Review


Hi, and welcome back to the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn re-read and analysis! There may be false messengers in this post. Just sayin.’

So, New York kicked my ass, and this post is (obviously) coming out late. Also, you may notice there is only one chapter. It’s because it’s a very long chapter, and I was already late, so I figured we’d do it this way, and I may attempt three chapters next week. We’ll see how it goes.

As I say with each of the posts I make in 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.

Let’s just jump right in, folks.

Chapter 34 – Forgotten Swords

Summary

Vorzheva and Josua have an argument in his chambers about him only wanting to study “old things,” and ignoring her. She leaves in a fury. Binabik, Jarnauga, and Strangyeard come to Josua’s chambers to speak about the mad prophet Nisses’ book, “the Weird of the Swords,” the book present in their dreams. They pull out Morgenes’ manuscript, believing it to have clues about their struggle, knowing that Morgenes made many preparations before his death about the coming events. Binabik reads from Morgenes’ work about the forging of three Great Swords – Camaris’ black sword Thorn, forged from a meteor; the Rimmersgard sword Minneyar (Memory), forged from the keel of ships out of the past; and Sorrow, forged from witchwood and iron, too antithetical ingredients. They then read a rhyme which Morgenes had included from Nisses’ book, which seems to imply that the three Great Swords will be necessary in combating the darkness of the upcoming days. They decide they must find the swords, but do not know where to look for them, other than Sorrow, which is out of their grasp for the time being. Josua sends for Isgrimnur, needing the duke to stand by his side when he tells of their new findings at the Raed that night, then they discuss that Pryrates’ must be behind Elias’ actions. Isgrimnur arrives, and they all discuss possible fates and locations of Minneyar and Thorn, but are unable to come up with anything solid – they break so that Binabik, Strangyeard, and Jarnauga can go back to searching the archives for more records.

Simon is hanging with Sangfugal and Towsesr, upset that he was not invited to this night’s council (and also upset that they previous made him come when he didn’t want to go). Isgrimnur walks by, and Towser and the duke reunite cheerfully, the duke explaining all that is going on, and it turns out Towser may know where Thorn is hidden. He demands to be taken before the prince to explain.

Once there, Towser tells the story of how in Camaris entrusted Thorn to his squire, Colmund, who used the sword to reforge his broken barony in the north, before taking a crew to the mountain Urmsheim to attempt to hunt down the legendary treasure of the ice dragon, Igjarjuk. Strangyeard remembers the story that Colmund made it at least as far as the monastery of Saint Skendi at Vestvennby, which gives them a starting place to look. Josua thinks for awhile and then asks Binabik to lead a crew to the north to attempt to discover Camaris’ sword Thorn. Binabik also asks if he may take Simon, so that along with Isgrimnur’s man Sludig, and “three or four others” from Josua, they will lead a small party, leaving the next night.

Simon is not very honored or pleased by Binabik’s assuming Simon would go on the trek. Binabik understands, and then gives Simon a ring entrusted to him by Morgenes – he wants Simon to have it now in case Binabik does not return from his journey. There is writing in the ring which neither Simon or Binabik understand, that says something about “death” and “Dragon.” Binabik then wishes that Simon would consider the matter of the journey, and hopes they will always remain friends.

Simon finds Miriamele, and discovers she is upset that Josua will not allow her to travel to Nabban to seek help from her uncle Leobardis. Simon then tells her he is leaving on the mission with Binabik, and may never return. Miriamele gives Simon her blue scarf to bear as “her standard,” then kisses Simon on the cheek and they part ways.

Vorzheva has a clandestine meeting with a monk, paying him for services yet unrendered, and tells him to be on his way.

The next evening, Simon and Binabik stand with Haestan (who didn’t want an untrained boy traveling north with naught a teacher), Ethelbearn, Grimmric (these are the three Josua has chosen to travel), and Sludi and prepare to leave. Jarnauga gives Binabik one last clue, that Colmund had left word at Skendi’s that he would be searching for the “Rhymer’s Tree,” which the party will search for. Simon ponders why he is heading out yet again, after having such a brief time in Naglimund, then gets seated on a horse for his first time. Josua then sees them off and they travel away into the darkness. High above them, at the Stile, the hunter Ingen Jegger sees them leave and gets ready to pursue them.

Commentary

Jeez, that was a long chapter. Seriously, I think it took me almost thirty minutes just to do my pre-analysis read-through. Then another thirty to go back and highlight important parts. Let’s see what we can figure out here.

I do not feel that Vorzheva is written as a very sympathetic character. Don’t get me wrong – I know it’s not cool of the prince to ignore his woman and treat her as a serving girl, but if she really has such an issue with priorities that she gets upset with Josua for talking about what may save the world instead of what will make her happy that evening, then I don’t think I particularly care how much he ignores her. Which is bad, because I know in hindsight that eventually (would that be hind-foresight?), she is meant to be a character that we like, respect, and cheer for. But right now, I just don’t really care about her. Especially since she is so obviously trusting of Cadrach, who at this point (being drunk and demanding money), doesn’t seem like the best person to send along with the princess – that’s just damned stupid, ya’ll.

In other news, how did the “Great Swords” get their name, and why was that name given to them? I mean, I know why they would be called the “Great Swords” in one sense – because they are all unique, powerful, and magical weapons that are all very “great.” However, all three of them were forged long before Ineluki’s plan to exact revenge on all the people of the world, and two of the three were forged long before there was even a human-Sithi conflict for Ineluki to worry about. The name “Great Swords” shows up in the mad prophet Nisses’ book, and are named thus by other scholarly types as well (such as Morgenes), and in the modern times, are very much associated with the Big Plan of defending against Ineluki’s evil (though, of course, it’s all really his big plan to begin with). But I never really get the feeling that we are explained exactly why these swords were implied to be specifically forged for this purpose, which is definitely what the books (and their name of “Great Swords”) seem to imply.

This, of course, leads us to the primary quest of the series – that is, recovering the MacGuffins Great Swords, so that the good guys can thwart the bad guys’ plans. The False Messenger makes his/its appearance again here, urging the heroes towards doom, death, and destruction, all while skillfully playing off as though they are instead searching for salvation. This reeks, to me, of Utuk’ku’s manipulations, but that still brings up the point that these plans of Ineluki’s and Utuk’ku’s seem to have originated a long, long time ago. Nisses was the priest during Hjeldin’s rule, which I believe was right after Fingil, which means that it was not long at all before Ineluki began planning his revenge. Granted, there is nothing inherently illogical about an undead Ineluki immediately trying to figure out how to screw over all the humans, but it seems as though the plans for the revenge came very quickly.

This also makes me wonder why Nisses ever wrote the book to begin with. I have some thoughts on this, and I figure I’m right (cuz I said so, that’s why), so what the hell, let’s pontificate for awhile. We know from the situation with Elias and Pryrates that people who walk the Road of Dreams can run into horrible beings like Ineluki, Utuk’ku, and the Red Hand. It’s just a fact that those beings seem to creep around in this place. Binabik comes to the conclusion (eventually) that Utuk’ku, especially, had been using the Dream Road for her purposes all along, and that’s when he figures out the whole False Prophet thing. Nisses, being a learned man who wanted to know things, probably knew of the Road of Dreams, and occasionally frequented it. Once there, he was probably coerced, forced, manipulated, or some-other-against-his-will-type-verb-ed into writing this book about the Swords, as Utuk’ku and Ineluki had forged their plans to release the Storm King and TURN BACK TIME! It’s even possible that, since Nisses was from Rimmersgard, he had been corrupted just by living too close to Stormspike. Anyway, after encountering the beings and writing the book, Nisses went (to use a scientific term) “quite effing looney,” (from seeing things which weren’t meant for mere mortals’ eyes) and offered his new-found knowledge to King Hjeldin. During this revealing-of-knowledge, the magical forces were either so powerful that the bewildered king simply fell off Hjeldin’s Tower while Nisses fell to the ground dead, or they both committed noble suicide to avoid what Elias would himself eventually become.

So that makes Nisses a hero. Cool, huh? Except that his writing of the book to begin with almost caused the destruction of everything. So not cool?

This chapter introduces two new characters who will be with us for a little while – Ethelbearn and Gimmric – as well as brings back into the story Sludig, who is pretty awesome through this and the next book, but becomes rather unfortunately unimportant by TGAT. Haestan’s reason for following along is to help train Simon, which seems a little goofy – aren’t there a lot more soldiers that will need training in Naglimund?

Finally, just because there was a lot of it for such an expositional chapter, let’s talk about various emotions covered in this chapter. According to Towser’s tale, Camaris grew very sorrowful after Ebbekah’s death. Some nice foreshadowing for the Big News that we eventually get about Camaris, Ebbekah, and Josua. The man goes to some pretty great extremes to eventually rid himself of that sorrow, by visiting the Sithi. It’s nice to see Isgrimnur, portrayed as the series’ “manly” man, have so much love and tenderness to his wife. And Simon calls the princess “Miri,” his first time using that shortened version (though possibly by accident?), which shows he’s already developed a more familiar relationship with the princess than he may even be aware of. He gets his first kiss from her as well, and it’s a very well-written scene. And Simon of course volunteers at this exact moment to go on the journey, because Miriamele will think it’s brave. Ahh, for young love.


Thanks for reading, don’t forget to follow Olaf Keith’s blog as he breaks down the history of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn.

Cheers!
-Brandon Daggerhart

Welcome back to the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn Re-Read and Analysis! It’s been awhile, and there have been many reasons (and excuses?) for why I’ve taken so long to get back into this, but things should be able to continue relatively smoothly for now.

A few notes about changes to the structure. From now on, for the sake of people who can’t read 20,000+ words of a blog in one sitting, I will be moving down to two chapters at a time instead of three, and also condensing the chapter summary lengths a good bit. However, commentary will stay on the same track it’s always been.

I will also be posting this portion of the blog only every other Tuesday from now on. However, if you’re concerned about your MS&T fix, you have nothing to fear, because I have great news for you. A friend’s blog, A Gentle Madness: Collecting Tad Williams is about to start his own bi-weekly project, where he will be studying and analyzing the history of the series, it’s publication, and the critical response it has received over the years. You should be checking this out now! Don’t forget!

And, as usual, 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.

Let’s see how things have been going since the last time we were in this place . . .

Chapter 30 – A Thousand Nails

Summary

Simon wakes up to find himself cared for in a small room. Father Strangyeard enters and introduces himself, and assures Simon that Binabik and “Marya” are both fine and he will likely see them soon. Simon begins putting his shoes on so that he can see his friends. The two walk outside and by a pyre that is being constructed to burn the body of the giant which had so recently attacked Simon and his friends.

Simon finds Binabik awake, but very pale and weak-looking. Strangyard dismisses himself and Simon and Binabik share a reunion. Simon is disheartened that Binabik believes “Marya” may have gone on, now that her message has been delivered, and cannot believe he’s been out for almost two days. Eventually, Binabik needs to sleep again, and asks Simon to check in on Qantaqa.

When Simon leaves, he meets Sanfugal, who shows him to the stables, where Qantaqa is being kept. The stable master has Qantaqa tied by her neck in a pit, which outrages Simon. He coerces Sangfugal and the stable master to help get the wolf out, and they then head back to Binabik’s room so the troll and wolf can reunite.

Simon and Sangfugal eat their food on the south wall, and Sangfugal tells Simon the story of the ‘Nails’ which surround the fort, giving it its name – Naglimund means Nail-Fort in Erkylandish. The nails were supposedly put in the ground to keep the Sithi out, since Sithi are allergic to iron. They once surrounded the entire city and fort, but Josua had all but a few removed when King John gave him Naglimund. Afterwards, Simon gives Sangfugal a brief version of his travels, and they end their conversation wondering if Elias will attack Naglimund. Simon also learns about the hatred between Josua and Elias, due to Elias’ wife dying in an ambush while under the protection of Josua.

Sangfugal figures Josua will be calling a Raed – a council – soon to discuss options, and mentions that Josua may be calling on Simon due to the youth’s heroics. He then mentions Prince Gwythinn is on his way, and many other important people are in (or soon will be in) the keep, and that decisions will be made soon. He then offers to show Simon the nails. As the story goes, the Sithi apparently cared very little about the nails, even named it a Sithi word which means “Trap that Catches the Hunter.” The two then get swept up in a crowd of people heading to watch the burning of the giant. The two get separated, and Simon thinks he sees Marya, but it turns out to be a tall, dark, and beautiful woman who appears very angry about these festivities.

Commentary

Reunion chapter! Calm after the storm or something. We mostly get to see a little bit of insight this chapter into the hardships other people have been having throughout Elias’ rule – in particular, the hardships suffered by those in the north, such as at Naglimund. Giants coming out of the mountains and killing people is just one of the things mentioned by Sangfugal while they talk.

“Here,” [Strangyeard] said. “My, you are in a hurry. Would you like to your friend first, or have something to eat?”

Simon was already tying the front of the shirt closed. “Binabik and Marya, then eat food,” he grunted, concentrating. “And Qantaqa, too.”

“Hard as times have been of late,” the father said in a tone of reproof, “we never eat wolves at Naglimund. I assume you are counting her as a friend.”

Looking up, Simon saw that the one-eyed man was making a joke.

“Yes,” Simon said, feeling suddenly shy. “A friend.”

“Then let us go,” the priest said, standing. “I was told to make sure you were well provided for, so the sooner I get food into you, the better I will have fulfilled my commission.” He opened the door, admitting another flood of sunshine and noise.

And that is how we’re introduced to Strangyeard, one of the awesomest characters in the series. One of the first things out of his mouths is a well-intentioned joke, so we know right off the bat that he’s going to be a swell guy to have around.

Simon’s reunion with Qantaqa and Binabik were both very well-played, especially Simon’s reaction to the way the wolf had been treated. You can tell how dear his companions/friends have become to him when seeing his outrage at her mistreatment.

The story about the Nails is interesting, especially the Sithi name for them – this is some very ominous foreshadowing of dire circumstances yet to come. Williams played the fey trope straight here, with having them be allergic to iron, but he later turns that trope on its head. What makes this the most interesting is how much irony is in the fact that the Norns desperately need this place for their final gambit. Josua’s home is here, so we are told that the only reason Elias and Pryrates want the place so badly is for the prince, and thus they bring in the Norns to help out. However obviously, the Norns had ulterior motives for this place, since it is one of the Houses (can’t remember the number) that becomes so important at the end. So it can almost be looked at as though the Nails were put in place for a very specific purpose (to keep the Sithi, and in this particular case, the Norns, from gaining access to this House), but that purpose was forgotten about. Or it could be an ironic coincidence.

Sangfugol nodded. “There has been no shortage of trouble between them. They loved each other once, were closer than most brothers – or so I’m told by Josua’s older retainers. But they fell out, and then Hylissa died.”

“Hylissa?” Simon asked.

“Elias’ Nabbanai wife. Josua was bringing her to Elias, who was still a prince, at war then for his father in the Thrithings. Their party was waylaid by Thrithings raiders. Josua lost his hand trying to defend Hylissa, but to no avail – the raiders were too many.”

Simon let out a long breath, “So that’s how it happened!”

“It was the death of any love between them … or so people say.”

And there, we are given the kernel of information that tells us everything we need to know about why Elias is doing what he is doing. We don’t know it yet, but the brothers’ hatred of each other over the death of Hylissa is going to be a very, very important piece of information. Which makes it all even more poignant when you realize eventually how far Elias goes just out of love for his dead wife.

The ceremony for the burning of the giant is a little odd – it seems to be building up to something important, especially when Simon sees the ‘mysterious woman,’ but it turns out to just be either a Red Herring, or just a non-climax. Oh, and hello Vorzheva! I’m already turning my EyeRoll-o-meter (TM) down in preparation for all the stupid things you do when we first meet you. By the way, were we supposed to think that not all was on the up-and-up with Vorzheva after this quick introduction here? It seems that we’re supposed to think she was a bad person, but obviously that is not the case. Red Herring again?

Chapter 31 – The Councils of the Prince

Summary

Simon is called to the prince’s room that night, where while waiting, Simon notices the same angry woman from the festivities is in Josua’s bedchamber. Josua greets Simon warmly, thanking him for the rescue, and they make some idle chit chat about the scroll he was reading, which says Naglimund has never been broken by a seige, and also says he has heard Elias is building a huge army. Then he asks if Simon can wield a sword, and tells the boy to go to the captain of the guards and receive training. The prince then muses back again to the scroll, and Simon is about to leave, but first asks about Marya. Josua can give no definite answers, and bids Simon goodnight. It takes a long time for Simon to find sleep that night.

Simon is greeted the next morning by a cheerful Binabik and Qantaqa. After giving Simon a quick and humorous lesson about tossing bones, and also giving Simon a letter from Marya, the two head for the guards, where Simon is to receive his sword. Along the way, Binabik leaves to go find Strangyeard, to talk about Morgenes’ manuscript. Simon is introduced to Haestan, who retrieves for Simon a sword and bow, then shows Simon how to properly care for his new weapons. That afternoon, Simon trains with the sword for hours, then is told to return in the morning. He stumbles back to his room, sore all over, and crashes for a few hours, only to be awakened by Binabik (again) who has come to take Simon to the Raed. Simon is worn out, but eventually gets up and follows Binabik to the council chambers.

They arrive at the hall of Naglimund where dozens have already arrived, ready for the prince’s council. Binabik whispers to Simon various introductions of some of the lords that are present. They take a seat and Simon drinks some watered-down wine while awaiting Josua’s arrival. Bishop Anodis arrives, as does Prince Gwythinn and Baron Davasalles, then finally Josua. The bishop begins the Raed with a prayer to Usires and God, and does not appear happy to be involved in the council.

Josua begins the Raed by talking about the tough times, and about how Elias is to blame for the higher taxes, undefended roads, etcetera. The lady from Josua’s bedchambers enters and whispers something to Josua (Binabik tells Simon this is Vorzheva from the Thrithings lands). She awaits the prince’s reply then leaves, and the conversation continues. Baron Davasalles asks what Josua actually wants – revenge? peace? just to be left alone? People take offense to his tone, and Gwythinn yells for those assembled to fight the High King. Davasalles continues probing Josua as to why they should fight the High King. The prince replies that the king is dangerous, and as proof, has someone who has seen the king’s dangerousness firsthand. He sends a page, who returns with Vorzheva and someone else. Josua introduces Princess Miriamele, who Simon recognizes as none other than Marya. Feeling betrayed, he stumbles out of the room with everyone watching.

Commentary

“My lords,” Josua said, “the Princess Miriamele – daughter of the High King.”

And Simon, gaping, stared at the short, cropped strands of golden hair that showed beneath the veil and crown, shed of their dark disguise . . . and staring at the oh-so-familiar face, felt a great tumbling inside him. He almost stood, as the others were doing, but his knees went watery and dropped him back into his chair. How? Why? This was her secret – her rotten, treacherous secret!

“Marya,” he murmured, and as she sat in the chair Gwythinn surrendered to her, acknowledging his gesture with a precise, gracious nod of her head, and as everyone else sat down again, talking aloud in their wonder, Simon finally lurched to his feet.

“You,” he said to Binabik, grabbing the little man’s shoulder, “did . . . did you know?!”

The troll seemed about to say something, then grimaced instead and shrugged. Simon looked up across the sea of heads to find Marya . . . Miriamele . . . staring at him with wide, sad eyes.

“Damn!” he hissed, then turned and hurried from the room, his eyes pooling with shameful tears.

Dun Dun DUUUUUNNNNNN!

So, we finally get the ‘big reveal’ about Marya, and the reason why everyone has been looking at Simon sadly whenever he has asked about her whereabouts. I can feel sorry for Simon here, and I can feel his pain. Not that I’ve ever fallen in love with a girl who turned out to be royalty in disguise – but I do know what it is like to have expectations and hopes so drastically shattered in just an instance. The saddest part, though, is that Binabik didn’t tell Simon, and Marya even kept up the ruse in her letter. Why wouldn’t someone just have let him know? Did Josua not know who Simon was talking about when he asked the prince about her the night before? Or was he just playing with him? Seems like a harsh thing for someone to do to a fifteen-year-old bundle of hormones such as Simon, but alas, I am not a prince dreading an upcoming war, and thus do not know how I would react in the same situation.

We get a bit of dire foreshadowing here – doesn’t the prince know that if he says something like “Naglimund has never been taken in a siege,” then By George, the city is going to fall! Josua needs to become a bit more genre-savvy it seems.

“Here,” the troll said, “first: Clouds in the Pass. Meaning where we stand now it is hard to see far, but beyond is something very different than what is behind.”

“I could have told you that.”

“Silence, trolling. Do you wish to remain foolish forever? Now, the one that is second was Wingless Bird. The second is something of advantage, but here it seems our helplessness might be itself useful, or so I am reading the bones today. Last, what thing it is we should be aware of . . .”

“Or fear?”

“Or fear,” Binabik agreed calmly. “Black Crevice – that is a strange one, one I never have gotten for myself. It could mean treachery.”

Simon took a breath, remembering. “Like ‘false messenger’?”

“True. But it is having other meanings, unusual meanings. My master taught me that it could also be things coming from other places, breaking through from other sides . . . thus, perhaps something about the mysteries we have found … the Norns, your dreams … do you see?”

Simon’s and Binabik’s fond bickering here is a real testament to how close the two have gone. I’m a firm believer that you know you’ve made a true friend when you can playfully insult each other back and forth for awhile without taking any true offense.

On a more serious note though, we get back to the bones. I talked extensively awhile back about how I feel about various superstitious methods of fortune-telling, and I still feel the same way. Fortune-telling is either magical, or it’s superstition – there is no middle ground on it. However, we never know which Binabik’s are. I mean, after the whole series ends, and the Storm King is no more, do Binabik’s throws start sounding more like “Sunny Day in the Park,” and “Gentle Breeze Across Tranquil Waters?” Or are they tarot-card-like, and even when everything’s good, the dice still roll bad results? I do not know. I figure that, most likely, the bones are very much just superstition, but in a fantasy series, it could really go either way, I suppose.

I skimmed over a lot of great dialog in this chapter, mostly between Binabik and Simon, that you should definitely read if you have the book with you. The two have grown very fond of each other, and have developed a very real relationship, and it’s nice to see how smartly Mr. Williams writes the two of them and their chemistry. Also, Strangyeard is usually filled with some pretty unintentionally funny things to say, which won’t be making their way into this reading for the most part.


So that’s a wrap for now. Again, please visit A Gentle Madness around this same time next week to get your fix of Tad Williams. Otherwise, stay tuned for more exciting things happening on this blog in the (relatively) near future.

Cheers!
-Brandon Daggerhart

The Anubis GatesThe Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers, was published in 1983 and won the 1983 Philip K. Dick Award. It is often reported as one of the archetype books of the steampunk genre, though it is definitely not a steampunk in the modern sense. Instead, it is a historical fantasy, in which Powers weaves together fiction and actual historical events to create a tapestry and story of magical mayhem and adventure.

The book starts with some ancient Egyptian magicians attempting to open up a portal to let the old Egyptian gods into the modern times (1800’s) to bring back power to Egypt and take said power from Brittain. The plan goes awry, and opens up multiple portals through time. Then, in the modern era (1983), the protagonist is introduced to this time portals, and begins an adventure that takes him through multiple different times and bodies.

To be honest, it took me a long time to get into this book. I tried reading it once months ago and put it down. It just seemed to be boring to me. Don’t get me wrong – I understand that plots can take time to develop (after all, I’m a known champion for Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn being one of the finest fantasy stories ever written, and it has a notoriously long 190+ page "introduction."), and I understand that Powers has an interesting writing style from his background in English literature. I just wasn’t interested in the story, the characters, or the time period the first time I tried to read it.

I decided to pick the book back up again and told myself, "I’ll read to at least page 100 before I make any decisions about it this time." I approached page 100 and passed it one night without even realizing, and was hooked. I don’t know why this time it was different – there is definitely something to the philosophy that there is a ‘time and place’ for everything, and this was the time and the place for me. It definitely had its slow parts, and there were parts of the book that I don’t really feel were explained very well, but looking at it on the whole, it was a fantastic read.

Spoilers Below – Read at your own Risk

There was one part in particular that I remember sucking me in. Brendan Doyle, in the early 1800’s, was waiting at a tavern for the arrival of the poet William Ashbless. Ashbless never showed up, which prompted Doyle to write one of Ashbless’ poems from memory. It was at that moment that something clicked in my head, and I realized what was going on – that Doyle was Ashbless (or would become him), and that this story was going to get all sorts of funky.

For the most part, all of the time traveling in the book was very well explained and well thought-out, especially in terms of long-term effects. The device for moving through times seemed to have a bit too much handwavium in its flux capacitor, but most of the "logic" in the time traveling worked fine.

The ending was also very poignant – the fact that Doyle, by the time the main part of the story ended, knew that he would never have any true free will (since he must necessarily live out the live of Ashbless as written), was very sad. The epilogue, where we find out that there is still more to his story, made for a very happy turn.

Some parts didn’t work though. There were parts of the story that were written in such a way that I just simply didn’t know what was really going on. I thought Byron was murdered at one point, but at the end of the book, we are told Ashbless and Byron had become great friends. It took me a couple times reading through the scene at the end with Jacky, Dog-Face Joe, and Darrow to comprehend what had happened – that Dog-Face had swapped bodies with Darrow at the wrong time, and had come into an already dead (or dying) body. It was really cool once I figured it out, but the scene was very confusingly written.

I never really bought the Master as any sort of threat either. His actions, and then his death, were all pretty irrelevant to me for the most part. Romany/Romanelli and Horrabin were much more interesting. And they were focused on more, but I don’t really even see the purpose in the Master’s arc in the book.

And finally, Romany’s death by Apep was a little odd to me – it just didn’t seem to be explained well why that happened, and why Doyle was healed afterwards.

Overall, the story was a great read, and I would highly recommend it to literally anyone interested in the fantasy or sci-fi genres.

Cheers!
-Brandon

View all my reviews

… and possibly next week as well.

I apologize, but I will not be able to finish the MS&T Re-read for a (hopefully short) while. A new job opportunity has presented itself which is taking up a bit of my time for right now, but I should be able to have it updated again at the latest by the second week of March. See you soon!

Hello, and welcome back to the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn re-read and analysis. Today covers chapters twenty-eight and twenty-nine. I chose to leave off thirty today, since that starts Part 3 of the book, and I want to tie in the next few chapters together. Or something. Oh, and also, this is going up on Tuesday, since Valentine’s Day has a tendency to draw my attention elsewhere. I promise it’s not laziness!

Anyway, as I will continue to say until the very last of these re-reads is done, 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.

(Don’t forget to take your supper off the stove before staring thoughtfully to the sky, kiddies!)

Chapter 28 – Drums of Ice

Summary

On the 24th day of Maia-month, Maegwin and Gwythinn (Maegwin’s half-brother) are headed to the hall to speak with their father, Lluth of Hernystir. The speak of Guthwulf, who is at the Taig by writ of Elias, and how the King’s Hand has been insulting to Lluth, king of Hernystir. They enter the hall of the Taig and are greeted by King Lluth ubh-Llythinn and his wife, Inawhen. Gwythinn informs the king that last night, one of Guthwulf’s men picked a fight with Craobhan, and Gwythinn had to restrain the old man from retaliating.

Lluth looked troubled for a moment, then the look was gone, hidden behind the smiling mask that Maegwin knew so well. ‘Ah, father,’ she thought, ‘even you are finding it a bit hard to keep the music playing while these creatures bay all around the Taig.’ She walked quietly forward and sat on the platform by Gwythinn’s stool.

“Well, the king grinned ruefully, “sure it is that King Elias could have chosen his diplomats with a bit more care. But today in an hour they are gone, and peace descends again on Hernysadharc.”

Earl Guthwulf requests permission to enter and speak with the king, which is granted. Guthwulf greets the royal family with a bit of mockery (but not enough to warrant reaction), then demands to know when Lluth will be sending his ‘dues’ to Elias. Lluth says there will be no dues, as Elias has done nothing to help with their snow-blocked roads, or with the bandits that roam the lands. He asks “what can your king do,” as he sees there is ‘no greater tithe’ that can be paid upon them than to see their people suffering.

“No greater penalty?” the Earl said, savoring each word as though it felt good on his tongue. “No greater tithe?” He spat a wad of citril juice on the ground before the king’s chair. Several of Lluth’s men-at-arms actually cried out in horror; the harper who had been quietly playing in the comer dropped his instrument with a discordant crash.

“Dog!” Gwythinn leaped up, his stool clattering away. In a flashing moment his sword was out and at Guthwulf’s throat. The earl only stared, his chin tipped ever so slightly back.

“Gwythinn!” Lluth barked, “Sheathe, damn you, sheathe!”

Guthwulf’s lip curled. “Let him. Go ahead, pup, kill the High King’s Hand unarmed!” There was a clanking by the door as some of his men, their astonishment thawing, started to move forward. Guthwulf’s hand shot up. “No! Even if this whelp should slit my weasand from ear to ear, no one shall strike back! You walk out and ride to Erkynland. King Elias will be … most interested.” His men, confused, stood in place like armored scarecrows.

Lluth orders Gwythinn to stand down, and tells Guthwulf to inform Elias of the mortal insult he has paid the House of Hern this day. Guthwulf leaves with some ominous threats. Maegwin sees her father and brother are both very frightened.

******

Tiamak the Wrannaman is having a bad day and a lot of poor luck. The only crab caught in his many traps is too small to eat, his best bowl and best pen are broken, and had spilled ink all over a project he was working on. As he is settling down to rewrite the ruined page while cooking some root soup, he hears the returning sounds of his one messenger sparrow, which is the bird he uses to communicate with Morgenes. He retrieves the bird from its house above then brings it into his warmer home. He would rather eat before reading the message, as he is very hungry, but feels that some ‘good news’ from Morgenes would do him well.

The slip of parchment that had been wrapped around the sparrow’s leg was ragged at the edges, and the printed characters were smeared, as though the bird had gotten more than a little wet, but he was used to such things and soon sorted it out. The notation signifying the date when it had been written surprised him: the gray sparrow had taken nearly a month to reach the Wran. The message surprised him even more, but it was not the kind of surprise he had been hoping for.

It was with a feeling of cold weight in his stomach superceding any hunger that he went to the window, looking out past the tangled banyan branches to the fast-blooming stars. He stared into the northern sky, and for a moment could almost believe he felt a cold wind knifing in, driving a wedge of chill through the warm air of the Wran. He was a long time at the window before he noticed the smell of his supper burning.

******

Count Eolair is visiting with Father Dinivan, but wishing he was back home in Nad Mullach, instead of in Nabban. Eolair is in Nabban on Lluth’s behalf, to reach out to Lector Ranessin and Duke Leobardis, and try to find common ground with which to approach the High King in regards to the hardships suffered by all. Dinivan asks why Eolair is speaking with him, then.

“I am not quite sure. Only this I would tell you: it seems there is some struggle brewing, as often happens, but I myself fear it is deeper. You might think me a madman, but I forebode that an age is ending, and I fear what the coming one may bring.”

The lector’s secretary stared. For a moment his plain face seemed far older, as though he reflected on sorrows long carried.

“I will say only that I share your fears. Count Eolair,” he said at last. “But I cannot speak for the lector, except to say as I did before: he is a wise and subtle man.” He stroked the Tree at his breast. “For your heartsease, though, I can say this: Duke Leobardis has not yet made up his mind where he will lend his support. Although the High King alternately flatters and threatens him, still Leobardis resists.”

Dinivan can only offer a very vague reassurance that he believes Leobardis will not ally with Elias, and then the two talk about more pleasant things.

******

Jarnauga, an old Rimmersman, is waiting in the cold weather for some travelers. His village, Tungoldyr, which stands in the shadow of Stormspike, is completely abandoned from the unnatural cold – even the hardy Rimmersmen cannot survive in this climate. He sees the flickering lights withing Stormspike, signifying the Norns are preparing for something, and he knows he will never see his village again, as his time is coming – that much is certain.

But not everything was clear, even now. There was still the nagging dream to be dealt with, the dream of the black book and the three swords. It had dogged his sleep for a fortnight, but its meaning was still hidden from him.

His thoughts were interrupted by a blotch of movement on the southern approach, far away along the rim of the trees dotting the Wealdhelm’s western skirts. He squinted briefly, then slowly nodded his head and rose to his feet.

As he was pulling his coat back on, the wind changed direction; a moment later a dim mutter of thunder rolled down from the north. It came again, a low growl like a beast struggling awake from sleep. On its heels, but from the opposite direction, the sound of hooves grew from a murmur to a noise that rivaled the thunder.

As Jamauga picked up his cage of birds and walked out to meet the riders, the sounds grew together – thunder tolling in the north, the muffled din of approaching horsemen to the south – until they filled the white forest with their cold rumble, like music made on drums of ice.

Commentary
That’s another catch-me-up chapter, where we see how the rest of the world is faring while (im)patiently awaiting the resolution of the cliffhanger with Our Heroes.

The first two sections of the chapter were for introducing new secondary characters. Maegwin, the daughter of Lluth, is a gawky young lady who seems to not really enjoy the political intrigues of being a ‘king’s’ daughter – in fact, she seems to prefer animals to people.

I do find it sadly ironic that she and Eolair constantly have thoughts of each other, but never seem to acknowledge them as ‘real.’ She thinks his attentions are just because she is the king’s daughter, and he thinks she doesn’t really like him, or just has a crush because they met when she was so young. It is a bit of a soap-operish-type of thing to do, but seems to work well here. It does leave me a bit miffed at the end though, finding out how Maegwin end’s up – apparently, Williams had no qualms whatsoever with causing his beloved characters all kinds of pain and anguish.

Guthwulf was pretty awesomely scary here as well – the balls on that guy, to literally threaten a ‘king’ in the middle of said king’s court – well, they are not small, those. It is easy to look at him as a pretty bad guy here, and I think, even at the end of the story, should Usires come down from Heaven (or wherever) and judge Guthwulf, the Earl of Utanyeat would be put on the ‘not-very-good-guys’ list. However, I do find myself thinking often that he truly is a dutiful knight. He actually believes here that Lluth is wronging his liege, Elias, and that Elias is not asking for too much. We know this because we do get inside his head every now and then, and the man thinks relatively reasonably. He knows things are turning to shit all around the kingdom, he knows circumstances are not ideal, and he has a pretty damned good guess as to who is behind it all (Pryrates) – so he has a head, and not a terrible one, on his shoulders. But unfortuately, in Guthwulf’s case, goodness ain’t about following rules, it’s about being able to judge which rules are worth following, and which are not. Which pretty much right now seems to include every law, rule, edict, statement, etcetera that comes out of Elias’ (and Pryrates’) mouth(s).

So yeah, I sympathize with the Wolf, but I certainly do not condone his actions – especially those which come later, once (presumably) he has returned to Elias with the news of what Lluth had to say.

Welcome to our story, Tiamak, the second of the secondary characters! Unfortunately, I find you incredibly boring here in the beginning – I must confess, in past re-reads of this series, I have tended to gloss over the Tiamak sections (except the one where he wrestles a crocodile!). I don’t think I really start liking Tiamak as a character until he meets up with Isgrimnur – which is a pretty long time from now. Which is kinda sad I guess, because he’s not a bad guy – he’s just . . . boring. He doesn’t really ever do a whole lot (though I think he and Strangeyeard figure out at the VERY END that the Norns will be attacking from behind, or something like that), and I know it’s not necessary for every character in an epic fantasy series to be an action star. He is here for the very specific and important reason that Morgenes wanted to make sure he was taken care of once the creeks got swift and the paddles were lost. I just can’t help but feel like he never really contributes in any important way.

Well, he does bring that piece of Nisses’ parchment with him, which is somewhat useful for getting Camaris out of his funk, but other than that, is kind of part of that whole “False Messenger” thing, which means, nope, wasn’t too helpful after all!

Ah well, maybe with me really bunking down to re-read this series properly, I’ll find some things about him that I like.

And heh, he’s writing “Sovran Remedys of the Wranna Healers,” in the hopes of finally getting some recognition from the rest of the world that the Wrannamen can be just as learned and scholarly as the rest of the world. It would probably help his case a bit if he learned how to spell “Sovereign” and “Remedies” the way the rest of the world spells those words (not that they’re wrong, necessarily, but language evolves too, Tiamak!).

Eolair and Dinivan don’t really provide us with a lot of information, except to show that they’re both really cool cats, and it really, really sucks what happens to Dinivan later. Ah well.

And Jarnauga is introduced here, as the wise, old, mostly-naked dude to is meeting some strangers. Do we ever find out who he was meeting that was so important here? The next time we see him, he’s breaking up parties with “Behold” this and that, and I can’t recall he actually mentions who he was waiting for. But I get the feeling they were important.

Oh, and he can see lights flickering from within a mountain? And hear war music from within? That doesn’t sound like living “in the shadow of the mountain,” so much as living “on the side of the mountain.”

Words to look up: weasand – throat; gullet. Makes sense in context, but never heard the word before. It’s one of those things that shows Williams is quite a scholar himself, as he uses a lot of archaic words throughout the series. I just haven’t been posting them. Maybe I’ll do that from now on.

Chapter 29 – Hunters and Hunted

Summary

Simon runs back to pick up Binabik, sure that the troll is dead, getting wounded by an arrow in the process, and they turn back towards the city. Baron Heahferth attempts to charge across one of the bridges to cut Simon and his friends off, but the bridge collapses into the river below, taking Heahferth and all his men with him. Simon, carrying Binabik, runs into D’ai Chikiza with Marya and Qantaqa.

Simon’s arms were aching after a hundred steps, and it felt as though a knife was sliding in and out of his side; he fought to stay even with the girl as they followed the bounding wolf through the ruins of the Sithi city. It was like running through a cave of trees and icicles, a forest of vertical shimmer and dark, mossy corruption. Shattered tile was everywhere, and massive tangles of spiderwebs strung across beautiful, crumbling arches. Simon felt as though he had been swallowed by some incredible ogre with innards of quartz and jade and mother-of-pearl. The river sounds became muted behind them; the rasp of their own hard breathing vied with the scrape of their running feet.

At last, it seemed they were reaching the outskirts of the city: the tall trees, hemlock and cedar and towering pine, were closer together, and the tiled flooring that had been everywhere underfoot now dwindled to pathways coiling at the feet of the forest giants. Simon stopped running. His eyesight was blackening at the edges. He stood in place and felt the earth reel about him. Marya took his hand and led him a few limping steps to an ivy-choked mound of stone that Simon, his sight slowly returning, recognized as a well. He set Binabik’s body down gently on the pack that Marya had been carrying, propping the little man’s side against the rough cloth, then leaned on the well’s rim to suck air into his needy lungs. His side continued to throb.

Marya squatted next to Binabik, pushing away Qantaqa’s nose as the wolf prodded at her silent master. Qantaqa took a step back, making a whimpering sound of incomprehension, then lay down with her muzzle on her paws. Simon felt hot tears spring to his eyes.

Marya sees that Binabik is not dead, and Simon determines they must remove the arrow from Binabik’s back. Marya gives Simon her knife to cut away the cloth around the wound and to cut the tip off the arrow so it can be pulled through. Once done, they wrap up Binabik as best they can and, and Simon picks him up and they head towards the hills to the north of the city. Once they get to the steep inclines out of the city, they must stop and rest again. Marya points out that Simon will need his hands to get up the hill and the two try to determine how to make it up, and save Binabik. Simon thinks of an idea that may help them out, and calls Qantaqa to him.

Working feverishly, the unspoken thought of Ingen Jegger a hovering shadow, Simon and Marya wrapped Binabik up neck to toe in the girl’s cloak, then balanced the troll stomach down on Qantaqa’s back, tying him in place with the last shredded strips of clothing from out of the pack. Simon remembered the position from his involuntary ride to Duke Isgrimnur’s camp, but he knew that if the thick cloak was between Binabik’s ribs and the wolf’s back, the little man would at least be able to breathe. Simon knew it was not a good situation for a wounded, probably dying, troll, but what else could be done? Marya was right; he would need his hands going up the hill.

Once Qantaqa’s initial skittishness wore off, she stood passively as the boy and girl worked, turning occasionally to try and sniff Binabik’s face where it bobbed at her side. When they finished and started up the slope, the wolf picked her way carefully, as if aware of the importance to her silent burden of a smooth ride.

They climb for awhile, then rest again and have a moment (which Simon makes awkward by blurting out, “I like you, Marya!”), then must continue on. The deer path they are following eventually meets up with a much wider path – an ancient Sithi road. This meets up with the ‘Stile,’ a zig-zagging path that will take them up the hill and towards Naglimund. As they are preparing to mount it, Marya sees something up above, and they worry it may be more men waiting for them. They decide to follow the path for awhile at least, and head up the Stile.

As they are all weakening and tiring – even Qantaqa – and Simon is planning on taking a break again, they see torches ahead of them on the spine of the hill. Marya assumes it is Jegger, cutting them off, and they leave the path so as to be harder to find. They find another clearing in which to rest while trying to decide what to do next. As they are munching on food, they here the baying of the hunting hounds in the distance. Simon fumes for a few moments about how awful their predicament is, then starts rummaging around in Binabik’s pack.

Simon found what he was seeking and closed his hand on it. Some of the noises were now coming from the hillside north of them, too, almost at their level of the slope. The trap was closing.

“Hold Qantaqa.” He got up and crawled a short distance, scouring the brush until he found a good-sized broken branch, a thick one longer than his arm. He brought it back and upended Binabik’s bag of powder on it, then laid it down carefully. “I’m making a torch,” he said, pulling out the troll’s flints.

“Won’t that just lead them to us?” the girl asked, a note of detached curiosity in her voice.

“I won’t light it until I have to,” he replied, “but at least we’ll have something . . . something to fight with.”

Her face was in shadow, but he could sense her eyes on him. She knew exactly how much good such a gesture would do them. He hoped – and the hope was very strong – that she would understand why it was a necessary gesture.

Simon tries to light the torch as something crashes close by. A giant humanoid creature stumbles into their clearing and attacks Simon with its claws and lunges for him again, but Qantaqa saves him. As the giant is about to attack Simon again, hunting hounds charge the clearing, and along with armed men, bring the giant down. Simon recognizes Josua as one of the riders, and calls the prince’s name as he faints. He feverishly remembers being carried into Naglimund afterwards.

Commentary

Another tense chase chapter. This one has always reminded me very much of Chapter 12 of The Fellowship of the Ring, “Flight to the Ford.” Whether intentional or not, there are a lot of very important similarities in this chapter. The desperateness of Our Heroes’ situation, being chased by an enemy they know almost nothing about, the critically-wounded party member, the water-related sudden (and unexpected) death/destruction of the main bulk of the chasing enemies (done by (possibly) elves/Sithi, no less!), the main hero unconsciously being taken to a safe haven at the very end. Then it is followed very soon by a happy reunion. This chapter also, just like “Flight,” marks the end of a major section of the book, and a major plot-point, which is where the heroes are traveling alone, unprepared, and in flight, just trying to reach a specific place of safety. As you can see, many similarities here, and probably some I haven’t thought of. It could be that Williams subtly put this stuff in on purpose, to keep the reader in a familiar place, before really turning things on their head, or it could just be completely unintentional, but I like it. From both a literary place, and emotional place, I think it is fitting. In a literary sense, it makes the readers (those who’ve read LotR, anyway) assume they know where they are going, and when things take horrible, drastic turns, it puts the readers in much more suspense than they otherwise would be. From an emotional point, familiar ground always makes us cozy, which means it is easier to read, easier to enjoy, and easier to remember.

ANYWAY, yeah, Binabik is horribly wounded, and Simon’s sureness that the troll is dead, but unwillingness to leave the body is very admirable, and then he carries the little dude for who knows how long? Good man there. A major portion of this chapter seems to be to showcase the strong sides of Simon’s character – his carrying the troll, his good and quick thinking in both removing the arrow from Binabik, and in tying Binabik to Qantaqa, his determination to go down fighting at the end, even with nothing but a torch. This, to me, is a very important, yet subtle, indication of what kind of man Simon will soon become. I’ve complimented Mr. Williams multiple times on how well he writes a teenage boy, now I spread that compliment out to include how well he writes a strong-willed teenage boy who does what needs to be done in dire circumstances.

Another somewhat anthropomorphic Aldheorte scene here – kind of. Miriamele thinks the Sithi caused the bridge to collapse on the riders, but Simon thinks that’s nonsense. I’ll add it to the list – it does seem likely to me that, whether or not any Sithi are actually hanging around in the city (which seems very unlikely), due to what we have heard and read so far as to the nature of the forest and the Sithi in generaly, something other than just the mass of horses and riders could have brought the bridge down. I’m just sayin’ . . .

Not really a whole lot else to talk to in this chapter. Simon has an endearing and somewhat heartbreaking moment with Marya (“I like you, Marya!”), and he does rethink his thoughts about her looks, finding her to be ‘delicate’ instead of ‘skinny.’ That’s nice, whatever helps you sleep at night, Simon, after thinking she was a boy. I’ll save the stuff about Josua for the next chapter.

Cheers!
E.S.

Welcome back to another re-read of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, by Tad Williams, and covering chapters 25 to 27, in which not-very-girly girls (apparently) need rescuing, dreams get REAL SERIOUS YO, and teenage boys do stupid teenage-boys-type of things. Oh, and there may be some sadness. 😦

As I will continue to say until the very last of these re-reads is done, 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.

Harsh Lessons Ahead.

Chapter 25 – The Secret Lake

Summary

Simon hacks himself a tree branch and holds onto Qantaqa while Binbabik prepares himself with rope. Simon takes Qantaqa down to a jutting out in the canyon, where he can see the hounds closing on Binabik quickly.

It was like the recurrence of his worst nightmare, like Morgenes in flames standing between Simon and the deadly hand of Elias. He couldn’t sit and watch Binabik killed before his eyes. As he started to pull himself forward, the dogs leaped toward the troll. Simon had only a moment’s impression of long, pale snouts, of empty, pearl-white eyes, and a flare of red curving tongues and red mouths . . . then Binabik jumped backward, down into the canyon.

“No!” Simon shrieked, horrified. The five or six creatures that had been nearest lunged forward, unable to stop, and tumbled over the cliff in a squealing tangle of white legs and tails. Helpless, Simon watched the clot of whinnying dogs bounce against the steep rock face and plummet down into the trees far below with an explosive popping of broken branches. He felt another choking scream rise in his breast . . .

“Now, Simon! Let her go!”

Mouth agape, Simon looked down to see Binabik’s feet braced against the canyon wall, the troll hanging suspended from the rope about his waist not two dozen feet below the spot where he had jumped. “Let her go!” he called again, and Simon finally uncurled his restraining arm from Qantaqa’s neck. The remainder of the dogs were milling at the rim above Binabik’s head, sniffing the ground and staring down, barking savagely at the little man who hung so frustratingly near.

Qantaqa engages several hounds while one comes for Simon, forcing himself to defend with his cudgel. He is able to toss the dog over the cliff, and Binabik saves him from another with a poisoned dart. Qantaqa survives her battle as well, and the three regroup. They investigate the dead dogs, and find that they are marked with the sign of Stormspike, the homeland of the Norns. The dogs’ collars also have the brand of Elias’ kennels, which is confusing.

The three find a way around the canyon, but soon hear another dog ahead, along with what Simon believes to be a child screaming. They quickly come to a scene of a hound having trapped something in a tree, and Qantaqa and the hound close for battle. Binabik joins the fray with his knife once Qantaqa is wounded, and they kill the hound. Simon approaches the tree and sees two individuals in the branches – Malachias, whom Simon knows from the Hayholt, and a little girl, who seems to be wounded. They then hear more horns behind them, and coax the two down so that they may all flee. Binabik sends Qantaqa ahead to find Geloë, and hopefully confuse their scents. Binabik, Simon, and the two then hide.

Eventually several hounds, and then the hounds’ masters, arrive close by. Baron Heahferth, whom Simon recognizes from the Hayholt, and a strange-looking man named Ingen Jegger speak and threaten each other, before Jegger orders Heahferth and his men to follow Qantaqa’s trail. Once they leave, Binabik inspects Leleth, finding her injuries to be very bad, and has Simon carry the girl as they head for Geloë’s.

They made their way northwest through the dense forest, the lowering sun lancing through the branches. Simon asked the troll about the man named Ingen and his odd way of speaking.

“Black Rimmersman, I am thinking,” Binabik said. “They are a rare lot, not often seen except at northernmost settlements where they some times come to trade. They do not speak the language of Rimmersgard. It is said they live on the fringes of the lands belonging to the Norns.”

“The Norns again,” Simon grunted, ducking beneath a branch that had sprung from Malachias’ careless hand. He turned to confront the troll. “What is going on?! Why should such people be concerned with us?”

“Perilous times, friend Simon,” Binabik said. “Through perilous times we are passing.”

Several hours went by and the shadows of afternoon grew longer and longer. The patches of sky that glimmered through the treetops turned slowly from blue to shell pink. The three walked on. The land was mostly level, from time to time sloping away like a shallow beggar’s bowl. In the branches above, squirrels and Jays carried on their endless arguments; crickets droned in the leaf-tangle at their feet. Once Simon saw a large gray owl scudding like a phantom through the twining branches overhead. Later he saw another, so like the first as to have been its twin.

The stream they are following eventually becomes wider, and then drops into a large, hidden lake in the forest. In the center of the lake, a house, which Binabik names “The House of Geloë,” sits on stilts. As they approach, Qantaqa bounds toward them, and she and Binabik have a joyful reunion.

Commentary

Other than the diggers, I suppose this is the first real ‘action’ chapter we have, especially concerning Simon trying to defend himself from enemies. He survives on what I like to call “Luck of the Heroes,” by wielding a stick against a powerful dog trained for hunting. Do we worry about realism at a time like this? I do not.

Binabik’s little rope trick is pretty awesome – I remember reading one of the Drizzt books later, and seeing Bruenor do something similar, and thought to myself, “R.A. Salvatore must have gotten that from Williams,” but of course, that little trick is something we’ve seen in movies, TV shows, and books for ages. It just so happens that Williams pulls it off very well here, in such a way that it was truly tense for a moment when it looked like Binabik had jumped to his death. And poor Simon, for that one moment, watching his friend hurl over a canyon ledge.

The mystery of the hounds themselves always seemed to me to be a bit of a non-mystery. I mean, it seems like there can only be one logical explanation – the hounds are bred in Stormspike, then sent to Elias to be trained by Erkynlanders. Of course, the why of that is not quite so obvious, but I figure even Binabik would have said, “Well, I guess Elias has Norn hounds for some reason.”

So Ingen Jegger, we finally meet. This is the huntsman Elias mentioned to Guthwulf earlier, and he is immediately meant to be villainous, if by no other reason that Simon’s reaction to seeing and hearing the man speak. He becomes a bit of Simon’s nemesis over the story, even almost moreso than Elias, Pryrates, Ineluki, or Utuk’ku, and I find this to be particularly important, because it gives Simon someone who, rationally speaking, Simon could confront and at least have a smidgeon of a chance of winning. Ineluki, Utuk’ku, and Pryrates are all way over Simon, Binabik, Josua, and many of the other ‘normal’ characters’ heads, and Elias, though simply a flesh-and-blood mortal, has the power of kingdoms behind him. But Ingen gives us a character that could be a worthy match to other more human protagonists, and this makes him important. Unfortunately, Simon himself never really gets to confront Jegger in a mano-a-mano type of battle, so I have to wonder if that was originally Williams’ plan, or he detoured later in the story? It does seem odd to me, now that I think about it, that Simon doesn’t really have any real nemeses that he confronts and defeats – unless you count Inch, but I wouldn’t really even count him, since Inch was not someone who Simon was thinking about and dreading through three books.

Anyhoo, what exactly are “Black Rimmersmen” anyway? They call them that, and Jegger’s description mentions a “dark face,” but . . . are they black, or not? I feel that if they were black, and that was something strange enough worth commenting on, then it would be mentioned in less-subtle ways. Is ‘black’ meant to be more of a metaphorical description, (ie – black-hearted Rimmersmen)? If it was just that they have darker skin tones, that wouldn’t make sense, because Tiamak is often called “brown,” by those around him, and he is the darkest-skinned person in the series I recall meeting whose skin is commented on. I don’t recall ever meeting any other Black Rimmersmen the entire story, so someone may have to refresh my memory on it.

And, we get back to tricksy, tricksy Malachias/Marya/Miriamele, and this part of the story is one of the unfortunately-least-realistic parts to me, because it seems really out of place that Simon can’t tell she’s a girl. I mean, she’s fifteen (or sixteen?), and it is certainly mentioned both before (by Hepzibah) and later (by others) that Miriamele is beautiful, so one would figure Simon could notice some of the . . . ahem . . . things that differentiate boys from girls. I suppose it’s worth mentioning that she could have been hiding under a lot of clothes, but even so, once Simon finds out, he even says something to the effect of, “How could I have ever thought she was a boy?” meaning there are very obvious girly-features to the princess, but she presumably doesn’t change how she dresses to wear more revealing and/or feminine clothes, so what’s different now?

Okay, so turning the creep-factor down a notch or two . . . I pointed out in a quote the fact that Geloë was hanging around, even though our travelers knew not. One of my absolutely favorite reveals throughout the course of the series is Williams’ reveal of Geloë’s importance and power. The owls are so awesomely subtle, that I believe I did not notice even on my second read through of the series, many eons ago.

But we’ll talk more about Geloë very soon now.

Chapter 26 – In the House of Geloë

Summary

Geloë welcomes the travelers into her home, and after a brief greeting, Geloë leaves Binabik, Malachias, and Simon to themselves while she tends to Leleth. The home is filled with all sorts of strange things that remind Simon of Morgenes’ chambers. Binabik makes some soup for them, and once he finishes it, Simon soon falls asleep on the floor. When he awakens later, it is night, and Binabik and Geloë are speaking softly. He inquires about Leleth, and then asks if she has heard about Morgenes.

“I already knew.” Geloë stared at him, firelight reddening her bright eyes. When she spoke, it was with powerful deliberateness. “You were with him, boy. I know your name, and I felt Morgenes’ mark upon you when I touched you as I took the child.” As if to demonstrate, she held out her own wide, callused hand.

“You knew my name?”

“Where the doctor is concerned, I know many things.” Geloë leaned over and poked up the fire with a long, blackened stick. “A great man has been lost, a man we can ill afford to lose.”

Simon hesitated. Curiosity at last won out over awe. “What do you mean?” He crawled across the floor to sit near the troll. “That is, what does ‘we’ mean?”

” ‘We’ means all of us,” she said. ” ‘We’ means: those who do not welcome darkness.”

Binabik tells Simon that he has shared their entire story with Geloë, but she says that she unfortunately has no answers. She suggests they sleep for the night, and she will attempt to find answers tomorrow. Simon settles down on his cloak and eventually goes to sleep, and has a dream of a hidden Morgenes telling him to “beware the false messenger.” When Morgenes is revealed, he is burned as though from the fire, and Simon wakes up screaming. Geloë is standing nearby.

“You had powerful dreams like this when you lived at the castle, boy?” she asked, fixing him with a stem eye as if daring him to deny it.

Simon shivered. Faced with that overwhelming gaze, he felt no urge to tell anything but the truth. “Not until . . . until the last few months before . . . before . . .”

“Before Morgenes died,” said Geloe flatly, “Binabik, unless the learning I have has deserted me completely, I cannot believe this is chance, for him to dream of Morgenes in my house. Not a dream like that.”

Geloë has Simon lie down again, and Binabik asks if Simon has had other dreams like that before. Simon denies anything, but as he goes to sleep again, he remembers a fire on a hill, and the creaking of wagon wheels and wonders if that was a dream.

The next morning dawns gray and murky – Geloë has taken Malachias out to gather herbs, and Simon and Binabik prepare a fire and tend Leleth’s bandages. Binabik cooks up some tea and asks Simon how he knew Malachias – once explained, the troll says they should keep an eye on the boy. Geloë and Malachias soon return, and the wise woman mixes in other herbs to the pot of water Binabik has prepared. Simon goes outside and looks around for awhile before Binabik brings him some food and asks him to come back inside so they can help Geloë search for answers.

“Searching how? Are we going somewhere?”

Binabik looked at him seriously. “In some way, yes – no, do not be looking so cross! I will explain.” He cast a pebble. “There is a thing that is done sometimes, when ways of finding things out are closed. A thing that the wise can do. My master Ookequk called it walking the Road of Dreams.”

“But that killed him!”

“No! That is to say . . .” the troll’s expression was worried as he searched for words. “It is to say, yes, he died while on the road. But a man may die on any road. That is not meaning that anyone who walks upon it will be dying. People have been crushed by carts in your Main Row, but hundreds of others walk upon it every day without harm.”

Binabik then explains that the dream road is a place where people who know how can go in their sleep, to search for answers, or to see things more clearly that can otherwise not be seen in the waking world. Simon agrees to travel this road with them on the condition that Binabik tells him what really happened to his master on the dream road. The troll explains that two dangers await on the road – the first is, the walker cannot find his way back, and the second is meeting other travelers on the road who are dangers – he is sure Ookequk met such a ‘traveler.’

Once inside, Geloë sits Binabik and Simon with herself around a fire and dabs various poultices on their heads, hands, and lips. They hold hands and Geloë says some words before they are then wrapped in darkness. The darkness fades and Simon sees a field of white.

A moment later the field of white became a vast, glittering mountain of ice, a mountain so impossibly tall that its head was hidden in the swirling clouds lining the dark sky. Smoke belched from crevices in its glassy sides and streamed upward to join the cloud-halo.

And then, somehow, he was inside the great mountain, flying as rapidly as a spark through tunnels that led ever inward, dark tunnels that were nevertheless lined with mirroring ice. Uncountable thousands of shapes made their way through the mists and shadows and frost – gleaming, pale-faced, angular shapes who marched the corridors in moving thickets of glimmering spears, or tended the strange blue and yellow fires whose smokes crowned the heights above.

The spark that was Simon still felt two firm hands grasping his own, or rather felt something else that told him he was not alone, for certainly a spark could have no hands to hold. He was at last in a great chamber, a vast hollow in the mountain’s center. The roof was so high above the ice-glazed tiles of the floor that snow flurried down from its upper reaches, leaping, whirling clouds of snow like armies of tiny white butterflies. In the center of the immense chamber was a monstrous well, whose mouth flickered with pale blue light, and which seemed the source of a hideous, heart-squeezing fear. Some heat must have been floating up from its unguessable depths, for the air above it was a roiling pillar of fogs, a misty column gleaming with diffuse colors like a titan icicle catching the sun’s light.

Hanging somehow in the fog above the well, its shape not quite clear or its dimensions entirely guessable, was an inexplicable something: a thing made up of many things and many shapes, all colorless as glass. It seemed – as its lineaments appeared here and there in the swirling mist-pillar – a creation of angles and sweeping curves, of subtle, frightening complexity. In some not quite definable way it seemed an instrument of music. If so, it was an instrument so huge, alien, and frightening that the spark that was Simon knew he could never hear its awful music and live.

Facing the well, in an angular seat of rime-crusted black rock, a figure sat. He could see it clearly, as though suddenly he hovered directly over the terrible, blue-burning well. It was cloaked in a white and silver robe of fantastic intricacy. Snowy hair streamed down over its shoulders to blend almost invisibly with the immaculate white garments.

The pale form lifted its head, and the face was a mass of shining light. A moment later, as it turned away again, he could see that it was only a beautiful, expressionless sculpture of a woman’s face . . . a mask of silver.

The dazzling, exotic face turned back toward him. He felt himself pushed away, brusquely disconnected from the scene like a clinging kitten being pulled free from the hem of a dress. A vision swam up before him that was somehow a part of the wreath of fogs and the grim white figure. At first it was only another patch of alabaster whiteness; gradually it became an angular shape crisscrossed with black. The black shapes became lines, the lines became symbols; at last an open book hung before him. On its opened page were letters Simon could not read, twisting runes that wavered and then came clear.

A timeless instant passed, then the runes began to shimmer once more. They pulled apart and reformed themselves into black silhouettes, three long, slender shapes . . . three swords. One had a hilt shaped like the Tree of Usires, another a hilt like the right-angle crossbeams of a roof. The third had a strange double guard, the cross pieces making, with the hilt, a son of five-pointed star. Somewhere, deep in Simon’s self, he recognized this last sword. Somewhere, in a memory black as night, deep as a cave, he had seen sucha blade.

The swords disappear and Simon fights their disappearance, desperately wanting answers to why so many people have died. As he thinks these questions, the mountain appears again, then morphed into the shape of a massive white tree, which then morphed into a tall white pillar with flames at the top, and a deep, booming bell sound being made. Then, the blackness that has spoken in his dreams before addresses him as “Little fly,” and taunts him, trying to catch him. He is freed by a gray owl who carries him over the lands of Osten Ard.

Simon awakens to see Binabik and Geloë very dazed by the experience – Simon’s head is pounding as well. He fetches some water outside, noticing that it almost seems as if the house had moved while he was out (but dismissing that), and gives some to Binabik and Geloë. He realizes somehow that Geloë saved his live on the dream road, and asks Binabik if they all saw the same thing. Malachias mentions that the whole how was shaking during the ordeal.

That evening, around soup, Geloë very grimly explains what she saw – that the Norns are preparing for war in the great mountain Stormspike, and that the figure in the silver mask is Utuk’ku, Queen of the Norns. She explains that the Sithi and Norns were once part of the same tribe, but that they split many thousands of years ago. Simon says he’s seen the Norns before, after he left the lichyard (Malachias shifts nervously at this statement), he saw them up on Thisterborg, giving Elias and Pryrates something, but he cannot remember what. She then tells Simon and Binabik that the book they saw was ‘Du Svardenvyrd,’ or ‘The Weird of the Swords,’ an ancient book written by Nisses. Simon says he saw three swords.

Malachias interrupts to tell Simon that he was the one calling to Simon that night in the lichyard.

Geloë smiled. “At last, one our mysteries begins to speak! Go on, child. Tell them what you must.”

Malachias blushed furiously. “I . . . my name is not Malachias. It is . . . Marya.”

“But Marya is a girl’s name,” Simon began, then broke off at the sight of Geloë’s widening grin. “A girl . . .?” he said lamely. He stared at the strange boy’s face, and suddenly saw it for what it was. “A girl,” he grunted, feeling impossibly stupid.

The witch woman chuckled. “It was obvious, I must say – or it should have been. She had the advantage of traveling with a troll and a boy, and the cloak of confusing, dangerous events, but I told her the deception could not last.”

“Especially not all the way to Naglimund, and that is where I must go.” Marya rubbed her eyes wearily. “I have an important message to bear to Prince Josua from his niece, Miriamele. Please do not ask me what it is, for I may not tell you.”

She then explains that Leleth is the princess’ handmaiden, not her sister, and Geloë says Leleth must remain with her, as she is unfit to travel. Geloë then tells them they must travel along a river to Da’ai Chikiza, an ancient Sithi city, but first they must sleep. Simon goes to sleep moodily, not understanding his role, and not understanding why Marya had been spying on him.

Commentary

Well, I will hope the ‘Fair Use’ Police don’t come banging at my door for the amount of the dream sequence I quoted, but quite frankly, but that scene is one of my favorites in the entire series, and there is no way a simple summary could have done it justice. But we’ll get to that in a moment. In order . . .

Simon’s dreams are mentioned here to have started around Morgenes’ death – Geloë (possibly) takes this to mean Simon is haunted by the death, but I still find the most rational explanation is this: his experience on Thisterborg with Pryrates was also basically the next night, and he didn’t have time to dream really before then, so it makes just as much sense that it would have to do with the unbroken ‘mind-meld’ Pryrates had him held in. So yeah, not much to say on that except I still stand strongly in the camp that Simon (unfortunately or not) doesn’t have powers of his own, but they are come to him through his connection with Pryrates for some reason.

I like that Geloë is given so many descriptors of birds. Just to name the three that come to mind, it is said she has wise eyes of a “bird of great heights,” then separately that her “shoulders hunched like a bird huddling in the rain,” and also that “she resembled a bird, a proud, steep-soaring bird at that.” These are all very obvious on re-reading the series, but are subtle enough that a first-time reader should be adequately surprised when the truth is revealed later. And much more will be talked about with regards to Geloë and her origins later. I want to get to the relevant parts of the books first, but I will definitely be marking things to talk about and write a nice little essay once it comes time.

The Road of Dreams sounds a lot like what Tel’aran’rhiod becomes in the Wheel of Time, especially with quotes like this: “I was taught that by dreaming is one way to mount up to this road, one any person can do.” Binabik furrowed his brow. “But when a person reaches to the road by ordinary night dreaming, he cannot then be walking along the road: he sees from one spot only, and then must come back down. So – Ookequk told to me – this one does not often know what he is looking at. Sometimes,” he gestured out at the mist that clung to the trees and lake, “it is only fog that he sees. The wise one, though, can be walking along the road, once he has mastered the art of climbing to it. He can be walking and looking, seeing things as they are, as they change.” Not saying anything by this, just find it interesting.

Geloë’s obvious pleasure at seeing Simon’s discomfort about Marya is humorous. She definitely seems to be milking the situation a bit. 🙂

Finally, there is the dream itself. There is a lot to go over here.

I remember the first time I read this sequence, the scene where Simon becomes the ‘spark’ and flies towards the mountain and then sees Utuk’ku literally haunted me. Not in a creepy/frightening way, but in a way that stuck with me for a long time. It’s extremely cinematic in its reveal of first the mountain, then the interiors, then the Harp, and finally of Utuk’ku looking up from her place. I can picture to this day exactly what I pictured when I read it, and if given all the resources necessary, I could make a hell of a short film based off of this scene. In fact, it may be time to try to get in touch with some people about that. 😉

Speaking of which, I guess this is where we officially welcome Utuk’ku to the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn re-read – I’ve mentioned her multiple times, but this is definitely the first time she’s made an actual appearance. For some reason, I do find it strange that Geloë and Binabik both seem to have a lot of questions about who the Norns are. I mean, sure, they’ve kept themselves hidden behind the great northern mountains for eons, but surely there is some sort of history, possibly from the time when Sithi and mortals (especially the Hernystiri) were friends? And then the League of the Scroll – which Geloë is certainly associated with, and Binabik is the next-best thing to a full member – would certainly have had a little bit of information about the relationship between the Sithi and the Norns. Perhaps this is explained somewhere later and I’ve just forgotten about it.

Du Svardenvyrd comes next, and it should be obvious to the re-readers that this is the point where we first encounter the “false messenger.” But there are a few things about this that seem odd to me. Firstly, Simon first dreamed of three swords waaaay back in chapter 14, which is before he had his mind-meld with Pryrates. So why would he have had this dream? Secondly, Simon’s dream of Morgenes in the current chapter mentions the “false messenger” for the first time, and that seems as though it should be obvious help, so surely this is not a dream from Pryrates/Utuk’ku/Ineluku/Red Hand/etcetera – it is either a real spiritual experience of some sort, or a ridiculously odd coincidence. And since we’re in the middle of an epic fantasy series, I can make promises that this ain’t no coincidence. Therefore, we have Simon dreaming of three swords before he has any reason to, and then Morgenes telling him of the “false messenger” the very night before Simon encounters that “false messenger.” The only conclusion I can really draw is that, for whatever reason, Simon has been chosen since even before Thisterborg to receive visions/dreams/whatever from Ineluki, Pryrates, and Utuk’ku, and they are coaxing him into doing their bidding. This would mean his dream of Morgenes was real, and in some way, Morgenes is communicating with him from beyond the grave. Which . . . well . . . just doesn’t really seem to fit with what I know about Morgenes, Simon, and their respective powers (or lack thereof). So anyway, just a bit of a ramble there. Hopefully something will come up (or someone will comment here) that will lead me to better understanding of how this dream thing works.

Oh, and back on this subject again, but I still have serious problems believing, whatever Geloë’s explanation, that Simon and Binabik could not tell Marya/Miriamele/Malachias was of a different gender. Whatever.

Maybe it’s time to continue . . .

Chapter 27 – The Gossamer Towers

Summary

Geloë awakens the group by alerting them they have been found – men are surrounding the lake. The men may not know the house is here, but it is too coincidental to take chances. Simon wonders how she can see the far side of the lake from in the house, but decides it is better not to ask too many questions. Geloë informs them they must take a boat up an inlet stream and silently pass the hunters. When Binabik and Simon get discouraged by this, and the fact that Ingen Jegger may see them, Geloë tells them not to worry, “some useful distraction” may keep them otherwise occupied.

Simon and Geloë go outside the house to untie her boat, and he is certain that one of the trees beside the house was on the other side when they first arrived, but how could a tree move? He also thinks the house smells like an animal. On his way back, he trips over something scaly and looks down to see what it was.

Although the water was very nearly opaque in the darkness, Simon was sure he could see the outlines of some strange type of log, or rather a vast branch of some kind, for he could see that the thing he had tripped over, lying close beneath the surface of the water, joined two other scaly branches. Together they seemed connected to the base of one of the two pillars on which the cottage stood suspended over the lake.

And as he stepped carefully over it, sliding silently through the water toward the shadow that was Geloë, he suddenly realized that what the tree roots – or branches, or whatever they were – what they truly looked like was . . . some kind of monstrous foot. A claw, actually, the claw of a bird. What a funny idea! A house did not have bird’s feet, anymore than a house got up and . . . walked.

Simon was very quiet as Geloë tied the boat up to the base of the plank.

Simon, Marya, and Binabik get in the boat and get to rowing silently away from the house. After moving silently through the lake for awhile, they see tents off to one side, and realize they are approaching the camp of the hunting men. One of the sentries almost spots them, but is attacked by a bird, which allows the three to use the distraction to row into the inlet. They paddle for a long time before resting. Simon gets distracted staring at Marya a couple of times, and then the two argue over who is older. They have to get out of the boat to carry it to where the inlet meets the actual Aelfwent river.

They row around rocks beneath the river, and Simon gets caught up in the adventure and sings a song about Usires the sailor. Marya then sings a song from Meremund (after insulting Simon a bit), and they all join in at the end, before having to dodge more rocks. It starts to rain, but Simon is in a good mood nonetheless.

When the light filtering down through the canopy of trees began to dim, they steered the boat to the side and made camp. After building a fire, using his sack of yellow dust to kindle the damp wood, Binabik produced a parcel of fresh vegetables and fruits from one of the packs Geloë had provided. Qantaqa, left to her own devices, went slinking off into the tall brush, returning some time later with her fur soaking wet and a few streaks of blood adorning her muzzle. Simon looked at Marya, who was meditatively sucking on a peach pit, to see what her reaction would be to this evidence of the brutal side of the wolf’s nature, but if the girl noticed she showed no signs of unease.

‘She must have worked in the princess’ kitchens,’ he guessed.’Still, if I had one of Morgenes’ stuffed lizards to slip in her cloak, then she’d jump, I’ll wager’

Thinking about her working in castle kitchens set him to wondering just what it was she had done in the princess’ service – and now that he thought of it, what had she been doing spying on him? But when he tried to ask her questions about the princess, she only shook her head, saying that she could not say anything about her mistress or her services until the message had been delivered at Naglimund.

Binabik asks Marya what she will do if Josua is not at Naglimund, to which she has no answer.

The next day, they set to rowing again, and keep each other entertained by telling stories about their home life. Simon worries if the hunters are chasing them, but Binabik reassures them that they are safer now than they have been in awhile. That afternoon, while rummaging through his sack, Simon finds his White Arrow, and brags about it to Marya. When she doesn’t seem impressed, he goes on to say he may as well throw it away for all the luck it’s brought him, but at that moment, their boat strikes a rock, and Simon goes overboard, losing the Arrow. The current pulls him away from the boat until Marya can get a paddle out to him for him to grab so the troll and girl can pull him aboard. He curls up on the bottom of the boat after regurgitating a lot of the river, while Binabik and Marya search for a spot to tie the boat to dry land.

He recovered enough strength to crawl out of the boat by himself on shaking legs. As he fell on his knees, spreading grateful palms on the soft forest floor, Bmabik reached down and plucked something loose from the sodden, ragged mess that was Simon’s shirt

“See what was caught up in your clothes,” Bmabik said, an odd look on his face. It was the White Arrow “Let us make a fire for you, poor Simon. Perhaps you have had a lesson – a cruel lesson, but a serious one – about speaking ill of Sithi gifts while sailing on a Sithi river. ”

Denied even the strength to be embarrassed as Binabik helped him shed his clothes and wrapped him in his cloak, Simon fell asleep in front of the blessed fire. His dreams were unsurprisingly dark, full of things that clutched and smothered.

The next day, Marya takes his position at the stern as he is sick with a fever. Throughout the day, the girl and Binabik take turns checking on him. That night, they camp again and Binabik reads in Morgenes’ book for awhile before Simon dozes off – he awakens once to Marya sleeping on his shoulder.

The next day, they come to the Gate of Cranes, a bridge that goes over the river and is one of the twelve Gates into Da’ai Chikiza. Binabik explains that though the bridges look fragile now, they were made to last – however, they may, too, fade one day, just as the Sithi have. The travelers row beneath eleven other bridges, then round a bend in the river and come upon the city.

As they rounded a bend, it was before them; a forest of impossibly graceful towers, set like a jeweled puzzle within the larger forest of trees. The Sithi city, flanking the river on either side, seemed to grow out of the very soil. It seemed the forest’s own dream realized in subtle stone, a hundred shades of green and white and pale summer-sky blue. It was an immense thicket of needle-thin stone, of gossamer walkways like bridges of spiderweb, of filigreed tower tops and minarets reaching up into the high treetops to catch sun on their faces like icy flowers. The world’s past lay open before them, breathtaking and heartrending. It was the most beautiful thing Simon had ever seen.

But as they floated into the city, the river winding around the slender columns, it became apparent that the forest was reclaiming Da’ai Chikiza. The tiled towers, intricate with cracks, were netted in ivy and the twining branches of trees. In many places, where once there had been walls and doors of wood or some other perishable substance, the stone outlines now stood precariously unsupported, like the bleached skeletons of incredible sea creatures. Everywhere the vegetation was thrusting in, clinging to the delicate walls, smothering the whisper-thin spires in uncaring leaves.

In a way, Simon decided, it only made it more beautiful, as though the forest, restless and unfulfilled, had grown a city from out of itself.

Binabik’s quiet voice broke the silence, solemn as the moment; the echoes quickly vanished in the choking greenery.

” ‘Tree of the Singing Wind,’ they named it: Da’ai Chikiza. Once, can you imagine, it was full of music and life. All the windows burned with lamps, and there were bright boats at sail upon the river.” The troll tilted his head back to stare as they passed beneath a last stone bridge, narrow as a feather quill, clothed in images of graceful antlered deer. “Tree of the Singing Wind,” he repeated, distant as a man lost in memory.

They steer the boat to a landing and get out, looking around, and are immediately attacked by arrows. They see Ingen Jegger and armed men across the river, commanding them to stand down. A firey arrow sets their boat aflame and Binabik commands them to run. As they do, he hears a terrified scream and looks back to see Binabik down on the ground, Qantaqa howling beside him.

Commentary

Most of this chapter is one of those journeying chapters, meant to get Our Heroes from Point A to Point B.

In case any of you are wondering what exactly is up with Geloë’s house, I refer you to this page. Williams uses a lot of real-world inspiration and and influence in the books, and this is one of those places that seems to have a direct mirror image to our own mythology. Baba Yaga was known as a witch who would kidnap children, but also known as a wise woman who can help lost souls be found – I say that second part certainly fits Valada Geloë pretty well. The build-up to this reveal is pretty fun, as it is easy to tell the author is about to tell us ‘something important,’ and then it turns out basically to be a humorous little aside meant or Simon to have a moment of realization. He has another one earlier to, when he realizes that perhaps the owls and Geloë are related, and decides not to question further. Wise boy.

There are some good moments within, especially in the extremely realistically adolescent argument(s) Simon and Marya have, and the way Simon decides to rebel against even Binabik (for a short while). I think I have been there at least once or twice (or thrice). It is also easy to see Simon’s already-developing attraction to the princess, which is a good thing, I think, because it happens before he knows who she is, and that makes it easier to see the honesty within. And behind it all, he wants to stick a lizard up her dress. Dirty minds . . .

Finally, we get to the beautiful Sithi city (where I want to live). We do not get to spend a lot of time in this city, but I think it is the loveliest place described in the series – I imagine from various clues we’re given, and Simon’s viewings into the Scale later, there were other places that would have been equally as beautiful to read about, but this is the only one we actually get to set foot in as readers, and so I let the authors’ words speak for themself. As is prone to happen in fantasy, a moment of beauty and awe is interrupted by horror and tension.

When I first read this series, I had suspicions that Binabik might die here – not because there were clues that said he would, and not because ‘that’s what happens to mentors in a fantasy series,’ but rather because Williams had been so cruel to Simon up to that point, I figured he wouldn’t have a problem killing off the only friend Simon had left. Logically, from a story-telling point of view, I see why Simon actually needs Binabik – he is otherwise too young to continue this adventure without a guiding, friendly hand with him at all (most) times, but I still thought it twenty years ago. And that made me very, very sad. 😦

Anyway, not really a whole lot more to say about this chapter. I’ll see you next week.

Edit: I’m back, I’m stupid, I’m sorry. That’s it.


Hello and Well Met, Fair Travelers! Despite the fact that before I posted last Monday about the schedule, I had received multiple emails about changing my MS&T chapter count per re-read to 2 instead of 3, no one took me up on my offer, so I will be sticking with three chapters per session. That’s fine, it’s more fun for me!

Today’s re-read covers chapters 22 through 24. 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.

As Guthwulf would say, “By the Devil’s black arse, just get on with it!” And I shall.

Chapter 22 – A Wind From the North

Summary

Guthwulf sits outside the Hayholt throne room, awaiting his turn to speak with Elias, and has been waiting for quite some time. He ponders that “undoubtedly because of the wet weather, the halls of the Hayholt seemed to reek of mold, mold and . . . no, corruption was too melodramatic a word.” Pryrates finally invites the earl in, who then discovers that, instead of a warm, inviting fire in the throne room, Elias is sitting in the cold, with the upper windows open and allowing cold winter air. Elias apologizes for keeping Guthwulf waiting, and they chit-chat a bit, with Guthwulf noticing that Elias is wearing “the sword with the strange crossed hilt” that he has been wearing for weeks, and Guthwulf has no idea where it comes from. Elias now keeps secrets from Guthwulf, the King’s Hand, and Guthwulf doesn’t like that.

Things had changed, and Guthwulf felt sure he knew who to blame. He looked past the king’s shoulder at Pryrates, who was watching him fixedly. When their eyes met, the red-robed priest lifted a hairless eyebrow, as if in mocking question.

Guthwulf must let Elias and Pryrates know that Fengbald has returned, with no word about “Morgenes’ henchman,” but their “master huntsman” is still on the trail of the spy. Guthwulf asks about the health of Miriamele, and Elias and Pryrates seem to cover her whereabouts by saying she is sick and is taking vacation in Meremund. Finally, Elias gets to the point of his summons to Guthwulf, and tells him the earl must go to Hernysadharc with a dozen knights and threaten some sense into King Lluth. Guthwulf agrees.

One his way out of the throne room, he runs into Fengbald, and mocks the man on the fact that he cannot marry Miriamele since she has gone off to Meremund.

******

Rachel the Dragon and the chambermaid Jael are cleaning a hallway when Fengbald comes storming down said hall. Rachel tries to get Jael out of the way, but not in time; Jael dropped a bucket of water, causing Fengbald to slip and get his boots wet. Rachel quickly sends Jael away, and must accept Fengbald’s physical and verbal wrath.

Later, Rachel remembers when she heard news of Simon’s “death,” and even dreams of him that night.

And in her dream Simon was not dead, had not died in the terrible fire that had also taken Morgenes, and several of the guardsmen who had rushed to put it out. Even Count Breyugar, they said, had perished in the catastrophe, crushed beneath the collapse of the flaming roof . . . No, Simon was alive, and healthy. Something about him was different, but Rachel could not say what – the look in his eye, the harder line of his jaw? – but that did not matter. It was Simon, alive, and as she dreamed Rachel’s heart was full again. She saw him, the dead boy – her dead boy, really; hadn’t she raised him like a mother until he was taken away? – and he was standing in a place of near-absolute whiteness, staring up at a great, white tree that stretched into the air like a ladder to the Throne of God. And though he stood resolutely, his head flung back and his eyes upon the tree, Rachel could not help noticing that his hair, that thick reddish tangle, was badly in need of cutting . . . well, she would see to that soon, right enough … the boy needed a firm hand . . .

When she woke, pulling the smothering blanket aside in a panic to find more darkness around her – this time the darkness of evening – the weight of loss and grief came sliding back down like a wet tapestry. As she sat up on the bed and climbed slowly to her feet the washrag tumbled free, dry as an autumn leaf. There was no call for her to be laying about, pining like some fluttery girlchild. There was work that needed doing, Rachel reminded herself, and no rest this side of Heaven.

******

Duke Leobardis of Nabban and Count Eolair sit and listen to a musician sing songs in the duke’s throne room – Eolair wants to speak of important matters, but the duke insists they wait for the proper time for such discussions. Benigaris, the duke’s son, enters the throne room, to let Leobardis know that Sir Fluiren has come to see the duke as an emissary of King Elias.

Benigaris curled his lip with impatience. “He’s waiting for you. I think you should see him quickly, as a gesture of respect to the High King.”

“My, my!” Leobardis turned an amused glance toward Eolair. “Do you hear my son order me?” When the duke turned back to Benigaris, Eolair thought there might be something in Leobardis’ gaze beside amusement – anger? Worry? “Yes, then, tell my old friend Fluiren I will see him . . . let me think . . . yes, in the Council Hall. Will you join us, Eolair?”

Benigaris leaped in, “Father, I do not think you should invite even so trusted a friend as the count in to hear secret communications from the High King!”

“And what need, may I ask, is there for secrets to be kept from Hernystir?” the duke asked. Anger had crept into his voice.

Eolair excuses himself politely, noting as he is leaving that the duke and his son are arguing behind him – also noticing the various ladies and men of the court staring at, and whispering about, him. He suspects they do not think highly of him.

Eolair spends the afternoon walking around the castle, remembering the grand and noble history of the place, but also noting how the (metaphoric) waves of this place seem to constantly be changing the (metaphoric) landscape. He longs for his home, where life is simpler, and in his opinion, the people are more rational in the ways they live.

That evening, as the duke and Sir Fluiren sit at one end of the table, away from Eolair, he sits with the duchess of Nabban, Leobardis’ wife Nessalanta, who asks about Miriamele. Father Dinivan, the Lector’s secretary, is sitting close by and informs them that Miriamele has “indeed, gone to Meremund,” as she has taken ill, and the doctors believe she needs sea air.

“Well,” Nessalanta pronounced, sitting back in her chair as a page scurried up with a finger basin, “it just proves that you can’t force people to be what they’re not. Miriamele has Nabbanai blood, of course, and our blood is salty as the sea. We are not meant to be taken away from the coast- People should stay where they belong.”

And what, the count wondered to himself, are you trying to tell me, my gracious lady? To stay in Hemystir and leave your husband and your duchy alone? To, in effect, go back to my own kind? Eolair watched Leobardis’ and Fluiren’s discussion wistfully. He had been maneuvered, he knew: there was no gracious way he could ignore the duchess and insinuate himself into their conversation. Meanwhile, old Fluiren was at work on the duke, transmitting Elias’ blandishments. And threats? No, probably not. Elias would not have sent the dignified Fluiren for that. He had Guthwulf – the King’s Hand – ready for use whenever such a tool was called for.

Resigned, he made light talk with the duchess, but his heart was not in it. He was sure now that she knew his mission and was hostile to it. Benigaris was the apple of her eye, and he had been avoiding Eolair all evening. Nessalanta was an ambitious woman, and doubtless felt the fortunes of Nabban would be better assured if they were yoked to the power of Erkynland – even a domineering, tyrannical Erkynland – instead of the pagans of Hemystir.

And, Eolair realized suddenly, she has a marriageable daughter herself, the Lady Antippa. Perhaps her interest in Miriamele’s health is not just that of a kindly aunt’s for her niece.

Eolair puts together that Nessalanta may have the high ambitions of her daughter marrying the Earl Fengbald, thus meaning Miriamele’s absence may not be quite as innocent as an illness, and he worries for her safety. He and Dinivan then joke resignedly about politics.

Commentary

Well . . . what we have in this chapter is what I like to call a Catching Up chapter for all the stuff going on that is not directly related to Our Hero(es). And what we also have in this chapter is a lot of politics.

From the very beginning, we are seeing secrets – why is Guthwulf, the King’s Right Hand being treated the way he is? Why do Elias and Pryrates keep giving each other knowing looks? Where did Elias get his new, funky sword? Where, oh where, is the Carmen Sandiego Princess Miriamele?

We know some of these answers – well, we know where Elias got his sword, anyway. As for the others, we eventually find out about Miriamele, and the other secrets are just some ‘general secrets’ that are meant to let us know that things are not what they seem, and Elias and Pryrates unfortunately no longer have much use for one such as Guthwulf.

Speaking of Guthwulf, I like what we see of him here. Sure, he is a bit too gung-ho for the mission given to him by Elias regarding King Lluth and the Hernystiri, and he definitely doesn’t seem to be the nicest chap in the world, but unlike many of the people we meet who are in direct association with Elias, he has a brain on his shoulders, and it appears the things he does, he does out of friendship to Elias, loyalty to the High King, and because he believes he is doing the right thing. I could be wrong, but I do not recall ever hearing anything about Guthwulf in these three/four books that makes me think he’s the power-hungry, blood-thirsty sycophant that most of Elias’ court is made from.

Such as Fengbald. Holy Shites. That dude needs a beating, and the kind that comes with decapitations. I don’t normally condone the kinds of punishment that comes with lack-of-head-ness, but for people like our Earl here, I would make an exception. And he never, in the entire series that I can recall, gives me a reason to think I have misplaced that sort of reaction. I did not quote his exchange with Rachel about getting his boots wet, but in three separate sentences, he called Jael a slut, said he would “get his due,” for the mishap, and then offered to slit her throat. Yikes.

And then Rachel is sad. Poor Rachel – it must be hard to lose a child, and extra-hard to not truly even know what happened. And with Pryrates and Elias spreading the word that Simon and Morgenes were traitors, that cannot sit well either.

I find her dream interesting, because it is very obvious both currently accurate, and futurely accurate, as though it is a Foretelling. She is seeing Simon at the Rimer’s Tree (which doesn’t happen for several more months), and also seeing Simon ‘on the lamb,’ as he is fleeing from danger, and having to develop skills to safely live his life as it is currently set up. I find this interesting because it almost seems to say to me that Dreams in this story and world are possibly things that are often true, accurate, and prophetic – not just for Simon, heroes, and people who walk the Dream Road. One could argue, I assume, that it is merely Simon’s “powers” as a dreaming adept, and that he is dreaming, or thinking, of Rachel, but that seems a little far-fetched to me, since we have no indications that anything like that happens with Simon. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure Miriamele would be having some pretty interesting dreams from Simon’s brain as well.

Ahem . . . moving on, our meeting with Leobardis and Benigaris is interesting. What I see this scene as having a purpose for is to show that Leobardis is a ‘good guy,’ and Benigaris is a ‘bad guy.’ And I wonder what kinds of secrets Elias would be sending towards Leobardis that Eolair could not be privy to, unless he is mentioning the coming confrontation between Guthwulf and Lluth? Obviously, I believe, a lot of this is just to set up the tension between the various factions of Osten Ard, and we may never find out, in-story, what specifically was said to Leobardis from Sir Fluiren – I honestly cannot recall. So it’s just to help show how F-ed up things are between the different nations.

Eolair gives us some of the best descriptions of the Hernystiri “pagan” religion that we ever receive, and to me, it sounds very animistic. At least, from what I know of animism, they sound similar. But I don’t know a lot about animism. So that’s all I’m going to say about that.

And finally we get to see that, through Nessalanta’s conversation, perhaps not is all that it seems with Miriamele’s illness. It is mentioned in three separate instances in this chapter, which by the Rules of Story-Telling (TM), makes that information Important with a Capital I. And at first, it could certainly be that she has indeed taken ill, and she needs more salt in her diet. But as the conversations come up again, there is very obviously much more to it, and even Elias’ and Pryrates’ glances with one another showed that at the beginning as well.

Are we ever given a clear indication of exactly when Miriamele ran away? She was obviously in the Lichyard when Simon awakened after his journey through the Sithi city, but was she running away then? Or was she just chilling in a graveyard. And also, do we ever hear anything else about Nessalanta’s daughter Antippa, who Eolair shows so much interest in regarding the whole marriage thing? And does Nessalanta know about Benigaris’ plans right now re-Leobardis, or does she find out later? I cannot remember.

So yeah, lots of politics in this chapter. Williams pulls it off very well, showing us there are very deep undercurrents of ambitions, maneuverings, and strange tidings going on throughout the world, and giving Osten Ard a bit more of a realistic feel. I wouldn’t say the politicking that happens in MS&T are nearly as extravagant as some of the more recent series, but on the other hand, I wouldn’t want it to be – otherwise, I would read politicians’ and lawyers’ memoirs, instead of reading fantasies. Right? Right.

Chapter 23 – Back into the Heart

Summary

Simon and Binabik are fleeing the battle between the diggers and Rimmersmen, with Simon slowly running out of steam, but wanting to know what’s going on. Binabik tells him simply, “later,” and they continue running, then walking. Binabik finds a camp for them – where Simon immediately falls asleep – and tosses the bones, to see The Shadowed Path, Masterless Ram, and The Shadowed Path again, all not-good throws. He goes to sleep with Qantaqa. The next morning, Simon bitterly accuses Binabik of playing games with him, and demands to know what is going on. Binabik explains that his master Ookequk, the “Singing Man” of Qanuc, and Morgenes were good friends and colleagues.

Binabik had trained with Ookequk as his apprentice, and had been asked by the Singing Man to accompany him on a journey south – Ookequk had been receiving ominous tidings from Morgenes, and the two (and others) planned on meeting to discuss these things in person. Ookequk seemed very worried on the journey south.

“One night, when first we had crossed down into the northern parts of Erkynland, he asked me to be standing watch so that he could walk the Road of Dreams. We were in a place much like this,” Binabik gestured around at the bleak plain below the hills, “spring arrived, but not yet broken through. This would have been, oh, perhaps around the time of your All Fool’s Day or the day before.”

“All Fools Eve . . .” Simon tried to think back, to remember. The night that terrible noise awakened the whole castle. The night before . . . the rains came . . .

Binabik explains that something seemed to capture Ookequk on the Dream Road, and though Ookequk was strong in spirit, and struggled long, he could not escape. He said some words to Binabik, and then died. Binabik had buried Ookequk, and then tried to decide what to do for two days, before deciding to head back to Qanuc. However, on that morning, a messenger bird, meant for Ookequk, showed up, containing information about Simon.

“It was written by Morgenes, and the subject of the note was you, my friend. It told to the reader – who should have been my master – that you would be in danger, and traveling alone from the Hayholt toward Naglimund. It asked my master to be helping you – without your knowing, if such was possible. It said a few things more.”

Simon was riveted; this was a missing part of his own story. “What other things?” he asked.

“Things only for my master’s eyes.” Binabik’s tone was kindly, but firm. “Now, it needs no saying that here was a difference. My master was asked a favor by his old friend . . . but only I could do that favor. This was also difficult, but from the moment I read Morgenes’ note, I knew I must fulfill his request. I set out that day before evening toward Erchester.”

The note said I would be traveling alone. Morgenes never thought he would escape. Simon felt tears coming [. . .]

Simon asks if it was Binabik calling him outside the Lichyard, but Binabik denies it, saying he did not find Simon’s trail until the Old Forest Road. They talk about whether or not they should continue on their current path, and Binabik asks if they could send a message to Morgenes. When Simon realizes what he is being asked, he is forced to break the news to Binabik that Morgenes is also dead, which is a great blow to the troll. Binabik goes off to think for awhile.

When he returns, he gives Simon the White Arrow and Morgenes’ manuscript, then shows Simon a pendant and explains that Morgenes and Ookequt were both members of the League of the Scroll, “a group of learned people who share knowledge.” He then tells Simon they should be on their way, and that they will be going back into the Aldheorte to continue their journey north, because the forest’s strange powers will likely keep the diggers away from them, as well as because Binabik needs to visit Geloë, a wise woman who lives in the forest. Simon asks if they must truly leave right that second.

“Simon,” Binabik said as Qantaqa jogged up, tongue lolling, “please believe me. Even though there are things that I cannot yet tell to you, we must be true companions. I need your trust. It is not only the business of Elias’ kingship that is at stake. We have lost, both of us, people who we were holding dearly – an old man and an old troll who knew much more than we are knowing. They were both afraid. Brother Dochais, I am thinking, died of fright. Something evil is waking, and we are foolish if we spend more time in open ground.”

“What is waking, Binabik? What evil? Dochais said a name – I heard him. Just before he died he said . . .”

“You need not … ‘” Binabik tried to interrupt, but Simon paid him no heed. He was growing tired of hints and suggestions.

“. . . Storm King,” he finished resolutely.

Binabik looked quickly around, as though he expected something terrible to appear. “I know,” he hissed. “I heard, too, but I do not know much.” Thunder tolled beyond the distant horizon; the little man looked grim, “The Storm King is a name of dread in the dark north. Simon, a name out of legends to frighten with, to conjure with. All I have are small words my master was giving me sometimes, but it is enough to make me sick with worry.” He shouldered his bag and started off across the muddy plain, toward the blunt, crouching line of hills.

“That name,” he said, his voice incongruously hushed in the midst of such flat emptiness, “is of itself a thing to wither crops, to bring fevers and bad dreaming …”

“. . . Rain and bad weather . . . ?” Simon asked, looking up at the ugly, lowering sky.

“And other things,” Binabik replied, and touched his palm to his jacket, just above his heart.

Commentary

And now we finally learn the truth about Binabik, and it is just as innocent and awesome as it should be in a fantasy story – Binabik, the diligent student of a wise man, must shoulder the burden passed on to him by those much more able. He has taken on the responsibility of making sure Simon is safe, and he will see it through.

This is where we first begin to learn about the true nature of Binabik’s character, and I must say again, there are reasons (many that are shown in this chapter) why he is my favorite character (and many others’ favorite, as well) in this series. He takes his duties very seriously, in an almost deontological way, and will make sure that he does right by Simon and his dead master.

Aaaaaaand, we also learn a bit about the nature of the Storm King, this particular fantasy series’ Namless Enemy – which, yeah, I get why, in a world where true evil and magic exist, you wouldn’t want to draw the attention of whatever Dark God might be out there, but I sometimes wonder at the logic of that, when you also see in this kind of magical and fantastical story, that knowing the name of someone or something usually provides some sort of power or advantage over that entity. Ah well, that’s not the kind of magic in this particular world (though I feel sure that Cadrach once mentioned something very similar – I’ll try to see if that’s true if it ever comes up).

We see some more Aldheorte anthropomorphism in this chapter as well, as though the forest itself has the will and the strength to keep the diggers out from under it.

And, that’s kinda about it. It’s a short info dump chapter mostly. Oh, and some good ironic foreshadowing when Binabik wishes that Morgenes’ manuscript was something more suitable for providing information for their current predicament. Nice. I wonder if Binabik remembers thinking that once they realize how important Morgenes’ writings are.

Chapter 24 – The Hounds of Erkynland

Summary

SIMON DREAMED that he was walking in the Pine Garden of the Hayholt, just outside the Dining Hall. Above the gently swaying trees hung the stone bridge that connected hall and chapel. Although he felt no sensation of cold – indeed, he was not aware of his body at all except as something to move him from one place to another – gentle flakes of snow were filtering down around him. The fine, needled edges of the trees were beginning to blur beneath blankets of white and all was quiet: the wind, the snow, Simon himself, all moved in a world seemingly without sound or swift motion.

The unfelt wind blew more fiercely now, and the trees of the sheltered garden began to bend before Simon’s passage, parting like ocean waves around a submerged stone. The snow flurried, and he moved forward into the opening, into a tree-lined hallway of swirling white. On he went, the trees leaning back before him like respectful soldiers.

The garden was never this long, was it? Suddenly Simon felt his eyes drawn upward. At the end of the snowy path stood a great white pillar, looming far over his head into the dark skies.

‘Of course,’ he thought to himself in dreamy half-logic, ‘it’s Green Angel Tower.’ He could never walk directly from the garden to the base of the tower before, but things had changed since he’d been gone . . . things had changed.

But if it’s the tower, he thought, staring upward at the immense shape, why does it have branches? It’s not the tower . . . or at least it isn’t any more . . . it’s a tree – a great white tree . . .

Simon sat upright, staring.

“What is a tree?” asked Binabik, who sat close by, restitching Simon’s shirt with a bird-bone needle. He finished a moment later, and handed it back to the youth, who extended a freckled arm from beneath his sheltering cloak to claim it.

Binabik tells Simon he saw fires in the night, and when he says he doubts it was Isgrimnur and his men, Simon jumps on the troll, saying “you said they would be alright!” The exasperated troll explains that it is unlikely Isgrimnur’s group because the fires were from further south, and Isgrimnur would already be further north. They eat a meal and relax a short while as the troll reads through some of Morgenes’ work.

Binabik asks Simon if he may read the youth a portion of text, and then does so. It is about a famous battle between Prester John and the Nabbanai, in which John and Camaris fought for the first time to settle the battle mano-a-mano. John allows Camaris to pick up his sword once, and in return, when John falters, Camaris does not kill John, but asks him to yield at swordpoint.

” ‘John, who had not expected his mercy to be repaid in kind, looked around at the field of Nearulagh, empty but for his own troops, thought for a moment, and then kicked Camaris-sa-Vinitta in the fork of his legs.'”

“No!” said Simon, taken aback; Qantaqa raised a sleepy head at the exclamation. Binabik only grinned and continued to read from Morgenes’ writings.

” ‘John then stood in his turn over the sorely wounded Camaris, and told him: “You have many lessons to learn, but you are a brave and noble man, I will do your father and family every courtesy, and take good care of your people. I hope in turn you will learn the first lesson, the one I have given you today, and that is this: Honor is a wonderful thing, but it is a means, not an end. A man who starves with honor does not help his family, a king who falls on his sword with honor does not save his kingdom. “

Binabik uses this story to explain to Simon that it would have done them no good to stay and help Isgrimnur and his men, and that the ‘most obviously honorable’ thing to do in a given instance is not always the best. They then break camp and head for the forest. Binabik warns Simon that he must stay very close to Binabik in the forest, as there may not be any chance of finding each other if they become separated. As they approach the forest, they hear hounds in the distance, possibly pursing them. To Binabik’s shame, Simon insists the troll ride Qantaqa so they will be more evenly matched should they have to flee the hounds.

It is dark inside the forest, and they have been running a long time when they finally take a break. Binabik leads them to a hill for camping, and after setting up, offers Simon a pleasant surprise – a small jar of grape jam he had found back at the abbey and forgotten about until just recently. They share the jam, and before going to sleep, Simon sings a fun song about Jack Mundwode and his adventures in the Aldheorte forest.

It is early the next day when they realize the hounds they heard previously have somehow passed them during the night, and have turned back around, likely hunting them. The two trek eastward into the forest, hearing the hounds throughout the day getting closer and closer. They are stopped at the top of a long rise that drops into a deep canyon. Behind them, they can finally see the shapes of hounds running through the forest, less than a league away. They prepare to defend themselves.

Commentary

Cliffhanger! Woot!

Anyway, I like the story Binabik reads Simon, which, as Simon notes, does make Prester John seem a bit more human, especially in the eyes of a boy who only ever saw the king. It also has a good point about ‘means’ and ‘ends’ to it that is applicable in less-fantasy-ish situations,

Simon has a dream this chapter (as he does often), and it’s a bit of a confusing one. Not right up front of course – right here, he figures he’s looking at Green Angel Tower with branches, and then realizes it’s a tree. He has the dream a few more times, and then at the end of this book, will come to ‘realize’ that he was seeing the Rimer’s Tree the entire time. However, as the story progresses, he still has the dream, and it turns into a ‘realization’ that it was Green Angel Tower the whole time. So which was it? Did Simon just apply whatever current experience he was having to fit the white column in his dream, or was he really seeing the Tower the whole time, and just assumed it was the Rimer’s Tree at the end of this book? Or did his dreams actually change slightly to represent his most current goals? And if so, why would that have happened?

Which also leads to a question relating directly to what I spoke of about Rachel earlier – it does seem a bit coincidental that Simon just had this dream immediately after Rachel dreamed the same thing, which may put into light what is happening. It seems obvious to me that it must be one of two things. Either Simon’s dreams somehow can force themselves into the heads of people he cares about (though why Rachel, and not Binabik or Miriamele get these emanations is a good question to ask), or the willpower of Utuk’ku, Pryrates, and Ineluki is forcing these dreams upon people, and we are seeing results of that – though still, why other people wouldn’t mention it seems odd. I suppose a third option is that Rachel, completely separately from Simon, has her own dream-related talents, and it is just never really fully explored . . . perhaps every fourth person in Osten Ard actually has the ability to read the future from their dreams? Ah well, questions that we may never get an answer for, unless Mr. Williams ever does a sequel to this series (or if he’ll let me interview him sometime! 😉 ).

So after all that, we get to the chase. I guess it is understandable that Simon and Binabik did not immediately realize they were the quarry of the hounds, but that seems a bit naive to me, especially since Simon already knows Pryrates wants him. Anyhoo, the hounds chase them very rapidly through the forest (which is an extremely clear forest, if they could actually see for half a league – I guess the sentient Aldheorte doesn’t like a lot of brush) – right into a battle. Which is odd. Because, as we’ll find out soon, those hounds definitely seem to be going for the death, and Pryrates and Elias were both very adamant to Guthwulf about bringing “the boy” back alive. More about the dogs soon.

By the way, what was the ritual Binabik was performing at the beginning at the chapter? Sometime to do with the bones? Something for finding directions? It didn’t really explain. Inquiring minds would like to know.

And that’s it. See you again soon!

Cheers,
E.S.

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