Deconstruction Roundup for May 13, 2022

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is doing their best to be understanding and sympathetic even as they know the other person is correct when they detail less good things that happen in the organization and the unlikelihood that consequences will be assessed.)

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

Ross: A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

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 have to get up early to make the time work even though there isn’t the staff meeting there usually is.

Castle of Wizardry: Recovery Phase

[One chapter this week, because the actual intent to sit down and do another was thwarted by my body telling me, in no uncertain terms, that I was going to sleep so it could work on getting me back toward health.

Last time, the party made it successfully to the plain of the Algars, who waited for as long as they could before revealing themselves so they could slaughter as many of the Murgos chasing the party and the Orb. After that, Belgarath ran out of will to keep himself going. Polgara dosed him with a hell of a leaf and then called for a wagon with a bed to drive him safely to the Algar Stronghold, with the idea in mind that there should be no bumps ever on the way there.

Castle of Wizardry: Chapter Six: Content Notes:

Chapter Six is the very slow wagon ride. Garion is concerned about Belgarath’s health and eventually gets chased out by Polgara for being clingy and worrying too much. Because he gets himself thrown out, that means Silk can tell us about what the Stronghold is.

“A monument to an idea that got out of hand,” Silk observed as he lounged idly atop the wagon.
“I don’t quite follow that,” Durnik said.
“Algars are nomads,” the little man explained. “They live in wagons like this one and follow their herds. The Stronghold gives Murgo raiders something to attack. That’s it’s only real purpose. Very practical, really? It’s much easier than looking for them all over these plains. The Murgos always come here, and it’s a convenient place to wipe them out.”
“Don’t the Murgos realize that?” Durnik looked a bit skeptical.
“Quite possibly, but they come here because they can’t resist the place. They simply can’t accept the fact that nobody really lives here.” Silk grinned his ferretlike little grin. “You know how stubborn Murgos are. Anyway, over the years the Algars have developed a sort of competition. Every year they try to outdo each other in hauling rock, and the Stronghold keeps growing higher and higher.”
“Did Kal Torak really lay siege to it for eight years?” Garion asked him.
Silk nodded. “They say that his army was like a sea of Angaraks dashing itself to pieces against the walls of the Stronghold. They might still be here, but they ran out of food. That’s always been the problem with large armies. Any fool can raise an army, but you start running into trouble around suppertime.”

I seen to recall in a much earlier book that Polgara basically forbade Garion from using that construction for Torak shortly after he learned it, so either Garion’s slipping into old habits from the stress, or the authors didn’t bother to run a continuity check.

The authors have a fairly dim view of the Murgos, don’t they? On the suggestion that they might recognize that the big stone structure isn’t actually valuable in any way at all for the goal of subjugating the Algars, the narrative, through Silk, says they might get it but they can’t resist trying to take it all the same. I suppose, as a defensible position, the Stronghold could be a tactical advantage that could be used to wait out any attackers, but there would have to be a significant amount of logistics and resupply available for that to work. Given that the Algars could probably siege the Stronghold themselves and outlast any Murgos they trapped inside and those sent to keep them resupplied, it really is a decoy, isn’t it? One would think that after so many unsuccessful attempts, the Murgos would learn to do something new. Then again, these are also the people that Hettar believed had a deficiency in their training that made them predictable and easy to kill if put into a specific kind of situation. So we come back to the position that the authors have it out for the Murgos, since they’re one of the Evil Races of Evil, but they can’t seem to make them anything more than martial, menacing, and pretty stupid. Truly the Orcs of this setting, aren’t they?

The wagon makes it to the Stronghold, Errand meets the colt that Garion bright back to life, and when the two touch, there’s a “strange, bell-like note, and the dry voice murmured, “Done,” with a particular sort of satisfaction.” Garion asks WTF, but the voice is silent, so it’s probably something Prophecy-related. Polgara recognizes that it’s momentous as well, but there’s still no details. And Queen Silar arrives shortly after, with at least one person in tow that Garion feels he should recognize. Before we unravel her mystery, however, we need to learn more about the Stronghold.

Garion saw immediately that there were no buildings inside the towering fortress. Instead there was a maze of stone walls perhaps twenty feet high twisting this way and that without any apparent plan.
“But where is thy city, your Majesty?” Mandorallen asked in perplexity.
“Inside the walls themselves,” King Cho-Hag replied. “They’re thick enough and high enough to give us all the room we could possibly need.”
“What purpose hath all this, then?”
“It’s just a trap.” The king shrugged. “We permit attackers to break through the gates, and then we deal with them in here. We want to go this way.” He led them along a narrow alleyway.

Which reminds me of how some Japanese castles are arranged, such that if you change up the main path, thinking you will find the main gate, you are instead funneled into a courtyard with no doors and a lot of places for the defenders to put something very pointy or hot directly on your troops. It sounds like the Stronghold is the kind of place that encourages attackers to drive deeper and lose more of their troops in the belief that they will find the control point that they can take, but there isn’t one, and eventually, all the attackers die out because they don’t know where to go to actually defeat the defenders.

After Belgarath gets settled in a room, Polgara holds Garion back to explain to him how serious the business is: it’s possible that Belgarath used so much of his Will that he might have lost the ability to be a sorcerer. If that happens, Polgara and Garion will have to cover, because the fear of Belgarath has been something keeping the balance of power for a really long time. Therefore, Garion needs to lie his head off at anyone about Belgarath’s condition, lest he tell the truth to someone who might say it to a spy (or who is a spy). Also, the time crunch apparently means having to get the Orb back to Riva by Erastide, and to make sure that everyone who is supposed to be there is there, including Ce’Nedra. Garion goes out and does his part, and we learn that the girl that took an interest in Garion is named Adara, but there’s still no information why Garion would know her.

I think this is one of those potentially played-for-high-stakes bits that would be better if it weren’t so short-lived, as Belgarath will be awake by the end of the chapter, and therefore able to potentially demonstrate whether or not things have gone completely off the rails for him. The harder part would be figuring out how to do the magic that Belgarath wants to do, without being able to read his mind or some other situation where the people with the power can know exactly what he intends.

In the interim, the priest of the Bear-Cult in Algaria, Elvar, comes to meet Cho-Hag and do something remarkably stupid.

“Moreover,” Elvar continued, “it has come to my attention that a holy object has come into the Stronghold of the Algars. I presume that your Majesty will wish to place it in the hands of the priesthood for safekeeping.”
Garion, alarmed at the priest’s suggestion, half rose from his seat, but stopped, not knowing how to voice his objection. Errand, however, with a confident smile, was already walking toward Elvar. The knots Durnik had so carefully tied were undone, and the child took the Orb of of the pouch at his waist and offered it to the startled priest. “Errand?” he said.
Elvar’s eyes bulged and he recoiled from the Orb, lifting his hands above his head to avoid touching it.
“Go ahead, Elvar,” Polgara’s voice came mockingly from the doorway. “Let him who is without ill intent in the silence of his soul stretch forth his hand and take the Orb.”
[…Elvar verbally backspaces, drawing mockery from Silk about how he’s clearly not the pious priest he claims to be…]
“You should never ask for anything you’re not prepared to accept, Elvar,” Polgara suggested.
“Lady Polgara,” Elvar blurted, “we thought that you’d be so busy caring for your father that—”
“—That you could take possession of the Orb before I knew about it? Think again, Elvar. I won’t allow the Orb to fall into the hands of the Bear-cult.” She smiled rather sweetly at him. “Unless you happen to be the one destined to wield it, of course. My father and I would both be overjoyed to hand the burden over to someone else. Why don’t we find out? All you have to do is reach out your hands and take the Orb.”
Elvar’s face blanched, and he backed away from Stand fearfully.
“I believe that will be all, Elvar,” King Cho-Hag said firmly.
The priest looked about helplessly, then turned and quickly left the hall with his cultists close behind him.

Polgara then tells Durnik to find a better way of sealing the Orb up. Durnik suggests using lead on the knots as the next step up.

But seriously, what exactly did Elvar think he could do in this situation? Have someone turn over a heavily sealed box that contains the Orb and hold on to it, kind of like what Ctuchik, Zedar, or Torak were going for? And then use it in some way as leverage with regard to the Prophecy? Or, more likely, turn it back over to Angaraks for their various purposes, since there’s always been this big distrust of the Bear Cult. (One wonders, again, that if the Bear-Cult is known to be this unhelpful or worse, why it is allowed to continue to exist.) Sure, Elvar gets really surprised when Errand just pops the Orb out and offers it to him, because that’s not what he was expecting to have to deal with, but I have to wonder how he was expecting to do anything with it once he had it. Because, unless he’s The One, or at least someone who is innocent enough, trying to actually use or even touch the thing is basically instant death to you and anyone else the Orb decides also deserves to die.

The chapter ends with Polgara finally explaining to Garion that Adara, the girl that he might be have been developing a low-key crush on (it’s never fully made clear) is his cousin through his mother’s side of the family (Ildera is an Algar, then, if that wasn’t already made clear.) Which makes Adara very happy that she’s got a cousin right there. And possibly embarrasses Garion, depending on whether this world has an incest taboo and where they put the line, and whether he was developing a crush on his cousin or not. We could exuse Polgara for not saying anything, since she’s had a lot on her mind, but this still feels like Polgara waiting to deliver the information until it will have the maximum amount of benefit to her plans of keeping Garion’s eyes firmly on Ce’Nedra, since that’s what Prophecy wants, rather than telling him at the first opportunity so that he can arrange himself and his ideas properly. The next chapters will probably be exposition while Belgarath recovers. Possibly more of the “Taiba and Relg are secretly in love with each other, if only Relg could get over himself” saga.

Deconstruction Roundup for May 6, 2022

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is giving a talk about being themselves in their profession and making it look like it’s about what they’ve been doing over the last couple years.)

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

Ross: A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

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 have been watching as your organization seems to struggle with the basics of recognizing when they’re wrong and apologizing properly for doing wrong.

Castle of Wizardry: The Grand Chase

Last time, Silk put Garion in charge, for reasons inexplicable to Garion, and Garion turned out to be lethal with a sword and even more powerful than had previously been imagined, with being able to exert his will outside of his shadow to terrify the Grolim Hierarchs. That, and Taiba taunted Relg pretty mercilessly about his insistence that women are sinful and that she definitely shouldn’t touch him because she is inherently sinful. This, of course, as we know that Relg has kinky desires regarding women that he’s trying to suppress in the name of staying pure and holy, so we can expect more of this interplay regularly.

Durnik also gave Garion advice about being exactly the person he is, instead of being afraid of himself, because when someone who is afraid of themselves gets pushed past their breaking point, the person doing the pushing tends to get hurt, a lot. Which is fine if it’s your enemy, but it’s equally as possible that your friend could be the one to push too hard.

Castle of Wizardry: Chapters 4 and 5: Content Notes: rape, suicidal ideation

“No regrets?” Silk asked Garion that evening as they rode toward the sharply rising peaks outlined against the glittering stars ahead.
“Regrets about what?”
“Giving up command.” Silk had been watching him curiously ever since the setting sun had signalled the resumption of their journey.
“No,” Garion replied, not quite sure what the little man meant. “Why should there be?”
“It’s a very important thing for a man to learn about himself, Garion,” Still told him seriously. “Power can be very sweet for some men, and you never know how a man’s going to handle it until you give him a chance to try.”
“I don’t know why you went to all of the terrible. It’s not too likely that I’m going to be put in charge of things very often.”
“You never know, Garion. You never know.”

Ooh, foreshadowing. Or, maybe putting Garion in charge was a Secret Test of Character, to see whether he would be the kind of person who would grasp power and never let go of it, which might make him a proper terror to the other Alorns and the rest of the world, should be decide to go out and use his sorcerous powers to institute a new world order of some sort. Or otherwise indicate unsuitability for his part of the prophecy. It would have been nice if this had been spelled out more clearly, even if it went over Garion’s head and the didn’t understand a lick of it. Either way, we’ve successfully handed decisions back over to the people who actually have experience with them, so we have less chance of Garion being to make decision that he is ill-equipped to make.

It also makes me wonder if this was a good and accurate test for Garion. At the moment, he’s completely out of his depth and he lacks any sort of tactical knowledge on how best to proceed, and there are active search and destroy parties or for him and the rest of his traveling companions. The best thing he can do is try not to get anyone killed and pass back authority to those who know what they’re doing at first opportunity. If you’re resting as to whether Garion will be the kind of person who has to be right, or at least has to be seen making decisions, okay, but his upbringing and Polgara being right there still suggests he’s not going to try and make a power grab right in front of her. It seems like a better test would be to put Garion in a situation where he has actual expertise and then see how well, of at all, he yields power back when the situation leaves his area is expertise again. Because people who are succeeding or falling have different attitudes about giving power up than people who are clueless and scared.

As it is, the party continues on without incident, and has confirmation that they’re being followed, so they ditch the robes after a rest and continue on the path of leaking the Murgos on. Taiba remarks that it’s very cold out here, which it is, compared to the apparently temperature-controlled slave pens. And, when Taiba finally gets an eyeful of the rising sun, she can’t handle the brightness. Relg steps in and offers her one of his veils.

“The light,” she cried, covering her face with her hands. “It’s like fire in my eyes.”
Relg who rode directly in front of them, was also shielding his eyes. He looked back at the Marag woman. “Here,” he said. He took one of the veils he usually bound across his eyes when they were in direct sunlight and handed it back to her. “Cover your face with this until we’re back in the shadows again.” His voice was particularly neutral.
“Thank you,” Taiba said, binding the cloth across her eyes. “I didn’t know that the sun could be so bright.”
“You’ll get used to it,” Relg told her. “It just takes some time. Try to protect your eyes for the first few days.” He seemed about to turn and ride on, then he looked at her curiously. “Haven’t you ever seen the sun before?”
“No,” she replied. “Other slaves told me about it, though. The Murgos don’t use women on their work gangs, so I was never taken out of the pens. It was always dark down there.”
“It must have been terrible,” Garion shuddered.
She shrugged. “The dark wasn’t so bad. It was the light we were afraid of. Light meant that the Murgos we’re coming with torches to take someone to the Temple to be sacrificed.”
[…Taiba offers the veil back to Relg, he tells her to keep it, and there’s a section we’ll be getting back to as soon as this point is finished…]
“You’ve lived your whole life in the dark, then?” Relg asked her curiously.
“Most of it,” she replied. “I saw my mother’s face once—the day The Murgos came and took her to the Temple. I was alone after that. Being alone is the worst of it. You can bear the dark if you aren’t alone.”

After Relg asks how old Taiba was when that happened, Taiba assumes it was around puberty, because not that long afterwards, she’s “given” as a reward to a slave who’s in favor with the Murgos, which she accepts as the price of not being alone. Relg admonishes Taiba for not fighting back, classifying it as sinful. Taiba points out she lacked the tools to fight back and the tools to kill herself, since trying to strangle yourself with your own hands only makes you pass out and then start breathing again. Which means the slave pens had to have individual cells in them, because as soon as you put a couple slaves together, you have the means of being more permanent with your killing of self. And, presumably, there was nothing in those cells that could be used for self-harm or self-termination, either, even if the slaves got creative about how to do it. (Personally, I would expect the Murgos to not actually care that much of their slaves died on them, by their own hand or by anyone else’s, since they’re willing to sacrifice a great number of them to Torak.)

So, yes, they do mention the darkness part, but genesistrine asked a salient question about what exactly Taiba is supposed to be doing there if she’s not part of the work gangs. The best I can believe is that she’s either marked for sacrifice herself when she gets old enough for it, or that she’s supposed to be pimped out to anyone in favor or who wants to pay for the privilege. Because there’s a curious lack of domestic slavery going on. Or, for that matter, women in Rak Cthol at all. Who is handling the domestic tasks like cooking and cleaning for Ctuchik? And the Hierarchs? And the Murgos, because they’re not going to do it their own selves when they have slaves to do it for them. But there’s no indication of women or women slaves being used for this purpose in the Temple or the city itself. Thullish women are trying to avoid being sacrificed by being constantly pregnant, but what else do they do as the underclass? We saw Thullish men acting as porters before. Is that their only function, or do they handle more things for the Murgos? (And that’s assuming there aren’t other complex interactions with, say, Malloreans, who have been mentioned a few times, but not in any way that suggests what their role is in the Angarak kingdoms.) So, other than to be picked up as a plot coupon eventually, what was Taiba doing while she was enslaved? I doubt we’re going to get an answer to that, since the worldbuilding is already pretty threadbare at this point.

Getting back to the thing that we skipped over, the narrative is doing a decent job of showing us that Garion is beginning to understand the idea that narrative like to show us two people who are not getting along with each other all that much and strongly hint at the reader that they’re actually in love with each other but won’t admit it in any way.

Since they had left Rak Cthol, Garion had covertly watched these two. He knew that Relg, despite all his efforts, could not take his eyes off the Marag woman he had been forced to rescue from her living entombment in the caves. Although Relg still ranted about sun continually, his words no longer carried the weight of absolute conviction; indeed quite often, they seemed to be little more than a mechanical repetition of a sweet of formulas. Occasionally, Garion had noted, even those formulas had faltered when Taiba’s deep violet eyes had turned to regard the Ulgo’s face. For her part, Taiba was quite obviously puzzled. Relg’s rejection of her simple gratitude had humiliated her, and her resentment had been hot and immediate. His constant scrutiny, however, spoke to her with a meaning altogether different from the words coming from his lips. His eyes told her one thing, but his mouth said something else. She was baffled by him, not knowing whether to respond to his look or his words.
[… moving forward in time…]
“Why does he fight with himself so much?” Taiba asked.
“Here’s completely devoted to his God,” Garion explained. “He’s afraid of anything that might take away some of what he feels he owes to UL.”
“Is this UL of his really that jealous?”
“No, I don’t think so, but Relg does.”
Taiba pursed her lips into a sensual pout and looked back over her shoulder at the retreating zealot. “You know,” she said, “I think he’s actually afraid of me.” She laughed then, that same low, wicked little laugh, and lifted get arms to run her fingers through the glory of her midnight hair. “No one’s ever been afraid of me before— not ever. I think I rather like it. Will you excuse me?” She turned her horse without waiting for a reply and quite deliberately rode back after the fleeing Relg.
[…So Garion goes to consult the closest thing he has to a relationship expert, Polgara…]
“It’s really none of your business, Garion,” she told him. “Relg and Taiba can work out their problems without any help from you.”
“I was just curious, that’s all. Relg’s tearing himself apart, and Taiba all confused about him. What’s really going on between them, Aunt Pol?”
“Something very necessary,” she replied.
“You could say that about nearly everything that happens, Aunt Pol.” It was almost an accusation. “You could even say that the way Ce’Nedra and I quarrel all the time is necessary too, couldn’t you?”
She looked slightly amused. “It’s not exactly the same thing, Garion,” she answered, “but there’s a certain necessity about that too.”
“That’s ridiculous,” he scoffed.
“Is it really? Them why do you suppose the two of you go out of your way so much to aggravate each other?”
He had no answer for that, but the entire notion worried him. At the same time the very mention of Ce’Nedra’s name suddenly brought her sharply into his mind, and he realized that he actually missed her. He ride along in silence beside Aunt Pol for a while, feeling melancholy.

Of course, what you can spot in others is sometimes a lot harder to see in yourself.

Before unpacking that some, I just have to say that the idea of UL as not a jealous God seems like a poke at the Being Represented By The Tetragrammaton, who is, according to his own words, an extremely jealous God.

In any case, Taiba wanting to exert her ability to make Relg afraid of her makes a certain amount of sense, given her life circumstances, but I also wonder if that isn’t conveniently there for the reader to pick up on as an example of someone who would not be willing at all to give up any power once she’s gathered it. Polgara telling Garion to stay out of it is interesting, because then she lets Garion draw the parallel between how Relg and Taiba treat each other and how Garion and Ce’Nedra treat each other. If Garion has concluded that Relg and Taiba are in love with each other but not saying it, he might do the same thing for himself and Ce’Nedra, and then he’ll have to reckon with that idea. And possibly curse out the author who thought that they could pull off either Much Ado or Taming of the Shrew (or both) with these relationships. While it’s a trope to have the most combative characters be secretly in love with each other but unwilling to admit it, it’s not a very good trope in the hands of someone who doesn’t stick the execution. It’s good that Garion is making the connections and drawing the parallels, but there’s nobody here to explain to him that you don’t actually want to be in a relationship with someone who you are constantly fighting with. Look at Barak, after all, although the narrative will undercut that and make his relationship with Merel much better because now he has a proper son and she’s done her wifely duty to him.

After all of these profound revelations about love and relationships, the party has to make some decisions about how they want to go, given that there’s a patrol that’s chasing them and they’re a little too close for the original plan. So an audible gets called about the next step to proceed, and anything that’s not essential gets left behind, much to Durnik’s chagrin. Which also includes a small mountain of trinkets and precious objects that Silk had been stealing all along the way. He laments that he’s losing his scorecard, but he asserts the stealing is the fun part anyway. As they swirl their way down into a ravine, the Murgo patrol performs the tactically soundest move I have seen it of them yet—they start rolling big rocks down on them with the hope of crushing them. Which gets Belgarath to start throwing the rocks away from them. Garion tries to help, and help stealthily, but Between knows immediately and chaises Garion for the action. While there’s another stone rolling down at them both.

“Grandfather!” Garion said urgently, staring at the large rock bounding down the ravine directly for the old man’s back. He gathered his will under the rock and hurled it out of the ravine.
Belgarath looked up at the stone siding over his head. “Tacky, Garion,” he said disapprovingly, “very tacky. You don’t have to throw them all the way to Prolgu, you know. Stop trying to show off.”
“I got excited,” Garion apologized. “I pushed a little too hard.”
The old man grunted. “All right,” he said a bit ungraciously, “as long as you’re here anyway—but stick to your own rocks. I can manage mine, and you throw me off-balance when you come blundering in like that.”
“I just need a little practice, that’s all.”
“You need some instruction in etiquette, too,” Belgarath told him, coming in down to where Garion stood. “You don’t just jump in with help unless you’re asked. That’s very bad form, Garion.”
“Another rock coming,” Garion informed him politely. “Do you want to get it or shall I?”
“Don’t get snippy, young man,” Belgarath told him, then turned and flipped the approaching rock out of the ravine.
They moved on down together, taking turns on the rocks the Murgos we’re rolling down the ravine. Garion discovered that it grew easier each time he did it, but Belgarath was drenched with sweat by the time they neared the bottom. Garion considered trying once again to skip his grandfather a bit of assistance, but the old sorceror flared at him so fiercely as he started to gather in his will that he quickly abandoned the idea.
“I wondered where you’d gone,” Aunt Pol said to Garion as the two clambered of over the rocks at the mouth of the ravine to rejoin the rest of the party. She looked closely at Belgarath. “Are you all right?” she asked.
“I’m just fine,” he snapped. “I had all this assistance—unsolicited, of course.” He glared at Garion again.
“When we get a bit of time, were going to have to give him some lessons about controlling the noise,” she observed. “He sounds like a thunderclap.”
“That’s not all he has to learn to control.” For some reason the old man was behaving as if he’d just been dreadfully insulted.

Well, his ego certainly took a bruising, if nothing else did. But in all of that being hurt and explaining himself incredibly poorly, he does actually have a point. Having been around enough disabled people to hear them yelling about it on the Internet, often times a disabled person has a method of doing an important task, like getting themselves safely from point A to point B in their chair, or getting groceries in, or any other aspect of their lives, really, that they have a system for achieving on their own safely. If someone well-meaning but clueless steps in to help without asking first, they can make what is safe incredibly dangerous for the disabled person. And usually, after getting chewed out for making things dangerous, the abled person usually gets extremely huffy about how they were only trying to help and the disabled person should be more grateful for their (unasked, ineffective) assistance. It’s the kind of thing that has a person put hostile spikes on any push handles of their chairs, so as to try and get across to others that disabled people have bodily autonomy and you need to ask to help them or wait for them to ask for help if you want to actually be helpful. If Belgarath has the exact amount of will needed to do the job and has calculated where to apply it, someone else crashing in with additional will can throw off the balance or make a completely unintended effect. And if Belgarath were regularly having other sorcerers interfere with him and try to give him help that he didn’t ask for, (like, say, Polgara) he would be entirely snippy about that. Even to his untrained fifteen year-old descendant. So it’s understandable, even if it’s not the best reaction to have in this circumstance, especially for said descendant who really didn’t know any better, since nobody is bothering to teach him things in advance of him screwing them up. Chapter Five gives us evidence that Polgara very well may be treating him in exactly this way.

“Arrow!” Silk said sharply, looking up and back over this shoulder.
Garion, without thinking, slashed with his will at the tiny speck arching down toward them. In the same instant he felt a peculiar double surge coming from either side of him. The arrow broke into several pieces in midair.
“If you don’t mind!” Belgarath said irritably to Garion and Aunt Pol, half-reining in his horse.
“I just didn’t want you to tire yourself, father,” Aunt Pol replied coolly. “I’m sure Garion feels the same way.”

Speaking of situations where Garion might do well getting some practice in, maybe he should be made the person who scans for the arrows and carved them in two harmlessly. Polgara and Belgarath can provide backup, but it seems like the kind of thing that Garion could do as a way of learning finesse by only slashing the arrow out of the air without disturbing anything around it. Even if the arrows start going from one to a few to a rain, trying to get Garion to only slash the arrows and not anything around them could teach him a lot about using his skills more effectively.

Before the chapter ends, Durnik suggests slinging some smoke back up the pathway they just came down to slow their pursuers, since it looks to him like the ravine will work mostly like a chimney to draw it up and throw it in the faces of the pursuit. Silk calls Durnik a treasure for the suggestion and the chapter ends.

In the beginning of Chapter 5, they do just that, and it works according to Durnik’s plan, smoking out the Murgos and giving time to get out on the plain. The party is still worried that the “get lost” party is waiting for them at a different part than here, but they keep moving, including fording a river in the dark (well, dark to everyone but Relg, who can see just fine). What time benefits they gain by getting across the river, though, get eaten up by having to stop and warm up the horses and move shower to said killing them from exhaustion. The party considers going straight for the Vale of Aldur at their current speed, all while they can see the army of Taur Urgas (and they know that Taur Urgas is leading the army) and hearing sounds that resemble thunder, until it’s proven conclusively that the thunder is not the weather, but the cavalry. Who fall upon the Murgos at exactly their weakest point so as to inflict maximum damage and casualties. Hettar comes by to say hi and to deliver same news.

“Where have you been?” Barak demanded in a great voice as the hawk-faced Algar rode closer.
“Watching,” Hettar replied calmly as he reined in. “We wanted to let the Murgos get out a ways from the escarpment so we could cut them off. My father sent me to see how you all are.”
“How considerate,” Silk observed sardonically. “Did it ever occur to you to let us know you were out there?”
Hettar shrugged. “We could see that you were all right.” He looked critically at their exhausted mounts. “You didn’t take very good care of them,” he said accusingly.
“We were a bit pressed,” Durnik apologized.
“Did you get the Orb?” the tall man asked Belgarath, glancing hungrily down toward the river where a vast battle had been joined.
“It took a bit, but we got it,” the old sorcerer replied.
“Good.” Hettar turned his horse, and his lean face had a fierce look on it. “I’ll tell Cho-Hag. Will you excuse me?” Then he stopped as if remembering something. “Oh,” he said to Barak, “congratulations, by the way.”
“For what?” The big man looked puzzled.
“The birth of your son.”
“What?” Barak sounded stunned. “How?”
“In the usual way, I’d imagine,” Hettar replied.
“I mean how did you find out?”
“Anheg sent word to us.”
“When was he born?”
“A couple months ago.”

That gives us an interesting timetable to work through, since Garion’s supposed to be to Riva by his sixteenth birthday, or is it by Ce’Nedra’s sixteenth birthday? Either way, assuming that Merel had a normal pregnancy and didn’t give any premature or late births, that says from the adventure in Cherek to the current point in time has taken about eleven months. If the year here is the same as our year, that gives Garion a scant month to get himself and the party to Riva for the throne room. No wonder Polgara’s been trying to get them to move faster from the beginning.

The battle rages on beneath them, but it’s pretty clear that the Murgos are getting the worst of it from the Algars and dying in massively larger numbers than the Algars are and are in full retreat shortly afterward. After routing the Murgos, Cho-Hag comes by to have some lunch and ask about the status of things, a conversation marred by Belgarath basically passing out from the strain of holding himself together, to the point where he’s apparently only hanging on by a thread of his own lifeline, having kept himself going by sheer force of Will. Polgara demands Garion give her Will to help keep him, alive, and she sends Durnik out to get something form the medicine bag.

“Open the bag,” she instructed, “and give me that black jar—the one that’s sealed with lead—and a pair of iron tongs.”
“Should I open the jar, Mistress Pol?” the smith asked.
“No. Just break the seal—carefully. And give me a glove—leather if you can find one.”
Wordlessly, Silk pulled a leather glove gauntlet from under his bely and handed it to her. She pulled it on, opened the black jar, and reached inside with the tongs. With great care, she removed a single dark, oily-looking green leaf. She held it very carefully in the tongs. “Pry his mouth open, Garion,” she ordered.
Garion wedged his fingers between Belgarath’s clenched teeth and carefully pried the old man’s jaws apart. Aunt Pol pulled down her father’s lower lip, reached inside his mouth with the shiny leaf, and lightly brushed is tongue with it, once and once only.
Belgarath jumped violently, and his feet suddenly scraped on the floor. His muscles heaved, and his arms began to flail about.
“Hold him down,” Aunt Pol commanded. She pulled back sharply and held the leaf out of the way, while Mandorallen and Barak jumped in to hold down Belgarath’s convulsing body. “Give me a bowl,” she ordered. “A wooden one.”
Durnik handed her one, and she deposited the lear and the tongs in it. Then, with great care, she took off the gauntlet and lad it atop the leaf. “Take this,” she told the smith. “Don’t touch any part of the glove.”
“What do you want me to do with it, Mistress Pol?”
“Take it out and burn it—bowl and all—and don’t let anyone get into the smoke from it.”
“It it that dangerous?” Silk asked.
“It’s even worse, but those are the only precautions we can take out here.
Durnik swallowed very hard and left the wagon, holding the bowl as if it were a live snake.

The chapter ends with Pol mixing up another preparation and telling the other men to get a bed ready to transport Belgarath on, to be put on a wagon that is to be driven so as to not have a bump at all during the transport. She also says to send word ahead to the queen of the Algars to have a room made up for Belgarath when they arrive at the Stronghold.

I’m a little intrigued about what this plant could be that even a little swipe of it produces this kind of convulsive movement. My first guess is that it’s a take on the coca leaf and Polgara dosed Belgarath with cocaine. enough to get him going, but if it ever got an actual name, it’s probably going to be mentioned as some sort of Nyissan super-plant used specifically for this kind of purpose and that the prohibitions on contact and breathing in the smoke are because the leaf is still incredibly potent and would probably kill someone who absorbed too much of the plant’s drug into their bloodstream. Possibly by speeding their heart rate up from the stimulation or something.

In any case, the next chapter is next week, and that will start with a wagon ride that is meant to be boring and not-bumpy.

Deconstruction Roundup for April 29, 2022

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who would appreciate having a machine that could do all the things they regularly do in their work.)

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.

Ross: A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

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 concerned about how little concern others appear to be showing the most vulnerable in the collective belief that everything is fine again.

Castle of Wizardry: Getting Out

Last time, he party started getting their way out of Rak Cthol, with a requirement to go collect Taiba and bring her out with them. Since there was a cave-in between them and Taiba, Relg had to go get her, which made him whimper greatly about having to touch a woman, which he believes made him unclean. And now there’s a lot of fighting or not fighting Murgos.

(Oh, and also, the history of Riva, as according to the Alorns, which involves a lot of Tolnedrans and Nyissans getting killed. The Tolnedrans over cultural misunderstandings, the Nyissans because they assassinated the king of Riva.)

Castle of Wizardry: Chapters 2 and 3: Content Notes:

At the beginning of this chapter, the party finally makes it back to the entrance cave they started in. Belgarath’s still unconscious, but he’s going to have to ride away with everyone else. Given that there’s a whole lot of Murgos swarming around, the party decides they’re going to wait until nightfall before they try to sneak their way around. While they’re waiting, Taiba decides she wants to thank Relg for saving her.

Her large, violet eyes glowed with gratitude mingled with a faint puzzlement. “You saved my life,” she said to him in a rich, throaty voice. she leaned slightly toward him as she spoke. It was an unconscious gesture, Garion was certain, but it was distinctly noticeable. “Thank you,” she added, her hand moving to rest lightly on the zealot’s arm.
Relg cringed back from her. “Don’t touch me,” he gasped.
She stared at him in amazement, her hand still half-extended.
“You must never put your hands on me,” he told her. “Never.”
Taiba’s look was incredulous. Her life had been spent almost entirely in darkness, and she had never learned to keep her emotions from showing on her face. Amazement gave way to humiliation, and her expression settled then into a kind of stiff, sullen pout as she turned quickly away from the man who had just so harshly rejected her. The cloak slipped from her shoulders as she turned, and the few rags she had for clothing scarcely concealed her nakedness. Despite her tangled hair and the dirty smudges on her limbs, there was a lush, inviting ripeness about her. Relg stared at her and he began to tremble. Then he quickly turned, moved as far away from her as possible, and dropped to his knees, praying desperately and pressing his face against the rocky floor of the cave.
“Is he all right?” Taiba asked quickly.
“He’s got some problems,” Barak replied. “You’ll get used to it.”
“Taiba,” Polgara said. “Come over here.” She looked critically at the woman’s scanty clothing. We’re going to have to get something together for you to wear. It’s very cold outside. There are other reasons too, it appears.”

Taiba says not to worry, since as soon as their clear, she’s gonig back to knife Ctuchik. Polgara points out Ctuchik’s already dust, and answers that Ctuchik suffered more than Taiba can imagine when she asks. Which makes Taiba break down crying at the news that her revenge is complete and that it was painful.

And then “Errand” offers her the Orb. Polgara warns Taiba away from touching it, and then busies herself with looking at and healing Mandorallen’s cut. “Errand” offers Polgara the orb, and she turns him down firmly. Relg does some stone work to make the Murgo pursuit unable to find them, and Silk details the plan to get them to the Vale, but sending the Murgo armies off toward Tolnedra with a false trail.

I have to be somewhat concerned with the adjective use here. Salmisra was described as being over-ripe, but I’m pretty sure she also got the “lush” adjective, which seems to be shorthand for “she has an attractive body, possibly moving in the direction of voluptuous, and a willingness to be sexy with it.” Based on their descriptions, I’m having a hard time telling them apart, although I assume that Salmissra is supposed to be Mediterranean-ly tanned and Taiba isn’t, based on her years in the slave pen, although if the Marags are a desert race, perhaps that means that Taiba would be even darker-skinned than Salmissra is. And if Taiba were part of the adventure, rather than being The Mother of the Race That Died, which tells me that most of her time after this stint in the party is going to be making babies, that would be better representation than many of the sword and sorcery adventures of the time period.

Eventually, the party heads out in their chosen misdirection, but it’s not very long before they encounter a patrol. Silk dispatches them by assuming the attitude of an imperious Murgo officer and telling the patrol to go somewhere else. Which works perfectly fine, and Silk continues to drop hints to the Murgos about the trail that he wants them to follow, being concerned that he’s being too obvious that he wants the Murgos to follow the trail. “Errand” then offers Silk the Orb, and he turns it down, and then makes commentary about the strange kid with the single word.

“Is that the only word he knows?” he asked Polgara.
“It seems to be,” she replied.
“I don’t quite get the connection,” Silk said. “What does he mean by it?”
“He’s probably been told that he has an errand to run,” she explained, “to steal the Orb. I imagine that Zedar’s been telling him that over and over since he was a baby, and the word stuck in his mind.”
“It’s a bit disconcerting,” Silk was still holding his hands behind his back. “It seems oddly appropriate sometimes.”
“He doesn’t appear to think the way we do,” she told him. “The only purpose he has in life is to give the Orb to someone—anyone, it would seem.” She frowned thoughtfully. “Durnik, why don’t you see if you can make him some kind of pouch to carry it in, and we’ll fasten it to his waist. Maybe if he doesn’t have it right there in his hand all the time, he won’t think about it so much.”
“Of course, Mistress Pol,” Durnik agreed. “I should have thought of that myself.” He went to one of the packs and took out an old, burn-scarred leather apron and fashioned a pouch out of a wide piece of leather he cut from it.

To get the child over to him to give him the pouch, Durnik calls him Errand, and he responds to it, so I guess that’s the name we’ll be using for him for the next two books.

Also, this pouch and Errand offering people the Orb is the beginning of a running gag, so we’ll want to keep track of it. First, though, it’s time for Taiba to needle Relg plenty about his belief system.

Taiba turned on him, her eyes hardening. “What’s so onstrous about happiness?” she demanded, putting her arms around the boy.
“We aren’t here to be happy,” he replied, carefully avoiding her eyes.
“What are we here then?” she challenged.
“To serve our God and to avoid sin.” He still refused to look at her, and his tone seemed a trifle less certain.
“Well, I don’t have a God,” she retorted, “and the child probably doesn’t either, so if it’s all the same to you, he and I will just concentate on trying to be happy—and if a bit of sin gets involved in it, so what?”
“Have you no shame?” His voice was choked.
“I am what I am,” she repled, “and I won’t apologize, since I didn’t have very much to say about it.”
“Boy,” Relg snapped at the child, “come away from her at once.”
Taiba straightened, her face herdening even more, and she faced him defiantly. “What do you think you’re going to do?” she demanded.
“I will fight sin wherever I find it,” he declared.
“Sin, sin, sin!’ she flared. “Is that all you ever think about?”
“It’s my constant care. I guard against it every moment.”
She laughed. “How tedious. Can’t you think of anything better to do? Oh, I forgot,” she added mockingly. “There’s all that praying too, isn’t there? All that bawling at your God about how vile you are. I think you must bore this UL of yours tremendously sometimes, do you know that?”
Enraged, Relg raised his fist. “Don’t ever speak UL’s name again!”
“Will you hit me if I do? It doesn’t matter that much. People have been hitting me all my life. Go ahead, Relg. Why don’t you hit me?” She lifted her smudged face to him.
Relg’s hand fell.
Sensing her advantage, Taiba put her hands to the throat of the rough grey dress Polgara had given her. “I can stop you, Relg,” she told him. She began unfastening her dress. “Watch me. You look at me all the time anyway—I’ve seen you with your hot eyes on me. You call me names and say that I’m wicked, bu still you watch. Look then. Don’t try to hide it.” Se continued to unfasten the front of the dress. “If you’re free of sin, my body shouldn’t bother you at all.”
Relg’s eyes were bulging now.
“My body doesn’t bother me, but it bothers you very much, doesn’t it? But is the wickedness in my mind or yours? I can sink you in sin any time I want to. All I have to do is this.” And she pulled open the front of her dress.
Relg spun about, making strangled noises.
“Don’t you want to look, Relg?” she mocked him as he fled.
“You have a formidable weapong there, Taiba,” Silk congratulated her.
“It was the only weapon I had in the slave pens,” she told him. “I learned to use it when I had to.” She carefully refastened her dress and turned back to Errand as if nothing had happened.
“What’s all the shouting?” Belgarath mumbled, rousing slightly, and they all turned quickly to him.
“Relg and Taiba were having a little theological discussion,” Silk replied lightly. “The finer points were very interesting. How are you?”
But the old man had already drifted back into sleep.

Relg is at least smart enough to recognize that striking Taiba is not a good idea at all. Although I have to say that this rings pretty hard like the person who would abuse someone only if they won’t fight back, and Taiba is primed to fight back against him.

Furthermore, this sequence continues to cement in my mind that Relg is a caricature of the Real True Christian, even if he’s supposed to be an overly zealous Jew or Muslim or some other entity instead of being an RTC. He’s all about talking a good game about holiness and sin, he’s convinced that we are here to avoid sin and especially to avoid happiness, because that might make someone less concerned with holiness and being properly afraid of his conception of God. And, of course, the most important part is that he folds utterly in the face of a confident woman challenging him on his belief system and the hypocrisy contained within. With the quip that Silk makes, presumably he also got an eyeful of what Taiba was using to defeat Relg, but being the worldly character that Silk is, he was obviously unaffected by it.

There’s nothing about what Garion or Durnik think about this, or whether they even saw what Taiba did, at least past the point of her opening her dress to show Relg her body. Even though we know that Durnik’s morality toward women is closest to Relg’s, and everybody is trying to keep Garion from having any sort of sexual thoughts about anyone, even Ce’Nedra, until the appropriate time. Polgara must really be distracted caring for Belgarath to have let something like this slide through without chiding Garion for looking.

Shortly after Taiba gives Relg an eyeful, Garion and Polgara have to fend off a combined attack by the Hierarchs of the Grolims – with Ctuchik dead, the old power structure reasserted itself. They’re targeting “Errand,” hoping that they can kill the only acceptable holder of the Orb before they leave Cthol Murgos. Polgara constructs a shield that physically keeps the rest of the party out, including stopping any sound getting in, around herself, Belgarath, and “Errand.” Garion asks how many Hierarchs there are that are attacking, and Polgara gestures nine, which makes Garion’s eye pop. And worse…

“Well, Garion?” Silk asked then, his eyes penetrating, “what do we do now?”
“Why are you asking me?”
“You heard her. Belgarath’s still in a daze, and she’s busy. You’re in charge now.”
“What do we do?” Silk pressed. “You’ve got to learn to make decisions.”
“I don’t know.” Garion floudered helplessly.
“Never admit that,” Silk old him. “Act as if you know—even if you don’t.”
“We—uh—we’ll wait until it gets dark, I guess—then we’ll keep going the same way we have been.”
“There.” Silk grinned. “See how easy it is?”

…everyone believes that Garion is supposed to be the person in charge. He’s still fifteen! Barak, Mandorallen, and Silk have both been at the business of leading people and making tactical decisions for longer than Garion has been alive. And Silk’s advice in this situation is terrible. Acting as though you know what you’re doing is the kind of thing that gets people killed following your orders because they assume you know what you’re doing. If Silk wants to insist that Garion should never admit that he doesn’t know anything, his advice should probably be something like “If you don’t know what to do, ask for options from the people around you.” That way, Garion can draw on the wisdom of the people around him (assuming they’re good people who will give him wise advice) and make a decision about which of them is best.

I realize that a lot of these stories are about the farmboy child turning out to have all the skills to either do the great magic or to lead the armies, but it would be nice to also have a story set where it turns out the farm boy has to be properly trained and strive a lot to become the fated sorcerer or general that they’re supposed to be, to the point where they almost miss the battle they’re supposed to be at because they’re still not sure they can do it properly. (Or they’re sill squicked about the idea of others going into battle for them and possibly dying for them So, I guess I want Enders Game, but without Orson Scott Card.)

Anyway, with everyone insisting that Garion should be in charge, Chapter 2 ends. At the beginning of Chapter 3, the author has heard our objections and anticipated them, but the explanation we get is “Silk’s an asshole.”

Garion felt distinctly uncomfortable in the role Silk had thrust upon him. He knew that there had been no need for it, since they all knew where they were going and what they had to do. If any kind of leadership had actually been required, Silk himself was the logical one to provide it; but instead, the little man had placed the burden squarely on Garion’s shoulders and now seemed to be watching intently to see how he would handle it.

I’m sure the real reason for this is because Garion’s secretly the long-lost scion of the Rivan line, and that means he’s going to have to lead an entire kingdom (and probably, seeral other ones), and they’re on a time crunch, so all opportunities for leadership are now Garion’s unless he’s going to do something foolish or someone actually needs to lead in a panic situation.

After this, the party has a bunch of Murgo blunder into them, and Garion finally gets to pull his sword out and hurt someone, and while the narrative tells us that Garion’s learned all his training well and blended it into a style that’s all his own, it also tells us that he’s toying with his opponent instead of killing him quickly. Relg eventually breaks up the fight by stabbing the Murgo in a deadly manner, and Garion is upset with him.

“What did you do that for?” Garion demanded without thinking. “That was my Murgo.”
Barak, surveying the carnage, laughed, his sudden mirth startling in the darkness. “He’s tuning savage on us, isn’t he?”
“His skill is notworthy, however,” Mandorallen replied approvingly.

Garion is still in battle-fever and would like to go stab some more Murgos, but Silk reminds him that they need to have some Murgos left alive to follow the trail they’re leaving behind, and that he needs to stick to the bigger plan at all times and can’t get carried away.

I feel like the process in these books of “Teach Garion something important after he’s already messed it up” is the least efficient way of doing it. Mostly because some mistakes, like trying to unmake something, are fatal and don’t get a chance to learn from. But no, everyone seems perfectly content to let Garion make these kinds of mistakes and aren’t worried at all that it might turn out to be a prophecy-wrecking one. Does everyone else believe in the immunity of the people named by the prophecy except in those places where they’re named to be vulnerable?

As time goes on, there’s another attack that Garion slaps away with Polgara. The voice comments that it’s clumsy. Garion says he’ll get better with time, to which the voice tells him not to get overconfident and then disappears. At which point Garion realizes that he really is drawing from a bigger pool of talent than many other people might have with significant amount of time spent cultivating and exercising their skills. Which helps him sit a little bit taller. But not necessarily for very long, as Durnik asks Garion what it’s like being in command of such awesome power, and Garion says he’s still scared of it.

“Its not really like that, Durnik. Being tall or having blond hair doesn’t hurt anybody. This can.”
Durnik looked out at the long shadows of the ridge stretching away from the newly risen sun. “You just have to learn to be careful with it, that’s all. When I was about your age, I found out that I was much stronger than the other young men in our village—probably because I worked in the smithy. I didn’t want to hurt anybody, so I wouldn’t wrestle with my friends. One of them thought I was a coward because of that and he pushed me around for about six months until I finally lost my temper.”
“Did you fight him?”
Durnik nodded. “It wasn’t really much of a contest. After it was over, he realized that I wasn’t a coward after all. We even got to be good friends again—after his bones all healed up and he got used to the missing teeth.”
Garion grinned at him, and Durnik smiled back a bit ruefully. “I was ashamed of myself afterward, of course.”
Garion felt very close to this plain, solid man. Durnik was his oldest friend—somebody he could always count on.
“What I’m trying to say, Garion,” Durnik continued seriously, “is that you can’t go through life being afraid of what you are. If you do that, sooner or later somebody’ll come along who’ll misunderstand, and you’ll have to do something to show him that it’s not him that you’re afraid of. When it goes that far, it’s usually much worse for you—and for him, too.”
“The way it was with Asharak?”
Durnik noded. “It’s always best in the long run to be what you are. It isn’t proper to behave as if you were more, but it isn’t good to behave as if you were less, either. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”
“The whole problem seems to be finding out just exactly what you really are,” Garion observed.
Durnik smile again. “That’s the part that gets most of us in trouble at times,” he agreed.

And right after that, the Hierarchs change targets from Errand to Durnik, figuring what Ctuchik did, that if you could kill any of the prophecy folk, you can win your preferred interpretation of the prophecy.

It’s Durnik who provides Garion with the most useful advice so far, about learning how to control himself and not be afraid of himself, so that when someone tries to push Garion farther than he wants to go, it’s the bully, not Garion, who ends up regretting the decision. And this is about to be put into action, because the voice in Garion’s head teaches Garion how to put himself into his shadow, like Asharak had, and go back to where the Hierarchs are. They’re not impressed with the shadow trick, but Garion ends up being able to exert his will outside of his shadow, at which point he lays about with his will, destroys the focus of the Hierarch’s power by overloading it, and then threatens the chief Hierarch by closing his shadowed hand (and Will) around his heart and explaining to him in very small words that the Hierarchs are not going to come after his party again, unless he wants Garion’s shadow to come back and crush his heart with his will.

With the threat dispatched, Polgara dispels the shield, Belgarath wakes up and proves that he’s doing fine by snarking at Garion that he thinks the bit with the hand around the heart was overdone. And that gets us through Chapter 3.

Let’s get back to Durnik’s advice, though. Mostly because everyone else seems to want Garion to either not be a being with his own agency or expects him to already know everything to the point where it’s all supposed to be obvious. He’s also incredibly strong and has mostly lacked the ability to figure out how to use his strength in moderation, since when Garion is using sorcery or swordwork, he’s usually got to kill someone with it, instead of having time to both learn and practice finesse with his abilities. Silk was probably the only one who taught Garion finesse with the use of the secret language, and that’s specifically because large movements there are shouting or drawing attention to the communication. Garion hasn’t been given delicate operations to keep magically quiet, he’s been told he has to do big workings, with and without Polgara or Belgarath. Durnik’s advice is well and good for a farm boy who had to find his level and the worst result might be that Garion makes someone have to heal from their injuries, but if you have enough rae power to be able to level mountains or bring people back from the dead, them trying to figure out how to do it gently or efficiently becomes tougher, respectable when you’re getting a very late start on the training and your teachers collectively suck at actually teaching you.

More of keeping the Murgos on their trail next week.

Deconstruction Roundup for April 22, 2022

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is giving a talk about being themselves in their profession, perhaps in anticipation of giving the other talk about being themselves in their profession next month.)

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

Ross: A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

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 have been watching as your organization seems to struggle with the basics of recognizing when they’re wrong and apologizing properly for doing wrong.

Castle of Wizardry: Are We There Yet?

Last time, Ctuchik thought he had an easy win for his prophecy, only to find out he’d been anticipated and that Ce’Nedra was not in the party or anywhere near enough to be killed. In rage and desperation afterward, he tried to unmake something, and Garion got to witness firsthand what the kind of consequences are when someone uses their magic to try and enforce “Be not!” on someone or something. Good thing that he got taught that early on, when he still had tremendous power but it was uncontrolled.

And also, the child that was carrying the Orb got rescued, because the dry voice in Garion’s head said he was necessary to the whole operation.

Castle of Wizardry, Prologue and Chapter 1: Content Notes:

We’re over the halfway point, in terms of books. It only took three of them to get to something resembling a real, actual-stakes action sequence with consequences. But before I let my snark derail the thing that needs doing, let’s dive into the prologue for this book.

Being an account of how Riva Iron-grip became Guardian of the Orb of Aldur and of the evil wrought by Nyissa.
– Based upon The Book of Alorn and later accounts.

Well, I suppose this is as good of primary sources as we’re going to get on the matter, but I don’t hold out hope that the chronicler is impartial to the events as they happened.

There is a mercifully short recap of how the original party went out and busted up Torak and took the Orb away from him and Riva was the only one to be able to touch it, because he’s the chosen one. Having been burdened with the safekeeping of the Orb, Riva goes to the Isle of Winds and builds himself a fortress that he also calls Riva.

Then a deep sleep fell upon Riva, and Belar, Bear-God of the Alorns, appeared to him in a dream, saying “Behold, Guardian of the Orb, I will cause two stars to fall from the sky. And thou shalt take up the two stars and place thm in a fire and forge them. One shalt thou forge into a blade, the other into a hilt, and together they shall be a sword to guard the Orb of my brother Aldur.”
When Riva awoke, he saw two stars fall and he sought and found them in the high mountains. And he did with them as Belar had commanded. But when it was done, the blade and hilt could not be joined. Then Riva cried out, “Behold, I have marred the work, for the sword will not become one.”
A fox, which had sat nearby to watch him, said to Riva, “The work is not marred, Riva. Take the hilt and place the Orb upon it as a pommel stone.” And when Riva did as the fox instructed, the Orb became one with the hilt. But blade and hilt were still unjoined. Again the fox counseled him, “Take the blade in your left hand and the hilt in the right and join them.”
“They will not join. It is not possible,” Riva said.
“Wise are you, indeed,” the fox said, “to know what is not possible before you have made the attempt.”
Then Riva was ashamed. He set blade and hilt together, and the blade passed into the hilt as a stick slides into water. The sword was joined forever.
The fox laughed and said, “Take the sword and smite the rock which stands before you.”
Riva feared for the blade, lest the blow shatter it, but he smote the rock. The rock broke in two, and water gushed forth in a river and flowed down to the city below.

The fox is revealed to be Belgarath, and now that he has the sword, Riva has it placed in his palace, where the sword itself sticks to the stone and allows none but Riva to take it down from the wall. Then we get to the genealogy portion, where Beldaran arrives, Riva falls in love with her, and they have a son, who is immediately marked with the mark of the Orb of Aldur, which isn’t described, but it’s not that difficult to know that it’s the circle that’s been on Garion’s palm and that Polgara has basically tied to keep covered in dirt and grime for most of Garion’s life. As the generations pass, each of the sons is born with the mark, and the bond between the line of Riva and the Orb grows.

Then we have what is probably the best example of why Alorns shouldn’t necessarily be in charge of anything at all.

“Thus it was in the city of Riva for a thousand years. Sometimes strangers sailed into the Sea of Winds, seeking trade, but the ships of Cherek, bound to defend the Isle of the Winds, fell upon the strangers and destroyed them. But in time, the Alorn Kings met and determined in council that these strangers were not the servants of Torak, but bowed instead to the God Nedra. Then they agreed to let the ships sail the Sea of the Winds unmolested. “For,” the Rivan Kind told his fellow monarchs, ” a time may come when the sons of Nedra will join with us in our struggle against the Angaraks of Torak One-Eye. Let us not offend Nedra by sinking the ships of his children. The rule of Riva spoke wisely, and the Alorn kings agreed, knowing that the world was changing.
Then treaties were signed with the sons of Nedra, who took a childish delight in signing scraps of parchment. But when they sailed into the harbor at Riva, with their ships bearing full loads of gaudy trinkets upon which they placed high value, the Rivan King laughed at their folly and closed he gates of the city to them.
The sons of Nedra importuned thei king, whom they called Emperor, to force the city gates so that they might hawk their wares in the streets, and the Emperor sent his army to the Isle. Now, to permit these strangers from the kingdom they called Tolnedra passage upon the sea was one thing, but to let them land an army at the gates of Riva without challenge was quite another. The Rivan Kind ordered that the strand before the city be cleared and the harbor be swept clean of the ships of Tolnedra. And it was done.
Great was the wrath of the Emperor of Tolnedra. He assembled his armies to cross the Sea of the Winds and do war. Then the peaceloving Alorns held council to try reason upon this rash Emperor. And the sent out a message to advise him that, should he persist, they would rise up and destroy Emperor and kindom and sweep the wreckage thereof into the sea. And the Emperor gave heed to this quiet remonstrance and abandoned his desparate adventure.
As years passed and the Rivan Kind realized that these merchants from Tolnedra were harmless, he allowed them to build a village upon the strand before his city and there to display their useless goods. Their desperation to sell or trade came to amuse him, and he asked his people to buy some few items from them—though no purpose could be found for the goods thus purchased.

Cocowhat by depizan

So the official policy of Riva and the surrounding area is that an ship that gets close to them gets sunk. And they do this for quite a while before they recognize that they’re not Angarak ships. Did nobody pass along to their descendans what the ships of Angarak looked like? Or the people of Angarak? Or any other thing that might be relevant to the part where you’re supposed to identify the ship or the people before you fire upon it and destroy it? (Assuming that Cherek warships have the ability to fire ballistae and other such large, ship-destroying weaponry.) How many Tolnedran ships got sunk before the Rivan King went “Oops, my bad.” And how much do we want to bet that the Rivan King also didn’t really understand what he was doing with the treaty-signing, since this chonicler talks about “childish delight” from the Tolnedrans at putting it down on paper? And therefore, probably violated the thing as soon as the ink was dry by not letting the Tolnedrans land on the island itself. At which point, you have an angry Tolnedra, and it seems that the only thing stopping the war there, at least on this side, is the clear implication that a united Alorn front would kick the Tolnedrasn’s asses. I have a feeling that if we looked at this same event from the Tolnedran side, you’d see Ran Whomever realize that the Alorn Kings were too stupid to understand the treaty they’d signed, and since they were formidable fighters, the Tolnedrans decided that they didn’t need to fight a stupid war where the legions would probably just die, and instead, they needed to be diplomatic or otherwise figure out how to get the Alorns to actually uphold their end of the treaty obligations. So that gives them the outpost, and while the Alorn side thinks of it as a jest to trade with the Tolnedrans (and that, supposedly, there’s never any use for the merchants’ wares, which seems highly improbable to me), the Tolnedran side probably thinks of it as the long, slow way of educating their ignorant neighbors about the realities of the world, and diplomacy, and how civilized nations behave with regard to each other. And it might have worked, for all I know, except for the part where Nyissa gets involved.

And it was learned of these strangers that they were the sons of the God Issa. They called themselves Ny-Issans, and they claimed that their ruler was a woman, which seemed unnatural to all who heard. The name of this queen was Salmissra.
They came in dissembling guise, saying that they brought rich gifs from heir queen to the Rivan King and his family. Hearing this, Gorek the Wise, aged king in the line of Riva, grew curious to know more of these children of Issa and their queen. With his wife, his two sons and their wives, and all his royal grandchildren, he went from out the fortress and the city to visit the pavillion of the Ny-Issans, to greet them courteously, and to receive from them the valueless gifts sent by the harlot of Sthiss Tor. With smiles of greering, the Rivan King and his family were welcomed into the pavillion of the strangers.
Then the foul and accurses sons of Issa struck at all who were the fruit and the seed of the line of Riva. And venom was anointed upon their weapons, so that the merest scatch was death.

One child survives, taken away by a large snowy owl, although the chronicler doesn’t believe it, and neither do the people who question the sole witness. (We know it’s true, because Garion, but it’s hard to believe if you’re in the contemporary part of it.)

Brand hears what happens, and sets immediately to the torture of the Nyissans to figure out who ordered them to do it. They give up Salmissra, so all the Alorn kings go a-slaying in Nyissa, and eventually Salmissra gives up that she did the deed at the urging of Torak and Zedar before she dies, as well. Given what happened, and the warlike nature of the Alorns, and how very, very upset they are at what has just happened, I’m forced to conclude that the plot is the sole reason why the Nyissans weren’t genocided out of existence in revenge for killing the Rivan King and his family. Issa might not have approved, but given how Mara’s disapproval of the slaughter of his people didn’t amount to a hill of beans when Tolnedra wanted their gold, It seems pretty likely that the Alorn Kings could have made a very thorough example of Nyissa.

The big battle comes to pass at Vo Mimbre, and then there’s the prophecies about the orb, and then the stealing of the orb, and the birth of Belgarion, and the dubbing of the quest of Belgarath and the others to recover the orb and fight Torak The Belgariad, and the prologue finishes on the mysterious note that not even the Prophecy knows whether or not it’s going to succeed.

Chapter 1 dumps us back into the flight from the still-crumbling fortress of Rak Cthol that we left off at the end of the last book. Mission complete, checkpoint achieved, but like any good Metroid game (which won’t come out for a few years, anyway), there’s still the escape sequence that you have to get through So this would have been included in a book with the original divisions, rather than split up into another book this awkwardly. Garion’s taking the flight a little harder than everyone else, because there’s an additional thing getting in his way.

His ears seemed full of a swelling, exultant song that rang and soared in the vaults of his mind, erasing thought and filling him with stupefied wonder.
[…Garion figures out quickly that it’s the Orb of Aldur that’s making the noise…]
Garion struggled with it as he ran, trying desperately to pull his wits into some kind of order, but the song intruded on his every effort, scattering his mind so that chance impressions and random memory fluttered and scurried this way and that and left him to flee without design or direction.
The dank reek of the slave pens lying just beneath the disintegrating city of Rak Cthol came sharply through the shadowy galleries. As if suddenly awakened by that single stimulus, a flood of memories of other smells crashed in on Garion’s consciousness—the warm smell of fresh-baked bread in Aunt Pol’s kitchen back at Faldor’s farm, the salt smell of the sea when they had reached Darine on the north coast of Sendaria on the first leg of their quest for the Orb, the stink of the swamps and jungles of Nyissa, the stomach-turning smell of the burning bodies of the sacrificed slaves in the Temple of Torak which even now shattered and fell in opon itself among the collapsing walls of Rak Cthol. But, oddly, the smell that came sharpest to his confused memory was the sun-warmed scent of Princess Ce’Nedra’s hair.
“Garion!” Aunt Pol’s voice came sharply to him in the near dark through which they ran. “Watch where you’re going!” And he struggled to pull his mind back from its wandering even as he stumbled over a pile of broken rock where a large stretch of ceiling had fallen to the floor.

I feel for Garion here. He’s in the middle of trying to make sure he gets away from the last laugh of the Load-Bearing Boss, and his brain is being swamped by the feelings and sensations from the Orb of Aldur right next to him, in the hand of “Errand.” This seems like a good time to tell Polgara that she’s got to carry the child, or someone else does, because he’s getting ovewhelmed here by proximity, but it’s entirely possible Garion can’t muster up enough coherent thought to be able to make the sounds and words he needs to.

The hint that he’s also remembering Ce’Nedra strongest, and therefore his crush is still in effect, even though he doesn’t know it yet, well, I suppose we have to keep up with this dance until we get to Riva where the two of them can be wed and become blissfully happy with each other because prophecy. (Or promptly go “Great, prophecy fulfilled, right? Good. I want a divorce.”)

As they are trying to flee, Relg stops them and has them go back toward the armed Murgos they are trying to evade because going forward means getting caught in the part of the mountain that’s breaking apart. They do evade pursuit and stop for a rest so that Barak can catch his breath and Polgara tend to Belgarath. After having his memories scattered around again and a quick recap of what happened to Ctuchik and the importance of the rule he forgot, Polgara tasks Garion with keeping an eye on “Errand.”

“Someone’s going to have to keep an eye on him,” she observed. “There’s something very peculiar about him. After we get down, I’ll look into it, but I’ve got too much on my mind for that at the moment.
“Could it be the Orb?” Silk asked curiously. “I’ve heard that it has strange effects on people.”
“Perhaps that’s it.” But she didn’t sound very convinced. “Keep him with you, Garion, and don’t let him lose the Orb.”
“Why me?” He said it without thinking.
She gave him a level gaze.
“All right, Aunt Pol.” He knew there was no point in arguing with her.

One of these days, Gaion’s going to ask a question like that and someone’s going to actually answer him. He’ll be floored from the shock, of course, that someone treated his question like it was normal and gave him the information he requested, instead of the silent treatment that draws upon his abusive background to force him into compliance without gathering any reasons why. I don’t know who it will be, but it won’t be any of this crew, that’s for sure.

After the party detects the presence of some Murgos, the fighters sneak off to quietly dispatch them, and the other presence in Garion’s head deigns to finally be helpful about what’s going on.

Stop fighting with it.
What is it?” Garion demanded, trying to focus his thoughts.
It’s the Orb.
What’s it doing?
It wants to know you. This is its way of finding things out.
Can’t it wait? We don’t really have time just now.
You can try to explain that, if you’d like.” The voice sounded amused. “It might listen, but I doubt it. It’s been waiting for you for a very long time.
Why me?
Don’t you ever get tired of saying that?
Is it doing the same thing to the others?
To a lesser degree. You might as well relax. One way or another, it’s going to get what it wants.

Even the vaguely animate artifacts just want Garion to shut up and stop trying to be any sort of independent being. If only Garion would stop trying to believe he’s anything other than a vessel for prophecy and to just go where he’s told and do what he’s told, regardless of whether anyone’s bothered to teach him how to do it, then everything would move more smoothly for everyone.

So Garion does the thing that lets the Orb pick through his mind.

And then, most peculiarly, it went back to sift through every one of Garion’s memories of Princess Ce’Nedra—of the way the sun caught her coppery hair, of the lithe grace of her movements, of her scent, of each unconscious gesture, of the flicker and play of emotion across her tiny, exquisite face. It lingered on her in a way that Garion eventually found unsettling. At the same time he found himself a bit surprised that so much of what the princess had said and done had stuck so firmly in his memory.
“Garion,” Aunt Pol said, “what is the matter with you? I told you to hold onto the child. Pay attention. This isn’t the time for daydreaming.”
“I wasn’t. I was—” How could he explain it?
“You were what?”

…and Polgara snaps at him again. Garion could explain it as “The other presence in my head said the Orb’s trying to get to know me, so it’s rifling through my memories like Belgarath would raid a woman’s underwear drawer for keepsakes, and I can’t stop it from doing so, so now I’m trying to hurry the process so I can fucking concentrate on this escape path.” That is, if he had been treated like a person who has thoughts and opinions and is more than a vessel for prophecy that just needs to shut up and let the powers that are greater than him guide him to the foreordained conclusion. But because Garion’s explanations have never worked before, when they were less reliant on the magical, whether internal or in the artifact, he’s not even trying to explain, because he knows it won’t do anything at all for what’s going to happen next, which is that Polgara’s going to insist he do something and he’s going to do it before they go forward. Before this snippet, Polgara’s told Relg to take them back to Taiba, which Relg was unhappy about, but didn’t argue over, so it’s clear that the “we do what Polgara says, regardless of our own opinions” part happens to more than just Garion. (These are still supposed to be our heroes. Even with all this time and prose taken, I can’t really say that our heroes have done all that much that’s heroic.)

The party continues down, occasionally either killing Murgos or letting them go by, and Garion realizes that having collected the Orb, he’s only finished the first part of the game, drawing snark from the other voice that he’s finally figured out what everyone else already knows, their next destination is Riva, and the other voice isn’t telling him anything else other than to not make long-term plans for his life.

The party makes it to before where they left Taiba, but the path is blocked by a cave-in. Polgara insists that they have to get Taiba, and when Relg says there’s no way in to her, she insists that he use his skills to get her and bring her out. First:

The Ulgo turned to regard the little man. “She has water there and sufficient air to breathe. If the cave-in didn’t kill her, she could live for weeks before she starves to death.” There as a peculiar, quiet regret in Relg’s voice.
Silk stared at him for a moment. “Sorry, Relg,” he said finally. “I misunderstood.”
“People who live in caves have no desire to see anyone trapped like that.”
[…Polgara tells Relg he’ll have to get Taiba, and to use his rock-phasing skill to do it and bring her back…]
Relg had begun to tremble violently. “I can’t!” his voice was choked. “I’d have to touch her—put my hands on her. It’s sin.”
“This is most uncharitable of thee, Relg,” Mandorallen told him. “There is no sin in giving aid to the weak and helpless. Consideration for the unfortunate is a paramount responsibility of all decent men, and no force in all the world can corrupt the pure spirit. If compassion doth not move thee to fly to her aid, then mayest thou not prehaps regard her rescue a test of thy purity?”
“You don’t understand,” Relg told him in an anguished voice. He turned back to Polgara. “Don’t make me do this, I beg you.”
[…she insists, and Relg goes to collect Taiba all the same…]
“Why does he make so much fuss about touching people?” Barak demanded.
But Garion knew why. His enforced companionship with the ranting zealot during the ride across Algaria had given him a sharp insight into the workings of Relg’s mind. The harsh-voiced denunciations of the sins of others served primarily to conceal Relg’s own weakness. Garion had listened for hours at a time to hysterical and sometimes incoherent confessions about the lustful thoughts that raged through the fanatic’s mind almost continually. Taiba, th lush-bodied Marag slave woman, would represent for Relg the ultimate temptation, and he would fear her more than death itself.
In silence they waited. Somewhere a slow drip of water measured the passing seconds. The earth shuddered from time to time as the last uneasy shocks of earthquake trembled beneath their feet. The minuted dragged on in the dim cavern.
And then there was a flicker of movement, and Relg emerged from the rock wall carrying the half-naked Taiba. Her arms were desperately clasped about his neck, and her face was buried in his shoulder. She was whimpering in terror and trembling uncontrollably.
Relg’s face was twisted into an agony. Tears of anguish streamed openly from his eyes, and his teeth were clenched as if he were in the grip of intolerable pain. His arms, however, cradled the terrified slave woman protectively, almost gently, and even when they were free of the rock, he held her closely against him as if he intended to hold her thus forever.

…what exactly does Relg think he’s going to do if he touches a woman? Immediately go into a sexual frenzy akin to pon farr and not care at all about the consent of the woman until he’s satisfied all of his long-repressed sexual urges? Is that what he’s afraid he’s going to do? Or worse, is he going to find that he enjoys the touch of Taiba, and that he will take her up on her apparently very open offer and try to figure out how to still be devoted to UL with the additional complication of having a woman in his life, like some of his subordinates?

It’s a pretty standard thing for men in our time to claim that they didn’t have any control over themselves with regard to the terrible things they inflict on women (they’re just too sexy and alluring and they were obviously okay with it, or they wouldn’t have dressed that way or looked that way), and there are more than a few people and legal systems and religious systems that are willing to prop up that lie because it reinforces the power relationships they want to enforce on the rest of us, but Relg, like everyone else, has managed to learn that he does, in fact, have agency and control over himself and does not lose his higher brain functions when in the presence of a woman, or even touching one.

Mandorallen’s remark about the virtue of coming to someone’s aid is also spot on, and reminds me more strongly of the Buddhist story of the two monks. Relg is the monk who will still be carrying Taiba in his mind, long after he’s put her down physically and she’s recovered from the terror that comes with phasing through rocks in Relg’s company. And he’s probably going to turn more strongly to his religious practice to try and make whatever thoughts and ideas come to his mind because he’s touched a woman go away, but, well, that’s not usually the way that someone manages to make peace with the thoughts of one’s mind. Relg very much would like the experience, but believes that such a thing is forbidden to him, even though, as best as I can tell, UL certainly hasn’t forbidden it, and neither has the Gorim. Relg could manage to unwind himself from his beliefs and take up a healthier outlook, but that would mean admitting he might have been wrong, and that’s often really hard for people who have been building their identity based on their outward appearance of holiness. Taiba, I suspect, is going to see all of this very clearly and take a certain amount of delight in tweaking and tormenting Relg with herself and her body while he ties himself in tighter knots over the matter.

In any case, next week, the escape continues, with one additional party member, because Prophecy.

Deconstruction Roundup for April 15, 2022

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who has submitted the talk idea to the place, with the understanding that the worst they can say is no, and that they might very well do just that.)

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.

Ross: A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

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 have yet another story for your audience about yet another cobbled-together piece of coding that works.

Magician’s Gambit: A Stealth Pun

Last chapter, the heroes, with Relg’s help, infiltrated Rak Cthol through the mountain, and then through the slave pens, meeting a Marag woman along he way, and worked their way to Ctuchik’s private chambers, bluffing their way through and bashing heads along the way. Brill got sent over the parapets somewhat unceremoniously by Silk, so he won’t be pursuing them into the remaining two books. And since this is the final chapter of thos book, I suspect we’re about to have a villain change.

Oh, yeah, Garion was ready to wreck the whole place with his own will, but the other voice in his head told him now wasn’t the time, and Rak Cthol was going to get it soon enough anyway. (Relg also swore to take the place apart.)

Magician’s Gambit, Chapter 27: Content Notes: Implied Torture and “perversions”

Everyone’s on high alert entering Ctuchik’s chambers, but the narrative takes time to describe to us what sort of things can be found in the place.

The wealth of empires lay beyond the black door. Bright yellow coins—gold beyond counting—lay in heaps on the floor; carelessly scattered among the coins were rings, bracelets, chains, and crowns, gleaming richly. Blood-red bars from the mines of Angarak stood in stacks along the wall, interspersed ere and there by open chests filled to overflowing with fist-sized diamonds that glittered like ice. A large table say in the center of the room, littered with rubies, sapphires, and emeralds as big as eggs. Ropes and strings of pearls, pink, rose gray, and even some of jet , held back the deep crimson drapes hat billowed heavily before the windows.
Belgarath moved like a stalking animal, showing no sign of his age, his eyes everywhere. He ignored the riches around him and crossed the deep-carpeted floor to a room filled with learning, where tightly rolled scrolls lay in racks reaching to the ceiling and the leather backs of books marched like battalions along dark wooden shelves. The tables in the second room were covered with he curious glass apparatus of chemical experiment and storage machines of brass and iron, all cogs and wheels and pulleys and chains.
In a third chamber stood a massive gold throne backed by drapes of black velvet. An ermine cape lay across one arm of the throne, and a scepter and a heavy gold crown lay upon the seat. Inlaid in the polished stones of the floor was a map that depicted, so far as Garion could tell, the entire world.
“What sort of place is this?” Durnik whispered in awe.
“Ctuchik amuses himself here,” Aunt Pol replied with an expression of repugnance. “He has many vices and he likes to keep each one separate.”
“He’s not down here,” Belgarath muttered. “Let’s go up to the next level.” He led them back the way they had come and started up a flight of stone steps that curved along the rounded wall of the turret.
The room at the top of the stairs was filled with horror. A rack stood in the center of it, and whips and flails hung on the walls. Cruel implements of gleaming steel lay in orderly rows on a table near the wall—hooks, needle-pointed spikes, and dreadful things with saw-edges that still had bits of bone and flesh caught between their teeth. The entire room reeked of blood.
“You and Silk go ahead, father,” Aunt Pol said. “There are things in the other rooms on this level that Garion, Durnik, and Relg shouldn’t see.”
Belgarath nodded and went through a doorway with Silk behind him. After a few moments they returned by way of another door. Silk’s face looked slightly sick. “He has some rather exotic perversions, doesn’t he?” he remarked with a shudder.

Right up until the bit where we found out that Ctuchik doesn’t take care of his tools properly, there was the possibility that he might just like a lot of roleplay and edgeplay in his kink. But, of course, we have to have someone who not only hoards wealth and knowledge, but also likes being cruel and torturing others. I’m sure some of the things that Garion, Durnik, and Relg are not being shown are things that are meant to be sexual torture devices or things that are specifically suppoed to be used to torture women. The narrative is making as sure as it can to tell us that Ctuchik is a terrible, evil peson who is going to richly deserve dying, instead of the kind of person who is going to get killed, but the narrative leaves enough ambiguity for the reader to wonder whether the confidence of the main characters about the evil they’ve destroyed is misplaced, and they didn’t kill an evil person, but someone socially outcast.

As it is, the party meets Ctuchik on the top level. He invites them in, compliments Polgara’s beauty and asks if she’s here to submit, and when she says no, she’s here for justice, he laughs and says that there is no such thing. The strong rule and the weak submit, according to him, as Torak taught him. He also inquires after all of the people who are part of the prophecy, since he doesn’t see all of them here to confront him.

“All?” Ctuchik drawled. “I see the Nimble Thief and the Man With Two Lives and the Blind Man, but I don’t see the others. Where’s the Dreadful Bear and the Knight Protector? The Horse Lord and the Bowman? And the ladies? Where are they—the Queen of the World and the Mother of the Race That Died?”
“All well, Ctuchik,” Belgarath replied. “All well.”
“How extraordinary. I was almost certain that you’d have lost one or two at least by now. I admire your dedication, old man—to keep intact for all these centuries a prophecy that would have collapsed if one single ancestor had died at the wrong time.” His eyes grew distant momentarily. “Ah,” he said. “I see. You left them below to stand guard. You didn’t have to to do that, Belgarath. I left orders that we weren’t to be disturbed.”

Ctuchik taunts Garion a bit, saying that he’ll come to enjoy using power to hurt others, and says to Belgarath that they’re both “beyond all restriction” and not all that different. Then he gets to the real reason why he wants to say hello to all of the party – so that he can see the Queen of the World. Except, of course, that she’s not here to see him.

“Where is she?” he demanded wildly in a voice that was almost a scream.
“The princess wasn’t able to come with us,” Belgarath replied blandly. “She sends her apologies, though.”
“You’re lying, Belgarath! You wouldn’t have dared to leave her behind. There’s no place in the world where she’d be safe.”
“Not even in the caves of Ulgo?”
Ctuchik’s face blanched. “Ulgo?” he gasped.
“Poor old Ctuchik,” Belgarath said, shaking his head in mock regret. “You’re slipping badly, I’m afraid. It wasn’t a bad plan you had, but didn’t it occur to you to make sure that the princess was actually with us before you let me get this close to you?”
“One of the others will do just as well,” Ctuchik asserted, his eyes blazing with fire.
“No,” Belgarath disagreed. “The others are all unassailable. Ce’Nedra’s the only vulnerable one, and she’s at Prolgu—under the protection of UL himself. You can attempt that if you’d like, but I wouldn’t really advise it.”
[…Ctuchik composes himself and then offers Belgarath half the world if they can use the Orb together to rule the world instead of what Belgarath’s come to do…]
“Why don’t we join forces and use the Orb to destroy Zedar?”
“You hate him as much as I do. He betrayed your Master. He stole Cthrag Yaska from you.”
“He betrayed himself, Ctuchik, and I think that haunts him sometimes. His plan to steal the Orb was clever, though.” Belgarath looekd thoughtfully at the little boy standing in front of the table, his large eyes fixed on the iron cask. “I wonder where he found this child,” he mused. “Innocence and purity are not exactly the same thing, of course, but they’re very close. It must have cost Zedar a great deal of effort to raise a total innocent. Think of all the impulses he had to suppress.”
“That’s why I let him do it.”

And right about here is where we realize that the title of this book is a stealth pun, for those who have been paying attention. Because the chess term of a gambit applies to Ctuchik’s actions here, hoping to lure Belgarath in and bring Ce’Nedra with him so that Ctuchik could kill her and wreck the prophecy. But it was destined to fail, because Ctuchik is the magician, which Belgarath mentioned last week was a term of derision among sorcerers, a grave insult. So, the fact that it’s a magician’s gambit, rather than a sorcerer’s gambit, as the title means it was never going to work anyway. And not just because this is the third book of five and you can’t have the villains win completely in the third book of five. (Not unless you’re planning on telling a very different story than what was set out in the beginning, anyway.)

Also, I’m so glad that Belgarath believes so firmly in the prophecy meaning that all the others can’t be hurt by Ctuchik, because otherwise, Ctuchik’s pretty well correct about any of the others dying as a equally good enough derail of the prophecy. They don’t tell us what Ce’Nedra’s vulnerability would have been to Ctuchik, though, and why it was so vitally important he stay behind, now that there’s no chance that Ctuchik will succeed. We could extrapolate something about the immense wealth on display in the private chambers that would allow Ce’Nedra’s mind to be weakened by the red gold playing at her Tolnedran upbringing, perhaps, or perhaps she’s too curious about something and it ends up killing her by interacting badly with her Dryad biology. There has to be some reason that she would be vulnerable when everyone else isn’t, but since she’s not here to be vulnerable, nobody bothers to mention what the problem was in the first place, and instead, we go straight to the battle between the sorcerer and the magician (which is how the narrative refers to them, respectively, so it’s pretty clear how the fight’s going to end, even if it hasn’t yet fully revealed the details of how it happens.) Garion is once again ready to throw his will into things, but Polgara tells him to stay out of it, because if he casts, they both get destroyed. And then the little boy goes and retrieves the Orb of Aldur from the cask that held it and brings it to Garion. (It’s described as a “round, polished, gray stone.”)

Deep within it stood an intense azure glow—a light that neither flickered nor changed, a light that grew steadily stronger as the boy approached Garion. The child stopped and raised the stone in his hands, offering it to Gation. He smiled and spoke a single word, “Errand.”

Which is not quite what he said, but knowing that’s not what he said requires knowledge that’s spoilers for a later book. The child is actually saying his name, and he’s really important to all of this, as evidenced in a few paragraphs where the voice in Garion’s head will make sure that he saves the boy as part of making sure the prophecy comes true, but we don’t know this yet. So instead we have to continue on. (Or, he might be saying Errand, and it happens to be close enough to this character’s name that I’m suspicious about what’s actually being said.)

An instant image filled Garion’s mind, an image of a dreadful fear. He knew he was looking directly into the mind of Ctuchik. There was a picture in Ctuchik’s mind—a picture of Garion holding the flowing stone in his hand—and that picture terrified the Grolim. Garion felt waves of fear spilling out toward him. Deliberately and quite slowly he reached his right hand oward the stone the child was offering. The mark on his palm yarned toward the stone, and the chorus of song in his mind swelled to a mighty crescendo. Even as he stretched out his hand, he felt the sudden, unthinking, animal panic in Ctuchik.
The Grolim’s voice was a hoarse shriek. “Be not!” he cried out desperately, directing all his terrible power at the stone in the little boy’s hands.
For a shocking instant, a deadly silence filled the turret. Even Belgarath’s face, drawn b his terrible struggle, was shocked and unbelieving.
The blue glow within the heart of the stone seemed to contract. Then it flared again.
Ctuchik, his long hair and beard disheveled, stood gaping in wide-eyed and openmouthed horror. “I didn’t mean it!” he howled. “I didn’t—I—”
But a new and even more stupendous force had already entered the round room. The force flashed no light, nor did it push against Garion’s mind. It seemed instead to pull out, drawing at him as i closed about the horrified Ctuchik.
The High Priest of the Grolims shrieked mindlessly. Then he seemed to expand, then contract, then expand again. Cracks appeared on his face as if he had suddenly solidified into stone and the stone was disintegrating under the awful force welling up within him. Within those hideous cracks Garion saw not flesh and blood and bone, but blazing energy. Ctuchik began to glow, brighter and brighter. He raised his hands imploringly. “Help me!” he screamed. He shrieked out a long, despairing “NO!” And then, with a shattering sound that was beyond noise, the Disciple of Torak exploded into nothingness.
[…Garion catches “Errand” in the blast, but the Orb pops out. Garion moves to catch it, but Polgara stops him from touching it. Instead, “Errand” wriggles free of Garion and catches the orb himself.…]
“What happened?” Silk muttered, struggling to his feet and shaking his head.
“Ctuchik destroyed himself,” Aunt Pol replied, also rising. “He tried to unmake the Orb. The Mother of the Gods will not permit unmaking.” She looked quickly at Garion. “Help me with your grandfather.”

I think that’s the third explanation in this book about why unmaking is not permitted. The prologue suggested that UL was responsible (since it was from the Book of UL, I believe), Belgarath said it was a natural consequence of Will being put to a purpose that the universe itself rebels against, and Polgara has now said that the “Mother of the Gods” won’t permit unmaking, which is an interesting piece of theology if Polgara is correct about this. (It makes sense that there would be a Mother of the Gods, most mythologies have something like that in them.) And also, what a violent demonstration to Garion about the dangers of trying to unmake something, even when you don’t mean to do it, and that the universe doesn’t care what your state of mind is when you try to do it. The consequences rebound on to you all the same.

Having baited Ctuchik into destroying himself by doing the forbidden in a moment of terror, Rak Cthol itself starts to disintegrate, starting with Cthuchik’s tower. Relg senses a way out, and Polgara clears the way for the party, but Garion gets a reminder to pick up “Errand”.

The child!” the voice in Garion’s head crackled, no longer dry or disinterested. “Save the child or everything that has ever happened is meaningless!

So Garion does, using his knowledge of how forces work to propel himself with his Will over the gap from the cracking turret. Rak Cthol itself is shaking apart from an earthquake, and Relg wants to know what’s going on. Polgara tells him they’re going down through the caves during the earthquake.

“We’ll go down,” she decided firmly. “We still have to stop to pick up the slave woman.”
“She’s almost certain to be dead,” Relg asserted quickly. “The earthquake’s probably brought the roof of that cave down on her.”
Aunt Pol’s eyes were flinty as she looked him full in the face.
No man alive could face that gaze for long. Relg dropped his eyes. “All right,” he said sullenly. He turned and led them back into the dark cave with the earthquake rumbling beneath their feet.

And that gets us through this book. We’re more than halfway there, and we only have two major villain fights (maybe three) to go – Zedar and Torak, definitely, Taur Urgas, possibly, and with picking up Taiba, it looks like all of the people mentioned in the prophecy are finally going to be part of the party, at least for a little while. So let’s review who we’ve collected so far and what their current status is.

  • Belgarion: The Chosen One
  • Belgarath: The Old Wolf
  • Polgara: (I forget if she has a name in the prophecy.)
  • Durnik: The Man With Two Lives
  • Barak: The Dreadful Bear
  • Silk: The Nimble Thief / The Guide
  • Lelldorin: The Bowman (last seen in Arendia)
  • Mandorallen: The Knight Protector
  • Hettar: The Horse Lord (currently waiting near the Vale of Aldur with a “Get Lost” party to discourage Murgos chasing the current party.)
  • Ce’Nedra: The Queen of the World (currently at Prolgu)
  • Relg: The Blind Man
  • Taiba: The Mother Of The Race That Died

So that would normally give us a pretty big cast of characters to work with, except I expect the traveling party to never get too much larger than it currently is, unless everyone for the prophecy has to be in their appointed place at the correct time, at which point, I guess everyone shows up for the final part.

Durnik also hasn’t died yet to start him on his second life. So we have that to look forward to in the next book or two.

All that said, I still feel like these three books so far have been a prologue that could have been mostly skipped, in terms of the narrative moving in the direction of the final battle. Maybe in book four, we’ll finally start getting to some conflicts that couldn’t have been skipped or briefly explained in flashback in between things that are relevant to the final showdown with Torak.