Stalking Darkness (Lynn Flewelling, 1997) Study Guide: Chapters 28-32
Summary: Chapter 28 "A Glimpse of Prophecy"
A week passes. Seregil has been trying to follow up leads, with no success. Alec has been having recurring nightmares. In the dream, he is trying to find and heal his dying father. He has the feeling of being pursued. He draws his sword only to find a blunt arrow shaft, and faces a frightening wall of darkness.
At Orëska, Nysander, Magyana and Thero give Alec long-lifer advice and support, and Seregil finds a way to work the dream into conversation. Privately, he asks Nysander if he thinks it has anything to do with the prophecy, and Nysander eventually confirms that Alec is probably the Shaft, Micum the Vanguard, and Seregil a fourth figure--the Guide, or Unseen One. Into every generation a Guardian, Shaft, Vanguard and Guide is born; most are never called upon to do anything, but Nysander fears that the time is coming. Certain Plenimarans, Lord Mardus in particular, are attempting to gather magical objects which, when brought together, will create some evil. The disk and the crown are two such objects, now in Nysander's custody. Nysander has protective spells on all four of them, and while there have been attempts to mess with Seregil's and Alec's, none of them have worked. Seregil convinces Nysander to let him tell Alec and Micum about their role in the prophecy.
At the Cockerel, Alec plays with baby Luthas while Seregil waits for a letter for the Cat, which turns out to be a summons from Captain Rhal. Before going to meet him, Seregil takes Alec into the apartment to tell him about the prophecy (the parts about the Eater of Death and the band of four, not the stuff about Alec and father-brother-friend-lover) and all the information Nysander gave him. Alec points out there must be some other object in Nysander's care, since he was the guardian since before Seregil brought him the disk and the crown.
Lord Seregil and Sir Alec go to the docks to see Rhal, who shows them the ship he's fitted up to captain under Seregil's funding: the Green Lady, whose figurehead is a carving of a pregnant Lady Gwethelyn.
That night at Wheel Street Seregil puts on beggars' clothes for a trip into the streets to meet with some underground contacts. He tells Alec he won't be back for awhile and Alec should ride out alone to Micum to tell him all the prophecy stuff. Alec promises to be back by nightfall the next day, but Seregil tells him to stay the night and come back in daylight. Alec feels uneasy about leaving Seregil alone, but agrees.
Summary: Chapter 29 "Harbingers"
Alec gets up early and heads out. By Queen's orders, guards are now questioning people at the city gate; Alec gives a false name and his truthful intention to return that night in spite of Seregil's advice. When Alec arrives at Watermead, the servants inform him Micum and family are at a friend's estate, discussing defenses for the war, but he'll be back the next day if Alec cares to wait. The ostler suggests that the old hill track is shorter if he has a guide, but the guy who knows the track best is five miles out of Alec's way. Alec remembers going on the hill track with Beka once and decides to chance it alone.
Meanwhile, Seregil is harrassed by soldiers in the city, and a fellow vagrant tells him that the war has started. Beggars are being pressed into military service. Faced with the irony of his disguise choice, Seregil wishes he'd just "taken a pleasant ride out to Watermead with Alec" (281).
Cut back to Alec, struggling through the forest in the rain. He is attacked by couple of bandits; his offer to give his gold if they let him keep his horse is rejected, and he resorts to violence. The fight quickly devolves into chaos and Alec ends up grappling with the male bandit in the mud and delivering a messy, bloody death as the female bandit makes off with his horse.
Seregil escapes from the press-gangs.
Alec trudges to a house, where he bungles any hope of begging for food and water from the owner by practicing Seregil's dog-soothing trick in front of him, and ends up running from the dog. Reaching the road, he hitches a ride with a merchant who tells him the hill track is by no means faster than the road.
He finally arrives at Micum's friend's house, where he's mistaken for a messenger boy. Taking advantage of his inconspicuousness, Alec is able to privately meet with Micum without anybody else knowing of his presence or purpose; he explains the prophecy. Micum gives him fresh food and clothes and tells him to stay the night, but he insists on returning. Micum lends him a horse, making him promise to stick to the main road.
Summary: Chapter 30 "Night Visitors"
At the Cockerel, the innkeeper family (Thyris, Cilla, Diomis and Rhiri) discuss the start of the war. Thyris remembers her time as a soldier, and wonders about Micum Cavish's girl. Cilla is sad because her baby Luthas's mystery father is apparently a solder. As Diomis is closing up, there's a knock at the door. He won't let anyone in, but the door crashes open...
Summary: Chapter 31 "The First Blow"
On the way back to Watermead, Alec meets a troop of marching soldiers, who inform him that the war has started. He tells the folks at Watermead, where he changes back to his old horse. He arrives back in the city around midnight. In his rush to arrive back at the Cockerel apartment, he doesn't notice that the various magical safeguards around the entrance have already been tripped.
Nysander wakes up suddenly to find Orëska under attack. He rushes to the underground chamber to hold off the invading necromancers with his magical orb beam things.
Summary: Chapter 32 "Loss"
Seregil arrives at the Cockerel and is immediately wary to find the lights out and door ajar. Cautious and armed, he slips upstairs, but nobody is there to attack. Instead, the corpses of Thyris, Cilla, Diomis and Rhiri are arranged in a horrible headless tableau, their bloody heads lined up on the mantelpiece. Suddenly he finds Alec's bloody sword: Alec was there, putting up an unsuccessful fight against the attackers. He realizes the curtains around his bed have been pulled shut. Saying aloud "No no no please no" he pulls aside the curtain--only to find the dagger he gave Alec in Wolde, surrounded by a knot of Alec's hair. The disembodied heads, speaking with the voice of the black creature from when Seregil was crazy, call him "thief and defiler" for taking "the Eye and the Crown." Begging forgiveness, he destroys the heads, and taking a moment to mourn the loss of his friends and his home, he takes Alec's weapons and some money and leaves. On his way out, he hears a cry, and stops back in time to find Luthas.
Outside, Nysander's serving-boy Wethis arrives to summons Seregil to the remains of Orëska Seregil gives Luthas to Wethis and heads to Orëska where Nysander lies under the care of drysians. The people there inform Seregil that Mardus and his necromancers got in through the sewers. Nysander mutters something about a temple in Plenimar, "one place--one time--" and "Synodical" before passing out.
Analysis: Chapters 28-32
Information-packed chapter 28 marks the end of the great secrecy surrounding the meaning of the prophecy. Although Nysander still isn't really candid--he doesn't give much more information than the audience already knows or suspects--he does finally stop threatening to kill Seregil for knowing too much, and even allows him to tell the people involved in the prophecy what's going on. The breaking down of this last secret removes the last impediument to honesty in Seregil and Alec's relationship.
Alec's reaction to Seregil's let's-split-up plan is no longer a feeling of being cheated out of adventure, but of worry for Seregil's safety. There is no particular reason to think this mission will be any more dangerous than usual, but perhaps under the omenous threat of the prophecy, everything seems more risky. It's also possible that, as he matures and faces more deadly missions, Alec no longer thinks of adventures as sources of thrills, but as dangerous tasks which must needs be done.
Finally, any account of Alec's change in temperament should certainly take into account his feelings of protectiveness, which intensify alongside his deepening affection for the increasingly-vulnerable Seregil. Alec's anxiety to see his friend safe and sound again, even after a single day's apparently routine shadows-lurking (Alec never realizes how close Seregil comes to being pressed into service), is sweet, and the lengths he goes to to reduce the separation show his love more strongly than any of the fleeting moments of eroticism we've seen so far. The detailed descriptions of the more or less commonplace impediments to Alec's journey provide a building sense of frustration and tension, creating an anxious desire for reunion even before the true separation begins. When it becomes clear that Alec's special measures to surprise Seregil with an early return have only created the necessary circumstances for his kidnapping, the situation takes on a bitterly pathetic irony.
The tone of the novel shifts dramatically in this section with the co-occurrence of the start of the war, the climactic attack on Orëska and the gruesome mutilation scene at the Cockerel apartment--perhaps the most graphic and disturbing murder scene we've seen yet, made all the more harrowing because the victims are known and sympathetic characters. We are entering a new era: war is raging; stakes are high; loved characters can be killed. Furthermore, I hope you enjoyed the emphasis on friendly/romantic interaction between Seregil and Alec during the first half of the book, because it'll be awhile now.
The separation of the lovers is a common device in heterosexual romance as well as the classic literature of homoerotic male friendship. For one thing, it contributes to the emotional nadir of the story; the characters' fear and emotional distress would hardly be complete in one another's company. For another, time apart is necessary to test and strengthen the lovers' devotion. Finally, the separation, though painful, offers the promise of a joyful, consummative reunion. Various hints and foreshadows, the conventions of the genre, and the existence of a third book in the trilogy leave the audience relatively certain that this parting will end in reunion rather than death; however, the third book also leaves open the possibility that said reunion will not occur by the end of this book.