The Dragonbone Chair Part Ten, Chapters 28 and 29

Hello, and welcome back to the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn re-read and analysis. Today covers chapters twenty-eight and twenty-nine. I chose to leave off thirty today, since that starts Part 3 of the book, and I want to tie in the next few chapters together. Or something. Oh, and also, this is going up on Tuesday, since Valentine’s Day has a tendency to draw my attention elsewhere. I promise it’s not laziness!

Anyway, as I will continue to say until the very last of these re-reads is done, 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 to take your supper off the stove before staring thoughtfully to the sky, kiddies!)

Chapter 28 – Drums of Ice

Summary

On the 24th day of Maia-month, Maegwin and Gwythinn (Maegwin’s half-brother) are headed to the hall to speak with their father, Lluth of Hernystir. The speak of Guthwulf, who is at the Taig by writ of Elias, and how the King’s Hand has been insulting to Lluth, king of Hernystir. They enter the hall of the Taig and are greeted by King Lluth ubh-Llythinn and his wife, Inawhen. Gwythinn informs the king that last night, one of Guthwulf’s men picked a fight with Craobhan, and Gwythinn had to restrain the old man from retaliating.

Lluth looked troubled for a moment, then the look was gone, hidden behind the smiling mask that Maegwin knew so well. ‘Ah, father,’ she thought, ‘even you are finding it a bit hard to keep the music playing while these creatures bay all around the Taig.’ She walked quietly forward and sat on the platform by Gwythinn’s stool.

“Well, the king grinned ruefully, “sure it is that King Elias could have chosen his diplomats with a bit more care. But today in an hour they are gone, and peace descends again on Hernysadharc.”

Earl Guthwulf requests permission to enter and speak with the king, which is granted. Guthwulf greets the royal family with a bit of mockery (but not enough to warrant reaction), then demands to know when Lluth will be sending his ‘dues’ to Elias. Lluth says there will be no dues, as Elias has done nothing to help with their snow-blocked roads, or with the bandits that roam the lands. He asks “what can your king do,” as he sees there is ‘no greater tithe’ that can be paid upon them than to see their people suffering.

“No greater penalty?” the Earl said, savoring each word as though it felt good on his tongue. “No greater tithe?” He spat a wad of citril juice on the ground before the king’s chair. Several of Lluth’s men-at-arms actually cried out in horror; the harper who had been quietly playing in the comer dropped his instrument with a discordant crash.

“Dog!” Gwythinn leaped up, his stool clattering away. In a flashing moment his sword was out and at Guthwulf’s throat. The earl only stared, his chin tipped ever so slightly back.

“Gwythinn!” Lluth barked, “Sheathe, damn you, sheathe!”

Guthwulf’s lip curled. “Let him. Go ahead, pup, kill the High King’s Hand unarmed!” There was a clanking by the door as some of his men, their astonishment thawing, started to move forward. Guthwulf’s hand shot up. “No! Even if this whelp should slit my weasand from ear to ear, no one shall strike back! You walk out and ride to Erkynland. King Elias will be … most interested.” His men, confused, stood in place like armored scarecrows.

Lluth orders Gwythinn to stand down, and tells Guthwulf to inform Elias of the mortal insult he has paid the House of Hern this day. Guthwulf leaves with some ominous threats. Maegwin sees her father and brother are both very frightened.

******

Tiamak the Wrannaman is having a bad day and a lot of poor luck. The only crab caught in his many traps is too small to eat, his best bowl and best pen are broken, and had spilled ink all over a project he was working on. As he is settling down to rewrite the ruined page while cooking some root soup, he hears the returning sounds of his one messenger sparrow, which is the bird he uses to communicate with Morgenes. He retrieves the bird from its house above then brings it into his warmer home. He would rather eat before reading the message, as he is very hungry, but feels that some ‘good news’ from Morgenes would do him well.

The slip of parchment that had been wrapped around the sparrow’s leg was ragged at the edges, and the printed characters were smeared, as though the bird had gotten more than a little wet, but he was used to such things and soon sorted it out. The notation signifying the date when it had been written surprised him: the gray sparrow had taken nearly a month to reach the Wran. The message surprised him even more, but it was not the kind of surprise he had been hoping for.

It was with a feeling of cold weight in his stomach superceding any hunger that he went to the window, looking out past the tangled banyan branches to the fast-blooming stars. He stared into the northern sky, and for a moment could almost believe he felt a cold wind knifing in, driving a wedge of chill through the warm air of the Wran. He was a long time at the window before he noticed the smell of his supper burning.

******

Count Eolair is visiting with Father Dinivan, but wishing he was back home in Nad Mullach, instead of in Nabban. Eolair is in Nabban on Lluth’s behalf, to reach out to Lector Ranessin and Duke Leobardis, and try to find common ground with which to approach the High King in regards to the hardships suffered by all. Dinivan asks why Eolair is speaking with him, then.

“I am not quite sure. Only this I would tell you: it seems there is some struggle brewing, as often happens, but I myself fear it is deeper. You might think me a madman, but I forebode that an age is ending, and I fear what the coming one may bring.”

The lector’s secretary stared. For a moment his plain face seemed far older, as though he reflected on sorrows long carried.

“I will say only that I share your fears. Count Eolair,” he said at last. “But I cannot speak for the lector, except to say as I did before: he is a wise and subtle man.” He stroked the Tree at his breast. “For your heartsease, though, I can say this: Duke Leobardis has not yet made up his mind where he will lend his support. Although the High King alternately flatters and threatens him, still Leobardis resists.”

Dinivan can only offer a very vague reassurance that he believes Leobardis will not ally with Elias, and then the two talk about more pleasant things.

******

Jarnauga, an old Rimmersman, is waiting in the cold weather for some travelers. His village, Tungoldyr, which stands in the shadow of Stormspike, is completely abandoned from the unnatural cold – even the hardy Rimmersmen cannot survive in this climate. He sees the flickering lights withing Stormspike, signifying the Norns are preparing for something, and he knows he will never see his village again, as his time is coming – that much is certain.

But not everything was clear, even now. There was still the nagging dream to be dealt with, the dream of the black book and the three swords. It had dogged his sleep for a fortnight, but its meaning was still hidden from him.

His thoughts were interrupted by a blotch of movement on the southern approach, far away along the rim of the trees dotting the Wealdhelm’s western skirts. He squinted briefly, then slowly nodded his head and rose to his feet.

As he was pulling his coat back on, the wind changed direction; a moment later a dim mutter of thunder rolled down from the north. It came again, a low growl like a beast struggling awake from sleep. On its heels, but from the opposite direction, the sound of hooves grew from a murmur to a noise that rivaled the thunder.

As Jamauga picked up his cage of birds and walked out to meet the riders, the sounds grew together – thunder tolling in the north, the muffled din of approaching horsemen to the south – until they filled the white forest with their cold rumble, like music made on drums of ice.

Commentary
That’s another catch-me-up chapter, where we see how the rest of the world is faring while (im)patiently awaiting the resolution of the cliffhanger with Our Heroes.

The first two sections of the chapter were for introducing new secondary characters. Maegwin, the daughter of Lluth, is a gawky young lady who seems to not really enjoy the political intrigues of being a ‘king’s’ daughter – in fact, she seems to prefer animals to people.

I do find it sadly ironic that she and Eolair constantly have thoughts of each other, but never seem to acknowledge them as ‘real.’ She thinks his attentions are just because she is the king’s daughter, and he thinks she doesn’t really like him, or just has a crush because they met when she was so young. It is a bit of a soap-operish-type of thing to do, but seems to work well here. It does leave me a bit miffed at the end though, finding out how Maegwin end’s up – apparently, Williams had no qualms whatsoever with causing his beloved characters all kinds of pain and anguish.

Guthwulf was pretty awesomely scary here as well – the balls on that guy, to literally threaten a ‘king’ in the middle of said king’s court – well, they are not small, those. It is easy to look at him as a pretty bad guy here, and I think, even at the end of the story, should Usires come down from Heaven (or wherever) and judge Guthwulf, the Earl of Utanyeat would be put on the ‘not-very-good-guys’ list. However, I do find myself thinking often that he truly is a dutiful knight. He actually believes here that Lluth is wronging his liege, Elias, and that Elias is not asking for too much. We know this because we do get inside his head every now and then, and the man thinks relatively reasonably. He knows things are turning to shit all around the kingdom, he knows circumstances are not ideal, and he has a pretty damned good guess as to who is behind it all (Pryrates) – so he has a head, and not a terrible one, on his shoulders. But unfortuately, in Guthwulf’s case, goodness ain’t about following rules, it’s about being able to judge which rules are worth following, and which are not. Which pretty much right now seems to include every law, rule, edict, statement, etcetera that comes out of Elias’ (and Pryrates’) mouth(s).

So yeah, I sympathize with the Wolf, but I certainly do not condone his actions – especially those which come later, once (presumably) he has returned to Elias with the news of what Lluth had to say.

Welcome to our story, Tiamak, the second of the secondary characters! Unfortunately, I find you incredibly boring here in the beginning – I must confess, in past re-reads of this series, I have tended to gloss over the Tiamak sections (except the one where he wrestles a crocodile!). I don’t think I really start liking Tiamak as a character until he meets up with Isgrimnur – which is a pretty long time from now. Which is kinda sad I guess, because he’s not a bad guy – he’s just . . . boring. He doesn’t really ever do a whole lot (though I think he and Strangeyeard figure out at the VERY END that the Norns will be attacking from behind, or something like that), and I know it’s not necessary for every character in an epic fantasy series to be an action star. He is here for the very specific and important reason that Morgenes wanted to make sure he was taken care of once the creeks got swift and the paddles were lost. I just can’t help but feel like he never really contributes in any important way.

Well, he does bring that piece of Nisses’ parchment with him, which is somewhat useful for getting Camaris out of his funk, but other than that, is kind of part of that whole “False Messenger” thing, which means, nope, wasn’t too helpful after all!

Ah well, maybe with me really bunking down to re-read this series properly, I’ll find some things about him that I like.

And heh, he’s writing “Sovran Remedys of the Wranna Healers,” in the hopes of finally getting some recognition from the rest of the world that the Wrannamen can be just as learned and scholarly as the rest of the world. It would probably help his case a bit if he learned how to spell “Sovereign” and “Remedies” the way the rest of the world spells those words (not that they’re wrong, necessarily, but language evolves too, Tiamak!).

Eolair and Dinivan don’t really provide us with a lot of information, except to show that they’re both really cool cats, and it really, really sucks what happens to Dinivan later. Ah well.

And Jarnauga is introduced here, as the wise, old, mostly-naked dude to is meeting some strangers. Do we ever find out who he was meeting that was so important here? The next time we see him, he’s breaking up parties with “Behold” this and that, and I can’t recall he actually mentions who he was waiting for. But I get the feeling they were important.

Oh, and he can see lights flickering from within a mountain? And hear war music from within? That doesn’t sound like living “in the shadow of the mountain,” so much as living “on the side of the mountain.”

Words to look up: weasand – throat; gullet. Makes sense in context, but never heard the word before. It’s one of those things that shows Williams is quite a scholar himself, as he uses a lot of archaic words throughout the series. I just haven’t been posting them. Maybe I’ll do that from now on.

Chapter 29 – Hunters and Hunted

Summary

Simon runs back to pick up Binabik, sure that the troll is dead, getting wounded by an arrow in the process, and they turn back towards the city. Baron Heahferth attempts to charge across one of the bridges to cut Simon and his friends off, but the bridge collapses into the river below, taking Heahferth and all his men with him. Simon, carrying Binabik, runs into D’ai Chikiza with Marya and Qantaqa.

Simon’s arms were aching after a hundred steps, and it felt as though a knife was sliding in and out of his side; he fought to stay even with the girl as they followed the bounding wolf through the ruins of the Sithi city. It was like running through a cave of trees and icicles, a forest of vertical shimmer and dark, mossy corruption. Shattered tile was everywhere, and massive tangles of spiderwebs strung across beautiful, crumbling arches. Simon felt as though he had been swallowed by some incredible ogre with innards of quartz and jade and mother-of-pearl. The river sounds became muted behind them; the rasp of their own hard breathing vied with the scrape of their running feet.

At last, it seemed they were reaching the outskirts of the city: the tall trees, hemlock and cedar and towering pine, were closer together, and the tiled flooring that had been everywhere underfoot now dwindled to pathways coiling at the feet of the forest giants. Simon stopped running. His eyesight was blackening at the edges. He stood in place and felt the earth reel about him. Marya took his hand and led him a few limping steps to an ivy-choked mound of stone that Simon, his sight slowly returning, recognized as a well. He set Binabik’s body down gently on the pack that Marya had been carrying, propping the little man’s side against the rough cloth, then leaned on the well’s rim to suck air into his needy lungs. His side continued to throb.

Marya squatted next to Binabik, pushing away Qantaqa’s nose as the wolf prodded at her silent master. Qantaqa took a step back, making a whimpering sound of incomprehension, then lay down with her muzzle on her paws. Simon felt hot tears spring to his eyes.

Marya sees that Binabik is not dead, and Simon determines they must remove the arrow from Binabik’s back. Marya gives Simon her knife to cut away the cloth around the wound and to cut the tip off the arrow so it can be pulled through. Once done, they wrap up Binabik as best they can and, and Simon picks him up and they head towards the hills to the north of the city. Once they get to the steep inclines out of the city, they must stop and rest again. Marya points out that Simon will need his hands to get up the hill and the two try to determine how to make it up, and save Binabik. Simon thinks of an idea that may help them out, and calls Qantaqa to him.

Working feverishly, the unspoken thought of Ingen Jegger a hovering shadow, Simon and Marya wrapped Binabik up neck to toe in the girl’s cloak, then balanced the troll stomach down on Qantaqa’s back, tying him in place with the last shredded strips of clothing from out of the pack. Simon remembered the position from his involuntary ride to Duke Isgrimnur’s camp, but he knew that if the thick cloak was between Binabik’s ribs and the wolf’s back, the little man would at least be able to breathe. Simon knew it was not a good situation for a wounded, probably dying, troll, but what else could be done? Marya was right; he would need his hands going up the hill.

Once Qantaqa’s initial skittishness wore off, she stood passively as the boy and girl worked, turning occasionally to try and sniff Binabik’s face where it bobbed at her side. When they finished and started up the slope, the wolf picked her way carefully, as if aware of the importance to her silent burden of a smooth ride.

They climb for awhile, then rest again and have a moment (which Simon makes awkward by blurting out, “I like you, Marya!”), then must continue on. The deer path they are following eventually meets up with a much wider path – an ancient Sithi road. This meets up with the ‘Stile,’ a zig-zagging path that will take them up the hill and towards Naglimund. As they are preparing to mount it, Marya sees something up above, and they worry it may be more men waiting for them. They decide to follow the path for awhile at least, and head up the Stile.

As they are all weakening and tiring – even Qantaqa – and Simon is planning on taking a break again, they see torches ahead of them on the spine of the hill. Marya assumes it is Jegger, cutting them off, and they leave the path so as to be harder to find. They find another clearing in which to rest while trying to decide what to do next. As they are munching on food, they here the baying of the hunting hounds in the distance. Simon fumes for a few moments about how awful their predicament is, then starts rummaging around in Binabik’s pack.

Simon found what he was seeking and closed his hand on it. Some of the noises were now coming from the hillside north of them, too, almost at their level of the slope. The trap was closing.

“Hold Qantaqa.” He got up and crawled a short distance, scouring the brush until he found a good-sized broken branch, a thick one longer than his arm. He brought it back and upended Binabik’s bag of powder on it, then laid it down carefully. “I’m making a torch,” he said, pulling out the troll’s flints.

“Won’t that just lead them to us?” the girl asked, a note of detached curiosity in her voice.

“I won’t light it until I have to,” he replied, “but at least we’ll have something . . . something to fight with.”

Her face was in shadow, but he could sense her eyes on him. She knew exactly how much good such a gesture would do them. He hoped – and the hope was very strong – that she would understand why it was a necessary gesture.

Simon tries to light the torch as something crashes close by. A giant humanoid creature stumbles into their clearing and attacks Simon with its claws and lunges for him again, but Qantaqa saves him. As the giant is about to attack Simon again, hunting hounds charge the clearing, and along with armed men, bring the giant down. Simon recognizes Josua as one of the riders, and calls the prince’s name as he faints. He feverishly remembers being carried into Naglimund afterwards.

Commentary

Another tense chase chapter. This one has always reminded me very much of Chapter 12 of The Fellowship of the Ring, “Flight to the Ford.” Whether intentional or not, there are a lot of very important similarities in this chapter. The desperateness of Our Heroes’ situation, being chased by an enemy they know almost nothing about, the critically-wounded party member, the water-related sudden (and unexpected) death/destruction of the main bulk of the chasing enemies (done by (possibly) elves/Sithi, no less!), the main hero unconsciously being taken to a safe haven at the very end. Then it is followed very soon by a happy reunion. This chapter also, just like “Flight,” marks the end of a major section of the book, and a major plot-point, which is where the heroes are traveling alone, unprepared, and in flight, just trying to reach a specific place of safety. As you can see, many similarities here, and probably some I haven’t thought of. It could be that Williams subtly put this stuff in on purpose, to keep the reader in a familiar place, before really turning things on their head, or it could just be completely unintentional, but I like it. From both a literary place, and emotional place, I think it is fitting. In a literary sense, it makes the readers (those who’ve read LotR, anyway) assume they know where they are going, and when things take horrible, drastic turns, it puts the readers in much more suspense than they otherwise would be. From an emotional point, familiar ground always makes us cozy, which means it is easier to read, easier to enjoy, and easier to remember.

ANYWAY, yeah, Binabik is horribly wounded, and Simon’s sureness that the troll is dead, but unwillingness to leave the body is very admirable, and then he carries the little dude for who knows how long? Good man there. A major portion of this chapter seems to be to showcase the strong sides of Simon’s character – his carrying the troll, his good and quick thinking in both removing the arrow from Binabik, and in tying Binabik to Qantaqa, his determination to go down fighting at the end, even with nothing but a torch. This, to me, is a very important, yet subtle, indication of what kind of man Simon will soon become. I’ve complimented Mr. Williams multiple times on how well he writes a teenage boy, now I spread that compliment out to include how well he writes a strong-willed teenage boy who does what needs to be done in dire circumstances.

Another somewhat anthropomorphic Aldheorte scene here – kind of. Miriamele thinks the Sithi caused the bridge to collapse on the riders, but Simon thinks that’s nonsense. I’ll add it to the list – it does seem likely to me that, whether or not any Sithi are actually hanging around in the city (which seems very unlikely), due to what we have heard and read so far as to the nature of the forest and the Sithi in generaly, something other than just the mass of horses and riders could have brought the bridge down. I’m just sayin’ . . .

Not really a whole lot else to talk to in this chapter. Simon has an endearing and somewhat heartbreaking moment with Marya (“I like you, Marya!”), and he does rethink his thoughts about her looks, finding her to be ‘delicate’ instead of ‘skinny.’ That’s nice, whatever helps you sleep at night, Simon, after thinking she was a boy. I’ll save the stuff about Josua for the next chapter.

Cheers!
E.S.

One thought on “The Dragonbone Chair Part Ten, Chapters 28 and 29

  1. Good point about the similarity to LotR – I never noticed that! (Well, I haven’t read LotR nearly as often as MST, either…)

    On the reread thread at the Tad Williams message board, someone posted a theory that the bridge collapsed because the horse probably had iron horseshoes. And Sithi, as we know, do not like iron. Maybe it disturbs whatever magic reinforces the bridge?

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