Luck in the Shadows (Lynn Flewelling, 1996) Study Guide: Chapters 20-24
Summary: Chapter 20 "Homecoming"
As Seregil and Alec walk through Rhìminee at night, Seregil explains the "Street of Lights" (red-light district) to Alec, who is shocked at the number of gay brothels. They arrive at the Cockerel, an inn which Seregil seems to own. Seregil introduces Alec to the innkeeper, Thryis, saying he'll be living upstairs from now on. "Upstairs" turns out to be a cluttered apartment protected by a series of magical doors which require passwords. Seregil goes out, leaving Alec alone and disoriented.
Seregil goes to the temple district where he asks a priestess about a sigil from the wooden disk, which he's drawn on a scroll. She says she doesn't know and instructs him to see the Oracle. The Oracle calls Alec "a child of earth and light" who is "yours [Seregil's] now," and repeatedly chants "Father, brother, friend, lover!" Given the drawing, the Oracle says "The eater of death gives birth to monsters. Guard you well the guardian! Guard well the Vanguard and the Shaft!" He also tells Seregil to burn the drawing and obey Nysander.
Summary: Chapter 21 "Swords and Etiquette"
Seregil and Alec fall into a routine: Seregil goes out at night doing jobs as the "Rhìminee Cat" (a sort of burglar/investigator) and during the day he teaches Alec various lessons, including etiquette (how to behave at a lord's dinner) and swordplay, which is the only subject Alec really has trouble with. Seregil decides he's a bad teacher because it comes so naturally to him, and decides to send Alec to learn from Micum.
Nysander comes by the apartment to show Seregil a letter which appears to be written by him, but it's full of incriminating lies; someone has figured out a method of forgery. Alec interrupts the conference to ask "Is all this because you're Aurenfaie?" Seregil is surprised and pleased that Alec has figured this out on his own (mostly from the fact that Seregil has so many stories of adventure despite looking no more than 25, but also because it helps to make sense of his being a target of political intrigue).
Summary: Chapter 22 "One Horse, Two Swans, and Three Daughters"
Seregil buys Alec a horse. On the way to Micum's, they discuss Seregil's Aurenfaie heritage; Seregil is reluctant to talk about his homeland of Aurenen, but sings a song about how beautiful it is.
At Micum's, everyone is nice. Micum's daughters call Seregil "Uncle." Beka, the oldest, is going to be an officer in the Queen's Guard; Seregil brings her commission papers. That night, Alec tells Seregil about his displeasure at being put out of the way for a week, and Seregil promises that, while he may not always tell Alec everything, he'll never lie to him.
Summary: Chapter 23 "A Little Night Work"
Seregil leaves while Alec is still sleeping and goes to the city, where he consults Nysander about the forged document, noting that the seal is perfeclty copied, which he says must be "Ghemella's work." In a magical disguise, he goes to Ghemella, a goldsmith, and offers to sell her various incriminating documents, including love letters and some half-finished letters by Seregil. She carefully selects Seregil's letters and leaves the rest. His suspicions confirmed, Seregil begins surveillance.
Summary: Chapter 24 "Watermead"
Alec enjoys his time at Watermead, Micum's home; he learns quickly from Micum and Beka, and likes being part of the family. He makes especial friends with Beka, and they seem to like-like each other. Beka asks Alec if he and Seregil are lovers, and Alec is shocked. Beka tells Alec that Seregil used to be in love with Micum. Seregil and Kari were rivals for awhile, but Kari won Micum's affections and now they are all friends. Kari tells Alec that Seregil used to be more bitter than he is now, but overall, he hasn't changed much since she's known him; indeed, he'll still be young long after the rest of them are dead.
Analysis: Chapters 20-24
Alec and Seregil's complicated relationship is at the forefront in the Oracle sequence, which is as psychologically interesting as it is undoubtedly plot-crucial. First, we focus on Alec's hurt feelings:
Alec stared at the door for a moment, stunned by Seregil's abrupt and unexpected departure. For weeks they'd seldom been out of each other's sight, and now this! Left so unceremoniously by himself in unfamiliar surrounding [sic], he felt abandoned. (ch. 20 p. 265)
Next we cut to Seregil travelling the city on horseback, and learn that his decision to take off, giving his run-of-the-mill "I have mysterious errands to run" excuse, was emotionally motivated:
It took several moments of determined riding before he was ready to face the fact that seeing Alec standing there in his own private sanctuary, he'd suddenly panicked. And fled. (ch. 20 p. 265)
Seregil is troubled by the private knowledge that his discovery of Alec--his strength, loyalty, and all his other good qualities--was more or less accidental, and that when he originally made the decision to take him in he had little more to go on than "his pretty face" (266). The Oracle's apparent order that Seregil should be "father, brother, friend, lover" to Alec does not reassure him:
The Oracle's mention of Alec had taken him aback, although the messages seemed clear enough, particularly the reference to earth and light. As to the little rhyme, "father" and "brother" must have been meant figuratively, for such a blood relationship was clearly impossible. But "friend," certainly.
The irony of this passage is that the aspects of the Oracle's message that are most clear to Seregil are least clear to the reader, and vice versa. Despite a number of flirty interactions and an apparent want of sexual inhibition, Seregil is reluctant to accept the possibility of a relationship between himself and Alec. Though his resistance is unexplained, Seregil presumably feels that pursuing a teenage boy, particularly one over whom he has a position of authority, would be skeevy. He also seems completely unable to conceive of the possibility that Alec might think of him in that way. It does not seem to occur to him that Alec depends on him emotionally, even in the face of contrary evidence, such as when he arrives home that night to find Alec sleeping on his couch:
What's he doing out here? Seregil frowned down at the two of them [Alec and Seregil's cat], irked to think that Alec would be too bashful to take advantage of a proper bed. As he bent to spread his cloak over the boy, he was surprised to find traces of dried tears on the boy's cheek.
Although Alec is upset on his first day in the apartment, he realizes, as soon as thing settle down, that he's "never been happier" than in these days of learning from Seregil in his Rhìminee apartment. Indeed, he becomes so comfortable there that he is miffed when Seregil sends him to Micum's, feeling he's being put out of the way of danger (an accusation which Seregil admits, although he adds that the skills Alec will learn there really will come in handy). Again, though, Alec's hurt feelings melt away as he learns to love Micum's house. He feels a sense of belonging to the family there which is unfamiliar to him. Though we're given little information about his history, it seems evident that Alec's early life--even before his father died--must have been a lonely one.
The revelation that Seregil is Aurenfaie gives cause to re-evaluate the potential creepiness factor of a relationship between Seregil and Alec. Since Aurenfaie live about four times as long as humans, that would make Seregil slightly younger than Alec in terms of straight percentage of the way through the lifespan. But the actual rate of maturation for Aurenfaie compared to humans seems to be more complex than a simple four-to-one ratio. Seregil looks "no more than twenty-five" according to Alec, suggesting that Aurenfaie take less than four times as long as humans to develop, but instead remain in a stable adult state for longer. Even if we could divine a reliable formula for conversion, the fact remains that whatever his human-equivalent age Seregil does have a good deal more life experience than Alec and that must certainly play into the skeeviness factor.
What does it mean to be Aurenfaie? The quickest way to sum them up is "elves," but they're not exactly elves. They're a group of humanoids falling somewhere on the continuum between "separate species" and "ethnicity". They can interbreed with humans, but they have special qualities which separate them from humans (super-long lives, for one, and I believe they are attributing for introducing magical ability to the gene pool). Aurenfaie-ness is firmly tied to heredity, to blood; the Lerans believe that the royal line was tainted with Aurenfaie blood, suggesting a racial coding. However, it's difficult or impossible to tell someone is Aurenfaie just by looking at them, making it in some ways equivalent to religion or sexual orientation. In that vein, Seregil tells Alec he didn't reveal his Aurenfaie heritage because of Alec's "misconceptions" that Aurenfaie were "all great mages or nectar-sipping fairy folk":
Alec's cheek went hot as he recalled the childish fancies he'd shared with Seregil in their first days.
This conversation seems to point to Seregil's Aurenfaie heritage as the secret Nysander was urging Seregil to tell Alec at the end of chapter 19 (particularly the "I was going to tell, but then..." excuse). However, it should be recalled that the exact wording of that conversation implied a secret about Alec, not Seregil. It seems there is still something special about Alec we don't know.
The Oracle's words may shed some light here. What is this "child of earth and light" business, and why does it make so much sense to Seregil? His confidence in the impossibility of a blood relationship suggests he knows something of Alec's lineage. On the other hand, perhaps he simply knows his own family history so well that he's sure he would know if he had a long-lost brother. His certainty that Alec cannot be his son is also telling, considering that he is certainly a sexual being (his non-virgin status is remarked upon on multiple occasions) and that we now know him to be about forty-two years older than Alec. Perhaps a 42-year-old Aurenfaie is not fully mature; or perhaps Seregil has only ever had casual sex with men (although later indications seem to discount that). It is also worth noting that Nysander told Alec that wizards cannot produce children:
"It is perhaps the greatest price we pay for our gifts. Magical abilities demand every bit of creative force we possess." (ch. 16, p. 195)
Was Seregil's brief and unsuccessful stint as a wizard's apprentice enough to render him sterile? We have only seen one instance in which Seregil is considered as a potential father:
"No woman ever needed a husband to have a baby. There was a conscription last year, and Cilla simply made certain she wouldn't be eligible. She even offered me the honor, which I politely declined." (Seregil to Alec, ch. 20, p. 260)
Did Seregil decline because he didn't want to sleep with Cilla, or because he knew or suspected himself to be incapable of begetting children?
Returning to Alec's mystery, the immediate solution that jumps to mind is that Alec is also Aurenfaie, but that seems unlikely from a narrative point of view. Additionally, unless there's some elaborate backstory involving amnesia, Alec really is sixteen years old. If he were Aurenfaie, he would probably be less adultlike at this point in his life. Also, Seregil's certainty that he and Alec are not related seems to make more sense if he knows that he and Alec are not of the same race (species? whatever). So what does Seregil know about Alec? The question will not be resolved by the end of this volume.