Curse of the Mistwraith - Summary with Highlights - Chapter Set XV

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"Summary with Highlights" pages combine an in-depth plot summary with additional commentary about key details and language subtleties a reader might overlook. They are designed for readers who need a bit more direction in this challenging story, and have been reprinted here with the author's permission and Janny Wurts's blessing.

Spoiler warning: These pages are based on one person's reading experience and are not intended to be a purely impartial plot synopsis. Please be aware that the extra highlights might foreshadow events that happen later in the story or pull your eye towards a detail you'd prefer to discover on your own. Proceed with caution if you would rather have a completely unguided reading experience!

XV. Strakewood

Spoiler warning: Contains plot elements from Curse of the Mistwraith.

The last of the storms Kharadmon released encountered the fierce darkness of Arithon's shadows and for a while, nature got warped and snow fell in green spring.

After three days and two nights of blind flight, Arithon is intercepted by Steiven's scouts and taken to the barbarian encampment where Lord Steiven already awaits him. He is given the welcome and acknowledgment of a rightful ruler by the clan chieftain and his followers.

Arithon is shaken, bone-tired, and his effort make his newly found caithdein understand that he neither desires nor welcomes his title and inheritance, but his arguments fall on deaf ears. The gathered chieftains insist their destiny is to defend their liege. And Etarra will rise against the clans regardless of whether Arithon is sheltered among them or not. The prince's choice is simple: forsake the clans and allow them to die for an empty title or make a stand with them and grant them the meaningful purpose of dying for a living sovereign.

None of Arithon's protests move them. Not his confession of being a bastard, nor the fact he is cursed by Desh-thiere! The only one who holds trepidation is Caolle, the clan's veteran war captain, but even his reserve cannot turn Steiven's set course. Take note of Caolle as a character to watch!

Arithon's objections are obliterated by the caithdein, leaving him cornered with no escape. Even the corpse of the girl child that Arithon had carried in his arms throughout his flight, perished of injuries sustained while enslaved in Etarra's warehouses firms the reason the clans' stand to fight. Townsmen have held the clansmen's lives cheaply since centuries before the prince's birth, and for less cause than seizing children for forced labor.

Cornered and exhausted, finally told that Steiven has already foreseen the time and manner of his death (in the coming battle, this is implied), Arithon has no choice but to bend in agreement. While his needs are attended, the war council plans and launches the muster for war that very night.

Of note in this encounter are the reactions of Halliron, present in his standing as Athera's Masterbard during Arithon's arrival. Due to the training of his office, he pays keen attention to the prince's reactions and notices small details that redouble his watchful observation.

The clans relocate east of the Tal Quorin river, with the utmost urgency, to prepare the ground for their stand against Etarra's troops. Their camp is broken before dawn. Their life is hard, and the customs born of necessity for survival are even harder. Any person unfit for travel would normally be given a mercy stroke and abandoned where they lay. since litters for the wounded or the infirm pose a hindrance to those still hale. And Arithon is not fit for travel! After 3 days of flight with no rest, he falls asleep despite his best attempt to to keep pace, he tumbles from the saddle, forcing the scouts to haul him as dead weight. Despised for his weakness, he is left behind to recuperate with the pregnant women and young children, who move at a slower pace than the advance party with the warband.

Aware of the clans' contempt for him, Arithon decides to reinforce it, exaggerating his delicacy and pretending complete ignorance to life in the wilds. He aims to drive home the impression of uselessness - both to provoke the clans to disown him, and also to mask his attributes as a trained asset. He also needs to seize time in strict privacy to enable to a scrying with tienelle to seek better odds on the outcome for the upcoming battle. Once Etarra's invasion had been repulsed, he hopes the disdain of the clan chieftains will drive them to release him from the blood bonds of sovereigity, for the clans would be burdened by a useless addle-headed dreamer for their king! (Take note, for future volumes, here: that Arithon is very likely assuming a great deal concerning the purpose of his heritage, and the supposition he is playing on may not line up with the actual functions he would serve as fully crowned sovereign.)

Through the next days of travel, Arithon immerses himself in play with the children and even carves them whistles, to the fury and dismay of the women, who fear undue noise will draw the headhunters upon them. They are all unaware aware that Arithon had already set precautions against that: wards of protection and others, to mute noise. All along, he has not been walking aimlessly through the forest but using his training from Rauven's mages to maintain everyone's safety. Halliron alone pierces the mask of foolishness that Arithon has projected. Suspecting the prince is more than he seems, and charged by his calling to bear witness to history, the masterbard remains with the clans and bears close watch on the prince whenever the occasion arises. He notices Arithon's love for music, and studies his resentment and intention, until one moment, catching Arithon uawares, he discovers the fact that this prince has been mage trained - more, that Arithon is also putting to use what he knows to safeguard the clan women and children - without anyone knowing.

A brief confrontation sparks when Arithon discovers the Masterbard his caught him out. Arithon's response - the reader will have grasped by now - is prickly to drive off the masterbard's curiosity and worse: the ability to perceive his true self, and the intense need to allow that intimacy from a fellow musician. The pain driven exchange almost fools Halliron - but not quite. He emphatically grasps that this prince regards him as a threat and is irked for not being able to uncover the reason.

Upon arrival into the valley of Tal Quorin, Arithon Teir's'Ffalenn receives oath of fealty from the clans, despite rebellious mutters of contempt, and open gossip over the prince's weakness. The discourtesies and sullen resentment are cut short by Steiven, who must hope that his liege will snap out of his unseemly brooding and shoulder his heritage.

Attraction

Spoiler warning: Contains plot elements from Curse of the Mistwraith.

[[[Etarra]] prepared for war. The forges are hammering out weapons and armour, while recruits are drilled for the assault. Talk of war is on everyone's lips and the high born elite are left side-lined. To compensate they throw frenzied parties, burying themselves in fawning admirers and wild escapades.

Talith and her brother Diegan, who would have been front and center at every frivolity in the past, now find them silly before the gravity of the coming conflict. Talith yearns for Lysaer's presence, for his humour that didn't belittle and his air of controlled power not bought through brutish intrigues and bribes.

Lysaer finds her taking the air on a balcony outside the festivities, the night before the army marches out. Through an intimate exchange, he confesses his fear of failing to kill his half-brother. Note how well-set his intention has become. How right and just the cause is! He displays the deep hatred for the s'Ffalenn line as he relates his personal memories from Dascen Elur!

And note Talith's relief when she realizes he is not posturing for favor: the prince actually cares for her well-being and her happiness! This straightforward admission is novel, and while she feels it worth following through, Lysaer defers her. The war must come first, and her interest must wait until afterward, when he has standing to offer her his undivided attention.

Deduction

Spoiler warning: Contains plot elements from Curse of the Mistwraith.

At Narms, Elaira is summoned before the Prime and Lirenda and is informed that Lysaer has roused Etarra to war and has marched with an army ten thousand strong to hunt down the clans and Arithon. She is shown through scried images that Tal Quorin's banks have been riddled with death-traps by the barbarians and is thrown the reverse, that her visit to Asandir had not escaped the Prime's notice after all.

To wrest that misdemanor to the order's advantage, Elaira is ordered to fashion a clear recall of each of the princes, a precise enough view to open the insight into their personal characters. The spells used to unmask such a deep sounding are perilous: the intimacy exposed to view often bind the participant to the subject under study through bonds of emotion and insight, inciting sympathy nearly impossible to deny. The experience might even overwhelm Elaira's spirit completely, but a prime's direct order cannot be deined. The Koriathain owns Elaira, flesh and mind, and disobedience to the Prime's will would invite her destruction.

Note the conversation between Lirenda and the Prime, while Elaira prepares for trance. The Prime is fully aware that the ritual of clear recall is bound to deepen Elaira's feelings for Arithon and spoil her future career in the order. Even ruined, Elaira poses a valuable tool, a window into Arithon's character that will be desperately needed later on. The flawed instrument she becomes can serve as no other can, before the day comes when she will be driven to break and forsake her vows.

This scene opens the first insight into Morriel's character. Old and weary, terrified to become the first Prime to meet death without the necessity of a trained successor, she regards Lirenda, the 43rd candidate to her office, as a mere cipher. Her attached interest in the particulars of any candidate, and any affection for them, had died with the first one to fail.

Under the narcotic given to enhance her awareness, Elaira exerts her powers of recall to open a memory of Arithon first. She chooses the moment when Arithon was entertaining the street children with the shadow-wrought brigantine, unaware he was being observed. The infallible accuracy of Elaira's insight unveils Arithon's vulnerable inner heart.

Contemplating the opening to bring him down, Lirenda suggests that "killing will unman him, for s'Ffalenn conscience must force him over time to back down." But Morriel focuses on his hands before his eyes. She suggests the deceit Arithon so easily displays is rooted in the gift of true farsight from the s'Ahelas royal line.

Next, Elaira displays an image of Lysaer in the garden, caught in an introspective moment of soul-rending self-distaste. Both Lirenda and Morriel grasp how s'Ilessid justice wars with the propensity for s'Ahelas farsight. Both recognize how Desh-thiere's influence chokes Lysaer's character, until pity and mercy seem absent.

Both Morriel and Lirenda are convinced that Arithon is the more dangerous due to an incompatible legacy that leaves his mind fatally flawed. But Elaira insists they are wrong. She reckons Lysaer's flawed nature as the greater peril, as charisma, coupled with his ingrained bias towards noble principles are powerful incentives the prince will wield to inspire a fanatical following.

But her fears are dismissed. Lysaer's course is deemed predictable by the Prime, and what can be anticipated can also be controlled and prevented. Arithon's actions, in turn, pose a wild card, an 'incompatible legacy' born of two royal gifts, which in Morriel's opinion, makes him far more dangerous. Elaira insists: "He is conscious of his actions as Lysaer can never be"

Take particular note of the statement as Morriel agrees: "Which is precisely what makes him dangerous... Lysaer's sense of justice and farsight will answer to logic, and therefore be reconciled by compromise. But since when can (Arithon's) compassion ever be made to condone pain: S'Ahelas blood gives Arithon full grasp of cause and effect; mage training compounds this with awareness of the forward reactions of power. These traits aligned against the s'Ffalenn gift of sympathetic empathy cancels the mind's self-defenses. The shelter of petty hatred becomes untenable. Arithon is a visionary placed at the nexus of responsibility. Desh-thiere's curse will embroil him in violence he can neither escape nor master. Stress will prove his undoing, for the sensitivities of poets have ever been frail, and the broadened span of his thinking shall but inflame and haunt him to madness."

And Elaira's response: "you're mistaken." Based on her recall of the whiplash resilience the living man had possessed, "As Ath is my witness, the conclusion you've drawn from this is wrong."

Which observation is 'right' - which do you trust? Which of these deep insights will play out, and how, in the coming course of the series?

Note Elaira's regret and guilt at the end of this chapter. By exposing Arithon's private self in attempt to win Arithon's protection from the consuming threat of her order's interest, in sad fact, she may have betrayed him by unwittingly providing her Order with a powerful weapon against him.

Daybreak

Spoiler warning: Contains plot elements from Curse of the Mistwraith.

Lirenda's dreams are haunted by s'Ffalenn green eyes, deep with a compassion expressive enough to leave her weeping and desolate till dawn.

Deshir's clansmen continue building traps in the marshes flanking Tal Quorin while their prince is conspicuously absent. Young Jieret takes it upon himself to pursue the mystery of the prince's behavior.

The caravan master who had been paid with one of Rathain's crown jewels by Arithon is perplexed, wondering why he decided to just hand over the jewel when Sethvir simply asked for it.