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

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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!

XVIII. Culmination

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

In their rush to reach the grotto that shelters the clans' women and children, Arithon realises they are already too late. He stops Jieret, whose beserk rage drives him onward, regardless. "They are dead, every one. You can't help them."

They can only attempt to spare the remaining clansmen who would become maddened with grief and press into a vengeful attack that could only see them slaughtered outright. Arithon sends a scout to Caolle with orders to keep the men out of the canyons. But the scout never gets through. Pesquil's headhunters have Arithon's party surrounded, some of them armed with crossbows. Forced at bay against a tree, the few take a stand to protect Jieret. Those with bows shoot to kill crosbowmen, and the rest meet the enemy charge with swords. Aware Caolle's men are approaching, with Etarra's other division at their heels, Arithon cannot use shadow without alerting Lysaer and triggering the curse in full measure. He knows the inbound clansmen will become engaged on two fronts and torn apart, and one crossbowmen still shooting from cover will pick them off, leaving Jieret exposed. Arithon is forced to engage his craft as never before. Seeing no other way to secure clan survivors, he taps forces forbidden by any right thinking mage. With no room for the smallest mistake, Arithon violates integrity and abjures safe limits: he builds a snare of unbinding, counter to the Law of the Major Balance and in parallel with chaos and unleashes that to destroy the crossbowman.

Then he connects his consciousness to that of Strakewood Forest trees and twines spells that ensnare the headhunters' consciousness into that of the trees, to be slaughtered at will by the Deshans. The way clear to escape, he dispatches Jieret to safety with the earnest intention to follow after he has spun illusion to help counter the forces against Caolle. But that last effort leaves his strength too depleted, with no reserves left to go forward. Overcome, driven to his knees, he remains and spends his last effort ease a mortally wounded clansman, Madreigh, fallen in his defense.

"He had acted outside of greed and self-interest, had to the letter of obligation fulfilled his bound oath to the Deshans." But "duty did not cleanly excuse which lives should be abandoned to loss, or which should be taken to spare others... No answer satisfied. No law insisted that justice stay partnered by mercy."

Disoriented, Arithon regains full awareness a bit later, surrounded by Steiven's division, vengeance-bent on killing headhunters. Though the cost destroyed them to the last man, Pesquil's division would not leave Strakewood alive. Arithon tries to muster strength and use magecraft to separate the combatants before they annihilate each other, but Lysaer encounters him first.

Desh-thiere's curse eclipses reason for both brothers. Lysaer attacks with light, and Arithon retaliates with shadow. Though clansmen and forest alike will be destroyed between them, no threat to life and limb will snap Arithon out of Desh-thiere's control. Enraged beyond sanity, Lysaer vows that the wiles of his unprincipled bastard brother shall cause no more damage. He will serve justice at all costs. And "if such justice was wholly subverted by the workings of Desh-thiere's curse, Lysaer endorsed usage with consent. He screamed and surrendered to his passion and something inside him snapped." Overmastered by hatred, he channels the whole of his being into the destructive aspects of his gift. The light of his own making would martyr him, regardless of whether Arithon can shield himself.

In that moment of victory, when the s'Ffalenn prince sees his half-brother's death as a certainty, Jieret breaks Desh-thiere's hold through the blood bond sworn between them. And Arithon is forced to choose: protect Jieret, and also save Lysaer from his own demise, or allow everyone to die. Torn by the irony, aware that if he does nothing, and allows the curse free rein in this moment, all further future conflict will end with Lysaer's death. Or he can spare Jieret and the clans and soak the future in further bloodshed. Spare the innocent few, now, or sacrifice them - Arithon does as his nature demands (alleviate the suffering in front of him, not hypothetical possibility) He fights the geas and and spares Jieret, then conjures shadow with virulent force enough to cloak Strakewood in darkness, not only sufficient to snuff Lysaer's light, but allowing the surviving clansmen and Pesquil's headhunters to escape. He holds these defenses until he drives himself unconscious from total fatigue.

A mere 200 clansmen lived, no women and children among them. And they must flee into hiding in Fallowmere, since the surviving Etarrans will go on to poison the rivers and game in Deshir. Orphaned at the age of 12, Jieret is left as caithdein of Rathain, with the task of raising and training him fallen to Caolle, who once had one the same for Steiven, only lose him to an early death.

Through the night, the clansmen sweep the terrain for survivors, helping those that can be saved, and dispatching the rest with a mercy stroke. Arithon wakens, and leaves the camp to shoulder the grisly task of freeing the dazed spirits left behind. Caolle and Halliron encounter the evidence of his work, and Caolle is forced to reckon with concepts beyond his experience as war captain.

As Arithon tends to each and every one of the dead, clansmen and Etarran alike, freeing their traumatizes spirits to the peace of Ath's mysteries, Caolle's resentment is forced to a head. Aggrieved by the scale of clan losses, he blames himself for his strategic failure. More, he criticizes his liege for attending to corpses ahead of the wounded, until Halliron forces him to reckon with the impact of Arithon's accomplishment.

When they come to the tree, and the enemy fallen whose deaths were arranged to save Jieret, Caolle shares the anguish of the moment as Arithon bares himself to the animosity of those spirits slaughtered by his magecraft. Caolle must reckon with the strength in the man, and the exposed strength of character required to bear the s'Ffalenn gift of compassion. At the last he acknowledges the stature of a man he had considered weak, inadequate, and too soft to surmount the responsibilities demanded of Rathain's crown prince. Note the accolade he offers as he capitulates to Halliron's wisdom: "Arithon is greater than Steiven."

Also take particular note of Halliron's reply: "You see that. You are privileged. Many won't and most will be friends."

First Resolution

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

Etarra's garrison is in tatters. Less than three thousand remain living out of the ten who marched out, and most are wounded. Lysaer immerses himself in their midst, unsparingly. Not too proud to dirty his hands, he makes rounds of the camp, consoling and encouraging the shattered survivors. His presence seems that of a savior to the men. "To find his ragged magnificence still among them in the cheerless grey of the morning made men break their hearts to meet his wishes."

Lysaer faces his fatal shortfall: that he had endorsed self-destruction to buy the Master of Shadow's death. He has a moment of genuine uncertainty: "the inspiration to risk martyrdom for the cause might not have been Lysaer's own." And note in conclusion how he blames it on Arithon, for the best strategy would be to "dedicate an enemy to self-destruction." And how he hasn't given up on his quest of revenge.

The wounded return to Etarra, while the core of the Etarran army turns its effort toward Strakewood to poison the rivers and kill the game and hunt down Deshir clans' survivors. Lysaer seizes on the chance to stay with them as his authority is already accepted, unquestioned. More, Lysaer plans to mold them into a troop of formidable strength. His resolve is backed by Diegan, who intends to convince Lord Governor Morfett to issue a formal invitation for the foreign prince to Etarra. Lysaer accepts, with resolve to mobilize towns the breadth of Rathain to join their just cause to destroy Arithon. He stays with the troops, awaiting Diegan's invitation, and ends with the promise to pay court to lady Talith. For "no Master of Shadow with his darkness shall be permitted to keep us apart."

Last Resolution

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

Deshir's clansmen bury their dead in expedience, before hasty retreat to Fallowmere.

Kneeling next to the cairn that marked Steiven and Dania's gravesite, Arithon discovers his magesight and all trained access to craft has been lost after the transgressions he invoked in the battle. Torn by grief and alone in a strange world, he is desolate, as if a part of himself has been blinded. Mastery of his shadow remains, but no assurance suggests whether time will heal his access to other gifts.

Determined spare the clansmen from the hazards of guarding his presence, he takes leave of Jieret and Caolle, because where he goes, Lysaer's army will assuredly follow.

"I can neither repay nor restore your losses. Nor would I cheat you with promises I am powerless to uphold. You gave me life and offer a kingdom. Your lord shared a friendship more precious. In return I give my word as Teir's'Ffalenn that I won't squander these gifts."

Caolle admits he had misjudged his liege lord and requests sanction to rouse all clans on the continent to take arms for the upcoming conflict. Though Arithon doesn't approve, nonetheless, he acknowledges Caolle's right in to take action after the clan's terrible losses.

As dusk settles over Strakewood, Halliron Masterbard finds Arithon on a beech log in a clearing. Reluctant and wary, braced for a refusal, he offers the prince a minstrel's apprenticeship, and to his delight Arithon gives his consent. The oath sworn to Felirin the Scarlet is fulfilled, that if Halliron were ever to offer apprenticeship he would accept it. "For this night and others, Arithon was free. He could sit, set his hands to silver strings and at long last, bend sorrow into music."

Reflections

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

Asandir, Dakar, and Verrain check the Mirthlvain Swamp for resurgence of meth-snakes. Traithe and Kharadmon arrive in Shand and while the Fellowship's hope for the South centers on a prince in hiding, the Warden of Althain tracks two cursed brothers and awaits against hope any sign that the Black Rose Prophecy might still be valid...

In Korias, the hour after sunrise, First Enchantress Lirenda reports to Morriel Prime that the Master of Shadow's tracks have been lost...

Sealed deep within Rockfell Pit, behind triple rings of wards, the Mistwraith languishes in confinement and endures in unquiet hatred...