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Warning: this question is a massive spoiler for the book The Dying of the Light by George R. R. Martin.

At the end of the book, the main character Dirk t'Larien...

...throws away his whisperjewel, which he admits he can hardly sense anymore. We're given to understand this means that he's changed too much from who he was so he no longer has a psychic resonance with the person he used to be and his beloved Jenny (who also no longer exists).

How has Dirk changed?

In the final scene we're left with a cliffhanger of Dirk starting his duel with Bretan Braith. Martin doesn't explicitly tell us why Dirk decided to recommit to this duel, nor does he tell us what happens.

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3 Answers 3

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Both the above answers are correct, but primarily Dirk undertakes the duel so that Bretan Braith is preoccupied while Jaan and Gwen depart the planet. Dirk observes the spaceship leaving as he prepares to duel.

His secondary motivation is to regain his honour according to the Code Duello, and to prove he is not a mockman.

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  • Hi, welcome to the site. You could improve this answer by editing it to include some supporting evidence, such as one or more direct quotes from the book itself or the author. Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 11:52
  • Thanks! I was being a bit obtuse, it seems. There is a reference to a "rising star" in the epilogue that I didn't understand when I first read it. On second reading, it's clearly a reference to the spaceship departing the planet. Commented Sep 3, 2022 at 18:24
  • From the Epilogue, just before the duel begins: "Above Bretan's right shoulder a star was rising. Blue-white and large and very close, creeping up the black velvet sky toward zenith. And beyond the zenith, Dirk thought, to Eshellin and ai-Emerel and the World of the Blackwine Ocean. He wished them luck." Commented Sep 3, 2022 at 18:26
  • And in the previous scene before the duel (at the end of Chapter 15), we see, "'Ah, Jenny,' [Dirk] said, talking to the whisperjewel. He flicked it out away from him... He thought for a moment of Gwen and Jaan, and for several moments of Garse." In the next instant, Dirk calls for the old poet to set up the duel with Bretan. So it seems pretty definitive to me that Dirk joined the duel to save Gwen and Jaan, and to honour Garse's memory. Commented Sep 3, 2022 at 18:31
  • I'm not convinced, however, that Dirk cared if Bretan thought he was a mockman. In the Epilogue, Bretan revealed that he didn't even believe in mockmen anyway (effectively admitting that he just loved to duel), and this evoked no reaction from Dirk at all. I'm also not convinced Dirk cared about Bretan's view of honour. But perhaps he did care about Garse's opinion. Hence, why Dirk was willing to sacrifice his life to save Jaan and Gwen. Commented Sep 3, 2022 at 18:38
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I can think of the following reasons why Dirk decides to duel Bretan Braith (and as a corollary, ways in which he has changed from the original craven, selfish, and indifferent person he had been at the start of the book):

  1. Dirk has a death wish: In Chapter 12, in the aircar with Garse, Dirk told him "When I left Kryne Lamiya, I expected to die." To which Garse responded, "You are changing, t'Larien... My death wish has not waxed so greatly as yours..."
  2. Dirk wishes to honour the death of his friend and honorary clan-mate Garse Ironjade, to whom he had promised to duel Bretan Braith and then ran away to Challenge instead (especially since Garse had forgiven Dirk shortly before Garse's death). Dirk realized he had become quite selfish, and he wanted to do something for someone else for once. In Chapter 8, in the Challenge arcology, Dirk told Gwen, "I suppose you were right... About being selfish... back on Avalon I liked to think I was [a white knight]. I believed in things. Now I can hardly even remember what they were... The last seven years, I've done things... Cynical things, selfish things."
  3. Dirk wants to help Jaan and Gwen escape: For the originally scheduled duel, Garse wanted Dirk to injure Bretan before Dirk died, to make it easier for Jaan and Garse to kill Bretan in a subsequent duel. Dirk may believe that Jaan and Gwen will stand a better chance of escaping the planet if Bretan is injured. After all, during their vigil in the tower (Chapter 14), Dirk had surmised, "despite his daily ritual of drill, it seemed to Dirk increasingly unlikely that [Jaan] Ironjade could triumph over Bretan in single combat."
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As I see it, during the story, Dirk comes to at least partly respect the Kavalar culture and more specifically Bretan Braith, whom he at first despised. In addition, he discovers the hollowness of his life characterized by a lack of commitment. Hence, he decides to make good on his original promise to fight a duel.

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