Stalking Darkness (Lynn Flewelling, 1997) Study Guide: Chapters 39-44
Summary: Chapter 39 "Torment"
On board Mardus's ship, Alec is mentally tortured daily by Irtuk (through necromancy), Mardus (psychologically), and Ashnazai (both). Mardus and Ashnazai describe their murder of Alec's friends at the Cockerel, and tell Alec that Nysander is dead and Seregil has failed and abandoned him.
The soldiers on board ship make fun of Alec, and one (Gossol, whose jaw Alec once broke) tries to rape him, but Alec is able to defend himself. Captain Tildus orders his men not to touch Alec since he is "no good if damaged" (368).
Alec and Thero are made to witness the blood sacrifice of Gossol to the altar of the sacred objects (crown, bowl, and "eyes of Seriamaius") and told that their purer blood (because of their Aurenfaie and wizard status, respectively) is "being reserved for the supreme moment" (370). During the ceremony, Alec faints.
Summary: Chapter 40 "Urgazhi"
Deep in Plenimaran territory, Beka and her soldiers do stealth damage; they do well in a night battle with some guards, and are proud to learn that the Plenimarans are calling them "urgazhi," or wolf demons. Although Beka's injury is healed, she is disturbed to learn from her sergeant that she is tossing, turning, and yelling in her sleep. She cannot remember her dreams. Scouts sport two of Beka's missing soldiers imprisoned with many others in a Plenimaran camp, alive but "planked" (nailed to planks). Two things strike Beka as odd: (1) how the Plenimarans took so many prisoners so far within in their own borders, and (2) why they are marching them north, toward the Mycenian border. She swears to "trail them, haunt them!" (377)
Summary: Chapter 41 "Peculiar Hospitality"
Alec spends his days sleeping (and having violent/prophecy dreams), being tortured, or listening to Mardus hold forth on various topics of his interest. Alec thinks of Seregil often and one night decides it's time to put Seregil's lessons to use and keep alert for information and opportunity. "After all, he wouldn't die any faster for at least trying." (380) Alec begins holding up his end of conversations, which seems to please Mardus.
Near the Plenimaran coast, ten ordinary-looking citizens are brought on board and ritually sacrificed; this time, Alec is forced to watch, held in place by Ashnazai's magic. When Mardus serves him wine afterward as though nothing happened, Alec feels as though he is going mad, and reacts by becoming very polite and courtly, which Mardus finds charming. Alec asks what's going on, and Mardus explains that the crown, bowl, and disks will come together to form the Helm of Seriamaius, the "ultimate object of necromantic power," which will turn the wearer into "Vatharna, the living embodiment of Seriamaius." Large-scale sacrifice is required to bring this about, the more years taken the better, which is why long-lifespanned youths Alec and Thero will be especially useful at the final ceremony. Alec thanks Mardus for the information and then suddenly grabs a knife to plunge it into his heart, but instead, to his horror, finds that he has killed an innocent serving boy.
Summary: Chapter 42 "Landfall"
The Green Lady nears land on the day prophesied for "Rendel's spear" in the sky (a comet), five days before the prophesied big finish. Seregil awakes from prophecy dreams and Micum points out his scar has opened up again. Micum confesses that he came on the trip simply to look out for Seregil but now he's beginning to believe in all this stuff. Seregil and Micum part from the Green Lady on a small sailing craft and spend the day heading for shore. On land, Seregil checks out a light, which turns out to be Nysander, meeting them as planned. He looks terrible. He explains all the prophecy stuff to Micum, and tells them about the helm and Vatharna. Basically, bad stuff will go down--armies of the dead and so forth--if Mardus is allowed to become Vatharna. Nysander tells Seregil he needs to find the white stone surrounded by black which marks the location of the ancient temple, which seems like an impossible task, but Seregil is the guide, so maybe he'll be divinely guided. The comet arrives, and Seregil feels shooting pain.
Summary: Chapter 43 "Moving North"
Mardus's ship approaches land. Everyone is excited about the "arm of Seriami" in the sky. Ashnazai threatens Alec vaguely with a worse fate than his scheduled death if he tries to escape. Alec realizes that any attempt to escape now will be fruitless, since there are hundreds of soldiers on the only land he could concievable swim to, and besides, he doesn't want to leave Thero behind. But he finds a bent nail on the ground, stealthily hides it in his mouth, and bides his time.
Beka and some of her men watch from a distance as the ship arrives at the coastal Plenimaran camp. They're disturbed by the excitement of all the enemy soldiers at the arrival of the "plague star." The shooting star gives Beka a strange feeling of "rightness." She decides to wait before attacking, cautiously attempting not to lose more men. They watch the enemies scuttle their ship.
Alec and Thero are loading into an iron cage in a cart. Alec gives Thero food, but he won't eat until ordered to.
Alec's prophecy dream progresses further: he finds himself amongst a bunch of corpses, with voices telling him to "join the feast." He awakes to find Cilla. Although Alec knows that she's dead, he engages in conversation with the "ghost," who tells him that she hates him and blames him for her death. She turns into a "black man-shaped form," mocks him more, and disappears; Alec curses Ashnazai.
Summary: Chapter 44 "White Stone and Black"
Seregil eventually finds the white stone surrounded by black, along with some ancient carvings, and he, Nysander, and Micum figure out that an unusually high tide which will nearly cover the ruin, except for the top of the altar, and the eclipse during which the ritual must be performed, will co-occur. Mardus will only have a few minutes for his ceremony. Unfortunately, "the more rare the conjunction [of rare natural occurrences], the more potent the effect" of a religious ritual.
Analysis: Chapters 39-44
As Alec and Seregil struggle separately, a parallel situation arises in Beka's subplot when a pair of friends/lovers in her troops is torn apart by the capture of one half by enemy soldiers.
What must this be like for him? [Beka] wondered, stealing a look at Steb's drawn face; the bond between him and Mirn was strong. The two were always together, whether it was around the fire at night, or fighting side by side like twin avenging furies. They usually took scout duty together, too. What had happened today? (ch. 40, p. 376)
Beka's troops head after Mirn as Seregil and Micum head after Alec. Meanwhile, amongst the bad guys, Alec's suffering is exquisite. Although he believes in Seregil's loyalty, he is still hopeless of rescue:
"Can you still be loyal to this faithless friend of yours?"
"Not even Micum could track a ship across water," Alec thinks in 41 (380). But Alec is inspired to try and become the agent of his own rescue (per Seregil's lessons) after dwelling on specific memories of Seregil: the look of his smile, the feel of his touch, in particular the "guilty pleasure" feelings of the night in the Street of Lights. Seregil's absence and Alec's general despair, on the one hand, create the perfect circumstances for Mardus to "plant seeds of doubt", but simultaneously create the perfect (perhaps only) circumstances for emotionally-reserved Alec to allow himself to think of his mentor/friend in overtly romantic, even lustful terms. Alec's attitudes changes after this; outwardly, he seems to become more outgoing and relaxed amongst his captors, as he decides to keep his ears and eyes open for information. Shortly thereafter he finds the nail which will become "his talisman" as he watches for a chance of escape.