Reading “The Kindly Ones: 10”

I have to admit that after all the stuff that happens in the previous issue, this one feels just a little thin.  Things are still happening, but the vast majority of the issue centers around events in Faerie, which up until this point has been a sort of free floating thread that lacked much direct connection to what’s going on with Dream.  Really, up until this issue it wasn’t entirely clear where Gaiman was going with Nuala’s sudden reclamation by Titania.

Of course, everything falls into place pretty neatly as we hit the last row of panels, where Dream explains to Nuala the current unpleasantness with the Furies tearing the Dreaming apart and assures her that they can’t do any real damage while he remains present there.  Nuala’s observation that Dream isn’t in the Dreaming while he’s speaking with her serves as a pretty emphatic endpoint.  It’s no wonder that this issue also marks the breaking of the thread that’s been featured in the first panel of every issue of the story arc so far.  Back in #57 that thread was established as the life line of someone that the Fates were preparing to cut off, and a lot of the context of the story suggests they’re talking specifically about Dream.  The thread’s been getting pulled tighter and tighter over the course of the arc, and it finally reaches its breaking point here, which is fitting since Dream’s disappearance from the Dreaming really marks the point where he’s irreversibly doomed (this also happens to be the first issue where others begin to speak of Dream in the past tense, even though he’s not technically dead yet).

Besides a couple of brief scenes showing the Furies murdering various denizens of the Dreaming, our real focus here is on Puck and Nuala.  Puck, you’ll recall, has been Loki’s partner in the scheme to kidnap Daniel Hall, though he was curiously absent for much of that plot after his initial appearance.  Here he emerges from the shadows to congratulate the Corinthian on succeeding, and refuses to explain himself before disappearing back to Faerie, from which he’s been absent for some three hundred years.  Puck’s involvement up to this point has been mostly a mystery; his decision to stay in the mortal world didn’t actually concern Dream at all, so his alliance with Loki appears to be born mostly out of a need to entertain himself.  Puck is a trickster, and he admits in this issue that the mischief he causes is mostly motivated by his need to be true to his inherent nature.  It’s hard to view Puck as a villain in light of this explanation, even though his actions directly harm a lot of sympathetic characters.

Puck’s note about being true to himself does sting in a particularly harsh way in this issue, where Nuala creates an uproar at court by appearing before Titania without a glamour (this moment is preceded by Cluracan soliloquizing about the subversive nature of violating local custom; while a drinking buddy claims there are no taboos among the Fae court, Nuala’s entrance puts the lie to that observation quickly).  I always feel especially sympathetic to Nuala, because she’s a woman struggling to establish her own identity while other people use her as a pawn in their games.  Her introduction was as a gift to Dream from Titania, and she found herself unable to escape such a contract.  After she grew accustomed to her job as a servant in the Dreaming and even began to enjoy it, her brother Cluracan strode in to beg her release on Titania’s behalf without stopping to ask if Nuala would be happy with that arrangement.  Since returning to Faerie she’s been bristling under court customs that she finds tiring and disingenuous in comparison with the straightforward and uncapricious expectations of Dream’s household.

Cluracan once again undermines Nuala’s wishes in order to “help” her. (Artwork by Marc Hempel)

Nuala’s moment of rebellion feels like a direct parallel to Puck’s reappearance in this issue, and it highlights a significant double standard.  Nuala is not directly harming anyone with her desire to remain unglamoured, and her defense that she simply feels more comfortable echoes Puck’s talk of being true to his nature.  Glamours are built on the premise of careful presentation of a persona that hides the true self.  Faerie here is all about image, and Nuala has lost her taste for that game; she’d rather be a humble elf.  Puck enjoys the position of Auberon and Titania’s court jester, meaning he’s allowed to be as disrespectful and disruptive as he wishes.  He’s also left to appear like himself; never is it suggested that he or any of the other non-elf inhabitants of Faerie must be glamoured in the queen’s presence.  No one even bats an eye at Puck despite his long absence, where Nuala is so disruptive that Cluracan puts a glamour on her himself to smooth over the situation.  That this leaves Nuala stuck with an appearance she doesn’t want (apparently the rules of glamours say that they can only be removed by the person who places them) and robs her of perhaps her only avenue for escaping Faerie receives no comment in the issue, but the subtext is pretty heavy.  Nuala’s choices don’t matter to the people around her; she’s meant only to be a pretty thing in Titania’s collection.

Of course, this whole series of events serves as Nuala’s breaking point; she decides to use the boon Dream granted her when he released her from his service, and she calls him to Faerie.

At this point, I again want to reiterate that I think Dream is setting himself up to die.  Whether or not he could predict that Nuala would use her boon at the worst possible time isn’t really important.  We see Dream answer her call immediately, and he hardly attempts to explain that Nuala shouldn’t be calling on him at that particular moment.  It seems like it would be a simple matter to tell her that his realm is under attack, but he chooses instead to acquiesce when she insists that she needs to speak to him face to face.  He seals his own fate, and I don’t think it’s just because of his rigid attachment to obligation.

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