Cold Iron & Rowan-Wood

August 18, 2009

Tigana, part 3 – Ember to Ember

Filed under: rereading — Tags: , , , — Sam @ 2:12 pm

OK, so in Part 1 we had the backstory and the music-making, the lost child’s heritage and the piercing grief for a land gone if not yet dead. In Part 2 we had reluctant love and strange magics. This is Part 3, and we get knives in the dark, the murder of strangers, terrorism, sedition, poetry, hot kinky sex, drugs, and the death of innocents. Settle in; this is going to be a long post.

We have a new map, of course; this one shows the highlands of Certando (for that matter, Avalle of the Towers was in the mountains, too… there’s just something about mountain people), and part of Quileia. It’s centred on a castle, and there’s nothing much else on the map, so guess where we’re going? That’s right, Castle Borso it is.

First of all, though, we get to spend some time with Devin’s POV in a snow-filled ditch by the side of the road, and watch Baerd and Alessan murder some Barbadians. Baerd strangles a known informer; Devin wonders if he had a wife and children. Alessan kills a mercenary; the text doesn’t even tell us how. And then they take the bodies over to plant them with a second group of Barbadians, and foment discord. There’s a sleeping guard; Devin sticks a dagger in his throat. That’s our nineteen-year-old ex-farmboy singer protagonist for you. Oh, and then they burn down the mansion, and Devin’s dreams are haunted by the screams of horses because they didn’t have time to open the stable doors. Did that Barbadian guard come into the world only to provide him with that right of passage, Devin wonders? “The moment of his ending was not what defined his journey under Eanna’s lights.” This gives us a nice microcosm of the entire book, there. Entities – people, lands, cultures – have worth in themselves, and being killed doesn’t subsume their identity into the killer’s. They have their own stories.

After this, the POV shifts to Alberico of Barbadior, and he’s quite the contrast to Brandin. He takes the Klingon approach to underlings, and starts killing more of the populace too. Someone has been posting elegies to the dead Duke of Astibar around the city; Alberico has every poet he can find arrested. On the first sweep, the poets all deny everything; on the second, they all claim to have written them. Alberico lets them go, suggesting they satirise Brandin; instead, verses about Tomasso’s perversity appear, claiming that it was a deliberately chosen allegory of Astibar’s situation – “a living metaphor for his conquered, subjugated land, for the perverse situation of Astibar under tyranny”. (The Barbadians, incidentally, dislike homosexuality rather a lot.) This is probably the second clearest statement of the sex theme in Tigana there is; we’ll get to the clearest in a few paragraphs’ time! Alberico has twenty or so poets pulled out at random and “death-wheeled”; the text tells us that the author of those verses was among them.

The next part of the book deals with how Alessan and his party lie, cheat, and deceive the people of the Palm into spreading sedition and unrest, and get a lot of people killed doing it. The most notable occasion is when Catriana fakes a suicide leap from a river bridge in Tregea, clutching a copy of the proscribed verses. And into water, no less; what a surprise!

Devin’s thinking about Sandre (the ex-Duke of Astibar) and trying to imagine what it’s like to know that the bodies of everyone even distantly related to you are being death-wheeled across the province. And that, right there, is the cost of what our protagonists are doing. The text doesn’t flinch away from it, doesn’t celebrate it (none of the classic winterborn fallacy here, the idea that just because something is hard and you have to sacrifice everything for it it must be honourable and worthwhile) and doesn’t condemn it.

The next thing that happens, unfortunately, is a bit of Oddness regarding race. Sandre has disguised himself as a Khardhu warrior, with potions and lotions and a shave… and everyone buys it. So these strange dark-skinned people from the hot northern continent are identical to the natives of the Palm in every way except skin colour? I just do not buy it.

After that, on the other hand, we get another Really Cool part – the introduction of Erlein di Senzio, an old session-musician acquaintance, and a wizard. Most wizards of the Palm cut off two fingers on their left hand to “bind themselves to the Palm” for additional power; it’s the tiny glow of the magic Erlein uses to mask this that Sandre sees. And the Princes of Tigana, we learnt in the first part of the book, have the hereditary ability to bind a wizard to their will. Devin suggests that Alessan give everyone a haircut, and he uses that opportunity to bind Erlein – who is, not surprisingly, utterly furious about it. The text uses the phrase “grievously wronged”.

“What gives you the right?”
“I must use what tools I can.”
“I am not a tool!”

Sandre refuses to agree that it’s no more than the exercise of naked power, and justifies it by saying that it’s the duty of a Prince to “do what his soul cries out against for the sake of his land”. I mean, yes, this is pretty winterborn stuff, but it’s quite thoroughly problematized in the text, rather than the usual unqualified adulation for Hard Men who do Things Like That because Someone Has To.

Erlein and Sandre disagree quite thoroughly over whether Erlein was free before; this is a particular issue for him as a citizen of the neutral province, Senzio, unconquered by either Tyrant. (Of course, the Duke of Senzio did demote himself to Governor to avoid upsetting them…)

Alessan spends the rest of the evening playing songs from Senzio on his pipes. Now, from anyone else this could be a cheap manipulative trick, but we’ve seen before that Alessan has too much respect for the music to do that. This is Alessan reminding a fellow musician where the soul of the land lies, trying to awake his patriotism – and stressing the point, which he’s been making over and again in his travels, that the Palm needs to be united, and setting province against province in their pride is why they got invaded. In Devin, it rouses strong grief; “For Catriana and himself and all their generation, rootless and cut off from what they were in a world without a home. For all the myriad accumulations of loss and what men and women had to do in order to seek redress.”

Erlein, on the other hand, tries to escape, heading off into the wilderness, tying himself to a tree, and struggling so hard he passes out. And this metaphor is so anvilicious that even Devin points it out to us. Oddly, nobody wonders what would have happened to Erlein if Baerd and Devin hadn’t retrieved him; after all, tying himself to a tree in a “wild and lonely place” and deliberately making it impossible to get himself free is not exactly a recipe for survival.

Chapter 10 starts with some history. The highlands of Certando used to be a very wild and prideful place, and most of the old songs are about clan feuds and battles; and most of those feature Castle Borso. All that’s changed now, and the place is a haunt of decadence and sex, presided over by one Alienor, who gets to vamp over Catriana, give Alessan some letters – his mother is dying – and teach Devin all about switchy bondage sex.

“Is this what happens to us? When we are no longer free. Is this what happens to our love?”
“It is one of the things that happens to us. A kind of insurrection in the dark that somehow stands against the laws of day that bind us and cannot be broken now.”
“Possibly that. Or an admission somewhere in the soul that we deserve no more than this, nothing that goes deeper. Since we are not free and have accepted that.”

Alienor sends Devin away; tomorrow is the first of the Ember Days, when no fires are lit, and he won’t be able to find his way back without a candle. And since her husband died, she always sleeps alone. On the way back, Devin’s candle goes out, and he remembers a saying from the priest who first taught him music. “There are no wrong turnings. Only paths we had not known we were meant to walk.” Today, the dead walk. Who are his dead? Tigana? The Barbadian he killed? He finds his way to Catriana’s room by accident, and we hear her wishing she could be more like Devin, more patient. Her passion for Tigana is mostly down to her father, who left before Second Deisa – possibly before First Deisa – and hated the memory of Tigana, wanted to keep it buried. Her mother always lit one candle on the Ember days; she and Devin discuss this. His father did the same, which he’d always characterised as pride and arrogance, but to Catriana it’s a reminder to herself, like Alessan’s blue wine. This relates to the sex thing, I think; deliberately transgressing because if you can’t have what you love then you need that reminder, that blade in your soul.

Now we’re up to Chapter 11, and this one is Weird. Baerd goes walking out, and discovers a remnant cult of sort-of-wizards who take hallucinogenic drugs on the Ember Night so they can battle an invading blight, spreading from the west (towards Tigana) and destroying the crops. In their overlay-world (Baerd tells us it feels too real to be a dream) the blight takes the form of an invading army of Ygrathen to him, but appears differently to everyone. Apparently, it’s been getting much worse in the last twenty years (since the Tyrants invaded) and the Night Walkers have to choose between opposing it, keeping it from winning even more land, and keeping their strength up to fight it again and again.

Baerd leads them to victory, and challenges the dark figure that leads (or personifies) the blight: Begone, or I’ll name you now and cut your strength apart. He does – “tyranny in a land that has been free” – and it flees towards the west, into the dead lands the blight took. Interestingly, the idea of things that have power only when they’re not named is a pervasive one. It brings up echoes of Walter Wink, which is never a bad thing – and it echoes the power given to a hidden, clandestine revolutionary movement. There’s a passage in Part 2, Dianora’s memories of Baerd in Avalle Stevanien, where the Ygrathen soldiers play a game with him by getting him to say the name of Tigana and going “sorry, what was that? Couldn’t make it out” and then he turns that back on them.

And while they’re there, Elena – the Night Walker viewpoint character, a Certandan born and bred – can hear and speak the name of Tigana. That’s the world-beyond-the-world for you; when you’re in that dreamlike nighttime state, in a TAZ, those kinds of social restrictions and careless ignorances can be bypassed. So they have sex. I’d not realised the similarities between Tigana and the Illuminatus! trilogy before.

The Important Meeting that Alessan was here for turns out to be with Marius, King of Quileia – the Golden Bough-style Oak King who got tired of beating up challengers and overthrew the Matriarchy. At the beginning of this section, we learnt that the Matriarchy had closed off the country two hundred years ago, and the Certandan highlands had withered as a result of the sudden stoppage of trade. Seeing a very male warrior-king overthrowing the female organisation who had previously been in charge is not all that good, but it seems to work in context.

Alessan and Baerd, it turns out, helped Marius onto his throne, and now the favour is to be repaid.

“I cannot give you an army.”
“I wouldn’t ask it, and don’t want to be remembered as the man who brought in a foreign army.”

Alessan asks Marius to refuse trade with Brandin for now, and ask time to think; to refuse trade with Alberico, citing Brandin’s intimidation; and to offer free & unrestricted trade with Senzio, which Alberico will of course know immediately. Trade with Quileia would be the death of Tigana, and failing to bring in prosperity through trade would be the death of Marius, but for Alessan’s sake Marius offers six months. People may not be tools, but if a Prince has the responsibility – the obligation – to use them as such…

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