Before the Citadel and Lake of Life

April 28, 2013

In chapter 9, “Before the Citadel,” Zapranoth is held at bay while the forces of the West fight Som’s guard. It has a very cinematic feel, but for some reason, I didn’t find it all that effective on this reading. I know that the next two chapter are more exciting, and I honestly found my self waiting to get to Draffut, who I find the most compelling of the three Lords of the Black Mountains.

The action picks up after the destruction of Yiggul and Kion, with the arrival of Zapranoth on the battlefield. The human fighting takes up a lot of the chapter, but I don’t find it especially memorable. After the first counterattack by the citadel guard is beaten back, attention is focused on the Demon Lord. At first, both Loford and his brother Gray are working to hold Zapranoth back, until the demon starts to sneer at the wizards—the first time since Chup’s dream in chapter 2 that we’ve heard his voice. That voice, and the malicious power it carries, seem to be enough to push Loford out of the fight, leaving only Gray to hold the Demon Lord back.

Gray summons up another elemental in this chapter, but I didn’t find it especially impressive. First come rough gusts of wind, then a storm that sweeps in to attack Zapranoth. I did like the image of an almost planar bank of cloud, moving unnaturally toward the citadel. However, when the wind arrives, the descriptions of it don’t really seem all that effective. I didn’t get a visceral feel for the wind whipping at the fighters while they closed and fought. Moreover, later in the chapter, Saberhagen describes Zapranoth as a thundercloud, which I think was a mistake. It makes the air elemental and the much mightier Demon Lord seem too similar, possibly diminishing the effectiveness of both images.

One image that is more affecting is Gray, facing off against the Demon Lord and seeming to age before his allies’ eyes, as the conflict saps his strength. Eventually, the wizard almost loses contact with everything around him except for his psychic wrestling with Zapranoth. Thomas orders fighters to prop the master wizard up on his feet, so he can hold the demon back as long as possible. But when Gray finally comes around to understand that Thomas is talking to him, all he has to say is that the defensive magic is about to fail, and Gray may die along with it. After that, Rolf finds it no longer possible even to look directly at the hazy, incorporeal shape of the Demon Lord.

When Zapranoth is ultimately released to fight, the effects are not quite as startling as I was expecting. He devours things, including the West’s warriors and the technology djinn. It’s a nice image, when his previously incorporeal shape, which the valkyries flew through without even seeming to notice, grows gigantic snapping jaws to swallow up the djinn. In other respects, Zapranoth’s presence is described (as I already noted) as being like a thunderstorm, and just being near him causes a number of the balloons to burst. Still, he doesn’t overpower the assaulting army on his own, at least not immediately. Even the mundane defeat of men with swords is something that requires his time and engagement. As the Zapranoth breaks free of Gray’s barriers, the arrival of the bulk of Thomas’s army is still an important strategic development. The Demon Lord isn’t able to entrap the whole attacking force, and so Rolf manages to get his balloons aloft again and over the walls of the citadel proper.

Inside, he sees what he’s come here looking for—his sister Lisa, who has evidently been hiding in plain sight all along. Chup’s realization about her identity was was made him conclude that he needed to see Draffut, which he does in the next chapter. However, before I get to that, I wanted to point out that, even with the battle raging, we still haven’t actually seen Som’s power to resist death. Rolf glimpses the viceroy briefly as the balloon fleet sails over the walls of the citadel. Som is recognizable because he has no fear; he will fight back the forces of the West on his own if need be. When his men flee, he stays behind, no doubt cursing them for their cowardice. However, we will have to wait until the last chapter of The Black Mountains to see what happens when someone actually turns a weapon against Som.

In the meantime, the penultimate chapter, “Lake of Life” is short but really quite remarkable. Chup finally meets the Beast Lord Draffut and learns about the nature of the valkyries and bit of the history of his world. It includes the first real description of the Old World’s waning days (from somebody old enough to remember—although not necessarily understand—what happened). There was a great war (which is no real surprise to the reader), and all the humans working at the Lake abandoned it in a mad rush.

Chup regains consciousness submerged in the healing liquid. Then the scene with Chup’s head looking down at the rest of his body is impressive and rather eerie. The fluid rolls beneath him, described vividly like a sort of transparent rainbow. There’s no blood in Chup’s arteries as the great arm of the Beast Lord pulls him out of the water, just the miraculously lit fluid, which both nourishes Chup’s brain and heals his injuries. It’s an impressive vista. I can share some of Chup’s amazement, although I as a reader can also easily imagine how the healing process might sometimes go wrong, with body parts not getting knit back together quite correctly.

Unlike much of the Old World technology that appears in the series, the material of the Lake of Life is completely unlike anything that real-world technology has wrought. It is astoundingly more advanced than the Elephant or any other vehicles. In fact, the Lake seems to have more in common with the magic of the latter days than the human technology of yore. Perhaps its power is a mixture of the scientific and the mystical—like the djinn also mixed knowledge of the Old World with conjuring feats that can only exist in the new. The water is not merely biologically active. It has affected Draffut, turned him into the intelligent, bipedal lord that he is; however, it also acted in similar fashion on “his” healing machines. The robots that ministered to the injured have become something between alive and dead. They may need the Lake of Life to sustain them, but they have developed an independence, minds of a sort, while they work along the shores of the rippling Lake.

Draffut, unlike the machines, is autonomous. He is intelligent, but he is bound here and effectively bound in service to Som’s guards by what he is, or was. Although I understand what Saberhagen was trying to portray, I find the nature of his consciousness rather difficult to comprehend or imagine. Somewhere, deep beneath his massive intelligence, remain the instinctual personality of a dog. He is permanently imprinted on mankind, and so he cannot intentionally harm a person. Yet at the same time, he has taken the beasts of the mountains—not the usual allies either of humans or domestic dogs—under his protection as well. Chup’s kindness to the furry beast that was being tortured by the demons under Som’s citadel is what brought the former satrap to Draffut’s attention in the first place. Draffut is truly a remarkable character, although I feel Saberhagen mishandled him later, especially in The Third Book of Swords.

I have always wondered whether Draffut’s name was supposed to mean anything special. I’m not certain whether it’s supposed to be reminiscent of one of the “classic” North American dog names. (I have a vivid memory from childhood of Suzanne Pleshette rattling off a list of such trite monikers in the The Ugly Dachshund. Her character disapproved of them, and I was hurt that my favorite dog name, “Butch” was on the list. However, decades later, I eventually did get a dog and did name him “Butch.”) Is “Draffut” supposed to be derived from “Dr. Ruff”? Is there some other wordplay I’m missing, or is there no connection there at all?

Next week, the Knife of Fire is in your head!

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9 Responses to “Before the Citadel and Lake of Life”


  1. Great post–you clearly *do* like Draffut the most, though your treatment of Zapranoth here is a joy to read, also (and if there’s anything special in Draffut’s name, I haven’t been able to figure it out either)

    It’s interesting that you choose to mention the battle scene as a cinematic one–I agree, the image of Zapranoth hovering over a human battlefield, driving people insane by his mere presence, is one of several, along with what’s still to come, that make me believe it would make a great film.

    Excited for the knife of fire!

    PS – May I ask how you feel Draffut was mistreated in ‘The Third Book of Swords’? That book doesn’t do so well with its own fundamental content, by the end, but I’m still curious what you’re referring to, exactly. Some of the content in ‘Swords’ regarding Draffut I find remarkable also. There’s better content than what’s below in this scene (which ends chapter 17), but I suppose it’s always been memorable to me that Draffut’s redline is intention to kill humans:

    ‘[Mars] did not turn his terrible gaze from Draffut, who stood right in his way. Mars said: “I am going to that castle, there to spend some time in killing humans for amusement.”

    Draffut said simply: “No, that you will not do.”

    At this point someone in the rear rank of the gods threw a burning boulder straight at Draffut. It seemed to come with awesome slowness through the air, and it was accurately aimed. Catching it strained his great strength, but from some reserve he drew the power to hurl it back–not at its unseen thrower. Instead Draffut aimed it straight for Mars, just as the long spear leveled for a throw. Rock and spear met in mid-air, to explode in a million screaming fragments.

    Another spear already in his hand, the God of War strode forward to do battle.’
    (Sabergahen, ‘The First Book of Swords’)

    Draffut does also appear in ‘Ardneh’s Sword,’ but I don’t think Saberhagen had the time or effort left to write that one as he’d have liked to–he was very sick, by that point–and while it explains a few things, it’s not of the same quality as ‘The Black Mountains.’

    • Buzz Says:

      I remember having the definite impression that Draffut was not well used in The Third Book of Swords. However, the whole narrative structure of that novel is pretty ragged, and the plot kind of falls apart by the end. So it’s hard to tease out the particular problems with Draffut. I do remember being quite unhappy with the way Draffut’s storyline ends though. Draffut’s continued ability to heal, even without the Lake of Life was something I was never entirely happy with, even in The First Book of Swords. However, I could accept his weakened healing powers as part of Saberhagen’s plot. Perhaps if Draffut’s healing powers had given out at the end, and the Beast Lord had died, that would have been a meaningful send-off. Instead, as he’s lying wounded, a fading god just shows up to give him Woundhealer. That seemed rather too pat, especially since the Sword of Mercy didn’t seem to have done much through the course of the book; it just seemed to be biding its time, until it finally reached Draffut, it’s logical master. (I’m not sure how I feel about that fact that Draffut evidently didn’t get to keep the sword in the later books.)


      • I’m not sure I see why the Woundhealer plot’s finish is objectionable, but it certainly is true that the book falls apart by the end, overall. The various threads are meandering and mismatched, by a certain point, but Draffut’s second fight with Mars seems hardly the most objectionable material (the finishing scene with Vulcan, somewhat moreso). That said, it’s somewhat surprising that a world marked by such structurally effective novels as ‘The Black Mountains’ and ‘Changeling Earth’ could descend into the meandering, misjudged plot of ‘The Third Book of Swords’ (and, to an extent, later ‘Swords’ books, which vary widely in quality, but clearly seem to have lost the magic of the first two by the end).

        I do think you’re right that Draffut’s ability to summon up a fraction of the lake of life’s powers, thousands of years in the future, even as his supercharged life gradually fades over the millenia, is a contradiction of original intentions (I say that as someone who read ‘Swords,’ the first three, at least, before ‘The Black Mountains’), but it seems to me a fairly harmless retcon, and one that allows the character to retain some of his more interesting characteristics for the later books, while making clear that any substantial exertion of those abilities comes only with an exceptional effort, and that they have severe, and (SPOILER) ultimately critical, limits.

        • Buzz Says:

          The later parts of The Third Book of Swords is a real debacle. So it’s hard to disentangle my distaste for the whole book from particular elements. (I also haven’t read the book in a quite long time.) I guess I felt that Draffut and Woundhealer spent a lot of the plot killing time before their inevitable union at the end.

          This got me thinking about the “Song of the Swords,” the poems about the blades from the end of the First Book. A number of them simply describe the swords’ powers (Dragonslicer, Sightblinder, Shieldbreaker, and Stonecutter). Four more contain more information, including the swords’ drawbacks. The information about Townsaver and Wayfinder is crucial to the plots of the first two books; for Coinspinner and Farslayer, the information concerns more minor plot points (which may not have been planned out in advance). The last four swords, from the Third Book, all have much more enigmatic poems. Mindsword’s poem (which the longest of all of them) also reveals something critical about the plot. It has the only foreshadowing of one of the most important facts, that the swords have power over the gods themselves, and I think it’s the only one of the swords introduced in the Third Book that comes off effectively. Soulcutter and Doomgiver get about one meaningful power scene each. Woundhealer has several scenes where it heals people, but, as I said, it just seemed to be marking time until Draffut gets it. The bizarre poem about it is (from memory, so probably approximate):

          Whose flesh the Sword of Mercy hurts has drawn no breath.
          Whose soul it heals has wandered in the night,
          Paid the summing of all debts in death,
          And turned to see returning light.

          (Incidentally, that poem, like Farslayer’s, doesn’t seem to scan.) I have no idea what Saberhagen intended with this, but he evidently dropped it entirely in the final writing.


          • It seems clear that he originally intended Woundhealer to have a drawback and contradiction of some kind, a price to be paid–though he later seems to have dropped the idea…and in a way, that type of ‘free’ power is what makes Woundhealer not particularly interesting as a Sword, a piece of magic, or a story element, and probably reflects some of the flaws of the later series.

            I agree that Mindsword comes off most effectively in the third book, though I find the wildcard implementation of Soulcutter to be effective and malevolent, even if it’s only one scene. Doomgiver I agree doesn’t work, not even really its power scene (which is the same as Som’s to an extent, but somehow more generic…I’ve triedto think what Doomgiver could have been that would have been better, but I’m afraid it isn’t easy…)

            Agreed that the poetically included flaws concerning Townsaver, Wayfinder, and more, are key to the early books’ effectiveness (the first two are both, I think, excellent stories, and the third has elements that are quite good, as well, though…. Saberhagen’s interest in the series seems to have declined along with the interest of his readers (and thus sales) as the mystery and promise of the original premise proved difficult to put down in a concrete fashion (this is a danger in fantasy…) and the last few books proved especially unsatisfying (I’m not sure at what point he decided he was ‘wrapping things up,’ but he doesn’t bother to follow through on the return of Wood, even… In any case, it’s too bad he couldn’t have finished the series properly with a better set of books after the first two….perhaps it was an impossible task, the premise itself put him in a corner. Who knows.

            (And, though I think scanning is in the tongue of the beholder… you may be more right than not on ‘Woundhealer.’)

            • Buzz Says:

              I forgot to mention that the name “Woundhealer” is the only one that isn’t revealed until the Third Book. When the name was announced, I was quite disappointed. Having read the poem about it, I was expecting the Sword of Mercy to be something much more exotic than a mere magical healing device.

              More generally, the portrayal of the swords and their powers gets more pedestrian as the (original) series progresses. Compare Townsaver at the beginning of the First Book and the end of the Third Book. Initially, the sword fires up unpredictably, and it can kill the wielder if it isn’t used to defend noncombatants. By the end, it activates and deactivates almost like clockwork. Moreover, the disguises created by Sightblinder in the First Book are much more subtly portrayed than in later encounters. At first, the emperor is disguised by giving him a mask; later, he appears to Mark as his father, although there seems to be more to giving that impression than mere physical resemblance. Coinspinner’s behavior toward the beginning is much more enigmatic than it is by the end. And even the first appearance of Farslayer is quite uncanny, in comparison with the way Vulcan uses it later.

              In fact, even the icons that appear on the swords get noticeably less interesting after the First Book. The symbols for Townsaver and Dragonslicer are quite intricate. By the Third Book, the symbols include a circle and a blank spot. Saberhagen’s creativity even in this regard seemed to be fading significantly. So I find it rather puzzling that while he was finishing The Third Book of Swords, which didn’t seem to have any idea where it was going, Saberhagen was nonetheless planning to write more books. He lays the groundwork for the further series by destroying Townsaver (which he’d already written a whole book focused on) and Doomgiver (which he was tacitly admitting he didn’t know how to handle effectively).


  2. (Doon, responding to Mark’s answer to the question of which Sword he has: that he has the one he needs)
    ‘ “So?” Doon raised at eyebrow, considering this. “It seems that you do. But we’ll see. I’ve never yet given up on a fight–even against a god–nor lost one, when I had to win.” ‘

    The more mystery there is to the Swords, the better they work, I suppose. The more the details must be nailed down, the less interesting they seem to be, though you may well be right that it didn’t have to be this way–the end of the second book includes mysterious details such as the necessity to touch the two sword-blades together in order for Stonecutter to function at that time, something which was never developed…there does seem to be a simplifying and a change in the creativity put into the swords in the Third Book, something I hadn’t realized before…and it’s difficult to assess without thinking hard just how much Saberhagen was in a corner, and how much he didn’t do as well as he could or should have.

    The reason he wrote more Swords books is because they were apparently–especially at the beginning (the first two, as I’ve said before, being clearly the best)–the best-selling of all his work. Thinking back, I think there actually was a moment in the 80s when the Swords were a pretty well-known entity in the fantasy world, before their sales dropped with apparenty fading of their creative potential.

    The first two are still pretty great. The scene near the end of the Second Book introducing Farslayer and the one with its symbol turned down, that begins to tap-tap-tap like a hammer working at the hardest sort of metal as Farslayer’s madness gives way to tension and confrontation is pure gold:

    (TEASER ALERT):

    ‘The cry, when it came, even muffled by great distance and by walls of rock, was truly unlike anything that Ben in his whole life had ever heard before. For a moment he could think only that the earth itself must be in torment. Or that the gods were fighting again among themselves, and some landquake was coming to bring the whole headland crumbling down, carrying all the caves and creatures and treasure inside into the sea. The cry went on and on, beyond the capacity of any human lungs to have sustained it. Then silence fell again.
    And Doon was laughing.

    A girl’s fainting or dying was of no consequence to Doon. “One god is dead,” he said. “I’ll be my own god now, with these.” He took a determined step toward the tree of Swords, and stopped just as suddenly as he had moved. One of the three Swords that hung there had come sighing out of its black sheath into the hands of Mark, and Mark now stood confronting him.

    “All three of these are going to Sir Andrew.”
    “Oh? Ah?”
    “Yes…if you’re willing to come with them, he needs good fighting men, as much or more than he needs any metal.”

    The Baron squinted at him. Then asked, almost happily: “Which one do you have there in your hands, young man? I took no complete inventory when I came in; not after I had seen the one I needed.”
    “I have the one that I need now,” said Mark. And the Sword in his hands had come to some kind of life, for it was throbbing faintly. Ben could hear it, though it was almost too low to hear: the tap tap tapping as of some distant but determined hammer, working at the hardest metal.’

    • Buzz Says:

      The hammer is a very conventional military metaphor. I think the first appearance of Shieldbreaker works quite well, because it combines the swordplay with that hammer imagery. The sound of the hammer is effective. It’s metallic, like the sword, and capable of crushing all opposition. In comparison, the fourth sword in that book, Stonecutter, seems quite anticlimactic.

      In The Third Book of Swords, Shieldbreaker is used a lot less effectively. Saberhagen must have realized that it was almost too powerful for the setting, so he gave it two separate drawbacks. First, Sir Andrew is unable to stop himself from killing Dame Yolde when she attacks him under the influence of Mindsword. (As I recall, there’s an unpleasant image of him cutting off her hands.) Overcome with grief, he tosses the sword away and dies. The purpose of this device seems merely to have been to get the sword into the hands of Vulcan. Unfortunately, no force of arms could have wrested it away from Sir Andrew. I don’t think there’s really any explanation of what happens to Shieldbreaker immediately after Andrew’s death; it just shows up in a place that’s convenient for Vulcan to get ahold of it, so the god can be undone by the sword’s other limitation.

      It doesn’t surprise me that the first two books in the series sold very well. They were marketed very heavily, the way potential fantasy best-sellers are, with posters and separate displays in the book stores. The effort obviously benefited from a very good cover design; the dragon-hilted sword was extremely eye-catching. I think that, even in terms of the quality of the visual design, there was a big step down in quality with the Third Book. The color scheme was garish, and the characters depicted on the sword hilt were not very compelling. (I don’t know if I even figured out what the big face was supposed to be.)


      • I agree with most of your comment, and am particularly interested to hear of the marketing campaign for the first books, which I’m too young to remember. I’d dearly love to have one of those posters.

        That said, your overconfidence in sweeping statements you make about, say, hammers being clear ‘military metaphors’ is…grating. The simple white hammer, in this book, where we’ve been used to more complicated heraldry on the swords’ hilts, is impressive in its simplicity, ambiguity, and suggestiveness, but as the scene suggests when it drops the Sword’s epithet into the middle of the scene, once the hammer’s tap-tap-tapping has gotten up and running and Shieldbreaker is knocking over heavy shelves with the remains of metal it cuts up and slings out of its opponents’ hands in high-velocity scrap, the most direct connection of the Sword’s symbol seems clearly connected. It’s no accident that Saberhagen introduces this Sword by what it is, rather than what it’s -named-, in the middle of a most impressive fight scene.

        The Sword of Force.


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