c.e. taillefer

October 22, 2016

The What If Game: The Traitor Baru Cormorant


I mean, it’s right there in the title, yeah? The Traitor Baru Cormorant. It’s not exactly a twist ending.  Isn’t it?

(spoilers, obviously)

Yes, and no, because right from the beginning Baru is a double agent.  She’s a Taranoki woman, who is scooped up by the Falcresti empire for her prodigy at math and finance when they conquer her home with trade, education and plague. Her job is to quash rebellious dukes in the fractious country Aurdwynn, as the Imperial Accountant. She does this by tanking the economy, making herself very popular with the common people, and starting the rebellion herself.  Since the empire took over her home, ‘taught them the names of sin’, killing one of her fathers, Baru has dreamt of revenge. the success of Aurdwynn’s rebellion is the key.

Except – we know from before Baru even begins the rebellion – she will not betray Falcrest.  She knows their tactics: show a prisoner an open door, and let them escape, just a little further each time. Crush their dreams every time. Eventually, they will cower away from that open door. She betrays Aurdwynn and her lover Tain Hu to Falcrest, and rises to prominence in the council that rules the entire empire.

If Baru had been an honest rebel from the beginning, and freed Aurdwynn from the Empire – forged an alliance with a powerful northern kingdom, and held the trade routes of the sea – could she have torn down the Empire from the outside? She has to believe otherwise, that she made the correct choice, or everything she sacrificed (her parents’ love, her relationship with Tain Hu, the people she began to think of as friends in Aurdwynn) was in vain. She has to go forward, because it’s madness to her to look back, and she’s half-mad already.

Normally – as a writer of fanfiction – it’s a duty or job to think “what if”, and write different stories, different endings, with familiar people and places.  Yet, I keep finding myself drawn to the liminal in-between parts – what kinds of mundane jobs do the NPCs of World of Warcraft have? What kinds of shoot-the-shit talk do Jesse and Cassidy usually have while doing chores around the church? I can’t write “what if Will Graham didn’t run off to be murder husbands with Hannibal” because frankly, that ending is too perfect to change, ever, but more “how did Molly feel about getting shot because of the man her husband then runs away with, after murdering the man who shot her?” It’s harder for me to explore ways in which Baru could have betrayed Falcrest rather than Aurdwynn, then it is for me to wonder what the same story would have looked like from Tain Hu’s perspective. She tells Baru she is her loyal general to the end; what kind of game was Tain Hu playing?

and when is the sequel coming out?


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