of the tower when a wraith appears. Much to Caramon’s surprise, shadow-Caramon destroys it with a spell. Real Raistlin is furious—Caramon is taking his shtick. Much to Real Caramon’s horror, Real Raistlin destroys shadow-Caramon with a spell. (Follow all that?)
Meanwhile, back in Istar, real-real-Caramon is in a bad way, not recovering well from the whole ‘being drowned in a Maelstrom’ thing. He has visions of Silvanesti (Raistlin killing him again) and visions of drowning (trying to save Tika, abandoned by Raistlin).
Meanwhile, Tika looks after him. Another wizard, Zebulah, helps her. It seems that the sea elves saved the party from drowning—the elves value all life, and saved those that they could. They’re in the scattered ruins of Istar, a sort of labyrinth of air pockets. There’s food and air and water, but Zebulah warns Tika that she won’t ever be leaving. When Tika presses the point, he gets grumpy. He’s tired of the drama of land-dwellers, and thinks things are better down where they’re wetter. Take it from me.
Zebulah stomps out, but Tika quickly forgets their spat as Caramon comes out of his coma/fever/fugue. Tika explains the situation to him. And, more importantly, Tika and Caramon confess their love for one another. Much clasping and crushing ensues. But Caramon warns her, as much as he loves her, he can only give what he can—Raistlin will always be a part of him.
As those two get frisky, a curtain drops. Fortunately, we have other submerged heroes to follow. Riverwind and Tanis scamper around the ruins trying to find the mysterious red-robed mage. They finally close on him, and find him by a pool—talking to someone in the water: a sea elf.
Tanis, Riverwind, Goldmoon and Berem all eavesdrop (although the conversation is in Elvish, so it doesn’t do 3 of them any good). Zebulah (for we know, even if Tanis doesn’t) and Apoletta (the sea elf) talk about Caramon and the war on the surface. Tanis interrupts, and makes a hasty speech—rapidly infodumping that the Queen of Darkness is back and there are legends and dragons and horrible things and aaaaaaah!
Apoletta and Zebulah hear him out. Riverwind interrupts, so Tanis begins to translate so everyone can understand one another. There’s some mildly risque comedy as Apoletta points out that she’s totes naked so she won’t shake everyone’s hand. She sends Zebulah (her husband, awww) to fetch Tika and Caramon. While Tanis and Apoletta swap elf-gossip, Zebulah gives the other three a guided tour. This is, as we know, Istar. And there are air pockets because of reasons (to make DL12: Dragons of Faith playable, presumably). Zebulah wound up there because of his greed—he was using his magic to prospect for the riches of Istar, but he wound up finding Apoletta and falling in love. True wealth. <3
We end with Caramon. Tika’s all snuggled in his arms. But all he can think about is how Raistlin needed him—really needed him. He remembers their childhood, when Raistlin would wake up with night terrors. Caramon would make shadow puppets (‘bunnies!’), and Raistlin would ask him to guard his sleep. Caramon knows these days are gone, but he also believes Raistlin still needs him. And, what will Caramon ever do without him? Despite Tika in his arms, Caramon ends the chapter in quiet tears.
“Forgive me for not extending a formal greeting, but we do not clothe our bodies”
Zebulah studied Goldmoon silent as she stood amid the ruins of Istar, her silver-golden hair shining like the sunlight that would never touch the crushed building. The classic beauty of her face was marked by the effects of the dark roads she had traveled. Far from marring that beauty, the lines of… etc. etc.
In case you forgot. There’s also an earlier shout-out to Laurana being beautiful as well (she’s not even in this chapter). And Tika. And Apoletta. Dragonlance!
On a brighter note, if you mentally replacing ‘Goldmoon’s hair’ with ‘Connie Britton’s hair’, it’s pretty fun. “Goldmoon, how can your hair shine like sunlight when you’ve been half-drowned by a muddy saltwater ocean, haven’t ever showered and are currently nowhere near a light source?” “FEMINISM!”
“Look, Raist, bunnies…”
Brilliant. Gutting. And really lovely.
Monster(s) of the Week
Raistlin (in absentia)
Bunnies, Shadow—1HD, save against heart-break
Sea-Elf—a comely nude monster, but a monster none-the-less
Sea Dragons!—Apoletta alludes to these, and, sadly, we don’t encounter them. The note in the Annotated Dragonlance Chronicles says these look a bit like giant turtles and fought with the Dark Queen.
I’m glad to be back with #TeamTanis for a while, even if they’re just wandering around in a ruin. The fallen city is a very cool setting, and I’m glad that Zebulah tells us a bit more about it. I really want to explore it in the tabletop RPG. How about an adventure where the characters are a bit like Zebulah—interested in the riches of Istar, and doing undersea exploration? With pirates and rival explorers (and sea dragons, naturally)? That sounds so much fun.
I think the introductory Test scene is a mixed bag. We’ve got some clunkiness—I’m morally opposed to reading pages in italics (a personal bugbear, but italics are designed to be hard to read, because they are for emphasis and not entire chapters) and having so! many! sentences! with! exclamation marks! BUT… the ‘high concept’ is spot on, and really helps explain the characters of the two. Caramon mastering magic would be exactly the thing that would break Raistlin—the frail, weak, smart, Raistlin, overshadowed again by his big, handsome, outgoing brother. And Raistlin, losing that one thing that makes him special… A brilliant twist. And for the two to continue their lives together, joined by the knowledge that Raistlin could—or would—kill Caramon out of jealousy. Brutal.
But that first scene is nothing compared to the last one, where Caramon, Tika in his arms, is quietly crying himself to sleep over Raistlin. Raistlin, we now know, partially defines himself as the absence of Caramon—all the weaknesses that Caramon does not have, plus that one special thing (magic). But Caramon wholly defines himself as the rest of Raistlin—his entire existence is subsumed by his need to care for his brother. He worries about Raistlin, and how he’ll get on in the world, but he’s more worried about himself. Without Raistlin, what is Caramon? It isn’t that he doesn’t love Tika—or the other companions—but that’s simply not how he sees himself. It is really well done, and the childhood memories are genuinely powerful. The diversity of writing quality that Dragonlance can contain within two chapters will always keep surprising me.
The rest of the chapters feels a bit like padding. I mean, it has to happen: they need to get out of their watery dead-end at some point. The recaps are important, as they show how Tanis (and Goldmoon, etc) are focusing in on the overarching quest. #TeamLaurana already had their revelatory moment in Dragons of Winter Night and earlier in this book—Tas speeched at the Knights and Elves, Laurana rallied Palanthas. Tanis, et al, have been creeping around the fringes, more focused on personal dramas—Kit, Raistlin, even getting money for a boat. Tanis and Goldmoon convincing Apoletta and Zebulah that Something Big is happening feels important: #TeamTanis is now engaging with the bigger picture, and not just their day-to-day drama.
OH, and one random one—after Tanis and Riverwind chased the elusive Zebulah around in the previous chapter, I sort of assumed that it was an illusion—a magical lure that Zebulah had created to get the party to go where he wanted them to go. But, apparently it wasn’t? And the middle-aged wizard just successfully—and completely inadvertently—outran them? Or something? Anyone catch something here that I missed?
Mahvesh is off again this week, so we’ll give the last word to my personal favourite sea elf, who notes—rather sympathetically—that these are some ‘poor unfortunate souls’. Maybe things will get better for them next week…