You all were right — Act 5 is too long an act to cover in one week. Also, it’s been quite the week, so I cleaved the act in half. Better to do a decent job and take more time than to jam it all down and miss half of it. I am chastened, but committed. So let’s do this crazy thing!
Epiparodos Skull header: Third House. Time: 9 months and 29 days before the Emperor’s Murder. 3rd person, Ianthe’s viewpoint.
We’ve ever only had Gideon’s and Harrow’s viewpoints; this is a chance to see through Ianthe’s eyes. And we finally learn what happened to Harrow’s memory.
FYI: In Greek theatre, an epiparodos is a second entrance of the chorus. Ianthe is our chorus.
Harrow gives her 24 letters to Ianthe for safekeeping. Ianthe tries to talk Harrow out of whatever she’s planning, telling her it might not work, warning it might make her a vegetable, and begging her to explain her reasons. Harrow refuses. Ianthe puts an awl in her dead hand (wait, did Ianthe reattach her severed arm for this purpose?), picks up a hammer with the living one, and sets the awl on Harrow’s skull, and drives it home.
After the lobotomy, Harrow sleeps. Ianthe tries to figure out what Harrow did, since she wouldn’t let her watch parts of the procedure. She can’t tell. Ianthe, “as a last act of pettiness,” enspells Harrow’s hair to grow extra fast. She thinks that one day she’ll marry Harrow, although it probably wouldn’t satisfy her.
- The letters “are written in an unbreakable code only I can decrypt, intertwined with a false chamber-code that, if even merely beheld, curses you, your family, and the restive bones of your ancestors” (p. 360).
- I’m reminded of the line in Gideon where revelations make Harrow’s expression go from “mysterious cryptique” to ”darque cryptique.”
- Ianthe says, “I would have just gone with a blood ward, personally.” Harrow misses the sarcasm and explains that she’s already thought it out and rejected it.
- We get a (relatively) objective description of Harrow’s face, filtered through the seriously enamoured eyes of Ianthe. She’s obviously been attracted to Harrow; here we see how early it started.
- Ianthe tells her the many ways this could go wrong; she is undeterred.
- Harrow: “I asked you for a reason. That reason was not your genius, which I admit exists. Nobody who reverse-engineered the Lyctoral process could be anything but a genius” (p. ). Even as Harrow admits her brilliance, she thinks Ianthe is shallow and a showboat. She also can’t hold a candle to Palamedes, and adds, “I may have been Sextus’s necromantic superior; but he was the better man. You are not even so worthy of that brain as to wipe its bloodied remnants from the wall . . . You are a murderer, a conwoman, a cheat, a liar, a slitherer, and you embody the worst flaws of your House — as do I” (p. 362).
- Harrow is practicing self-awareness 101. And it’s lovely to see her recognize Palamedes for who he is/was. I suspect there’s a boatload of fan fiction about Camilla and Palamedes and Gideon and Harrow just palling around having adventures, solving mysteries, and being besties. (Note to self: when you have the time, go look it up.)
- “I asked you because you know what it is . . . to be — fractured.”
- She gets Ianthe. And gets to Ianthe, who has been fractured from her twin. “Of such banality was grief made.”
- “You are running away. And running away is for fools and children. You are a Lyctor. You have paid the rice. The hardest part is over. Smile to the universe, thank it for its graciousness, and mount your throne. You answer to nobody now” (p. 363).
- She says this to the woman who is made of 200 dead children, and spends every day of her life trying to justify their sacrifice. Harrow replies, “If you think that you and I are not more beholden than ever . . . you are an idiot” (p. 363).
- In a nutshell, this is the difference between Harrow and Ianthe.
- I wrote last week that Harrow thinks her hair growth is the only sign of Lyctorhood that she has and is therefore afraid to cut it. But it’s really Ianthe just screwing with her. Ianthe is awful.
- It tickled her fancy to imagine Harrowhark falling asleep crying, like any lovelorn child. What a fool. What a destructive, romantic, ridiculous act” (p. 364).
- I contend that Ianthe gets it wrong twice: 1) thinking that Harrow is running away from her grief. Harrow knows grief inside and out; she’s known it her whole life. She’s not running away. 2) thinking the lobotomy is a romantic act. It’s desperate, but it’s not romantic.
- If you think back to Harrow’s rules for living: “Look upon me as a Harrowhark who was handed the first genuine choice of our lives; the only choice ever given where we had free will to say, No, and the free will to say, Yes. Accept that in this instance I have chosen to say, No” (p. 61). Harrow, who carries the deaths of 200 children, who tries to justify their sacrifice every second of every day, refuses Lyctorhood and everything she’s worked for, because it would mean absorbing Gideon’s soul, and she places Gideon above all her other obligations.
- “And then Ianthe the First went to see a man about a queen” (p. 364).
- The old saying about seeing a man about a horse is often interpreted among men as a euphemism for urinating. Alternately, it’s a euphemism for masterbation. In Ianthe’s case, the latter is likelier than the former. Or . . . .
- It really could be about a queen. Ianthe is now the First, leaving Coronabeth as the sole crown princess of Ida. “Corona” is Latin for “crown.”
The reason I think Ianthe could be negotiating for Coronabeth is because we know when this event happens — the header tells us — it’s almost two months before the events of Chapter 1, and we know in that chapter that the Erebos has been hanging around outside the Dominicus system while Harrow recovers from the transition to Lyctorhood.
But this doesn’t appear to be on Erebos. No one else is around, and John would certainly never allow one of his new Lyctors to perform homebrew brain surgery. No, they’re still at Canaan House, and the Cohort has not yet arrived. That doesn’t, however, preclude the presence of someone else: Blood of Eden. Especially since, when the Erebos arrives, Judith, Camilla, Coronabeth, and Gideon’s body are missing. It’s possible — even likely, that Ianthe is making arrangements for Corona’s future, and chooses to keep those arrangements secret from everyone else.
The first three chapters of Act 5 are worth noting before we get into them. In each, we see an alternate reality and situation, and all of them are drawn from classic fan fiction tropes. No, you’re not going crazy. Yes, Muir is messing with us, although we can also argue that Harrow is closing in on her memories.
Chapter 40 Skull header: fractured Ninth House. Time: ????????? (nine question marks). 3rd person.
Scenario: the Switched Places Situation.
Back in Drearburh, Harrow Nova, daughter of the House, non-necromancer and cavalier secondary, challenges Ortus, the cavalier primary, to serve the adopted heir and necromancer. She challenges him in the narthex and forces him to draw. Marshal Crux interrupts them, yells at Ortus and suggests to Harrow that she apologize to the pilgrims. She recognizes them as husband and wife, but has never seen them before. Abigail tells her, “This isn’t how it happens.”
- Harrow wants to fight, Ortus really doesn’t, and their exchange is really amusing. They still argue about poetry. They will always argue about poetry. And he tells her, “they will never let you go” (p. 368). She’s really in Gideon’s position in this alternate reality, down to the inability to leave.
- Harrow had climbed the Anastasian monument and took the chain of Samael, “sacred relic of the dead warrior servant of the original tomb-keeper.”
- The adopted necromantic heir (certainly it’s Gideon) has been called to Canaan House and Harrow means to go. Ortus tells her that she really doesn’t want to be “her” cavalier. Harrow answers that “I hope she gets boiled alive in oil. I hope she falls into a hole with a crowd watching. I hope someone takes a large pair of secateurs to the muscles at the backs of her heels” (pp. -368-369). Remember the pattern of three declarations. (Secateurs are bypass pruners.)
- “Ortus said tremulously, ‘But you know she quite — ‘ ‘No.’ ‘And they say she is petitioning for — “
- If you’ve read the role-reversal fanfic trope, you’ll know that Ortus means to tell her that the heir has the hots for her and has petitioned for . . . What she desires depends entirely on the author’s imagination and whether the fanfic is PG, R, or NC17-rated.
- Harrow interrupts: “Continue that sentence, and I’ll make it to the pain” (p. 369).
- “Commit your soul to the Locked Tomb, and to the rock, and to the chains, and hope it floats high on the River” (p. 369).
- Notice the “floats high on the River” part. It’ll come back later in this act.
- Crux is still Crux. He recognizes Harrow as the rightful heir and is as abusive to Ortus in this scene as he was to Gideon in life.
Chapter 41 Skull header: fractured Fifth House. Time: ??? Before ??? 3rd person.
Scenario: the Formal Ball Situation.
Harrow and Aiglamene are at a ball, held so that Her Divine Highness might meet them all and select a bride. Harrow, ashamed of her House’s poverty, doesn’t want to be there among all the beautiful and colorful House heirs. She sees the gray-robed Sixth House not dancing, and a gorgeous Third House princess sitting with them, ignoring her House’s attempts to herd her back to the dance floor. Harrow is on the edge of a panic attack when Abigail and Magnus come up to her and tell her, “This still isn’t how it happens” (p. 374).
- I mentioned Coronabeth and the Sixth House because it’s prophetic and figures in Nona the Ninth. Harrow’s subconscious knows a lot more about what’s going on than her consciousness does.
- This includes the references to “Her Divine Highness” being Gideon, and the Sixth House being represented by more than just the necromancer and cavalier. Looks like the whole House, or a large part of it, is there.
- Harrow has never been to a ball before, but she does a great job imagining one. Magnus says, “This is top. Have you ever eaten party food before, Lady Harrowhark? Because if you haven’t, this is a very good approximation. No taste, but incredibly salty” (p. 374).
Chapter 42 Skull header: fractured Fourth House. Time: Month??? Death. 3rd person.
Scenario: The Coffee Shop Situation
In this fractured and imaginary timeline, with each iteration of reality, notice that the number of question marks are reduced. And a time frame is coming into focus. Harrow is narrowing down the number of possible realities. Also, this is one of the all-time classic fan fiction tropes.
Harrow is in the army, at the Cohort training academy and is accosted by Isaac and Jeannemarie, who want to be friends. As they chat her up, they lead her to the cafeteria, talking about the amazing coffee and a “hotshot new BARI star” who serves it.
- “She had already heard a great many jibes to the effect that Fourth House arrivals ought to be issued with both a medal of honour and a coffin” (p. 375).
- Both Isaac and Jeannemary wear “burnished steel pins on the opposite lapel [that] indicated that these two had seen action” (p. 375).
- They certainly have seen action . . . in that they died.
- We really haven’t see much of their personalities before, so it’s a delight to see them here.
- Harrow has really grown as a person since Gideon where, we realize now, she was equal parts defensive projection and paranoia. She now can see what’s in front of her without the prism of her fear. “Both faces were, in fact, turned to her with non of the disgust she had initially fancied; their enthusiasm, she had to admit, was sincere” (p. 376). When she tells them it’s a bad idea to hang out together, it’s for their sakes, since the Cohort resisted her service.
- The coffee for the Cohort includes “Bio-adaptive reuptake inhibitors” or BARI, and there’s a “BARI-star” slinging the brew. Say “BARI-star” aloud a couple of times and you’ll get it.
- “Let me guess . . . You take it black.” Guess who?
- The description betrays Harrow’s physical attraction, what with the “lean, taut muscle, a little dewy with sweat and steam.”
- “But it was the face that sent her neurons in a thalergetic spin” (p. 378). She remembers.
Chapter 43 Skull header: fractured Gideon skull (aviators, a mandible, and the “IX” crossed out) Time: One night before the Emperor’s murder. 3rd person.
Hang on, y’all — the two worlds are starting to align. This is, for the record, the first real timestamp we have in the alt-world.
Harrow comes to in a convulsion. As the seizure clears, her memory returns and all her deferred grief falls on her. She hears Abigail tell the others to leave, and when she’s cried herself out, she sits up, tries to warm herself necromantically, and they talk. Harrow unconsciously made a bubble in the River and called the ghosts of everyone who died at Canaan House together. Also, she can’t leave, and she’s aware that her body is bleeding out on the Mithraeum. She’s stuck.
I’m going to touch lightly in this pivotal chapter, because half of everything is answered here, and there’s no reason for me to spend the next half hour of your reading time explicating it. If you skimmed this chapter, go back and read it again. Here are some things you might not have noticed:
- “Another pull like that and she’ll bring the children back wholesale, and I don’t think I can bear sending them out again — “ (p. 379).
- The children are Isaac and Jeannemary, who Abigail sent out of the bubble for their safety.
- The alternate scenarios in chapters 40-42 were real. Abigail rejected them because they didn’t know what rules would apply in them, and at least they know these rules.
- “’If I forget you, let my right hand be forgotten . . . Add more also, if aught but death part me and thee.’ And, unsteadily: ‘Griddle” (p. 380).
- I can’t not note this. We’ve waited 3/4’s of a book for it. Anyone who doubts Muir’s ability as a writer has not read this chapter.
- Part one of the quoted mater is from Psalm 137, part two is from Ruth 1:17, and is the second half of Gideon’s last words to Harrow.
- One of the subtexts through these four chapters is Harrow’s subconscious realization that Gideon has, somehow, godly aspects [to be revealed later in this Act, but foreshadowed here]: “Her Divine Highness” being Gideon and, in the quotation from Psalms, the Psalmist addressing Jerusalem, are a couple of the tells.
- Even with her memory restored, Harrow doesn’t trust her sanity, and asks Abigail to describe her childhood bedroom as a check.
- The bedroom is modest, for the heir of the House. Is this a comment on the Fifth House, a discussion of the general privation in the Nine Houses in general (remember Palamedes in Gideon saying that there’s little he wouldn’t give for a reliable food supply for his House), or the fact that the Fifth is probably on a space station, since Jupiter is a gas giant, and habitation on the surface may well still be impossible, if the Emperor didn’t actually change it? I don’t know, but it’s worth thinking about.
- Harrow talks about stopping her absorption of Gideon’s soul by “removing my ability to comprehend her . . . It was stupid, A brute-force solution. But it worked” (p. 383).
- That wasn’t the soul Abigail was talking about: “I had assumed you had picked this battlefield deliberately, and raised an army to fight alongside you. I didn’t quite know why you’d chosen us. Now I know, but it seems you did not. You are possessed by an angry spirit, Harrow, and you are losing the war” (p. 383). My emphasis, because this can’t get lost. Abigail gets to the nugget of everything that’s been going on in alt-Canaan House.
- She calls alt-Canaan House a play with a script. “But now another director is trying to hijack the play, and the struggle for control backstage is leaking over into the action out front” (p. 384).
- “You didn’t remove the memories of your cavalier . . . You skinned them over with something that looked good” (p. 384) Hence, instead of Gideon, Ortus. The patch worked almost too well.
- In the bubble, time is seamless; it compresses or dilates as needed, unlike Harrow’s waking world. Which she apparently can’t return to.
- The pink tubes are getting more and more obnoxious, and one deposits “a clattering pile of plex scope slides” (p. 386). I’ve been coy about naming this stuff before, but all the debris and nasty stuff in the tubes — it’s all the debris of insemination and (failed) fertilization.
Chapter 44 Skull header: Herald. Time: That same night before the Emperor’s murder. 1st and 2nd person.
Events now run concurrently in the two worlds: the River bubble and the Mithraeum. And our favorite cavalier is back in her glorious snarky selfhood.
Remember all the way back in the Prologue, after coming out of the River and finding herself in the corridor, stabbed from behind with her own rapier, Harrow “prepared to die with the Locked Tomb on your lips. But your idiot dying mouth rounded out three totally different syllables, and they were three syllables you did not even understand” (p. 18). Those three syllables? Gideon.
Gideon wakes and pushes the rapier back out of Harrow’s body. She has trouble compensating with being in Harrow’s body, and hasn’t even oriented herself before a Herald shows up. She fights a lot of Heralds and begs Harrow to come back.
What’s really important here is Gideon’s emotional reaction; she’s furious and devastated that Harrow went to such extremes, “I gave you my whole life, and you didn’t even want it” (p. 391), but the way she deals with her heartbreak is by cracking jokes. We get a lot of jokes. We know that Harrow gave herself a lobotomy to save Gideon’s soul; Gideon thinks that Harrow values her so little that she gave herself a lobotomy to avoid being indebted to her. It’s like O. Henry if O. Henry were a sadist and set a short story in hell.
Whoever stabbed Harrow got her through the back. Despite her anger and grief at Harrow, she’s madder at the would-be murderer, and plans on “making them sorrier than they had ever been in all their fucking life” (p. 388).
- There are innumerable “I am in you” jokes that Gideon nearly cracks, but doesn’t.
- “But some ancient engine had revved to life for me in a way it never had done for you, probably because I am a good girl and you are an evil nun” (p. 391).
- Lyctor healing engaged in a way it wouldn’t for Harrow.
- The “evil nun” crack is likely a reference to Evil Nun, a horror survival game that spawned a bunch of sequels. Like in the beginning of Harrow, the memes are thick on the ground when the darkness descends.
- “You could always leave everything else behind, but you never got rid of being so absolutely fucking goddamn sad” (p. 392).
- “Come back. I hate this. Eat me, and let’s go full Lyctor. I didn’t fall on a fence for this,” (p. 392).
- “Your memory hadn’t happened to me, and even if I’d had a front-row seat for most of it, it was like watching a play through a blindfold” (pp. 392-393).
- Gideon thinks the Lyctor robes look “like Silas Octakiseron got into the glitter drawer” (p. 393).
- Not gonna lie — this line made me want to live again.
- “’Don’t worry, honey. I’ll keep the home fires burning.’ And the Heralds piled in” (p. 393).
Chapter 45 Skull header: Second House, fractured. Time: An amount of time before the Emperor’s murder. 3rd person.
Canaan House has been taken over with falling red snow and tubes, organ-like things crowding in a breaking open in floods of bloody water, along with more pipettes, “broken glass-fronted containers filled with dark fluid, mysterious lumps floating suspended within; and shattered skeletons” etc., (p. 394). Some of the skeletons carry Ninth House tools.
Magnus leads Harrow and Abigail to the lab/workroom of the Second House, the one Harrow and Gideon had found. Unlike the rest of the House, this room has been left alone and intact and, inside, final preparations are being laid. Harrow and Ortus make peace. She sees the inscription on a book flyleaf, “One flesh, one end. G & P,” the same one she saw in the (non-alt) Canaan House quarters and realizes this room belongs to Phyrra Dve and her necromancer, whose name was not Ortus, but was Gideon. On the other side, there’s a message from the Sleeper. Before she can ask Ortus about it, Abigail calls them the start the exorcism.
There’s so much to note here that we’ll move fast:
- Someone’s been hijacking Harrow’s play and overwriting it, filling her stage with images of implantation and pregnancy — the Sleeper, of course. Now we see organs, etc.: we’re inside a pregnant body, but the body is full of River water (and death), and the debris it belches out include Ninth House skeletons, pills, and containers filled with failed attempts at insemination.
- The “six armed construct” was Phyrra’s work, and the trial was devised by her and Gideon I (p. 395).
- Abigail is a spirit talker, and was able to return Isaac and Jeannemary to the River. “I would have done the same with anyone else — if only Silas had asked me; what has happened to his soul worries me horribly” (p. 396). Why? Because being “killed” while in the bubble means the obliteration of the soul.
- This is what the rest of the ghosts risk in staying to help Harrow.
- “Something has gone terribly wrong in the River “ (p. 397). Understatement.
- Ghosts to try to cross the River to get to what’s beyond. Abigail says that Isaac and Jeannemary, who never did anything evil, “should have travelled lightly through those waters” and Harrow shouldn’t have been able to call them back (p. 397). This is heresy, but Abigail holds to it. “I firmly believe that the Kindly Emperor knows nothing of that undiscovered country” (p. 397).
- Abigail is talking about a transcendence that John doesn’t know about, and doesn’t control.
- This view of the River tracks with John’s view that souls weighed down by sin or evil sink to the bottom, near the stoma. This implies that the innocent float high (recall the first alt-reality scenario in Chapter 40, when Harrow tells Ortus they’ll fight to the death, and may his soul float high on the river).
- The “undiscovered country” is from Hamlet of course. From the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, specifically referring to death: “But that the dread of something after death, / The undiscovere'd country, from whose bourn / No traveller returns, puzzles the will, / And makes us rather bear those ills we have / Than fly to others that we know not of?”
- About the land across the river, Abigail thinks there’s a “whole school of necromancy we cannot begin to touch until we acknowledge its existence” and that the “Fifth House was waning entirely due to us reaching a stultified, complacent stage in our approach” (p. 397).
- So the powerful Fifth House was also failing. No reason to think to think all the Houses weren’t in decline.
- Ortus tells Harrow that he wasn’t fully aware what was happening until he talked to Abigail and Magnus.
- He confirms that Crux planted the bomb that killed him and his mother. It wasn’t supposed to happen and he absolves her of responsibility. “Marshal Crux was not a good man … and yet, perhaps, he did what he saw was fit” (p. 398).
- Harrow tells him she treated him shamefully and has no claim on his loyalty. He asks how Gideon died.
- “So many months had passed: and yet, at the same time, she had only lost Gideon Nav three days ago. It was the morning of the third day in a universe without her cavalier; it was morning of the third day” (p. 399).
- All of Christian tradition is based on this line (which is, by the way, season- appropriate). We’re being prepared for two things: Gideon’s resurrection and the revelation that she is God’s daughter.
- Harrow tells Ortus that Gideon was murdered. “I will spit in the face of the first person who tells me she committed suicide; she was in an impossible situation, and she died trying to escape it. She was murdered, but she manoeuvred her murder to let me live” (p. 400). In other words, she sacrificed herself to save Harrow.
- I’ll wager you didn’t have “Gideon is Christ” on your Lost Tomb bingo card.
- Ortus: “If there is anything I know about young Gideon … if there was anything in her that I too understood … it is that she did everything deliberately” (p. 400).
- This undoes Harrow completely. She cries out “She died because I let her! You don’t understand!”
- But he does understand. He says that he had been weak because it was easier; he had suspected everything and knew most of what had gone on in the Ninth House. “I should have offered help. I should have died for you. Gideon should still be alive. I was, and am, a grown man, and you both were neglected children” (p. 401).
- Harrow realizes how much of his words she should refute, but can’t: “There was a part of her soul that wanted to hear it from Ortus’s lips more, even, than from the lips of God. He had been there. He had witnessed” (p. 401).
- Ortus is the only one who sees the child in her, and is able to comfort her like a brother and in the full knowledge of who she is.
- And this is why I love Ortus. This scene. This ungainly, awkward, sensitive misfit who grows into his own skin only after he’s died. And now he’s about to become a hero as he commits himself to fighting the Sleeper. Ortus, whom we despise and scarcely countenance, becomes an essential character with his own narrative and dignity.
- He tells her, “You both had more grit at seven years old than I ever had in my entire life . . . You are the most worthy heroes the Ninth House could muster” (p. 401)
- It’s all about touch: “It made her whole soul flinch, but at the same time opened some primeval infant mechanism within her, as though the embrace were a mirror: having someone hold up an image by which you could see yourself, rather than living with an assumption of your face. [Touching her with compassion and love, Ortus shows her herself.] It was not like the touch of her father or mother. [They conceived her for a purpose, rather than as an expression of family.] When she had first sat by the tomb in shivering awe, she had fancied that the Body’s ice-ridden fingers had shifted for hers, minutely. [Maybe it did, or it could be that her longing for love made her imagine it.] Gideon had touched her in truth; Gideon had floundered toward her in the saltwater with that set, unsheathed expression she wore before a fight, her mouth colourless from the cold. [Back to the pool scene, from Harrow’s perspective.] Harrow had welcomed her end, but suffered a different death blow altogether — and she had become, for the second time, herself. [She found love. I’m not saying it’s romantic or sexual love, but it’s certainly άγάπη (agape) — forgiveness and redemption.] She untangled from Ortus, more reluctantly than she’d expected” (p. 401-402).
- Both Ortus and Gideon have done what the Body couldn’t: they touched her with love. No one else ever loved Harrow for herself; they worshipped the Reverend Daughter, but no one else ever saw the person inside the role.
- Her love for the Body remains, but it’s an abstract adoration. Harrow is beginning to realize that the real loves in her life are the people who can touch her, who can see her and be with her.
- The “One flesh, one end, G&P” flyleaf makes her realize that the Saint of Duty is named Gideon, “conclusions spooling out in front of her like an unravelled tooth, in hideous naked majesty of enamel and nerve . . . What if we named her, accidentally, for him?” (p. 403).
Break here for the connecting of dots. Gideon was named for the three times her mother’s ghost cried out the word before fleeing: “Some of the nun-adepts of the Locked Tomb were sent for, those who knew the secrets for caging ghosts. Even they — old in their power then, seasoned necromancers of the dark and powerful House of the Ninth — couldn’t rip the woman’s shade back to explain herself. She would not be tempted back for fresh blood or old. She was too far gone by the time the exhausted nuns had tethered her by force, as though death had been a catalyst for the woman to hit the ground running, and they only got one word out of her: she had screamed Gideon! Gideon! Gideon! three times, and fled” (GtN, p. 23).
Recall, if you will, John telling Harrow about Gideon 1: “When he kicked that Edenite commander out an airlock, it was like seeing a man on his wedding day” (p. 228). Now, during dios apate minor, John says that Blood of Eden knew about Resurrection Beasts, “which are classified to the upper echelons of the Cohort, mind, so that was an intelligence effort and a half...” (p. 276), to which Gideon 1 says, “They knew about them. They just didn’t know what they were.” This implies that Gideon knows more than John does. Augustine proposes they all drink to Commander Wake, upon which Gideon 1 gets up and leaves. Why? Because she was his lover.
How can a ghost evade being called back by a powerful necromancer? By attaching to an object associated with its death, as Doctor Sex did in the short story. An object like, perhaps, the sword that was used to lever open her dead skull. A sword that was kept by Aiglamene for years, until she asked Harrow to sign off on it being given to Gideon to use in weapons training [full disclosure: this will be revealed next week, but it does no harm to mention it here]. Harrow says in Gideon that she never liked that sword and felt like it was judging her; in Harrow the sword hates her so much that the touch burns her and makes her throw up. Particularly determined revenants can move from one object into another (again, Doctor Sex). One of Harrow’s pre-lobotomy rules for living is that the sword never cut flesh. But it does. In her sleep, or under coercion from the revenant, Harrow plunges it into Cytherea’s dead body, after which Cytherea’s corpse begins to move. Wake has moved from the sword to the corpse.
At the same time, Harrow catches Gideon 1 being very un-Gideon-like and making out with Cytherea’s body. Gideon 1 confesses to Harrow that he sometimes “forgets.” Putting all this together with the angry letters: Commander Wake is Gideon’s mother, and also the revered head of Blood of Eden. It’s her photo that Harrow sees in the shuttle when she meets Camilla, Judith, and Coronabeth. She drifted down into the Ninth House with her day-old baby, but had not intended to die; the oxygen supply failed only a few minutes before she landed. (Gideon 1 was “like a man on his wedding day” because he thought he had saved her.) Called back, her ghost fled beyond recall because she took refuge in the sword that had cracked her brain-dead skull open. Gideon senses nothing from the sword, it having no quarrel with her. Indeed, her mother might have been happy to be wielded by her.
Harrow inherits the sword on Gideon’s death (and there’s a missing part of the story because the sword passes into John’s custody with instructions it be given to Harrow. On the Mithraeum, once Wake possesses Cytherea’s body, her objective appears to be part vengeance (the attack on Gideon 1) and part possession Harrow, as the corpse at first tries to reach Harrow on the Mithraeum, but fails. The attack on Harrow, however, shifts to alt-Canaan and the River bubble. There Wake manifests as the Sleeper, dressed as she had died. And with every kill, a vengeful revenant becomes stronger; so Wake becomes more and more powerful on both sides of reality.
Now for the letters. The first: The eggs you gave me all died and you lied to me (p. 72).
The second: The eggs you gave me all died and you lied to me so I did the implantation myself you self-serving zombie and you still sent him after me and I would have had him if I hadn’t been compromised and he took pity on me! he took pity on me! he saw me and he took pity on me and for that I’ll make you both suffer until you no longer understand the meaning of that goddamned word (p. 134).
Next up: Him I’ll kill quick because she asked me to and because that much he honestly deserves but you two mummified wizard shits I will burn and burn and burn and burn until there is no trace of you left in the shadow of my long-lost natal sun (p. 205).
You know already who the writer is. It’s the angry spirit possessing Harrow — Wake. Gideon’s mother. One of the Lyctors gave her eggs that died and she did an implantation on herself. We won’t need to wonder for long why they wanted to make a baby.. And the “he took pity on me” guy is: the guy who put her out the airlock so she could land in the Ninth House, the guy who loved her: Gideon. So who are the “two mummified wizard shits”? (wrong answers only)
The fourth is a change of pace. It’s addressed to another person: I will remember the first time you kissed me — you apologized — you said, I am sorry, destroy me as I am, but I want to kiss you before I am killed, and I said to you why, and you said, because I have only once met someone so utterly willing to burn for what they believed in, and I loved him on sight, and the first time I died I asked of him what I now ask of you.
I kissed you and later I would kiss him too before I understood what you were, and all three of us lived to regret it — but when I am in heaven I will remember your mouth, and when you roast down in hell I think you will remember mine (pp. 252-253).
If you recall, as strawbale noticed last week, Gideon 1 is not always in control of his body. He loses time. His eyes darken. Before Lyctorhood, Gideon’s eyes were dark and his cavalier Pyrhha Dve’s eyes were bright green. Obviously, they didn’t do the Lyctor process correctly, because Pyrhha emerges now and then . . . and during one of those interludes Pyrhha started a relationship with Wake, one that bled over to Gideon 1 as well. We also learn that Pyrhha loved Gideon and asked only for a kiss before she died for him. Heartbreaking.
Also heartbreaking: this vengeful spirit confesses that she will always remember her lover(s).
Now to the last note, which is found in Gideon and Pyrhha’s quarters, notably the only quarters that Wake hasn’t trashed. And here we don’t know exactly who’s being addressed, whether it’s Pyrhha or Harrow, but the message applies to both: The only thing our civilisation can ever learn from yours is that when our backs are to the wall and our towers are falling all around us and we are watching ourselves burn
we rarely become heroes (p. 403).
If Wake says they can learn this from the Nine Houses, it means that this is something the Nine Houses has done, or maybe something the founder of the Nine Houses has done. John already told Harrow that in the beginning, after the apocalypse, he created A.L. (Alecto) to be his companion. John did something in the apocalypse that was distinctly un-heroic.
When survival is at stake, anything goes. Wake says she’s learned that lesson, and she has no desire to be a hero, either.
So . . . Gideon/Pyrrha were carrying on such a passionate love affair with Wake that she says when she’s in heaven she’ll remember their mouth. At least two of the other Lyctors have been conspiring with Blood of Eden; they conspired with Wake around 20 years ago, and in retrospect Mercymorn’s absence on the planet where Harrow meets Camilla and the others feels a lot like a set-up, doesn’t it? Augustine accuses Mercy of reviving her bad old schemes of decades past. And yet it can’t be Mercy alone, since letter #3 references “you two mummified wizard shits.” Mercy, yes. Cytherea? Maybe. She’s already dead, but it’s possible she was working with them, given that someone showed up at Canaan House early and scrubbed the scene, and she was certainly canny enough to give them independent communications. Augustine? Reluctantly, but probably a co-conspirator.
It looks like everyone’s been working with Blood of Eden, doesn’t it? God’s faithful saints have been up to some shenanigans. You have to wonder whether John knows any of this; if so, how much; and whether his call for new Lyctors might have something to do with ushering the old ones offstage.
Also, stick a pin the the line, “when our backs are to the wall and our towers are falling all around us and we are watching ourselves burn.” It figures in Nona, especially the tower part.
- FInally, Abigail tells Harrow the plan they’ve hatched: they’re going to exorcise the Sleeper.
With that, I’m wrapping up this week. Next week we’ll finish. The week after, the appendices. Then on to Nona the Ninth, and Something Completely Different. Sorry for biting off so much this week, but you’ll have a week to either reread or read ahead. Onward!
Courtesy of Reading the End. Occasionally I will note a reference they don’t have.
Here is a list of things I suggested we pay attention to. Since the list is long, I’ve removed items that have been resolved.
GIDEON THE NINTH
- “Die in a fire, Nonagesimus.” (p. 47)
- Aiglamene: “Things are changing. I used to think we were waiting for something...and now I think we’re just waiting to die.” (p. 55) P.S.: Aiglamene gave Gideon the sword, and encouraged her to go to Canaan House.
- Palamedes: “Either this entire building was scavenged from a garbage hopper, or I am being systematically lied to on a molecular level” (p. 132).
- “’Down there resides the sum of all necromantic transgression . . . The unperceivable howl of ten thousand million unfed ghosts who will hear each echoed footstep as defilement….” (p. 151).
- The 10,000 year-old note that Gideon finds: “ut we all know the sad + trying realit / is that this will remain incomplete t / the last. He can’t fix my deficiencies her / ease give Gideon my congratulations, howev” (p. 210).
- It’s from Anastasia to Pyrrha, about her failure to become a Lyctor.
- “ Just hours before, she’d wrestled Harrow down in the dirt, and Harrow had scratched until she’d had half of Gideon’s face beneath her fingernails” (p. 333).
- Gideon asks Harrow what’s behind the door of the Tomb: “There’s a blood ward bypass on the doors which will only respond for the Necromancer Divine, but I knew there had to be an exploit...” (p. 357).
- The note, “CONFIRMED INDEPENDENTLY / HIGHLIGHTED BEST OPTION / ASK E.J.G. /YRS, ANASTASIA. / P.S. GIVE ME BACK MY CALIPERS / I NEED THEM” (p. 368).
- Teacher is a construct. A construct (a puppet) needs a puppeteer, but no one appears to be controlling him. Just what is Teacher? A prototype, but for what?
- Ianthe: “I’m interested in the place between death and life . . . the place between release and disappearance. The place over the river. The displacement . . . where the soul goes when we knock it about . . . where the things are that eat us” (p. 382).
- Colum Asht is possessed by something with mouths for eyes, a long blue tongue.
- God: “There are things out there that even death cannot keep down. I have been fighting them since the Resurrection. I can’t fight them by myself’” (p. 441).
- God can’t go down Canaan House. Harrow asks him why not, since that seemed to be the whole of Cytherea’s plan. “The Emperor said, ‘I saved the world once — but not for me” (p. 443). He doesn’t answer her question.
APPENDICES OF GIDEON THE NINTH
- Thanergenic planets: are powered by thanergy. Only the Nine Houses are thanergenic.
- Thanergy planets: are planets in the process of being killed by necromancy. Every part of the Empire outside the Nine Houses is made of thanergy planets, whose inhabitants are colonized, but aren’t citizens. On thanergy planets the life is slowly mutating and dying off.
- From “A Sermon on Cavaliers and Necromancers”: “Sword marriages aren’t real.” Sword marriage: a necro/cav pair married to one other person.
THE MYSTERIOUS STUDY OF DOCTOR SEX
- Dulcinea writes a letter to “My dearest pals...” Either to Palamedes or to him and Camilla both.
- The Lyctoral letter: Darling girl,
Tomorrow you will become a Lyctor and finally go where I can’t follow. I want you to keep this letter when you are far away and think of me and want me and can’t have me, and know that no matter how far you travel, nor how long the years feel, the one thing that never stays entombed is
HARROW THE NINTH
- The Mithraeum. The bovine skulls in Canaan House. Also Sprach Zarathustra.
- Harrow: “Beloved dead...let me live long enough to die at your feet.”
- John: “I mastered Death; I wish I’d done the smarter thing and mastered Time.”
- John won’t let Harrow kneel because, if she knew the whole truth, she might smack him in the face instead.
- From “The Little Mermaid”: the chance to live as a human, also the bit about sharing souls.
- There are 3 Resurrection Beasts left.
- Harrow was the 311th direct descendent of the Tomb keeper, and the 87th Nona.
- John says there’s a hiccup with FTL travel in that it destroys something to do with time and distance.
- A “thin cry of violence” and five points of light in the shuttle.
- If the Sleeper wakes, no one will survive.
- The two first-established Houses (Second and Eighth) use soul siphoning in their necromancy. Is this part of the early history of Lyctorhood and necromancy?
- John has been fighting with Blood of Eden for 5,000 years. He’s been searching for another enemy for 10,000, but we don’t know who.
- Something about jerking Ianthe’s white and bloodless heart from her body and eating it.
- Anastasia got the Lyctor process wrong. Or did she?
- Dulcinea calls Palamedes her first strand and Camilla her second. I missed this last week, but the reference from the Book of Ecclesiastes 4:12: ““Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
- Ianthe: “I always take the smartest option first . . .” Pair this with Harrow’s opinion that Ianthe dismisses as unimportant everything she isn’t interested it.
- Camilla has no hope against a Lyctor: yet.
- Palamedes cracked the question of perfect Lyctorhood. Everyone else has done it wrong (except John).
- It’s possible to assert limited structure and control in the River.
- Something has gone wrong with the River: innocents like Isaac and Jeannemarie should have passed through it “lightly” but got stuck.
- Gideon is “vital.” To something.
- Palamedes’ skull becomes a hand, “something that articulates.”
- Something happened, something was negotiated with Blood of Eden, before the Cohort arrived at Canaan House: BOE took Judith, Coronabeth, Camilla, and Gideon’s body. Ianthe knows that Coronabeth is alive.
- John says his work is “not yet finished.”
- A.L.: The First, Alecto. Who/what is she?
- House of the Emperor, his servants, and his Lyctors.
- Seat: Once Canaan House, now the Mithraeum.
- Skull: no adornment.
- Planet: Earth
- Colors: white and scarlet, martial. Home of the Cohort, God’s armies.
- Characteristics: discipline
- Necro: Judith Deuteros, age 22, (Judith beheaded Holofernes), cavalier: Marta Dyas, age 27, (Marta=martial).
- Lyctor: Ortus, saint of Duty; his cavalier: Pyrrha Dve.
- Canaan House trial: Projection and winnowing (the big bone construct). Pyrrha invented it.
- Pyrrha was a “bombshell” (John) and a “stone-cold fox” (Augustine).
- Specialty: Spirit magic, use of thanergy in battle. They siphon their enemies to strengthen their cavaliers.
- Skull: A Spartan-style helmet
- Planet: Mars
- Colors: Violet?
- Characteristics: wealth and flash
- Necro: Ianthe and Coronabeth Tridentarius, princesses of Ida, both age 21, cavalier: Naberius Tern, age 23.
- Lyctor: Cyrus; his cavalier: Valancy Trinit.
- Cyrus drew the sixth Resurrection beast into a black hole.
- Valency thinks that “one flesh, one end” sounds like instructions for a sex toy.
- Specialty: Spirit magic, “animaphilia” — lover of the soul
- Skull: Jewels in the eyeholes.
- Colors: Blue
- Characteristics: courage
- Necro: Isaac Tettares, Baron of Tisis, age 13, (Biblical Isaac foreshadows Christ’s sacrifice, Gideon Isaac foreshadows Gideon’s sacrifice), cavalier: Jeannemary Chateur, knight of Tisis, age 14 (ref to Jeanne d’Arc).
- Lyctor: Ulysses; his cavalier: Titania Tetra.
- Augustine calls Ulysses “a madman” who incited “the sexy parties.”
- Specialty: Spirit magic? It’s unclear, but Abigail Pent was training Isaac, so it’s logical.
- Skull: Wears a laurel wreath
- Planet: Saturn? (h/t RunawayRose)
- Notes: The Fourth supplies soldiers and necromancers to the Cohort. The Fourth has large families, since so many die in battle. The Fourth is first on the ground in war.
- Colors: nothing formal, but sensible brown works.
- Characteristics: Intelligence. Temporal power.
- Necro: Abigail Pent, age 37, Koniortos Court cavalier: Magnus Quinn, age 38. Husband and wife.
- Lyctor: Augustine, saint of Patience; his cavalier: Alfred Quinque.
- Alfred, with Christabel, coin the phrase “one flesh, one end.”
- Second disciple in the Resurrection.
- Alfred “led astray” by Cristabel.
- Specialty: Spirit magic, speaking to the dead. Abigail is a famed historian.
- Skull: Wears a decorated headband, possibly a crown of thorns (h/t Ahianne).
- Planet: Jupiter
- Notes: “Koniortos” = “dust” (h/t BMScott).
- Colors: gray
- Characteristics: scholarship, rare book librarian and conservatorship skills, medical expertise
- Necro: Palamedes Sextus, master warden, age 20, (Palamedes: genius Greek soldier in the Trojan War), cavalier: Camilla Hect, age 20. Second cousins.
- Lyctor: Cassiopeia; her cavalier: Nigella Shodash.
- Cassiopeia developed the magma metaphor to explain travel in the River.
- She led a Resurrection Beast into the River and was ripped apart by ghosts in seven minutes.
- Described by John as “brilliant and sensible and careful.” (HtN, p. 97). And a good cook. And an easy drunk. Protective of and/or jealous around Nigella.
- Nigella: “prettier” than Pyrrha Dve.
- Specialty: Flesh magic, emphasis on science and magic.
- Skull: Clutches a scroll in its teeth.
- Planet: Mercury
- Notes: the Sixth House developed the process of cramming numerous souls into a body. Purpose and application still unclear.
- Colors: seafoam green
- Characteristics: love of beauty, especially the fleeting type. Fans of the beautiful death and heirs with hereditary cancer.
- Necro: Dulcinea Septimus, duchess of Rhodes, age 27; cavalier: Protesilaus Ebdoma, age 39 (Protesilaus: the first Greek to die in the Trojan war). Rhodes: island in the Aegean, site of the Colossus, visited by both Herod the Great and the Apostle Paul.
- Lyctor: Cytherea; her cavalier: Loveday
- Cytherea was one of the 2nd generation Lyctors.
- Loveday was fiercely protective of Cytherea, and the rest at Canaan House disliked her.
- Second generation of disciples, the last to arrive at Canaan House.
- Specialty: flesh magic, with emphasis on beauty.
- Skull: A rose in one eyehole.
- Planet: Venus
- Colors: White
- Characteristics: orthodox purity, dogmatism, “White Templars,” the “Forgiving House”
- Necro: Silas Octakiseron, age 16; cavalier: Colum Asht, age 32, 34, or 37.
- Lyctor: Mercymorn, saint of Joy; her cavalier: Cristabel Oct.
- With Alfred, Cristabel coined the phrase “one flesh, one end.”
- First of the disciples after the Resurrection.
- Augustine calls Cristabel “a fanatic and an idiot,” and blames her for “leading Alfred astray.”
- There’s some relationship between the Eighth House and the stoma, a place that God cannot comprehend. Augustine says the House “sucks at it . . . like a teat.” Likely related to soul siphoning.
- Specialty: spirit magic, focus on soul siphoning. Also hypocrisy.
- Skull: Blindfolded, denoting blind loyalty.
- Colors: black
- Characteristics: devotion to the Locked Tomb.
- Necro: Harrowhark Nonagesimus, age 17; cavalier: Gideon Nav, age 19.
- Not-a-Lyctor: Anastasia; her cavalier: Samael Novenary.
- Specialty: bone magic.
- Skull: lacking a mandible.
- Planet: Pluto.
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