Monthly Archives: August 2021

Deconstruction Roundup for August 27, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who continues to strive for small things even as the large things around them continue to loom.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

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

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are concerned about the loss of life in all situations, because people dying is never as targeted as anyone wants it to be.)

Pawn of Prophecy: The Actual Plot Half of the Book

Last time, the performative masculinity part of everyone’s brains overrode their sense of keeping the Rivan heir safe, and Garion nearly got himself killed for it. In the meantime, Barak went into a proper rage, with a ghostly afterimage of himself as he killed the boar properly to keep Garion safe. Both Belgarath and Polgara took Garion to task for his actions with the boar, which is an expected thing, but also Garion’s been beaten down by everyone for everything he does at this point that it’s very clearly the machinations of the plot that he acts or has any emotion at all, and that he’s still in the company of these terrible people.

Oh, and Garion discovered where the green-cloaked man was spying on the council of kings and decided he needed to report it to someone authoritative.

Pawn of Prophecy, Chapters Seventeen and Eighteen: Content Notes: Marital rape, torture,

So we pick up with Garion going to Barak because he needs someone to back him when he tells the kings that they’re being spied on. Barak, as Anheg’s cousin, is probably the best choice for this, logically, although we don’t get any sort of reasoning why other than that Garion needs to tell someone who will be believed by the kings.

Barak is initially reluctant to let Garion in to his room, because he’s still in mourning about the appearance of his Doom. Garion tries to be reassuring, but only showcases his ignorance of what a Doom is, and Barak takes the time to explain what’s going on.

“It’s not only Martje,” Barak said. “She’s just repeating what everybody in Cherek knows. An augurer was called in when I was born—it’s the custom here. Most of the time the auguries don’t show anything at all, and nothing special is going to happen during the child’s life. But sometimes the future lies so heavily on one of us that almost anyone can see the Doom.”
“That’s just superstition,” Garion scoffed. “I’ve never seen any fortune-teller who could even tell for sure if it’s going to rain tomorrow. One of them came to Faldor’s farm once and told Durnik he was going to die twice. Isn’t that silly?”

When Durnik dies twice later on in this series, please remind me that I specifically included this block just so that I could point out that someone was trying to be clever with their foreshadowing. If you remember.

“The augurers and soothsayers of Cherek have more skill,” Barak said, his face still sunk in melancholy. “The Doom they saw for me was always the same—I’m going to turn into a beast. I’ve had dozens of them tell me the same thing. And now it’s happened. I’ve been sitting here for two days now, watching. The hair on my body’s getting longer, and my teeth are starting to get pointed.”

Garion continues to try and tell Barak that he’s imagining things, and Barak keeps trying to ask Garion about what he saw so that Barak knows what’s going to happen, since he’s convinced of his Doom. Also, if Martje was just proclaiming what everyone else knows, then Barak’s continued harassment of her, including trying to kill her, certainly takes on some additional meaning. And slots Martje much more into the traditional role of witch, as someone who says things where broken social contracts need mending. Although, as we continue to learn stuff, it’s probably not how to deal with the Doom that’s the thing that needs mending.

“Berserk, you mean?” Barak said, looking up hopefully. Then he shook his head. “No, Garion. I’ve been berserk before. It’s doesn’t feel at all the same. This was completely different.” He sighed.
“You’re not turning into a beast,” Garion insisted.
“I know what I know,” Barak said stubbornly.
And then Lady Merel, Barak’s wife, stepped into the room through the still-open door. “I see that my Lord is recovering his wits,” she said.
“Leave me alone, Merel,” Barak said. “I’m not in the mood for these games of yours.”
“Games, my Lord?” she said innocently. “I’m simply concerned about my duties. If my Lord is unwell, I’m obliged to care for him. That’s a wife’s right, isn’t it?”
“Quit worrying so much about rights and duties, Merel,” Barak said. “Just go away and leave me alone.”
“My Lord was quite insistent about certain rights and duties on the night of his return to Val Alorn,” she said. “Not even the locked door of my bedchamber was enough to curb his insistence.”
“All right,” Barak said, flushing slightly. “I’m sorry about that. I’d hoped that things had changed between us. I was wrong. I won’t bother you again.”
“Bother, my Lord?” she said. “A duty is not a bother. A good wife is obliged to submit whenever her husband requires it of her—no matter how drunk or brutal he may be when he comes to her bed. No one will ever be able to accuse me of laxity in that regard.”
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” Barak accused.
“Enjoying what, my Lord?” Her voice was light, but there was a cutting edge to it.
“What do you want, Merel?” Barak demanded bluntly.
“I want to serve my Lord in his illness,” she said. “I want to care for him and watch the progress of his disease—each symptom as it appears.”
“Do you hate me that much?” Barak asked with heavy contempt. “Be careful, Merel. I might take it into my head to insist that you stay with me. How would you like that? How would you like to be locked in this room with a raging beast?”
“If you grew unmanageable, my Lord, I can always have you chained to the wall,” she suggested, meeting his enraged glare with cool unconcern.

Well, that’s certainly told us a lot about the relationship those two have. Merel seems to have decided that malicious compliance is the best way for her to revenge herself on Barak for all the things he’s done and continued to do to her, including, apparently, breaking down a locked door to insist he have sex with his wife while in a drunken rage. Given how much he finds her to be a welcome and loving companion, I still don’t understand why Anheg hasn’t been persuaded to grant a divorce or an annulment, or one of the priests of Belar persuaded to do the same. Especially if Barak’s Doom is common knowledge. About the only reason why Merel is still with Barak and he hasn’t been able to get rid of her that I can think of is that Merel is being punished by having to stay married to Barak. And possibly Barak is being punished for something by having to stay married to Merel. What kind of societal disaster is going to happen if the two of them separate? And is Anheg counting on Barak’s Doom to rid him of Merel, so that it can be a very sad and tragic situation where his cousin’s wife was torn apart by the creature that Barak has become? There are no good reasons for this marriage to have persisted as long as it has, and no good reasons for it to continue now. But nobody is giving us the actual reason why they’re still together and staying together, not even “for the children.”

Before this sniping match continues, Garion tells Barak about the spy in the palace and why he knows that the spy can hear everything, and that he saw the man in the green cloak with a Murgo. Garion still can’t say the name, because the compulsion is still there, but he certainly can drop a hefty hint. (Barak does ask who this Murgo is and Garion ignores the question because he can’t say. Barak does not twig to this being important.) Merel asks some pointed questions about the description of the man the green-cloaked man was meeting in the forest after she hears that he had “flaxen-colored hair”, which leads her to believe that it’s someone that was banished by Anheg, Jarvik, come back. So Barak and Merel barge in and say that Jarvik is back. Brand is confused, which allows Eddings to gracefully slip in the circumstances of Jarvik’s banishment. (Why doesn’t he do this more often?) Jarvik was banished because he deliberately gave a Murgo in Sendaria the details of their most secret council and had a strongroom full of red Angarak gold. Well, he was going to be executed, but Jarvik’s wife begged for banishment instead.

Anheg would like to know why this accusation is coming out, and Garion has to explain that he was following a spy, and therefore he ended up spying on them, and that he saw the man in the green cloak talking to a Murgo. And Silk finally puts his brains to use for something other than being a misogynist.

“Barak says there aren’t any Murgos in Cherek, but I know that the man he was with was a Murgo.”
“How do you know?” Anheg asked shrewdly.
Garion looked at him helplessly, unable to say Asharak’s name.
“Well, boy?” King Rhodar asked.
Garion struggled with the words, but nothing would come out.
“Maybe you know this Murgo?” Silk suggested.
Garion nodded, relieved that someone could help him.
“You wouldn’t know many Murgos,” Silk said, rubbing his nose with one finger. “Was it the one we met in Darine, perhaps—and later in Muros? The one known as Asharak?”
Garion nodded again.
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Barak asked.
“I—I couldn’t,” Garion stammered.
“Couldn’t?”
“The words wouldn’t come out,” Garion said. “I don’t know why, but I’ve never been able to talk about him.”
“Then you’ve seen him before?” Silk said.
“Yes,” Garion said.
“And you’ve never told anybody?”
“No.”
Silk glanced quickly at Aunt Pol. “Is this the sort of thing you might know more about than we would, Polgara?” he asked.
She nodded slowly. “It’s possible to do it,” she said. “It’s never been very reliable, so I don’t bother with it myself. It is possible, however.” Her expression grew grim.
“The Golims think it’s impressive,” Mister Wolf said. “Grolims are easily impressed.”
“Come with me, Garion,” Aunt Pol said.
“Not yet,” Wolf said.
“This is important,” she said, her face hardening.
“You can do it later,” he said. “Let’s hear the rest of his story first. The damage has already been done. Go ahead, Garion. What else did you see?”

I have to say, I’m not impressed with this compulsion if it only manages to block direct mention of the name. Admittedly, it’s done pretty well in this situation, but Garion has been able to beat it on several different occasions by managing to drop the right kind of hints about what he’s seen, because there’s nothing stopping anyone else from saying anything, and Garion is clearly able to confirm other people’s suspicions, rather than being required to lie about Asharak’s presence when asked. The way that Polgara dismisses it as unreliable suggests that we should treat its effectiveness as a fluke of things going well, rather than how they would normally go. Perhaps if it were attempted on an adult, the adult would be faster at figuring out ways of getting around it, which is why it might not be so impressive.

Anyway, Garion finishes his story by providing the kings with a summary of the discussion that he heard, which startles all of them and causes King Rhodar to offer Garion a position as a spy on he spot. Polgara is less impressed with Garion, considering it part of his ability to show up in places where he’s not supposed to be, but before Polgara can get after Garion for that, Barak suggests it’s time to go find some people. Anheg suggests that it would be prudent for them to be intact enough to talk, but doesn’t really care past that point.

Then Anheg turned to Merel. “I’d like to thank you also, Lady Merel,” he said. “I’m sure you had a significant part in bringing this to us.”
“I don’t need thanks, your Majesty,” she said. “It was my duty.”
Anheg sighed. “Must it always be duty, Merel?” he asked sadly.
“What else is there?” she asked.
“A very great deal, actually,” the king said, “but you’re going to have to find that out for yourself.”

Which I prefer to read as the author’s way of showing us that Anheg had a significant part in what brought Barak and Merel together and keeps them that way, and so he gets the same malicious compliance.

Polgara and Belgarath both comment on the compulsion on Garion, calling it “very light” and that anything more serious would have come to Polgara’s attention. She’s not happy that it happened, though, because she was supposed to notice and prevent such things. As it is, she breaks the compulsion on Garion, and to test that it worked, she asks Garion the Murgo’s name, which he is able to speak. She then sends Garion to bed with explicit instructions to remember every time he encountered Asharak and everything he said or did.

That plan, however, is interrupted by the presence of the Murgo himself in the castle.

The dry voice observed that something significant had just happened. The powerful compulsion not to speak about Asharak was obviously gone. Aunt Pol had somehow pulled it out of his mind entirely. His feeling about that was oddly ambiguous. That strange relationship between himself and dark-robed, silent Asharak had always been intensely private, and now it was gone. He felt vaguely empty and somehow violated. He sighed and went up the broad stairway toward his room.
[…on his way there, he encounters people who look like Cherek warriors, but are just wrong enough for Garion’s suspicions to be aroused, and then who should appear but…]
A bulky man in a dark, hooded cloak stepped through the doorway of Garion’s room into the corridor. It was Asharak. The Murgo was about to say something, but then his eyes fell on Garion. “Ah,” he said softly. His dark eyes gleamed in his scarred face. “I’ve been looking for you, Garion,” he said in that same soft voice. “Come here, boy.”
Garion felt a tentative tug at his mind that seemed to slip away as if it somehow could not get a sure grip. He shook his head mutely and continued to back away.
“Come along now,” Asharak said. “We’ve known each other far too long for this. Do as I say. You know that you must.”
The tug became a powerful grasp that again slipped away.
“Come here, Garion!” Asharak commanded harshly.
Garion kept backing away, step by step. “No,” he said.
Asharak’s eyes blazed, and he drew himself up angrily.
This time is was not a tug or a grasp, but a blow. Garion could feel the force of it even as it seemed somehow to miss or be deflected.
Asharak’s eyes widened slightly, then narrowed. “Who did this?” he demanded. “Polgara? Belgarath? It won’t do any good, Garion. I had you once, and I can take you again any time I want to. You’re not strong enough to refuse me.”
Garion looked at his enemy and answered out of some need for defiance. “Maybe I’m not,” he said, “but I think you’ll have to catch me first.”
Asharak turned quickly to his warriors. “That’s the boy I want,” he barked sharply. “Take him!”
Smoothly, almost as if it were done without thought, one of the warriors raised his bow and leveled an arrow directly at Garion. Asharak swung his arm quickly and knocked the bow aside just as the steel-pointed shaft was loosed. The arrow sang in the air and clattered against the stones of the wall a few feet to Garino’s left.
“Alive, idiot,” Asharak snarled and struck the bowman a crushing blow to the side of the head. The bowman fell twitching to the stone floor.

And to end the chapter, Garion books it, with Asharak in hot pursuit.

Guess I have to revise the opinion I had of the compulsion above if it also contained obedience commands to it, and was still light enough to not attract Polgara’s attention. That’s got some craft and finesse involved to get it to such a refined way. That said, I don’t know if Asharak has also put a mind whammy on the Cherek soldiers with him, but if he did, then the “get him! No, alive, fool!” part is the classic problem of your mind-controlled minions taking your commands literally. Which, y’know, makes me wonder whether there’s been better stories than this written about, say, computer programmers who figure out how to best exploit their mind-control powers because they’re so used to working with computers and their tendency to execute exactly the instructions they were given, rather than whatever was intended by those instructions.

In any case, that’s actually enough action to satisfy me for this chapter. And also suggests that this might have been a good opening chapter, with much of what led up to this being told in an extended flashback, or in flashbacks as the action continues from this point forward. Especially considering the next chapter is a chase sequence, the kind that would be part of any survival horror or mystery game where you have to evade the murderer and/or his allies long enough to make it to the next segment.

Garion, for his part, realizes early on that he can’t tell friend from foe for the most part, and so he runs to try and stay away from everybody until he can see someone he knows for certain is an ally. He also realizes that just choosing corridors at random is likely to put him back at risk as much as it is to get him out of it.

His headlong flight was dangerous. Asharak or his men could wait around any corner to seize him, and he knew that the Murgo could quickly re-establish that strange bond between them that Aunt Pol had shattered with her touch. It was that which had to be avoided at any cost. Once Asharak had him again, he would never let go. The only alternative to him was to find some place to hide.

In trying to do so, Garion gets himself cornered on a staircase between two Cherek warriors, but rather than take any interest in him, the two warriors have it out with each other, stabbing and slashing each other until they go tumbling down the stairs and Garion has an exit. Eventually, he ducks into an old and dusty bedchamber, and while he tries to reorient himself based on the view from the window, he’s no closer to knowing where he is than when he started. This room does, however, have a hidden passageway behind one of the drapes in the room. And then Garion has another smart moment.

He turned back toward the chamber and was about to jump down from the chest when he stopped suddenly. There, clearly in the dust which lay heavily on the floor, were his footprints.
He hopped quickly down and grabbed up the bolster from the long-unused bed. He spread it out on the floor and dragged it around the room, erasing the footprints. He knew that he could not completely conceal the fact that someone had been in the room, but he could obliterate the footprints which, because of their size, would immediately make it obvious to Asharak or any of his men that whoever had been hiding here was not yet full-grown. When he finished, he tossed the bolster back on the bed. The job wasn’t perfect, but at least it was better than it had been.
Then there was a shout in the corridor outside and the ring of steel on steel.
Garion took a deep breath and plunged into the dark passageway behind the drapes.

Which is again disorienting, and in the pitch blackness, Garion decides to move more slowly so as not to risk falling down a staircase he can’t see, but eventually Garion is able to recognize something and discovers that he’s found yet another place where he can eavesdrop, but this time it’s on Anheg’s throne room, where another part of the drama is about to play out. The Earl of Jarvik, the banished traitor, has been captured, thanks to the timely warning about his coming, and Anheg is looking for answers. Which Jarvik is uninterested in giving to him.

“I don’t have anything to say, Anheg,” he said defiantly. “If the luck had gone differently, I’d be sitting on your throne right now. I took my chance, and that’s the end of it.”
“Not quite,” Anheg said. “I want the details. You might as well tell me. One way or another, you’re going to talk.”
“Do your worst,” Jarvik sneered. “I’ll bite my own tongue before I tell you anything.”
“We’ll see about that,” Anheg said grimly.
“That won’t be necessary, Anheg,” Aunt Pol said, walking slowly toward the captive. “There’s an easier way to persuade him.”
“I’m not going to say anything,” Jarvik told her. “I’m a warrior and I’m not afraid of you, witch-woman.”
[…big mistake. Belgarath cautions Polgara about “going to extremes,” but Polgara says she can handle it…]
The Earl of Jarvik began to sweat and tried desperately to pull his eyes away from Aunt Pol’s gaze, but it was hopeless. Her will commanded him, locking his eyes. He trembled, and his face grew pale. She made no move, no gesture, but merely stood before him, her eyes burning into his brain.
And then, after a moment, he screamed. Then he screamed again and collapsed, his weight sagging down in the hands of the two men who held him.
“Take it away,” he whimpered, shuddering uncontrollably. “I’ll talk, but please take it away.”
Silk, now lounging near Anheg’s throne, looked at Hettar. “I wonder what he saw,” he said.
“I think it might be better not to know,” Hettar replied.
Queen Islena had watched intently as if hoping to gain some hint of how the trick was done. She winced visibly when Jarvik screamed, pulling her eyes away.
“All right, Jarvik,” Anheg said, his tone strangely subdued. “Begin at the beginning. I want it all.”
“It was a little thing at first,” Jarvik said in a shaking voice. “There didn’t seem to be any harm in it.”
“There never does,” Brand said.

And now I have another one of those burning questions that will not actually be resolved. Namely, how often did Polgara use compulsion or terror-vision on Garion? Given how much Polgara tries to keep Garion in submission and lays into him whenever she shows the slightest sliver of independence, I have to wonder how much of her ability to keep him close to her has to do with Garion not actually having a choice to leave and experiencing a significant amount of additional terror to make sure he sees Polgara as someone to be obeyed because she is feared, rather than loved. It would explain some amount of this plot, at least, even if it would paint Polgara as an even greater monster than she already is.

The Earl of Jarvik’s confession also serves as a neat worldbuilding opportunity, as we finally get to understand why everyone treats the presence of red Angarak gold as an inherently evil thing. And also confirms for me that it’s not just the Murgos who are involved in intelligence and subversion activities, although it doesn’t actually remove my curiosity about why Angaraks aren’t shot on sight.

“I’d sailed to Kotu in Drasnia, and I met a Nadrak merchant named Grashor there. He seemed to be a good enough fellow, and after we’d gotten to know each other he asked me i I’d be interested in a profitable venture. I told him that I was an earl and not a common tradesman, but he persisted. He said he was nervous about the pirates who live on the islands in the Gulf of Cherek and n earl’s ship manned by armed warriors was not likely to be attacked. His cargo was a single chest—not very large. I think it was some jewels he’d managed to smuggle past the customs houses in Boktor, and he wanted them delivered to Darine in Sendaria. I said that I wasn’t really interested, but then he opened his pursed and poured out gold. The gold was bright red, I remember, and I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off it. I did need money—who doesn’t after all?—and I really couldn’t see any dishonor in doing what he asked.
[…turns out the delivery was to Asharak…]
“As we’d agreed,” Jarvik continued, “Asharak paid me a sum equal to what Grashor had given me, and I came away from the affair with a whole pouch of gold. Asharak told me that I’d done them a great favor and that if I ever needed more gold, he’d be happy to find ways for me to earn it.”
“I now had more gold that I’d ever had at one time before, but it somehow seemed that it wasn’t enough. For some reason I felt that I needed more.”
“It’s the nature of Angarak gold,” Mister Wolf said. “It calls to its own. The more one has, the more it comes to possess him. That’s why Murgos are so lavish with it. Asharak wasn’t buying your services, Jarvik; he was buying your soul.”

Jarvik continues to explain that his mind never saw himself as doing anything dishonorable as he answered Asharak’s questions for gold, and that the gold continued to be an obsession with wanting even more of it than he already had, so he continued to go back to Asharak to ask for more things to do to get more gold. Which eventually culminated in stealing the information about the council of Anheg: “At first I said no, because I knew it would be dishonorable, but then he showed me the gold, and I couldn’t say no any more.” Which then leads to further revelations about what Asharak wanted (Garion) and the attempted coup.

Before we close out the chapter, I want to talk about red Angarak gold and its apparent mental compulsive powers. One, do they use a different currency in the Angarak lands, or are they also using this gold that has the compulsion on it to want to amass more and hoard it without spending it? If so, how does the actual Angarak economy function? We already know that at least some of their goods get exported to other kingdoms and countries, but that presumably requires money that can be spent without having to make a will save against hoarding. And, perhaps more importantly, if all Angarak gold has this function, we’re back to the question of why Angaraks aren’t shot on sight. Their warriors are spies, at least some of their merchants are spies (if they’re not warrior-spies posing as merchants), and the currency they want to pay with has mind-altering properties. If any of those things are known, then Angaraks get shot on sight. If multiple of those things are known, then Angaraks get shot on sight with prejudice, and possibly even get shot at intervals that correspond to “how fast can we load the really long-range weapons and fire them”, if not shot at the rate of “they’re all Always Chaotic Evil, cleanse them from the planet and make Torak a God without followers.” But this is also the world that allows potentially hostile and expansionary foreign powers to station fortifications and legions in their kingdoms, as well as all the other examples that we’ve seen so far where it would be a fair shake to quote Spaceballs in a different way and say that Evil will always win because Good is dumb in this world. I know we need the evil race to do evil or the adventure doesn’t happen, but the worldbuild to this point hasn’t given me a really good reason as to why the evil people should be able to pull off what they’re planning, much less gather a toehold of strength to begin that planning.

As it is, the explicit acknowledgment that Garion is a target (and always has been) sends Polgara into a rage of her own.

Aunt Pol spun with eyes blazing and the white lock at her brow almost incandescent in the midnight of her hair. The Earl of Jarvik flinched as her glare fell on him.
“If anything’s happened to the boy, Jarvik, men will tremble at the memory of your fate for a thousand years,” she told him.
It had gone far enough,. Garion was ashamed and a little frightened by the fury of Aunt Pol’s reaction.
“I’m all right, Aunt Pol,” he called down to her through the narrow slot in the wall. “I’m up here.”
“Garion?” She looked up, trying to see him. “Where are you?”
“Up here near the ceiling,” he said, “behind the wall.”
“How did you get up there?”
“I don’t know. Some men were chasing me, and I ran. This is where I ended up.”
“Come down here at once.”
“I don’t know how, Aunt Pol,” he said. “I ran so far and took so many turns that I don’t know how to get back. I’m lost.”
“All right,” she said, regaining her composure. “Stay where you are. We’ll think of a way to get you down.”
“I hope so,” he said.

And that closes out Chapter Eighteen, with Polgara very clearly mad that something bad might have happened to Garion. Although, with the way she’s been, I’m thinking it’s 99% the possibility of having to wait for yet another prophesied heir and 1% because she might actually give a damn about Garion, despite her own best efforts not to.

With the actual action concluded for this book, the three chapter wind-down begins next week. And yes, it does take them three chapters to wind this all down.

Deconstruction Roundup for August 20, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who, I suppose, cannot be surprised that other people are unwilling to do simple things to protect others.)

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.

Christine Kelley: Eruditorum Press

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorum Press

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are hoping for the magic wand that allows you to remove the everyday sadists from your life and workplace so that they stop doing stupid things for petty reasons.)

Pawn of Prophecy: The Hunt

Last time, Garion threw a punch and got a kiss, and both he and Durnik were propositioned by some Cherek maids who seemed quite willing to have a good time with them. Polgara, upon hearing what happened with Garion, was yet again angry that Garion was allowed to behave like a normal boy, and Garion got so close to just saying “Fuck all of you, I’m going home” over it, but alas, since he’s the MacGuffin, he can’t actually leave. Nor is he allowed to do anything but have impotent rage and depression at his situation, rather than attempting something rash.

Pawn of Prophecy, Chapters 15 and 16: Content Notes: Child Endangerment

Chapter 15 starts in much the same way as Chapter 14. Barak proposes a boar hunt to get out of the house and asks for people to come along. Silk gets voluntold by Rhodar and Porenn to go along, Durnik assents, the Earl of Seline politely declines, Hettar gets to get out, and Barak asks Garion if he wants to come along. We all know where this is going.

“Well, lad?” Barak asked Garion.
“Have you lost your wits entirely, Barak?” Aunt Pol snapped. “Didn’t you get him into enough trouble yesterday?”
That was the last straw. The sudden elation he’d felt at Barak’s invitation turned to anger. Garion gritted his teeth and threw away all caution. “If Barak doesn’t think I’ll just be in the way, I’ll be glad to go along,” he announced defiantly.
Aunt Pol stared at him, her eyes suddenly very hard.
“Your cub’s growing teeth, Pol,” Mister Wolf chuckled.
“Be still, father,” Aunt Pol said, still glaring at Garion.
“Not this time, Miss,” the old man said with a hint of iron in his voice. “He’s made his decision, and you’re not going to humiliate him by unmaking it in front of him. Garion isn’t a child now. You may not have noticed, but he’s almost man high and filling out now. He’ll soon be fifteen, Pol. You’re going to have to relax your grip sometime, and now’s as good a time as any to start treating him like a man.”
She looked at him for a moment. “Whatever you say, father,” she said at last with deceptive meekness. “I’m sure we’ll want to discuss this later, though—in private.”
Mister Wolf winced.
Aunt Pol looked at Garion then. “Try to be careful, dear,” she said, “and when you come back, we’ll have a nice long talk, won’t we?”

Not in private, you won’t. Or at all, preferably, since it’s pretty clear that was two threats delivered in a row. I have to hand it to Eddings, he’s doing a bang-up job of showcasing how abusers can control themselves when they have to, or when something that has greater authority than them threatens to use it. And how what seems to be perfect innocence or innocuous phrases are really very much dark threats delivered to the people that have had the temerity to cross the abuser or to suggest that perhaps they should not be an abuser. Pol’s supposed to be heroic, and so is Belgarath, but this feels like one of those works that would be waved about as proof if newer allegations of child abuse had appeared against the author, because it’s really quite accurate.

Also, the time to relax the grip was quite some time ago, and the time to start treating him like an independent being was also some significant time ago. I can only imagine how much better-adjusted Garion would be to all of this had he been fostered by Durnik or Faldor, instead of Polgara.

As with all of his adventures, save the one with Maidee, the reality of the situation is much less appealing than the thought of it, this time delivered in the form of a mail shirt that is never comfortable, and every time Garion tries to find comfort, new discomforts appear. There was also a little banter about how unlikely the chance is that someone’s going to get seriously hurt, even though it’s nonzero, and the joys of doing things that carry a little risk. Silk suggests the risk could be achieved by dicing instead, but Barak laughs at that possibility because he’s seen Silk play dice.

Oh, and Barak tries to kill Martje, the blind apparent-seer.

The ragged old blind woman from the temple stepped from a doorway as they passed in the bright morning sun. “Hail, Lord Barak,” she croaked. “Thy Doom is at hand. Thou shalt taste of it before this day’s sun finds its bed.”
Without a word Barak rose in his sleigh, took up a boar spear and cast it with deadly accuracy full at the old woman.
With surprising speed, the witch-woman swung her staff and knocked the spear aside in midair. “It will avail thee not to try to kill old Martje.” She laughed scornfully. “Thy spear shall not find her, neither shall thy sword. Go thou, Barak. Thy Doom awaits thee.” And then she turned toward the sleigh in which Garion say beside the startled Durnik. “Hail, Lord of Lords,” she intoned. “Thy peril this day shall be great, but thou shall survive it. And it is thy peril which shall reveal the mark of the beast which is the Doom of thy friend Barak.” And then she bowed and scampered away before Barak could lay his hands on another spear.

I do believe that Barak would decide that since Martje didn’t heed his warnings beforehand, he’ll just execute her himself. What I don’t believe is that Marje has enough strength to knock aside a spear flung by Barak. Deflect it enough so that it rings off something solid, yes, since she’s clearly a blessed entity. But knock aside something meant to kill big boars, thrown with deadly intent by a warrior in his prime so that it doesn’t even threaten her? That’s a lot less believable.

Anyway, the advice given about boar hunting is “stand in its way when it comes running through and spear it. Then hide behind a tree,” because it’s likely the boar isn’t just going to lay down and die. And if Garion misses, by accident? Climb the tree, because it’s almost a guarantee that the boar is going to be angry as well as being unwounded. Having been left with a couple of spears and these directions, Garion settles in to wait, noticing things like the size of the boar tracks, and thinks that it might be a good idea to just climb the tree now, before angrily berating himself for cowardice, concluding death is preferable to hiding. Which the dry voice in his head snarks him for.

The dry voice in his mind advised him that he spent far too much time worrying about things like that. Until he was grown, no one would consider him a man, so why should he go to all the trouble of trying to seem brave when it wouldn’t do any good anyway?
The forest was very quiet now, and the snow muffled all sounds. No bird sang, and there was only the occasional padded thump of snow sliding from overloaded branches to the earth beneath. Garion felt terribly alone. What was he doing here? What business had a good, sensible Sendarian boy here in the endless forests of Cherek, awaiting the charge of a savage wild pig with only a pair of unfamiliar spears for company? What has the pig ever done to him? He realized that he didn’t even particularly like the taste of pork.

Amazing how when you actually let someone off the leash, they get to make their own decisions and have their own feelings, and even possibly think about whether it was a good idea to do something risky like this is in the first place! Polgara could have gotten her desired result of Garion wanting to stay safer without having to try and Mother Gothel him all the time.

That said, Garion is once again in exactly the correct place to eavesdrop on the next relevant piece of plot, as the green-cloaked man appears to talk with three others in this supposedly deserted place about who has arrived at the palace, what the conversation is like in the secret conference, and whether or not there was a boy accompanying them, because the one person who is not in their party was curious about the boy. The man in the green cloak is directed to get closer until he can hear what’s being discussed in the hall, and the conspirators depart. Which allows for the pigs to arrive, and after letting a sow and her children by, Garion is unlucky enough to encounter the boar, and his battle-rage comes to the surface again.

As in the long-ago fight with Rundorig or in the scuffle with Brill’s hirelings in the dark streets of Muros, Garion felt his blood begin to surge, and there was a wild ringing in his ears. He seemed to hear a defiant, shouted challenge and could scarcely accept the fact that it came from his own throat. He suddenly realized that he was stepping into the middle of the trail and crouching with his spear braced and leveled at the massive beast.
[…the boar charges, Garion catches it full on with his spear, but the boar breaks the spear and then hits Garion into a tree, where he starts seeing stars. Or, in this case, bears…]
And then Barak was there, roaring and charging through the snow—but somehow it seemed not to be Barak. Garion’s eyes, glazed from the shock of the blow to his head, looked uncompehendingly at something that could not be true. It was Barak, there could be no doubt of that, but it was also something else. Oddly, as if somehow occupying the same space as Barak, there was also a huge, hideous bear. The images of the two figures crashing through the snow were superimposed, their movements identical as if in sharing the same space they also shared the same thoughts.

That must be that Doom that Martje was talking about. The bear-man crushes and kills the boar as Garion passes out from the head shot he took from hitting the tree. He briefly resurfaces to see Barak back to himself and Silk chiding him for having no self-preservation instincts, then passes out again. He comes back to when they’ve returned to the palace, and, of course, Aunt Pol is both terrified and livid.

And then they were in the palace, and Barak was carrying him, and Aunt Pol was there, white-faced at the sight of all the blood.
“It’s not his,” Barak assured her quickly. “He speared a boar, and it bled on him while they were tussling. I think the boy’s all right—a little rap on the head is all.”
“Bring him,” Aunt Pol said curtly and led the way up the stairs toward Garion’s room.
Later, with his head and chest wrapped and a foul-tasting cup of Aunt Pol’s brewing making him light-headed and sleepy, Garion lay in bed listening as Aunt Pol finally turned on Barak. “You great overgrown dolt,” she raged. “Do you see what all your foolishness has done?”
“The lad’s very brave,” Barak said, his voice low and sunk in a kind of bleak melancholy.
“Brave doesn’t interest me,” Aunt Pol snapped. Then she stopped. “What’s the matter with you?” she demanded. She reached out suddenly and put her hands on the sides of the huge man’s head. She looked for a moment into his eyes and then slowly released him. “Oh,” she said softly, “it finally happened, I see.”
“I couldn’t control it, Polgara,” Barak said in misery.
“I’ll be all right, Barak,” she said, gently touching his bowed head.
“It’ll never be all right again,” Barak said.
“Get some sleep,” she told him. “It won’t seem so bad in the morning.”
The huge man turned and quietly left the room.
Garion knew they were talking about the strange thing he had seen when Barak has rescued him from the boar and he wanted to ask Aunt Pol about it; but the bitter drink she had given him pulled him down into a deep and dreamless sleep before he could put the words together to ask the question.

And with that bit of adventure, Chapter 15 is all done.

I have three things I want to know about with this entire expedition. First, whose brilliant idea was it to leave the nearly fifteen year-old first-time hunter alone? That’s the kind of thing that a responsible parent would tear strips out of someone for, so for once, Polgara is justified in her anger at Barak. Garion should not have been unaccompanied on this (and neither should Durnik) at all, so that if and when his battle-rage took over, he would also have an experienced hunter to help drive more spears into the boar before it could potentially gore Garion.

Second, this battle-rage thing with Garion should be a known thing at this point, and it probably would have been a known thing were it not for Polgara trying to make sure that Garion never gets any experience at all in life. If she had let him experience life, she might have figured out that when Garion gets hurt or challenged in a particular way, he loses his ability to think and will have to hurt something or get hurt enough for his berserker mode to subside. It started with Rundorig, and it might have expanded to some other kids on Faldor’s Farm, or other people, before they figured out how to keep it under control and to explain to Garion what is going on, so he understands what kinds of situations will cause him to go into the rage and can either avoid them or accept the consequences of allowing it to happen.

Third, it looks like Barak has been blessed/cursed with some amount of shapeshifting, even if he’s not fully going into Hulk mode yet. If this is supposed to be a blessing of Belar, then presumably, that’s the kind of thing that you’re supposed to ask for before getting, and if this is what a blessing from Belar looks like, I can see why Barak might not want to be particularly devout. Especially if it’s the kind of thing where eventually Barak will turn into a bear permanently and no longer have his human form or intelligence. And everyone around Garion has known this is the case, apparently, with the way that Polgara immediately shifts from scolding to sympathetic. It’s up to Barak to tell others how he wants them to think about such a condition, but if this is something that will eventually be uncontrollable, it seems like it would help to have others aware that it might happen, and under what circumstances, so they can know how to react accordingly.

Chapter 16 can be summed up, mostly, as “Garion tails the man in the green cloak and finds his hiding space where he can hear the conference of the Kings going on in full audio,” but there are some useful pieces in that chapter that are worth quoting, so we’ll go forward into it. First and foremost, Garion gets chewed out by both Belgarath and Polgara for his actions yesterday.

“Have you seen my boar, Mister Wolf?” Garion asked proudly.
“An excellent animal,” Wolf said, though without much enthusiasm, “but didn’t anyone tell you it’s customary to jump out of the way after the boar has been speared?”
“I didn’t really think about it,” Garion admitted, “but wouldn’t that seem—well—cowardly?”
“Were you that concerned about what a pig might think of you?”
“Well,” Garion faltered, “not really, I guess.”
“You’re developing an amazing lack of good sense for one so young,” Wolf observed. “It normally takes years and years to reach the point you seem to have arrived at overnight.” He turned to Aunt Pol, who sat nearby. “Polgara, are you quite certain there’s no hint of Arendish blood in our Garion’s background? He’s been behaving most Arendish lately. First he rides the Great Maelstrom like a rocking horse, and then he tries to break a wild boar’s tusks with his ribs. Are you sure you didn’t drop him on his head when he was a baby?”
Aunt Pol smiled, but said nothing.
“I hope you recover soon, boy,” Wolf said, “and try to give some thought to what I’ve said.
Garion sulked, mortally offended by Mister Wolf’s words. Tears welled up in his eyes despite all of his efforts to control them.
“Thank you for stopping by, Father,” Aunt Pol said.
“It’s always a pleasure to call on you, my daughter,” Wolf said and quietly left the room.
“Why did he have to talk to me like that?” Garion burst out, wiping his nose. “Now he’s gone and spoiled it all.”
“Spoiled what, dear?” Aunt Pol asked, smoothing the front of her grey dress.
“All of it,” Garion complained. “The kings all said I was very brave.”
“Kings say things like that,” Aunt Pol said. ” I wouldn’t pay too much attention, if I were you.”
“I was brave, wasn’t I?”
“I’m sure you were, dear,” she said. “And I’m sure the pig was very impressed.”
“You’re as bad as Mister Wolf is,” Garion accused.
“Yes, dear,” she said. “I suppose I probably am, but that’s only natural. Now, what would you like for supper?”
“I’m not hungry,” Garion said defiantly.
“Really? You probably need a tonic then. I’ll fix you one.”
“I think I’ve changed my mind,” Garion said quickly.
“I rather thought you might,” Aunt Pol said. And then, without explanation, she suddenly put her arms around him and held him close to her for a long time. “What am I going to do with you?” she said finally.
“I’m all right, Aunt Pol,” he assured her.
“This time perhaps,” she said, taking his face between her hands. “It’s a splendid thing to be brave, my Garion, but try once in a while to think a little bit first. Promise me.”
“All right, Aunt Pol,” he said, a little embarrassed by all this. Oddly enough, she still acted as if she really cared about him. The idea that there could still be a bond between them even if they were not related began to dawn on him. It could never be the same, of course, but at least it was something. He began to feel a little better about the whole thing.

This is the closest both of them have come to sound parenting, and even so, it still leaves and entire everything and a half to be desired, but I think this is the first time that we’ve seen Polgara express the idea that she’s worried about Garion.

That everything and a half is still very important, though. Because there’s a deliberate focus about how the pig doesn’t give a fig if Garion is brave or not that’s meant to prevent Garion from counterattacking that it’s not the pig that’s important. The kings think he’s brave, but the people I’d want to hear from is whether Barak, Durnik, and Silk think he’s brave, because when Garion chose to ride the Bore, it was Barak who looked approvingly on this, and Barak who set Garion up on this trip in the first place. Garion, like a perfectly normal teenager, is looking to the other people in his life who are not his parental figures to see what will make them like him and think of him as a man. In Garion’s case, it might very well be to try and build allies just in case he does have to run and see who might be willing to try and keep him away from Belgarath and Polgara. It’s clear to Garion that he’s going to have to look elsewhere than Polgara and Belgarath for working and healthy models of what manhood is. Which means having to try on different roles and ways of being. This is one of those spots where they could be supportive (yep, you managed to bag a boar) while also expressing their worry (next time, remember they said to run once you’ve stabbed the boar) or inquire about something (did your battle-rage take over there? We need to figure out how to control that better.) And again, when Garion is trying to assert some independence, Polgara goes right back to threatening him with punishment if he doesn’t comply with her. Garion hasn’t been allowed to learn anything from this, and Polgara is refusing to learn the idea that you do better with anybody if you let them make decisions on their own, especially the ones where either or any of the outcomes is acceptable. It’s one of those things they teach us about raising children in this era – you let kids exercise choice and make decisions in situations where all of the outcomes are okay, so that children learn that they can make decisions and that good grownups will respect those decisions. And when there are small unacceptable outcomes to decisions, sometimes you let them happen anyway so that a child learns what kinds of decisions have bad outcomes, but only when the child is mature enough to make the connection. It’s not the pig’s opinion that’s important, it’s the men’s, and refusing to acknowledge this will only mean even more of these kinds of situations where there’s a lack of good sense, because Garion has no functionally healthy male role models at the moment. So, after having had any kind of pride or accomplishment for what he did stripped of him by his parental figures (and if he wasn’t a MacGuffin, he might be allowed to feel some of those strong emotions that happen and make people a danger to themselves and others when they’ve been mocked for things that were important to them), and the plot contrives to have everyone but him called into the council of kings. (As was also noted, the entire telling of his story with Maidee was done in such a way to leave him without any pride or accomplishment, and this is Barak and Silk telling the story. So they were definitely not helping Garion at all themselves in showcasing what a good male role model is like.) Which leaves Garion to go exploring, and he comes across a set of footprints in what is supposed to have been an abandoned and run-down part of the case that suggest to him that there’s mischief afoot. Garion reflects on the possible dangers he knows about (green cloaked man, Grolim, nobleman), and sensibly realizes he’s not armed well enough should he encounter any of them in his investigation. So he grabs a rusty sword from a peg and continues. Here I want to stop and wonder if Barak has been giving Garion warrior lessons regularly in the way that Silk has been giving him language lessons. Because Garion took the charge with the spear, and he grabbed a sword, and this is one of those situations where it would really help if the narrative could tell us “and Garion, due to his training with Barak, would be able to hold his own long enough to run if he encountered someone” or “Garion’s confidence in his abilities would not be backed up by his skill if it were to be put to the test, but after his encounter with the boar, he understood the value of hiding before fighting.” Instead, the narrative has Garion trail the green-cloaked man (he catches sight of the cloak) until he almost runs into him and is only stopped from it by hearing the conference of kings far too well for what is supposed to be a secure room.

The conversation is about “the Apostate,” the person who stole the orb, and the likelihood that he’ll use it to resurrect “the Accursed One” from slumber. Which was not something our prologue told us at all. As far as I knew, Torak was supposed to be awake and active in his own domain. Belgarath says the power’s there to do the thing, but wielded wrong, it’ll backfire and kill the Apostate, so he’s in no rush to use it that way. Silk suggests it may not be an issue, anyway.

Then Silk spoke. “Didn’t you say that he might want the thing for himself? Maybe he plans to leave his Master in undisturbed slumber and use the power he’s stolen to raise himself as king in the lands of the Angaraks.”
King Rhodar of Drasnia chuckled. “Somehow I don’t see the Grolim Priesthood so easily relinquishing their power in the lands of Angarak and bowing down to an outsider. The High Priest of the Grolims is no mean sorcerer himself, I’m told.”
“Forgive me, Rhodar,” King Anheg said, “but if the power’s in the thief’s hands, the Grolims won’t have any choice but to accept his dominion. I’ve studied the power of this thing, and if even half of what I’ve read it true, he can use it to rip down Rak Cthol as easily as you’d kick apart an anthill. Then, if they still resist, he could depopulate all of Cthol Murgos from Rak Goska to the Tolnedarn border. No matter what, however, whether it’s the Apostate or the Accursed One who eventually raises that power, the Angaraks will follow and they’ll come west.”

As a practical matter, I know that the two Drasnians, Fulrach, the Earl of Seline, Belgarath, and Polgara are all fluent in the Drasnian secret language. Barak’s not, by his own admission, but if Anheg and Cho-Hag are, even if that leaves Durnik out in the cold, because he wasn’t paying attention during Garion’s lessons, all of the important folks here could be communicating by hand. Which, of course, would mean Garion can’t overhear the plot, but if what he hears is the weather and other such pleasantries, Garion is smart enough to know that the real conversation is happening where it can’t be heard. Which might give him the boost he needs to get out of there and go tell someone that will listen to him about he spy and where they are holing up, so that the next time there’s a conference, the guards can wait until the spy is in place and then apprehend him.

Secondly, despite the clear “this thing could cause mass destruction if it is used by the forces of evil,” there’s still basically no urgency to the quest of getting it back. Polgara advises against stirring up too many armies, because armies are visible and tend to breed violence, and Belgarath agrees that everyone needs to be informed about what might happen, but really only the Alorn Kings need to be on a war footing until there are actual Angarak invaders.

Fulrach thinks it’s a wise idea, but he’s not too keen on Sendaria’s chances in an invasion.

King Fulrach spoken then in a troubled voice. “It’s easy for the Alorn Kings to talk of war,” he said. “Alorns are warriors, but my Sendaria is a peaceful kingdom. We don’t have castles or fortified keeps, and my people ar farmers and tradesmen. Kal Torak made a mistake when he chose the battlefield at Vo Mimbre, and it’s not likely that the Angaraks will make the same mistake again. I think they’ll strike directly across the grasslands of northern Alagaria and fall upon Sendaria. We have a lot of food and very few soldiers. Our country would provide an ideal base for a campaign in the west, and I’m afraid that we’d fall quite easily.”
Then, to Garion’s amazement, Durnik spoke. “Don’t cheapen the men of Sendaria so, Lord King,” he said in a firm voice. “I know my neighbors, and they’ll fight. We don’t know very much about swords and lances, but we’ll fight. If Angaraks come to Sendaria, they won’t find the taking as easy as some might imagine, and if we put torches to the fields and storehouses there won’t be all that much food for them to eat.”
There was a long silence, and then Fulrach spoke again in a voice strangely humble. “Your words shame me, Goodman Durnik,” he said. “Maybe I’ve been king for so long that I’ve forgotten what it means to be a Sendar.”
“One remembers that there are only a few passes leading through the western escarpment into Sendaria,” Hettar, the son of King Cho-Hag, said quietly. “A few avalanches in the right places could make Sendaria as inaccessible as the moon. If the avalanches took place at the right times, whole armies of Angaraks might find themselves trapped in those narrow corridors.”
“Now that’s an endearing thought,” Silk chuckled. “Then we could let Durnik put his incendiary impulses to a better use than burning turnip patches. Since Torak One-eye seems to enjoy the smell of burning sacrifice so much, we might be able to accommodate him.”

Further eavesdropping is interrupted by the presence of guards patrolling in the area, and Garion manages to avoid being spotted by the man in the green cloak as he passes by because the man is looking after his own safety. Soon after that danger is cleared, Garion skedaddles himself, because he doesn’t want to get caught by guards looking for intruders. And decides that he’s going to go tell someone who will believe him and get everyone else to believe them that the situation is as Garion describes – Barak. And that ends chapter sixteen.

Also, it’s refreshing to see Durnik’s bloodthirsty impulses come out to play. That Sendarian practicality extends to knowing how to fight a war of attrition against invaders, and with the suggestion that a significant amount of the invaders could be destroyed or trapped by avalanching closed the mountain passes, that would make Sendar a very expensive place to capture, especially if every time the horde dug themselves free of an avalanche, a new one dropped on them almost immediately after. I’m not sure what kind of burning Silk has in mind to accompany being pile-driven, but I’m sure Durnik would take to it with a delight, especially if it was supposed to be delivered by a war machine that he could build and put to use. And Durnik, as I recall, was also the one who thought the best way to handle Brill was to thump him repeatedly until he decided it wasn’t worth trying to pursue them any more. I’m kind of hopeful that we’ll get to see Durnik mess someone up thoroughly with a smile on his face as he does it. Possibly because he sees that other man as a threat to Polgara.

Next week, perhaps, there will be actual action to accompany all of this buildup.

Deconstruction Roundup for August 13, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who understands that there are no safe enclaves from either the Red Death or the Heat Death.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

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

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are hoping for the magic wand that allows you to remove the everyday sadists from your life and workplace so that they stop doing stupid things for petty reasons.)

Pawn of Prophecy: Continued Attempts at Action

Last time, the Kings finally decided to go into conference, Garion got told to be elsewhere, saw someone doing a suspicious thing, but wasn’t able to run down that option. We’re more than halfway through this book, and there’s been no plot, and only occasionally have the characters been asking questions that we were asking in the first few chapters.

Pawn of Prophecy: Chapter Fourteen: Content Notes: Toxic Masculinity, Misogyny, A One-Punch Fight

So, while we still continue to wait for an actual plot to appear, we spend our idle time learning about the various relationships (or perceptions thereof) of our various characters, as told to or filtered through Garion.

“It’s very sad,” Durnik said. “Silk told me about it yesterday. Barak fell in love with her when they were both very young, but she was highborn and didn’t take him very seriously.”
“How does it happen that they’re married, then?” Garion asked.
“It was her family’s idea,” Durnik explained. “After Barak became the Earl of Trellheim, they decided that a marriage would give them a valuable connection. Merel objected, but it didn’t do her any good. Silk said that Barak found out after they were married that she’s really a shallow person, but of course it was too late by then. She does spiteful things to try to hurt him, and he spends as much time away from home as possible.”
[…And he has two daughters, that he loves greatly…]
Garion sighed. “I wish there was something we could do,” he said.
“We can’t interfere between a man and his wife,” Durnik said. “Things like that just aren’t done.”

Which suggests that divorce is not a thing that happens in this fantasy world, even though just about any situation where divorce would be a possibility would favor Barak and not Merel. Now, if there are some other reasons why Barak and his family would want to continue with this arranged marriage, then I can see both of them hating it and suffering through it all the same. But for things the way they are now, there’s no reason for Barak to stay in the marriage if Merel is a spiteful person.

Then again, this is all according to Silk, who we have already well-established is pretty and misogynistic, so it’s entirely possible that he’s just telling stuff because he likes getting a rise out of Barak or because there are very few women that Silk isn’t going to disparage. And speaking of Silk:

“Did you know Silk’s in love with his aunt?” Garion said without stopping to think.
“Garion!” Durnik’s voice was shocked. “That’s an unseemly thing to say.”
“It’s true all the same,” Garion said defensively. “Of course she’s not really his aunt, I guess. She’s his uncle’s second wife. It’s not exactly like she was his real aunt.”
“She’s married to his uncle,” Durnik said firmly. “Who made up this scandalous story?”
“Nobody made it up,” Garion said. I was watching his face when he talked to her yesterday. It’s pretty plain the way he feels about her.”
“I’m sure you just imagined it,” Durnik said disapprovingly. He stood up. “Let’s look around. That’ll give us something better to do than sit here gossiping about our friends. It’s really not the sort of thing decent men do.”
“All right,” Garion agreed quickly, a little embarrassed.

Wouldn’t it be nice if people actually believed Garion at some point, rather than continuing to dismiss him and his pretty profound observational skills? And lying skills to go along with them? But that might make him dangerously close to being a protagonist. And then nobody would be able to scold him for being a supposed gossip. (Which, again, with Durnik, I’m inclined to read that is “Gossiping is a womanish thing, and we are Men, so we should not do womanish things.”)

The boys go down to the kitchen, where Garion finds that not all sculleries are run with Polgara’s iron grip, with people shouting orders nobody obeys, horseplay, pranks (a spoon left by a fire so someone would pick it up unsuspectingly and a hat thrown into a soup pot) and other such chaos. So they head to the smithy instead, where Durnik is stopped by someone who has a clear interest in him.

In the hallway outside the kitchen a maid with reddish-blond hair and a pale green dress cut quite low at the bodice loitered.
[…Durnik asks directions of her to the smithy, like a polite gentleman does, and she inquires some about him instead…]
“How interesting. Perhaps the boy could run this errand for you, and you and I could could talk for a while.” Her look was direct.
Durnik coughed, and his ears reddened. “The smithy?” he asked again.
The maid laughed lightly. “In the courtyard at the end of this corridor,” she said. “I’m usually around here someplace. I’m sure you can find me when you finish your business with the smith.”
“Yes,” Durnik said, “I’m sure I could. Come along, Garion.”
They went on down the corridor and out into a snowy inner courtyard.
“Outrageous!” Durnik said stiffly, his ears still flaming. “The girl has no sense of propriety whatsoever. I’d report her if I knew to whom.”
“Shocking,” Garion agreed, secretly amused by Durnik’s embarrassment.

I don’t actually know whether this is a world that acknowledges the existence of sex workers or not, yet, so I can’t tell whether Durnik is embarrassed that he got propositioned by one, whether he thinks she is one, and has whorephobia, or whether he’s a non-hypocritical prude who really is scandalized at the presence of an unmarried woman being so sexually forward with him, because that’s Not How It’s Done in Sendaria. The rest of this chapter, hopefully, will help us untangle this idea.

After spending time in the smithy (which makes weapons, instead of farm tools like they do in Sendaria), Barak comes to say hello and ask if the two of them would like to accompany them on an errand, with Silk along, because, according to him,

“Your cousin’s warriors dice badly, and I’m tempted to try a few rolls with them. It’d probably be better if I don’t, Most men take offense at losing to strangers.”
Barak grinned. “I’m sure they’d be glad to let you play, Silk,” he said. “They’ve got just as much chance of winning as you do.”
“Just as the sun has as much chance of coming up in the west as in the east,” Silk said.
“Are you that sure of your skill, friend Silk?” Durnik asked.
“I’m sure of theirs,” Silk chuckled. He jumped up. “Let’s go,” he said. “My fingers are starting to itch. Let’s get them away from temptation.”

Which sounds suspiciously like Silk is watching them dice honestly, with honest dice, and knows full well that he would be able to substitute weighted dice, or roll his hands in a specific way so as to always get the number he desires, or some other way of either cheating or near-cheating that would mean he could easily win. Again, this is supposed to be one of the good guys who is now begging to get away from temptation because he knows how easily he could sucker others who are nominally on the same side as he is.

Along the way, Durnik asks why everyone else seems to have so many names to work with, and Silk says that names are like clothes, they suit for roles, which is why honest men like Durnik only ever need the one. Which Durnik takes offense to, because of the implications that Polgara is being less than honest. Silk smooths it over by saying their dishonesty is usually in the service of not being seen by evil people, which might be believable if it were being delivered by anyone but Silk and in a story not like this one, where Polgara has already demonstrated she’s not above lying or manipulation to get what she wants. The narrative then tells us that Durnik is unconvinced at this, before we get something close to the author actually describing religion in this book.

“Let’s take this street,” Barak suggested. “I don’t want to pass the Temple of Belar today.”
“Why” Garion asked.
“I’m a little behind in my religious duties,” Barak said with a pained look, “and I’d rather not be reminded of it by the High Priest of Belar. His voice is very penetrating, and I don’t like being called down in front of the whole city. A prudent man doesn’t give either a priest or a woman the opportunity to scold him in public.”

Oh, no, wait, false alarm. This is just a bit of misogyny. And also, in a culture that has the name and punishment for witchcraft, they’re remarkably dense about the ways that both religion and witchcraft accusations are used as ways for women to exercise power against men. I blame the author.

We have to go a little further in the chapter to get to actual people with religious practices.

“Hail, Lord Barak,” their leader intoned.
“Hail, Lord Barak,” the others said in unison, still swaying.
Barak bowed stiffly.
“May the arm of Belar protect thee,” the leader said.
“All praise to Belar, Bear-God of Aloria,” the others said.
Barak bowed again and stood until the procession had passed.
“Who were they?” Durnik asked.
“Bear-cultists,” Barak said with distaste. “Religious fanatics.”
“A troublesome group,” Silk said explained. “They have chapters in all the Alorn kingdoms. They’re excellent warriors, but they’re the instruments of the High Priest of Belar. They spend their time in rituals, military training, and interfering in local politics.”
“Where’s this Aloria that spoke of?” Garion asked.
“All around us,” Barak said with a broad gesture. “Aloria used to be all the Alorn kingdoms together. They were all one nation. The cultists want to reunite them.”

After being told that the kingdoms were divided for a reason, to protect a certain something, Garion deduces what it is, and connects it as the thing that’s been stolen and the thing Wolf is seeking, which impresses Barak. But, once again, we have nothing, really, of the state religion here, since Barak explicitly names these cultists as fanatics under the control of the High Priest, and paints them as a political and military force rather than a religious one. Who apparently exist in all the Alorn kingdoms and haven’t been violently suppressed by any of the kings that are there, because they are apparently okay with paramilitary forces not under their control existing openly in their kingdoms. Then again, this is also the place where last chapter, we had wrestling in the streets, and in a part I’m not quoting, we have two old men pelting each other with snowballs, before they go in to drink together, and apparently, in the summer, they pelt each other with rocks instead, and then go drinking, so I think we’re supposed to believe that Camelot Cherek is a silly place full of barbarians who took both INT and WIS as their dump stats.

In exploring this dead end, we hopped over a spot that, as best I can tell, does acknowledge the existence of sex work, but not explicitly.

“Hello, Barak,” a green-eyed young woman called from an upper window. “When are you coming to see me again?”
Barak glanced up, and his face flushed, but he didn’t answer.
“That lady’s talking to you, Barak,” Garion said.
“I heard her,” Barak replied shortly.
“She seems to know you,” Silk said with a sly look.
“She knows everyone,” Barak said, flushing even more. “Shall we move along?”

And then they run into the Bear-Cultists, but this suggests there are sex workers in Cherek, at least, and they’re bold enough to call down to Barak, but Barak is equally as red-faced as Durnik was about the come-on, although for different reasons, potentially. I’m beginning to wonder if the embarrassment is because Garion (or others) are there, and that if they were by themselves or only in the presence of the other men, there would be much less red-faced moving along and much more either boasting or taking the women up on their offers.

The errand that Barak is on is to talk with a shipbuilder about the craft being built for Barak, its specifications, and the like. Garion, realizing this is going to take a lot of time and be incredibly boring to him, spots some people of his own age sledding, realizes that it’s been an age since he’s talked to anyone of his own age, and heads off to talk to them. Which also neatly completes a triple, because it’s Garion’s turn to get embarrassed.

One blond girl particularly attracted his eye. In some ways she reminded him of Zubrette, but there were some differences. Where Zubrette had been petite, this girl was as big as a boy—though she was noticeably not a boy. Her laughter rang out merrily, and her cheeks were pink in the cold afternoon air as she slid down the hill with her long braids flying behind her.
“That looks like fun,” Garion said as her improvised sled came to rest nearby.
“Would you like to try?” she asked, getting up and brushing the snow from her woolen dress.
“I don’t have a sled,” he told her.
“I might let you use mine,” she said, looking at him archly, “if you give me something.”
“What would you want me to give you?” he asked.
“We’ll think of something,” she said, eyeing him boldly. “What’s your name?”
“Garion.”
“What an odd name. Do you come from here?”
“No. I’m from Sendaria.”
“A Sendar? Truly?” Her blue eyes twinkled. “I’ve never met a Sendar before. My name is Maidee.”
Garion inclined his head slightly.
“Do you want to use my sled?” Maidee asked.
“I might like to try it,” Garion said.
“I might let you,” she said, “for a kiss.”
Garion blushed furiously and Maidee laughed.

And yet here we have the possibility that Cherek women are just very forward with their affections and demands. This doesn’t have to be an exclusive either/or, as we can have both assertive women and sex workers (who are apparently stable enough in their position to be able to catcall the Earl of Trellheim and not catch any consequences for it) and we are probably supposed to infer that Sendars are, as a whole, generally more prudish about sex than these barbarians (who wouldn’t understand hat civilized men and women aren’t nearly so forward or open about their courtship.).

Anyway, after Maidee offers the sled for a kiss, a boy stomps over and demands to know who thinks they can talk to his girl without his permission. Garion says he didn’t bother to ask, at which point the other boy threatens to thrash him for his impertinence.

Garion realized that the redhead was feeling belligerent and that a fight was inevitable. The preliminaries—threats, insults and the like—would probably go on for several more minutes, but the fight would take place as soon as the boy in the long tunic had worked himself up to it. Garion decided not to wait. He doubled his fist and punched the larger boy in the nose.
[…Garion gives the other boy a bloody nose from the punch, which stops the fight cold. Garion advises the other boy to put snow on his nose to stop the bleeding, and to stop being such a baby when the other boy claims he hadn’t done anything to deserve getting hit…]
“What if it doesn’t stop bleeding?”
“Then you’ll probably bleed to death,” Garion said in a heartless tone. It was a trick he had learned from Aunt Pol. It worked as well on the Cherek boy as it had on Doroon and Rundorig. The redhead blinked at him and then took a huge handful of snow and held it to his nose.
“Are all Sendars so cruel?” Maidee asked.
“I don’t know all the people in Sendaria,” Garion said. The affair hadn’t turned out well at all, and regretfully he turned and started back to the shipyard.

Escalation like that is a valid way of stopping a fight before it can get underway. And since there aren’t any other people with authority, especially grownups, around to step in to the spectacle of two boys puffing their chests at each other, so that they don’t actually have to fight and can save face, Garion’s decision might have been the right one at the time. (Much of the de-escalation material and training I’ve seen specifically notes that when men and boys are being loud and belligerent with each other and posturing, that’s exactly the right time to step in, if you’re an authority figure, and dismiss them both with finality, so they can blame you as the reason why they had to back down, instead of having to admit they didn’t actually want to fight. Because actual fights don’t start with loud posturing and public displays, they just get straight to business.) By punching the other boy immediately, Garion signaled he was ready for an actual fight. The other boy wasn’t, so he backed off.

Also, I’m not feeling particularly good about Garion using Polgara’s techniques like this, because it indicates that he’s learned them just as well as he’s learning other things he’s been taught. And therefore has internalized them well enough to replicate them. That’s not good at all for Garion’s humanity, and I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to be preserving Garion’s humanity.

And, apparently, at least according to this narrative, Garion punching the other boy also signaled he was Rated M for Manly and gets rewarded accordingly.

“Garion, wait,” Maidee said. She ran after him and caught him by the arm. “You forgot my kiss,” she said, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him soundly on the lips.
“There,” she said, and she turned and ran laughing back up the hill, her blond braids flying behind her.
Barak, Silk, and Durnik were all laughing when he returned to where they stood.
“You were supposed to chase her,” Barak said.
“What for?” Garion asked, flushing at their laughter.
“She wanted you to catch her.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Barak,” Silk said, “I think that one of us is going to have to inform the Lady Polgara that our Garion needs further education.”
“You’re skilled with words, Silk,” Barak said. “I’m sure you ought to be the one to tell her.”
“Why don’t we throw dice for the privilege?” Silk suggested.
“I’ve seen you throw dice before, Silk,” Barak laughed.
“Of course we could simply stay here a while longer,” Silk said slyly. “I rather imagine Garion’s new playmate would be quite happy to complete his education, and that way we wouldn’t have to bother Lady Polgara about it.”
Garion’s ears were flaming. “I’m not as stupid as all that,” he said hotly. “I know what you’re talking about, and you don’t have to say anything to Aunt Pol about it.” He stamped away angrily, kicking at the snow.

Garion knows what they’re talking about, probably from his time kissing Zubrette back on the farm, but he has no experience with it, and if he has actually tried anything with Maidee, I’m almost certain that Polgara would show up with her eyes ablaze and yank him unceremoniously away by his ear, cussing him out and showering the other three with imprecations about their dereliction of duty. Because every other time he’s tried to do something like this, she’s shown up at the crucial moment to attack him.

I also really want to know about Cherek society more, because between the maid, the sex worker, and Maidee, it seems to be a perfectly acceptable part of Cherek society for women to proposition men directly. Do the Chereks have effective birth control? Is abortion of pregnancy considered normal? It is an accepted part of Cherek society that women are free to take whomever they like as lovers, at least until they’re married? Is there any part of Cherek society that prizes virginity in women and wives, or are Cherek women expected to go to the marriage bed with the necessary experience already obtained? We have no frame of reference here, other than Durnik being scandalized and Barak being embarrassed, as to what role and how open the Chereks are about sex and sexuality, especially compared to the Sendars.

While on the way back, Garion spots both the man in green and Asharak the Grolim, and while his mind screams with the need to inform them that their enemy is once again near them, Garion is unable to do so because of a compulsion that settles on him as soon as he sees Asharak. Garion tries a few different ways to get people to think about Murgos and Grolims, but nobody twigs to the idea that Garion’s curiosity might have a second meaning, and so instead the narrative goes to Barak retelling, with exaggerations, Garion’s adventure with Maidee and the other boy, making it clear in the telling what Maidee was putting on offer and Garion refusing. The men laugh at the tale, the Queens either “smile tolerantly” or “laugh openly” in Porenn’s case, and Merel is very disapproving and “faintly contemptuous” of her husband. King Rhodar asks Silk if it’s true, and Silk confirms the bones of the story are. The Earl of Seline suggests getting a minstrel, and then Queen Porenn, who had laughed openly only a few lines ago, says not to tease Garion. (Makes me think the author forgot who was who for a moment, as it would be more consistent for Islena, the Cherek queen, to laugh openly and the other Queens to smile tolerantly, and then Porenn, the one with the high empathy score, to tell everyone else to give Garion a break.)

There is, of course, one person in this group who is not amused at all about this.

Aunt Pol did not seem amused. Her eyes were cold as she looked at Barak. “Isn’t it odd that three grown men can’t keep one boy out of trouble?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
“It was only one blow, my Lady,” Silk protested, “and only one kiss, after all.”
“Really?” she said. “And what’s it going to be the next time? A duel with swords, perhaps, and even greater foolishness afterward?”
“There was no real harm in it, Mistress Pol,” Durnik assured her.
Aunt Pol shook her head. “I thought you at least had good sense, Durnik,” she said, “but now I see that I was wrong.”
Garion suddenly resented her remarks. It seemed that no matter what he did, she was ready to take it in the worst possible light. His resentment flared to the verge of open rebellion. What right had she to say anything about what he did? There was no tie between them, after all, and he could do anything he wanted without her permission if he felt like it. He glared at her in sullen anger.
She caught the look and returned it with a cool expression that seemed almost to challenge him. “Well?” she asked.
“Nothing,” he said shortly.

And that closes out Chapter Fourteen, where Garion almost flounces, but decides that it’s a better idea not to confront Polgara publicly. Given what happened the last time he did that, with Belgarath taking Polgara’s side, Garion exercises wisdom in this matter. Because Silk, Barak, and Durnik aren’t going to seriously cross Polgara in support of Garion, since she has them afraid for reasons of “might actually turn me into a newt, without the prospect of getting better.” Or something similar.

We’re fourteen chapters in without much of actual plot at this point, and it really kind of feels like there could be a different and better story told with all of this, if only a couple variables were shifted around, so that even if we weren’t having plot-adventure, there were still interesting things happening along Garion’s journey to his destiny. Or even the possibility of tension about having good a good roll in the hay or something like that. Instead we just get people making fun of each other.

I assume there’s going to be more of this next week.

Deconstruction Roundup for August 6, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is increasingly interested in a wealth tax of 150% on holdings or incomes above a certain level.)

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.

Christine Kelley: Eruditorum Press

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 are hoping for the magic wand that allows you to remove the everyday sadists from your life and workplace so that they stop doing stupid things for petty reasons.)

Pawn of Prophecy: The Grand Entrance

Last time around, the Tour went to Val Alorn, passing through the Cherek Bore by gathering speed around a maelstrom to shoot through rough seas, where Garion decided he wanted to watch the affair, and he was sequentially abused by Polgara and then Belgarath about that decision and its reasoning and was forced to apologize to his abuser. The trip to Anheg’s palace involved a delay because of half-naked men wrestling and an apparent seer talking to Barak and Garion before getting shooed away and complained that she should be burnt at the stake.

Pawn of Prophecy, Chapter 13: Content Notes: Misogyny

Chapter 13 starts with the arrival of Barak and Garion at the palace, and Silk has upped his sniping game significantly between this and the last chapter. Nobody notices that the nominally genial and good-natured merchant has turned exceedingly bitter and angry, so I’m beginning to think that his happy self was the act and this is his actual personality. The narrative does its part to cement this new idea of Silk by serving up new situations for Silk to snark at.

A woman with long flaxen braids and wearing a deep scarlet cloak trimmed with rich fur stepped out onto the portico at the top of the stairs and stood looking down at them. “Greetings, Lord Barak, Earl of Trellheim and husband,” she said formally.
Barak’s face grew even more somber. “Merel,” he acknowledged with a curt nod.
“King Anheg granted me permission to greet you, my Lord,” Barak’s wife said, “as is my right and my duty.”
“You’ve always been most attentive to your duties, Merel,” Barak said. “Where are my daughters?”
“At Trellheim my Lord,” she said. “I didn’t think it would be a good idea for them to travel so far in the cold.” There was a faintly malicious note in her voice.
Barak sighed. “I see,” he said.
“Was I in error, my Lord?” Merel asked.
“Let it pass,” Barak said.
“If you and your friends are ready, my Lord,” she said, “I’ll escort you to the throne room.”
Barak went up the stairs, briefly and rather formally embraced his wife, and the two of them went through the wide doorway.
“Tragic,” the Earl of Seline murmured, shaking his head as they all went up the stairs to the palace door.
“Hardly that,” Silk said. “After all, Barak got what he wanted, didn’t he?”
“You’re a cruel man, Prince Kheldar,” the earl said.
“Not really,” Silk said. “I’m a realist, that’s all. Barak spent all those years yearning after Merel, and now he’s got her. I’m delighted to see such steadfastness rewarded. Aren’t you?”
The Earl of Seline sighed.

There’s an entire implication here that I’ll be very surprised to see get returned to about Barak’s marriage and how things appear to have gone completely pear-shaped. If someone’s going to get blamed, I’m sure it’ll be Merel, for something like lying or deceiving Barak about who she was until she had him trapped in marriage. Which, if that’s the kind of thing that heads are shaking over, that suggests that Anheg, at least, takes a dim view of divorce or otherwise has policies that are usually more progressive than the average Europe-inspired fantasy kingdom, and especially one with the barbarian archetype. Not that we’ll hear anything about the courtship, the marriage, or why everything is so stiff and formal between them.

Silk continues to be irritated by everything around him.

“I’ve always admired Cherek architecture,” Silk said sardonically. “It’s so unanticipated.”
“Expanding the palace gives weak kings something to do,” King Fulrach observed. “It’s not a bad idea, really. In Sendaria bad kings usually devote their time to street-paving projects, but all of Val Alorn was paved thousands of years ago.”
Silk laughed. “It’s always been a problem, your Majesty,” he said. “How do you keep bad kings out of mischief?”
“Prince Kheldar,” King Fulrach said, “I don’t wish your uncle any misfortune, but I think it might be very interesting if the crown of Drasnia just happened to fall to you.”
“Please, your Majesty,” Silk said with feigned shock. “Don’t even suggest that.”
“Also a wife,” the Earl of Seline said slyly. “The prince absolutely needs a wife.”
“That’s even worse,” Silk said with a shudder.

That seems like a non-sequitur, but I suspect Fulrach and the Earl of Seline are actually answering Kheldar’s question – you keep bad kings out of mischief by saddling them with responsibilities until they don’t have any time, energy, or ability to make any mischief. And you give them supervision, like a wife and/or children, to ensure there are no lapses.

There’s the formal welcome, Durnik asks Silk who the dramatis personae are (and Silk answers, and we learn that all Rivan Warders are named Brand, and also, by implication, that Riva has been ruled by a succession of warders since the king was killed), Belgarath is annoyed at all the formality, and Kheldar gets to snark again at Queen Islena, since, best I can tell, wimmins, amirite.

“Queen Islena,” Silk murmured to Durnik and Garion. “Anheg’s wife.” The little man’s nose twitched with suppressed mirth. “Watch her when she greets Polgara.”
The queen turned and curtsied deeply to Mister Wolf. “Diving Belgarath,” she said, her rich voice throbbing with respect.
“Hardly divine, Islena,” the old man said dryly.
“Immortal son of Aldur,” she swept on, ignoring the interruption, “mightiest sorcerer in all the world. My poor house trembles at the awesome power you bring within its walls.”
“A pretty speech, Islena,” Wolf said, “A little inaccurate, but pretty all the same.”
But the queen had already turned to Aunt Pol. “Glorious sister,” she intoned.
“Sister?” Garion was startled.
“She’s a mystic,” Silk said softly. “She dabbles a bit in magic and thinks of herself as a sorceress. Watch.”
With an elaborate gesture the queen produced a green jewel and presented it to Aunt Pol.
“She had it up her sleeve,” Silk whispered gleefully.
“A royal gift, Islena,” Aunt Pol said in a strange voice. “A pity that I can only offer this in return.” She handed the queen a single deep red rose.
“Where did she get that?” Garion asked in amusement.
Silk winked at him.
The queen looked at the rose doubtfully and cupped it between her two hands. She examined it closely, and her eyes widened. The color drained out of her face, and her hands began to tremble.

That’s not magic, that’s prestidigitation. Well, at least what Islena did is, anyway. Polgara, we presume, not only pulled the rose out of the aether, but probably wrote something like τῇ καλλίστῃ on it or the Algar equivalent just to twist the knife. Because of the way that Silk set it up, I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to understand that Polgara is supremely aggravated by Islena even thinking she has any real magic on her at all. Martje has a better claim to having some sort of magic at this point than Islena does, since we’ve seen Martje do something resembling prophecy, and Barak chased her off specifically with the idea of her being burnt as a witch. I’m beginning to wonder what the prevalence of supernatural-style magic is in the world, and how it distributes itself, especially because Belgarath, Polgara, and the Grolims all exist and do magic of that style, so there shouldn’t be any terminology confusion here. Garion ponders this act more near the end of the chapter.

Then there was the question of the rose Aunt Pol had given to Queen Islena. Setting aside the fact that roses do not bloom in the winter, how had Aunt Pol known that Islena would present her with that green jewel and therefore prepared the rose in advance? He deliberately avoided the idea that his Aunt had simply created the rose on the spot.

But he’s apparently not willing to go all the way to the conclusion of “If they can blank my mind, and Grolims can read my mind, and this old woman can supposedly see the future, how hard would it be for someone to create a rose out of the air and present it, really? Especially if she is the feared ageless sorcerer that she is supposed to be?”

Further introductions happen, both of the new queens and kings, and of the guests to the kings and queens. Once those are all done, then we finally get to an explanation of why the previous twelve chapters have happened.

“I’m afraid it’s my fault, Belgarath,” the gray-robed Warder said in a deep voice. “The Apostate was able to carry off his theft because of my laxity.”
“The thing’s supposed to protect itself, Brand,” Wolf told him. “I can’t even touch it. I know the thief, and there’s no way you could have kept him out of Riva. What concerns me is how he was able to lay hands on it without being destroyed by its power.”
Brand spread his hands helplessly. “We woke one morning, and it was gone. The priests were only able to divine the name of the thief. The Spirit of the Bear-God wouldn’t say any more. Since we knew who he was, we were careful not to speak his name or the name of the thing he stole.”
“Good,” Wolf said. “He has ways to pick words out of the air at great distances. I taught him how to do that myself.”
Brand nodded. “We knew that,” he said. “It made phrasing our message to you difficult. When you didn’t come to Riva and my messenger didn’t return, I thought something had gone wrong. That’s when we sent men out to find you.”
Mister Wolf scratched at his beard. “I guess it’s my own fault that I’m here, then,” he said. “I borrowed your messenger. I had to get word to some people in Arendia. I suppose I should have known better.”

At which point Silk pipes up and wonders whether this conversation should be in such a public place, given the ease with which Angarak gold buys loyalties and how Grolims can read minds. When Barak protests, Silk points out that he’d need to be confident about all the kitchen staff and the servants as well as the warriors. King Rhodar of Drasnia concurs that it’s a little too open and that they might do better in a more private place.

“Could you penetrate this palace, Prince Kheldar?” King Anheg challenged.
“I already have, your Majesty,” Silk said modestly, “a dozen times or more.”
Anheg looked at Rhodar with one raised eyebrow.
Rhodar coughed slightly. “It was some time ago, Anheg. Nothing serious. I was just curious about something, that’s all.”
“All you had to to do was ask,” Anheg said in a slightly injured tone.
“I didn’t want to bother you,” Rhodar said with a shrug. “Besides, it’s more fun to do it the other way.”

Having proven to Anheg’s satisfaction that they do need better security, Anheg orders Barak to clear a hall and post guards for a more private continuance. Once those orders are underway, we have a short interlude where Silk explains that while Cho-Hag, king of the Algars, can’t stand by himself, since the Algars spend most of their time on horseback, the disability doesn’t interfere with his skill at fighting and ruling. Which is pretty good disability rep there, actually, and a good decision to say that the primarily horse-people wouldn’t disqualify someone who can ride and fight just because he couldn’t walk.

Queen Porenn of Drasnia comes over to talk to Prince Kheldar, and now I need to wind back slightly so that we have context for what is about to follow.

“Porenn, Queen of Drasnia,” Silk said, and his voice had an odd note to it. Garion glanced at him and saw the faintest hint of a bitter, self-mocking expression flicker across his face. In that single instant, as clearly as if it had suddenly been illuminated by a bright light, Garion saw the reason for Silk’s sometimes strange manner. An almost suffocating surge of sympathy welled up in his throat.

So, before the kings talked, Garion gets mystical insight into the fact that Silk has the hots for the woman his uncle married. So, this entire exchange is with the knowledge that there’s more than just what’s being said, potentially, at stake here.

“Islena’s taking Silar and me to her private quarters,” she said to Silk. “Apparently women aren’t supposed to be involved in matters of state here in Cherek.”
“Our Cherek cousins have a few blind spots, your Highness,” Silk said. “They’re arch-conservatives, of course, and it hasn’t occurred to them yet that women are human.”
[…I’m not impressed with Silk here, given his own misogyny and blinkered spots. Porenn describes Islena’s idea to have a council of queens along with the kings, which Layla would have been invited to, except for her hatred of sea travel, which was mentioned in the last chapter…]
Queen Porenn made a face. “We sit around and watch Islena do tricks—disappearing coins, things up her sleeves, that kind of thing,” she said. “Or she tells fortunes. Silar’s too polite to object, and I’m the youngest, so I’m not supposed to say too much. It’s terribly dull, particularly when she goes into trances over that stupid crystal ball of hers. Did Layla think she could help me?”
“If anyone can,” Silk assured her. “I should warn you, though, that her advice is likely to be quite explicit. Queen Layla’s an earthy little soul, and sometimes very blunt.”
Queen Porenn giggled wickedly. “That’s all right,” she said. “I’m a grown woman, after all.”
“Of course,” Silk said. “I just wanted to prepare you, that’s all.”
“Are you making fun of me, Kheldar?” she asked.
“Would I do that, your Highness?” Silk asked, his face full of innocence.
“I think you would,” she said.
“Coming, Porenn?” Queen Islena asked from not far away.
“At once, your Highness,” the queen of Drasnia said. Her fingers flicked briefly at Silk. What a bore.
Patience, Highness, Silk gestured in reply.
Queen Porenn docilely followed the stately Queen of Cherek and the silent Queen of Algaria from the hall. Silk’s eyes followed her, and his face had that same self-mocking expression as before.

And again, we are talking about things that are the staples of stage illusionists rather than reality warpers, even though, again, there should be no confusion of terminology about which things are which. And since we had already a situation where the priests divined the name of the thief, there really should be better accuracy in terms. Or so I believe, anyway. Maybe nobody is willing to say to her face, or in her hearing, that Islena is doing it all for show and has no real magic, but I feel like that could be more clearly established. Calling her a “mystic” and saying that she “dabbles in magic” is unnecessary confusion if what you want to say is “she’s got no actual magic, but she does illusions and believes that she’s on par with Polgara because of that.”

Garion eventually works his way to the tail end of the procession, spotting a man in a green cloak down a side corridor, but the man is gone before too long and Polgara shows up soon after to ensure Garion can’t think about it in any way, since she’s here to abuse him again.

At the door to King Eldrig’s hall, Aunt Pol stood waiting with her arms crossed. “Where have you been?” she asked.
“I was just looking,” he said as innocently as possible.
“I see,” she said. Then she turned to Barak. “The council’s probably going to last for a long time,” she said, “and Garion’s just going to get restless before it’s over. Is there someplace where he can amuse himself until suppertime?”
“Aunt Pol!” Garion protested.
“The armory, perhaps?” Barak suggested.
“What would I do in an armory?” Garion demanded.
“Would you prefer the scullery?” Aunt Pol asked pointedly.
“On second thought, I think I might like to see the armory.”
“I thought you might.”
“It’s at the far end of this corridor, Garion,” Barak said. “The room with the red door.”
“Run along, dear,” Aunt Pol said, “and try not to cut yourself on anything.”
Garion sulked slowly down the corridor Barak had pointed out to him, keenly feeling the injustice of the situation. The guards posted in the passageway outside King Eldrig’s hall even made eavesdropping impossible.

Way to treat Garion like an independent being with thoughts and feelings of his own, Polgara. Never change.

Secondly, what’s Garion going to do in an armory? There’s nobody around to explain anything, or to provide sparring lessons, or anything else. He’d probably do better in the scullery, where he could either be helpful or he could gather intelligence about whether the kitchen staff and servants are trustworthy or not. Garion might even find that he likes learning how to cook when it’s not Polgara making him wash all the dishes from her cooking. That would give Garion character development, and we all know he can’t have that. It might make more work for the author.

Before he has to ponder too many things, though, Garion spots the man in the green cloak clearly up to no good and hides, but his hiding prevents him from seeing where the man in green went. Garion concludes that he’s going to need more than a bad feeling to go to others about this, and so he intends to keep an eye out for his suspicious character. And that’s the end of the chapter. Still no actual progress on anything, but at least the characters are starting to ask the same questions that we have been for chapters now. Maybe next week, some actual plot.