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

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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!

XVII. March upon Strakewood Forest

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

Etarra's troops march for war with Lysaer in their midst. Ten thousand strong, they head for Strakewood Forest to bring an end to the threat of the clans. Note how Lysaer keeps comparing Rathain with Amroth. Why haven't the forests been cut down to open the obviously productive land for grazing sheep? And note his determination to set those changes in motion.

Approaching the edge of the woods, the Etarran scouts spot six barbarian children no older than 12, practicing javelin casts in a glen just upriver of the ford across the Tal Quorin. Ill-pleased to spend a summer swatting insects and enduring hardship in the wilds while hunting down barbarians, Diegan suggests the troops seize the opportunity and track the children back to the clan encampment, attack at once, and end the battle soonest. The two commanders, Pesquil and Gnudsog, object to the plan, suspecting a trap, but Lysaer makes a convincing argument that his half-brother would never stoop to using children as bait for an ambush.

A cautious plan sends 40 riders to chase the children, while Etarra's troops follow, split into 5 divisions, two in front and 3 following. Pesquil remains certain a barbarian surprise lies in wait, and chooses to keep his headhunters in the middle division, well behind the leaders who would spring the trap.

The boys bolt at the Etarrans approach, with the riders led by Gnudsog in hot pursuit into Strakewood Forest, through muddy game trails entangled with briars. No ambush in waiting reinforces the conclusion the children had been caught unawares and are fleeing for their lives. The decision to follow through becomes fixed when one of the riders falls into an improvised, fatal trap laid by one of the children; supposition holds that no child sent to draw the Etarrans to slaughter would pause for a kill unless they were desperate and alone.

The garrison advances up the Tal Quorin river course, with the main force split, with two flanking divisions dispatched up the valleys adjacent to the river. By now, even Gnudsog has reservations, since the advance seems too easy. Lysaer and Diegan dismiss his concern with confidence. Disaster strikes when the troops are committed, too far to turn back. The clansmen break open several dams set up prior, and send the river in flood down the valley. The torrent unleashed is swift and merciless, sweeping down three quarters of the first and second division. The survivors caught in disarray are picked off as they flee to dry ground by clan archers waiting in concealment.

Gnudsog's timely order urged Lysaer and Diegan dispatched to safety on higher ground. Lysaer refuses to go, convincing the men to draw Diegan to safety instead, while he tries to keep order and organize, getting as many Etarrans as possible to safety. He is overtaken when the torrent hits, and swept four hundred yards downstream, where captain mayor Pesquil finds him. Note Lysaer's reaction here: self-revulsion and guilt because he had been wrong to dismiss the warning the would be an ambush. Also note his hot rage! Not for the "barbarians' expertise in warfare" but because of "the knowledge delivered on two companies' ruthlessly massacred bodies, that he had been masterfully deceived."

His perception of Arithon darkens still more: to a "bastard of shadow who had no scruple, but only an unholy passion for lies of a stripe that could cajole human sympathy and then turn and without conscience rend all decency." And note his conclusion: "His half-brother, so gifted in magecraft and so superior in unprincipled cunning was a blight and a threat to society."

The thought ends with Lysaer's self-condemnation as he tells Pesquil: "This was my mistake. Since my ignorance has led to disaster, I'm willing to listen... And if you deem it necessary to slay children ... I shall no longer obstruct you."

Stalking the enemy upriver with Pesquil's still intact company, Lysaer encounters the horror that clan boys have been sent to dispatch any of Etarra's fallen left alive in the wake of the flood. They move in speed and silence, cutting the throats of every Etarran found still breathing. Enraged, Lysaer leads Pesquil and his men to attack that slaughters all the children engaged in the grisly job. He justifies his ruthless response thus: "If Arithon s'Ffalenn used children for his battles, the scar upon the conscience must be his."

First Quarry

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

In the valley adjacent to the flood that has ravaged Tal Quorin, Arithon is placed in a guarded thicket with young Jieret and 5 of Steiven's archers. With his mage trained perception spread across the terrain he had marked and measured the day before, he plays his trained talent for shadow and magecraft to disorient Etarra's flanking division below. Note the strictures by which he draws them: there is always a point where the enemy was given the chance to turn back, without penalty. Only those who hate enough to push forward will be drawn into the crossfire of the archers.

While Arithon is engrossed, Jieret has a vision of one young girl drawing the headhunters to the secluded tents that shelter the clan's women and children. In blind panic and grief, he bolts from the thicket, in a effort to stop the upcoming tragedy. Arithon breaks concentration and follows, obligated to the boy's protection by the blood bond exchanged between them.

Catching up, made aware of the threat by a sounding that almost drives him into the thrall of the curse, Arithon realizes he cannot expose himself to Lysaer without disastrous repercussions. Yet he must immerse into a mage trance to seeks the means to prevent the upcoming slaughter of the clan's noncombatants. Terrified he will fall to the influence of Desh-thiere's curse, he commands the clansmen to tie him up. Then he tells Jieret to nick him with Alithiel if he should descend into madness. His worst fear is realized: Desh-thiere takes hold of Arithon, with sanity salvaged when Alithiel draws his blood, and the Paravian spellcraft awakens and breaks the enthrallment.

"And nothing was right. Nothing at all. The wasted lives by Tal Quorin were only the prelude to disaster." Hampered by Lysaer's close proximity, Arithon understands he has little hope to salvage Deshir's wives and daughters! But he has to try.

Last Quarry

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

Teynie, the young girl, had fatefully tagged after her brother into the thick of the conflict. When Pesquil's men fall on them, and the killing reaps her companions, she takes flight to the sequestered camp. Pesquil holds back, and sets his scouts to follow her, that her flight will lead them straight to the hidden camp the barbarians had no spare men left to protect. Lysaer joins the stalking advance up the Tal Quorin along with Pesquil's head hunters.

Note Lysaer's determination. He knows what will follow and justifies his choice to go after the noncombatants based on the horror of encountering children who have been trained to kill without conscience: "No matter how unpleasant, duty demanded that he see the action through." He sees the reason why Pesquil and the Etarrans are driven to cleanse Deshir of the clans, and endorses the action as a moral necessity.

But even his resolve balks at the tactic the headhunters employ when they encounter the camp. They aren't killing the women and girls cleanly, but have their sport with them in the process. Lysaer draws the line against brutal abuse. Told that this is a commonplace strategy for drawing the fighting clansmen out of secure cover, Lysaer will not rein in his fury. He calls the men back and orders the women contained in a cordon. When the headhunters refuse his command, Lysaer wields his light gift and and threatens to use it to blast the insubordinates. This checks Pesquil's men, though they fear the prince will go on to free the hostages. Lysaer releases none of them, but opts to "end them cleanly" and in such a way that both Steiven's barbarians and Arithon will be "unable not to come and face them".

Three Valleys

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

Caolle and Steiven receive news from a runner sent by Arithon, that the disaster foreseen before the war has not been averted...

Running towards the grotto where the women and children hide, Arithon and Jieret hear screams and male shouting cut off as a burst of light shears through the trees, leaving Arithon's abject denial go unheard: "Lysaer, oh Ath, Lysaer, no!"

In the vale to the west of Tal Quorin, the shadow-wrought barrier ward shatters and lifts, leaving half a company of Etarra's garrison fighting a handful of clansmen who can no longer shelter behind sorceries.