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Luck in the Shadows (Lynn Flewelling, 1996) Study Guide: Prologue-Chapter 2

Summary: Prologue

Lord Mardus, a noble with a scar beneath his left eye, and Vargûl Ashnazai, who has a sharp, sallow face, enter a crypt to recover eight small disks, apparently made of carved wood. Ashnazai refers to the recovery of the disks "a sign" that "the time draws nigh" (1). Ashnazai suggests making preparations for their safe transport, but Lord Mardus insists "the ancients" have already given them the best protection in making them appear worthless. Lord Mardus calls Captain Tildus, a man with a black beard, and tells him to kill the villagers who are gathered above.

Summary: Chapter 1 "Luck in the Shadows"

Alec, a sixteen-year-old orphan, has been wrongfully imprisoned in Lord Asgenai's torture chamber for the crime of "spying". After his cellmates are put to death, he is joined by two new prisoners: a foppish, flamboyant bard called Rolan Silverleaf, and a simple plowman. Alec notices that Rolan seems different once the guards leave: he is quietly compassionate, offering Alec food and water, and he manages to escape from his manacles before Alec's eyes. He quickly proves the third prisoner a plant of the guards, kills him, and picks the lock on the cell door. He tells Alec to follow him and sneaks out. Once on the estate grounds, Rolan and Alec split up, and Alec worries that he's been left. He gets into a fight with an unknown man; Rolan arrives in the nick of time, sweeps Alec onto the horse and they ride away together.

Summary: Chapter 2 "Across the Downs"

After a hard night of travelling, which ends with Rolan and Alec bedding down together in a clearing, Alec wakes up alone. He wanders to a pool where he accidentally attracts the attention of an armed stranger. The stranger turns out to be Rolan out of disguise: he tells Alec his real name is Seregil. Over a breakfast of raw rabbit, Seregil describes himself as a "collector of tales," and mentions that his destination is the Wolde. Alec offers advice about local travel, and Seregil offers to hire him as a guide. Alec is reluctant to take money after Seregil saved his life, but eventually accepts. Then Seregil makes Alec take a bath.

During the journey, Seregil shows Alec a series of thieving tricks of the trade, including a signed communication system, and Alec asks a number of questions which allow Seregil to deliver exposition. Alec discovers that Seregil is from the South, although he is vague about where exactly; that Skala and Plenimar will likely go to war over control of the Gold Road; and various facts about the history of the surrounding countries. Alec is particularly interested in stories about the Aurenfaie or Elder Folk, who are like humans except with a 400-year lifespan. Wizards and dragons are also mentioned.

Seregil tells Alec that he will enter Wolde as another of his bardic alter egos, Aren Windover; it turns out Alec has seen him perform before. They sing together. Seregil gives Alec a coin from Skala.

Analysis, Prologue-Chapter 2

The two-page prologue quickly sets up the plot MacGuffin, a set of disks which are hinted to possess great but nonspecific power. The disks' seemingly worthless appearance protects them from theft and hides their "true form". The deceptiveness of appearances will be a continuing theme throughout the novel.

Indeed, when we first encounter Seregil, he is in disguise. This not only sets up a character skill which will be used many times throughout the story, but establishes Seregil as a mysterious, mercurial, and complicated character. Who is the "real" Seregil?

Rolan Silverleaf is one of several bardic and/or effeminate Seregil alter egos. Unlike Seregil, Rolan is incompetent and self-centered; his sense of entitlement seems to prevent him from understanding his situation:

"Unhand me, you cretinous brutes!" he cried, his words marred somewhat by a noticeable lisp. "I demand to see your master! How dare you arrest me! Can't an honest bard past unmolested through this country?" (ch. 1, p. 4)

Out of sight of the guards, Seregil quickly abandons his disguise and reveals himself to be a serious and skilled adventurer. The Rolan character provides a contrast against which Seregil's true abilities seem even more impressive. Of course, the Rolan persona is a part of Seregil, and we later come to learn that two personalities share many traits, including talkativeness, musical ability, and to some extent, concern with personal grooming (Seregil, while not exactly a fop, does love his baths).

Seregil and Alec are already physically close throughout chapter 2 (they ride the same horse, sleep under the same pile of blankets, and huddle together for warmth) for practical reasons (there's only one horse; it's cold). These conveniences begin to read as potentially significant when Seregil makes his first public and private comments about Alec's attractiveness, although his impersonal, almost objective manner allows for plausible deniability:

"Dalna's Hands, there's such a thing as modesty," the boy muttered as he struggled into the breeches.
      "Never had any use for it, myself, and I don't see why you're so bothered with it either. Under thoses bruises and that scowl, you're fairly pleasing to look at." Seregil's expression betrayed nothing more than the thoughtful concentration a man might show when sizing up a horse he was about to buy. (ch. 2, p. 20)

The comment is followed up by a short mental monologue in which Seregil notices Alec's body, eyes, and "blushing face". Alec's modesty, usually symbolized by blushes, continues to surface and attract Seregil's notice throughout their early adventures. Through blushing, he betrays his innocence: as a youth, as peasant, and as a straight-laced Northerner. While he complains about Alec's inability to hide his feelings, it is probably that very candor that consummate actor Seregil finds so attractive. Alec's youth and inexperience also seems to be a major factor in Seregil's need to maintain emotional and psychological distance.

Still, there was something more than Alec's appearance that intrigued him. The lad was neat-handed, and there was a familiar quickness about him that had little to do with training. And he asked questions. (ch. 2, p. 21)

It is with this observation that Seregil transitions to a mentor role. (The thieving lessons and question-and-answer sessions further establish Seregil as Alec's teacher, the latter device also serving as a means of informing the audience about various facts about the world.) Throughout the rest of the book, the teacher-student and potential-lover relationships will continue to complicate each other.

Important Quotations Explained

"Hang on tight. We've got a rough ride ahead of us." (Seregil to Alec, ch. 1, p. 13)

Seregil is referring to the immediate literal ride, but his line also refers to the coming adventures as a whole. Both Alec's and Seregil's survival will depend on their ability to "hang on tight" to each other.

"These should do for you. We're almost of a size." (Seregil to Alec, ch. 2, p. 20)

Seregil first notes the size similarity between himself and Alec (a coincidence will come in handy on several occasions) in chapter 2, when he gives Alec his own clothes to dress in after their daring escape. The gesture is symbolic for a number of reasons; first, it indicates Seregil's willingness to provide for Alec; it is also as Alec dresses in his clothes in that Seregil notices his "quickness," and begins to teach him thievery skills. This is presumably the moment that Seregil begins to see himself in Alec.


- Laura