Deconstruction Roundup for July 30, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who has, as usual, neither been ratioed nor hailed for the thing they published elsewhere.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorum Press

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are not completely certain that the supposed in-person event is going to actually be in person if the numbers don’t start getting a lot better a lot quicker.

Pawn of Prophecy: The Tour Continues

Last we left Garion and company, Garion was finally clued in to the fact that Old Wolf and Aunt Pol are, in fact, the legendary timeless sorcerers Belgarath and Polgara, and they’re both aggravated at being pulled off of their Orb-chasing duties by Fulrach, King of the Sendars. Worse still, they’re being detoured even more because the Alorn kings are going to go to war, and that requires the consultation of the Ancient One himself. We also learned that Silk is actually Prince Kheldar of Drasnia, and that Barak is Earl of Trellheim, related to the king of the Chereks. Because of course everyone but Durnik either is or was part of the peerage for their lives.

Pawn of Prophecy, Chapter 12: Content Notes: Abuse, abuse apologia, reckless disregard for life and limb,

So, because they can’t avoid the Alorn kings demanding their attention, the party gets on a ship and they head toward Cherek. Garion’s not fully convinced that the woman named Polgara is the Polgara, but at this point, he’s damn sure she’s not his Aunt, which still leaves him shattered that the life he was living on Faldor’s farm was a lie.

Garion also gets a bad impression of the Chereks because the ship looks flimsy and the sailors look rough. That, and there’s apparently plenty of ale available for the captain and Barak to toast each other. Oh, and also, the sailors have a fairly cavalier attitude about the lives of themselves and their passengers, the structural integrity of the boat, and the maelstrom that they have to thread the needle on if they want to get to Cherek in one piece.

“The Cherek Bore,” Barak explained. “It’s a passage about a league wide between the northern tip of Sendaria and the southern end of the Cherek peninsula—riptides, whirlpools, that sort of thing. Don’t be alarmed, Durnik. This is a good ship, and Greldik knows the secret of navigating the Bore. It may be a rough, but we’ll be perfectly safe—unless we’re unlucky, of course.”
“That’s a cheery thing to say,” Silk observed dryly from nearby. “I’ve been trying for three days not to think about the Bore.”
“Is it really that bad?” Durnik asked in a sinking voice.
“I make a special point of not going through it sober,” Silk told him.
Barak laughed. “You ought to be thankful for the Bore, Silk,” he said. “It keeps the Empire out of the Gulf of Cherek. All Drasnia would be a Tolnedran province if it weren’t there.”
“I admire it politically,” Silk said, “but personally I’d be much happier if I never had to look ar it again.”
[…so how do you get through the Bore?…]
“The Great Maelstrom,” Barak shouted. “Hang on.”
The Maelstrom was fully as large as the village of Upper Gralt and descended horribly down into a seething, mist-filled pit unimaginably far below. Incredibly, instead of guiding his vessel away from the vortex, Greldik steered directly at it.
“What’s he doing?” Garion screamed.
“It’s the secret of passing through the Bore,” Barak roared. “We circle the Maelstrom twice to gain more speed. If the ship doesn’t break up, she comes out like a rock from a sling, and we pass through the riptides beyond the Maelstrom before they can slow us down and drag us back.”
“If the ship doesn’t what?”
“Sometimes a ship is torn apart in the Maelstrom,” Barak said. “Don’t worry, boy. It doesn’t happen very often, and Greldik’s ship seems stout enough.”

Well, if it’s only occasionally, then it must be fine, right? Never mind that you have two ancient sorcerers, a whole-ass king, and several other very important and high-ranking people on board this ship, let’s do it this way, instead of there being some other, safer, way to go about it. The Alorn kings have been waiting for this long, they can wait a little longer.

Also, now suddenly we have this idea that Tolnedra is, in fact, looking to expand itself (or has been in the past) but has been stopped by this natural feature. Last chapter we learned that the Sendars were a Tolnedran province but were allowed to become their own kingdom. And yet, imperial highways and hostels are still allowed in all of these kingdoms that apparently don’t worry that Tonedra will decide to renege on their treaties and just conquer all the places they have roads and legions in. Politics doesn’t work this way, and the author doesn’t care about whether the politics works or not. And neither does the chronicler, who should be a lot more hostile to Tolnedrans, since they’re invaders in a sovereign kingdom and their facilities cost an arm and a leg to use for decidedly middling everything. If Silk can spare time to talk about how terrible the Nyissans are and to make fun of the method of selection for the king of the Sendars, then surely he has more vitriol in him about how much the Tolnedrans are greedy bastards who put themselves everywhere and overcharge everyone, making his job that much harder to do since he doesn’t have the backing of the legions to enforce whatever arbitrary price His Imperial Majesty chooses to charge for their lodgings and services. Or he could be pissy that everybody uses Tolnedran imperials because of their purity, which gives Tolnedra outsize political power because they’re basically the currency that other currencies are pegged to. And if he knows that the Bore and the Maelstrom are what keeps Drasnia independent from Tolnedra, that should give Silk some additional sting when complaining about anything related to Tolnedra or its inhabitants, because otherwise he wouldn’t get to be Prince Kheldar and would instead be some Intelligence functionary, if that.

The run through the Bore works exactly as planned, so nobody gets hurt and nobody’s ship gets destroyed. Unfortunately, what that means for Garion is that he has to face the wrath of Polgara because he went and did something that she didn’t approve of.

A familiar voice rang our from the stern. “Garion!”
“Now you’ve gone and got me in trouble,” Garion said resentfully, ignoring the fact that standing in the prow had been his own idea.
Aunt Pol spoke scathingly to Barak about his irresponsibility and then turned her attention to Garion.
“Well?” she said. “I’m waiting. Would you like to explain?”
“It wasn’t Barak’s fault,” Garion said. “It was my own idea.” There was no point in their both being in trouble, after all.
“I see,” she said. “And what was behind that?”
The confusion and doubt which had been troubling him made him reckless. “I felt like it,” he said, half-defiantly. For the first time in his life he felt on the verge of open rebellion.
“You what?”
“I felt like it,” he repeated. “What difference does it make why I did it? You’re going to punish me anyway.”
Aunt Pol stiffened, and her eyes blazed.
Mister Wolf, who was sitting nearby, chuckled.
“What’s so funny?” she snapped.
“Why don’t you let me handle this, Pol?” the old man suggested.
“I can deal with it,” she said.
“But not well, Pol,” he said. “Not well at all. Your temper’s too quick, and your tongue’s too sharp. He’s not a child anymore. He’s not a man yet, but he’s not a child either. The problem needs to be dealt with in a special way. I’ll take care of it.” He stood up. “I think I insist, Pol.”
“You what?”
“I insist.” His eyes hardened.
“Very well,” she said in an icy voice, turned, and stalked away.

This seems like one of those spots where someone is about to get into a lot of trouble because he was honest. Or would have, had Belgarath not called Polgara off of her intentions. Garion’s completely right. It doesn’t matter what his reasons are, he did something that Polgara didn’t approve of, and so he’s going to get punished for it. It’s what Polgara has done to him all of his life, and there’s no reason to believe that she would stop, and in fact, she didn’t intend to stop, except the one power that’s not divine that’s stronger than her told her to stand down. Given how well she took to the Duchess of Erat and her general disregard for everyone else, I feel like we could edge a lot more toward calling Polgara a sociopath as well as an abuser. Perhaps being an ageless sorceress and living for as long as she has has erased her capacity for empathy for other people with mortal lifespans. (I can entirely imagine some ageless being having to live through all the stupid shit that humans on Terra have gotten up to and completely lost their faith in us as a species, and if how the ultra-rich treat the rest of us is any indication of how someone behaves when they have enough power to avoid consequences for their behavior, yeah, I can see how Polgara no longer has an interest in treating humans like humans.) It seems to be pretty obvious that if you put a sociopath in charge of raising a child, that’s not going to turn out well for the child at all, assuming they don’t die from something preventable. But because he’s a MacGuffin, Garion couldn’t be raised by anyone other than the sociopath sorceress, or, perhaps, her itinerant father, and the end result is what we’ve seen so far, where Polgara expects Garion to be a well-trained puppy and punishes him any time he starts behaving like a human child.

Also, Garion’s reason as why he did the thing is probably the best defense that he has remaining, given that every other time that he’s tried to explain himself, Polgara’s shot him down and then specifically forbidden him and further tried to ensure he could not get into that situation again. It’s quite possible that Garion believes she can’t take away his feelings, unlike everything else she’s been able to take away. Forgetting, at least for that moment, that Polgara and Belgarath did that thing exactly to keep them from being noticed by Asharak as he rode past. Now, I assume that doing such a thing would take effort and probably would make them more visible to any other passing magic user, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Polgara was seriously considering it.

So, Belgarath has called off his daughter and is now going to give Garion an empathetic and understanding explanation and I can’t even finish that sentence because it’s a steaming pile of bullshit.

“Why’s she so mean?” Garion blurted.
“She isn’t,” Mister Wolf said. “She’s angry because you frightened her. Nobpdy likes to be frightened.”
“I’m sorry,” Garion mumbled, ashamed of himself.
“Don’t apologize to me,” Wolf said. “I wasn’t frightened.” He looked fo a moment at Garion, his eyes penetrating. “What’s the problem?” he asked.
[…Garion can’t articulate the problem that he’s not related to anybody at all, because that might mean Belgarath would confirm it…]
“You’re confused,” Wolf said. “Is that it? Nothing seems to be like it ought to be, and you’re angry with your Aunt because it seems like it has to be her fault.”

IT IS HER FAULT.

“You make it sound awfully childish,” Garion said, flushing slightly.
“Isn’t it?”
Garion flushed even more.
“It’s your own problem, Garion.” Mister Wolf said. “Do you really think it’s proper to make others unhappy because of it?”
“No,” Garion admitted in a scarcely audible voice.
“Your Aunt and I are who we are,” Wolf said quietly. “People have made up a lot of nonsense about us, but that doesn’t really matter. There are things that have to be done, and we’re the ones who have to do them. That’s what matters. Don’t make things more difficult for your Aunt just becuse the world isn’t exactly to your liking. That’s not only childish, it’s ill-mannered, and you’re a better boy than that. Now, I really think you owe her an apology, don’t you?”
“I suppose so,” Garion said.
“I’m glad we had this chance to talk,” the old man said, “but I wouldn’t wait too long before making up with her. You wouldn’t believe how long she can stay angry.” He grinned suddenly. “She’s been angry with me for as long as I can remember, and that’s so long that I don’t even like to think about it.”
“I’ll do it right now,” Garion said.
“Good,” Wolf approved.

No, no, you see, instead Belgarath tells Garion that it’s all his fault that he upset and frightened his Aunt by doing this, and that Garion should apologize to her for behaving childishly. Belgarath wasn’t even willing to say that Garion had become a man, but he was pretty sure he wasn’t a child any more, and so I guess he’s leveraging that now to tell Garion to stop behaving like a child. Now I’m wondering whether Polgara is merely passing on the parenting technique she learned from how she was parented by her own ageless sorcerer sociopath.

Either way, this should be extremely devastating to Garion, because the one ally he might have had against Polgara has just shown himself to be untrustworthy and unhelpful to the task of getting Polgara to stop abusing him. At this point, Garion may as well resign himself to the abuse until he can rightfully run away and stay hidden from Polgara and Belgarath long enough for them to lose interest in him. Short of praying to the gods himself, the only character that could help Garion with that is Asharak, and for fairly obvious reasons, that’s a really bad choice.

“Aunt Pol,” he said.
“Yes, dear?”
“I’m sorry. I was wrong.”
She turned and looked at him gravely. “Yes,” she said, “you were.”
“I won’t do it again.”
She laughed then, a low, warm laugh, and ran her fingers through his tangled hair. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, dear,” she said, and she embraced him, and everything was all right again.

Again, there’s never any expectation or belief or even doubt at all that Polgara might have been wrong about any of this, that her methods with Garion have been terrible and abusive and everyone here is blaming the victim and we are supposed to believe this is a good three dollar Del Rey series. It’s not even a good fifty cent series.

The rest of the voyage passes without incident, and everyone gets to Val Alorn and sleighs draw people around, and the buildings are ancient, and also,

At one corner, their driver was forced to stop while two burly men, stripped to the waist in the biting cold, wrestled savagely in the snow in the center of the street to the encouraging shouts of a crowd of onlookers.
“A common pastime,” Barak told Garion. “Winter’s a tedious time in Val Alorn.”

Because, of course, our handy barbarian seterotypes involved half-naked men wrestling in the dead of winter in the streets with cheering crowds around them.

After a short mention of the Temple of Belar, where the Bear God supposedly resides in spirit (but since Barak hasn’t seen him, Barak is agnostic about whether he’s really there), we have a different scene with someone who could be a prophet, or could be insane. She greets Barak by saying his Doom awaits him, and Barak angrily gets out of the sleigh and tells her that she’s forbidden from hanging around the Temple grounds.

“Martje,” he thundered at the old woman. “You’ve been forbidden to loiter here. If I tell Anheg that you’ve disobeyed him, he’ll have the priests of the temple burn you for a witch.”
[…Martje is not bothered by this threat, presumably because her prophetic sight says otherwise. And then she sees Garion…]
“Hail, greatest of Lords,” she crooned, bowing deeply. “When thou comest into thine inheritance, remember that it was old Martje who first greeted thee.”
Barak started toward her with a roar, but she scurried away, her staff tapping on the stone steps.
“What did she mean?” Garion asked when Barak returned to the sleigh.
“She’s a crazy woman,” Barak replied, his face pale with anger. “She’s always lurking around the temple, begging and frightening gullible housewives with her gibberish. If Anheg had any sense, he’d have had her driven out of the city or burned years ago.” He climbed back into the sleigh. “Let’s go,” he growled at the driver.
Garion looked back over his shoulder as they sped away, but the old blind woman was nowhere in sight.

And that’ll do it for Chapter 12.

I seem to recall that it was the Sendars who were supposed to be the ones who were so practical they had no conception or interest in magic, and yet, here Barak is saying “well, that’s where the temple is, that’s supposedly where Belar is, but since I haven’t seen him, I don’t know if he’s there,” and when confronted by someone who clearly is making a play at being a blind seer (because Martje is blind in the eyes, with cataracts over all of her eye), Barak is basically “she’s crazy, and Anheg should have killed her for this nonsense a long time ago.” So, y’know, tell me again about how these racial lines and their hats are supposed to work. Because the person who so far has had the most religious content around him seems to be decidedly secular about the whole thing.

Also, I have questions about the use of the word “witch” here and the punishment given to them. From context, and the lack of serious heat and threat behind his initial demand that she move herself, Barak makes “witch” sound like a category of “unauthorized magic user” rather than the Christianized context of “one who makes a pact with evil forces in exchange for supernatural powers.” If the concept of the witch exists, that presumably means there’s an orthodoxy and/or oprthopraxy that is part of being one of Belar’s chosen. What are those things? We don’t know, and Barak doesn’t tell us. Are the priests of Belar the only official authorized scryers and all others can’t be trusted or allowed to operate? Does the king demand that all augury have positive results, so that someone who dares to talk about Dooms is in violation of the decree? Or is someone who has actual oracular ability considered to be a political threat to the priests of Belar and the king, and therefore Martje risks her life every time she opens her mouth? This would tell us so much about the world and he kingdom that we’re in, but the author once again skips over any discussion of actual religious practice or political situations to instead set a gun on the mantel and move along in the plot.

Next week, maybe, we can manage to get something actually done?

Deconstruction Roundup for July 23, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is unhappy at the ways in which there are a lot of sociopaths in the world willing to condemn everyone else, not understanding that it will come back to bite them in the ass.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are preparing for a thing that might need to do a rapid pivot if things go sideways swiftly.)

Pawn of Prophecy: A Royal Detour

Last time, since stealth didn’t seem to be doing much against Asharak the Grolim, Polgara decided that she’d had enough of playing the poor person, and instead decided the correct way to go was to be the Duchess of Erat and her retainers, who are supposedly just as unmemorable as the poor people they’ve been trying to be. Unfortunately for her, being high profile in the city drew the attention of a guardsman slash baronet who had been sent to retrieve Belgarath, and he knew immediately that Pol couldn’t possibly hold the title she claimed to. At least not in this era.

Pawn of Prophecy: Chapter 11: Content Notes:

Thus, in the company of the Baronet and his soldiers, the party is brought to the capital of Sendaria to consult with Fulrach, the king. Well, almost, anyway – a storm stalls the journey before they can fully get there. Garion, this entire time, has been very nervous about being put in a dungeon, although nobody else around him seems to believe this is a likely thing. Since this is a completely new experience for Garion, he has no reference of what’s happening, and he’s concerned that Belgarath may have done something wrong and the rest of them are going to be punished with guilt by association. Durnik, being the solid Sendar that he is, only can repeat that they’ve done nothing wrong, so they don’t have to worry about dungeons. Nobody specifically asks Garion where he got this idea from (unlike every other time), so we’re left wondering whether Belgarath told him stories of this kind of thing, or whether he picked it up from his friends, or other people on the farm, or somewhere else. Which conveniently means we don’t get an opportunity to see where Polgara’s force field of ignorance failed to let such a wild story in. Even though it’s not actually a wild story, and Garion is thinking sensibly about how kings might react.

It takes Garion asking Silk about what kind of person the king is before he gets any kind of answer, and then Silk chides him for thinking so poorly of the king. Mostly, at least according to him, because Garion is thinking about the king all wrong.

“The kings of Sendaria are just and honest men,” Silk told him. “Not too bright, I’m afraid, but always fair.”
“How can they be kings if they aren’t wise?” Garion objected.
“Wisdom’s a useful trait in a king,” Silk said, “but hardly essential.”
“How do they get to be kings, then?” Garion demanded.
“Some are born to it,” Silk said. “The stupidest man in the world can be a king if he has the right parents. Sendarian kings have a disadvantage because they started so low.”
“Low?”
“They were elected. Nobody ever elected a king before—only the Sendars.”
“How do you elect a king?”
Silk smiled. “Very badly, Garion. It’s a poor way to select a king. The other ways are worse, but election is a very bad way to choose a king.”

Silk’s not wrong that wisdom is not an essential trait for a king (and we have more than enough examples of that), and I think this is supposed to be the joke that “democracy is the worst form of government, but all the other ones are worse,” except that Sendaria is still a kingdom, rather than a democracy or a republic.

In any case, Garion asks to hear how the kings of Sendaria are elected, which Silk interprets to mean “tell me the story of how the first kind of Sendaria was elected”, and tells him that story, loud enough that the Baronet Captain Brendig can hear, and therefore offer corrections when Silk solicits them of him mockingly. The short form of it is “Tolnedra decided to create a kingdom so that it would stand as a buffer between the lands of the Arends and themselves and prevent the shift of power from Tolnedra to the Arends.” We pick the story back up from Silk after this has been decided, and the problem of there needing to be a king without any sort of hereditary nobility having been established.

“And so it was that they decided to hold a national election—select a king, don’t you see, and then leave the bestowing of titles up to him. A very practical approach, and typically Sendarian.”
“How do you elect a king?” Garion asked, beginning to lose his dread of dungeons in his fascination with the story.
“Everybody votes,” Silk said simply. “Parets, of course, probably cast the votes for their children, but it appears that there was very little cheating. The rest of the world stood around and laughed at all this foolishness, but the Sendars continued to cast ballot after ballot for a dozen years.”
“Six years, actually,” Brendig said with his face still down over his parchment. “3827 to 3833.”
“And there were over a thousand candidates,” Silk said expansively.
“Seven hundred and forty-three,” Brendig said tightly.
“I stand corrected, noble Captain,” Silk said. “It’s an enormous comfort to have such an expert here to catch my errors. I’m but a simple Drasnian merchant with little background in history. Anyway, on the twenty-third ballot, they finally elected their king—a rutabaga farmer named Fundor.”
“He raised more than just rutabagas,” Brendig said, looking up with an angry face.
“Of course he did,” Silk said, smacking his forehead with an open palm. “How could I have forgotten about the cabbages? He raised cabbages, too, Garion. Never forget the cabbages. Well, everybody in Sendaria who thought he was important journeyed to Fundor’s farm and found him vigorously fertilizing his fields, and they greeted him with a great cry, ‘Hail, Fundor the Magnificent, King of Sendaria,” and fell on their knees in his august presence.”
“Must we continue with this?” Bendig asked in a pained voice, looking up.
[…of course we must, because Silk won’t pass up the opportunity to be an asshole…]
“Do you know what the King of Sendaria said then, Garion?” he asked.
“No,” Garion said. “What?”
“ ’I pray you, your eminences,’ the king said, ‘have a care for your finery. I have just well manured the bed in which you are kneeling.’ ”
Barak, who was sitting nearby, roared with laughter, pounding his knee with one huge hand.
“I find this less than amusing, sir,” Captain Brendig said coldly, rising to his feet. “I make no jokes about the King of Drasnia, do I?”
“You’re a courteous man, Captain,” Silk said mildly, “and a nobleman. I’m merely a poor man trying to make his way in the world.”

Was that absolutely necessary, Silk? To tell the story in such a way that makes it plain your belief that Sendars and their king are little more than farmers behaving foolishly? If you’re doing it to spite Brendig for arresting all of you and diverting you from your original quest, you can do better than that. Like you do later on.

“Courtiers,” Barak, who chanced to be riding beside Garion, snorted with contempt. “Not a real man amongst them.”
“A necessary evil, my dear Barak,” Silk said back over his shoulder to the big man. “Little jobs require little men, and it’s the little jobs that kep a kingdom running.”

Which is a much better targeting of the insult than to tar the entire kingdom with the “lacks wisdom” brush. If Silk’s problem is with the nobility, then he can keep the focus of his ire on them. Barak, at least, plays up the barbarian stereotype of assuming everyone who isn’t a warrior isn’t really a man, which is consistent with his characterization.

Maybe Silk thinks of Sendars as Tolnedrans with a different name, which is why he tells this fairly malicious (if accurate – Captain Brendig doesn’t correct Silk on the “nobles kneeling in the manure just spread” part) take about the first king of Sendaria. And while it won’t be the case, wouldn’t it have been a nice bit of worldbuilding if all the subsequent kings of Sendaria were also farmers, with the explicit requirement that they maintain their own farms as well as the kingdom? It would give Garion a nice wonder as to whether Faldor was secretly noble or might be / have been a king himself, once upon a time.

Also, in a part not quoted, the party and their guards spend time in “evenly spaced Sendarian hostels” as they are making their way to the palace, which certainly says something about the treaties that were forged with Tolnedra that allow legions and their hostels to exist. If those treaties were done not soon after Sendaria came into being and haven’t been renegotiated (because attempts to do so would only bring the legions), then it makes sense that there are legions in a sovereign kingdom. But this does not get mentioned at any point, because the authors have no interest in worldbuild that isn’t directly plot-important.

The plot itself goes with the Chief Butler, Count Nilden, being asked to fetch the king, since he says he won’t let the soldiers tromp their muddy boots through the halls, and the two of them snipe at each other for a bit, and then Garion has to subject himself to being bathed and then clothed in garments that are suitable for a royal audience. Durnik takes offense to being bathed and clothed in such a maner, considering it to be pretending to be something he isn’t, and Belgarath is toweringly upset that he’s been dressed in something that befits his status as the Ancient One, not that he lets that on. First, Belgarath tells the others to wait for a while, since it’ll take Pol some time to get prepared (women and their need to primp and preen, amirite?), and then when she appears, she deems the rest of them “adequate” before she and Belgarath go to see Fulrach, making Brendig scramble to give them at least something resembling a decent escort.

Fulrach, the king of Sendaria, was a dumpy-looking man with a short brown beard. He sat, rather uncomfortably it appeared, on a high-backed throne which stood on a dais at one end of the great hall into which Count Nilden led them. The throne room was vast, with a high, vaulted ceiling and walls covered with what seemed acres of heavy, red velvet drapery. There were candles everywhere, and dozens of people strolled about in fine clothes and chatted idly in the corners, all but ignoring the presence of the king.
“May I announce you?” Count Nilden asked Mister Wolf.
“Fulrach knows who I am,” Wolf replied shortly and strode down the long scarlet carpet toward the throne with Aunt Pol still on his arm.

And thus, we get to maintain the illusion a little while longer. Although, with the way that Belgarath’s attitude has been, this is very in character for him being pissed off about being pulled off of his hunt to go see a royal. Polgara is equally as cold to Fulrach, which makes him nervous. Also, the narrative really wants to downlplay Fulrach looking regal, and suggests that everyone ignoring him is something that shouldn’t be happening, because he’s the king, after all. Fulrach’s voice is also described as “ordinary-sounding” when he speaks first. The narrative seems to agree with Silk that there’s nothing special about the king of Sendaria, especially compared to everybody else. That said, once it’s revealed that Silk is in fact “Prince Kheldar of the Royal House of Drasnia” and that Barak is cousin to “our dear brother king, Anheg of Cherek,” I feel like everything they’ve said and done to this point is suspect, Silk especially. All of his opinions and statements should be re-evaluated in light of this new information, especially by Garion, who has otherwise believed that he’s a merchant, a spy, an acrobat, and a thief.

After it turns out that Fulrach speaks the secret language, cautioning the party about being too free with their talking, the narrative tells us that Polgara shouldn’t have had a chance in hell at pulling off her “Duchess of Erat” bit.

Aunt Pol stepped forward. “This is Goodman Durnik of the District of Erat, your Majesty,” she said, “a brave and honest man.”

If Durnik is from the place that Pol claims to be noble from, then he would know immediately, and his continual admonishments about not lying and his practical Sendaran nature should have blown the plot up immediately. Unless he’s so smitten by her that he’s willing to go along with whatever she says and does, even if it would otherwise offend his sense of honesty.

And then, because she’s Polgara, and she’s been doing this all book, we get Garion’s introduction.

Aunt Pol followed his [Fulrach’s] glance. “A boy, your Majesty,” she said rather indifferently. “Garion by name. He was placed in my care some years ago and accompanies us because I didn’t know what else to do with him.”
A terrible coldness struck at Garion’s stomach. The certainty that her casual words were in face the bald truth came crashing down upon him. She had not even tried to soften the blow. The indifference with which she had destroyed his life hurt almost more than the destruction itself.
“Also welcome, Garion,” the king said. “You travel in noble company for one so young.”
“I didn’t know who they were, your Majesty,” Garion said miserably. “Nobody tells me anything.”
The king laughed in tolerant amusement. “As you grow older, Garion,” he said, “you’ll probably find that during these days such innocence is the most comfortable state in which to live. I’ve been told things of late that I’d much prefer not to know.”

Even if this is more of the show that Polgara’s running to make sure Garion never thinks of himself as anything more than a farm boy with no importance to the plot, despite his continued presence where the plot happens, that’s cold. And also, in a better book than this one, if he hadn’t done so already, at this point, Garion’s going to run away. He’s completely convinced he’s got nothing to do with the plot, so he may as well try and find his way back to Faldor’s farm, or some other farm, find a pretty girl, knock her up, marry her, and live out his life as a farmer. If he’s supposed to be part of this adventure, nobody is giving him a reason to stay, so he may as well not. Instead, the narrative plods along with dinner with Queen Layla, who Silk (who is not trustworthy) describes thusly:

“Queen Layla,” Silk explained briefly to Garion. “They call her the Mother of Sendaria. The four children over there are hers. She has four or five others—older and probably away on state business, since Fulrach insists that his children earn their keep. It’s a standard joke among the other kings that Queen Layla’s been pregnant since she was fourteen, but that’s probably because they’re expected to send royal gifts at each new birth. She’s a good woman, though, and she keeps King Fulrach from making too many mistakes.”

And I think this is our expected “woman happily popping out babies” description, and coming from Silk, I think the complaints from the other kings are a little more than a joke.

During the dinner, Garion asks Silk to help him and make sure he doesn’t screw anything up, and Silk not only helps Garion navigate dining, he provides him with appropriate responses when the Earl of Seline attempts to engage Garion in conversation, using the secret language to prompt Garion when needed. Eventually, after all the end of the food, the queen and the king say they’d like to meet privately with the guests and dismiss everyone else.

The Earl of Seline smiled broadly at Garion and then looked across the table. “I’ve enjoyed our conversation, Prince Kheldar,” he said to Silk. “I may indeed be a tiresome old bore as you say [which Silk did when introducing the Earl to Garion], but that can sometimes be an advantage, don’t you think?”
Silk laughed ruefully. “I should have known that an old fox like you would be an adept at the secret language, my Lord.”
“A legacy fom a misspent youth.” The earl laughed. “Your pupil is most proficient, Prince Kheldar, but his accent is strange.”
“The weather was cold while he was learning, my Lord,” Silk said, “and our fingers were a bit stiff. I’ll correct the problem when we have leisure.”
The old nobleman seemed enormously pleased with himself at having outsmarted Silk. “Splendid boy,” he said, patting Garion’s shoulder, and then he went off chuckling to himself.
“You knew he understood all along,” Garion accused Silk.
“Of course,” Silk said. “Drasnian intelligence knows every adept at our secret speech. Sometimes it’s useful to permit certain carefully selected messages to be intercepted. Don’t ever underestimate the Earl of Seline, however. It’s not impossible that he’s at least as clever as I am, but look how much he enjoyed catching us.”
“Can’t you ever do anything without being sly?” Garion asked. His tone was a bit grumpy, since he was convinced that somehow he had been the butt of the whole joke.

Silk is unapologetic about the whole thing, and says that he has to deceive even when it’s not necessary, because they have to keep their wits in shape. And that while it can be lonely, he admits, when Garion says it has to be that way, he thinks it’s fun, most of the time.

Garion, on the other hand, has every reason to believe he’s been had yet again, and between that and Pol’s complete destruction of his thought of being anything other than a completely ordinary kid who has been taught absolutely nothing, I really feel like Garion isn’t going to find anything particularly fun or interesting about sticking with these people, and redouble his efforts to get away from them. Whatever Polgara thinks about it doesn’t matter, and all the effort she puts in to stop him from running away is only going to get him to try harder and get smarter about it. Which might accidentally turn him into some sort of protagonist in a story like this, despite all of Polgara’s efforts.

Garion, after listening politely to Kheldar convey Queen Porenn’s message to Queen Layla about what the best way to get pregnant is and Queen Layla’s response, as well as teasing Kheldar that at some point, he’s going to fall in love and everyone is going to tease him about it, manages to get himself close enough to the door where Fulrach, Belgarath, and Polgara are having their conference. Belgarath is unhappy that he’s been pulled off the quest for the thing that’s been stolen, and Fulrach apologizes, but points out that there wasn’t really going to be a quest anyway, as the Alorn Kings are getting ready to go to war and they’re going to demand the presence of Belgarath to be there. Oh, and Fulrach actually uses the name. Both of them, so we can finally get rid of the paper-thin disguise that Aunt Pol and Old Wolf are anything other than Belgarath and Polgara. Which makes Garion nearly reveal himself twice, once for each name. And we get to see Polgara threaten the people who get in her way.

“It won’t do any good, Lady Polgara,” he king said rather ruefully. “As your father so pointedly mentioned, I’m not considered very bright. The Alorn Kings won’t listen to me. If you leave now, they’ll just send someone like Brendig to apprehend you again.”
“Then the unfortunate man may suddenly find himself living out the remainder of his days as a toad or possibly a radish,” Aunt Pol said ominously.

Which is a great threat and gives us a more expanded idea of what might be possible through magic power.

The chapter closes out with Garion coming to terms with the reality that his supposed Aunt isn’t, because she’s Polgara the Sorceress.

Garion’s orphaning was complete now. He was adrift in the world with no ties of blood or heritage to cling to. Desperately he wanted to go home, back to Faldor’s farm, where he could sink himself in unthinking obscurity in a quiet place where there were no sorcerers or strange searches or anything that would even remind him of Aunt Pol and the cruel hoax she had made of his life.

There’s nothing here about Garion’s state of mind here, which is too bad, because this could be read either as despair or fury. Because, as far as Garion knows, he’s got no special destiny, he’s got no secret heritage, he isn’t even contributing anything to this particular adventure, and Aunt Pol is a cruel bitch, in his opinion. Or, as was suggested earlier, it seesms like it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for Garion to conclude that he’s actually been in the company of the villains this entire time, and that Durnik’s just a fool in love, and the right thing for him to do is get away from them and hope that the heroes don’t find him, either.

This is the end of book one, so the Tour has finished its stop in Sendar, and next week, we go on to the next destination, Cherek. I assume, of course, that Garion will still be with everyone, because he’s still the macguffin being dragged along, rather than a character with agency.

Deconstruction Roundup for July 16, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is getting the full treatment of “everything’s back to normal, so we are, too, just like this last time period never happened”.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorum Press

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are still a touch nervous about the callout that’s going to get published where a whole lot of people can potentially see it.)

Pawn of Prophecy: More Travelogue

Last week, the party was caught again by their enemeies, and engaged in a street battle to fight them off. Garion fought through a Grolim’s mental powers to explain that Asharak is likely a Grolim and used his abilities to get the information about where the party was headed next when they saw him last. Silk flung a dagger through the window where said Grolim was and injured them, and then the party ditched the city and got some very good horses from the local Algar herds, with a rearguard thrown in for good measure.

Pawn of Prophecy, Chapter 10: Content Notes:

Chapter Ten starts with a lot of riding on good horses before Polgara again intercedes with practicality (they won’t be able to ride forty leagues straight without rest for humans or horses) and Wolf offers an option to use:

“If I remember correctly, there should be an imperial hostel about five leagues farther to the west,” Wolf said. “We ought to reach it by noon.”
“Will we be allowed to stay there?” Durnik asked doubtfully. “I’ve never heard that Tolnedrans are noted for hospitality.”
“Tolnedrans sell anything for a price,” Silk said. “The hostel would be a good place to stop. Even if Brill or Asharak evade the Algars and follow us there, the legionnaires won’t permit any foolishness within their walls.”
“Why should there be Tolnedran soldiers in Sendaria?” Garion asked, feeling a brief surge of patriotic resentment at the thought.
“Wherever the great roads are, you’ll find the legions,” Silk said. “Tolnedrans are even better at writing treaties than they are at giving short weight to their customers.”
Mister Wolf chuckled. “You’re inconsistent, Silk,” he said. “You don’t object to their highways, but you dislike their legions. You can’t have the one without the other.”
“I’ve never pretended to be consistent,” the sharp-nosed man said airily. “If we want to reach the questionable comfort of the imperial hostel by noon, hadn’t we better move along? I wouldn’t want to deny His Imperial Majesty the opportunity to pick my pocket.”

That’s a very bold claim to say the Tolnedran legionnaires won’t permit any foolishness, given that they’re up against someone, potentially, with mindpowers. And if it’s really true that Tolnedrans will sell anything, presumably that means they can be bribed. Given that Brill ended up with an entire pouch of red gold, I somehow doubt that money is going to be an issue for Asharak if he wants to bribe the legionnaires.

I’m also much more interested in Garion’s question that Silk dismisses – how are these roads maintained, and why are there legionnaires on them in what are supposedly sovereign kingdoms? Silk’s flippant answer is that Tolnedrans are very good at cheating everyone, whether it’s in merchanting or politics, but that’s got to be a hell of a treaty to let someone else’s soldiers within your borders, with fortifications, no less, as the hostel is described as “a series of stout buildings surrounded by an even stouter wall.” Are the legionnaires restricted to defending or peacekeeping only on the roads they’ve built? Are these toll roads that all of the other kingdoms pay for the use of, or do the Tolnedrans pay for the privilege of being able to maintain and staff the roads and the other kingdoms let them do it because they don’t want the expense of it? There’s a whole bunch of treaty work that had to have happened here, and it’s not like we’re talking about administrative divisions of the same country here. That’s interesting worldbuilding possibility there, even if Garion would find it kind of boring, potentially, to learn about what the reasons are in any sort of detail.

And speaking of the legions,

The legionnaires who manned it were not the same sort of men as the Tolnedran merchnts Garion had seen before. Unlike the oily men of commerce, these were hard-faced professional fighting men in burnished breastplates and plumed helmets. They carried themselves proudly, even arrogantly, each bearing the knowledge that the might of all Tolnedra was behind him.

Which, again, that’s fighting men and fortifications in other countries that are not allied or conquered to Tolnedra. They’ve got some impressive diplomats to be able to wrangle that. Which might be why Silk is so aggravated about them.

Also, I really would like it if this story would go all in on how much they hate capitalism and money and the merchants who keep gouging honest people. If it had been established that our chronicler is a Sendar, for example, the continual referents to merchants as “oily” or otherwise terrible and the continual references to Silk’s unhandsome features would be entirely in character, and there would be opportunities to insert some occasional rants here and there into various character’s mouths about how much they hate money and merchants, but they have to use them. Another opportunity for the meta to shine here, and it’s already been built into the ways that people get described.

Another thing about the legionnaires and their buildings is that apparently they’re built exactly the same, no matter where you go, as Garion finds out when the party stays at a second hostel on their journey.

“Tolnedrans are nothing if not predictable,” Silk said. “All their hostels are exactly the same. You can find these same buildings in Drasnia, Algaria, Arendia and any place else their great roads go. It’s their one weakness—this lack of imagination.”
“Don’t they get tired of doing the same thing over and over again?”
“It makes them feel comfortable, I guess,” Silk laughed. “Let’s go see about supper.”

And again, I am struck by how good these treaties must be, that so many of these buildings and their soldiers are allowed to exist in so many other kingdoms and places. (Also, I am amused that it’s the Tolnedrans who are accused of being unimaginative, since they replicate what presumably works for them remarkably well, when I had suggested earlier that the Sendarians would be the ones who are unimaginative.)

Continuing,

The food in the dining hall was plain and wholesome, but dreadfully expensive. The tiny sleeping cubicles were scrupulously clean, with hard, narrow beds and thick woolen blankets, and were also expensive. The stables were neat, and they too reached deeply into Mister Wolf’s purse. Garion wondered at the thought of how much heir lodging was costing, but Wolf paid for it all with seeming indifference as if his purse were bottomless.

This seems wrong, to me. Not that Belgarath has essentially infinite resources, but that the hostel is extremely expensive in all of their services. It’s not mentioned where the hostels are located, (presumably, the hostels are quartering for the legionnaires) but the only thing I can imagine for this setup working is if the hostels are arranged essentially that they’re the last rest stop for leagues, with no villages or citites anywhere near them that could be reached if a party of travelers needed to find somewhere for the night unexpectedly. Otherwise, presumably, they wouldn’t be used at all. (Okay, maybe the deliberately high prices are supposed to be a deterrent to people who aren’t legionnaires or Tolnedrans from staying with them unless they really have to, but this still seems like the opposite of what a good roadside hotel should cost.)

As they approach the city, Polgara’s practicality strikes again, although this time, the narrative really leans in on trying to make this sound like Polgara is being a very delicate flower and not at all on board with this manly roughing it and camping.

Late on a chill, snowy afternoon, they rode down a gradual hill toward the city. Some distance from the gate, Aunt Pol stopped her horse. “Since we’re no longer posing as vagabonds,” she announced, “I see no furher need for selecting the most desreputable inns, do you?”
“I hadn’t really thought about it,” Mister Wolf said.
“Well, I have,” she said. “I’ve had more than enough of wayside hostels and seedy village inns. I need a bath, a clean bed and some decent food. If you don’t mind, I’ll choose our lodging this time.”
“Of course, Pol,” Wolf said mildly. “Whatever you say.”
“Very well, then,” she said and rode on toward the city gate with the rest of them trailing behind her.
“What’s your business in Camaar?” one of the furmantled guards at the broad gate asked rather rudely.
Aunt Pol threw back her hood and fixed the man with a steely gaze. “I am the Duchess of Erat,” she announced in ringing tones. “These are my retainers, and my business in Camaar is my own affair.”
[…And the act works, flustering the guard sufficiently that he apologizes and then gives them directions to the finest inn in the city (at least in his opinion)…]
“My thanks,” the guard said as Wolf leaned down to hand him a small coin. “I must admit that I haven’t heard of the Duchess of Erat before.”
“You’re a fortunate man,” Wolf said.
“She’s a great beauty,” the man said admiringly.
“And has a temper to match,” Wolf told him.
“I noticed that,” the guard said.
“We noticed you noticing,” Silk told him slyly.
They nudged their horses and caught up with Aunt Pol.
“The Duchess of Erat?” Silk asked mildly.
“The fellow’s manner irritated me,” Aunt Pol said loftily, “and I’m tired of putting on a poor face in front of strangers.”

With a significant dollop of the same kinds of behavior that she was giving Zubrette grief about earlier on, in behaving like a haughty noblewoman. So the narrative really is giving Polgara all the bad aspects that it can, in comparison to the good aspects that the men have.

Additionally, I notice that Polgara has apparently become a looker, despite not, as best as I can tell, having changed her clothes into something much more like what a noblewoman would wear, even on a road trip. Which is not to say it’s impossible, just I would expect clothing of much humbler fare to be far less revealing of figure. Maybe the guard is basing this judgment solely on being able to see her face. I don’t know, but it feels like a glamour’s been cast off, now that Polgara has declared that they’re all doing it her way instead of how they were doing it before.

We also get some slight disapproval about changing to this high-visibility tactic from Belgarath, as well as a complaint that should get him disapproved-at for hypocrisy.

Aunt Pol was standing before the fire, warming her hands. “Isn’t this better than some shabby, wharfside inn reeking of fish and unwashed sailors?” she asked.
“If the Duchess of Erat will forgive my saying so,” Wolf said somewhat tartly, “this is hardly the way to escape notice, and the cost of these lodgings would feed a legion for a week.”
“Don’t grow parsimonious in your dotage, Old Wolf,” she replied. “No one takes a spoiled noblewoman seriously, and your wagons weren’t able to keep that disgusting Brill from finding us. This guise is at least comfortable, and it permits us to move more rapidly.”

So how much were they paying for the hostel? Inquiring minds want to know if this is actually saving them money by staying in a higher-class inn.

I’m also wondering why Polgara is doing it this particular way. She says that nobody remembers a spoiled noblewoman, which might be true enough, but this seems like too polished of a role for Polgara to be making this up on the fly, so I have to wonder how long she’s played at this role, and whether she likes it a lot more because of the creature comforts that come with it (because she always seems to talk about things like clean sheets and baths whenever she gets to have the men stop and stay at an inn or otherwise) instead of some other reason. Obviously, when you’ve lived as long as she has, you have taken on just about every role, but Polgara was suggesting this right from the beginning as the way to go, nominally for speed reasons.

With the new plan underway, and the Duchess of Erat getting things made for her so that she can continue to play the role effectively, Garion (as the page) is reduced to a waiting role, which he spends around Barak, looking at the tapestries and other things present in the inn. Barak, despite being the party’s taciturn barbarian, demonstrates an understanding of culture and a cosmopolitan outlook on the world, describing a tapestry as Arendish and a carpet as Mallorean. When Garion asks, Barak says Arendish women have a fondness for making tapestry while their men are out denting each other’s armor. Barak considers it silly to have fully plate armored men and horses as a way to make war, and understands that merchants will grab goods from absolutely anywhere, including the Angarak kingdoms, if they think they can make a profit on it. Which leads to Garion asking about the Angarak kingdoms.

“How many kinds of Angaraks are there?” Garion asked. “I know there are Murgos and Thulls, and I’ve heard stories about the battle of Vo Mimbre and all, but I don’t know much about them, really.”
“There are five tribes of them,” Barak said, sitting back down and resuming his polishing. “Murgos and Thulls, Nadraks and Malloreans, and of course the Grolims. They live in the four kingdoms of the east—Mallorea, Gar og Nadrak, Mishrak ac Thull and Cthol Murgos.”
“Where do the Grolims live?”
“They have no special place,” Barak replied grimly. “The Grolims are the priests of Torak One-eye and are everywhere in the lands of the Angaraks. They’re the ones who perform the sacrifices to Torak. Grolim knives have spilled more Angarak blood than a dozen Vo Mimbres.”
Garion shuddered. “Why should Torak take such pleasure in the slaughter of his own people?” he asked.
“Who can say?” Barak shrugged. “He’s a twisted and evil God. Some believe that he was made mad when he used the Orb of Aldur to crack the world and the Orb repaid him by burning out his eye and consuming his hand.”

This is another one of those times where we could let a little more meta show out here. The narrative is very clearly invested in making sure we don’t question that Torak is evil, his people are evil, and his priests are evil people who sacrifice their own to their god. It would be nice if this were a little wobblier rather than going unquestioned. Because, after all, you could describe something like capital punishment as sacrifice to an evil god if you look at it from the right angle and you don’t have all the data to understand that it’s the government demanding this, as opposed to it being a demand of the dominant religion, perhaps corrupted in some form. Or if you wanted to demonize a different religion and play up the idea that they are much more bloodthirsty and primitive than your enlightened religion, even though they’re both offshoots of the same predecessor belief system. Because more and more, the Angaraks and the Grolims really are starting to sound like the Scary Muslims as much as they are the more generic Scary Foreigners. Even though we’re in front of the Scary Muslims being more of a general trope.

And as with Silk, Garion tries to get some of his curiosity indulged by someone who isn’t Polgara telling him to be quiet.

“Do you know what I think?” Garion said on a sudden impulse. “I think it’s the Orb of Aldur that’s been stolen. I think it’s the Orb that Mister Wolf is trying to find.”
“And I think it’d be better if you didn’t think so much about such things,” Barak warned.
“But I want to know,” Garion protested, his curiosity driving him even in the face of Barak’s words and the warning voice in his mind. “Everyone treats me like an ignorant boy. All I do is tag along with no idea of what we’re doing. Who is Mister Wolf, anyway? Why did the Algars behave the way they did when they saw him? How can he follow something that he can’t see? Please tell me, Barak.”
“Not me,” Barak laughed. “Your Aunt would pull out my beard whisker by whisker if I made that mistake.”
“You’re not afraid of her, are you?”
“Any man with good sense is afraid of her,” Barak said, rising and sliding his sword into its sheath.
“Aunt Pol?” Garion asked incredulously.
“No,” Garion said, and then realized that was not precisely true. “Well—not really afraid. It’s more—” He left it hanging, not knowing how to explain it.
“Exactly,” Barak said. “And I’m no more foolhardy than you, my boy. You’re too full of questions I’d be far wiser not to answer. If you want to know about these things, you’ll have to ask your Aunt.”
“She won’t tell me,” Garion said glumly. “She won’t tell me anything. She won’t even tell me about my parents—not really.”
Barak frowned. “That’s strange,” he said.
“I don’t think they were Sendars,” Garion said. “Their names weren’t Sendarian, and Silk says that I’m not a Sendar—at least, I don’t look like one.”
Barak looked at him closely. “No,” he said finally. “Now that you mention it, you don’t. You look more like a Rivan than anything else—but not quite that either.”
“Is Aunt Pol a Rivan?”
Barak’s eyes narrowed slightly. “I think we’re getting to some more of those questions I hadn’t better answer.”
“I’m going to find out someday,” Garion said.
“But not today,” Barak said. “Come along. I need some exercise. Let’s go out into the innyard and I’ll teach you how to use a sword.”
“Me?” Garion said, all his curiosity suddenly melting away in the excitement of that thought.
“You’re at an age where you should begin to learn,” Barak said. “The occasion may someday arise when it’ll be a useful thing for you to know.”
Late that afternoon when Garion’s arm had begun to ache from the effort of swinging Barak’s heacy sowrd and the whole idea of learning the skills of a warrior had become a great deal less exciting, Mister Wolf and Silk returned.

This is the second time that someone has distracted Garion from his questions by offering to teach him a skill. In both cases, these are skills that Garion could have stood to learn before now, since he’s been in situations where being able to follow along with the mercantile conversation and being able to defend himself against attackers would have been eminently useful. And both times that the skill has been on offer, we find out that Garion finds it less romantic than what he had imagined it to be. I mean, swinging heavy weapons until you get good at it is a lot of hard work that builds muscles, callouses, and makes you both sore and tired, and that’s even more so if you also lug around armor on your body and swing heavy weapons. The secret language lessons probably look good in comparison to the full-body exercise that the sword work is. All the same, it’s still probably a good idea for Garion to continue getting self-defense lessons from as many people as he can. Also, it would have been nice if these lessons have been going on all his life, so as to make Garion less of a sexy lamp. What if it was Durnik that had been teaching him to swim, Pol teaching him to cook, Wolf teaching him the mythology of the world (and how to tell a convincing story), and now we simply add on Silk teaching him the secret language and Barak teaching him how to swing a sword? That way, Garion gets to be part of the adventure and put his skills to work, even if Aunt Pol is less amused about the ways that Garion is trying to put those skills to use or that he keeps pulling them out of his bag in situations where it might be better for him not to do that.
With the return of Silk and Belgarath, Garion knocks on Pol’s door and says they’re back and want to talk to him, remembering to keep his kayfavbe on in time. At which point Polgara steps outside with her new dress on, and Garion has an odd reaction.

Garion gasped. The rich, blue velvet gown she wore made her so magnificent that she quite took his breath away. He stared at her in helpless admiration.
“Where is he?” she asked. “Don’t stand and gape, Garion. It’s not polite.”
“You’re beautiful, Aunt Pol,” he blurted.
“Yes, dear,” she said, patting his cheek, “I know. Now where’s the Old Wolf?”

Garion has lived with Polgara all his life, to the point where she’s family. Presumably, he’s already figured out that most people think that Polgara’s pretty, and he’s figured out what those other people think is the best thing about her, and he’s probably seen her when she is actually putting in an effort, if she ever really did. For him to be stunned by this seems off to me. For him to go “Wow, that dress really accents things, I wonder what’s going to happen when Durnik sees this,” would seem to be more in the right idea. And speaking of Durnik:

“Well?” she asked.
Wolf looked up at her, his eyes still bright. “An excellent choice, Pol,” he said admiringly. “Blue has always been your best color.”
“Do you like it?” she asked, holding out her arms and turning almost girlishly so that they all might see how fine she looked. “I hope it pleases you, old man, because it’s costing you a great deal of money.”
Wolf laughed. “I was almost certain it would,” he said.
The effect of Aunt Pol’s gown on Durnik was painfully obvious. The poor man’s eyes literally bulged, and his face turned alternatively very pale and then very red, then finally settled into an expression of such hopelessness that Garion was touched to the quick by it.

Barak and Silk give Pol a bow as their tribute, but yeah, if it wasn’t already obvious, Durnik very clearly has the hots for Pol. And this part would be more that sufficient to establish that the gown makes Pol look good, without the issue of making the child she raised from infancy be the one to articulate it out loud first.

Having confirmed that the thief came this way, the party figures out the likelihood of where he went next – not by sea, because there are warships that would find him, and not through the lands of Belar’s people, because that’s a confrontation to avoid, and similarly with the lands under the protection of the god UL. At which point things have gotten too complicated for Durnik.

“Forgive me,” Durnik said, his eyes still on Aunt Pol. “This is all most confusing. I’ve never heard just exactly who this thief is.”
“I’m sorry, gentle Durnik,” Wolf said. “It’s not a good idea to speak his name. He has certain powers which might make it possible for him to know our ever move if we alert him to our location, and he can hear his name spoken a thousand leagues away.”
“A sorceror?” Durnik asked unbelievingly.
“The word isn’t one I’d choose,” Wolf said. “It’s a term used by men who don’t understand that particular art. Instead, let’s call him ‘thief’, though there are a few other names I might call him which are far less kindly.”
[…they continue to try and figure out where the next stop is likely to be…]
“Maybe he wants to keep the thing he’s stolen for himself rather than deliver it over to the Grolims. He might even seek sanctuary in Nyissa.”
“He couldn’t do that without the contrivance of Salmissra,” Aunt Pol said.
“It wouldn’t be the first time that the Queen of the Serpent People has tampered with things that are none of her concern,” Wolf pointed out.
“If that turns out to be true,” Aunt Pol said grimly, “I think I’ll give myself the leisure to deal with the snakewoman permanently.”

What was that again about objecting to casual killing? It must only apply in Sendaria about Sendarians. If that’s the truth, though, I’m not sure anyone would want to venture outside of Sendaria, if the likelihood of being killed for random reasons (or non-random ones) rises precipitously. Also, we’re continuing in the theme of the Nyissans being untrustworthy and shading hard into always chaotic evil, or at least always interfering in things that are above their pay grade.

It’s also worth noting that if this is the same Salmissra who was responsible for the death of the Rivan King some 1300+ years go, it appears that Aldur is not the only god who can pull off the “untouched by time” trick. Or that all the queens of Nyissa are named Salmissra and treated officially like they’re the same person for all this time.

Most importantly, though, why haven’t they used this explanation with Garion before? It’s logical, it doesn’t leave anything important out, and it answers the question fully. “We don’t name You-Know-Who because he can hear people talking about him by name” is a complete answer and it doesn’t reveal the name or anything more about the quest. If Garion presses further on the matter, then he can be told that they’ve answered the question and nothing more will be said.

Plot-wise, the arrival of soldiers dressed in the colors of the king of Sendaria stops the planning for a bit. They’re looking after someone who fits Wolf’s description, but the innkeeper says that the person is the chamberlain to the Duchess of Erat, which the soldier does a double-take at and asks to meet with Her Grace. Which leaves Garion and Polgara in the same room as Captain Brendig, who apologetically points out that in addition to his captaincy, he’s a baronet, and he’s never seen Polgara at court (because she’s too beatiful not to have been noticed). Which would not be a problem for Polgara, except this captain is also exceedingly up on his Sendarian history.

“Moreover, your Grace,” he continued, “I’m familiar with all of the holdings of the kingdom. If I’m not mistaken, the district of Erat is an earldom, and the Earl of Erat is a short, stout man—my great uncle incidentally. There has been no duchy in that part of Sedarian since the kingdom was under the dominion of the Wacite Arends.”
Aunt Pol fixed him with an icy stare.
“My Lady,” Brendig said almost apologetically, “the Wacite Arends were exterminated by their Asturian cousins in the last years of the third millenium. There has been no Wacite nobility for over two thousand years.”
“I thank you for the history lesson, my Lord,” Aunt Pol said coldly.

Bus-ted. Of course, they don’t know that she’s Polgara, an ageless sorceress, so it’s entirely possible that Polgara is telling the absolute truth when she claims to be the Duchess of Erat, because she might have been when there was a duchy. Unfortunately for her, they drew a captain and a baronet who actually has paid enough attention at court to know that title and place don’t actually exist. Having been called out, eventually, Wolf appears and acquiesces to the request to go see “Fulrach of Sendaria,” the king, as soon as possible, so that they can get back to the thing that they actually want to do. The captain of the guard gets their promise that they won’t run during the night, and also mentions that he has to station guards around the inn as well, for their protection, ostensibly. Having been caught out, and Polgara’s attempts at intimidation failing, the chapter ends.

Presumably, Fulrach knows what they’re up to, or at least has a good guess, so what’s he doing pulling them off this mission to go see him? (We’ll find out, I’m sure.) The delay to get to the capital city and hear out whatever is going on will allow the thief to continue to gain time on them with what he’s taken. If it really is the Orb of Aldur, that means it’s closer to being used as an implement of destruction again. I’m pretty sure there are all sorts of people who would at least make the attempt to use it for their purposes, even if the likely result was that they get consumed in cleansing fire. So, next week, I suppose we abandon the recovery quest to have an interlude with royalty?

Deconstruction Roundup for July 9, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who has, as usual, spent time off taking care of things than marathoning games like they always intend to.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorum Press

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are still a touch nervous about the callout that’s going to get published where a whole lot of people can potentially see it.)

Pawn of Prophecy: Something Actually Clever

Last week, Silk helped Garion get some indirect answers to his questions, even though he cautioned against knowing too much about anything that was happening, let it go over into the hands of the enemy, Garion continued to learn the secret language of the Drasnians, and the party decided to stick to the back roads after watching some pursuers go by (and spotting Brill in a village looking for them).

Pawn of Prophecy: Chapters 9: Content Notes: Body Modification, mind control

Chapter 9 starts with the arrival at their destination city of Muros, after many weeks on the road getting there. They arrive just after the time of the Algar cattle drive, so that way the city isn’t full of bustling merchants everywhere. They are still able to deliver the hams without incident and hop to an inn.

“This is a respectable inn, great lady,” Silk assured Aunt Pol as he helped her down from the wagon. “I’ve stopped here before.”
“Let’s hope so,” she said. “The inns of Muros have an unsavory reputation.”
“Those particular inns lie along the eastern edge of town,” Silk assured her delicately. “I know them well.”
“I’m certain you do,” she said with an arched eyebrow.
“My profession sometimes requires me to seek out places I might otherwise prefer to avoid,” he said blandly.

Silk could be telling a complete truth here and he would still be on Pol’s shit list simply for knowing where the inns of ill repute are. So she’ll be upset with Belgarath for potentially exposing Garion to drinking and Silk for exposing him to prostitution. She’s just mad at all of the men, no exceptions.

The inn, Garion noted, was surprisingly clean, and its guests seemed for the most part to be Sendarian merchants. “I thought there’d be many different kinds of people here in Muros,” he said as he and Silk carried their bundles up to the chambers on the second floor.
“There are,” Silk said, “but each group tends to remain aloof from the others. The Tolnedrans gather in one part of town, the Drasnians in another, the Nyissans in yet another. The Earl of Muros prefers it that way. Tempers sometimes flare in the heat of the day’s business, and it’s best not to have natural enemies under the same roof.”
Garion nodded. “You know,” he said as they entered the chambers they had taken for their stay in Muros, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Nyissan.”
“You’re lucky,” Silk said. “They’re an unpleasant race.”
“Are they like Murgos?”
“No,” Silk said. “The Nyissans worship Issa, the Snake God, and it’s considered seemly among them to adopt the mannerisms of the serpent. I don’t find it at all attractive myself. Besides, the Nyissans murdered the Rivan King, and all Alorns have disliked them since then.”
“The Rivans don’t have a king,” Garion objected.
“Not anymore,” Silk said. “They did once, though—until Queen Salmissra decided to have him murdered.”
“When was that?” Garion asked, fascinated.
“Thirteen hundred years ago,” Silk said, as if it had only been yesterday.
“Isn’t that sort of a long time to hold a grudge?” Garion asked.
“Some things are unforgivable,” Silk said shortly.

Cocowhat by depizan

Can’t have that Garion getting a cosmopolitan view of the world by accident, hear? But also, this characterization of the various peoples of the world as if they were rival gangs that have to be kept separated from each other lest they turn into riots and brawls seems over the top. Mostly because we haven’t met enough of the other races to know whether the Earl’s policy is discriminatory or sound regarding keeping the peace. And also, I wonder whose territory the aforementioned inns of ill repute are in, and whether the reputation of the inns is generally extended to the people who are quartered there. It seems like the place to put the racial group you dislike the most in that spot.

Secondly, Silk casually talking about the destruction of a royal line that happened more than a thousand years ago as if it were a recent grudge to use is weird. And not just because apparently in all that time the Rivans never appointed a new king, or fought a bloody squabble among the nobles for control, or Salmissra didn’t have a puppet ready to take over, and they were eventually overthrown and a new royal line established? The throne of Riva’s just been empty all that time? Did Riva decide to reincorporate as a democracy with no need for royal rulers? Even though they have guardianship duties of the Orb?

Also, why aren’t the Nyissans one of the extinct races? Because I can imagine a whole lot of the other races, and their gods, taking offense to the murdering of one of their chosen and mounting a campaign against them to make sure a decision like that would not be repeated, because there would be no one left to try it again. Instead, we get Silk saying they’re “unpleasant” and “unattractive”, but there’s no evidence for this except that they’re people who think being snakelike is cool, and there are no details. Do the Nyissans think that having fangs is cool, so they have artificial teeth, or file theirs specifically? Do they use contact lenses to try and replicate a snake’s eyes? Do they dress with elaborate hoods meant to intimidate everyone else? Do they fork their own tongues? Or is Silk calling them a people who are constant liars, even when there’s no advantage to it? Without a frame of reference here, the comment doesn’t do much more than make Silk look prejudiced. Which, y’know, if that were an intentional decision, supported by the ways that the narrative has been treating Belgarath’s pronouncements of a similar nature, would be fine. But we’re still in the territory of “heroes’ prejudices are objective fact”.

Having collected some new information about himself and others, Garion once again attempts to extract more information from Polgara. Which goes over exactly as well as one might think.

“Don’t burn your shoes,” she told him.
“Silk says I’m not a Sendar,” Garion said. “He says that he doesn’t know what I am, but that I’m not a Sendar.”
“Silk talks too much,” Aunt Pol observed.
“You never tell me anything, Aunt Pol,” he said in irritation.
“I will tell you everything you need to know,” she said calmly. “Right now it’s not necessary for you to know anything about Rivan kings or Nyissan queens.”
“All you want to do is keep me an ignorant child,” Garion said petulantly. “I’m almost a man, and I don’t even know what I am—or who.”
“I know who you are,” she said, not looking up.
“Who am I, then?”
“You’re a young man who’s about to catch his shoes on fire,” she said.
He jerked his feet back quickly. “You didn’t answer me,” he accused.
“That’s right,” she said in that infuriatingly calm voice.
“Why not?”
“It’s not necessary for you to know yet. When it’s time, I’ll tell you, but not until.”
“That’s not fair,” he objected.
“The world’s full of injustice,” she said. “Now, since you’re feeling so manly, why don’t you fetch some more firewood? That’ll give you something useful to think about.”
He glared at her and stomped across the room.
“Garion,” she said.
“What?”
“Don’t even think about slamming the door.”

The narrative does not say what Garion does, but I would like to believe he slams that door hard enough to make the hinges rattle three rooms over. Because I am already sick of this shit, and I’m just reading along. How much does it suck to have it confirmed in front of you that your supposed aunt has been holding out on you about crucial and important information and has appointed herself the sole person who determines when the right time is for you to know this? And then, when called on it, she sends Garion to do chores and tells him he has to behave. In our era, Polgara would be on an estranged parents forum soon enough complaining about how much she sacrificed to raise Garion, but he found some hussy, married her, and absolutely refused to continue on his destiny, or to have any contact at all with her as soon as he didn’t have to depend on her for anything. Or that Garion very quietly gathered all the other men during the night and they set off for their next destination and left her behind entirely and she keeps having to catch up with them all the time. Polgara is a thoroughly unlikable character, and that’s not a fault of the author or a bad decision – she gets to be as unlikable as she’s written. Where the problem lies is that nobody reacts to that in any sort of way, especially not the hormonal teenager who has suffered the longest under her thumb.

So, after Garion slams the door and refuses utterly to get any firewood for her (maybe he pawns it off on Durnik, since he’s infatuated with her and she doesn’t seem to want to be in his presence much), he goes to have a proper sulk. Regrettably, the narrative just continues on to dinner, where it turns out Muros is also not the place where the thief went, and they have to go to Camaar instead, which is the least logical idea if the thief is trying to get it to the Angarak kingdoms. Belgarath suggests the thief might have wanted to keep it to himself, since he’s apparently coveted the thing. They agree that empty wagons are okay, right before Durnik spots Brill and the entire party says, “Welp, we’re fucked,” and makes ready to run on the spot.

Durnik was the last to join them. He came breathlessly out of the inn and pressed a small handful of coins upon Mister Wolf. “It was the best I could do,” he apologized. “It’s scarce half the worth of the wagons, but the innkeeper sensed my haste and bargained meanly.” He shrugged then. “It’s not good to leave things of value behind. They nag at the mind and distract one from the business at hand.”
Silk laughed. “Durnik,” he said, “you’re the absolute soul of a Sendar.”
“One must follow one’s nature,” Durnik said.

Even though this is supposed to be meant as a comedy moment, of Durnik completely missing the point, I like this, and I think that it does well here as a serious thing instead, because it provides contrast between Garion and Durnik. Proof that Garion is not a Sendar at all, because he didn’t think of the very practical part of selling the wagons and insist on doing so even after being told to leave them, as happened before the quoted bit.

Having done that thing so that he’s not thinking about the wagons left behind, Durnik and the others set out, leading the horses so as not to cause a greater scene. Garion and Durnik have armed themselves with stout sticks, and while the narrative says “When the attack came, it was unexpected and swift,” I can’t really believe that, because everyone is armed and ready, and the fighters are out front. And, when the attack comes, they catch it and defend themselves. And we learn that Garion’s hat, apparently, is battle-rage, because he again jumps into the fray, “swinging his club at those parts of his shadowy enemy which he instinctively knew were most sensitive.”

As before, Garion gets himself into a bad situation and one of his party members saves him. Silk, this time, launches himself from the shadows to take down the attackers, and then uses his acrobatics skills to defend himself and Garion. The party drives off their attackers, and Aunt Pol once again gives Garion the business about fighting untrained.

“Are you all right, Aunt Pol?” Garion said, crossing the street to where she stood.
“Of course I am,” she snapped. “And don’t do that again, young man. Leave street brawling to those better suited to it.”
“I was all right,” he objected. “I had my stick here.”
“Don’t argue with me,” she said. “I didn’t go to all the trouble of raising you to have you end up dead in a gutter.”

Oh, sorry, no, it’s Polgara giving him the business about fighting at all. And the comment about all the trouble she went to is particularly rich, given that the narrative has shown us so many other times where Garion might have ended up dead because he lacked important training that was available to him. If Garion is going to continue to try jumping into battle, the correct thing to do is have Barak teach him how to stay alive. Or, if Barak isn’t suited to it, have Silk do it. It’s getting very clear that there might have to be fighting and self defense, so Garion should not be an easy liability. Why does Polgara seem so opposed to teaching Garion the practical skills he’s going to need to survive?

Having run off their attackers, the party tries to figure out why they got attacked, and it is Garion who follows the logic chain to a correct conclusion.

“I think he knew where we were going,” Garion blurted, struggling against a strange compulsion not to speak what his mind saw clearly now.
“And what else do you think?” Wolf asked.
“Somebody told him,” Garion said. “Somebody who knew we were coming here.”
“Mingan knew,” Silk said, “but Mingan’s a merchant, and he wouldn’t talk about his dealings to somebody like Brill.”
“But Asharak the Murgo was in Mingan’s counting room when Mingan hired us.” The compulsion was so strong now that Garion’s tongue felt stiff.
Silk shrugged. “Why should it concern him? Asharak didn’t know who we were.”
“But what if he did?” Garion struggled. “What if he isn’t just an ordinary Murgo, but one of those others—like the one who was with those ones who passed us a couple days after we left Darine?”
“A Grolim?” Silk said, and his eyes widened. “Yes, I suppose that if Asharak’s a Grolim, he’d have known who we are and what we’re doing.”
“And what if the Grolim who passed is the other day was Asharak?” Garion fought to say. “What if he wasn’t really looking for us, but just coming south to find Brill and send him here to wait for us?”
Silk looked very hard at Garion. “Very good,” he said softly. “Very, very good.” He glanced at Aunt Pol. “My compliments, Mistress Pol. You’ve raised a rare boy here.”
“What did this Asharak look like?” Wolf asked quickly.
“A Murgo,” Silk shrugged. “He said he was from Rak Goska. I took him to be an ordinary spy on some business that didn’t concern us. My mind seems to have gone to sleep.”
“It happens when one deals with Grolims,” Wolf told him.
“Someone’s watching us,” Durnik said quietly, “from that window up there.”
Mister Wolf did not look up, but his face turned blank as if he were looking inward, or his mind were searching for something. Then he drew himself up and looked at the figure in the window, his eyes blazing. “A Grolim,” he said shortly.
“A dead one, perhaps,” Silk said. He reached inside his tunic and drew out a long, needle-pointed dirk. He took two quick steps away from the house where the Grolim stood watching, spun and threw the dirk with a smooth, overhand cast.
The dirk crashed through the window. There was a muffled shout, and the light went out. Garion felt a strange pang in his left arm.
“Marked him,” Silk said with a grin.
“Good throw,” Barak said admiringly.
“One has picked up certain skills,” Silk said modestly. “If it was Asharak, I owed him for deceiving me in Mingan’s counting room.”

Okay, now we have established something good. (In Chapter 9.) Grolims are dangerous not just because they can read your mind (or compel you to talk), but because they can also cover up that they did it in your head (or compel you not to talk about them). We’re still suffering from the problem that if Grolims and Murgos are indistinguishable, then to avoid having a Grolim, you kill all Murgos on sight, preferably from distance, but maybe their mind-whammy powers work at sufficient distance that they can sneak in undetected, and then they have to have a constant hypnosis going so that people don’t fully recognize them and decide to stab them until they’re dead.

I’m also guessing that Garion’s phantom pain is because he’s psychically linked to Asharak in some way, which is why he’s having so much trouble articulating his conclusions against Asharak’s will that he not do so. Once Asharak is wounded, and withdraws, Garion is no longer fighting the compulsion, but there’s no time to inform everyone else about his previous encounters, as the party rides for the Algar encampment. They are suspicious of the party’s arrival, which Silk snorts at, but once they recognize who they’re talking to (“Ancient One” is what they call Belgarath), the attitude changes immediately. Garion notices, and asks about it, but Polgara tells him not to ask so many questions, and the matter gets dropped as swiftly as the party gets new good horses, an escort, and a rearguard to make sure they don’t get followed. That ends Chapter 9.

I’m curious about how the magic works in this world, at this point, because Belgarath just did something that confirmed for him that this particular watcher was a Grolim, but also, apparently, this Grolim was using his magic on Garion to try and make him not talk and that wasn’t detectable by Belgarath or Polgara. Or his psi powers weren’t noticed until he was pointed out. It seems like the best thing to do is to have a certain amount of passive radar on, something that can detect an active magic signal when it’s being used, so that it becomes really easy to spot when someone is using power attuned to a particular frequency or god. But, of course, if it weren’t for the prologue, we really haven’t had an obvious “oh, shit, magic/psi is real” moment until the bit with the side of the road and letting Asharak ride by. And now we’ve had another. At this point, it seems like Garion should be really suspicious about who around him might have those magic skills and start trying to find out more. Or, perhaps, try the trick with his hand and Pol’s white hair again. I’m hoping the narrative will help us out some and let us at least infer how things are going, even if the rules aren’t explicitly spelled out anywhere. Because right now, they seem to be working on “whatever the author thinks will work for the plot right now,” and we all saw how well that went with Pern’s restrictions on time travel.

More next week, as yet again, the party travels to a new place on the tour map.

Deconstruction Roundup for July 2, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who has apparently made it through to the “we’re re-open” phase, despite all the reasons why we shouldn’t be there.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Ana Mardoll: Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorum Press

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are still pretty salty about the ways that power doesn’t care about anything other than protecting itself.)

Pawn of Prophecy: Sorcery!

Last time, it turned out that the city they had thought the thief had gone to wasn’t the one in question, Garion got a lesson in how exploitative capitalism is, and he also met a Murgo that he was certain was the shadowless man in the black cloak that has been present all throughout his life. He also started learning how to speak the secret merchant’s language of the Drasnians.

Pawn of Prophecy, Chapter 8: Content Notes: racism, provincialism

Since he started learning the merchants’ sign language at the end of the last chapter, this chapter picks up with more instruction and correction from Silk about how the movements of the hands need to be small and subtle, so he’s not shouting, but precise enough to be understood, so that he’s not mumbling. And lest Garion think he’s accomplishing something after three days of instruction, Silk gets to take on the role of crushing any thought Garion might have of competence.

“How goes the instruction?” Mister Wolf asked as he climbed down.
“It progresses,” Silk said. “I expect it’ll go more rapidly when the boy outgrows his tendency to use baby talk.”
Garion was crushed.
Barak, who was also dismounting, laughed. “I’ve often thought that the secret language might be useful to know,” he said, “but fingers built to grip a sword aren’t nimble enough for it.” He held out his huge hand and shook his head.

Garion has had three days of instruction, maybe four, in a completely new language that apparently has to be done both precisely and compactly, for which I would assume he is still learning grammar, syntax, and vocabulary all at once. The fact that he seems to be able to put together comprehensible sentences in that short of time is pretty impressive, but instead, he gets put down by Silk as still using baby talk rather than magically knowing how to put together grown-up sentences. Language acquisition is hard, you prick, and Garion is still 14. (Did Polgara go around to everyone and make them promise never to give Garion a compliment or say he did something well in his earshot or something?)

And besides, he’s actually learned enough that he can gather fragments of Belgarath and Polgara talking about their options when Pol announces there are riders coming, and that they’ll need to protect themselves from any Grolim who are with them, because the Grolims won’t be looking with their eyes, according to Polgara. He doesn’t know enough to collect any sort of useful information about what’s going to happen, but he at least now recognizes that’s what they’re doing. (This would be a perfect time for Garion to search his memory and try to recall whether he had seen Wolf and Aunt Pol do that at previous points in his life, now understanding that they could have had conversations about one thing audible, and another with their hands.) What ends up happening is that everyone is outside, and facing the road, but rather than being apprehensive about the oncoming riders, it “was as if his mind had gone to sleep, leaving his body still standing there watching incuriously the passage of those dark-mantled horsemen along the road.” As has been hinted at before, Grolim are mind readers, and apparently they can just reach in and get whatever they want, which is why the only defense the party have against being followed is to be so unremarkable as to not register in anyone’s mind.

Having watched their pursuers go by, the party agrees to take the back roads and eventually ends up stopping in a village (Winold) because Polgara refuses to sleep on hard ground after having done so for five days. So it’s Polgara that’s responsible for the next bit of adventure that happens, rather than one of the others going “I could use a proper bed, can we stop?” Or Garion complaining about how he’s had enough camping for the moment, could he have a bed tonight? But no, it falls to the single woman of the party to refuse to go along with things that makes them stop in the village. And, again, Pol orders up hot water for a bath in that inn. Garion doesn’t just go to bed when Polgara is ready to this time.

Garion, however, made some pretext about checking the horses and went outside. It was not that he was in the habit of being deliberately deceptive, but it had occurred to him in the last day or so that he had not had a single moment alone since they had left Faldor’s farm. He was not by nature a solitary boy, but he had begun to feel quite keenly the restriction of always being in the presence of his elders.

It’s almost like he’s a teenager and he needs some space to himself to think, rather than being constantly ordered about and put down by the people around him. That said, if he’s supposed to be the Child of Prophecy, I’m not sure how wise it is to let him out of everyone’s sight for any amount of time. As it is, Garion explores the village, and on his way back from doing so, he spots Brill, trying to slink and not draw attention to himself. Garion reasons out that the best thing to do upon having noticed Brill would be to head back to the inn with his information, but he dismisses that idea in favor of watching more, since he’s safe and can’t be seen in the shadows, which I’m glad to know he has a direct line to the author about that, and isn’t being, say, an overconfident teenager about his abilities.

Garion doesn’t hear anything of value, only sees coins change hands, and then gets into a predicament where the other person that Brill was talking to is coming in his direction, so he’s going to have to pretend to be something he isn’t. Garion successfully bluffs Brill’s companion into believing he’s a simple village boy, and even gives him directions to the tavern when asked, and then bolts back to the inn to report his discovery.

“I just saw Brill in the village,” he said.
“Brill?” Silk asked. “Who’s Brill?”
Wolf frowned. “A farmhand with too much Angarak gold in his purse to be entirely honest,” he said. Quickly he told Silk and Barak about the adventure in Faldor’s stble.
“You should have killed him,” Barak rumbled.
“This isn’t Cherek,” Wolf said. “Sendars are touchy about casual killings.” He turned to Garion. “Did he see you?” he asked.
“No,” Garion said. “I saw him first and hid in the dark. He met another man and gave him some money, I think. The other man had a sword.” Briefly he described the whole incident.
“That changes things,” Wolf said. “I think we’ll leave earlier in the morning than we’d planned.”
“It wouldn’t be hard to make Brill lose interest in us,” Durnik said. “I could probably find him and hit him on the head a few times.”
“Tempting,” Wolf grinned. “But I think it might be better just to slip out of town early tomorrow and leave him with no notion that we’ve ever been here. We don’t really have time to start fighting with everyone we run across.”

And here’s another barbarian stereotype against Barak, where the civilized Sendars balk at people just being killed for no reason, but in Cherek it’s normal for that to happen. Also, while I know that Durnik doesn’t mean anything other than what he said, I kind of would have liked “hit him on the head a few times” to have been a euphemism for “cave his skull in and bury the body somewhere unknown.” Because getting roughed up by them didn’t deter Brill the first time it happened, so if they want Brill to stop following them, escalating is probably the next thing to do, and that would presumably mean injuries that require a long time to recover from, so that Brill doesn’t heal up and keep chasing, or just getting rid of him so that he can’t inform a Grolim about what happened. Even if Sendars object to casual killing, it’s clear to us that Wolf thinks that Brill’s not an honest man, anyway, with his pouch full of Angarak gold, so I feel like, at least in the narrative and Wolf’s eyes, Brill is an unperson at best, The Enemy at worst, and safe to murder either way.

Silk asks to go observe the other person, and Garion gives him directions to the tavern. Barak asks whether it’s still wise to try and be incognito, and Wolf says that he’s not sure that the Murgos know where they actually are, so it’s to their advantage to try and sneak away and make them waste time and effort fruitlessly. Which they try to do, but Garion spots a light in a window that makes them nervous and they run the horses and wagons a bit more freely to put distance between them and the town. After pulling off the road and hiding the wagons, Silk and Garion go up the nearby hill to see if they’re being followed, Silk moving silently and Garion fumbling along until he “began to catch the secret of it”, which earns him a single approving nod from Silk. While they are looking out for pursuit, Garion hesitantly asks what this is all about, and explains his suspicions to Silk – that whatever’s been stolen, it’s important to get it back, that neither Wolf nor Aunt Pol are what they appear, and that part of that involves the skill that Wolf did on the road to put Garion’s mind to sleep. Silk confirms those observations as good ones, and explains that they’re in a momentous time. Garion is not so sure he wants to live in interesting times, but Silk is all for it. And Silk chooses not to tell Garion more details about their mission, because OPSEC.

“It’s best if you don’t even know its name,” Silk told him seriously, “or the name of the one who stole it. There are people trying to stop us, and what you don’t know, you can’t reveal.”
“I’m not in the habit of talking to Murgos,” Garion said stiffly.
“It’s not necessary to talk to them,” Silk said. “There are some among them who can reach out and pick the thoughts right out of your head.”
“That isn’t possible,” Garion said.
“Who’s to say what’s possible and what isn’t?” Silk asked. And Garion remembered a conversation he had once had with Mister Wolf about the possible and the impossible.
Silk sat on the stump in the newly risen sun looking thoughtfully down into the still-shadowy valley, an ordinary-looking little man in ordinary-looking tunic and hose and a rough brown shoulder cape with its hood turned up over his head. “You were raised as a Sendar, Garion,” he said, “and Sendars are solid, practical men with little patience for such things as sorcery and magic and other things that can’t be seen or touched. Your friend, Durnik, is a perfect Sendar. He can mend a shoe or fix a broken wheel or dose a sick horse, but I doubt that he could bring himself to believe in the tiniest bit of magic.”
“I am a Sendar,” Garion objected. The hint implicit in Silk’s observation struck at the very center of his sense of his own identity.
Silk turned and looked at him slowly. “No,” he said, “you aren’t. I know a Sendar when I see one—just as I can recognize the difference between an Arend and a Tolnedran or a Cherek and an Algar. There’s a certain set of the head, a certain look about the eyes of Sendars that you don’t have. You’re not a Sendar.”
“What am I then?” Garion challenged.
“I don’t know,” Silk said with a puzzled frown, “and that’s very unusual, since I’ve been trained to know what people are. It may come to me in time, though.”
“Is Aunt Pol a Sendar?” Garion asked.
“Of course not,” Silk laughed.
“That explains it then,” Garion said. “I’m probably the same thing she is.”
Silk look sharply at him.
“She’s my father’s sister, after all,” Garion said. “At first I thought it was my mother she was related to, but that was wrong. It was my father, I know that now.”
“That’s impossible,” Silk said flatly.
“Impossible?”
“Absolutely out of the question. The whole notion’s unthinkable.”
“Why?”
Silk chewed his lower lip for a moment. “Let’s go back to the wagons,” he said shortly.

It must be really nice to be able to just know what kingdom / racial stock someone comes from by looking at them, and to not have to worry about whether there’s been interracial relationships or other things that might muddy the physical expressions of genes enough that some people might look like both of their parents together. Of course, the only people who this doesn’t work on are the scariest of the scary foreigners, because Murgos and Grolims apparently look enough like each other that you can’t tell the one from the other, and Grolims can pluck the thoughts from your head without you knowing it. (Which, again, if this is common knowledge, like if it is common knowledge that Murgos aren’t actually merchants, but spies and warriors, there’s absolutely no reason for anyone to let a Murgo into their kingdom and to have standing orders that any Murgo found anywhere inside the kingdom or too close to the kingdom’s borders, for those kingdoms that border Angarak lands, is to be killed on sight, preferably at a distance.) At least Silk has told Garion the reasons why he’s not being informed about anything more than what’s strictly necessary, rather than just expecting him to be incurious and obedient, like Polgara did. I suspect that while Garion might still be curious and inquisitive, he’ll at least be a little more willing to accept that some things are not for knowing at this point.

Second, I guess this is the explanation we get as to why Durnik had such trouble with the ghost story, because apparently Sendars aren’t equipped with the imagination to be able to conceive of magic or other supernatural forces. For as much as Arends are supposed to be dim and slow, I kind of wonder whether the consensus outside Sendaria is that Sendars are ignorant. (As befits a little provincial backwater kingdom, I’m sure.) All the things that the narrative and our scribe are presenting to us as Sendarian virtues, with their wanting to work the land and eschew commerce, Faldor’s piety, Durnik’s patriarchy, and their relentless practicality and earthy view of things, I have to assume l those same things are viewed as hopelessly provincial and small-minded outside of the kingdom. Kind of like what people outside the States might think about our blend of theocracy, authoritarianism, and libertarianism that even the supposedly liberal party mostly serves. (At least, might think when they’re not having to fight off their own fascists and authoritarians that want to turn their country into something similar to the Gilead that our conservative party is chomping at the bit to institute.)

If Polgara knows this, her decision to work at Faldor’s farm is almost assuredly deliberate, so that not only does Garion not get any semblance of what the world is outside, he didn’t even get stories or flights of fancy that might involve magic or make him believe in it, or that he could do it, and so he doesn’t experiment and make himself visible to others. Which would be tactically sound. I just wish that we had built these characters up such that they seemed like the people that could make these decisions as tactical ones.

Third, if Silk is right, and Garion doesn’t have the racial look of a Sendar, then this is something that should have been pointed out to him at some, possibly several, points in his life, because children can be mean about those kinds of things. Zubrette might do it if she’s feeling vindictive, or Doroon might do it if he’s feeling jealous of the potential intimacy Garion is building with Zubrette, but at some point in his life, Garion has to have been told that he’s not a real Sendar. And have had Aunt Pol shut that line of inquiry down immediately as soon as he asks her about it, like she has done about every other possible thing that Garion has asked her about that might suggest that he’s something other than a very ordinary, very dull, not very intelligent boy. That Silk boggles at the possibility of Garion being from the same line as his Aunt should also be a clue of some sort worth pursuing, and it’s almost assuredly true, since we’ve had more than enough hints that Garion’s a true Rivan King, who married into Belgarath and Polgara’s line through Poldera however long ago the prologue was. But we’ll get to why Silk thinks it’s impossible eventually, so we can leave that alone for the moment.

The plot continues into the village where the wagons pick up the contracted hams, and Silk casually inquires after whether Brill’s been seen around there. The farmer confirms that he has, about a week ago, and Silk spins him a tale about how Brill owes him some money, and so while he’s not particularly fond of seeing the man, he would much prefer to get his money back, and would the farmer kindly not mention that they were asking around about Brill? The farmer says he’ll be discreet, and offers the party food from his table and a loft to sleep in for the night, which is accepted, and Garion gets a little bit of familiarity in all of this adventure to close out chapter 8.

More actual action and adventure in the next chapter. Or so we hope, anyway.