The Dragonbone Chair Part Twelve, Chapters 32 and 33

Welcome back to the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn re-read. Sorry for the delay – I trust you’ll forgive me. If not, well, too bad (neener)!

We’ll cover chapters 32 and 33 today, where we have some of the most expositional in the series. It has to happen in fantasy stories, but there’s a lot here. Of course, on the positive side, Tad Williams’ prose throughout much of the storytelling is so beautiful that you forget you’re reading large info dumps. We finally learn WhazzupWitTheStormKing, Yo? and maybe get some hints at the overall plot of the series. Oh, and we get the first of the three Great Swords’ names. I call that important.

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.

Don’t forget, Olaf has put up the first part of the MS&T History series he is working on, and you should definitely check it out ASAP!

Now, let’s read.

Chapter 32 – Northern Tidings

Summary
That night, Simon gets drunk with Towser, and the two of them commiserate on women – Simon on the betrayal of the one, Towser on the one he left behind to stay in service to King John. Simon learns a bit more history about the north, and eventually leaves to sleep for the night. The next morning, Simon sleeps in, then goes to receive some training from Haestan. Leaving the training yard, he sees Miriamele walking with two of her handmaidens. He calls her down to speak, and she dismisses the girls so they can have some privacy. They talk about their journey and seem to make things right between them, then he leaves after bowing to her (which seems to cause her some distress). Binabik meets Simon on the way to his room, and Simon questions Binabik on his “treachery,” then quickly forgives the troll, knowing it was not his fault, but lets Binabik know he has no intentions of returning to the Raed. His friend pleads with him to come share his story, and Simon finally agrees, as long as the decision to talk at the the council is his alone to make.

At the Raed, Duke Isgrimnur is having an incensed yelling fit about all the evils of Elias, before finally explaining that King Elias has given all Isgrimnur’s land to Skali Sharpnose. Isgrimnur tells the story of the ambush at the monastery, then the attack of the diggers (which some dismiss as mythological nonsense). Binabik stands to explain that the diggers are real, but the Rimmersmen are enraged that a troll is at the council. Josua calms everyone down, and Isgrimnur continues to explain that after escaping the diggers, they were told that the High King has taken away all his lands. Gwythinn uses this moment to rally many of the people into a frenzy, asking, “Is [Elias] not our most dangerous enemy?”

“No! He is not!”

An old man, brought by Isgrimnur, has stepped into the room. His name is Jarnauga, and he knows the truth of what is happening, and the blame cannot be laid at either Elias’ or Pryrates’ feet. He explains that the forge-fires of Stormspike, for months, have been burning all night long, meaning the White Foxes, and their queen, Utuk’ku, are preparing for war. But even they are not the real enemy. The being behind all the problems is none other than Ineluki, the Storm King.

Commentary
Simon’s and Towser’s commiserating is pretty funny, though Towser’s story takes a bit of a sad tone by the end. Poor old man gave up quite literally everything to stay in service of his beloved King John, only to be tossed aside after his death and dragged along basically out of pity. I never noticed this before (or if I did, I didn’t pay attention to it), but his scarf from his many-years-gone-lover is in some ways a bit of foreshadowing for Simon getting his own scarf soon. I don’t know if this is meant to actually mean anything or not – after all, Simon eventually does get his girl – but it does seem at least somewhat . . . poetically symbolic.

Simon’s taking his grief out on Binabik is very realistically teenager-like of him (I’m pretty sure we’ve all done that, even when we weren’t teenagers), but even so, I still think I sympathize more on Simon’s side of things than Binabik’s in this particular instance. After all, it’s apparent now that Josua did know who Simon was talking about when he mentioned Marya the previous night, but even so, he lied to Simon – the boy who rescued him from certain death and given up everything for him – for no logical reason at all! I mean, where is the logic in hiding this information from Simon, knowing that he will eventually find out anyway. Did Josua think, “Well if he finds out in a crowded room, he’s less likely to have a tantrum at least,” because if so, he was pretty damned wrong on that aspect. And even after making the promise, what logical reason was there for Binabik to hold to it, knowing how devastated his friend would be once the secret was exposed. I don’t know, I just find this whole sub-plot to show a lot of neglectful maliciousness from characters who are otherwise shown as very kind and caring.

The prince tilted forward like a stooping hawk, and Simon, clutching Binabik’s jacket, was struck by the resemblance to the dead High King. Here was Josua as he should be!

What is this quote about? Is it a red herring that Josua is John’s son? Is it Simon’s ignorance? Did Mr. Williams not know at this point that Josua was actually Camaris’ son? No idea, but knowing what I know of the series at this point, the sentence seems to come off as a bit odd. Maybe it’s just metaphorical, like saying, “Josua truly looked like a king now.”

I find the Rimmersmen and Binbabik’s hissy fits in this chapter to be a bit jarring as well – maybe not so much for the Rimmersmen, as all of them seem to have some pretty significant anger management issues, but moreso for Binabik, who seems to show a very level head most of the time. Between that and Binabik’s betrayal to Simon, this chapter comes down as not one of my favorites – I just find that there is either too much misinformation in the chapter, or too much mischaracterization. But …

‘The trolls of Yiqanuc are no one’s enemy,” Binabik replied, more than a little haughtily. “It is the Rimmersmen who are so frightened by our great size and strength that they attack wherever they see us – even in the hall of Prince Josua.”

^ That rocks. 🙂

We also meet Jarnauga in this chapter, who gets the fantastic honor of being Mr. Info Dump for the next little while. He does it well, though at times his storytelling sounds suspiciously like Tad Williams’ prose (I smell conspiracy!). I honestly never really liked Jarnauga as a character . . . well, I didn’t dislike him, but he is one of the more boring characters to me. He is basically only here for info-dumps, and then his sacrifice at the end is a bit too reminiscent of Morgenes.’

Chapter 33 – From the Ashes of Asu’a

Summary
Jarnauga explains tells the story of how the Sithi were the first inhabitants of Osten Ard, and created beautiful cities – the most beautiful of them Asu’a, where now the Hayholt stands. Men came to the land and at first, Sithi and Man lived mostly harmoniously with each other, until five hundred years ago, the Rimmersmen led by King Fingil, all but destroyed the Sithi. Iyu’unigato, king of the Sithi, prepared his people to flee from the armies and vanish. The Erlking’s son, Ineluki, would have none of this. Ineluki forged an unnatural sword of combined witchwood and metal, which all the Sithi fled from. The sword drove Ineluki mad, and he struck down his father when the Erlking protested the unnatural weapon. He then named the sword Jingizu, or “Sorrow.” Then with his five most powerful servants (the Red Hand), Ineluki cast a terrible spell, attempting to keep Asu’a from Fingil – the spell consumed him and his Red Hand, but Fingil lived, and Asu’a stood.

During this telling, Simon begins to remember what happened on Thisterborg, and eventually stands up screaming. He is taken out of the hall by Isgrimnur when he faints, and Miriamele shows up and tends him (which Simon likes). Binabik eventually brings Simon back into the room, where Simon explains what he saw on Stoning Night. Jarnauga says Simon saw one of the Red Hand, or at least, the undead remnant of the creature, and saw that being give the newly-reforged Sorrow to Elias. He then explains that Ealhstan Fiskerne set up the League of the Scroll several centuries later, to help humanity prepare for the inevitable return of Ineluki. The night ends with the council wondering what exactly it is that Ineluki and Utuk’ku want.

******
Below the Hayholt near the forges, Pryrates realizes that Simon’s mind has awakened, and thinks something must be done about the boy. He speaks (screams) to Inch, the new overseer, about siege engines needing completion. Inch questions Pryrates and where the engines are going, and as the priest leaves, he wonders if he should have Inch killed. Back in the castle, he is approached by the sleepless Elias, who wants to know if Miriamele has been found yet. Pryrates assures the king that the princess will be found soon, and Elias heads back to his rooms to try to sleep.

Commentary
Major Exposition Chapter here! We are given the real details of what happened after the Battle at the Knock, and (one of) the Sithi’s disastrous counter-measures. Ineluki’s story is very sad, and the more we find out as we go throughout this series, the more he is made to be an extremely sympathetic character. Everything he does, he does from love, though that love has turned twisted and corrupted. He is the mirror image of Elias (as we eventually find out).

We also get a “FINALLY” moment once Simon remembers what happened on Stoning Night. This is an author’s trick that doesn’t always work well – when the readers know something the characters don’t, oftentimes, this lack-of-knowledge is hand-waved away. The characters may act in ways contrary to their normal actions, just so that the plot can keep whatever secrets it needs to keep. Sometimes you have characters that wouldn’t normally hide things from each other lying, cheating, and stealing, just so the author can keep the characters in the dark. Thankfully, this is not the way Tad Williams decided to handle this situation, for which I am grateful. The reason Simon couldn’t spread the information about Sorrow is simply because his poor little human mind couldn’t handle the bond between Pryrates and himself, or the horrible things he saw, until he was ready. I imagine I would have shut the events of that night out myself.

The part where Anodis leaves is interesting, as it shows the very great rift and divide between scholars (scientists) and priests – much as in our own world.

Anodis looked up crossly. “And I should sit here, in the midst of a war council I never approved of, and listen to this . . . this wild man speaking the names of heathen demons? Look at you all – hanging on his words as though they were every one from the Book of Aedon.”

“Those of whom I speak were born long before your holy book, Bishop,” Jarnauga said mildly, but there was a fierce, combative tilt to his head.

“It is fantasy,” Anodis grunted. “You think me a sour old man, but I tell you that such children’s tales will lead you into perdition. The greater sadness, though, is that you may drag all our land down with you.”

Sure, we get a bit of lampshade hanging there, but otherwise, he brings up a strong example of how religion-vs-science debates are often handled here in our “real world.” The side of the scientific scholars is often (derisively) simply stated as a fact, that through physics, history, or mathematics, it is necessary that the religious angle is simply either uneducated, undereducated, or lacking in proper knowledge. On the other side, the religious scholars just stick to their guns, even in the face of evidence or “fact” which may turn their philosophies on their head. Both sides of the argument can come up with a million-million reasons why the other side doesn’t work, and everyone just gets pissed off until someone leaves (like Anodis).

I don’t really know if I have a point with that statement . . .

The Men of history are not presented very admirably in this chapter – as Jarnauga and Josua both say, sure, let’s let old wounds stay sealed, but are we ever given a reason why Fingil went all genocidal on the Sithi? I know why King John did (shame and fear, since the Sithi likely knew he didn’t actually kill Shurakai), but what was Fingil’s ambition? Land? Power? Asu’a? Maybe we’re eventually told, but I cannot remember what it was all about.

The sad story of Ineluki’s forging, patricide, and attempted routing of the Rimmersmen is very well done, and in my opinion, some of the finest prose in the books. I won’t copy it all here, but take out your books and read Ineluki’s story. We also find out that the Norns came into the picture because, for some reason, they were willing to harness the great anger and wrath of Ineluki’s spirit. But we are not told yet the story of Utuk’ku’s child, and why the Norns and Sithi parted ways so long ago. So we are left with the extremely-relevant mystery of “why are the Norns such bastards?” Seriously, the Norns do far worse things in this series than anyone else (besides possibly Pryrates), and for the most part, we are not ever given what I would consider a very reasonable explanation. But more on that once we learn more of Utuk’ku’s motivations.

Pryrates’ section shows him as suitably evil and nasty, without even the slightest real sympathy for any other human beings, even the High King. However, during their conversation, we do get to feel a bit more heartache for Elias – he really seems to have been thrown into this game without even the slightest idea of how far out of everyone else’s league he is. His yearning for Miriamele seems very real, and his last question, “Do you think I shall sleep better . . . when [. . .] I have my daughter back?” stirs up the thoughts of real emotions in the poor High King. At the end of the day, I think Elias was fully in control of his own actions, but he was definitely manipulated by Pryrates, and that makes his story very heartbreaking.


That’s it for this week! Join me again in two weeks, and don’t forget to check out A Gentle Madness next week for more Tad Williams awesomeness!

Cheers,
Brandon Daggerhart

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