In the sixteenth chapter of Lady Knight, Kel and her friends take every opportunity they can to get back the children kidnapped but Stenmun, and then EVERYTHING GETS HORRIBLE IN THE WORST WAY. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Lady Knight.
Chapter Sixteen: Opportunities
I really don’t feel like I have to spell out why Kel’s a great commander because this chapter does so wonderfully. This is a wretchedly difficult situation for anyone to be in, and I’m just so amazed that for the most part, Kel pulls it off. (For the most part. I’ll get there, and then I will cry with the rest of you.)
Let’s start off with this:
Now Kel was free. She was surprised that she didn’t float despite her mail and armor. The confusion, frustration, and uncertainty of the last few months were over. Her path was clear. Stenmun was in her way, as were the soldiers he commanded, but Kel had an idea or two about how to deal with the odds against her and her people.
I can’t forget what the Chamber god had told Kel at the end of Squire: It will find you. When it does, fix it. And now, so very far from home, Kel has found the path to fix this disaster of magic and human depravity. I can’t believe I didn’t realize the implications of the end of chapter fifteen would also include this because… well, it’s been the point of the whole novel, hasn’t it? This was always leading to the point when Kel would know when the path was clear.
Of course, the path to Stenmun might have been clear, but the logistics of getting the children back – all of the children – are much more complicated. First of all, there’s all the terrifying tales of Stenmun Kinslayer himself. A six-foot-seven beast of power and muscle who crushed someone’s windpipe with a backhand, who may have skinned someone alive, and who can wield a double-headed axe like it were nothing more than a toothpick. Yeah, no thank you. Except Kel hears all of this and it doesn’t phase. Sure, she’s quick to acknowledge that Stenmun will be a force to be reckoned with once she sees him later in the chapter, but she doesn’t let this deter her plan. FOR REAL, Y’ALL:
“When the odds are against you, change the odds,” she explained. “We don’t throw a log down and try to light that for a fire. We whittle it to kindling. That’s how we’ll treat this Stenmun and his folk. We’ll whittle them down.”
Look, I know there’s that thing at the end that really represents the whole “Protector of the Small” thing AND I PROMISE THAT THE TEARS WILL FLOW AGAIN ONCE I GET THERE. But I think that Raoul’s teachings here represent another interesting theme found in the title of this quartet. So much of this series has been a David versus Goliath-type struggle. And while in some ways, Kel is tasked (by fate and by herself) with protecting the small, in other ways, she is the small. Think about her own struggle with getting the men around her to accept her as a knight, or her battles in being bullied. So it’s hard for me not to see the same dynamic here. Kel is outnumbered. No one possesses the same sheer strength that Stenmun does. The fighters are certain to use children as shields. (GAHHHHH I HAVE UTTERLY NO SYMPATHY FOR THESE SPECIFIC SCANRANS WHATSOEVER, ESPECIALLY NOW THAT I KNOW THE FULL EXTENT OF WHAT IS DONE TO THEM.) For all intents and purposes, what we’re seeing here are IMPOSSIBLE ODDS. By every standard, Kel and her friends should not have been able to save any of these kids from certain death, and yet they make the attempt regardless. That, my friends, is bravery. That’s courage. And I know I’m focused entirely on Kel because it’s her series and her journey is the one I’m closest to, but I think it deserves to be said that every person here is brave and courages. Saefas, Tobe, Dom, Wolset, Fanche, Owen, Neal, all the convicts, all the animals, Peachblossom, Magewhisper, Happy. These characters are doing what is right and just in the face of practically assured death and destruction, and it’s incredible. I mean, this is not as simple as them going in, killing Stenmun and his men, and getting the kids back. No, Kel needs Stenmun to lead her to Blayce or this is all for naught. If Blayce can still make killing devices, then what’s the point in saving her people? They’ll be kidnapped again, they’ll be murdered again, and the Scanrans will still have their immoral advantage over the Tortallans.
So Kel whittles Stenmun down. IT’S ONE OF MY VERY FAVORITE PASSAGES IN ALL OF PROTECTOR OF THE SMALL. Can we talk about what Kel and the group does???
- They use their animals and the random wildlife spread above the valley to make a racket that keeps the Scanrans from getting a restful night of sleep. That way, when their sentries fail to wake them at damn, they’ll oversleep and be unprepared/exhausted. On top of this, the children also irritate the soldiers in the process. (THEY’RE TIED TO SOLDIERS OH MY GOD THIS IS SO MESSED UP.)
- Kel and the others silently take out all the sentries.
- All of this is done so that Stenmun’s hand is forced, and he takes the bait. Instead of sweeping the woods like any good commander should do to take out those who killed the sentries, he’s forced to pack up and head straight to Blayce, since the children are more important than his own soldiers.
- Which also sows discontent and fear in Stenmun’s men, too!
- The group follows behind Stenmun to pick off people as they spread out, taking out nine Scanrans. !!!!!!
- Neal comes up with the brilliant idea of getting the sparrows to distract the men carrying reins attached to horses with children on them, which causes them to drop the reins. AND SEVEN CHILDREN ARE RESCUED OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD.
And then everything becomes awful. When Gil returned with news that an army was ahead of them, I was completely mystified as to how the hell they were going to get past this. Whittling down Stenmun’s men? I could see that being possible, especially at the rate they were going. But an army? An army???
“Where’s this army?” she whispered to Gil on her right.
“Milady – are you well? It’s there, across the road,” he said, pointing with a bony finger. “They’re at least two hundred strong, maybe more.”
I’M SORRY, WHAT THE HELL. WHY CAN’T KEL SEE THE ARMY? See, I was so used to magic that hid armies from the opposition that I didn’t think someone would create the illusion of one. Seriously, it’s a genius idea, one that works. WHICH IS UNFORTUNATE, for the record. By sowing doubt in Kel’s men, this act allows Stenmun to get closer and closer to the castle that ostensibly holds Blayce. It’s a frustrating and frightening scene, one that made me nervous because, like Kel, I was certain that once Stenmun entered the walls of that castle, the children would be dead. Plus, WHAT KIND OF MAGE CAN PULL OFF AN ILLUSION THIS (to steal a word from Neal) LAYERED???
But that’s not even that important yet. We don’t even find out who exactly created this illusion! As Saefas, Tobe, and the convicts race to block Stenmun from getting to the castle, the worst happens. (Actually, at the time, I’d assumed it was the worst, but I was SO FUCKING WRONG.)
When it leveled, Kel found that her advance party had come to a halt. Their horses reared and danced in the road, their eyes panic-white all the way around the irises. They were terrified despite Tobe’s assurances.
No. No. NOPE NO NO NO CAN WE NOT. CAN THIS NOT HAPPEN. It was bad enough that Stenmun was getting out of sight, but now there are three killing devices? Even when the group disposed of them quickly, I didn’t exactly feel better. One of the devices was uncoordinated. That detail bothered. These things were always so precise and calculated, and one of them was stumbling about, confused. Was Kel right? Was it a new soul inside of it???
But y’all, I could not deal with this:
“Lady,” Tobe called, “we got visitors.” Kel looked back.
From the trees on either side of the road came the missing villagers, men and women, armed with scythes, axes, flails, crude spears with knives strapped to them for blades, whips, and a few clumsily made bows. They spread out across the road.
I wouldn’t say that this book has made me cynical or anything of the sort, but I also have to admit that I assumed the worst. These Tortallans were in Scanra, and the villagers just witnessed Kel and her people destroying three of the machines that were helping the Scanrans holding their own against Tortall. I couldn’t help but come to this conclusion because this was the risk that Kel took when she entered this country. She was a foreigner to them. She was waging war on these people. Maybe not them specifically, but she’d certainly broken the law by crossing the borders.
So, it’s not hard to imagine my surprise when I realized that this wasn’t going to end how I thought it would. Hell, you can see the tears appear in my eyes as I read this girl’s speech:
The child stared up at her and smiled. She had vivid dark green eyes rimmed with long lashes as brown as her waving mass of hair. Her smile was full of innocent goodwill. When she grinned, she revealed a missing front tooth. After looking at Kel for a moment, she faced the villagers. “That’s the one, all right,” the girl announced. “I told you she would come, the Protector of the Small. And she’s got her knowing animals, the healer, and the horse boy, the armed men and the marked men, the trapper and the bitter mother. They’re all here. Blayce will fall.”
I didn’t expect that the name of this series would ever appear in the text itself, so that surprise was coupled with a rush of emotion on my part because… damn it, y’all, this journey is important to me. Kel is doing something that so many folks don’t do: stand up for those who need help. She does it in a way that isn’t condescending. She fights against monsters, literal and figurative, to assure that those without power have a chance in this world, and she empowers others to find their own agency, to make their own destiny. And you can call me an old sap, I don’t care, but I find it remarkably touching that this series is based on one young woman caring about the world. That’s what this is all rooted in, isn’t it? Kel cares about the world around her and the people and animals who inhabit it, and she takes that love and that sense of hope for a better future, and she acts on it. Saying she is the Protector of the Small isn’t a claim that she’s some godly figure. No, she is the one who acts. It’s a state of mind. It’s a philosophy. And I’m so proud that it belongs to Keladry of Mindelan.
Amidst this sensation of deep pride and joy, though, there was something else brewing within me: This didn’t feel right. There were tiny signs along the way. First of all, not one of the villagers seemed to panic when it was revealed that Stenmun had made it into the castle with the rest of the children. Then there were the cages with rotting bodies in them, hanging from the walls of the castle. But they weren’t the bodies of children. This wasn’t adding up.
Y’all, I did not think this could be made worse. I did not believe it to be possible. I wish I wasn’t wrong. I wish so badly that I was right about this.
“Right now he’s arranging for them to have baths, and have their hair combed and curled. He’s showing them rooms of toys and beds with clean sheets and silken comforters. Later they’ll eat food the likes of which they’ve only dreamed of.”
No. NO YOU FUCKING STOP THAT RIGHT NOW.
“He’ll talk to them, and them them they’re safe,” added the lank-haired man. “He’ll make Stenmun apologize on bended knee for scaring them. They’ll play games tonight and tomorrow. They’ll have kittens and puppies and more baths. They’ll get balm put on their chapped little hands to make them smooth as a lady’s. He won’t pick his first one for a couple of days, and that only if he’s in a hurry.”
I can’t. I can’t do this. I cannot fathom the levels of depravity in what Blayce is doing. I can’t fucking believe this.
“How do you know all this?” asked Neal. “How can you be sure?”
“My daughter worked there, till he found she was smuggling poppy to the ones he’d chosen,” said the hollow-eyed woman. “She’s hanging on the walls right now.”
I am done with this book on an atomic level. It hurts to read this because the full brunt of the brutality of what Blayce has done is really hitting me. I was in painful shock while reading this on camera, but now, I’m just sick. He groomed these children to make them feel safe just to exploit them at their most vulnerable. He did so while holding the villagers’ children hostage. And I really should have noticed just how ragged and run down the village was, because it was a sign that Blayce was willing to turn against his own people for his own perverse desires.
“He doesn’t do it because it’s needed,” said the hollow-eyed woman, her voice thick with scorn. “He does it because he likes it.”
And Maggur enables Blayce because he gets what he needs to win the war. I’m sick, y’all, and I can’t ever imagine a day that I’ll want to re-read these parts. I’m full of a visceral kind of hatred for this man, more so than any other antagonist in Tortall. He’s disgusting, and I don’t even think that word is strong enough to convey how I feel. But it’s important that I understand what Blayce has done because it explains why these villagers are so desperate for Kel’s arrival. Up until this point, we’d been led to believe that Blayce was only kidnapping children from Tortall to fuel his killing devices, so I assumed that no one in Scanra would be willing to assist the Tortallans. But this isn’t the case, and I think it’s part of the reason why the god behind the Chamber was so willing to mark Kel with this destiny. It was the horrifying potential of what this man was doing on top of what he’d already done. He was specifically preying on the innocence of children to make weapons, and it is why it’s so wrong. Well, I don’t want to suggest that if he was using the souls of adults, this wouldn’t be wrong, because that’s not the case. If Kel doesn’t stop this man, who’s to say he won’t continue to harvest the souls of children long after the war is over? What if they became part of the Scanran defense? Or their security forces?
But leaving speculation aside, Blayce’s actions are abhorrent on a cosmic level, so much so that the Chamber of the Ordeal speaks through Irnai to everyone gathered around her. Like, the fact that the god is like FUCK IT, I DON’T CARE IF EVERYONE KNOWS is terrifying enough. But how? How is she going to kill Blayce and rescue the children? I suspect the villagers have part of the plan, and Kel is resourceful. Still, with just two chapters left, I admit to being very nervous about the outcome of this final battle. And Kel HASN’T EVEN GONE HOME YET. How are Wyldon and Raoul going to react to all of this? I CAN’T. THIS IS TOO MUCH.
Please note that the original text and the videos contain the word “mad” in multiple occasions.
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