Red Seas Under Red Skies – Read Along – Part 2
So, this month, after farrrrr too long waiting, The Republic of Thieves has been released. Yes, it has been a good few years since the release of Red Seas Under Red Skies, and we’re not ones who like to go into a book unprepared; so we at Fantasy-Faction thought a Read Along was very much in order.
Below, you will find a rather extensive re-read with notes and questions for Chapters 4-7 (including the epilogue) of Scott Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red Skies…. Enjoy!
Oh, and if you missed part 1 you can find it here.
Locke and Jean are talking with a poisoner who says that she cannot offer them an antidote without knowing what poison they have taken. Simply trying random antidotes could do as much good as slitting their throats: something they take may speed up the process of killing them. The poisoner says that they do have one final chance, they could get in contact with the Bondsmagi of Karthain, they have certain cures that Tal Verrar merchants do not. When Locke and Jean say they cannot do that, the poisoner says that in that case they will need to stay useful to the individual that poisoned them and hope that some stroke of luck brings them more information on what they’ve been infected with. The poisoner promises that once Locke and Jean know what it is, she will be available to help them at any time. Locke and Jean leave her a gold solari coin for that promise and are led away by the poisoner’s bodyguard through a number of passages, blindfolded – Locke and Jean understand that the poisoner needs to protect her location so don’t mind.
Locke and Jean are very aware that they are being watched and followed although they don’t think it is by either the Bondsmagi or agents of the Archon. They wait about three nights before returning to the Sinspire. Locke scopes out Requin’s ‘right people’, the dirty and dangerous who have been let in to the first and second floors as a reward well done. They are dressed well, but Locke notices that their teeth are dirty and their clothing doesn’t quite match the identities they are trying to portray. On the second floor there is a commotion and when Locke asks one of the other guests what is going on he is told that there is a cage spectacle. Locke and Jean push through the crowd and see a Stiletto Wasp – which is the size of a sparrow – hovering within a cage. A man with gauntlets is preparing to enter the cage and do battle with one of them and there are many more wasps in interconnecting cages around the floor.
From behind them, Madam Durrena calls to Locke and Jean. She asks where they have been and they tell her they’ve been busy consulting on a freelance basis. Madam Durrena asks Locke if he’d like to make a bet on the exchange between the Stiletto Wasp and the man in the cage. Just as Locke is about to answer the man in the cage swats the wasp and steps on it. Locke says he no longer can, but Madam Durrena tells him that there are 121 wasps set to be let free in bursts between 1 and 6. He cannot leave the cage until all 121 lie dead at his feet. Apparently only 8 are dead so far. Locke thinks about it and says that he would choose the man and Madam Durrena smiles and says that she’d choose the wasps so perhaps they should make a wager – 200 solari from her and 100 from each of the men. Locke and Jean agree. Just as they settle down to watch and see who will win, Selendri puts her hand on Locke’s shoulder and says that one of the Priori would like to speak with him about a card trick. Locke tells Madam Durrena that he must go and Locke leaves her with Jean whilst he follows Selendri to Requin’s offices in a dark, very small elevator. Locke says to Selendri that she doesn’t like him and she says she has met many traitors. Locke takes a moment before telling Selendri that whatever he has done to offend her he is sorry and he wishes he could take it back. Selendri says that there is nothing to unsay or undo and there is nothing that he can do that will put her at ease. Selendri tells Locke that the only reason she hasn’t killed him is that he may be useful against his current employer. Selendri says she distrusts everyone because she cannot be betrayed that way, opposed but never betrayed. As they reach their stop, Locke says that she must be the bravest woman that he has ever met. Selendri pushes him from the room, but Locke thinks that his words may chip away at her as time goes on.
Note: Why is Locke so keen to get Selendri on his side? Perhaps she will play part of his plan?
Requin welcomes Locke to his office and says what a busy man he has been over the past few years. Requin tells Locke that he know about Jean visiting Mistress Gallardine just over a year ago. Locke says that he did and that it was Locke who told him that she made Requin’s vault after he heard it in a bar. Requin says he also knows that Locke spoke to a number of people at the docks. Locke says he is correct, he enquired about shipping goods away, but he and Jean decided that they would need to use someone from outside the city instead. He also knows that Locke has been working with alchemists and, again, Locke says he has indeed – he was playing about with the idea of explosives and trying his hand on second-hand mechanisms.
All of the above was expected, but then Requin says he knows about Locke being taken over to see Maxilan Stragos three nights ago. Selendri then walks up behind Locke, ready to kill him if need be. Locke panics, but doesn’t show it. Locke says that Stragos doesn’t seem to realise that Requin’s men are still reporting back to him – they think they are working for him (note: kind of a double, double cross). The first story that comes to Locke’s head is that it is Stragos who is hiring him to empty Requin’s vault. Locke says that Stragos had finally decided three nights ago that it was finally the time to reveal himself as their employer (remember that Locke had said last time that he’d never met him directly). Requin asks why Stragos would tell Locke of his plans. Locke says he doesn’t know but he presumes it is because he wants to hurry things along and he no longer expects Locke and Jean to live beyond the success they achieve for him. Selendri asks why Stragos thinks Locke and Jean would remain loyal so he tells them about the poisoning and says that they have to be loyal or they will not be given doses of antidote. Requin admits that although everything is complex, it does seem to make sense.
Requin explains to Locke that although on paper the Priori control the Archon, the reality is that Stragos has an army and navy. Locke acts as if he is a little nervous about this development and asks Requin what he thinks he should do next. Requin asks him if Stragos knew about the conversation between the two of them, Locke says that he doesn’t think so. Then Requin asks if Locke would have revealed himself to him if Stragos had revealed himself before they’d had their meeting a few days ago. Locke says he can’t know. It is possible that he would not have. Locke says that he really doesn’t like Stragos and that he wants to get out as quickly as possible. Requin says that Locke may join him and will have an opportunity to kill Jean, but only when Stragos is dead. Locke asks how he is meant to ensure that and Requin says that Locke doesn’t need to worry, he won’t need to kill him himself, simply assisting him and doing as ordered will be enough to get him the job as a floor boss. Requin tells Locke that the money he has locked down in Locke’s account is now lost – he is not a charity.
Locke asks why Requin doesn’t think Locke is working for Stragos and believe that this is just part of a big act. Requin says that perhaps he thinks just that and is playing Locke off on this assumption. Then, though, he tells Locke that there isn’t much that Locke could tell Stragos that he doesn’t already know… Stragos knows Requin is hostile, keeps money for his enemies and wishes him dead. Requin says there is one last thing that he needs to check and that is that Selendri agrees that he is worthwhile keeping around. Selendri says they may as well keep him around for now, he might give them a way to Stragos. Locke is relieved. Requin tells Locke that he will be escorted down to the sixth floor, for now he is just to keep the Anchor happy.
Note: It is revealed that the man fighting the wasps is a young noble who owes debts.
Locke gets back down to the second floor just in time to see the boy fighting the wasps get swarmed and die. Madam Durrena is pleased with her win and asks Locke when they will next be able to play Carousel Hazard, Locke says as soon as possible, but right now they have important political matters to attend to. Locke walks to the cage where the boy’s body lies, Locke pours his drink onto the ground as a gesture to the dead.
Note: Again, this death has upset and affected Locke.
Jean isn’t too impressed that Locke told Requin that Stragos is after him… He thinks that Locke is going to cause a civil war. Locke tells him to calm down, the two are really not friends and would both end up running into each other eventually anyway. He tells Jean that he has good news too, he feels that Selendri could be sweet talked. Jean asks Locke if he thinks it is time to hand over the ‘chairs’. Locke says that he thinks it is and that if Jean gets them out of storage he will deliver them. Locke and Jean decide to part ways for the night and for now just keep their ears to the ground. A beggar approaches Locke and begs for Perrilandro’s sake that they provide her with a coin. Locke says that she may have more than a single coin and instead gives her three. Suddenly, though, Locke wonders why she didn’t approach any of the other men who walked past her. As she reaches out, Jean notices something is wrong and holds Locke back as a crossbow bolt whizzes between them. The woman takes a stance and the boys realise she is a ‘foot-boxer’, a style that Jean actually has trouble with. As Jean begins to battle with her, Locke senses a presence behind him and ducks as a heavy chain is swung at him. This man is also dressed as a beggar and Locke wastes no time thrusting a blade into his heart. Next, Locke runs towards Jean’s opponent and even with the two of them fighting her, they struggle to hold her off until Jean is finally able to bury one of his hatchets into her back. Jean tells the woman that if she starts talking Locke can help her die quickly or live. Then, suddenly, a bolt takes the beggar down and she is dead. A woman – the Archon’s agent who picked them up a few days ago – walks towards them and tells Locke and Jean to look in the beggar’s hand. The dead beggar has a poisoned knife, meaning that the woman had saved at least one of them from a slow death. The woman tells the two that they can call her Merrain and that she has been asked to look out for them. When Locke says it must have been her he has seen following them she says she doubts it and that they’d better clear off quickly because her employer doesn’t control the constables. As they are leaving Merrain says her employer would like to meet the two of them at a boat that evening – it seems he has a task for them.
Question: So, what are your initial impressions of the opening quarter of the book? A lot has changed… what do you like and what do you dislike?
Question: How did you find Locke’s depression? Was it out of character for him? Was Jean’s frustration at Locke out of character for him too?
Question: Why do you think Locke and Jean ignore the Bondsmagi? Are they scared of them or is it more a feeling of helplessness that they can’t stand to face?
Question: What do you think about the new setting of Tal Verrar compared to Camorr?
Question: Who do you think is the lesser of two evils? Requin or Stagos? Which one should Locke avoid upsetting at the end of the con or do you think it is inevitable Locke will have them both after his blood?
Question: I found it interesting that Locke was talking about retirement or at very least changing how he works. We also see Locke finding it difficult to watch younger people die. Do you think the two are connected? Do you think Locke is losing his nerve as he gets older?
Six days north from Tal Verrar, Locke has just arrived – disguised as a merchant named Mordavi Fehrwight – in the demi-city of Salon Corbeau. Solan Corbeau lies within a cleft in the black seaside rocks and is in the shadow of Mount Azar (an old volcano). This little paradise is obviously expensive to holiday at and retire to, so most of the people who come here are wealthy individuals, but Locke notices a steady flow of ragged peasants coming to the strange private city too.
Note: A year has passed since Locke & Jean arrived in Tal Verrar and Locke and Jean have managed to build a fortune worth over 1000 solari by cheating at various games.
Locke has come here to secure the final piece he needs for his Sinspire scheme. Upon arrive, Locke heads to the miniature city and finds himself surrounded by expensive shops and men and women dressed in finer clothing and wearing more gold than even he thought possible. He considers that a lot of people here are able to waste more money drawing attention to themselves at breakfast than he – as Master Fehrwight – would spend on food in a month. He isn’t here to rob these people, though, he is here to make use of their privileged existence. The people who come here to holiday and settle are very well-off and to have got there many of them have invented and produced the finest inventions.
Locke meets with a Master Baumondain, a maker of high quality furniture and devices – Locke wants him to make some very special chairs for him. Whilst sharing coffee with Baumondain, Locke meets the fifty-year-old’s daughter and a gentled cat. The gentled cat is strange, because there seems no reason that a cat should be gentled… it isn’t a working animal. The carpenter suggests that there are more than a few strange things going on in the area and although Locke doesn’t know what he is referring to, he makes a mental note to investigate. The design that Locke gives to Master Baumondain for the chair is in the style of the last few years of the Therin Throne, he needs four of them with leather backs, real gold insets and made of a delicate wood called shear-crescent. The carpenter warns Locke that this soft wood won’t hold up for very long and Locke says that that is OK. Once they have agreed on the style, Baumondain tells Locke that he can never try to pass these off as originals because an expert would be able to tell the difference quite easily. Then Locke hands Baumondain some further plans with features he wants added to the chairs: some-kind of mechanism that Locke says he would like added due to his master fearing that he may get locked in his study should it set on fire. Locke pays the carpenter far more than is required for the chairs: 6 solari and then some. Locke asks how long the chairs will take and is told 6-7 weeks initially, Locke offers him some more money (50 solari in total now!) and they get the time down to a single week.
Whilst waiting for his chairs to be made, Locke’s attention turns to the Amusement War, the reason so many rich come to this place and also the reason so many poor come here too. Held in a Coliseum-like stadium, the poor that have been let into the stadium are used as human chess pieces. Two War Masters are assigned 40 people each and they move around in the stadium to the Master’s orders. When a piece is taken (as it would be in chess) the human piece must suffer a ‘default’. The War Master can choose to have them beaten for example or, as seems to be the practice, sell the ‘default’ to a member of the crowd. The first default a War Master sells is for 5 solari and the member of the crowd asks to have the female piece stripped and her hair cut off. The human pieces’ only reward for this lifestyle is living quarters and two meals a day. Locke quickly realised that the game is not as important as the defaults that are carried out by the ‘Demons’, men in a dark costume wearing orange masks. Upon seeing the spectacle Locke realises that he has to do something about this and that he cannot let these people suffer anymore. He curses himself, because his focus should be on the Sinspire plan.
We have a flashback scene here (strangely) where Chains is telling Locke that he only needs to act as though he is following Barsarvi, but in reality is certainly not owned by him or, for that matter, Chains. Chains tells him that he intends for Locke to someday break the secret peace and that it is something to do with being a priest of the Crooked Warden. Although Chains says that the secret peace stops a few of them getting hung, his role as a priest to the Crooked Warden gives him two tasks. The first is to prosper and avoid being hung (which Barsarvi has covered and ensured well-enough), but the second mandate is that ‘the rich remember’ that they are not unbeatable and that they never forget that they are not Gods. It is Locke and Chains’s jobs to be the stone in their shoe, the thorn in their side and remind them that they cannot do what they like. Because the secret peace that protects the nobles was made by Barsarvi (who is not a priest and so had to be practical when laying it out on the table), Chains doesn’t like it… It leaves the nobles too comfortable.
Question: The section where Locke talks with Chains about reminding the rich who they are certainly enforces the idea that Locke is more Robin Hood than malicious thief. Indeed, this is also the first time we’ve heard the Bastards claim to be more than simply thieves. Do you think this is something Scott has always planned or do you think Scott decided after the first book that he needed to give Locke a heroic purpose?
Locke asks the Baumondains why the peasants would choose to take part in the game – he is pretty angry. Apparently the players are paid a bronze piece for each game they enter, a silver should they be selected for a default and one player at random is given a gold piece. Most of the people playing have no other way of living. Locke says that he still cannot accept it, he says that there is something very wrong about how the nobles watch the poor and simple – like predators. According to the carpenters there are no rules in the resort and this is what happens when the rich stop pretending to care about morals. Baumondain then admits that the gentled kitten she got was from a mother who had a litter gentled so that her sons could kill them with knifes because they were bored.
Locke cannot help returning to the Amusement Wars… he sees the rich watching and enjoying the poor suffer and even, on numerous occasions, their deaths. A man enters the free gallery next to Locke and talks to him, saying that he has noticed Locke does not seem to be enjoying himself. The man is a Baron who has purchased his title – the same kind that Locke and Jean are considering purchasing once their latest scheme is over to settle down with. Locke introduces himself as Master Fehrwight. When the Baron asks Locke why he looks so sad, Locke hesitantly states that he thinks it is cruel, but at the same time it is like watching a carriage crash – you can’t take your eyes off it. The Baron scoffs at the idea of it being cruel and says Locke should compare it to War or even just life in Camorr – he adds that all the people taking part in the game are there by choice. Locke says that they had no other choice and the Baron replies that they should have prayed harder to the Gods and anyway they get paid – it’s almost like charity. Locke says that just one in 80 of the men and women get paid a solari and for the other 79 that promise holds them here to suffer default after default – some even dying whilst they wait. The Baron says that it is the Gods who choose to take the pawns from this World, not he or the other rich people of Solan Corbeau. When Locke says that anywhere else in the World this would be considered murder, The Baron tells Locke that the guards around Solan Corbeau are not ones to put up with discontent and that they’ve already noticed him. Locke doesn’t say it, but he would love to leave this Baron penniless and sobbing, to teach him a lesson. Instead, Locke asks that The Baron forgives him and promises to leave and not bother anyone in this place again.
A few days later the chairs, with the additional features, have been finished. Locke praises their workmanship and says he will be leaving this afternoon. When they ask Locke’s haste, he tells them that he can’t stand to spend more time in Solan Corbeau than he has to. As Locke prepares to leave he can’t believe he is going to go without doing anything… he sees the poor as insects being toyed with and at times stamped on by the rich.
Locke is back at Stragos’s Fortress with Jean and Merrain – they tell him about the assassins that Merrain saved them from. Stragos tells Locke that it couldn’t be Requin or he’d have had them killed in the Sinspire. So, he says, Locke must have another vendetta and demands to know who else they have problems with. Stragos says he wants Merrain to seek the bodies and have them checked for tattoos. Locke notices that in front of Merrain Stragos refers to him as Kosta and presumes that Stragos doesn’t trust his own people. There is a bald man in the room with them and Stragos reveals that this is his personal alchemist – the one who made the poison that allowed them to get his hooks into them and the one who will be delivering them the antidote. Before he leaves, Stragos asks the Alchemist if he has ‘all the people they need’ and he says that he does, all 44 of them and he will have them moved tomorrow. Once he is gone Stragos asks whether the assassins might be to do with their lives in Camorr and Locke says he doesn’t know. Stragos says he will continue to have them looked after by his people. He also tells them that they will have to curtail their movements, at which point Locke gets angry and says that this interferes with their plan. Stragos says he doesn’t care and Locke and Jean tell Stragos that he is taking a lot of liberties for a man trapped in a room with them both. Stragos says that if any of them kill him they will find themselves killed the moment they leave the room.
Once the two of them back off, Stragos says he has a plan for them, but first he wants to show them something down in the garden. When Jean says he wants to know what the plan is now, Stragos says he has a navy sailing at anchor in the Sword Marina, but that they can’t attack without a justifiable reason he can give to the Priori. Stragos tells Jean and Locke that he is going to send the two of them out to sea to find an excuse for him.
Stragos’s men take them down to the gardens, which is more a dark, spooky forest. Stragos walks them down to a boathouse and the three of them board a small craft and talk whilst floating along Stagos’s private river. The small river has an artificial current that is powered by a mechanical device much like a windmill. Jean asks where Stragos is taking them seeing as this river leads to nowhere. Stragos asks them if they know the story about the pirate uprising on the Sea of Brass. Jean says he heard of it but it got shot down before it became anything. Stragos says it did and that it was he who shot it down. He says that the pirates got the idea that they deserved a share of the taxes. Stragos says that one of the most well-known pirates was Lorella Bonaire and that before she was a pirate she was one of his officers. Stragos explains that once he caught up with them he sunk half their fleet and took his time with the rest of them. Bonaire he put in a crow’s cage and simply cut the rope himself, watching her fall to her death. Since then there hasn’t been much pirate activity. Stragos explains that once the fight was over the Priori got nervous, because victories make generals popular and the Priori didn’t want Stragos gaining too much power and popular opinion all in one go. So, they took away his navy, selling the ships to merchants. Locke asks why the Priori doesn’t just stop Stragos’s funds altogether. Stragos says they would if they could, but the charter assures him a minimum budget. He adds that when trouble arises, they are quick to offer him all the gold he needs, which is why Locke and Jean will be helping him cause a little trouble very soon – he wants them to cause another Pirate Uprising. At the moment he is too weak, with the money he can talk the Priori into giving him with the new uprising he will build his navy back up and regain the admiration of the people. Locke asks how Stragos expects him to talk the pirates into causing another uprising after so many of them were killed last time and Stragos tells Locke that he has a knack for getting people to do things, even out of character and that they will, themselves, become pirates. Stragos says he wants Locke and Jean to cause so much trouble that Tal Verrar’s traders look to run and the Priori are banging on his door begging him to take their coin. Locke will need to do this to get his antidote, which Stragos will provide for him when he returns to a port in Tal Verrar every two months. It will take 2-3 weeks to get to where the pirates stay and the same back, so Stragos feels Locke and Jean will have time to advance their business each trip.
Note: Locke isn’t happy. He doesn’t like the fact that he doesn’t know much about the life of being a pirate. In his past cons Chains gave them all the training they needed. In this case, Stragos has told him he will need to rely on charisma to cover his lack of knowledge and the crews’ fear of Jean as his right hand man. Stragos will also be providing him with a third man to tell them what to do if they get stuck – another thing Locke isn’t happy about.
Before they leave, Stragos shows Locke and Jean a garden he had made that is completely mechanical. This means that Stragos has a mechanical river, a mechanical garden and as his final trick he calls up rain and then a storm that rocks the boat and shakes the mechanical garden. Then Stragos cuts the storm and everything is calm again. Stragos explains that it took 60 men to cause the storm that Locke just witnessed, he needs to be able to control Tal Verrar in the same way that he controls his garden. He says that this can be achieved in the same way, that in a few years time mechanical advancements may mean that he could create the storm he just created with only 30 men. Stragos says that common men and women need to consider their future – he wants their kind to rise up and surpass the Bondsmagi and even the Eldren. The first steps to doing this are cutting away the hold the Priori has on him and gaining the support of the people so that they follow them. Locke and Jean are still reluctant and then Stragos asks how much they hate Karthain. He tells Locke that the last Emperor of Tal Verrar lost against Karthain because he tried to beat them with the art they control: magic. He is going to beat them with other things: machines, artifice, alchemy and engineering. When Locke asks why, Stragos asks Locke if he has ever heard of illusions and Locke says he has read about them. Stragos says that illusions were once an art, but since the Karthain started killing anyone who attempted to learn magic it has died out. Therefore, by their very existence, the bondsmagi have distorted the world and control them through fear. With them gone, Stragos thinks that Tal Verrar could once again become a great Empire. Jean and Locke are hesitant as to whether Stragos is paying them lip-service, but Stragos tells Locke that this is his plan and though he doesn’t think he will live to see Karthain fall, he will consider his job done if he at least plants the seed. Stragos says he will pay Locke and Jean for the work they do, but Locke and Jean use hand signals to communicate with each other that they don’t believe him. Before they leave, Stragos says that Locke and Jean will begin their training this week. He tells Locke and Jean that they will have to postpone their plans with Requin for they will need to be at sea in a month or at absolute most 6 weeks.
Note: The Karthain have never stopped the alchemists, even though it could be seen as a kind of magic for, Stragos says, it would force humans to fight back for fear of their very existence. Stragos claims this is proof they have something to fear from them and therefore their power has limits that they could soon overcome.
As Locke and Jean are taken back to the mainland we see Stragos and Merrain talking. Merrain asks whether the two can really be trusted and Stragos says that once they get past their initial anger he believes that they will actually begin to enjoy the challenge and he really does think they can. Merrain says that she is pleased to hear it and asks whether Stragos is OK for her to leave and tell her employers that things are underway. Stragos says she can and that he hopes they are ready for the consequences – there will be more blood than there has been in over 200 years. Before she leaves Stragos tells Merrain to send his regards and prayers that they shall continue to prosper… together.
Note: Who are Merrain’s employers???
Question: For me, this is the first time Locke Lamora has felt like a ‘proper’ fantasy novel (i.e. epic in scale). How do you guys feel about that? Is it inevitable in a fantasy novel that the protagonist eventually has to play a part in saving / bringing down the world?
Six months have passed since Locke returned from Solan Corbeau and his four chairs are locked away safely in storage. Locke and Jean are about an hour north of Tal Verrar standing atop a cliff and looking down the 100 feet or so drop. Jean has a mass of expensive rope and they tie it around the strongest looking tree at the edge of the forest that leads to the cliff. After checking the strength of the rope and knot nervously, before clipping it onto their belts that are connected to a harness system they created, the two of them head off the edge of the cliff and descend down to ‘test the rope’.
Note: luckily it works or we’d be cutting this read along short!!!
As they hang from the cliff, Jean mentions that Sabetha used to love climbing and Locke says that she really did. He says how he would watch her for ages in admiration. Suddenly, Locke asks Jean if they are OK and Jean says that they are, that he wouldn’t jump off a cliff with someone he didn’t like. Suddenly, a man shouts down at the two of them from the top of the cliff. The man reveals a hatchet and says that he didn’t find any purses in the coats they left up at the top. Locke and Jean shout that the coach-driver will be along to check on them with a crossbow soon, but the man tells them that he has seen him and that he is unconscious. The man asks them where their purses are and Locke calls back that they are off the cliff with them. The man says that he wants their purses and that he intends to cut their harnesses and collect them from their bodies at the bottom of the cliff. As the man starts cutting the ropes, Jean tells Locke that he has a throwing weapon and that he thinks he can hit him. Jean tricks the man into looking over the edge and manages to strike him in the face (with the hilt, though). The man slips off the edge of the cliff, but as he falls he just manages to catch Locke’s line. He begs Locke and Jean not to let him go and Locke says that only because he is a brother of sorts… Locke explains to the man that although he should kill him, he won’t, because there is a 13th God, the Crooked Warden, and that he is one of his priests. Jean makes his way back up the cliff and then, once he reaches the top, begins to pull Locke and the bandit up with him. Before Locke and Jean head off, Locke chucks the bandit his purse and tells the bandit again to remember this day that they saved his life when they should have killed him, because one day he may come back to this very area and ask a favour of him.
Locke and Jean are discussing who the assassins could have been working for, but can’t work it out. They are fairly sure it is a third-party unrelated to Requin, Stragos or the Bondsmagi. They list the obvious suspects as Durenna, Corvaleur and Lord Landravel (all people they’ve beat at cards), but feel that the first two would have come after them with swords and that Landreval has been gone for months. The bastards notice that Merrain is acting as a waitress, she heads over to them and hands them the ‘bill’, which is actually a note saying they need to go to the place they first met her.
Once they have finished breakfast, Locke and Jean head to the small building they were first taken to by Merrain. Within the room are men all dressed in the same dark clothing. They hand Locke and Jean the same clothing as they are wearing and tell them to get dressed. When Locke asks what is going on they say that it is all for the benefit for anyone who may try and follow them. There are numerous dark carriages outside and the men in pairs begin boarding them – Locke and Jean follow them and within the carriage they are told to board is Merrain. They try to ask her questions, but she ignores them until they reach the docks and are directed to board a boat. Once they are on the boat rowers start rowing and they move from the harbour towards a small island much like the one that the Sinspire is on – Locke realises it is the Sword Marina. They enter through huge stone doors that close once the boat has gone through and they are greeted by a man who is interested to know what in the world Locke and Jean have done to land themselves on this suicide mission. The man tells Locke and Jean straight that he isn’t sure whether he will be able to turn them into men resembling sea officers and admits it is quite likely they’ll both end up dead, but he tells them he has been forced by Stragos – the waiting poison in a drink trick was used on him too – to try. The man, Caldris, had been in the Verrari navy for 45 years and was involved in numerous wars – including the one against the Ghostwind’s Armada (the pirates uprising).
Locke wants to know where the ship they will be learning on is and Caldris points towards a dinghy, which Locke is not too impressed with. Caldris says that everyone learns to sail on this kind of craft. Then he presents Locke with a cat, because no one can leave without a cat onboard – it is bad luck. Caldris tells them that the cat is worth more to him than Locke and Jean when they get out to sea as he is so superstitious. He then asks Locke and Jean to hold out their palms and slashes them with a knife, he uses bread to mop up their blood and then cuts his own palm, uses the bread again, and tosses both the bread and knife into the water. He then says a prayer to the Gods for his own health (Jean notes he doesn’t say anything for them) and tells them to get ready to leave in the dinghy.
Caldris begins teaching the Bastards the absolute basics: which way is which, how to walk on a boat, how to row without capsizing, etc. After the first 10 hour day Locke is exhausted, his shoulders hurt and he has a headache from the way the sun is reflecting off the water. When they get back to shore Merrain is waiting for them and rows them back to the docks in Tal Verrar. Jean wants to head for a bath and have an early night, but Locke says that he has to see Requin tonight to try and explain the most recent developments: including how he has to go to sea for two months. Merrain says Locke cannot go to see Requin, but Locke replies that he must or Requin will have him killed. Merrain suggests perhaps taking them back to the Sword Marina to keep them safe, but Locke says that he really does need to see Requin. Merrain eventually relents and tells Locke her men will deliver him to Requin. Locke asks for two carriages, an extra one for cargo (we presume to carry the chairs as he mentioned them to Jean earlier in this chapter).
Locke arrives at the Sinspire and asks an attendant to get Selendri. When Selendri arrives Locke tells Selendri that he has gifts for Requin – the chairs – Selendri thinks Locke is trying to bribe Requin for some reason. She takes him to the 9th floor, but tells Locke that his attendants (Merrain and her men) must wait where they are. On the way up, Selendri tells Locke that Merrain is part of the Archon. Locke says he suspected, but didn’t know – Selendri says she knew by the tattoo on her hand.
Note: Selendri says to Locke that there are a lot of things that Locke doesn’t know.
Locke tells Requin that he and Jean were sailing all day… Requin says he knows Locke was on the harbour a few days ago and asks him why he was there (he doesn’t seem to know about the assassination attempt). At that moment an attendant brings one the chairs into the room and Requin, obviously impressed, says to place it in the centre of the room. Locke says that he won the chairs in a card game and Requin is amazed that Locke is willing to give them up and thanks Locke for the precious gift. Locke tells Requin about Stragos forcing them to go to sea and Requin says that is strange because his vault is beneath the Sinspire… not out to sea. Locke says he is going after a lock-breaker, a mechanical prodigy (a lie, of course). Requin accepts that Locke will need to go (because of the poison), but Selendri says that Locke must bring the master lock-breaker to the Sinspire before they take him to Stragos (for they see him as a true threat to Requin’s vault).
Locke and Jean are back in the Sword Marina being pushed by Caldris. The two of them are struggling to keep up with the level of work the old sailor is demanding of them. The topic of the 1,000 day war comes up and Locke defends Camorr, saying that they kicked the Verrari’s arse (whose army Caldris was a part of). Until now, Locke has maintained that he is Talishani, so Caldris finds it strange that Locke would defend them. Locke quickly apologises though, saying it was a stupid thing to say as he knows that Caldris must have lost many friends.
In addition to the long days and late nights out at sea, when they get back to their room Locke and Jean are reading through books trying to learn phrases, workings of boats and navigation and history that will help them portray legitimate sailors. Stragos also has Merrain train them as to how they’d act as members of his navy and makes them wear the uniform and learn the bows, commands, etc. About three weeks into their training Locke and Jean are surprised to see a large boat floating next to the dinghy – it is styledThe Red Messenger and was retrieved from a man who tried to smuggle Stiletto Wasps into Tal Verrar. The boat isn’t a wreck, but it certainly isn’t anything special. Locke and Jean are surprised – as is Caldris – that they are actually ready to start manning it.
A few weeks have passed since the assassination attempt and Locke and Jean are starting to relax. Later that evening, Jean finds Locke in a bar drinking wine – trying to forget all the crazy things going on right now. There is a commotion between an Archon captain and a Priori Constable – the Priori Constable is chased away by the Archon who aren’t happy that he has chosen to drink in their bar. The Constable nervously throws his purse down as he leaves and says that everyone can have a drink on him as an apology. Locke and Jean don’t fancy the drinks being handed out and when a young woman asks if she may have their drinks as they haven’t drank them, Locke and Jean hand them over. Moments later the woman collapses – obviously poisoned. Jean tells Locke to get his back against the wall. The woman’s throat swells up and a Ship’s Physicer cuts her throat to try and get air, but the young lady dies anyway. The Bar’s Innkeeper thinks that the Physicer killed her when she cut her throat, but the Archon Captain quickly tells the barkeeper to apologise. Jean asks the Innkeeper where the assistant that served the drinks disappeared to. As everyone gets up and begins looking for him, Locke and Jean slip away. Once they’ve left the bar Jean works out that the Priori Constable was probably in on the assassination attempt and that must mean that it was planned by someone in the Priori.
Note: This is the first time we have heard of the Priori being interested in – and even aware of – Locke and Jean’s affairs.
As Locke and Jean make their getaway, a man jumps from a wall at the two of them – but Jean quickly decommissions him. The man, in great pain, tells Locke and Jean he is with Merrain. Locke agrees it’s time to accept Stragos’s demands that they hide out in the Sword Marina for a few days.
Caldris is amazed that Locke and Jean have picked so much of the jargon and ship mechanics in such a short amount of times. He asks Locke what he does as a day job and Locke says that both he and Jean were professional pretenders – he allows Caldris to think he means on the stage. It seems Locke and Jean are now easing into their roles as Captain and first mate of The Red Messenger and even starting to enjoy it – as Stragos predicted when talking to Merrain. Locke asks Caldris where his real crew is and moments later Merrain arrives and tells them that tomorrow they will take her and Stragos out on a real boat. If they can keep their heads above water then they shall reveal where their crew is and why they’ve been made to practice in uniform.
Merrain and Stragos are aboard a boat with Locke and Jean. They are directed past Winward Rock, a prison. Stragos said he has shown them this because one of his men is set to betray him very soon – that man is Locke. Stragos explains that he has planted the name Ravelle in numerous ears and by the time Locke sneaks into the prison he will seem very real to his men. Ravelle is going to betray him in much the same way that Bonnaire betrayed him seven years ago. Stragos tells Locke that within this prison he will find his crew. Stragos explains that he has had 44 crew-members put into a single cell-vault and treated badly by the guards. Stragos says that the guards have treated them so badly on behalf of Stragos that they should be desperate to get out and with a little work can be convinced to see Locke (as Ravelle) as their saviour.
Locke and Jean arrive at the Docks of Winward Rock and are instantly challenged by a guard. When the guard sees Locke’s uniform he apologises and helps them tie the boat up. Once he has helped them ashore, Locke knocks him out by placing a bag over his head that contains drugs to send him unconscious.
A Guardswoman stops Locke and Jean at the gates and they hand her their papers to say they are OK to be at the prison – they are there as Captain Ravelle and his Boatswain, Jerome Valora, for a general viewing. As soon as the gates are open, Locke slashes a female guard and Jean takes a male guard. Eventually Locke and Jean are able to knock out the two guards with a mixture of poison and brute force – both will survive after sleeping a few hours. Before they fall unconscious, Locke takes the guard’s keys and he shouts at Locke that he is a traitor.
Locke and Jean make their way through the prison taking out many guards along the way. Locke notices that Jean is looking stronger than he has ever seen them. When Locke finds the prisoners, although they are initially hesitant and dislike him as he is in uniform, Locke is quickly able to convince them that he has turned his coat and can offer them a better life onboard The Red Messenger.
Note: A big part of bringing the prisoners onto their side is to offer a man seen as ‘their leader’, Jabril, the position of acting mate, second to Jean.
Locke and Jean escape the island without killing a single guard, just as Stragos demanded. However, as they leave the Prison with their 44 men, Merrain slips from the shadows and kills 4 or 5 of the guards (to make it appear as if Locke and Jean have disobeyed Stragos. We are told that it is not that Merrain wants them to fail, but that she doesn’t want them to be ‘too’ successful, because otherwise Stragos will use them indefinitely and if that is the case the people she serves will never be able to get their hands on them to put towards their own purposes.)
When Locke and his newly acquired crew arrive on The Red Messenger, there is a guard onboard and in front of his men Locke makes a show of kicking the Archon off the boat and telling him that he is taking the boat for his own purposes – he gives the Archon a message to give to his superiors: “The Archon can kiss my arse”. He then shoves the man off the boat and tells his men to heave anchor. As they set out to sea, Locke begins assigning men posts and acting as if he has been a captain for years – it appears that he has done a good job of giving no-one a reason to question whether he is really who he says he is. Jean points out to Locke that he seems to be enjoying himself and Locke says that he actually is.
Locke spends the first few days raising morale and helping the men bond. One night he offers the men a choice of double helpings of pork or a drunken party – over 40 choose the drunken party, the rest are set on watch. Locke, Jean and Caldris join the men on watch and spot Flit-Wraiths, strange shapes made of light that glide along the sea. Caldris says they can’t be seen or touched – some even say they are ghosts. Caldris says that he has seen strange things in his years on these sees – including ghost ships. He warns Locke that there are places no captain will ever go and things that people never want to see. Caldris says the Ghostwind Isles are the worst of all and only a few islands are safe enough that people have returned.
Caldris tells Locke and Jean a story of the three settlements of the Ghostwinds where settlers out of Tal Verrar settled a hundred years ago – Port Prodigal, Montierre and Hope-of-Silver. Prodigal is still there, Montierre was torched to the ground by the Archon’s navy and, mysteriously, fifty years ago, three hundred families who lived on Hope-of-Silver just vanished overnight. Then, a few days later a ship from Hope-of-Silver was found and every man onboard had climbed up into the sails and lashed themselves there. It was evident they were trying to escape whatever it was had come for them and they’d all killed themselves up there when they realised they weren’t going to be able to escape.
A number of the crew approach Locke and ask him where the cats are because they haven’t seen them. Locke forgot to get any for the ship, but Locke tells the rest of the men that he got baby kittens so they are not yet ready to come out and roam the deck. The men look relieved, adding that they couldn’t forgive a captain who didn’t ensure cats were onboard – Locke is nervous about them finding out. Caldris approaches Locke, furious, and asks where the cats are. Locke tells him that he forgot them and Caldris says that they will now be lucky to survive. In addition, Caldris says that Locke will be hung if the men find out there are no cats onboard and if Locke says they died, the men will assume they are fated for bad luck and abandon him. Caldris says their only chance may be to pirate another ship and steal their cats.
That night a storm is on the horizon; Locke and Jean are drinking beneath deck and considering how Caldris will get them through it. Suddenly, Caldris stumbles into the room and collapses. Jean checks on him and finds his pulse has gone – his heart has failed, he is dead. Locke and Jean have lost Caldris.
Question: The section where Locke talks with Chains about reminding the rich who they are certainly enforces the idea that Locke is more Robin Hood than malicious thief. Indeed, this is also the first time we’ve heard the Bastards claim to be more than simply thieves. Do you think this is something Scott has always planned or do you think Scott decided after the first book that he needed to give Locke a heroic purpose?
Question: For me, the Requin trying to destroy Karthain plot-thread is the first time this series has felt like an ‘Epic’ fantasy novel (i.e. epic in scale). How do you guys feel about that? Is it inevitable in a fantasy novel that the protagonist eventually has to play a part in saving / bringing down the world?
Question: We recently ran an article on Fantasy-Faction about secondary characters. Certainly, Scott Lynch has put a ton of great ones in RSURS. What do you think of the mysterious characters like Merrain, Selendry, Requin, Stragos, Calris? Which is your favourite?
Question: What did you think of the sudden swing in direction – one minute we were focusing on a casino vault heist (Ocean’s Eleven) the next we are jumping on the high seas (Pirates of the Caribbean). Are you glad we are moving away from the Casino, are you looking forwards for the pirate sections?