November 2010


A new little thingy I’m going to do here, to hopefully have a bit more content on this blog, is do a “Top Five” of some sort every Tuesday. I probably won’t do something quite so cliché as “Top Five Fantasy Series EVAR!~!!1!,” but I will probably get pretty close to that stereotype – after all, if I was really creative, I would be a published author, not a blogger who talks about authors. :)

This week, we’re going to look at the Top Five Fantasy Book Covers. It should be obvious that this is simply an opinion (though certainly, a correct opinion), and I will be going only on books that I have actually seen in person and read (I’m not going to go scouring the intrawebz for all the fantasy art ever, that’s ridiculous. I’m just going to look at my bookshelf). I’m basing these rankings on an arbitrary standard of artistic quality, the degree in which the artist captures the characters/scenes from the books, and what kinds of emotions the art evokes in me. That should probably be good enough for now. Here we go.

#5 – Fitzpatrick’s War

Cover Art to "Fitzpatrick's War"

Okay, so this first one doesn’t technically constitute as fantasy, but it’s close enough in my opinion. I went into a local used books store about two years ago, and while just browsing around the fantasy section, came across this book. I had no idea what it was about, and did not even bother reading the description. I just loved the cover so much that I stuck it in my basket, and thirty minutes later, it was with me on my way home. Though the book actually takes place on earth in the future, the cover makes me think of a nation going to war in a time when magic was the only energy available to power up airships. Tom Kidd, the artist (also sometimes known as gnemo, apparently), seems to really love drawing zeppelins and airships. Click below for a larger, ‘unbranded’ image of the art.

Cover Art for Fitzpatrick's War

#4 – The Thousand Orcs

Cover Art for The Thousand Orcs

Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s one of those books with that guy in it. But seriously, that cover is pretty stout, and Todd Lockwood (the artist) is undeniably one of the finest fantasy artists in the world. He has painted, drawn, or whatever so many famous fantasy scenes, that whether you know it or not, you have seen his work. He is also one of the best at action scenes, and dark art – not dark in terms of color, but dark in terms of emotion. I really feel like Drizzt, in this picture, may be out of his league. But then again, that is because I have seen the entire picture, and not just the clipped up are you have viewed up above. Observe:

Cover for The Thousand Orcs

Just tell me it doesn’t look like our drow hero is about to have a very bad day.

#3 – A Game of Thrones

Cover Art of 'A Game of Thrones'

So yeah, my eyes honestly kind of glaze over when I think of GRRM’s infamous series. I know, I know, it’s teh awesomez, but I cannot help but feel that Martin is something like the ‘Stephen King of Fantasy,’ as in, he just throws in gratuitous sex and violence just for the shock value, and not because either actually add to the story in any way. However, that doesn’t mean that when this series first started, the cover art didn’t draw me in. For whatever reason, I am always really drawn to scenes of winter. I saw this book in a Waldenbooks at the mall where I used to work, and had to get it. Steve Youll, the artist, does a good job I feel of capturing the decades-long winterscape. Plus, there’s a bigass dire wolf in the full version.

Cover Art for 'A Game of Thrones'

#2 – Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

Cover Art for 'Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn'

So yeah, there was absolutely no way I could choose just one of these covers – each of these Michael Whelan covers are so beautiful, I have to put them up as a series. The Dragonbone Chair captures Simon, Miriamele, Binabik, and Qantaaa so perfectly, I have no doubt that Michael Whelan actually read the books. The cover for The Stone of Farewell so beautifully captures the Yasira, the butterfly pavillion in Jao e-Tinukai’i, as well as Simon’s growth, his torment, and his most important possessions, that I felt like I was standing right next to the boy. And the final cover, of Jiriki, Aditu, Simon, and Miriamele on top of Green Angel Tower is breathtaking – so much so, that I’m just going to post the full, unbranded cover art from Michael Whelan’s site for you to enjoy.

Cover Art for Unbranded Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

#1 – The Way of Kings

Cover Art for 'The Way of Kings'

Speaking of Michael Whelan… the dude just gets it right. I think Sanderson has done a great job starting his epic story, and I think Whelan has contributed significantly to the novel. The art shows a strange world, with strange weather, with a heroic warrior preparing battle. On Tor.com, Whelan breaks down his process for crafting this masterpiece, and I feel confident in saying that the man loves what he does. I won’t talk any more about it, once more, a link to the full picture in all its glory.

Cover art for unbranded 'The Way of Kings'

Looking over these, it seems to me to be pretty obvious that I like evocative pictures which seem very fantastical – I admit to not have a problem with Darrel Sweet’s Wheel of Time art, for instance, but at the same time, the art really does nothing for me. So tell me, what have I missed?

-E.S.

For those (few) of you waiting for me to continue this project, I’ve decided to change up how I’m doing it. I am going to try to do the entire Series, instead of just tEotW, which means I have to resort a lot of characters. So please bear with me as I work out some kinks and then move on.

Well, here I am, after a hiatus due to both personal family reasons, as well as spending a bit of time reading a book you may have heard about in the news lately. It’s a good read, but I still think, at the end of it all, Tad Williams should have been chosen to finish Robert Jordan’s legacy (if Williams would have even wanted to do so, that is).

But on to more important things – namely, part three of my very-slow-to-get-started re-read and analysis of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. As I will say with each and every entry into this series, If you have never read this series before, and have somehow found this site by accident, there WILL BE MASSIVE SERIES-BREAKING SPOILERS throughout this re-read and analysis. I do not believe I can stress this enough. DO NOT read this if you have never read the series before, unless you just don’t mind knowing how a many-thousand-page epic series concludes. There will be Spoilers. The will be MANY Spoilers. You have been warned.

Anyhoo, that’s enough preamble, for we have a-streamin’ astral anomalies, angsty adolescents, and amoral and atrocious apostates to read about! Let’s go!

7 – The Conqueror Star

Summary

After Elias’ coronation, the next few months go pretty easily for most people in the kingdom. Celebrations, festivities, and sports are a-plenty, and while some of the harder-working folks such as farmers grumble about the difficulty in getting work done with all the play going on, most people seem to take these things as good omens for the start of a new era in Erkynland.

Simon has continued his studies, and is currently practicing his letters while Morgenes inspects Simon’s cleaning work on some beakers. Simon is frustrated that he cannot even read what he’s writing, which Morgenes explains is exactly the point – that helps Simon concentrate on the shape of the letters better. Simon wants to know what is in the book, and asks about a particular picture.

. . . a grotesque woodcut of an antlered man with huge staring eyes and black hands. Cringing figures huddled at his feet; above the horned man’s head a flaming sun hung against an ink-black sky.

“Like this,” Simon pointed at the strange picture, “here at the bottom it says, ‘Sa Asdridan Condiquilles‘ – what does that mean?”

“It means,” Morgenes said as he closed the cover and picked the book up, ” ‘The Conqueror’s Star,’ and it is not the kind of thing that you need to know about.” He placed the book on a precariously balanced stack against the wall.”

Simon says he wants to learn things like Magic, and Morgenes explains to him that books are actually a kind of magic, as well as a trap – they can keep one entranced, or take one to faraway places. Simon, confused, asks “what about real magic? Magic like they say Pryrates does up in the tower?” This angers the doctor, who tells Simon not to compare him to Pryrates, as Pryrates is extremely dangerous. He then tells Simon that he must stay away from Pryrates, for Pryrates does not have the “right kinds of fear.” He further explains that Pryrates is a madman.

“Let me put it another way.” Morgenes twined the curl of snowy beard around his finger. “I spoke to you of traps, of searching for knowledge as though hunting an elusive creature. Well, where I and other knowledge-seekers go out to our traps to see what bright beast we may have been lucky enough to capture, Pryrates throws open his door at night and waits to see what comes in.” Morgenes took the quill pen away from Simon, then lifted the sleeve of his robe and dabbed away some of the ink that had smeared on Simon’s cheek. “The problem with Pryrates’ approach,” he continued, “is that if you do not like the best that comes to call, it is hard – very, very hard – to get the door closed again.”

******

Isgrimnur and Josua are sparring, bantering with each other and tossing insults in a carefree way. After their match, they are approached by Elias and Pryrates, who had been watching. Isgrimnur takes this opportunity to ask Elias – who seems content to try to ignore the duke and watch Guthwulf and Count Eolair chase down a horse – to replenish the troops at the royal garrison at Vestvennby, which has been empty for over a month now.

Elias had returned his gaze to Guthwulf and Eolair, two small figures shimmering in the heat as they chased the diminishing stallion. He answered without turning. “Skali of Kaldskryke says that you have more than enough men, old Uncle. He says you are hoarding your soldiers at Elvritshalla and Naarved. Why is that?” His voice was deceptively light.

Before the startled Isgrimnur could reply, Josua spoke up. “Skali Sharp-nose is a liar if he says that. You are a fool if you believe him.”

Elias whirled, his lip curling. “Is that right, brother Josua? Skali is a liar? And I should take your word for that, you who have never tried to hide your hatred of me?”

Isgrimnur tries to ease Elias by reminding him of Isgrimnur’s friendship with their father, John, which incenses Elias even more. Pryrates calms the king down, seeming concerned with Elias’ mood. Elias and Isgrimnur each make a strained apology and joke about foul tempers and foul weather.

“That is it.” Elias turned and grinned broadly at the red-cloaked priest. “Pryrates, here, for all his holy standing in the Church, cannot seem to convince God to give us the rain we are praying for – can you, counselor?”

Pryrates looked at the king strangely, ducking his head back into the collar of his robe like an albino tortoise. “Pleas, my Lord . . .” he said, “let us resume our talk and leave these gentlemen to their swordplay.”

Elias and Pryrates turn to leave, then Elias reconsiders and asks Josua to “make a few passes” with him. Josua concedes, and the two make some verbal jabs at each other, then spar vehemently. Josua asks about Bright-Nail after one pass.

“Bright-Nail?” said Elias, breathing a little heavily. “What do you mean by that? You know that it is buried with our father.” He ducked an arching backhand and pushed Josua back.

“Oh, I know,” said Josua, parrying, “but a king’s sword – just like his kingdom – should be wisely,” – a thrust – “and proudly,” – a counter-thrust – ” . . . should be wisely and carefully used . . . by his heir.”

The dinnertime bells ring, and Isgrimnur breaks up the duel, noting the obvious hatred the brothers have for each other. Elias backhandedly thanks Josua for the “exercise,” and leaves with the priest. Isgrimnur and Josua pick up their gear and also leave.

******

Simon is trying to convince Judith to give him a taste from the bread she is making, but Judith is having none of it. Simon is otherwise enjoying himself in the kitchens, which is his favorite place in the castle other than Morgenes’ chambers. Judith keeps Simon away from the bowl, and he finally sits back and stops trying. He asks her why there’s no snow, since it’s almost Aedonmansa. She comments that there was also no rain in Novander, making for a dry winter. Simon mentions the town cows have been drinking from the moat.

“You can see the brown rings around the edges where the water’s gone down. There are places you can stand where the water doesn’t even reach your knees!”

“And you’ve found them all, I don’t doubt.”

“I think so,” Simon replied proudly. “And last year this time, it was all frozen. Think of it!”

Judish admonishes Simon for being excited about something which will negatively affect the wellfare of the kingdom, but stops to ask Hepzibah, who has appeared behind Simon, what she needs. Hepzibah was sent by Rachel to fetch Simon, who seems happy by the prospect of following the pretty serving girl around. As he is leaving, Judith gives Simon a loaf of bread, claiming it was spoiled, but he had better not tell Rachel.

Simon catches up with Hepzibah and offers to share the bread with her. They pass out into the courtyard.

Hepzibah crossed her arms as if to hug herself. “Ooh, it’s cold,” said. It was actually fairly warm – blazing hot, considering it was Decander-month – but now that Hepzibah had mentioned it, Simon was sure that he could detect a breeze.

“Yes, it is cold, isn’t it?” he said, and fell silent again.

Hepzibah chats with Simon about how she saw the princess a few days ago, and Simon things Hepzibah is prettier. Hepzibah continues that she has heard that princess Miriamele’s father wants her to marry Earl Fengbald, but the princess really doesn’t want to. She then coyly informs Simon that a soldier has been “mooning” around her, and that she (Hepzibah) and this soldier will one day be married. Simon makes a snide comment about the two of them, but then changes his tune and wishes them happiness. Sadly, he throws a stone at the wall.

******

Morgenes, walking the battlements, sees Simon and Hepzibah’s interactions below, and wishes the boy some much-needed luck. Stealthily, Morgenes captures a messenger bird which he has been sent, and pulls out the message. It is an ominous note from Jarnauga, and says that the White Foxes are stirring again, and that “someone has been knocking at dangerous doors.” As he finishes the letter, Pryrates approaches him from behind, commenting about the weather, and taunting Morgenes on the ease of capturing birds and intercepting their messages. He then leaves a troubled Morgenes alone.

Commentary

First of all, you should totally read this chapter on your own, if for nothing else but the humorous exchanges between first Simon and Morgenes, then Josua and Isgrimnur, and then Josua and Elias – though, admittedly, that third set of exchanges has a certain icky feeling of . . . ickiness . . . about them – and finally Simon and Judith (and Hepzibah). I didn’t quote most of it, because out of context, those exchanges wouldn’t really make a lot of sense, and I’m not going to plagiarize Williams (too much) by copying the entire chapter, but seriously, “On the other hand – ah, that was a poor choice of words, wasn’t it?” is the coolest thing Elias ever says or does. Even though it certainly leaves one with a very uncomfortable feeling.

Simon is definitely starting to feel, at this point in the story, that he may have chosen the wrong line of work to lead the exciting life he wants. First he is bored with just learning to write script from ancient books, and then he is saddened to see that a soldier has won the affections of Hepzibah. His conversation with her has the awkward sadness expected in the romantic-antics of teens who believe they are in love, and as Simon often does, reminds me of similar awkward conversations I (may have) had growing up.

On the other hand, we all know what happens to most of the soldiers of Erkynland later, so it seems unlikely that Hepzibah and Lofsunu (what kind of name is that?) had much of a happy ending. After Simon leaves the Hayholt, do we ever hear anything else about her?

Morgenes is trying his damndest to keep Simon’s mind on the right path, and has his work cut out for him, but his warnings about Pryrates, I have always thought, were a little weak, for what he was trying to do. Sure, it could be argued that Simon, as a fourteen-year-old boy, may not be able to fully comprehend and grasp what Morgenes would possibly tell him, but telling a teenager to “stay away from something,” even if that something is a deadly priest, seems like a surefire way to get them to go investigate. More appropriate words would possibly have been, “Pryrates is a horrifyingly evil person, Simon, and will kill you without a second’s hesitation, if you get in his way. Remember that poor little puppy dog from Chapter Six? Well, Pryrates would not consider you at all above that canine. Squishy like a bug. Capiche?” All things considered, that seems a bit stronger to me than metaphors about hunting and opened doors (though, the metaphor – very coolly – comes back again in Jarnauga’s letter to Morgenes). Anyway, all that just to say, when you’re warning a smart-ass kid/pre-adult to stay away from things that may cause terrible and untimely death, perhaps a bit more candidness could be expected, no?

Moving on, Josua seems to be pushing things a bit with his whole, “You need to be more responsible” analogy he gives Elias while they are sparring. Seriously, you know your brother is perhaps a bit mentally unstable, maybe pushing him – while he is swinging practice swords at you – is not the wisest course of action? I’m just saying.

During this scene, we do get to see some of political intrigue coming to the forefront. Skali is Elias’ friend and ally, so Elias naturally favors him instead of the duke, who was Elias’ father’s friend and ally. Elias seems to certainly resent any comparisons between himself and his father, as well as reminders about how things used to be, but in my opinion, he took it a bit far. Of course, he has Wormtongue/Pryrates whispering in his ear, so his mind is probably already poisoned towards anything resembling reason.

Morgenes seems to have a healthy dose of. . . if not ‘fear,’ then at least wariness in regards to Pryrates. Though we weren’t given a lot of details about his emotions while up on the battlements, I got the distinct impression that Morgenes hackles were certainly raised, much like a dog who is confronted by a larger, meaner predator – he will be damned if he will give up ground, but he knows he is likely out of his league. Simon says to Morgenes earlier in the chapter, “You use magic, too,” but are we actually ever really given any indication that this is even true? Could Morgenes actually have a magical duel with the priest? We know he is an alchemist – his death scene proves that, if nothing else – but is there ever a time where he actually performs anything like magic? Most of the ‘real’ magic seen in the series comes from the Norns and the Sithi, with Pryrates throwing a bit out every now and then (poor Dinivan?). Geloe gets a bit in, but it’s all very subtle – hints of her shape-changiness until close to her death. (Rambling) Anyone know about Morgenes magical prowess?

Elias’ jab towards Pryrates about the weather seems to be a hint about something, but I can’t really determine what. I see two likely scenarios. The first is, Elias, in his twisted mind, still believes that Pryrates prays to God (or at least prays to something), and is thus making a jab at Pryrates’ religion, which results in the look Pryrates gives the king. This seems unlikely and a bit silly, but I suppose it’s a possibility. The second is, Elias and Pryrates know that whatever magics they are performing in Hjeldin’s Tower is having this effect on the weather, and this is just Elias’ way of doing a bit of an inside joke with Pryrates. This one seems more likely to me, but are we ever shown in any way that Pryrates himself actually has any control of the weather? Because at this point, the Storm King isn’t active yet (right?), since Elias hasn’t been given Sorrow yet? And I seem to remember multiple wise-ish people throughout the series saying that the über-bad weather is the result of the Storm King’s magic. Or am I just misremembering something?

And before we move on, one last thought – we are first introduced to Ineluki in this chapter (whether or not we know it), the series’ prime antagonist. I find it interesting that his introduction is in the way of an almost-backhanded comment to his relationship with The Conqueror’s Star. Also, Simon definitely sees antlers in the image – is that a trick of his eye because it is psychologically easier to see things sticking out of someone’s heads as antlers, as opposed to a crown of branches, or is it likely an actual artists’ rendition of the Storm King with antlers? It’s easy for simple human minds (of which Simon has one) to see things they want to see, so I wonder if he just assumed antlers all along, until at the end of the story, he realizes it is actually tree branches?

8 – Bitter Air and Sweet

Summary

Simon has convinced “fat” Jeremias to begin practicing swordplay with him. He is frustrated at his lack of progress as Morgenes’ apprentice, and also by the fact that Hepzibah seems attracted to a soldier, and would likely never want a simple kitchen boy. They wear each other out one day, and then head back to the castle, talking about becoming knights, and saving the king’s life on a battlefield. Approaching the town, Simon sees Malachias, the ‘spier-on-people,’ and gives chase. He comes across a scene with a crying woman holding a dead child. He offers to get help from the castle, but is insulted as a ‘king’s man,” and told harshly to get away. He and Jeremias leave, with Simon lamenting that those people seemed to hate him, and all he wanted to do was help.

Simon has a nightmare that night of a strange dancing ritual to which he is invited to join by Rachel and Jeremias. As they are saying his name, he wakes up, being shaken by Isgrimnur.

Isgrimnur watches as Simon has a coughing fit from being startled awake, and sympathetically slaps him on the back to help out. He then asks Simon where Towser sleeps. Simon leads Isgrimnur to Towser’s bed, then ducks back away as Isgrimnur is done with him.

The youth turned and went back past Isgrimnur toward the doorway. As he brushed by, the duke was mildly surprised to note that the youth was nearly as tall as he was – and Isgrimnur was not a small man. It was the boy’s slenderness, and the way he hunched when he walked, that made his size less evident.

It’s a pity nobody’s taught that one to stand up, he thought. And most likely he never will learn in the kitchens, or wherever.

Isgrimnur attempts to shake Towser awake, but he drunk man keeps sleeping. Finally, the duke lifts the bard up by his feet and dangles him in the air, then taps the old man’s head on the floor. Towser screams to be let down, and once released, struggles into sitting position, poking at the duke. The duke curtly informs Towser that Josua has disappeared from the Hayholt. Josua had missed a meeting with the duke after the prince had informed Isgrimnur that he had important news to give him. Towser assures Isgrimnur that the prince is likely in no danger, and has probably just left on some errand and will be back soon. This mollifies the duke a bit, and he and Towser carry on a conversation about the old days.

Simon is revealed to have been listening, and goes back to his bed to sleep.

******

On a hot Feyever afternoon, Morgenes has brought Simon, Jeremias, and Isaak, ‘a young page from the upstairs residence’ into the Kynswood with him to forage for ingredients for his alchemy recipes. After warning them not to be stupid and eat poisonous mushrooms, the doctor leaves Simon in charge to lead the three boys about and search for the items. Once out of the doctor’s immediate vicinity, Simon and Jeremias begin whispering about their plan to get Morgenes to sign a permission form for them to join the king’s guard. They get to work on hunting supplies.

Awhile later, the boys are resting after having gathered many of the items on Morgenes’ list. Isaak is telling the other two of a plague currently going on in Meremund. Elias has given Guthwulf control of the situation, and the earl has apparently used his powers to quarantine large sectors of the city. Simon and Jeremias are amazed to hear that Guthwulf’s people have been locking plague victims in their homes, and then burning the buildings down to stop the spread of disease.

Morgenes interrupts their rest with demands to know what they have found. As he examines their takes, Simon springs his plan into action, asking if Morgenes will sign a recommendation for Jeremias to be admitted to the guards. He then offers to write the letter himself (to ‘practice his letters’) and just have Morgenes sign. Morgenes things this is a great idea and shows great initiative on Simon’s part, which makes Simon feel terrible for deceiving the old man.

Suddenly Jeremias screams at having found a corpse in the woods. Morgenes calms the boys down and investigates the body, finding that the man, whoever it was, had been murdered by an arrow, and had broken the arrow off. The group hurries back to the castle.

Commentary

A relatively short chapter where, all things considered, not a lot happens. Mainly, we see get to see the beginning and middle phases of Simon’s plan to get out of Morgenes’ apprenticeship and into the castle guards. It speaks well of Simon that he feels bad after the praise Morgenes gives him, but boys will be boys, I suppose, and I admit I did a few things like that when I was younger that I know hurt people who cared deeply for me.

The first of Simon’s dreams shows up here, and it’s an interesting one to me. I believe we find out later that part of the reason Simon has a bit of the whole ‘chosen’ stigma attached to him is because, after his confrontation with Pryrates at the Anger Stones, where Pryrates wasn’t able to properly end his spell, part of the mad priest’s thoughts and mind are always with Simon throughout the rest of the story. So, we get the feeling through three books that Simon is ‘chosen’ in some way, and then find out he’s actually just got really bad luck. But then it turns out he kinda is chosen – maybe not by prophecy or by the gods, but he certainly is a very important person who has to do what needs to be done. So with all that being said, I always thought the dreams Simon has are a little misleading. The books seem (to me) to imply, as is standard in the genre of fantasy, that there is great meaning to the dreams, and that Simon is of great import. But then we see that (most of) those later dreams come from his connection with Pryrates. And this first dream seems to really indicate that Simon is not, in fact, ‘chosen,’ by nature of the fact that everyone around him (according to Isgrimnur) is having the same dream. So I don’t know where I’m going with this, except to say that it’s a bit confusing what Williams is trying to tell us here.

A lot of time passes in these chapters. When John died, it was Decander. His body required forty days of preparation, which puts us into Jonever by his funeral. Then over a year passes in the next two chapters. A lot of these coming-of-age stories do things like this. I remember the Belgariad had a lot of Garion being very young, up to a sixteen-year-old boy, in the space of just one book. So, it’s not uncommon. However, I do recall a bit of disconcertment the first time I read the series, at the staggering amount of time that goes by in the first ten chapters of the book. Obviously, the life of a scullion, farmer, fisherman, or whathaveyou-generic-job of the protagonist is not interesting enough to tell us everything they go through for two years!

Interspersed between the Simon sections of this chapter are bits of intrigue. We learn of Josua being missing, and since it’s a fantasy novel, we know that that is Not A Good Thing, Yo. Then, we find the body in the forest.

Finally, a note on Guthwulf’s tactics in Meremund. To modern-day human beings, it is unthinkable to picture entire sections of towns being closed up, locked up, and burned down, with sick-but-living people inside them, just to prevent the spread of disease. To a pre-industrial society, however, where the answer to “can you cure my child’s sickness” often involved either leeches or rusty knives, I think the coercive quarantine of a group of people to keep a pandemic from spreading was pretty much considered “A-okay.” Simon and Jeremias’ reactions to Isaak’s story is one of shock and amazement, but I would not have been surprised to hear that King John may have done the same thing had a plague broken out in Erchester.

9 – Smoke on the Wind

Summary

“Did you get it? Did he guess?” Still pale for all his hours in the sun, Jeremias bobbed along at Simon’s side like the sheep’s-bladder float on a fisherman’s net.

“I’ve got it,” Simon growled. Jeremias’ agitation irritated him; it seemed out of keeping with the masculine gravity of their mission. “You think too much.”

Jeremias took no offense. “As long as you’ve got it,” he said.

The two walk through town towards Saint Sutrin’s cathedral, which is currently housing Count Breyugar. They approach the guards at the door, demanding to be let in, and Simon is a bit indignant about the lackadaisical attitude the guards have – ‘When he was a guardsman, he would carry himself with a great deal more style than these bored, unshaven idiots.’ On the way to the count’s office, Jeremias has to pull nosy Simon away from exploring – they note along the way that the guards have not taken great care to keep the cathedral well-kept, and that priests laboriously clean up after the guards. Eventually, they make there way to Breyugar’s presence.
The count is in the middle of dinner and reads the letter from the two with disinterest.

“. . . Please consider the . . . bearers . . . for service under your Lordship’s guidance . . .” Breyugar read aloud. His emphasis gave Simon a panicky moment – had he noticed the ‘s’ Simon had added to ‘bearer?’ He had made it a bit squeezy so it would fit.

The constable looks at the boys for a moment, and brusquely and rudely dismisses them and their request, as he has no need for soft ‘castle-mice.’ The boys head back to the castle silently and sadly. Later, Simon breaks his practice sword.

******

Isgrimnur is waiting in a deserted room in the Hall of Records for a meeting with Eolair of Nad Mullach. The count finally arrives, with a warning for Isgrimnur to stay silent, as there are people moving about outside. The two consider that what they are about to speak about may be considered treason, then ask who will speak first.

“There is no need to worry who will speak first,” the count said.

For a moment the flush of Eolair’s face, the color on his high, thin cheekbones, reminded the older man of something he had seen once, years ago; a haunting figure glimpsed across fifty yards of Rimmersgard snow.

One of the ‘white foxes,’ my father called that one.

Isgrimnur wondered if the old stories were true – was there really Sithi blood in the Hernystiri noble houses?

Isgrimnur says that though Elias cannot be held accountable for the weather, the king is surely to blame for keeping Isgrimnur locked up in the Hayholt while his people are suffering far to the north from a terrible winter. The king just drinks and parties with his friends all day while the wells dry up, taxes and levies rise, and people become disgruntled in the populace. Eolair agrees that Elias and his nobles are eating and drinking the country into famine and destitution, when they should be guiding the people to a better life. Isgrimnur says that Elias was a good man once, before Pryrates got into his council, and wonders what the priest could have offered the king. Eolair does not know.

They then talk about the fact that the body which was found by Morgenes was Bindesekk, one of Isgrimnur’s men, who the duke sent north to let his son Isorn know of the troubles in Erchester, and to beware of Skali. He is unsure if Skali’s men actually killed Bindesekk, but thinks it is unlikely, since the body was so poorly hidden. They end their conversation by wondering the most important question – where is Prince Josua?

******

Simon is spending an afternoon on the roof of the chapel, trying to avoid both Morgenes and Rachel. He sees a cat running across the roof and follows it to its little nook.

Simon, despite having seen only its tail and back legs thus far, felt a sudden affinity for this outlaw roof cat. Like him, the cat knew the secret passages, the angles and crannies, and went where it would without leave. Like himself, this gray hunter made its way without the concern or charity of others . . .

Even Simon knew that this was a terrible exaggeration of his own situation, but he rather liked the comparison.

He settles himself in to wait for the cat to show itself again, remembering that Rubin the Bear had told him the Erkynguard was going to Falshire, to settle a dispute with the wool merchants’ guild. He had climbed up to this same roof on Tiasday and watched the guards march out of the city under the command of Earl Fengbald.

Much later, Simon is in the middle of a daydream when the cat finally peeks out of its hiding space. Simon goes very still as the cat comes out to play with a loose piece of flint on the roof. He is delighted for awhile to watch the cat play, until finally he laughs, which scares the cat back into its hidey-hole. Simon chases it, yelling for the scatter-catter, but notices something on the horizon. It is smoke rising in the air as Falshire is burning.

Commentary

Ah, the sad end to Simon’s relatively well-thought and reasonably-implemented plan of becoming a guard. You can tell it crushes his dreams when Breyugar so casually turns the boys away, and it is once again a reminder that we read the story of a barely-turned-teen, who has never really experienced serious rejection before – though he is nothing more than a scullion, he has a home, food, and duties, and is mostly well provided for. This is likely the first time in his life that he’s had a very true dream or goal about something, and seen it crushed. Oh, you poor fool, how little you realize what is soon to come.

More subterfuge and intrigue from the duke in this chapter, and things are definitely starting to take on a more ominous tone. For Simon, the world just keeps on a-spinnin’, but the other people in the castle are starting to have real issues and concerns with the way Elias runs his house. We now know for certain that the prince is actually missing (though, we really should have known that before as well), and we see from the duke that there are many political factions starting to become apparent, and that other kingdoms are having issues with Elias’ laws and proclamations as well.

The dire circumstances of Isgrimnur and his homeland are perhaps some of the saddest of all. Though not apparent right at this moment, it seems to me, over the course of the series, that Rimmersgard takes the most casualties, in terms of both people and places, on the whole of the confrontation with the Storm King. His lands are destroyed by freak blizzards which are far worse than the Rimmersmen are used to, then ravaged by Norns. Hernystir takes a beating too, but from what I can recall right now, it seems like Rimmersgard is essentially put on the ‘Endangered Kingdoms List,’ by the end of the third book. Hell, Erkynland doesn’t fare well either for that matter, nor do the Wrannamen (all taken by ghants?). Maybe Nabban is the only kingdom that isn’t thrown to waste by Elias – instead, it is hit when Josua comes stomping through near the end of the series. So maybe I just don’t know what I’m talking about – it’s possible, but I’m admitting nothing, I tell you. Nothing!

Oh, and ‘Hey Cat!’ We meet another very important character to the series, ol’ Scatter-Catter. I believe the cat takes on a few different names from Simon, Rachel, and Guthwulf over the course of the story, but I always liked Scatter-Catter the best. I cannot recall if Simon, when he goes through his ordeals in To Green Angel Tower, remembers or realizes that the cat who helps him then is the same cat now, though that seems unlikely. There are a lot of cats in the world, especially before the days of spaying and neutering, so it is unlikely he would think it to be the same creature.

I hope the little bugger made it out okay, though – it saved a few peoples’ lives, which in turn saved the day, so Simon giving it a soft bed, some squishy mouse-parts, and granting it some sort of royal title or something would be the least he could do.

******

Done! I should be able to get back to a more reasonable schedule on this now, so maybe another week before the next part. Hope you enjoy, thanks for reading.

Sorry about the lack of an update on MS&T reread and WoT Casting Call – personal ‘real life’ issues in the way, should be soon.

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