This episode begins with the marching of the First Army (the human, non-Grisha part of the army) with Mal striding alongside the ranks. We see he’s been sent to deal with the Fjerdans and that this is his third letter that has been sent with no response. That he’d even gone to such lengths to bribe a squaller to get word to her but that he’d been laughed at. Whilst everyone else is getting letters from home and loved ones, the lieutenant details that General Kirigan (aka the Shadow Summoner / Aleksander / the Darkling) has put out a new open assignment, every unit is tasked with volunteering a tracking party – to add incentive the winner will receive a trip all the way to the Little Palace if they can find Morozova’s stag. Everyone chuckles like Sun Summoners before Alina’s light show in the Fold. This infamous stag is mythical, not believed to be real. Mal recognizes the drawings, having seen Alina sketch the stag time and time again throughout their youth. He knows it’s her sketch and believes that it’s her way of communicating with him, calling him.
Alina’s first question to Genya the moment she walks through the door is about whether any letters have arrived for her from Mal. But she’s met with disappointment at every turn. But her dejection doesn’t last long, knowing she’s going out for a ride with Kirigan himself. Genya shows her a kefta that he has hade made for her, a black kefta (like his) with gold embroidery patterns. Indicating her Sun Summoner status and also overtly commenting on her favour with him and her position of power and reverence. But Alina has long had an aversion to drawing any kind of attention to herself, preferring to blend in, dreaming of feeling “normal.”
Darkling – Did you not like the colour I chose for you?
Alina – You’re the only one who wears it.
Darkling – tell me, are you so anxious to be like everyone else?
Alina – Well, it would be nice to know what that feels like, someday.
Darkling – And that day is not today…
We make our way back to The Crows, who are in the planning stages of their next heist. Needing the architectural plans for the Little Palace, which of course, are kept under lock and key. Jesper is thrilled to hear this news, longing for some action and excitement, but is highly torn at having to leave the baby goat, Milo. Back in Os Alta, Kirigan and Alina are by a wishing well in the woods. Alina, during her day out with the Darkling, and seeing the etchings in the stone tell the story of the infamous Black Heretic – one of the most powerful Grishas, the one who created the Fold, the scar across the lands. The darkling asks what she knows of the tale of the Black Heretic.
“Hundreds of years ago, Anastas the King hired a Grisha as his military advisor. A Shadow Summoner / the Black Heretic. The Heretic grew hungry for more power, and the king fearing a coup, put a bounty on his head and any Grisha that stood by him. The heretic knew he was outnumbered, so attempted to create an army of his own using the same forbidden science Morozova once used to create his amplifiers. But he failed, he created the Fold instead. And was killed by it, along with countless others.
Kirigan tells her that when he was a boy, he used to run away and hide here. Once he realized that he was a descendant of the most hated Grisha in Ravka, he’d come here, throw a coin. Make a wish in the fountain, the same wish, over and over again that he could be anyone else. Expressing to her that the weight of his forbearers’ shame has been heavy on his shoulders, trying to reverse what his ancestor wrought. But that he’s never seen as the solution, only a reminder of the problem. Alina worries that if she fails, the people who are now revering her will turn on her, and she’ll be the brand-new heretic. Kirigan, knowing his audience well, reassures her, “I shall be right by your side.” Touching on and circumventing her fear of abandonment and childhood traumas. Later on, in his war room, he delves further into his own past, baring a part of his soul to her.
“I have been fighting this war, alone, for so long. I’ve buried so many good soldiers, friends. The coffers are running dry, the noose tightens. And now our own people are turning against Grisha just as their kin once did.”
I’m torn between thinking that this is quite a genuine connection and that though he is obviously a little problematic, being with Alina is bringing out the vulnerability in him. Like he’d never found anyone before he wanted to or deemed trustworthy enough to open up to. To confide in. or this could be a perfectly executed manipulation of a young and powerful girl. Either way, we’re intrigued and not writing out the fact that it could be a bit of both. Telling only parts of a story doesn’t have to be considered lying, and regardless of the use she could be off, he finds himself falling for her nonetheless.
Meanwhile, Nina Zenich, the Heartrender that the Crows were looking for, who had been abducted from her rooms, we now see is imprisoned on a Fjerdan ship. (The Fjerdans being the ones who hate Grisha and their elite members of the military, are called Druskelle). One of the Druskelle attempts to converse with Nina, offering a piece of bread as a trade for information on the Darkling, not one to give in to her captors or have a traitorous bone in her body she vehemently rejects this offer with a brusque style that becomes inherently Zenichesque. We then move to Mal and his two comrades in the snow – who, after a seemingly quiet evening, wind up getting attacked by Fjerdans. After being shot, Mal is on the cold ground, bleeding. He remembers a moment he and Alina shared. After having learned she had arrived at the army camp, he goes to find her hearing she had got put in the brig after one of the Quartermasters called her a name, and she hit him. Mal immediately seeks him out and gets himself thrown into the brig by smashing a glass on the same Quartermasters head. After being sewn up, having needed several stitches across his palm. Alina remarks, after waking up, that she and his match. Having near mirror scars on the palms of their hands.
Mal eventually kills the Fjerdans but not before they’ve slain both his men. But just when it seems as if all is lost, Mal turns around to see a certain white stag walk across the frozen tundra. It hits the audience with a painful stab to the heart, when just as Mal is admitting his own feelings for Alina simultaneously to himself and to her through a letter. “Alina, if you get this letter, know that when I told you about true north, I was talking about you. You are my true north, and I can see my way to you now.” We see an unknowing Alina ask Genya to remove the scar on her hand, the one that tied her to Mal…