Warhost of Vastmark

By Janny Wurts

This is a spoiler discussion post about Warhost of Vastmark as part of my Wars of Light and Shadow (re)read. The intention is to talk openly about this book and why I think it is masterful, and to encourage discourse with others who love this series. Or don’t. If you haven’t read this book and think you might want to at some stage, close this post now. You have been warned.

This book opens immediately after the end of Ships of Merior. If you have the hard cover version, this book is actually part of Ships of Merior.

After burning Lysaer’s fleet in an attempt to buy time to finish his ships and escape the continent, Arithon returns to Merior and instead of finding completed ships as he expected, he finds burnt out hulls and lumbar, and all of his shipyard employees holed up drinking. This is a devastating blow to Arithon and he gets everyone working to build a ship or two from the wreckage. Despite this, he has no enmity towards the person who torched his dream for freedom. Instead he nurses Tharrick back to health and makes his displeasure well known to those who mistreated him. Even before Arithon realised who Tharrick was, what he had been through, and why he had torched the shipyard, his compassion would not allow him to see someone who had wronged him misused in such a way. But he also starts a punishing routine of attempting to complete a ship in time. He does, but it is no longer in time to be able to escape the continent, as Lysaer is on his trail and bringing a vast warhost south. I did wonder why he didn’t take his opportunity to escape, in the few weeks he had. Perhaps he knew that Lysaer wasn’t going to bring the warhost without letting them loose somewhere. Or perhaps he needed more time to be able to properly provision for a journey across the sea.

In making his stand at Vastmark, Arithon is trying to keep the clans and those loyal to him safe. He doesn’t want a repeat of Tal Quorin. So he picks a place of his choosing. And yet still he doesn’t want to cause a massive loss of lives. So scrys, at great danger to himself, to see how he can avoid the most loss of life. Just as he did before Tal Quorin when trying to save some of the clans. This leads him to slaughter 500 people at The Havens. This was supposed to get back to Lysaer and have him withdraw the warhost. Instead Lord Diegan intercepted the message, assassinated the survivors and ensured the warhost advanced. Too late, Diegan discovered his error, and in another tragedy, a clansman killed him before he could sound the retreat.

Lysaer’s statesmanship and persuasive way of talking, combined with his way of twisting every action of Arithon’s has an unerring ability to turn even people who have had a good relationship with Arithon into being set against him. This was seen in Merior to its greatest extent, but he also uses this to recruit everyone to his campaign, from the townsfolk to the s’Brydion brothers. He has no remorse for the numbers of lives thrown away for his cause. The curse has twisted him so much, and his want of “revenge” against Arithon is so great. After the slaughter in Dier Kenton Vale, his words show as much:

“Had I the same number over again, I would do so for the same cause. Our losses here prove the true scope of the danger.”

Upon his retreat at Vastmark, he sees how people are towards Asandir, even those who are afraid of magic and the fellowship. And he very purposefully decides to use this gift and twist it further – to raise himself as a god. For how else will he keep getting people willing to sign up to throw their lives away.

He must stand before people of all kingdoms as a presence beyond mere flesh and blood. Only then could he raise the inspiration to fire men to offer themselves in sacrifice.

And his bias is so deep that when Talithe is returned from being Arithon’s hostage, and dares to suggest Lysaer leave the crusade and come home, he casts her aside. He loves her, but his hatred towards Arithon is stronger.

Amongst all the tragedy of this volume, there is a shining arc. That of Dakar. He is repeatedly shown even stronger evidence that all of his bias towards Arithon has been based on misunderstandings and fabrications. During the joint healing attempt of the little shepherd girl, he sees the depths of Arithon’s compassion, but he twists this act, thinking it is some ploy against him. Instead he decides to stand strong and keep watch. He does this not only because of the depth of his bias, but due to having to acknowledge what that bias says about himself.

He dare not re-examine the hour of Desh-thiere’s revenge lest he encounter and unthinkable truth, that the past might no longer support his beliefs

He starts to get a stronger feel for the truth, and closer to admitting it, when he approaches Lysaer as Arithon’s agent in the return of Talith. And this is cemented after the scrying ahead of the battle. He realises that Arithon has always sought to disarm conflict. While Lysaer was misleading men to war under a false cause, Arithon was trying to give back the

free option to retreat, and live, and return to their hearthstones and families.

He had to conclude that he had backed the wrong brother. And all he had thought against Arithon was based in a deep misunderstanding of how Arithon comported.

The conclusion he had to bear forward was forthright in simplicity: that Arithon s’Falenn was no criminal at all, but a creature of undying compassion whose normal bent was to celebrate an irrepressible joy for life

With the hectic nature of war, Dakar forgets to warn Arithon of his vision, now that he doesn’t want Arithon dead, and rushes to intervene at the time. He knows that the arrow that has been spelled by the Koriani Prime will unravel the longevity spell and kill Arithon, so he jumps in front of it as there is no time for any other course. Asandir was there, looking on, waiting for the moment of Dakar’s decision, before acting to save him. It seems he had faith in Dakar that he would prevail over his deep-rooted bias in the end. And after being healed, Dakar realises himself why he had been tied to Arithon.

Hindsight showed his service to Arithon was no penance after all; just a difficult lesson brought to full circle

This book is tragic choice after tragic choice, and none of the main cast of characters are spared from this, for even decisions that appear to be small or benign, can have severe consequences. This volume in the series highlights the mastery of Janny Wurts, and is my favourite of books 1 to 3. As my reread continues, it will be interesting to see if any of the following volumes takes it out of the top spot.

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