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Monday, December 19, 2011

The Brothers' War - Chapter 7



In the harsh, unforgiving desert...


Chapter 7 - Mak Fawa

"Up, slave!" snarled the taskmaster, prodding Mishra's side with his goad. The stocky young man groaned and tried to turn over, earning another sharp prod. In Fallaji the taskmaster repeated the order. "Rakiq! Qayim!"

Mishra has been caught by the Suwwardi, and while Fallaji slaves could expect to be ransomed, outsiders were just worked until they died. In fact, since the three months he's been a slave, he was now the last. Mishra ate, worked, and slept when told with no hope left to him.

Then one day while digging a hole for some reason or another, a hand taps Mishra's shoulder. He instinctively raises his arms in defense of the attack he was sure to come, but instead when he turns around he sees a familiar face. It's Hajar. Mishra's Fallaji friend is happy to see him and laughs at the taskmaster for putting such a great man to something so mundane as digging holes. Hajar tells him he will go to the qadir and tell him that such a brilliant mind is being wasted.


...Later...

Mishra is taken to an audience with the qadir, his son, and Hajar present among other Fallaji.  The qadir is not impressed with what he sees.

"Do you judge your horses by their bridles," asked Mishra, "or by how hard they serve?"

It was a Fallaji saying Mishra spoke, and he spoke it in fluent Fallaji and not his native tongue. The qadir asks more questions to determine Mishra's competency and in the end decides that Mishra will be his son's tutor in both language and math. Despite what the qadir thinks of him, Mishra can see quite clearly that the son isn't particularly interested in what's going on.


...Some time later...

Hajar visits Mishra as often as he can and checks in on his progress. Things aren't going well. The young qadir doesn't pay attention or care about anything that Mishra tells him. He's gone so far as to fall asleep in the middle of his studies. Mishra fears that soon he will be sent back to digging holes, but Hadir knows that failure means death. Death for Mishra and death for Hajar himself for sponsoring such a man.

Hajar asks Mishra what it was that prompted him to learn Fallaji. Urza never had any interest, and even Tocasia didn't take to it in the way that he had. Mishra considers the question and says that it's always people that have interested him and he wanted to hear the stories of battles and princesses and the dragons known as mak fawa. The stories came to life in the original language in a way that couldn't be duplicated with a translation. Hadir then suggests for Mishra to do the same. Tell the boy of Argivian stories, surely there must be something comparable.


...Months later...

Things are going well for the Suwwardi. Raids are successful and more Fallaji have joined their cause. And Mishra's lessons have been effective as well. The boy has warmed up to Mishra and has successfully demonstrated his progress by reciting stories at several dinners, telling each story in sections, first in Argivian and then repeating it in Fallaji.

Hajar is quite satisfied at taking the risk he had, and now enough time has passed that should things change, he knows he will receive no punishment. And that's why Hajar is quite surprised when one day he's summoned by the qadir to be questioned about Mishra. The qadir shows him the stone he recognizes as the one Mishra used to wear around his neck. When asked if he knows what it is, Hajar decides it's best to play ignorant and only says he recognizes it as a power stone. The qadir says he's correct. In fact it's a power stone that was secured from Mishra when he was captured and still holds its light despite being clearly broken. He then asks why would his son know about such a stone and ask to have it? Perhaps his son is becoming too close to his tutor.

The qadir asks Hajar if his son will know enough to be considered to be educated if he continues his studies until the end of next year, and Hajar confirms that it is so. He's then told that at that time the relationship between the two will end, and Hajar understands the implied command. Hajar is dismissed and knows he can't do anything for his friend, but there is still plenty of time for things to change. In the distance he sees the qadir's son and Mishra sharing a private joke and wonders that maybe his qadir is right.


...Some night afterwards...

The boy had confirmed his father still had his stone and now it haunts his dreams. He finds himself in a dark place where the plants are made of metal and a nearby lake is filled with some dark liquid that isn't water. In the corner of his eye something breaks the surface, but when he looks all he sees are the ripples indicating where it used to be.

Mishra finds a translucent egg and within he sees tiny machines assembling something larger. A machine like the kind Urza likes to build. Then oil rains down from the sky and he hears some singing in the distance. It leads him towards a cave that looks familiar. The stone is there and it's calling him.

There was a loud metallic crash to his right among the thick, serrated leaves. A huge brass head erupted from the surrounding vegetation. At first Mishra thought it was a giant serpent, for it had a huge triangular head mounted at the end of a looping metallic neck. Then the beast emerged fully, and Mishra saw the neck was moored to a huge, elephantine body, with leonine paws ending in sharp, steel claws.

It was a dragon, but a mechanical one, crafted by unknown hands and granted inhuman life. Its eyes were dull, flickering blue gems; steam vented from its nostrils and leaked from its joints. It was an engine built in the shape of a great wyrm.

Mishra runs for the cave. The corridor appears endless and he moves as if running through tar while the dragon engine chases him down, determined to kill. Mishra makes it to his stone and all of a sudden the engine stops, ready to obey his commands. Then the same leathery figure with metallic braids from his vision within the Caves of Koilos long ago appears before him. It wants the stone. It reaches out to him, grabs the fist that clutches to it, and rips off his arm.

Mishra wakes, with red streaks along his arm as if someone had grabbed onto it.

Then the ground shakes.


...Outside...

A mak fawa breaks free from the ground. One made of metal with strange wheels and metal plates instead of rear legs, but it does have eyes that are far too alive. Hajar recognizes it as something they cannot defeat. They need Mishra. He reaches his friend who he finds curled up into a ball and tells him that what he's seeing is no dream. He asks him if he knows how to defeat it and Mishra says he needs his stone, the one the qadir has with him. With it he can weaken the machine.

Hajar runs toward his qadir, who faces off against the machine along with his men. As he runs towards them, Hajar watches as scalding red steam shoots from its mouth and all the warriors fall down dead. Hajar scrambles to search his qadir's pockets and finds the stone. He sprints back towards Mishra and tosses it to him and dives out of the way, afraid from being struck down from behind.

He waits for the sound of his friend's death, but no such cry arises. He opens his eyes and the dragon engine lays before Mishra like a dog. Hajar gets up and asks Mishra if he's killed it, and Mishra says that he thinks it's under his command.

The young qadir approaches with more warriors by his side. Hajar lets him know that he is now qadir, and the boy pauses for but a moment before accepting the role. He asks if anyone else is capable of controlling the machine, and Mishra says he doesn't think so. If it was possible his father likely wouldn't have been killed, but they can test it later. The new qadir then says Mishra is rakiq no longer. He's now raki, his wizard. Mishra drops to one knee and pledges his service to the boy.

With that settled, they must survey the wounded and bury the dead. Tonight they have lost much, but they may have gained much as well.

* * *


Power in Names


This is something I did not notice when I read this the first time so long ago... but not that many characters have names.  Around Urza there is only Kayla and Rusko, with the other characters just being the "warlord" or the "seneschal" or the "matron." Around Mishra there is only Hajar, with the rest just being the "qadir" and the "young qadir."

In most books they all would have names, or at the very least the warlord, qadir, and young quadir would. Yet in this case the lack of names helps add to the fairy tale nature of the story that's going on. While the prose takes a step away from the characters by never letting us see Urza and Mishra's direct thoughts, the use of names does the opposite and really keeps the focus on the named characters. If someone has a name, they're someone to keep an eye on. Don't be distracted by the political, social, economic power of some of these characters, if they don't have a name, they're just scenery.


Contrasts

It's quite clear this book is about contrasts. Now that the brothers are separated, while their circumstances are quite different, these two chapters also very clearly parallel each other in terms of showing the progression from humble beginnings to how each secured their places in a position of power, both by way of their minds. But while Urza succeeds more through the strength of his artifice, Mishra succeeds through the experience and learning he's made from personal connections.


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