Stalking Darkness (Lynn Flewelling, 1997) Study Guide: Prologue-Chapter 4
Mardus, who has soulless eyes and a facial scar, and Vargûl Ashnazai, who has evil necromancer magic, arrive in Cirna, killing everyone on the boat which conveyed them. There, Mardus's Rhíminee spy Urvay informs him of Lady Kassarie's death, which Mardus calls "a pity," but he also has good (for the bad guys) news: he has agents in place with several influential nobles, including Lord Zymanis, and a plan to get to Ylinestra, Nysander's lover, using Pelion, an actor who is also a lover of Ylinestra's.
Alone, Mardus fingers the ivory vial of Seregil's blood from the Mycenian inn where he almost "succumbed to the dra'gorgos" (5) and thinks about how much he hates Seregil and Alec. Unfortunately for him, they cannot be located or harmed long-distance with magic, because they are protected by Orëska magic.
Summary: Chapter 1 "A Lousy Night For It"
It's less than two weeks after the end of the last book. Seregil and Alec steal through sleety streets on a Rhíminee Cat job: delivering a ring to some noble's girlfriend. They both break into the house, but Alec goes alone into the bedroom, where he accidentally wakes up the girl. She mistakes the cloaked Alec for her lover, puts his hand on her body, and kisses him before he manages to escape, mortified. He apologizes to Seregil for his mistake, but Seregil's not mad: he's too busy laughing and teasing.
That night, Nysander wakes Seregil up by translocating him into Orëska House to offer him on the job on the condition that he ask no questions and tell nobody, not even Alec. Seregil grudgingly agrees. He makes the connection to the wooden disk, and is alarmed to find out that the need for secrecy is so great that Nysander almost had to kill him for knowing too much after the Oracle's prophecies. Nysander shows him some ancient documents in code and, once he's interested, tells him that he already figured out it's a map to a crown of great power hidden somewhere in the frozen northern lands. Seregil's mission: steal that crown.
Summary: Chapter 2 "At the Cockerel"
Alec wakes up and is annoyed to find Seregil preparing for a mysterious mission he's not allowed to come on. Thyris, the innkeeper, and Cillia, her granddaughter, try to cheer up Alec at breakfast. Seregil wishes Alec "luck in the shadows" and leaves with a grin, but out of his sight, he secretly leaves Thyris with a will.
Summary: Chapter 3 "Horns of Stone"
Nysander gives Seregil some special supplies and translocates him to the snowy tundra, where he immediately vomits because his mysterious magical resistance gives him a weak tummy for translocation spells. He goes to the village of the Dravinians, where he poses as an Aurenfaie wizard come to rid the nearby cave of ghosts. He secretly uses magic wands Nysander gave him to impress the Dravinians with his spells. They immediately love him, feed him a banquet and insist that he sleep with a bunch of ladies, since it's a great honor in their mostly-enclosed little society to get pregnant by a guest. Seregil's like, oh, great.
Meanwhile, Alec is finishing up a Rhíminee Cat job when he cuts his hand. Although Sir Alec and Lord Seregil aren't officially back in town yet, he decides to sneak into at Wheel Street and bandage himself up on his way home. On his way back from Wheel Street, he realizes he's being tailed. He fails the shake them and the situation devolves into an out-and-out chase. He runs to the palace, where he takes sanctuary with a group of the queen's soldiers.
Summary: Chapter 4 "Horns of Crystal"
After failing to get into the haunted cave, Seregil goes back to the village. That night, he lies awake in a bed full of women, thinking about Alec. Suddenly he solves the puzzle, figuring out the way into the cave. The next morning, a hysterical woman from a neighboring village comes to warn about the strangers who came looking for the cave, and who killed everyone. Seregil rushes to beat them to it. As soon as he touches the crown, he's overcome with terrible images of blood and corpses and voices talking about "the Beautiful One" and "the Eater of Death." With difficulty, Seregil manages to get the crown into the special anti-magic box Nysander gave him. He tells the villagers he has vanquished the evil spirit in the cave and uses a wand to transport himself to Orëska. There, Thero helps Nysander purify Seregil, but seems angry that he doesn't know what's going on. Nysander takes the crown to a special chamber deep beneath Orëska House.
Analysis: Prologue-Chapter 4
Seregil and Alec seem to be taking a complete egalitarian approach to the Rhíminee Cat jobs these days; even when Alec makes mistakes, Seregil teases him instead of disapproving or worrying, showing that he respects Alec as a fellow professional burglar-spy-thing.
Having only recently won this position, Alec is naturally annoyed when Seregil goes off on a mission without him. It's actually amazing that he isn't more angry than he is, considering that his major complaints with Seregil's treatment of him are (in ascending order of severity): (1) he doesn't let him join in enough and (2) he keeps things from him. But while Alec isn't happy about being left out, he seems to find the explanation that it's a secret mission for Nysander acceptable.
The problems of going off without telling Alec what's up weigh harder on Seregil, whose feelings for Alec are already intensifying. Though he spent most of the previous book trying to ignore the idea that he might be attracted to Alec (when the Oracle prophesied that Seregil would or should be "father, brother, friend, and lover" to Alec, he rejected the "lover" part as a mistake), he is now ready to think about it.
In the months since [Seregil's original rescue of Alec], they'd certainly become friends, and perhaps something more than friends.
The reference to "hopeless infatuations" recalls the story of his relationship with Micum Cavish: Seregil loved him; Micum loved him back, but as a friend. Seregil antagonized Micum's girlfriend Kari, knowing, perhaps, that she would win in the end: despite protestations that he refused to choose between them, Micum eventually married Kari and had a family. Now, Seregil can doubtless see the very real danger that the same thing will happen with Alec. Alec clearly loves Seregil as a friend and mentor, but he's given very little indication that he would be interested in anything more.
Indeed, Seregil and Alec's very first minor adventure--the Rhíminee Cat love-token-messenging gig--re-establishes Alec's straight-laced discomfort with anything sexual from Seregil's first chance remark about the Street of Lights (Rhíminee's red light district).
Invisible in the shadows, Alec made no reply, but Seregil heard him shifting uncomfortably. The boy's solitary upbringing had left him uncommonly backward in certain matters, even for a Dalnan. Such reticence was unfathomable to Seregil, though out of respect for their friendship he did his best not to tease the boy. (ch. 1, p. 9)
This is not actually true.