Monthly Archives: September 2021

Queen of Sorcery: Actual Plot?

Last time, Hettar finally arrived, Belgarath gave the name of the Apostate, Zedar (Belzedar), Belgarath explained a little more about how his brand of magic worked, with the supreme caveat that trying to use it to unmake someone or something rebounds immediately on the caster, so no insta-killing with magic by telling someone or something not to exist. (Still plenty of other creative ways to off someone with magic, though.) Good thing Garion learned that before he tried to exact revenge on someone with magic powers that he clearly has but hasn’t had any training on.

Queen of Sorcery, Chapter 3: Content Notes:

Chapter 3 starts with Silk unveiling a different disguise of himself, a merchant named Radek of Boktor, who will conveniently provide cover for the entire traveling party. In theory.

“Not a bad disguise,” Mister Wolf agreed. “One more Drasnian merchant on the Great West Road won’t attract any attention—whatever his name.”
“Please,” Silk objected in an injured tone. “The name’s very important. You hang the whole disguise on the name.”
“I don’t see any difference,” Barak asserted bluntly.
“There’s all the difference in the world. Surely you can see that Ambar’s a vagabond with very little regard for ethics, while Radek’s a man of substance whose word is good in all the commercial centers of the West. Besides, Radek’s always accompanied by servants.”
“Servants?” One of Aunt Pol’s eyebrows shot up.
“Just for the sake of the disguise,” Silk assured her quickly. “You, of course, could never be a servant, Lady Polgara.”
“Thank you.”
“No one would ever believe it. You’ll be my sister, instead, traveling with me to see the splendors of Tol Holenth.”
Your sister?”
“You could be my mother instead, if you prefer,” Silk suggested blandly, “making a religious pilgrimage to Mar Terrin to atone for a colorful past.”
Aunt Pol gazed steadily at the small man for a moment while he grinned impudently at her. “Someday your sense of humor’s going to get you into a great deal of trouble, Prince Kheldar.”
“I’m always in trouble, Lady Polgara. I wouldn’t know how to act if I weren’t.”

Silk divides up the others as to whose servants are whose, and is hurt when nobody wants to know why. Before they get underway, Durnik realizes he’s forgotten to put the fire out and does so, to Wolf’s exasperation. (And apparent lack of concern for all the trees that are part of these ruins.) As Barak is mounting his horse, Hettar chuckles because the horse apparently said something funny, and they’re finally underway.

Silk is clearly like this to everyone that he meets and interacts with, both convinced of his own cleverness and ready to tweak anyone who might have some amount of authority or power they could use against him. Given Polgara’s temper that’s been displayed so far, I’m surprised they don’t turn Silk into a newt and keep him in a cage until he’s needed for some other thing. Because he has, once again, bought them goods to accompany them on their journey, although this time it’s cloth, instead of turnips, so they don’t need a wagon as well as the horses that they have. That said, it seems pretty clear to me that the only reason Silk didn’t make Polgara one of the servants is because she objected and he knows that she would make his life miserable until he let he be something other than on the level of being the Duchess of Erat.

Garion realizes, after Lelldorin suggests they learn about disguise from Silk for the revenge quest, that the “too flighty” appearance disguises that “Lelldorin only seemed to forget things.” And that prospect makes him nervous, because Lelldorin has already proven himself a very bad companion for things that might require delicacy, discretion, or anything resembling finesse. And because the two of them have very different value systems. Garion sees a serf on the side of the road and remembers the conversation he heard earlier between the two serfs, so he interrogates Lelldorin about the system of government they’ve set up here in Arendia.

“Is it really necessary to keep them so poor?” he demanded of Lelldorin, unable to hold it in any longer.
“Who?” Lelldorin asked, looking around.
“That serf.”
Lelldorin glanced back over his shoulder at the ragged man.
“You didn’t even see him,” Garion accused.
Lelldorin shrugged. “There are so many.”
“And they all dress in rags and live on the edge of starvation.”
“Mimbrate taxes,” Lelldring replied as if that explained everything.
You seem to have always had enough to eat.”
“I’m not a serf, Garion,” Lelldorin answered patiently. “The poorest people always suffer the most. It’s the way the world is.”
“It doesn’t have to be,” Garion retorted.
“You just don’t understand.”
“No. And I never will.”
“Naturally not,” Lelldorin said with infuriating complacency. “You’re not Arendish.”
Garion clenched his teeth to hold back the obvious reply.

I feel like this could be given more explanation or a longer internal mental state discussion than this gets. The narrative could help by having someone explain to Garion, or have Garion realize, now that he’s been through Cherek as well, just how weird his upbringing really was, with Sendaria’s general lack of tying people to their land, the shared prosperity and good wages available on Faldor’s farm, and Faldor’s clear disdain of gathering wealth and authority to himself to become a noble with serfs. And then the narrative could help make a moral judgment about whether Garion or Lelldorin is in the right about the systems in place. While we’ve seen plenty from Durnik about the social and moral values the narrative seems interested in promoting, there’s been significantly less about the economic and governmental values from most of the characters, other than Silk’s firm belief in mercantile capitalism above all things. Speaking of Silk, he has some advice for Garion about Lelldorin.

“How are you and your friend getting along?” Silk asked, falling in beside Garion.
“Fine, I suppose,” Garion replied, not quite sure how the rat-faced little man intended the question. “It seems to be a little hard to explain things to him, though.”
“That’s only natural,” Silk observed. “He’s an Arend, after all.”
Garion quickly came to Lelldorin’s defense. “He’s honest and very brave.”
“They all are. That’s part of the problem.”
“I like him,” Garion asserted.
“So do I, Garion, but that doesn’t keep me from realizing the truth about him.”
“If you’re trying to say something, why don’t you just go ahead and say it?”
“All right, I will. Don’t let friendship get the better of your good sense. Arendia’s a very dangerous place, and Arends tend to blunder into disasters quite regularly. Don’t let your exuberant young companion drag you into something that’s none of your business.” Silk’s look was direct, and Garion realized that the little man was quite serious.
“I’ll be careful,” he proclaimed.
“I knew I could count on you,” Silk said gravely.
“Are you making fun of me?”
“Would I do that, Garion?” Silk asked mockingly. Then he laughed and the rode on together through the gloomy afternoon.

I recognize there’s prophecy involved with all of this, and of course the one that actually had specifics is going to be the one that has to be right on all the particulars, but I’m with all the people who think it’s a bad idea to get involved in this kind of conflict. I’m still of the opinion that a war like this, for as long as it has gone on, is way more likely to have sparked several revolts along the way, both against the Mimbrates who have set up a government designed to make the Asturians permanently inferior, despite Brand’s pretty clear expectations that the two people would learn to get along, and against the Asturians, who appear to insist that they bankrupt their own coffers and kill their own people to try and get revenge against the Mimbrates. All the other kingdoms around them seem to go “Eh, they’re Arends, they do this all the time, because they’re not very bright at all,” about all of this, rather than “when they’re done with the latest cycle of trying to kill each other, we’ll pop in and subjugate them both into a client state.” Or if someone suggested it as a good way of fixing the problem permanently, there was a handy story about the time someone tried, and it turned out really poorly for the invaders, because the Arends may be less intelligent than the average rock, but if you give them something to fight together, they’re good enough to make the legions run away. Of course, if Garion suggested that perhaps they could do something about the condition of the serfs, I’m pretty sure everyone except Durnik would look at Garion uncomprehendingly and wonder what he was on about.

The plot continues with the party stopping for the night at one of Lelldorin’s relatives. Garion notes the house is not aesthetically pleasing, and Silk points out it’s built to be defensible, not pretty, because it’s a country where “neighborhood disputes sometimes get out of hand.” Silk advises Garion not to make sudden moves inside, because there will likely be archers looking for sudden moves, a “quaint custom of the region.” After Belgarath reintroduces himself to the relative, Reldegen, it lightens the mood significantly, and Belgarath gets to razz Reldegen about being a hothead in his youth and be surprised that he’s got actual books in his house. After introductions are done more completely, we get a sign of conflict in the house.

“You’re an idiot, Berentain!” the first, a dark-haired youth in a scarlet doublet, snapped.
“It may please thee to think so,” Torasin, the second, a stout young man with pale, curly hair and wearing a green and yellow striped tunic, replied, “but whether it please thee it not, Asturia’s future is in Mimbrate hands. Thy rancorous denouncements and sulfurous rhetoric shall not alter that fact.”
“Don’t thee or thou me, Berentain,” the dark-haired one sneered. “Your imitation Mimbrate courtesy turns my stomach.”
“Gentlemen, that’s enough!” Count Reldegen said sharply, rapping his cage on the stone floor. “If you two are going to insist on discussing politics, I’ll have you separated— forcibly, if necessary.”
The two young men scowled at each other and then stalked off to the opposite sides of the room. “My son, Torasin,” the count admitted apologetically, indicating the dark-haired youth, “and his cousin Berentain, the son of my late wife’s brother. They’ve been wrangling like this for two weeks now. I had to take their swords away from them the day after Berentain arrived.”
“Political discussion is good for the blood, my Lord,” Silk observed, “especially in the winter. The heat keeps the veins from clogging up.”
The count chuckled at the little man’s remark.

My eyes are going to roll so hard out of my head. Some of it because Silk continues to take serious things very lightly in his “I’m always in trouble” persona. Even if their Arend host is also doing the same. Mostly, though, because it’s a very common thing for people of this era to think that thee/thou/thine are extremely formal and stiff modes of addresses, and people who speak that way are noses-in-the-air kinds of people. They’re not. They are the casual address form that survived in other languages but disappeared from English because English-speaking societies applied huge penalties to people who were improperly casual with others, and so out of an abundance of caution, the casual form of address basically dropped from English. (If you know people who are part of the Society of Friends who use that form of address, the informality implied is deliberate. It’s also why certain people talk about having an I-Thou relationship with the deity, which is supposed to be more intimate and familiar, rather than a more formal I-You relationship.)

The next thing to happen is Polgara asking where the bath is.

Tell me, my Lord,” Aunt Pol said, “do you by chance have a bathtub in your house?”
“Bathing in winter is dangerous, Lady Polgara,” the count warned her.
“My Lord,” she stated gravely, “I’ve been bathing winter or summer for more years than you could possibly imagine.”
“Let her bathe, Reldegen,” Mister Wolf urged. “Her temper deteriorates quite quickly when she things she’s getting dirty.”
“A bath wouldn’t hurt you either, Old Wolf,” Aunt Pol retorted tartly. “You’re starting to get a bit strong from the downwind side.”
Mister Wolf looked a bit injured.

Wimmins, amirite? With their insistence on bathing and other people doing the same. Even though it’s dangerous to bathe in the winter, because you might catch something.

It’s also expensive to heat water to bathe, and to keep it properly hot for her to do so, since most pastiches of Latin Christendom assume the water is heated and then has to be hauled to the tub. So some amount of fuel has to be consumed for this, unless, of course, Polgara’s going to disturb some reality around her to make sure that the water is heated to her liking. And in this particular person’s house, unlike many other places, she isn’t going to be able to use Garion as her servant to heat and fetch the water. Even if she might make all of them take a bath to get the smell of the road and the horses off of them. So, after dinner, Pol goes off to get a bath and the men stay in their wine cups, and then Lelldorin and Garion get shown to their rooms by Torasin, who has much to say about Berentain’s mannerisms, which Torasin believes is Berentain trying to suck up so he can get some land and a title. So he can impress a girl and get a relationship with her, since she doesn’t want anything to do with someone who has neither land nor title. Lelldorin says it’s foolish, because there are already too many Mimbrate sycophants that the governor of the area would never give land to an Asturian.

And then Lelldorin once again proves that he should never be part of any plot, ever, by telling Torasin to go and kill Korodullin, the king, in his absence, since he’s going to be engaged with Belgarath and company. To compound the error, even after Torasin says they’re not exactly alone and Garion explicitly says he doesn’t want to know what’s happening, Lelldorin tells him the whole thing, because he trusts Garion with this information.

“Lelldorin, please,” Garion protested, “I’m not an Asturian—I’m not even an Arend. I don’t want to know what you’re planning.”
“But you will know, Garion, as proof of my trust in you,” Lelldorin declared. “Next summer, when Korodullin journeys to the ruined city of Vo Astur to hold court there for the six weeks that maintain the fiction of Arendish unity, we’re going to ambush him on the highway.”
“Lelldorin!” Torasin gasped, his face turning white.
But Lelldorin was already plunging on. “It won’t be just a simple ambush, Garion. We’re going to ambush him in the uniforms of Tolnedran legionnaires and cut him down with Tolnedran swords. Out attack will force Mimbre to declare war on the Tolnedran Empire, and Tolnedra will crush Mimbre like an eggshell. Mimbre will be destroyed, and Asturia will be free!”
“Nachak will have you killed for this, Lelldorin,” Torasin cried. “We’ve all been sworn to secrecy on a blood oath.”
“Tell the Murgo that I spit on his oath,” Lelldoring said hotly. “What need have Asturian patriots for a Murgo henchman?”

Naturally. Can’t have a good plot spring into existence without it turning out that there’s a Murgo behind it. I think we’re supposed to have suspected that there was outside interference because Arends aren’t bright enough to come up with this kind of false flag operation on their own.

Also, can I point out that this is a stupid plan? Because this plan doesn’t pass the six year-old test. (The question the six year-old asks is, “What if they don’t fall for it?”) Because there might be people who go “Nope. That’s the Tolnedran uniform from two centuries ago, and they haven’t carried a gladius that looks like that in just as long.” Or others who might say “Why would Tolnedra try to assassinate the king? They have enough legions and hostels in the area that they could just invade if they wanted to.” Or, perhaps even most likely, “these people tried to kill the king, and they succeeded, but oh, yeah, we got one of the conspirators and look, they’re Arends, not Tolnedrans. This is a false flag operation,” and then the Mimbrates have an excuse to merrily go along exterminating as many Asturians as they feel like, because you never know where the next plot will come from. This plot has the highest chance of success if nobody gets seen well enough to be recognized, nobody gets killed but the target, and nobody talks. Which Lelldorin has already done twice. It would be a far better plan for a single bowman (or only a few) to put that legendary longbow ability they have to good use and try to make a pincushion out of Kurodullin instead. You still get the dead king and you get the advantage of being really far away from the guards when they start looking for you.

Nachak has terrible taste in conspirators. I also wouldn’t be surprised if this is only one of several schemes Nachak is currently running, so that when Arends inevitably behave like Arends, he can just exit from unsuccessful plans. Or that his actual scheme is to spread more red gold around and buy himself some souls.

“He’s providing us with gold, you blockhead!” Torasin raged, almost beside himself. “We need his good red gold to buy the uniforms, the swords, and to strengthen the backbones of some of our weaker friends.”
“I don’t need weaklings with me,” Lelldorin said immensely. “A patriot does what he does for love of his country—not for Angarak gold.”
Garion’s mind was moving quickly now. His moment of stunned amazement had passed. “There was a man in Cherek,” he recalled. “The Earl of Jarvik. He also took Murgo gold and plotted to kill a king.”
Thw two stared at him blankly.
“Something happens to a country when you kill its king,” Garion explained. “No matter how bad the king is or how good the people are who kill him, the country falls apart for a while. Everything is confused, and there’s nobody to point the country in any one direction. Then, if you start a war between that country and another one at the same time, you add just that much more confusion. I think that if I were a Murgo, that’s exactly the kind of confusion I’d want to see in all the kingdoms of the West.”
Garion listened o his own voice almost in amazement. There was a dry, dispassionate quality in it that he instantly recognized. From the time of his earliest memories that voice had always been there—inside his mind—occupying some quiet, hidden corner, telling him when he was wrong or foolish. But that voice had never actively interfered before in his dealings with other people. Now, however, it spoke directly to these two young men, patiently explaining.
“Angarak gold isn’t what it seems to be,” he went on. “There’s a kind of power in it that corrupts you. Maybe that’s why it’s the color of blood. I’d think about that before I accepted any more red gold from this Murgo Nachak. Why do you suppose he’s giving you gold and helping you with this ploy of yours? He’s not an Asturian, so patriotism couldn’t have anything to do with it, could it? I’d think about that, too.”
Lelldorin and his cousin looked suddenly troubled.
“I’m not going to say anything about this to anybody,” Garion said. “You told me about it in confidence, and I really wasn’t supposed to hear about it anyway. But remember that there’s a lot more going on in the world right now than what’s happening here in Arendia. Now I think I’d like to get some sleep. If you’ll show me where my bed is, I’ll leave you to talk things over all night, if you’d like.” All in all, Garion though he’d handled the whole thing rather well. He’d planted a few doubts at the very least. He knew Arends well enough by now to realize that it probably wouldn’t be enough to turn these two around, but it was a start.

And that ends chapter 3, with Garion completely discarding his “I like Lelldorin” attitude in favor of “these two Arends are pretty stupid, but at least I got them started on a path away from their plan.” That’s probably the dry voice talking, if anything, but also, it appears that the dry voice has taken a much more active role with Garion, no longer content to simply snark from the sidelines. I suppose this is one of those “and if someone is joining the series in this book, we need to get them up to speed on the idea that red gold is soul-corrupting,” and a probably literal deus ex Garion was apparently the easiest way to achieve this.

It still makes me wonder why Angaraks aren’t shot on sight, though. Since now there’s been enough said that a Murgo is now a co-conspirator in a plot to assassinate the Mimbrate king, I feel like that should be enough for any civil authority concerned with national security (or their own security) to haul in Nachak, question him, and then when they’re done getting information out of him, kill Nachak, ban Murgos of all sorts, possibly make an example out of Lelldorin and his group by making them gong farmers for the rest of their lives, and then systematically engage in a genocidal revenge campaign against the Angarak kingdoms because that’s what Arends do. (Regardless of whether it’s a smart idea or not.) It might be the opposite of the quiet that Belgarath wants so he can get the Orb back fom Zedar, but given how good Lelldorin is about subtlety, if that’s an Arendish trait, Belgarath might just have to accelerate his plans if he knows there will be Arends going to war soon regardless of what he actually wants. It could give some real stakes to this otherwise still fairly slow-paced adventure going on here.

Also, because this is the first time that the king of Arendia’s name has been mentioned, the author really has a thing for all the successors and descendants of a particular king or queen or steward to take the same name as their ancestor. All the Rivan warders are named Brand. I’ll bet all the kings of Arendia have been named Korodullin and all the queens Mayaserana, regardless of what their names were before, and whether or not the king is a Mimbrate and the queen is an Asturian or not, because the symbolism of a united kingdom is important to the ruling faction, whichever faction that might be. It’s already been stated that all the queens of Nyissa are named Salmissra. We’re haven’t heard a lot about the Emperor of Tolnedra, but I expect them to follow suit with having similar names as well. Which, yeah, there are several dynastic lines in hereditary nobility that have taken the same name over time, and once elected to the post, the Bishop of Rome takes a name that is one of the saints of the Catholic Church, some of which have been much more popular than others, but they tend not to do it in succession. If these have been the thing for thousands of years, then we’ve got be on Korodullin XXXVII, or something, which can’t make it easy for someone to remember their history particularly well. (That said, the only time Silk claimed to be having trouble was when he was needling someone about the ignominious beginnings of the kings of Sendaria, so maybe it’s very easy to distinguish between Ran Borune IV and Ran Borune XIV.) It’s an economical plot device to not have to come up with all that many names, and there might even be Watsonian justifications for all of it, but it still comes across as a bit suspicious that it’s so widespread across the entire world.

More of the unexciting trek across Arendia, and everyone basically telegraphing to Garion that it’s as bad idea to get involved in the internal politics of Arends, even as the Arends themselves refuse to take no for an answer, next week.

Deconstruction Roundup for September 24, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who continues to see that there are plenty of people whose desire to forget exceeds their desire to stay in good health.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

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

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorum Press

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are more than ready for all the big expenses to stop for a long time.)

Queen of Sorcery: No More Waiting

Last week’s prologue proved nobody should trust Torak One-Eye to lead an army and let Garion do something that should have rightly gotten him killed, excepting that the person he did it to was exactly a person that was being waited for, so Garion didn’t get summarily killed for it. The party continues their wait for Hettar and his horses in…

Queen of Sorcery, Chapter 2: Content Notes:

So, we start the chapter confirming that the prejudice that everyone has about Arends is pretty well correct.

Lelldorin of Wildantor was eighteen years old, although his ingenuous nature made him seem more boyish. No emotion touched him that did not instantly register in his expression, and sincerity shone in his face like a beacon. He was impulsive, extravagant in his declarations, and probably, Garion reluctantly concluded, not overly bright. It was impossible not to like him, however.

I’m pretty sure it’s very possible not to like him, but Garion, as we’ll see, has been traveling too long in the company of people much older than him and doesn’t want to bork the possibility of making a friend near his own age.

Lelldorin boasts that Asturians are the finest bowmen and hunters everywhere and that it is a point of pride in his household that neither beef nor mutton are served at the table. Which I had to think about as to why that was a boast, but I suppose it’s the thought that domesticating animals and using them for food sources just isn’t sufficiently manly for Asturians. (Frankly, I would have expected it to be a thing in Cherek rather than here, based on the relative characterizations at this point.) Garion relates the story of how he nearly got killed by the boar in Cherek, and is secretly pleased that the story goes over as intended with Lelldorin. Lelldorin then gives us some necessary backstory while he fully incriminates himself as being part of a plot against the current king.

“Hardly a day goes by that some Mimbrate’s horse doesn’t come home riderless.”
Garion was shocked at that.
Some men think that there are too many Mimbrates in Asturia,” Lelldorin explained with heavy emphasis.
“I thought that the Arendish civil war was over.”
“There are many who don’t believe that. There are many who believe that the war will continue until Asturia is free of the Mimbrate crown.” Lelldorin’s tone left no question as to where he stood on the matter.
“Wasn’t the country unified after the Battle of Vo Mimbre?” Garion objected.
“Unified? How could anybody believe that?” Asturia is treated like a subject province. The king’s court is at Vo Mimbre; every governor, every tax collector, every bailiff, every high sheriff in the kingdom is a Mimbrate. There’s not a single Asturian in a position of authority anywhere in Arendia. The Mimbrates even refuse to recognize our titles. My father, whose line extends back a thousand years, is called landowner. A Mimbrate would sooner bite out his tongue than call him Baron.” Lelldorin’s face had gone white with suppressed indignation.
“I didn’t know that,” Garion said carefully, not sure how to handle the young man’s feelings.
“Asturia’s humiliation is almost at an end, however,” Lelldorin declared fervently. “There are some men in Asturia for whom patriotism is not dead, and the time is not far off when those men will hunt royal game.” He emphasized his statement by snapping an arrow at a distant tree.
That confirmed the worst of Garion’s fears. Lelldorin was a bit too familiar with the details to not be involved in this plot.
As if he had realized himself that he had gone too far, Lelldorin stared at Garion with consternation. “I’m a fool,” he blurted with a guilty look around him. “I’ve never learned to control my tongue. Please forget what I just said, Garion. I know you’re my friend, and I know you won’t betray what I said.”
That was one thing Garion had feared. With that single statement, Lelldorin had effectively sealed his lips. He knew that Mister Wolf should be warned that some wild scheme was afoot, but Lelldorin’s declaration of friendship and trust had made it impossible for him to speak. He wanted to grind his teeth with frustration as he stared full in the face of a major moral dilemma.

Except, of course, that’s not actually a major moral dilemma to someone who has been taught well about morals and ethics. Since Garion hasn’t, and because Polgara has deliberately pruned away any friendships Garion might have made, the question of “do I betray my friend who plans on participating in an assassination to people who will stop him or do I preserve the friendship and risk destabilizing an entire country” is harder for him than it should be, instead of having already had some lower-stakes version of this dilemma to work through with others and determine where his own personal line is with regard to how serious a fuckup it has to be before he will break confidence and tell someone about it.

Also, if Lelldorin hasn’t learned how to keep a secret, what the fuck is he doing in a conspiracy? That’s the kind of thing where they tell Lelldorin all sorts of fantastical things that aren’t the real plan, because they know he won’t be able to keep them secret, and so instead he just spreads misinformation about the terror attacks and assassination attempts that will be upcoming. Or they keep giving him generalities without real specifics and he lives in hope that someone will actually do something at some point.

I’m pretty sure that Lelldorin’s claim about the lack of Asturian representation in government could be fact-checked in some manner, probably through some of the other characters in the party, because if it is as true as Lelldorin claims it to be, then what Brand in the past was hoping for never came to pass, or there has been a significant number of years of work done by the Mimbrates to systematically purge the Asturians from any power sharing agreements or they made promises of bipartisanship that they had no intention of sticking to, but would wave in the faces of the Asturians whenever they pointed out that the Mimbrates were clearly acting in a power-grabbing manner and not sticking to those agreements and promises. Or the Mimbrates interpreted having their king being married to the Asturian queen as sign of their victory and proof of their divine right to rule, so they immediately set to subjugating and suppressing the Asturians. Or any number of plausible situations where something that was supposed to stop the war and bring peace through forced marriage was instead responsible for the continuation of the war on both sides, just not in an open conflict sort of way. And, presumably, the continuation of hostilities has made it suck extra for all the peasants and serfs who are caught up in it and don’t have the opportunity to escape the warzone or otherwise disobey what they’re being told to do.

I’m just saying that looking at this particular political situation in the current era of the United States, where one of the nominal two parties has thrown off any pretense of wanting to govern with their opposition and is instead moving in the direction of as authoritarian a stance as they can make and naked power grabs that violate precedent, norms, and the laws themselves, that are specifically designed to make it difficult to impossible for their opposition to ever be elected to power, and sneer off any objections with “yeah, well, what are you gonna do about it?” at a party they don’t believe has enough spine to try and stop them by adopting their own tactics against them, well, I can totally see why the Asturians are waging a domestic terrorism campaign against their occupiers. I also would fully expect there to be a peasant revolt almost constantly in progress against everybody noble because they’re the ones suffering the most, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a handshake agreement among all of the nobles that they’ll always act in the interest of keeping the peasants down first and then try to kill each other later.

Garion describes his upbringing to Lelldorin, where we learn that Sendaria is a very strange place compared to everywhere else.

“Is this Faldor a nobleman?”
“Faldor?” Garion laughed. “No, Faldor’s as common as old shoes. He’s just a farmer—decent, honest, good-hearted. I miss him.”
“A commoner, then,” Lelldorin said, seeming ready to dismiss Faldor as a man of no consequence.
“Rank doesn’t mean very much in Sendaria,” Garion told him rather pointedly. “What a man does is more important than what he is.” He made a wry face. “I was a scullery boy. It’s not very pleasant, but somebody’s got to do it, I suppose.”
“Not a serf, certainly?” Lelldorin sounded shocked.
“There aren’t any serfs in Sendaria.”
“No serfs?” The young Arend stared at him uncomprehendingly.
“No,” Garion said firmly. “We’ve never found it necessary to have serfs.”
Lelldorin’s expression clearly showed that he was baffled by the notion. Garion remembered the voices that had come to him out of the fog the day before, but he resisted the urge to say something about serfdom. Lelldorin would never understand, and the two of them were very close to friendship. Garion felt that he needed a friend just now and he didn’t want to spoil things by saying something that would offend this likeable young man.

Head. Desk.

Entirely foreseeable, of course, because Garion is a teenager and teenagers are looking for allies against the cruel world out there. Also because Polgara never let Garion have any friendships, so he wouldn’t be able to tell a healthy friendship from an unhealthy one. And he doesn’t have a base of friends already that he can rely on to be there for him if he decides he’s not actually interested in being friends with Lelldorin, since Lelldorin is the kind of person who joins assassination plots, can’t keep secrets, and has an intrinsic belief that some people are just inferior and deserve to be tied to their land without the opportunity to do anything else with their lives. (This, we note, without any overt Church telling those serfs that their lot in life has been ordained by a god and not to question it or to try and strive for something better, because that angers the god and the god’s representatives on the planet.) It’s already an unhealthy and toxic friendship, because Lelldorin is asking Garion to not rat out his assassination conspiracy to anyone, because of their friendship, when the right and moral thing, at least according to those Sendarian values, would be to turn him in tout de suite and find someone who can do their important mission without being embroiled in trying to kill the king of the country.

That Sendaria has a king, but apparently hasn’t really done a lot of building out a court or a nobility or implemented serfdom and restrictions on the freedoms of citizens to prevent their free movement feels more and more like everyone else thinks Sendars are capital-W Weird for it. It certainly seems that most of the other characters think that any custom of Sendaria is similarly Weird. Whether in contempt, as Silk does, or bafflement, like Barak and Lelldorin do, everyone else is probably slightly marveling at Durnik and how he’s handling everything. Also, the nearly democratic no-serfs-here-no-siree Sendaria is very USian Midwest indeed (and equally as ignorant of history that most education in the US gets).

After Garion tells Lelldorin about the death of his parents, Lelldorin swears that they’ll go hunt the killer together and execute him, which makes Garion mentally facepalm, as well as be glad that he has such a friend, before contenting himself with the thought that Lelldorin probably makes and forgets those kinds of promises all the time. After that, Hettar arrives and we can finally get some exposition that doesn’t require foolhardiness. Lelldorin gets confused to Hettar’s explanation as to why the horses won’t run off (“I asked them not to”) but he doesn’t press the issue, and when Hettar talks about sending people to reach the Goirim of the Ulgos, Lelldorin points out there are people-eating creatures in that space that the Algars are supposed to be afraid of. (“They stay in their lairs in the wintertime. Besides, they’re seldom brave enough to attack a full troop of mounted men.”) Hettar then says that southern Sendaria is crawling with Murgos. At which everyone is surprised that Hettar only killed two of them on the way here.

“I think it’s time for some plain talk,” Mister Wolf said, brushing crumbs off the front of his tunic. “Most of you have some notion of what we’re doing, but I don’t want anybody blundering into something by accident. We’re after a man named Zedar. He used to be one of my Master’s disciples—then he went over to Torak. Early last fall he somehow slipped into the throne room at Riva and stole the Orb of Aldur. We’re going to chase him down and get it back.”
“Isn’t he a sorcerer too?” Barak asked, tugging absently at a thick red braid.
“That’s not the term we use,” Wolf replied, “but yes, he does have a certain amount of that kind of power. We all did—me, Beltira and Belkira, Belzedar—all the rest of us. That’s one of the things I wanted to warn you about.”
“You all seem to have the same sort of names, Silk noticed.
“Our Master changed our names when he took us as disciples. It was a simple change, but it meant a great deal to us.”
“Wouldn’t that mean that your original name was Garath?” Silk asked, his ferret eyes narrowing shrewdly.
Mister Wolf looked startled and then laughed. “I haven’t heard that name for thousands of years. I’ve been Belgarath for so long that I’d almost completely forgotten Garath. It’s probably just as well. Garath was a troublesome boy—a thief and a liar among other things.”
“Some things never change,” Aunt Pol observed.
“Nobody’s perfect,” Wolf admitted blandly.

I would also think that it has a certain ability to be passed down through the generations. That could be what Polgara is observing as much as that the change in name doesn’t seem to have changed Belgarath much. Because Garion has all of those talents and more, despite Polgara trying very hard to stamp them out of him.

And we get a good discussion about the limitations of the magic that Belgarath and Polgara can employ.

“This Zedar’s caused a lot of trouble,” Barak rumbled. “You should have dealt with him a long time ago.”
“Possibly,” Wolf admitted.
“Why don’t you just wave your hand and make him disappear?” Barak suggested, making a sort of gesture with his thick fingers.
Wolf shook his head. “I can’t. Not even the Gods can do that.”
“We’ve got some big problems, then,” Silk said with a frown. “Every Murgo from here to Rak Goska’s going to try and stop us from catching Zedar.”
“Not necessarily,” Wolf disagreed. “Zedar’s got the Orb, but Ctuchik commands the Grolims.”
“Ctuchik?” Lelldorin asked.
“The Grolim High Priest. He and Zedar hate each other. I think we can count on him to try and keep Zedar from getting to Torak with the Orb.”
Barak shrugged. “What difference does it make? You and Polgara can use magic if we run into anything difficult, can’t you?”
“There are limitations on that sort of thing,” Wolf said a bit evasively.
“I don’t understand,” Barak said, frowning.
Mister Wolf took a deep breath. “All right. As long as it’s come up, let’s go into that, too. Sorcery—if that’s what you want to call it—is a disruption of the natural order of things. Sometimes it has certain unexpected effects, so you have to be very careful about what you do with it. Not only that, it makes—” He frowned. “—Let’s call it a sort of noise. That’s not exactly what it is, but it serves well enough to explain. Others with the same abilities can hear that noise. Once Polgara and I start changing things, every Grolim in the West is going to know exactly where we are and what we’re doing. They’ll keep piling things in front of us until we’re exhausted.”
“It takes almost as much energy to do things that way as it does to do them with your arms and back.” Aunt Pol explained. “It’s very tiring.” She sat beside the fire, carefully mending a small tear in one of Garion’s tunics.
“I didn’t know that,” Barak admitted.
“Not many people do.”
“If we have to, Pol and I can take certain steps,” Wolf went on, “but we can’t keep it up forever, and we can’t simply make things vanish. I’m sure you can see why.”
“Oh, of course,” Silk professed, though his tone indicated that he did not.
“Everything that exists depends on everything else,” Aunt Pol explained quietly. “If you were to unmake one thing, it’s altogether possible that everything would vanish.”
The fire popped, and Garion jumped slightly. The vaulted chamber seemed suddenly dark, and shadows lurked in the corners.
“That can’t happen, of course,” Wolf told them. “When you try to unmake something, your will simply recoils on you. If you say ‘Be not,’ then you are the one who vanishes. That’s why we’re very careful about what we say.”

I actually like this set of restrictions on the use of magic, and I suppose this coming in this book is an artifact of the original trilogy getting stretched into a quintet, because this would have been great in the last book so that we didn’t spend all of that time wondering why there wasn’t more sorcery being used. And that helps distinguish this particular form of magic from any other form that might also be in existence. “It’s exhausting and it draws the attention of the people we don’t want to pay attention to us” is a really good reason as to why things keep getting done the manual way. And “trying to unmake things is straight-up forbidden by the gods and only rebounds on the caster” also deals with the problem of using magic to just get rid of anything in your way.

I also wonder whether the thing that Asharak did to Garion also had a residual hum associated with it, like the sound of a CRT left on without any signal being sent to it. And if that were the case, I wonder if that hum might have contributed to Polgara’s continued aggravation, and that she misattributed the hum to Garion’s clear sorcerous abilities thrumming underneath the surface, rather than the control spell. It would make a very neat explanation as to why it wasn’t discovered until much later. All the same, I also wonder about the noise that was generated when Polgara took away Martje’s gift of prophecy. That, I would have assumed, would have been very loud. And, actually, another one of those distraction techniques might be to gather someone who can do magic on a similar wavelength as these and have them go about noisily performing miracles so that some of the smaller stuff gets drowned out.

The chapter closes out with Garion asking Silk if everything he’s heard is actually true, which seems like a bad question to ask him. But Silk gives the best response to it (act like it is until you know better for sure, because screwing it up carries high costs), so we’ll move on to Chapter Three next week all the same.

Deconstruction Roundup for September 17, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who was apparently craving a lot of well-cooked fat and meat at this point.)

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.

Mouse: Mouse’s Musings

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 continuing to wonder whether all of that reading you’ve done will translate into appropriate action at the appropriate time.)

Queen of Sorcery: A Better Starting Point?

When we last left Garion and company, they’d foiled a plot against the king of Cherek. Polgara had both made threats and made good on threats, telling Islena to stay out of politics, snickering at Merel that she is going to have a kid, without actually telling her that, and curing Martje’s blindness (which also took away her prophetic abilities) because Martje pissed her off by talking about Garion more than Polgara wanted. Garion also learned about his parents and the fire that killed them, and while he wants revenge for it, Belgarath tried to dissuade him from that task. Oh, and we learned how magic worked in this world, although not what kinds of conditions would be needed to produce someone with that kind of will to affect reality around them.

Queen of Sorcery: Prologue and Chapter 1: Content Notes:

The Prologue for this book is an account of the Battle of Vo Mimbre (and the matters preceding it), whereupon we learn that Torak may be a god, but godhood doesn’t mean that he has any tactical ability to lead an army. The first book’s prologue concerned the stealing of the Orb and what happened afterward, this one is about the army Torak raised to try and get it back after he got thumped the first time.

Century followed century with no menace from Torak, until the spring of 4865, when Drasnia was invaded by a vast horde of Nadraks, Thulls, and Murgos. In the center of this sea of Angaraks was borne the huge iron pavilion of Kal Torak, which means King and God. [In the language of the Angaraks, I assume, since I would guess the word for God would change depending on which god was the one looking after those people.] Those of the people who lived were given to the steel-masked Grolim priests for sacrifice in the unspeakable rites of the Angaraks. None survived save those who fled to Algaria or were taken from the mouth of the Aldur river by Cherek warships.
Next the horde struck with at Algaria. But there they found no cities. The nomadic Algarian horsemen fell back before them, then struck in vicious hit-and-run attacks. The traditional seat of the Algarian kings was the Stronghold, a man-made mountain with stone walls thirty feet thick. Against this, the Angaraks hurled themselves in vain before settling down to besiege the place. The siege lasted for eight years.

I suppose this line takes on a very different meaning in this time of 02021, where the United States have just finished a twenty year war in Afghanistan, where the progress that was made and held dearly disappeared fairly quickly once the support around it went, not to mention the very long war that was started in Iraq a couple years after the start of the Afghanistan war which also lasted longer that this siege. But trying to take the Stronghold here sounds very suspiciously like trying to fight a land war in Asia against the Mongols. And even without that advantage, if the Angaraks have uncountable hordes, as the narrative will tell us they do, no smart commander decides to commit their entire forces to a siege of a single space. Torak (or his commanders) need to leave someone behind who will keep the Algars busy and then go about crushing everywhere else just to make sure that the Algars can’t get reinforced from anywhere.

Because that’s exactly what happens. The narrative tells us that the Angarak decision to try and take the Stronghold is what allows the Alorn kingdoms, as well as the empire of Tolnedra, to get a plan together and raise their armies. Under the command of Brand, accompanied by Belgarath and Polgara, the united front then does significant damage to the Angarak army, but not enough to make a dent in their numbers, at least not until they get to Vo Mimbre, at which point the Angaraks get surrounded on three sides. When Torak commits the reserves, the Rivans, Sendars and Asturians close the trap and begin mass slaughter of the Angaraks from all sides. Even though he’s lost, when “the Apostate, Zedar the Sorcerer,” goes to tell Torak that he’s lost, his kings and priests are dead, and to advise him to flee, Torak instead says in his rage that he’s going to go on the field of battle, at which point Brand challenges him to single combat and Torak accepts. So it’s pretty clear at this point that Torak doesn’t know how to lead an army nor to refuse single combat with the enemy commander when they have the thing that you’re trying to steal. That said, there’s this part, as well.

Brand stood forth. He bore a mighty sword and a shield muffled with cloth. A grizzled wolf matched at his side, and a snowy owl hovered over his head. And he spake, saying, “I am Brand and I will contend with thee, foul and misshapen Torak.”
When Torak saw the wolf, he said, “Begone, Belgarath. Flee if thou wouldst save thy life.” And to the owl he said, “Abjure thy father, Polgara, and worship me. I will wed thee and make thee Queen of the World.”
But the wolf howled defiance, and the owl screeched her scorn.

So we can add shape-shifting to the list of things that can be done with magic. (Presumably, with sufficient Will and Word, anything could be done, I suppose.) And also, now we know why Belgarath had been called Old Wolf this entire time. And possibly how Polgara always knows where Garion is and what he’s been doing, even though we don’t see her until the last moment and in human form.

After however long Brand wants to play with Torak, he unblocks his shield, which has had the Orb set in it, and as you might expect, the Orb immediately flares to life. Torak instinctively drops his guard to try and protect himself against the Orb, and Brand stabs him through the eye. Which breaks the morale of the Angaraks, and the remaining ones are killed even as they flee. Zedar, for his part, spirits away with the body of Torak in the night, which leads us to Polgara telling Brand a prophecy that Torak will return when a king sits again on Riva’s throne. Brand, of course, knows that’s impossible, but Polgara insists it’ll happen all the same.

Because he’s the war hero, people want to make Brand the king of all the West. The ambassador to Tolnedra objects to the proposal, and Brand refuses the job anyway. At which point the Gorim of the Ulgos (sounds like a title to me) informs that Because Prophecy, there will need to be an Imperial princess ready to wed the Rivan King when the time is right. The ambassador objects again.

Then the woman who was Polgara replied. “The Rivan King will return to assume his throne and claim his bride. From this day forward, therefore, each princess of Imperial Tolnedra shall present herself in the Hall of the Rivan King upon her sixteenth birthday. She shall be clad in her wedding gown and shall abide there for three days against the coming of the King. If he comes not to claim her, then she shall be free to return to her father for whatever he may decree for her.”
Mergon cried out. “All Tolnedra shall rise against this indignity. No! It shall not be!”
The wise Gorim of the Ulgos spoke again. “Tell your Emperor that this is the will of the Gods. Tell him also that in the day Tolnedra fails in this, the West shall rise against him and scatter the sons of Nedra to the winds and pull down the might of the Empire, until Imperial Tolnedra is no more.”
At that, seeing the might of the armies before him, the ambassador submitted to the matter.

Yet more reasons for each of the countries to hate each other and perform politics against each other or for Tolnedra to want to expand westward so they don’t have this threat of annihilation hanging over their head. And yet, were still have legionnaires in places that would turn hostile against them if this ancient treaty were unfulfilled.

To finish out the prologue, the Brand of this era also determines the end to the Arendish civil war by demanding the crown prince of the Mimbrates, Korodullin, marry the crown princess of the Asturians, Mayaserana. Both of them object, of course, but Belgarath and Polgara each take one aside and, presumably, put the fear of Themselves into them, and the two come back ready to be wed. (The narrative says nobody knows what got said in the private conferences, but based on how we’ve seen both of the sorcerers act to this point, I think it’s a safe bet to go with “intimidated them both sufficiently to make it work.”)

With all that business done, Brand, Belgarath, and Polgara retire, with everything apparently ready for the real final battle some time in the future, and the narrative dumps us into chapter one, where our heroes have gathered themselves in the ruins of Vo Wacune, waiting for Hettar to arrive. Garion is missing his simple farm life something fierce at this point, and would rather have things back the way they were, before he knew that he was related to the powerful sorcerers.

Garion had never wanted to believe in sorcery or magic or witchcraft. Such things were unnatural, and they violated his notion of solid, sensible reality. But too many things had happened to wipe him to hold on to his comfortable skepticism any longer. In a single, shattering instant the last vestiges of his doubt had been swept away. While he had watched with stunned disbelief, Aunt Pol had erased the milky stains from the eyes of Martje the witch with a gesture and a single word, restoring the madwoman’s sight and removing her power to see into the future with a brutal evenhandedness. Garion shuddered at the memory of Martje’s despairing wail. That cry somehow marked the point at which the world had become less solid, less sensible, and infinitely less safe.

I know the hat of the Sendars is supposed to be that they don’t believe in magic or ghosts or other such things, despite having a world where there are gods and their disciples walking along the people, but I don’t think it took Martje’s sight being restored for Garion to realize that there’s at least some amount of magic in the world. The mind blank, but also the compulsion against saying Asharak’s name, the tugs on Garion’s mind, the psychic torture, all of those things should have also been important, along with the auguries and such. Garion has seen and heard about enough magic that I would have expected him to be willing to believe in it at that point. The thing that might have been shocking to him at that point was seeing incontrovertibly that Polgara’s cruelty was not limited solely to Garion.

The narrative tells us that with everything else he knew to be a lie, Garion is now solely motivated to find the person that killed guys parents and revenge himself upon them. Belgarath disapproves of Garion wearing a sword all the time, and Polgara mocks Belgarath for it by saying that since it’s Garion’s, he should be allowed to wear it. That it was an Erastide present from Barak is only mentioned by the narrative. Garion also received an amulet that he has to wear at all times, and it has to be worn against his skin.

“It’s not very comfortable. It looks nice enough, I suppose, but sometimes it seems cold, and other times it’s hot, and once in a while it seems to be awfully heavy. The chain keeps rubbing at my neck. I guess I’m not used to ornaments.”
“It’s not entirely an ornament, dear,” she told him. “You’ll get used to it in time.”
Wolf laughed. “Maybe it’ll make you feel better to know that it took your aunt ten years to get used to hers. I was forever telling her to put it back on.”
“I don’t know that we need to go into that just now, father,” Aunt Pol answered coolly.

I think it would be a good idea to tell that story, actually. It might instill in Garion the idea that the person who had tried to set herself up as a god in Garion’s eye is still human. Even if she’s a remarkably powerful sorceress.

Polgara herself has a memory of the ruins they are in when they were standing cities, and they are memories of her own happiness, which become bitter because the place was doomed to be destroyed, Polgara wanted to preserve it, and Belgarath didn’t let her.

“But then the Asturians came,” she went on, and there was a different note then. “You’d be surprised at how little time it takes to tear down something that took a thousand years to build.”
“Don’t worry about it, Pol,” Wolf told her. “These things happen from time to time. There’s not a great deal we can do about it.”
“I could have done something, father,” she replied, looking off into the ruins. “But you wouldn’t let me, remember?”
“Do we have to go over that again, Pol?” Wolf asked in a pained voice. “You have to learn to accept your losses. The Wacite Arends were doomed anyway. At best, you’d have only been able to stave off the inevitable for a few months. We’re not who we are and what we are in order to get mixed up in things that don’t have any meaning.”
“So you said before.” She looked around at the filmy trees marching away in the fog down the empty streets. “I didn’t think the trees would come back so fast,” she said with a strange little catch in her voice. “I thought they might have waited a little longer.”
“It’s been almost twenty-five centuries, Pol.”
“Really? It seems like only last year.”

I kind of wanted to see more of this in the first book, because this is the kind of thing that might elicit sympathy from the reader for Polgara, or at least cast this story into the light of “it’s still inexcusable the way that everyone abuses, humiliated, or bullies Garion, but the bad parenting goes back many, many generations, at least to Belgarath, if not to Aldur himself.” We’ve already seen a couple of hints of “take the long view” versus “get personally involved,” and while Eddings seems to be setting this up as “wise man can take the long view, emotional woman lacks necessary detachment,” in the hands of a better author, it could instead become a conflict of apathy (“Everything dies and crumbles, Polgara, there’s no point in trying to resist it. I’ve seen this play or a hundred times before, always with the same end.”) versus engagement (“There’s nothing that says this time won’t turn out differently, Belgarath, so we have to try.”). That would give Garion a conflict to make decisions between, which might tilt the fate of the world, or make decisions about whether he really is the prophesied one or one of the failures who manages to get a little farther along the path than others.

Polgara puts her arm around Garion at the end of this sequence, after Wolf suggests that focusing on the past only will only make Polgara melancholy. The touch and her fragrance combine to bring “[…]a lump to his throat. The distance that had grown between them in the past few months seemed to vanish a her touch.” Which, y’know, I realize that any gesture of affection would be a thing that’s precious to Garion, but at this point, I can’t really imagine it somehow managing to remove the gulf of Polgara and everyone else’s abuse without there being some magic behind it. I can see it being Garion taking note of Polgara’s mood and making decisions about how he wants to respond to that and what might keep her happiest, but genuine affection for her seems like it should be in short supply.

They’re here waiting for Hettar, and before the decisions that will lead to a small amount of action in this chapter happen, Garion, in the fog, overhears a conversation between two of the locals about what kind of terrible situation they’re in.

“I didn’t recognize you. How long’s it been?”
“Four or five years, I suppose,” Lammer judged.
“How are things going in your village?” Detton asked.
“We’re hungry. The taxes took all our food.”
“Ours too. We’ve been eating boiled tree roots.”
“We haven’t tried that yet. We’re eating our shoes.”
“How’s your wife?” Detton asked politely.
“She died last year,” Lammer answered in a flat, unemotional voice. “My lord took our son for a soldier, and he was killed in a battle somewhere. They poured boiling pitch on him. After that my wife stopped eating. It didn’t take her long to die.”
“I’m sorry,” Detton sympathized. “She was very beautiful.”
“They’re both better off,” Lammer declared. “They aren’t cold or hungry anymore. Which kind of tree roots have you been eating?”
“Birch is the best,” Detton told him. “Spruce has too much pitch, and oak’s too tough. You boil some grass with the roots to give them a bit of flavor.”
“I’ll have to try it.”
“I’ve got to get back,” Detton said. “My lord’s got me clearing trees, and he’ll have me flogged if I stay away too long.”
“Maybe I’ll see you again sometime.”
“If we both live.”
“Good-bye, Detton.”
“Good-bye, Lammer.”

So the kingdom we are in is one of those where it really sucks to be a peasant, but without the incongruity of Dennis the socialist peasant being part of this. Based on this, I’m guessing that all the lords are constantly at war with each other, but apparently without the constraints of “you have to have live peasants to farm the land and guildies to manufacture and refine the goods” that usually stop constant war in the period that we are supposed to think of here. Because starving populations revolt, and who’s going to put down the insurrection if your army is mostly composed of the people who have decided you are a terrible lord and that they want a new one?

Mind you, I fully expect none of this to actually matter, because now that the farmboy origins chapter has passed, and the traveling party isn’t really going to need to do much for stealth at this point, I expect the average title of whomever gets encountered from this point forward to be somewhere in the baron-earl department, and that there will be nothing that results in the situation for the peasants improving in any kind of way.

Narratively speaking, immediately after overhearing this exchange of starving peasants, Garion hears someone singing a song about ancient wrongs and battle and decides to punish the singer, who he believes is an empty-headed noble who has never suffered like the peasants have. The narrative notes “Garion was not normally a belligerent boy,” which is a flat-out lie, given how often that when Garion decides he wants to do something, and it isn’t immediately squashed by Polgara’s helicopter parenting, that something is almost always trying to bash someone’s or something’s head in. So Garion plans to yank the nobleman off his horse and then bash him on the head. The yank succeeds, but the subsequent bash is foiled by the nobleman rolling to a ready position with his own sword out.

Garion was not a fencer, but his reflexes were good and the chores he had performed at Faldor’s farm had hardened his muscles.
[…the narrative tells us that Garion doesn’t actually want to hurt this noble, despite his earlier behavior, and that the noble is treating this encounter fairly lightly…]
It took Garion only a moment to realize that his opponent was much better at this than he was, but that the young man had ignored several opportunities to strike at him. In spite of himself he began to grin in the excitement of their noisy contest. The stranger’s answering grin was even more friendly.
[…Belgarath breaks it up, wondering what the hell is going on…]
“Lelldorin,” Wolf’s tone was scathing, “have you lost what little sense you had to begin with?”
Several things clicked into place in Garion’s mind simultaneously as Wolf turned on him coldly. “Well, Garion, would you like to explain this?”
Garion instantly decided to try guile. “Grandfather,” he said, stressing the word and giving the younger stranger a quick warning look, “you didn’t think we were really fighting, did you? Lelldorin here was just showing me how you block somebody’s sword when he attacks, that’s all.
“Really?” Wolf replied skeptically.
“Of course” Garion said, all innocence now. “What possible reason could there be for us to be trying to hurt each other?”
Lelldorin opened his mouth to speak, but Garion deliberately stepped on his foot.
“Lelldorin’s really very good,” he rushed on, putting his hand in a friendly fashion on the young man’s shoulder. “He taught me a lot in just a few minutes.”
—Let it stand—Silk’s fingers flicked at him in the minute gestures of the Drasnian secret language.—Always keep a lie simple—
“The lad is an apt pupil, Belgarath,” Lelldorin said lamely, fully understanding.
“He’s agile, if nothing else,” Mister Wolf replied dryly.

Cocowhat by depizan

Okay, what just happened here? Because this while thing starts because Garion hearts the plight of peasants and decides he’s going to mess up this noble that he encounters on their behalf. Who happens to be the person that Belgarath is waiting for. And Belgarath hasn’t apparently told anyone what this person he is waiting for looks like, or if he had told people, he hasn’t told Garion well enough or impressed enough that Garion should check to see if it’s their person before engaging in violence against him, not that anyone wants Garion engaging in violence (even as they don’t object to him wearing his sword). So already we have a problem, and yet, this person doesn’t immediately kill Garion and be done with it, since it’s apparent to Garion that this person he’s picked a fight with is way better than him, so I have to assume that Lelldorin recognized Garion immediately and decided to have some fun with him, knowing that Garion can’t actually hurt him. And then Garion tells a lie that’s transparent enough Silk is giving him coaching lessons on how to sell it and keep it simple. I don’t think that Belgarath bought the lie, but he let the matter drop.

That’s weird. Also weird? Nobody seems to have taught Garion how to use the thing that he’s keeping strapped at his side. I would have expected this to have been Barak’s hat and contribution to Garion’s education, especially since he gave Garion the sword as a gift. Given how much Garion wants to get into fights, and that berserk state he sometimes slips into, of seems like the best option is to try and teach him how to keep his emotions in check and to make his sword work detached from anything he’s feeling so he doesn’t kill or hurt people in anger, but only after deciding they need it. Barak even said he had some familiarity with berserker rage himself, so he’s well-suited to teaching Garion how to fight. But no, apparently this has not happened and the only reason Garion isn’t bleeding out from having been run through is because Lelldorin decided not to. (Probably because he recognized Garion.) Garion lacks skills he needs to survive in this world, and it’s only because he has Plot Armor that he’s still alive.

The final weird, though, is that this is another one of those spots in the story where a position that is completely contrary to the established world happens here and there’s not nearly enough context for this to explain it. We’ve had the “Garion is missing his stable farm life” bit before, but that’s not “Garion firmly believes that peasants should not be mistreated in this manner, based on internalizing Faldor’s (or Durnik’s) value system” or “Garion believes that nobles have an obligation to treat their serfs well because all the nobles he’s been traveling with have insisted on this being the case, despite none of them actually doing it.” So there doesn’t appear to be a justified reason for this whole sequence happening at all.

Before we finish the chapter, there’s one more thing that’s of note, about Lelldorin joining the party.

“The clothes are a disguise,” Wolf explained. “He’s not as frivolous as all that—not quite, anyway. He’s he best bowman in Asturia, and we might need his skill before we’re done with all this.”
“I see,” she [Polgara] said, somewhat unconvinced.
“There’s another reason, of course,” Wolf continued, “but I don’t think we need to get into that just now, do we?”
“Are you still worried about that passage, father?” she asked with exasperation. “The Mrin Codex is very obscure, and none of the other versions say anything at all about the people it mentions. It could be pure allegory, you know.”
“I’ve seen a few too many allegories turn out to be plain face to start gambling at this point. Why don’t we all go back to the tower?” he suggested. “It’s a bit cold and wet out here for lengthy discussions on textual variations.”

The “not quite” probably refers to a spot that I skipped over where Lelldorin tries to get out of joining the company because he’s pledged to some very important tasks, but Belgarath dismisses that as every young nobleman in Asturia being pledged to some matter of urgency, and that his urgency is more important than their petty concerns (“go ambush a couple of Mimbrate tax collectors.” is the exact phrasing.)

Obviously, the plot means that the prophecies will turn out or not as the author desires them to, but I find it interesting that everything about prophecies was alluded to in the last book, and Belgarath had a more flippant attitude toward the prospect of fulfilling them then. Here, he seems very concerned that he needs to do a better job of fulfilling them to the letter, including the singular obscure variation that provides more detail than any of the other. It feels like between this book and the last one, someone got wise and started really plotting everything out and keeping a series bible to make sure that everything happens as it is foretold.

The chapter itself closes out with Garion helping Lelldorin retrieve his horse and explaining that he didn’t actually lie to Belgarath about what happened, but he definitely omitted enough things because it takes forever to explain things to them when he gives them the full explanation. To which Lelldorin laughs, and Garion finds it so infectious that he joins in.

This chapter does an excellent job of dropping someone who is new to the series into the action without spending too much time on the “previously on”, but in doing so, it makes the people who have been following along since the first book scratch their heads a lot. Maybe next week things will settle into the rhythm of this book.

Deconstruction Roundup for September 10, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who continues to wait for the greater return of sanity to the people of the nation-state.)

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 unsure whether the possible changes to the upper management of your organization will mean positive progress.)

Pawn of Prophecy: Back To The Adventure

Last time, having gotten through the attack alive, Garion was recovered and the kings were told to make plans for war, even though they weren’t supposed to make obvious plans for war, lest they tip off the Angaraks that they’re going to come through and murderate them. There was also the execution of the traitor, the calling down of the spare warriors to find Asharak by offering the equivalent of his head in gold, people having fun at Islena’s expense by proclaiming that looking for Asharak might snuff her mind out like a candle (except that it might very well have done such a thing and everyone but Islena knew that Polgara would have let it happen), the supposedly weird revelation that Anheg is quite a scholar and a literate person, and, oh, yes, Polgara stripped Martje of her powers by giving her her sight back, because Martje told Garion to remember her when he came into his inheritance.

Pawn of Prophecy, Chapter Twenty-One: Content Notes:

But lest we think that Polgara is finished with being cruel to all those around, she still has more advice to dispense.

“If I were you, Islena,” she said firmly, “I’d find another hobby. Your gifts in the arts of sorcery are limited, and it’s a dangerous area for dabbling. Too many things can go wrong if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
The queen stared at her mutely.
“Oh,” Aunt Pol said, “one other thing. It would be best, I think, if you broke off your connections with the Bear-cult. It’s hardly proper for a queen to have dealings with her husband’s political enemies.”
Islena’s eyes widened. “Does Anheg know?” she asked in a stricken voice.
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Aunt Pol said. “He’s much more clever than he looks, you know. You’re walking very close to the edge of treason. You ought to have a few babies. They’d give you something useful to do with your time and keep you out of trouble. That’s only a suggestion, of course, but you might think it over. I’ve enjoyed our visit, dear. Thank you for your hospitality.” And with that she turned and walked away.
Silk whistled softly. “That explains a few things,” he said.
“Explains what?” Garion asked.
“The High Priest of Belar’s been dabbling in Cherek politics lately. He’s obviously gone a bit farther than I’d thought in penetrating the palace.”
“The queen?” Garion asked, startled.
“Islena’s obsessed with the idea of magic,” Silk said. “The Bear-cultists dabble in certain kinds of rituals that might look sort of mystical to someone as gullible as she is.” He looked quickly toward where King Rhodar was speaking with the other kings and Mister Wolf. Then he drew in a deep breath. “Let’s go talk to Porenn,” he said and led the way across the wharf to where the tiny blond Queen of Drasnia stood looking out at the icy sea.

Polgara shows Islena a greater kindness than she did Martje, telling her what she knows instead of exposing her in front of Anheg. Her suggestion to have a few babies to keep herself occupied is insulting to Islena, but given that everyone except Islena, including the author, would probably agree that Islena is not intelligent enough to be able to do much more than make babies and care for them, it’s going to go unnoticed and unremarked upon. Rather than there being someone to help the Queen develop what talents she has and put them to good use, anyway. Instead, Polgara intends to intimidate her into silence.

In the plot, Silk advises Porenn to keep an eye on the Bear-cultists in their area as well, since it’s been about fifty years since the last time the cult needed to be suppressed. And again, what is it with all of these non-state actors being allowed to exist and build power bases in these kingdoms? In Drasnia, at least, I can believe that they let them exist because they’re so well infiltrated that they wouldn’t be able to do anything without being stopped, but in Cherek, it seems like the sort of thing where they would need to be violently suppressed every so often. Anyway. Porenn says she’ll ask her people about it, and she and Silk do what I choose to read as flirting, even though what they’re talking about is the placement of spies and whether or not Kheldar is coming back to Drasnia any time soon. The closest anyone gets to genuine feeling is Porenn admitting she misses Kheldar and gets half-mocked for being lonely without him.
Merel and Barak have a typically themselves interaction – Merel asks for orders, Barak gives her field planting instructions along with his love for their daughters. Merel asks for a hug, but Barak goes below decks without doing it.

Aunt Pol stopped on her way to the ship and looked gravely at Barak’s wife. She looked as if she were about to say something. Then, without warning, she suddenly laughed.
“Something amusing, Lady Polgara?” Merel asked.
“Very amusing, Merel,” Aunt Pol said with a mysterious smile.
“Might I be permitted to share it?”
“Oh, you’ll share it, Merel,” Aunt Pol promised, “but I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you by telling you too soon.”

Which, I’m guessing that means that Pol knows with her abilities that Merel has another child on the way, and that spoiling the surprise to Merel might mean she would try to get rid of it rather than give Barak another child, son or daughter. You know, a child from that time that Merel described herself as the victim of marital rape. But Polgara thinks that’s hi-lar-i-ous. And again, we’re still supposed to be rooting for these people, instead of against them.

And, a few pages from the end of this story, we finally get a relatively concise explanation of how magic works in this setting, courtesy of Belgarath.

“How did Aunt Pol do that to old Martje’s eyes?”
“The Will and the Word,” Wolf said, his long cloak whipping about him in the stiff breeze. “It isn’t difficult.”
“I don’t understand,” Garion said.
“You simply will something to happen,” the old man said, “and then speak the word. If your will’s strong enough, it happens.”
“That’s all there is to it?” Garion asked, a little disappointed.
“That’s all,” Wolf said.
“Is the word a magic word?”
Wolf laughed, looking out at the sun glittering sharply on the winter seas. “No,” he said. “There aren’t any magic words. Some people think so, but they’re wrong. Grolims use stange words, but that’s not really necessary. Any word will do the job. It’s the Will that’s important, not the Word. The Word’s just a channel for the Will.”
“Could I do it?” Garion asked hopefully.
Wolf looked at him. “I don’t know, Garion,” he said. “I wasn’t much older than you are the first time I did it, but I’d been living with Aldur for several years. That makes a difference, I suppose.”
“What happened?”
“My Master wanted me to move a rock,” Wolf said. “He seemed to think that it was in his way. I tried to move it, but it was too heavy .After a while I got angry, and I told it to move. It did. I was a little surprised, but my Master didn’t seem to think it so unusual.”
“You just said ‘move?’ That’s all?” Garion was incredulous.
“That’s all,” Wolf shrugged. “It seemed so simple that I was surprised I hadn’t thought of it before. At the time I imagined that anybody could do it, but men have changed quite a bit since then. Maybe it isn’t possible anymore. It’s hard to say, really.”
“I always thought that sorcery had to be done with long spells and strange signs and things like that,” Garion said.
“Those are just the devices of tricksters and charlatans,” Wolf said. “They make a fine show and impress and frighten simple people, but spells and incantations have nothing to do with the real thing. It’s all in the Will. Focus the Will and speak the Word, and it happens. Sometimes a gesture of some sort helps, but it isn’t really necessary. Your Aunt always seems to want to gesture when she makes something happen. I’ve been trying to break her of that habit for hundreds of years.”
Garion blinked. “Hundreds of years?” he gasped. “How old is she?”
“Older than she looks,” Wolf said. “It isn’t polite to ask questions about a lady’s age, however.”

Well, hell, if all it takes is having a will that’s strong enough to force things to happen, then there should be magic users around everywhere. Unless there’s actually some other part to it that Wolf isn’t telling Garion. After all, by his own admission, he was in the presence of a physical god for years before he was able to pull it off. And the Grolim priesthood is presumably pretty close to their god (or their god’s power) on the regular as well. It seems like the part that’s being left out of this whole thing about how magic is just being sufficiently convinced that something is going to happen, and then telling it to happen, is that the person should probably be in the good favor of the god they’re supposed to be a follower of. For all we know, Islena’s “limited” gifts, if they are indeed actual magic, rather than prestidigitation, might be because of her association with the Bear-cultists. It’s a good answer from Belgarath, but it feels to me like he’s holding something back from Garion, just in case Garion does try to do some will work of his own.

Having talked about magic, Garion is finally ready to ask about his lineage, because it’s pretty clear that while Polgara is Belgarath’s daughter, there’s no way that she’s Garion’s aunt, at least not directly. Which is true, she’s much more of a Great (many great) Aunt, not that such a term should be used around her, Belgarath says. Garion then suggests that it makes Belgarath his grandfather, by association, and Wolf gets emotional about being called Grandfather, and we’re supposed to see this as a warm and fuzzy moment, but I can’t erase the previous twenty-and-change chapters of abuse, sociopathy, and inhumane behavior from both Belgarath and Polgara toward Garion and everyone else to see this as the “Garion found out that his family is his family after all, isn’t that sweet?” moment. Run, child, go back to Anheg and ask for him to protect you, even though it’ll be a losing battle. We then get an “edited for your protection” version of who Garion’s parents were, and how they died, and the frankly bizarre circumstances of what happened next that put Garion in Polgara’s care. Also, there’s the somewhat bizarre circumstances of Garion’s lineage.

“It’s never been that big a family,” Wolf said. “It seems, for one reason or another, to be a single, unbroken line—no cousins or uncles or that kind of think. It’s not all that hard to hide a man and wife with a single child. We’ve been doing it for hundreds of years now.[…]”

Which is awfully convenient for the author, making sure there aren’t any other scions or lines of potential heirs of prophecy that would have to be looked after. One son, his wife, and their son. (Because I can’t believe that Eddings would have allowed the one child to be a daughter that would have to marry into another line.)

Garion’s father, Geran, was a stonecutter, and Ildera, his mother, was a daughter of a Algar Clan-Chief. They were moved to Sendaria to keep them safe from the family enemies. But one of them tracked Geran and Ildera down, bricked them in, essentially, and then set fire to the stone house they’d built. Geran and Ildera managed to punch out a stone so they could get Garion out before they died in the fire, which was apparently what this enemy was waiting for. But rather than run away with Garion and disappear, when Belgarath caught up to the enemy, he apparently flung Garion at Belgarath and then disappeared. And has been unfound ever since. Garion, for his part, thinks it was good that the enemy wasn’t found, because that gives Garion the opportunity to off him himself. Wolf tries to talk him out of the idea of revenge or killing by deploying what I’m reading as his best argument against killing that enemy, which is that Garion and Polgara agree that revenge would be the best course of action.

“Do you promise [to tell me the truth when the time is right]?”
“If you insist. And if I didn’t, I’m sure your Aunt will. She feels the same way you do.”
“Don’t you?”
“I’m much older,” Wolf said. “I see things a little differently.”
“I’m not that old yet,” Garion said. “I won’t be able to do the kind of things you’d do, so I’ll have to settle for just killing him.” He stood up and began to pace back and forth, a rage boiling in him.
“I don’t suppose I’ll be able to talk you out of this,” Wolf said, “but I really think you’re going to feel differently about it after it’s over.”
“Not very likely,” Garion said, still pacing.
“We’ll see,” Wolf said.
“Thank you for telling me, Grandfather,” Garion said.
“You’d have found out sooner or later anyway,” the old man said, “and it’s better that I tell you thank for you to get a distorted account from somebody else.”
“You mean Aunt Pol?”
“Polgara wouldn’t deliberately lie to you,” Wolf said,” but she sees things in a much more personal way than I do. Sometimes that colors her perceptions. I try to take the long view of things.” He laughed rather wryly. “I suppose that’s the only view I could take—under the circumstances.”

Coupled with an earlier statement about how Belgarath “[tries] not to do that [killing] any more than I have to” because “[i]t disrupts the natural course of events too much”, although that doesn’t mean he didn’t have “other ideas at the time—much more unpleasant than killing”, I think we’re supposed to believe that Belgarath is mostly Above It All, unlike his daughter, but that would require this book to have done a much better job of showing that to us, instead of having Belgarath take Polgara’s side on some important things and talk down to her in others.

Also, there’s a lot of damage that someone can do, even without deliberately lying to someone. This entire book would probably claim there wasn’t a lie told to Garion in it, but it’s pretty clear that Polgara knows how to weaponize the truth to specific ends and ideas, and she knows which of his buttons to push and which ways to threaten him when he’s apparently pushing her buttons to get Garion to stand down. Neither Belgarath nor Polgara may be lying to Garion, but they certainly are more than willing to withhold information from him, and even to admit they are withholding information from him because they think he doesn’t need to know that, or that he might go off the path they’ve laid out for him if he learned that. They’re not earning themselves any sort of trust throughout the book, and yet Garion is still with them, for reasons that are not adequately plot-explained. Seriously, how hard would it be for Garion to come to the correct conclusion that if he ran away, that would properly aggravate both Polgara and Belgarath, and since they’re the most powerful sorcerers in the world, that would be Bad. Especially after the revelation about what kind of control Asharak had over him, Garion might decide he has a better shot with the people who haven’t resorted to mind control than taking his chances at trying to avoid the person who has. By this point, Garion’s no longer an innocent, and he should be treated with a little more maturity than he has been by his supposed allies. I think Anheg’s come the closest to actually respecting Garion, and even he was laughing with Barak’s story of Garion and the fighting and Maidee’s offer to him.

The chapter closes out with Garion asking Belgarath what it’s like to live forever, to which Belgarath replies that he doesn’t know since he hasn’t lived forever, and Garion apologizes that he’s probably not going to be much help in what’s to come, which Belgarath disagrees with, and the two of them look out over the sea as the ship sails on, and that’s it. Here’s what we can expect coming up:

Book Two, Queen of Sorcery, will reveal Garion’s own dangerous powers of sorcery and more on his heritage, which underlies their quest.

As much as I would love for this to be “Garion comes into his own powers and decides that he’s going to start demanding more respect and answers around here from the other powerful people, and possibly start dabbling in the Dark Side of the Force to build himself up to being someone of equal strength to the other two,” we know that’s not going to happen, probably because Polgara is always going to be in exactly the right place to disrupt his plans and deliver a cutting remark that stands on all of Garion’s triggers and makes him feel small and defensive.

In any case, Queen of Sorcery begins next week.

Deconstruction Roundup for September 3, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who has long since been convinced of the insanity of various legislators of certain states but had, perhaps, held hope out that the persons tasked with watching them would not be afflicted by the same condition.)

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 wishing to have been graced with the power and privilege to make the terrible things stop.)

Pawn of Prophecy: What Now?

Last time, right after Garion had his mind control broken, Asharak showed up and went into a rage at having had his control removed. Garion booked it, and a whole-ass melee between Anheg’s forces and the Earl of Jarvik’s forces broke out while Garion was trying to find a good place to hide. Which he did, behind a tapestry, which in itself allowed him to see and hear everything that went on in the throne room where the Earl of Jarvik was captured and then tortured into revealing why he was working with Asharak in the first place. Which taught us why Angarak gold is not to be trusted – it has a greed enchantment woven into it to make the owner of it crave more of it and do anything to get more.

Pawn of Prophecy, Chapter Nineteen: Content Notes: misogyny

After witnessing all this and seeing Polgara ready to paint the walls red if Garion were hurt, Garion revealed himself to everyone, even though he doesn’t have a clue where he is. The beginning of this chapter is figuring out the logistics of how to get Garion back to somewhere safe, even if there is potentially still Asharak in the palace. Belgarath suggests passing up a couple torches to Garion, one to set in his current position, the other to keep with him, on the idea that if Garion can still see the torch, he’s going in a line and hasn’t gone around an unknown corner. Which suggests that whatever hole Garion is observing through is big enough to pass a torch through. King Rhodar suggests that if the passageway is a straight line, it’ll dump out into the royal apartments, which raises all sorts of questions about what the purpose of the passageway is. Anheg wants them to be simple escape passages because Cherek is not known for having a peaceful history, and not some other, potentially worser, reason that is left unsaid and un-implied.

Garion follows the passage, which leads into a closet, which spills out into a bedoom. The first group of soldiers Garion sights has Torvik, the hunter (and therefore a known person) at its head, and the two of them agree that Garion should be getting back to Polgara.

“You’ve been busy, haven’t you?” Torvik said with a grin.
“It wasn’t my idea,” Garion said.
“Let’s get you back to King Anheg,” Torvik said. “The lady, your Aunt, seems concerned about you.”
“She’s angry with me, I suppose,” Garion said, falling into step beside the broad-shouldered man.
“More than likely,” Torvik said. “Women are almost always angry with us for one reason or another. It’s one of the things you’ll have to get used to as you get older.”
Aunt Pol was waiting at the door to the throne room. There were no reproaches—not yet, at any rate. For one brief moment she clasped him fiercely to her and then looked at him gravely. “We’ve been waiting for you, dear,” she said almost calmly; then she led him to where the others waited.
“In my grandmother’s quarters, you say?” Anheg was saying to Torvik. “What an astonishing thing. I remember her as a crotchety old lady who walked with a cane.”
“No one’s born old, Anheg,” King Rhodar said with a sly look.
“I’m sure there are many explanations, Anheg,” Queen Porenn said. “My husband’s just teasing you.”
“One of the men looked into the passage, you Majesty,” Torvik said tactfully. “The dust is very thick. It’s possible that it hasn’t been used for centuries.”
“What an astonishing thing,” Anheg said again.
The matter was then delicately allowed to drop, though King Rhodar’s sly expression spoke volumes.

And we land in yet another one of those paint-by-numbers fantasy tropes, where women are always angry at men for reasons that are just mysterious and unfathomable at all. Even though stopping for half a second of reflection probably would make it easy to determine why a woman was mad at someone. Or was engaged in malicious compliance against him. Or is yet again trying to curtail a boy’s freedom to explore and do things. It’s not always going to be a good justification, or a right one, or a tolerable one. But it’s not something that requires augury and hope that the local god will explain it to you.

And then there’s Rhodar, who absolutely wants this passageway to be the way that secret trysts were happening between a member of the royal family and whomever happened to be housed in the bedroom on the other end of the passageway. Because, apparently, it’s the Drasnian way to want to embarrass everyone, even though their hat is supposed to be about gathering intelligence and putting it to good use. If both Rhodar and Kheldar are typical examples, then I would guess nobody really would want to talk to the obnoxious Drasnians any more than they have to.

Also, the fact that the reproaches gets a “not yet” should be heartbreaking to the reader, because that means Garion expects to get yelled at again for having a self-preservation instinct. He ran this time, rather than trying to fight Asharak or any of the warriors. That should mean he did what Pol wanted him to, but, of course, what Pol wants is for Garion to be a good little accessory and to stop having plot happen to him.

Garion tells the story of why he ended up in that passage, which makes Anheg believe it’s a good idea to want to talk to Asharak, and if he’s not particularly willing to come in for a chat, to have the warriors of Cherek find him and escort him to his royal audience. Rhodar points out that rousing the warriors in winter isn’t going to make Anheg popular, and Kheldar suggests putting up a reward of the weight of Asharak’s head in gold to whomever can deliver it to Anheg, attached to shoulders optional. The reward motivates the warriors, but no actual gold will be delivered because Asharak will be too busy hiding from all the people who are looking to collect on that reward.

“Prince Kheldar,” Anheg said gravely, “you’re a devious man.”
“I try, King Anheg,” Silk said with an ironic bow.
“I don’t suppose you’d care to come to work for me?” the King of Cherek offered.
“Anheg!” Rhodar protested.
Silk sighed. “Blood, King Anheg,” he said. “I’m committed to my uncle by our bonds of kinship. I’d be interested in your offer, though. It might help in future negotiations about compensations for my services.”
Queen Porenn’s laughter was like a small silver bell, and King Rhodar’s face became tragic. “You see,” he said, “I’m absolutely surrounded by traitors. What’s a poor fat old man to do?”

It’s supposed to be an act, I’m sure, but I think Kheldar might be serious about seeing what the offer entails to get better leverage.

Further levity is cut off by the report that the Earl of Jarvik’s head has been separated from the rest of his body. Anheg declines to have it mounted on a pole as a warning to others, and instead has the head (and body) sent to his wife to be properly buried. Which then allows for the narrative to continue along the path of making sure that Islena is not to be seen as anything other than pompous and self-absorbed.

“The problem of the Grolim, Asharak, interests me,” Queen Islena said to Aunt Pol. “Might we not between us, Lady Polgara, devise a way to locate him?” Her expression had a certain quality of self-importance to it.
Mister Wolf spoke quickly before Aunt Pol could answer. “Bravely spoken, Islena,” he said. “But we couldn’t allow the Queen of Cherek to take such a risk. I’m sure our skills are formidable, but such a search opens the mind completely. If Asharak felt you looking for him, he’d retaliate instantly. Polgara wouldn’t be in any danger, but I’m afraid your mind could be blown out like a candle. It would be a great shame to have the Queen of Cherek live out the rest of her life as a raving lunatic.
Islena turned suddenly very pale and did not see the sly wink Mister Wolf directed at Anheg.
“I couldn’t permit it,” Anheg said firmly. “My queen is far too precious for me to allow her to take such a terrible risk.”
“I must accede to the will of my Lord,” Islena said in a relieved tone. “By his command I withdraw my suggestion.”
“The courage of my queen honors me,” Anheg said with an absolutely straight face.
Islena bowed and backed away rather quickly. Aunt Pol looked at Mister Wolf with one raised eyebrow, but let it pass.

Dollars to doughnuts Polgara would have let Islena go along with her and hung her out to dry when they did encounter Asharak. And probably would have come back and called it a public service, or the equivalent thereof, without the slightest bit of remorse. Anheg would have probably been forced to accept it and maintain his alliance, since we know what Polgara can do when she’s mildly annoyed. Then again, with the way that everyone is doing their best not to laugh at Islena’s pretensions, I also believe that if they had an opportunity to get rid of Islena and make it look suitably tragic and not at all like they engineered this to happen, they would do it. Belgarath is probably not letting Islena do this because he doesn’t want to give Asharak the possibility of knowing what they’re doing or where they are, not because he cares about whether she lives.

The plot continues with the kings and sorcerers deciding to adjourn to a more secure tower. Anheg had initially decided against it because Cho-Hag has trouble walking. Cho-Hag tells Anheg that he would rather have been inconvenienced than spied upon. Garion will be allowed into the new conference because Polgara is taking “not letting him out of her sight” completely seriously, no exceptions, until she knows Asharak is nowhere near Garion. Porenn is put out that the queens still aren’t going to be part of the new conference, and the scene changes with Belgarath telling an anecdote about how it only took Aldur “several hundred years” to “tame” him, as an example of the god’s wisdom. The two sorcerers refuse armies to accompany them on their resumed quest, but they do want to borrow Hettar.

“Impossible,” Hettar said flatly. “I have to remain with my father.”
“No, Hettar,” Cho-Hag said. “I don’t intend for you to live out your life as a cripple’s legs.”
“I’ve never felt any restriction in serving you, Father,” Hettar said. “There are plenty of others with the same talents I have. Let the Ancient One chose another.”
“How many Sha-Darim are there among the Algars?” Mister Wolf asked gravely.
Hettar looked at him sharply as if trying to tell him something with his eyes.
King Cho-Hag drew in his breath sharply. “Hettar,” he asked, “is this true?”
Hettar shrugged. “It may be, Father,” he said. “I didn’t think it was important.
[…Belgarath confirms it for Cho-Hag, and Garion wants to know why it’s such a big deal…]
“It’s something the Algars take very seriously,” Silk said softly. “They think there are some people who can talk to horses with their thoughts alone. They call these people Sha-Darim—Clan-Chiefs of the horses. It’s very rare—maybe only two or three in a whole generation. It’s instant nobility for any Algar who has it. Cho-Hag’s going to explode with pride when he gets back to Algaria.”
“Is it that important?” Garion asked.
Silk shrugged. “The Algars seem to think so,” he said. “All the clans gather at the Stronghold when they find a new Sha-Dar. The whole nation celebrates for six weeks. There are all kinds of gifts. Hettar’ll be a rich man if he chooses to accept them. He may not. He’s a strange man.”

I realize that Silk is the person who is supposed to be the worldliest and the most traveled, so he’s the one that usually gets tapped to provide exposition, but Silk is not a trustworthy character at all. Not just for the entrenched misogyny, but because he’s already shown that he tends to paint everyone who isn’t a Drasnian in a negative light. He’s still doing it here, looking down and with disdain on something that is culturally important and relevant to the Algar people and their way of life. We can do better than having a racist and misogynist as our exposition character, especially when Hettar, Cho-Hag, and Belgarath are right there and they could do the exposition from a place of pride and acceptance, rather than Silk doing it from a place of snark and condescension. If this were the kind of story that was about how flawed and terrible people can sell manage to save the world, that would be one thing, but we’re supposed to see these people as heroes and people to agree with.

Having succesfully recruited Hettar from Cho-Hag, Belgarath gives instructions for everyone to meet in the ruins of Vo Wacune in two weeks.

“We’ll also be joined at Vo Wacune by an Asturian Arend,” Wolf went on, “and somewhat later by a Mimbrate. They ought to be useful to us in the south.”
“And will also fulfill the prophecies,” Anged said cryptically.
Wolf shrugged, his bright blue eyes twinkling suddenly. “I don’t object to fulfilling prophecies,” he said, “as long as it doesn’t inconvenience me too much.”

So they’re also working off of prophecies and other auguries, which have conveniently been left out of the tale until now, which would have been useful to know for why there was all the faffing about in Sendaria, because the timing wasn’t right. Or, who knows, maybe we could have started this adventure much close to the point of where there were prophecies to be fulfilled. Something to give us more action and less terrible things and people being terrible.

The plans and preparations for war and waiting and intelligence gathering are laid out, and Belgarath adds one additional thing that he would help all of them out.

Mister Wolf thought for a moment. Suddenly he grinned. “I’m certain that our thief is listening very hard, waiting for one of us to speak his name or the name of the thing he stole. Sooner or later someone’s bound to make a slip [like Garion has been this whole book?], and once he locates us, he’ll be able to hear every word we say. Instead of trying to gag ourselves, I think it might be better if we gave him something to listen to . If you can arrange it, I’d like to have every minstrel and storyteller in the north start retelling certain old stories—you know the ones. When those names start sounding in every village marketplace north of the Camaar River, it’ll set up a roaring in his ears like a thunderstorm. If nothing else, it’ll give us freedom to speak. In time he’ll get tired of it and stop listening.”

It seems like a rather indiscriminate power, then, if every mention of the name pings. More like an IRC ping or a bad regular expression. Maybe this thief didn’t learn things as well as Belgarath did, and so he doesn’t have the ability to filter out people such that only he ones he’s interested in will be able to ping him.

In any case, that’s chapter 19, with war preparations, and Belgarath and Polgara telling the other kings to wait, watch, and listen for word, but not to interfere again. And with Anheg asking to talk with Belgarath and Polgara in private. Chapter 20 picks up with them in the study, where Garion is allowed to tag along because Polgara is not letting him out of her sight until she knows that Asharak can’t get him. (Which is a shift of tactics of Polgara’s helicopter parenting, but not necessarily an indication that she has more genuine affection for Garion. I’m sure we’re supposed to see it as protective and loving, but I’m not willing to give Polgara that much benefit.)

I think we’re supposed to be surprised that Anheg, the Cherek king, is literate, once the study is described as being full of books and maps and other such things, but there’s never been an indication that the warriors are illiterate or that there wouldn’t be a need for widespread literacy in the kingdom. Anheg, for his part, complains at Belgarath he “might have been happier if you’d never introduced me to this impossible task” when Belgarath praises him for keeping up his studies. In his more serious mode, Anheg is concerned about whether Belgarath and Polgara can keep “a certain thing” safe in their company.

“You read too much, Anheg,” Aunt Pol said.
Anheg laughed again. “It passes the time, Polgara,” he said. “The alternative is drinking with my earls, and my stomach’s getting a little delicate for that—and my ears as well. Have you any idea of how much noise a hall full of drunk Chereks can make? My books don’t shout or boast and the don’t fall down or slide under the tables and snore. They’re much better company, really.”
“Foolishness,” Aunt Pol said.
“We’re all foolish at one time or another,” Anheg said philosophically. […Anheg continues to suggest that the precious thing might be better left in his care, but Belgarath and Polgara say no, because of the possibility that supposedly loyal people can be bought with red gold…]
Garion, despite his youth and occasional recklessness, was not stupid. It was obvious that what they were talking about involved him in some way and quite possibly had to do with the mystery of his parentage as well. To conceal the fact that he was listening as hard as he could, he picked up a small book bound in a strangely textured black leather. He opened it, but there were neither pictures nor illuminations, merely a spiderly-looking script that seemed strangely repulsive.
Aunt Pol, who always seemed to know what he was doing, looked over at him. “What are you doing with that?” she said sharply.
“Just looking,” he said. “I can’t read.”
“Put it down immediately,” she told him.
King Anheg smiled. “You wouldn’t be able to read it anyway, Garion,” he said. “It’s written in Old Angarak.”
“What are you doing with that filthy thing anyway? Aunt Pol asked Anheg. “You of all people should know that it’s forbidden.”
“It’s only a book, Pol,” Mister Wolf said. “It doesn’t have any power unless it’s permitted to.”
“Besides,” Anheg said, rubbing thoughtfully at the side of his face, “the book gives us clues to the mind of our enemy. That’s always a good thing to know.”
“You can’t know Torak’s mind,” Aunt Pol said, “and it’s dangerous to open yourself to him. He can poison you without your even knowing what’s happening.”
“I don’t think there’s any danger of that, Pol,” Wolf said. “Anheg’s mind is well-trained enough to avoid the traps in Torak’s book. They’re pretty obvious, after all.”

Is there anything of Angarak nature that’s not booby-trapped in some way? Because this is yet more evidence of shoot on sight and leave no survivors. Also, while we know that Polgara is generally anti-reading as a stance (which is bizarre), wouldn’t someone have taught Garion how to read at this point? Silk, perhaps, because if Garion’s going to learn the language of the capitalists, he should probably learn capitalism while he’s at it, and that’s going to require learning how to read. Also, isn’t it convenient that of all the books in Anheg’s study that Garion could pick up, he happens to choose the dangerous one? I feel like Garion’s luck in these things could be weaponized in some manner as a sort of detect cursed items intrinsic, like how you can tell if a thing is cursed by letting your pet walk over it in Nethack. Or, as I recall, the way supremely terrible luck is used in the movie Pure Luck to lead a rescue squad to a missing businessman’s daughter. Before they go, Anheg offers his friendship to Garion for the valuable service he provided to Anheg, which also means Anheg notices Garion’s birthmark and has a moment of “whoa” about it, which Polgara hushes him on before he can give anything away. And then it’s time to leave Cherek completely. Garion, for his part, is completely confused about everything. Hettar suggests that nobody gets to understand everything, and then tells Garion to be patient and things might start making sense with time and a little less action.

Silk, for his part, says “Chereks are a violent and moody people[…]They don’t even understand themselves[,]” which I think is supposed to also help us understand that we were supposed to be surprised at Anheg’s bookishness, but it’s also Silk being an asshole again.

Just before they make it to the ship, though, Martje makes one more appearance.

She stood on the steps of the temple and raised her staff. Unaccountably, the horses which pulled the sleighs stopped, trembling, despite the urgings of the drivers.
“Hail, Great One,” the blind woman said. “I wish thee well on thy journey.”
The sleigh in which Garion was riding has stopped closest to the temple steps, and it seemed that the old woman was speaking to him. Almost without thinking he answered, “Thank you. But why do you call me that?”
She ignored the question. “Remember me,” she commanded, bowing deeply. “Remember Martje when thou comest into thine inheritance.”
It was the second time she’d said that, and Garion felt a sharp pang of curiosity. “What inheritance?” he demanded.
But Barak was roaring with fury and struggling to throw off the fur robe and draw his sword at the same time. King Anheg was also climbing down from his sleigh, his coarse face livid with rage.
“No!” Aunt Pol said sharply from nearby. “I’ll tend to this.” She stood up. “Hear me, witch-woman,” she said in a clear voice, casting back the hood of her cloak. “I think you see too much with those blind eyes of yours. I’m going to do you a favor so that you’ll no longer be troubled by the darkness and these disturbing visions which grow out of it.”
“Strike me down if it please thee, Polgara,” the old woman said. “I see what I see.”
“I won’t strike you, Martje,” Aunt Pol said. “I’m going to give you a gift instead.” She raised her hand in a brief and curious gesture.
Garion saw it happen quite plainly, so there was no way that he could later persuade himself that it had all been some trick of the eye. He was looking directly at Martje’s face and saw the white film drain down off her eyes like milk draining down the inside of a glass.
The old woman stood frozen to the spot as the bright blue of her eyes emerged from the film which had covered them. And then she screamed. She held up her hands, looked at them and screamed again. There was in her scream a wrenching note of indiscernible loss.
“What did you do?” Queen Islena demanded.
“I gave her back her eyes,” Aunt Pol said, sitting down again and rearranging the fur robe about her.
“You can do that?” Islena asked, her face blanching and her voice weak.
“Can’t you? It’s a simple thing, really.”
“But,” Queen Porenn objected, “with her eyes restored, she’ll lost that other vision, won’t she?”
“I imagine so,” Aunt Pol said, “but that’s a small price to pay.”
“She’ll no longer be a witch, then?” Porenn pressed.
“She wasn’t really a very good witch anyway,” Aunt Pol said. “Her vision was clouded and uncertain. It’s better this way. She won’t be disturbing herself and others with shadows any more.” She looked at King Anheg who sat frozen with awe beside his half-fainting queen. “Shall we continue?” she asked calmly. “Our ship is waiting.”
The horses, as if released by her words, leaped forward, and the sleighs sped away from the temple, spraying snow from their runners.
Garion glanced back once. Old Martje stood on the steps of the temple looking at her two outstretched hands and sobbing uncontrollably.
“We’ve been privileged to witness a miracle, my friends,” Hettar said.
“I gather, however, that the beneficiary was not very pleased with it,” Silk said dryly. “Remind me not to offend Polgara. Her miracles seem to have two edges to them.”

And on that act of sociopathy, we end Chapter 20. Also, what the hell, Polgara? Even for her, that’s a serious act of violence against someone to take away their Sight and give them back their sight. Even if, despite there being absolutely no evidence that Martje’s prophecies were anything but correct, it was true that Martje’s gift was either powered by evil or corrupted by it, Polgara’s action is extremely unsettling. Everyone’s reaction to Martje and her prophecies has been outsize compared to what she’s actually done. And nobody has done any sort of explaining about what Martje has done in the past that’s brought about this kind of outsize reaction to her, either. The best I can come up with is that Martje got her gift taken away because she kept saying things that were true to people that didn’t want to hear them (or didn’t want others to hear them), and Polgara finally decided to do something about it. Our Heroes, everyone. And I doubt, somehow, that Garion is going to remember what happened to Martje whenever it becomes relevant. Unless he can hide remembering her from Polgara completely.

Also, Silk’s line about not pissing off Polgara? Garion could have told him that, and if Garion has said anything at all about what his life with Polgara has been like while he’s been learning secret language from Silk, Silk should already know this by now. Or if he’s been any sort of observant about how Polgara has been treating Garion while they’ve been in the same company of adventurers. It’s probably supposed to be read as jokey-jokey and not a serious statement, but if it is, I don’t have high hopes for Silk’s intelligence skills.

Next week, we’ll finally be through this book, although we’re not finished with Polgara’s cruelty to others, yet.