Thinking About Dragaera: Teckla

“I don’t need advice on my marriage from a Verra-be-damned… no, I suppose I do, don’t I? All right. What would you do?”

“Ummm… I’d tell her if I had two teckla I’d give her one.”

Teckla is the third Vlad Taltos1Edited to add: I originally described it as the third Dragaera novel, but technically speaking, that’s Brokedown Palace.  Like I mentioned in the introduction, I may or may not be discussing that one at some point. novel, published in 1987.  Chronologically, it takes place right after Jhereg.

I had hoped to get this posted in time for May Day (aka International Worker’s Day), but so it goes.

About teckla

Teckla are small, mousy rodents.  Dead teckla are one of Loiosh’s favorite snacks (and this appears to go for other jheregs as well).

About Teckla

Frightened teckla hides in grass…

The House of the Teckla comprises the vast majority of Dragaerans.  Teckla is the house of the peasantry and the working class; out of seventeen Houses they are the only ones not to be considered “noble”.  Anyone – Dragaeran or Easterner – may join the House of the Teckla by swearing fealty to a Dragaeran noble (i.e. any member of the other sixteen Houses); most Teckla work as tenant farmers, enlisted/conscripted soldiers, or other jobs where the main need is simply lots of bodies.  Teckla are widely considered to be cowardly and subservient; their only advantage seems to be population, which the Teckla maintain with a relatively high rate of fertility.

About Teckla

Vlad is flush with the money from his assassination of Mellar and is contemplating what to do with it (a castle for Cawti, perhaps?); he’s realized he may not need to work (or “work”) anymore.  He discovers that his wife is working with a group of dissidents in South Adrilankha (where most of the city’s Easterners live), when one of her compatriots, Gregory, arrives at his home to tell Cawti that another of their group, Franz has been killed.  It turns out that Franz was killed by the Jhereg (specifically on the orders of Herth, the Jhereg boss who runs South Adrilankha), because of the group’s interference in Jhereg criminal activities.

Vlad gets drawn into the conflict through Cawti’s involvement, in a few ways.  He is concerned about her safety, because he assumes that sooner or later either the Empire will show up to put them all down or the Jhereg will continue killing them individually.  As he is certain that the group has no chance to change anything, he believes that Cawti is risking her life to no end.  This concern is cemented when he is tortured by Herth’s people himself because of his connection to the group, and after his people rescue him from the torture he becomes aware of an assassin who intends to kill him.

Vlad spends much of the novel either tailing his wife to try to protect her, or arguing with her comrades about their grievances and goals.  He sees Kelly’s group as hopeless idealists who are endangering Cawti’s life with their naivete; they see him as an amoral, money-driven killer.  The fact that the dissidents win a small victory during a protest over some murdered Easterners – convincing the Empress to agree to investigate the murders and withdraw the Phoenix Guards sent to break up the protest – only convinces Vlad further that the movement is doomed.  Cawti is furious with Vlad’s interference, and he tries repeatedly to convince her that she should abandon the cause.

As tensions in South Adrilankha continue to increase, and as his relationship with Cawti continues to degrade, Vlad’s behavior becomes more erratic.  At one point he arrives at Kelly’s headquarters intending to murder Kelly and his staff in order to decapitate the nascent revolution and end Cawti’s involvement, but he is stopped by the ghost of Franz, who seems content with the upheaval his death has caused (and the fact that his comrades were able to use it to rally others).

After Vlad incites tensions further by breaking up some of Herth’s criminal activities while blaming it on Kelly, he forges an invitation from Kelly to Herth to draw both Herth and his hired assassin out.  The assassin is killed by one of Vlad’s men as Vlad confronts Herth in Kelly’s office, but Kelly convinces Vlad not to kill him.  In the process, Vlad has to face the fact that the discussions he’s had over the past few days have exposed a side of him he hasn’t wanted to acknowledge – he is the amoral killer Kelly accused him of being.

Vlad walks away from the conflict not sure how either his troubles with Cawti or his war with Herth is going to end, but then he realizes he can use the money from his assassination of Mellar to buy Herth out, taking control of South Adrilankha himself.  Cawti comes back and agrees to try to work their problems out; it’s clear they’re not out of the woods yet, but they at least reach something of an understanding.

The Teckla Thesis

Let me preface this with a bit of a story.  When I first read Teckla, in 2005 or so, I was convinced that Vlad was the protagonist of this story.  It’s his series, right?  He’s the one making the heroic decisions.  Clearly the people set in opposition to him – both the Jhereg trying to kill the revolutionists, and the revolutionists futilely trying to overthrow the Empire – are in the wrong.

Since then, I’ve matured as a reader, and I’ve also learned more about the author’s politics.  Teckla addresses Steven Brust’s politics more directly than any of his other novels (or at least, those others that I’ve read so far).  Per his website, Brust self-identifies as a “Trotskyist sympathizer”. A full discussion of Trotskyism is beyond the scope of this post, but I think that understanding that Trotskyists believe in international socialist revolution and the dissolution of the state is sufficient for the purposes of discussing Teckla2Brust’s site refers the reader to the World Socialist Web Site for more information.  The WSWS is a publication of the International Committee of the Fourth International, an organization founded by Leon Trotsky and his supporters to combat both capitalism and Stalinism.  One interesting point about Trotskyism, though, is that neither the Teckla nor the Easterners appear to be a sufficiently developed proletariat for the purposes of Trotskyist theories about how revolutions work; Trotsky believed that the peasantry alone were incapable of socialist revolution..  But even discarding authorial intent (which I try not to put much stock in anyway), I feel like I understand the statements of the text itself much more clearly now – and Vlad doesn’t come out looking very good this time around.

Teckla are known3Which is to say, believed by nearly everyone in Dragaera with any political authority whatsoever. to be cowardly and subservient.  To be Teckla is to spend your life serving the interests of other, more powerful people – and to accept your lot without complaint.  We meet a few different Teckla mixed in among the Easterner revolutionists, but the most Teckla-ish character in the novel is Vlad.  Most of his behavior in Teckla is driven by fear – fearing for his own life, fearing for Cawti’s, and fearing what he’ll see if he examines himself too closely.  His arguments with the revolutionists (including his fights with Cawti) mostly consist of Vlad defending, or declaring the impossibility of changing, the status quo, which includes his own subservience to the Jhereg Organization as well as the Easterners’ and Teckla’s subservience to every other Dragaeran in the Empire.

The Teckla Antithesis

The antithesis of the Teckla behavior is to fight for what you believe in.  If society puts you in a disadvantaged position, don’t just passively accept it – push back and try to make things better.  Even if the chances of success are low; even if it could cost you your life.  This is what Kelly, Cawti, Franz, and the rest of the dissidents are doing, and this is what Vlad cannot accept.

Another Teckla antithesis is holding and wielding power and authority.  Paresh, a Teckla and one of Kelly’s group, tells a story about a fire that ravaged his master’s territory.  Paresh went to the castle and found everyone dead, and began ruling the castle himself, as well as teaching himself sorcery from the library full of tomes his former master had kept.  A year later, another noble came calling and chased Paresh out of the castle – but not before being surprised by Paresh’s skill with sorcery.  He lost the castle then, and the authority over it that he had briefly claimed, but the power he gained from his study of sorcery remained.  Though Paresh remains a Teckla, his desire for the ability of self-determination – as much its own sort of power as sorcery – sets him apart from the stereotypical Teckla.

(For Jhereg and Yendi, I used the House of the Dragon as the antithesis example, and it would be applicable here too – if anything, Dragons and Teckla are even more opposed than Dragons and Yendi are.  But the Dragons don’t have much if any presence in this story, and Kelly’s organization exemplifies the antithesis sufficiently themselves.)

Synthesis

The climax of Teckla is the confrontation triggered by Vlad drawing Herth to Kelly’s office under false pretenses.  Vlad has been acting out of fear for the entire book, and he believes that killing Herth is the only way to resolve the conflict in which he has involved himself.  Vlad’s typical response to fear is to lash out, often unwisely, but he has enough skill to prevent that tendency from putting him in more danger than he can handle.  So, shortly after Herth enters Kelly’s office, Vlad is there and Herth’s bodyguards are dead, incapacitated, or otherwise out of the fight.  Despite his cowardice, Vlad is still willing to fight for something, and stabbing people that have offended him (or are in the service of those who have offended him, or have simply appeared to be a threat) is easier than self-reflection at this point.  After all, he’s much more practiced in the former than the latter.

Kelly intervenes, saying that Herth is “our enemy”, not Vlad’s.  Whether he means the revolutionary organization or the Easterners of Adrilankha in general, he means to exclude Vlad; at this point, Kelly sees Vlad as no better than any other noble Dragaeran.  But despite the confrontation that he’s been leading so far, Kelly believes that there must be a way for Vlad to ensure Herth doesn’t come after him without murder.

On the axis between Teckla cowardice and the anti-Teckla courage of one’s convictions, Vlad splits the difference here.  He is brave enough to acknowledge that he is imperfect and selfish, but still lacks the courage to examine himself in detail.  He hides from himself even as he curses Kelly for forcing him to face himself: “I respect you, and I respect what you’re doing, but you’ve diminished me in my own eyes, and in Cawti’s.  I can’t forgive you for that.”  He says he’d love to torture Herth, but then he simply threatens him with non-specific retribution if he tries anything, and walks away – which itself takes a certain sort of bravery.

Vlad’s buyout of Herth is almost an anti-climax, a somewhat convenient way of defusing the remaining danger.  Along with everything else, it shows that there is a middle path between being too scared to try to make anything better and feeling like you can just fight your way out of the situation you’re in.  Sometimes you have to compromise and seek a solution that everyone can walk away from.

Other interesting notes

  • The novel is prefaced by a brief note of instruction from Vlad to a laundry and tailor shop about how to clean and repair various garments.  The instructions are then split into seventeen parts to subtitle each chapter; each subtitle addresses some bit of damage or dirtiness that his clothes suffer during the events of that chapter.  I presume that the launderers and tailors are themselves Teckla (though I don’t think it’s ever specified); the subtitles serve as a constant reminder that Vlad considers himself above the menial work with which most Teckla make their living.  (Similarly, the preoccupation with ensuring every single cut or stain is repaired or cleaned is something that your typical Teckla likely has no time or money for.)
  • The events of Teckla lead more-or-less directly into the events of Phoenix, which I’ll be discussing in a couple weeks.  This is one of the cases where the chronology of the series (and/or the order of publication) is important; while reading Phoenix before Teckla isn’t completely impossible, there is a lot of context that would be difficult to pick up on the fly.
  • Edited to add: On Twitter, @BarrenHillBaker points out a connection I had missed: the noble that comes calling on Paresh in the castle identifies himself as the Duke of Arylle.  This is a title that holds some significance to the events of The Phoenix Guards, and Paresh’s description matches Aerich (one of the four titular guards of the book, and eventual holder of that duchy).  This also reminded me of another connection that I had noticed myself but forgot to mention – the leader of the Phoenix Guards during Teckla is Khaavren himself, main protagonist of the Khaavren Romances (of which The Phoenix Guards is the first book).  Taltos talks to him briefly while trying to defuse one of the conflicts between the Guards and the Easterner and Teckla protesters.

Next time

The fourth book in the series (by order of publication) is Taltos.  Thus far we’ve discussed the thesis and antithesis for three specific Houses, but to continue that pattern, we’ll need to address the question: What does it mean to be Taltos?

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Edited to add: I originally described it as the third Dragaera novel, but technically speaking, that’s Brokedown Palace.  Like I mentioned in the introduction, I may or may not be discussing that one at some point.
2. Brust’s site refers the reader to the World Socialist Web Site for more information.  The WSWS is a publication of the International Committee of the Fourth International, an organization founded by Leon Trotsky and his supporters to combat both capitalism and Stalinism.  One interesting point about Trotskyism, though, is that neither the Teckla nor the Easterners appear to be a sufficiently developed proletariat for the purposes of Trotskyist theories about how revolutions work; Trotsky believed that the peasantry alone were incapable of socialist revolution.
3. Which is to say, believed by nearly everyone in Dragaera with any political authority whatsoever.

2 comments ↓

#1 Natalie Lias on 08.31.16 at 7:47 am

I guess I assumed the tailor was a Chreotha – that’s kind of a Chreotha job right?

#2 Chris Battey on 08.31.16 at 10:55 am

Perhaps! They’re not referenced in Teckla beyond the letter, addressed to “Leffero, Nephews and Niece, Launderers & Tailors”, so we don’t know for certain. My intuition is Leffero is a Teckla rather than a Chreotha because his shop’s focus is on cleaning and repair rather than creating; I’d expect a Chreotha tailor to be a clothier or some other form of craftsman.

That said, there’s not a lot of upward mobility among the Chreotha nobility. Paresh mentions in his story that Chreotha titles are strictly hereditary (and presumably that goes for most of the family wealth as well); if Leffero’s family is descended from a couple generations of second (or later) children, they may not have the same freedom to choose how they apply their craft that wealthier and titled Chreotha do.

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