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Stalking Darkness (Lynn Flewelling, 1997) Study Guide: Chapters 10-14

Summary: Chapter 10 "The Burden of Truth"

More weeks at Wheel Street pass; Alec is content as his lessons continue. One day he decides he wants to learn more about the last war with Plenimar, so Seregil takes him to the Orëska library. During their search for books Alec can read, Alec knocks over a bunch of books and finds an old diary in Aurenfaie. Back at home, Seregil reads the diary, which is an account of the war. He's translating aloud when he stops on the phrase "Eater of--" and Alec naturally fills in "Death." Alec immediately suggests from context that the "Eater of Death" is a god-who-must-not-be-named, Seriamaius, and Seregil stops him before he can get the name out, obviously shaken.

Seregil burns the page of the diary and apologizes to Alec for being unable to explain things to him. He tells Alec not to tell Nysander he knows even as much as he does. Alec dislikes secrecy, but promises.

Later, they have a conversation about the nature of loyalty and friendship in which Seregil argues that in the right circumstances, even killing could be an act of love and compassion.

Summary: Chapter 11 "Nysander Alone"

Nysander wanders Orëska, worrying about Thero; he has such great power that Nysander is afraid to let him learn too much, too fast. Finding himself in the lower vault, Nysander begins to put the three objects there--a bowl, the wooden disk, and the new crown--together, but stops himself.

Summary: Chapter 12 "Beka's Send-Off"

Receiving word that the Queen's Horse Guard is heading out the next day, Seregil speedily throws together a party for Beka's turma (thirty-horseman unit). Alchohol and Street of Lights courtesans are abundant. Alec gets drunk and babbles fake wisdom at the amused soldiers.

Summary: Chapter 13 "Watermead"

Seregil and Alec go to Watermead to bring Micum and Kari letters from Beka and from Elsbet, who is studying in the city. Kari takes the news of Beka's departure surprisingly calmly. Seregil gives an admiring secondhand account of Alec's flight from pursuers, and they both tell a lighthearted, non-disk-involving version of the Lady Gwethelyn story. That night, Kari and Micum gossip to each other about how they can tell Seregil is in love with Alec, but they fear Alec doesn't feel the same way. They worry that Seregil will get his heart broken again.

Meanwhile, Seregil is suddenly uncomfortable sleeping in the same bed with Alec. He worries that he will get his heart broken again.

The next day, the three boys play in the snow and then go hunting. While Alec is off somewhere, Micum gently broaches the subject of Seregil's feelings, and states ambiguously that Seregil knows a lot of things that he ought to tell Alec. Seregil says "Not yet."

Summary: Chapter 14 "The Street of Lights"

When Seregil and Alec return to Rhíminee, they settle into their favorite place, the apartment above the Cockerel. But jobs are scarce, and Seregil quickly gets bored. One restless evening, he goes out, leaving behind a love poem about a green-eyed beauty.

Shortly thereafter, Alec takes a walk, deciding at the last moment to go to the Street of Lights and see what that's all about. He's wandering around awkwardly trying to decide where to go when he hears Seregil's voice singing the love-song he was working on earlier. Alec is inside before he realizes it's a male-male brothel. He sees Seregil stroking the hair of a green-eyed boy, and confuses himself by finding it attractive.

Alec has trouble trying to convince a prostitute that he's just looking for a friend until Seregil steps in and rescues him. Realizing it's a mix-up, Seregil takes Alec across the street to a girl brothel, which he likes better; he picks a girl he doesn't realize until later bears a strong resemblance to Lady Gwethelyn. Seregil has his sex with Eirual, an old friend, who gives him a tip for the Cat: a common merchant client was, for some reason, in possession of a letter from Lord General Zymanis to Lord Admiral Nyreidian.

Analysis: Chapters 10-14

The Seregil/Alec romance storyline, which built gradually in book 1, is heavily advanced in these five chapters. This is an awful lot all at once of characters hanging around in relative comfort and safety, thinking about their feelings for each other, for a sword and sorcery book, and alert readers are correct to brace themselves for abrupt changes of pace in the near future.

But first. Beka.

Alec's friendship with Beka seems to be developing into Seregil & Micum: the Next Generation, with the possible difference that neither is in love with the other. However, all their interactions do seem tinged with a hint of romance, of the fresh, innocent, and thoroughly non-sordid kind that Alec would undoubtedly find most appealing, if it occurred to him to think about it. They dance together at several events, and at her send-off Beka prefer to stick with Alec instead of spending any time with the courtesans. Beka, the soldier, seems to be attracted to Alec, but has no interest in settling down. Alec's feelings are less clear, but he presumably has given no more thought to a relationship with Beka than Seregil (i.e. none). His failure to even think of kissing her at her send-off is almost pointed:

He sprinkled the supplicants liberally [pretending to 'bless' the soldiers], doing each in turn until he came to the last, Beka. Her freckled face was flushed with wine and dancing; her wild red hair had escaped her braid and floated in untidy wisps around it. She was as drunk as any of them, and as happy.
      As she grinned expectantly up at him, however, Alec felt a brief, sobering chill. His friend, his almost sister, was going off to war.
      "Come on, mascot [the soldiers' new nickname for Alec], don't you have any luck left for me?" she demanded.
      Grabbing up a fresh bottle, Alec upended it over her head. "Long life, and luck in the shadows and in the light." (ch. 12, p. 132)

The "almost sister" descriptor is particularly reassuring for anyone afraid that Beka, like her mother before her, might come between Seregil and the man he loves.

Speaking of which, at what point does Seregil cross the love threshold? Kari, who seems knowledgable about these things, gives us a window in chapter 13:

"He's in love with Alec, you know. He wasn't last time he was here, or even at the festival, but he is now." (ch. 13, p. 137)

He appears to be there, or close to it, in chapter 10, when he almost tells Alec the parts-of-a-secret he swore Nysander he wouldn't tell. Instead, he responds to Alec's questions with, "I can't tell you, talí, because I'd only have to lie." After another page or so of conversation, Alec finally asks:

"What does talí mean? Is it Aurenfaie?"
      "Talí?" The ghost of the old grin tugged at one corner of Seregil's mouth. "Yes, it's an Aurenfaie term of endearment, rather old-fashioned, like beloved. Where'd you pick that up?"
      "I thought--" Alec regarded him quizzically, then shook his head. "I don't know, at one of the salons, probably. Sleep well, Seregil." (ch. 10, p. 119)

Seregil's use of the word is so instinctive that he has no idea he said it. Alec's reaction is even more puzzling. Does he also fall victim to conversational amnesia, honestly forgetting what he just heard? Or is he making a choice not to follow the conversation up further, instead filing away the knowledge that Seregil regards him as beloved in that inscrutable head of his? Or perhaps it's some combination of the two (he thought he heard correctly, but in retrospect, knowing what the word actually means, he's not so sure)? What is he actually thinking at this point?

The first third or so of Luck in the Shadows is told almost entirely from Alec's point of view as he observes the strange character that is Seregil. In contrast, the equivalent early section of Stalking Darkness is told almost entirely from Seregil's point of view, so that we are just as much in the dark about Alec's feelings as he is. Still, from what we know of him, Seregil seems to be correct in his assessment that Alec would be ill-equipped to deal with a romantic advance at this time.

Indeed, Alec's cluelessness reaches legendary proportions when he watches Seregil suddenly leave, finds a love poem he wrote which contains the lines "Yellow as gold, the hair on your pillow" and "Others there'll be, who drink at your fountain/While I toss cold and alone", in which the margins of which are sketches of a handsome boy and Alec, and his reaction is "maybe he's pining for his green-eyed mistress?" (ch. 14, p. 147). To be fair, Alec has no reason to think the poem is about him: he has blue eyes, and he was there, a convenient subject for a sketch, while Seregil was writing. Still, it should be abundantly clear to him by now that Seregil prefers the company of the gender of the dude variety.

And, really, he doesn't seem that surprised to find Seregil in a boys' brothel; instead, what shocks him most on this occasion is his own reaction:

Slender, lithe, and completely at ease, he could easily have been mistaken for one of the men of the house. In fact, Alec silently admitted, he outshone them all.
      He was beautiful.
      ...Seregil's strange, virile beauty, at first unappreciated, then taken for granted as their familiarity grew through months of close living, seemed to leap out at him now against the muted backdrop of the crowd: the large grey eyes beneath the expressive brows, the fine bones of his face, the mouth, so often tilted in a caustic grin, was relaxed now in sensuous repose... Fascinated and confused, Alec felt the first hesitant stirring of feelings he was not prepared to associate with his friend and teacher. (ch. 14, p. 152)

This is the first we've seen of any interest in Seregil on Alec's part, and it's pretty clearly the first Alec has (consciously) seen as well. This is in keeping with Alec's observation, when he's angry at Seregil in chapter 35 of book 1, that his emotions always seem to take him by surprise. "Not prepared" to deal with these ones, he puts them out of his mind, and the end of chapter 14 sees Seregil and Alec's relationship and interactions apparently at status quo as they emerge from the girl brothel gently making fun of each other and headed off for adventure.

Important Quotations Explained

"Rei phörul tös tókun meh brithir, vrí sh'ruit'ya." (Alec to Seregil, ch. 10, p. 119)

As the text explains, this is an Aurenfaie pledge of trust meaning "Though you thrust your dagger at my eyes, I will not flinch." Alec first heard it when Seregil told it to him, in chapter 35 of the last book. He uses it now when Seregil explains, clearly upset, why he can't confide in Alec about Nysander's prophecy-related secrets. Alec is reassuring him that his previous qualms about being left out of the loop--the ones that led to the necessity of Seregil's making the original pledge--are irrelevant, his current faith in Seregil is so great. How did he remember all the words? He didn't really know much Aurenfaie then. He must either have an audiotape memory, or have purposely looked it up and commited it to memory since then so he could whip it out at the first appropriate opportunity.


- Laura