The Dragonbone Chair Part Eleven, Chapters 30 and 31

Welcome back to the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn Re-Read and Analysis! It’s been awhile, and there have been many reasons (and excuses?) for why I’ve taken so long to get back into this, but things should be able to continue relatively smoothly for now.

A few notes about changes to the structure. From now on, for the sake of people who can’t read 20,000+ words of a blog in one sitting, I will be moving down to two chapters at a time instead of three, and also condensing the chapter summary lengths a good bit. However, commentary will stay on the same track it’s always been.

I will also be posting this portion of the blog only every other Tuesday from now on. However, if you’re concerned about your MS&T fix, you have nothing to fear, because I have great news for you. A friend’s blog, A Gentle Madness: Collecting Tad Williams is about to start his own bi-weekly project, where he will be studying and analyzing the history of the series, it’s publication, and the critical response it has received over the years. You should be checking this out now! Don’t forget!

And, as usual, if you have never read this series before, and have somehow found this site by accident, there WILL BE MASSIVE SERIES-BREAKING SPOILERS throughout this re-read and analysis. I do not believe I can stress this enough. DO NOT read this if you have never read the series before, unless you just don’t mind knowing how a many-thousand-page epic series concludes. There will be Spoilers. The will be MANY Spoilers. You have been warned.

Let’s see how things have been going since the last time we were in this place . . .

Chapter 30 – A Thousand Nails

Summary

Simon wakes up to find himself cared for in a small room. Father Strangyeard enters and introduces himself, and assures Simon that Binabik and “Marya” are both fine and he will likely see them soon. Simon begins putting his shoes on so that he can see his friends. The two walk outside and by a pyre that is being constructed to burn the body of the giant which had so recently attacked Simon and his friends.

Simon finds Binabik awake, but very pale and weak-looking. Strangyard dismisses himself and Simon and Binabik share a reunion. Simon is disheartened that Binabik believes “Marya” may have gone on, now that her message has been delivered, and cannot believe he’s been out for almost two days. Eventually, Binabik needs to sleep again, and asks Simon to check in on Qantaqa.

When Simon leaves, he meets Sanfugal, who shows him to the stables, where Qantaqa is being kept. The stable master has Qantaqa tied by her neck in a pit, which outrages Simon. He coerces Sangfugal and the stable master to help get the wolf out, and they then head back to Binabik’s room so the troll and wolf can reunite.

Simon and Sangfugal eat their food on the south wall, and Sangfugal tells Simon the story of the ‘Nails’ which surround the fort, giving it its name – Naglimund means Nail-Fort in Erkylandish. The nails were supposedly put in the ground to keep the Sithi out, since Sithi are allergic to iron. They once surrounded the entire city and fort, but Josua had all but a few removed when King John gave him Naglimund. Afterwards, Simon gives Sangfugal a brief version of his travels, and they end their conversation wondering if Elias will attack Naglimund. Simon also learns about the hatred between Josua and Elias, due to Elias’ wife dying in an ambush while under the protection of Josua.

Sangfugal figures Josua will be calling a Raed – a council – soon to discuss options, and mentions that Josua may be calling on Simon due to the youth’s heroics. He then mentions Prince Gwythinn is on his way, and many other important people are in (or soon will be in) the keep, and that decisions will be made soon. He then offers to show Simon the nails. As the story goes, the Sithi apparently cared very little about the nails, even named it a Sithi word which means “Trap that Catches the Hunter.” The two then get swept up in a crowd of people heading to watch the burning of the giant. The two get separated, and Simon thinks he sees Marya, but it turns out to be a tall, dark, and beautiful woman who appears very angry about these festivities.

Commentary

Reunion chapter! Calm after the storm or something. We mostly get to see a little bit of insight this chapter into the hardships other people have been having throughout Elias’ rule – in particular, the hardships suffered by those in the north, such as at Naglimund. Giants coming out of the mountains and killing people is just one of the things mentioned by Sangfugal while they talk.

“Here,” [Strangyeard] said. “My, you are in a hurry. Would you like to your friend first, or have something to eat?”

Simon was already tying the front of the shirt closed. “Binabik and Marya, then eat food,” he grunted, concentrating. “And Qantaqa, too.”

“Hard as times have been of late,” the father said in a tone of reproof, “we never eat wolves at Naglimund. I assume you are counting her as a friend.”

Looking up, Simon saw that the one-eyed man was making a joke.

“Yes,” Simon said, feeling suddenly shy. “A friend.”

“Then let us go,” the priest said, standing. “I was told to make sure you were well provided for, so the sooner I get food into you, the better I will have fulfilled my commission.” He opened the door, admitting another flood of sunshine and noise.

And that is how we’re introduced to Strangyeard, one of the awesomest characters in the series. One of the first things out of his mouths is a well-intentioned joke, so we know right off the bat that he’s going to be a swell guy to have around.

Simon’s reunion with Qantaqa and Binabik were both very well-played, especially Simon’s reaction to the way the wolf had been treated. You can tell how dear his companions/friends have become to him when seeing his outrage at her mistreatment.

The story about the Nails is interesting, especially the Sithi name for them – this is some very ominous foreshadowing of dire circumstances yet to come. Williams played the fey trope straight here, with having them be allergic to iron, but he later turns that trope on its head. What makes this the most interesting is how much irony is in the fact that the Norns desperately need this place for their final gambit. Josua’s home is here, so we are told that the only reason Elias and Pryrates want the place so badly is for the prince, and thus they bring in the Norns to help out. However obviously, the Norns had ulterior motives for this place, since it is one of the Houses (can’t remember the number) that becomes so important at the end. So it can almost be looked at as though the Nails were put in place for a very specific purpose (to keep the Sithi, and in this particular case, the Norns, from gaining access to this House), but that purpose was forgotten about. Or it could be an ironic coincidence.

Sangfugol nodded. “There has been no shortage of trouble between them. They loved each other once, were closer than most brothers – or so I’m told by Josua’s older retainers. But they fell out, and then Hylissa died.”

“Hylissa?” Simon asked.

“Elias’ Nabbanai wife. Josua was bringing her to Elias, who was still a prince, at war then for his father in the Thrithings. Their party was waylaid by Thrithings raiders. Josua lost his hand trying to defend Hylissa, but to no avail – the raiders were too many.”

Simon let out a long breath, “So that’s how it happened!”

“It was the death of any love between them … or so people say.”

And there, we are given the kernel of information that tells us everything we need to know about why Elias is doing what he is doing. We don’t know it yet, but the brothers’ hatred of each other over the death of Hylissa is going to be a very, very important piece of information. Which makes it all even more poignant when you realize eventually how far Elias goes just out of love for his dead wife.

The ceremony for the burning of the giant is a little odd – it seems to be building up to something important, especially when Simon sees the ‘mysterious woman,’ but it turns out to just be either a Red Herring, or just a non-climax. Oh, and hello Vorzheva! I’m already turning my EyeRoll-o-meter (TM) down in preparation for all the stupid things you do when we first meet you. By the way, were we supposed to think that not all was on the up-and-up with Vorzheva after this quick introduction here? It seems that we’re supposed to think she was a bad person, but obviously that is not the case. Red Herring again?

Chapter 31 – The Councils of the Prince

Summary

Simon is called to the prince’s room that night, where while waiting, Simon notices the same angry woman from the festivities is in Josua’s bedchamber. Josua greets Simon warmly, thanking him for the rescue, and they make some idle chit chat about the scroll he was reading, which says Naglimund has never been broken by a seige, and also says he has heard Elias is building a huge army. Then he asks if Simon can wield a sword, and tells the boy to go to the captain of the guards and receive training. The prince then muses back again to the scroll, and Simon is about to leave, but first asks about Marya. Josua can give no definite answers, and bids Simon goodnight. It takes a long time for Simon to find sleep that night.

Simon is greeted the next morning by a cheerful Binabik and Qantaqa. After giving Simon a quick and humorous lesson about tossing bones, and also giving Simon a letter from Marya, the two head for the guards, where Simon is to receive his sword. Along the way, Binabik leaves to go find Strangyeard, to talk about Morgenes’ manuscript. Simon is introduced to Haestan, who retrieves for Simon a sword and bow, then shows Simon how to properly care for his new weapons. That afternoon, Simon trains with the sword for hours, then is told to return in the morning. He stumbles back to his room, sore all over, and crashes for a few hours, only to be awakened by Binabik (again) who has come to take Simon to the Raed. Simon is worn out, but eventually gets up and follows Binabik to the council chambers.

They arrive at the hall of Naglimund where dozens have already arrived, ready for the prince’s council. Binabik whispers to Simon various introductions of some of the lords that are present. They take a seat and Simon drinks some watered-down wine while awaiting Josua’s arrival. Bishop Anodis arrives, as does Prince Gwythinn and Baron Davasalles, then finally Josua. The bishop begins the Raed with a prayer to Usires and God, and does not appear happy to be involved in the council.

Josua begins the Raed by talking about the tough times, and about how Elias is to blame for the higher taxes, undefended roads, etcetera. The lady from Josua’s bedchambers enters and whispers something to Josua (Binabik tells Simon this is Vorzheva from the Thrithings lands). She awaits the prince’s reply then leaves, and the conversation continues. Baron Davasalles asks what Josua actually wants – revenge? peace? just to be left alone? People take offense to his tone, and Gwythinn yells for those assembled to fight the High King. Davasalles continues probing Josua as to why they should fight the High King. The prince replies that the king is dangerous, and as proof, has someone who has seen the king’s dangerousness firsthand. He sends a page, who returns with Vorzheva and someone else. Josua introduces Princess Miriamele, who Simon recognizes as none other than Marya. Feeling betrayed, he stumbles out of the room with everyone watching.

Commentary

“My lords,” Josua said, “the Princess Miriamele – daughter of the High King.”

And Simon, gaping, stared at the short, cropped strands of golden hair that showed beneath the veil and crown, shed of their dark disguise . . . and staring at the oh-so-familiar face, felt a great tumbling inside him. He almost stood, as the others were doing, but his knees went watery and dropped him back into his chair. How? Why? This was her secret – her rotten, treacherous secret!

“Marya,” he murmured, and as she sat in the chair Gwythinn surrendered to her, acknowledging his gesture with a precise, gracious nod of her head, and as everyone else sat down again, talking aloud in their wonder, Simon finally lurched to his feet.

“You,” he said to Binabik, grabbing the little man’s shoulder, “did . . . did you know?!”

The troll seemed about to say something, then grimaced instead and shrugged. Simon looked up across the sea of heads to find Marya . . . Miriamele . . . staring at him with wide, sad eyes.

“Damn!” he hissed, then turned and hurried from the room, his eyes pooling with shameful tears.

Dun Dun DUUUUUNNNNNN!

So, we finally get the ‘big reveal’ about Marya, and the reason why everyone has been looking at Simon sadly whenever he has asked about her whereabouts. I can feel sorry for Simon here, and I can feel his pain. Not that I’ve ever fallen in love with a girl who turned out to be royalty in disguise – but I do know what it is like to have expectations and hopes so drastically shattered in just an instance. The saddest part, though, is that Binabik didn’t tell Simon, and Marya even kept up the ruse in her letter. Why wouldn’t someone just have let him know? Did Josua not know who Simon was talking about when he asked the prince about her the night before? Or was he just playing with him? Seems like a harsh thing for someone to do to a fifteen-year-old bundle of hormones such as Simon, but alas, I am not a prince dreading an upcoming war, and thus do not know how I would react in the same situation.

We get a bit of dire foreshadowing here – doesn’t the prince know that if he says something like “Naglimund has never been taken in a siege,” then By George, the city is going to fall! Josua needs to become a bit more genre-savvy it seems.

“Here,” the troll said, “first: Clouds in the Pass. Meaning where we stand now it is hard to see far, but beyond is something very different than what is behind.”

“I could have told you that.”

“Silence, trolling. Do you wish to remain foolish forever? Now, the one that is second was Wingless Bird. The second is something of advantage, but here it seems our helplessness might be itself useful, or so I am reading the bones today. Last, what thing it is we should be aware of . . .”

“Or fear?”

“Or fear,” Binabik agreed calmly. “Black Crevice – that is a strange one, one I never have gotten for myself. It could mean treachery.”

Simon took a breath, remembering. “Like ‘false messenger’?”

“True. But it is having other meanings, unusual meanings. My master taught me that it could also be things coming from other places, breaking through from other sides . . . thus, perhaps something about the mysteries we have found … the Norns, your dreams … do you see?”

Simon’s and Binabik’s fond bickering here is a real testament to how close the two have gone. I’m a firm believer that you know you’ve made a true friend when you can playfully insult each other back and forth for awhile without taking any true offense.

On a more serious note though, we get back to the bones. I talked extensively awhile back about how I feel about various superstitious methods of fortune-telling, and I still feel the same way. Fortune-telling is either magical, or it’s superstition – there is no middle ground on it. However, we never know which Binabik’s are. I mean, after the whole series ends, and the Storm King is no more, do Binabik’s throws start sounding more like “Sunny Day in the Park,” and “Gentle Breeze Across Tranquil Waters?” Or are they tarot-card-like, and even when everything’s good, the dice still roll bad results? I do not know. I figure that, most likely, the bones are very much just superstition, but in a fantasy series, it could really go either way, I suppose.

I skimmed over a lot of great dialog in this chapter, mostly between Binabik and Simon, that you should definitely read if you have the book with you. The two have grown very fond of each other, and have developed a very real relationship, and it’s nice to see how smartly Mr. Williams writes the two of them and their chemistry. Also, Strangyeard is usually filled with some pretty unintentionally funny things to say, which won’t be making their way into this reading for the most part.


So that’s a wrap for now. Again, please visit A Gentle Madness around this same time next week to get your fix of Tad Williams. Otherwise, stay tuned for more exciting things happening on this blog in the (relatively) near future.

Cheers!
-Brandon Daggerhart

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