Stalking Darkness (Lynn Flewelling, 1997) Study Guide: Chapters 15-21
Summary: Chapter 15 "The Hunt Commences"
Seregil goes to the address Eirual gave him for Rythel, the apparent spy. Having borrowed an officer's cloak from the coat room or whatever at the whorehouse, he poses as a drunk soldier, yelling at the window about some slight committed by "Rythel the leech." A neighbor pokes her head out the window to yell at Seregil, saying that Rythel the smith lives there, and he has the wrong house. Pleased with the information that Rythel is a smith working for Master Quarin (which indicates that he should not have enough money for Eirual's services), he sends Alec back to the girl brothel to return the cloak while he goes back to his boys.
Summary: Chapter 16 "Smiths and Beggars"
Alec hypothesizes that Rythel is an ironsmith and they locate Master Quarin's place, where Alec poses as a beggar bringing a message from Eirual in order to get a look at Rythel. Seregil and Alec proceed to the local tavern where Alec, claiming to be a would-be apprentice, chats up the ironmongers, and finds out that Rythel is working on the major project of replacing all the sewer grates in one area of the city, and that he does all the final grate fitting himself. Seregil and Alec surmise that he is tampering with the grates in order to make the city more vulnerable to an attack from below. Figuring this is Watcher business, they go to tell Nysander and Thero what they've found, and that they plan to investigate further that night.
Summary: Chapter 17 "Gate Running"
The boys go to the sewer to inspect a grate. Alec gets a faceful of sparks when he accidentally brings his torch too close to a strangely flammable white metal coating the grate pins. They take a sample and decide to bring Nysander or Thero to fix the damage as soon as possible, before the saboteurs return to check on the site. As they're leaving, Seregil is attacked by a pair of jumpy gaterunners (sewer-travelling thieves). They manage to get out without any casualties, but Alec's concerned, and insists on sending Seregil on to Nysander while he stays behind to guard the site. Thero surprises everyone by voluntarily tending to Seregil's wounds while Nysander goes to Alec, magicking the gate into repair. Back at Oëska, Nysander identifies the strange flammable metal as Sakor's Flame, found mostly in Plenimar.
Summary: Chapter 18 "On the Scent"
Seregil takes Rythel's landlady's grandson for drinks and discovers that Rythel spends his weeknights hard at work on strange drawings and goes on a vice-spree on the weekends. The next time he's at a gambling house, Lord Seregil is there, ready to strike up a friendship and ply him with drinks. Meanwhile, Alec breaks into his house.
Seregil returns home at the end of the night with little to show beyond the knowledge that Rythel is (rather successfully) posing as someone of a higher social class than he really is. Alec comes home with a cut-up arm from slipping on Rythel's roof; Seregil fusses. Alec had made some rough copies of the drawings he found in the room, which appear to be detailed sewer maps.
Summary: Chapter 19 "Tym"
Seregil and Alec find the street thief Tym, whom Seregil hires to keep a close watch on Rythel. Alec tries to threaten him, and afterward Seregil tells him not to do that--Tym only respects Seregil because he almost killed him once, but he'll have no compunctions about killing Alec. Alec decides not to tell Seregil about the time (in the previous book) he provoked Tym and almost got stabbed.
Summary: Chapter 20 "Mucking About"
That weekend, Seregil goes to trail Rythel while Alec goes out on a Cat job. They both return unsuccessful, as Rythel has paid for the whole night at a whorehouse and Alec's mark was having a party. They decide to go break into Rythel's house and have another look at the sewer maps when Nysander sends a magical message summoning them to the palace.
Despite having delegated most of the surveillance work to a child, Skut, Tym stops by Rythel's in time to see Rythel return. He watches Rythel meet with two men, one of whom who turns into a giant black snake-creature and eats him. Skut runs away in terror.
Summary: Chapter 21 "Blood Tells"
We see the meeting between Rythel, Mardus, and Ashnazai from Mardus's point of view. Ashnazai finds Alec's blood on the edge of the window. Rythel tells Mardus about meeting Seregil in the gambling-house. Mardus buys the sewer map, and on the way out, tells Ashanzai he's off to meet with Ylinestra, and to arrange for an unremarkable accident to kill Rythel.
Analysis: Chapters 15-21
Seregil and Alec are clearly excited to be working on spy business again; as in the previous book, they seem to be happiest when they're collaboratively unravelling a mystery. Alec has come into his own as a Watcher, as Nysander notices when he meets Alec after their sewer adventure:
"Is Seregil all right?"
Alec's joking response confirms that Seregil has rubbed off in him in more ways than one. Seregil also notes this, with some dismay, when he drags out the explanation of Alec's injury:
"You went over the edge? It's a forty-foot drop to stone pavement! What in the name of Bilairy's--"
Speaking of rubbing off (not THAT way(?)), Alec is getting gayer by the second. In chapter 15, later the same night he first notices Seregil as an object of desire, he tenses up when riding two-to-a-horse:
Alec felt another unexpected twinge of sensuality at his touch, faint as a bat's whisper, but unmistakable. There was certainly nothing seductive in the way Seregil gripped a handful of his tunic to keep his balance, yet suddenly he had an image of that same hand stroking the head of the young man at Azarin's brothel, and later embracing dark-eyed Eirual.
Alec's description of Seregil's touch as "brotherly" recalls the prophecy, and reaffirms that Seregil has succeeded in maintaining an honorable distance. Moreover, Alec's assumption that his burgeoning crush is unrequited sidesteps the potentially uncomfortable realization that he is already the unwitting object of his mentor's desire.
Waking up as a metaphor for discovering one's sexuality is a common enough one in coming-of-age literature, particularly gay stories (I'm thinking again of Forster's Maurice, in particular). The chiropteran first line of this passage evokes Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited:
As I took the cigarette from my lips and put it in hers, I caught a thin bat's squeak of sexuality, inaudible to any but me. (Charles of Julia, ch. 3)
Provided we take that novel's homoerotic subtext as a given, this situation is a reverse-gender equivalent.