Monthly Archives: October 2021

Deconstruction Roundup for October 29, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who has managed to get themselves feeling in a better position about everything by having finally brought oustanding projects to the next phase.)

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 waiting for the inevitable other shoe to drop about going back to doing everything in person, regardless of whether that’s a good idea or not.)

Queen of Sorcery: Another Plot Foiled

Last time, our nominal heroes took a tour through a permanent fair of nonpermanent structures, as which point they noticed, yet again, the dumb muscle from Faldor’s farm, who still hasn’t gotten the hint to go away or been shanked for failure to keep an eye on the party. The party pulls a trick on him again, keeping his attention with their comings and goings until they sneak away in the middle of the night. And then they made it all the way to Vo Mimbre, after a bastardized (no pun intended) courtly love tale involving Mandorallen and a Baroness that his mentor married that probably would have done better if they had just banged each other until they were tired of it and went on with their lives.

Queen of Sorcery, Chapters Ten and Eleven: Content Notes: Racism, Abuse, Murder,

So now they’ve made it to Vo Mimbre, and Polgara has dressed them all in their finest so they make an appropriate impression on Korodullin and Mayaserana, the same-named (and likely very closely related to each other) king and queen of Arendia.

“Behold Vo Mimbre,” Mandorallen proclaimed with pride, “queen of cities. Upon that rock the tide of Angarak crashed and recoiled and crashed again. Upon this field met they their ruin. The soul and pride of Arendia doth reside within that fortress, and the power of the Dark One may not prevail against it.”
“We’ve been here before, Mandorallen,” Mister Wolf said sourly.
“Don’t be impolite, father,” Aunt Pol told the old man.

And then, to Garion’s surprise, although it shouldn’t be, since they’ve mentioned at least twice now that Polgara spent a lot of time with the Wacite Arends, Polgara asks Mandorallen to escort them to the king in flawless Arendish dialect. Mandorallen accepts the charge gratefully, and it turns out they kind of need it. After a somewhat sober remark from Durnik that the commoners and the nobles of the city seem to be doing a good job of politely ignoring each other, the party is challenged at the palace gates and it seems that everybody wants to pick a fight with everybody else, just like Mandorallen said.

“Abate thy pace, Sir Knight,” a tall man with dark hair and beard, wearing a black velvet surcoat over his polished mail, called down from the parapet to Mandorallen as they clattered into the broad plaza before the palace. “Lift thy visor so I may know thee.”
Mandorallen stopped in amazement before the closed gate and raised his visor. “What discourtesy is this?” he demanded. “I am, as all the world knows, Mandorallen, Baron of Vo Mandor. Surely thou canst see my crest upon the face of my shield.”
“Any man may wear another’s crest,” the man above declared disdainfully.
Mandorallen’s face darkened. “Art thou not mindful that no man on life would dare to counterfeit my semblance?”
“Sir Andorig,” another knight on the parapet told the dark-haired man, “this is indeed Sir Mandorallen. I met him on the field of the great tourney last year, and our meeting cost me a broken shoulder and put a ringing in my ears which hath not yet subsided.”
“Ah,” Sir Andorig replied, “since thou wilt vouch for him, Sir Helbergin, I will admit that this is indeed the bastard of Vo Mandor.”
“You’re doing to have to do something about that one of these days,” Barak said quietly to Mandorallen.
“It would seem so,” Mandorallen replied.

So, he knew it was him all along, but decided to fuck with him anyway. That’s the kind of thing that someone remembers, and if they meet you at the next tournament, they’re going to make very sure that you leave with at least all your bones broken, if they don’t decide to kill you in some plausibly deniable manner.

As for “doing something about it,” that seems to be the sort of thing where Mandorallen finds a nice public square, makes a declaration that anybody who wants the right to talk about his parentage has to beat him in combat, otherwise everybody should shut the fuck up or die. Knowing Mandorallen, he’ll probably make good on besting all the people who come by to say so. But Andorig isn’t done delivering insults.

“Who, however, are these others with thee who seek admittance, Sir Knight?” Andorig demanded. “I will not cause the gates to open for foreign strangers.”
Madnorallen straightened in his saddle. “Behold!” he announced in a voice that could probably be heard all over the city. “I bring you honor beyond measure. Fling wide the palace gates and prepare one and all to make obeisance. You look upon the holy face of Belgarath the Sorceror, the Eternal Man, and upon the divine countenance of his daughter, the Lady Polgara, who have come to Vo Mimbre to consult with the King of Arendia on diverse matters.”
“Isn’t that a little overdone?” Garion whispered to Aunt Pol.
“It’s customary, dear,” she replied placidly. “When you’re dealing with Arends, you have to be a little extravagant to get their attention.”
“And who hath told thee that this is the Lord Belgarath?” Andorig asked with the faintest hint of a sneer. “I will bend no knee before an unproved vagabond.”
“Dost thou question my word, Sir Knight?” Mandorallen returned in an ominously quiet voice. “And wilt thou then come down and put thy doubt to the test? Or is it perhaps that thou would prefer to cringe doglike behind thy parapet and yap at thy betters?”
“Oh, that was very good,” Barak said admiringly.
Mandorallen grinned tightly at the big man.
“I don’t think we’re getting anywhere with this,” Mister Wolf muttered. “It look like I’ll have to prove something to this skeptic if we’re ever going to get in to see Korodullin.” He slid down from his saddle and thoughtfully removed a twig from his horse’s tail, picked up somewhere during their journey. Then he strode to the center of the plaza and stood there in his gleaming white robe. “Sir Knight,” he called up mildly to Andorig, “you’re a cautious man, I see. That’s a good quality, but it can be carried too far.”
“I am hardly a child, old man,” the dark-haired knight replied in a tone hovering on the verge of insult, “and I believe only what mine own eye hath confirmed.”
“It must be a sad thing to believe so little,” Wolf observed. He bent then and inserted the twig he’d been holding between two of the broad granite flagstones at his feet. He stepped back a pace and stretched his hand out above the twig, his face curiously gentle. “I’m going to do you a favor, Sir Andorig,” he announced. “I’m going to restore your faith. Watch closely.” And then he spoke a single soft word that Garion couldn’t quite hear, but which set off the now-familiar surge and a faint roaring sound.

And about here is where I twigged to the realization that this roaring sound and surge is the “noise” that’s supposed to come along with magic that everyone who’s an adept can hear. So good job to Eddings for not making it so obvious that I figured it out in the first book. I wonder how many more books it will be before someone explains it to Garion or he deduces that’s what it is.

So the word that Belgarath spoke was almost certainly “grow,” because the twig eventually sprouts a full-fledged tree in the court, which eventually blossoms “a delicate pink and white” set of flowers, which, as Belgarath will note in the next line after the description of he flowers appears, are apple blossoms.

He patted the tree fondly and then turned back to the dark-haired knight who had sunk, white-faced and trembling to his knees. “Well, Sir Andorig,” he inquired, “what do you believe now?”
“Please forgive me, Holy Belgarath,” Andorig begged in a strangled voice.
Mister Wolf drew himself up and spoke sternly, his words slipping into the measured cadences of the Mimbrate idiom as easily as Aunt Pol’s had earlier. “I charge thee, Sir Knight, to care for this tree. It hath grown here to renew thy faith and trust. Thy debt to it must be paid with tender and loving attention to its needs. It time it will bear fruit, and thou wilt gather the fruit and give it freely to any who ask it of thee. For thy soul’s sake, thou wilt refuse none, no matter how humble. As the tree gives freely, so shalt thou.”
“That’s a nice touch,” Aunt Pol approved.
Wolf winked at her.
“I will do even as thou hast commanded me, Holy Belgarath,” Sir Andorig choked. “I pledge my heart to it.”
Mister Wolf returned to his horse. “At least he’ll do one useful thing in his life,” he muttered.
After that there was no further discussion. The palace gate creaked open, and they all rode into the inner courtyard and dismounted. Mandorallen led them past kneeling and even sobbing nobles who reached out to touch Mister Wolf’s robe as he passed.

Blest are they that have seen and believe. At the same time, even if Torak’s the only one who’s still corporeally present in the world, it seemed like all the other gods would presumably appear in spirit to their people on the regular, just so that nobody ends up having such skepticism that it takes someone growing a tree in the courtyard to be seen and understood as a person who has that kind of power. Then again, at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some sort of Grolim magic about making the normally very credulous Arends skeptical. It seems like there’s always a Grolim plot somewhere any time the hero party gets into trouble.

Although, if we’re looking for biblical analogues, I’ll say that having to take care of a tree for the rest of your life and give the fruit to anyone who asks is a much better sentence than having a bear set upon you to kill you because you made fun of a prophet.

Once in the throne room, there are introductions, and then Polgara and Mayaserana go off in private to have a talk between women that apparently can’t wait, while Korodullin goes off in conference with Belgarath in private. Garion, for his part, pulls off to the side to try and figure out how he’s going to tell Korodullin that there’s a plot afoot to try and kill him, and even more importantly, the ambassador to the Angaraks is the one who conceived of it and is funding it (and probably plenty of others like it). Blurting it out like he did in Cherek seems like even less of a good idea than it was there. At no point has “tell Belgarath and/or Polgara about it” crossed his mind, except when he was giving advice to Lelldorin to do it, much less been considered seriously, even though Lelldorin said Garion could tell anybody about the thing.

The situation then was so similar to this one that it seemed all at once like some elaborate game. The moves on the board were almost identical, and in each case he had been placed in the uncomfortable position of being required to block that last crucial move where a king would die and a kingdom would collapse. He felt oddly powerless, as if his entire life were in the fingers of two faceless players maneuvering pieces in the same patterns on some vast board in a game that, for all he knew, had lasted for eternity. There was no question about what had to be done. The players, however, seemed content to leave it up to him to come up with a way to do it.

I would love for this to be some cheeky meta on Eddings’ part, but it’s probably going to turn out disturbingly accurate, with Aldur and Torak as the players on the opposite ends of the game. To add tension to the situation, Nachak himself appears in the throne room not that soon afterward, and he’s none too happy that he wasn’t invited to say hello to the guests and also to do the necessary diplomatic counterparts to whatever Belgarath and Polgara are saying.

Korodullin’s face grew cold. “I do not recall summoning thee, Nachak,” he said.
“It is, then, as I had feared,” the Murgo replied. “These messengers have spoken ill of my race, seeking to dissever the friendship which doth exist between the thrones of Arendia and of Cthol Murgos. I am chagrined to find that thou hast given ear to slanders without offering me opportunity to reply. Is this just, august Majesty?”
[…there is absolutely bad blood between Belgarath and Nachak, and for the first time, we start to see people showcase their racism, rather than just talk about it…]
“I protest, your Majesty,” Nachak appealed to the king. “I protest in the strongest manner possible. All the world knows of his hatred for my people. How can you allow him to poison your mind against me?”
“He forgot the thees and thous that time,” Silk commented slyly.
“He’s excited,” Barak replied. “Murgos get clumsy when they’re excited. It’s one of their shortcomings.”
“Alorns!” Nachak spat.
“That’s right, Murgo,” Barak said coldly. He was still holding Hettar’s arm.
Nachak looked at them, and then his eyes widened as he seemed to see Hettar for the first time. He recoiled from the Algar’s hate-filled stare, and his half-dozen knights closed protectively around him. “Your Majesty,” he rasped, “I know that man to be Hettar of Algaria, a known murderer. I demand that you arrest him.”
Demand, Nachak?” the king asked with a dangerous glint in his eyes. “Thou wilt present demands to me in my own court?”
“Forgive me, your Majesty,” Nachak apologized quickly. “The sight of that animal so disturbed me that I forgot myself.”
“You’d be wise to leave now, Nachak,” Mister Wolf recommended. “It’s not really a good idea for a Murgo to be alone in the presence of so many Alorns. Accidents have a way of happening under such conditions.”

That, however, is a threat, and a barely-disguised one. Even if he is Holy Belgarath, Korodullin should be telling Belgarath’s party to keep their hands and their swords to themselves at this point.

Instead, we get Garion realizing that he’s got to do something, right now, that the “faceless players had made their final moves, an the game must end here.” So he tugs on Belgarath’s sleeve and tells him that he has to say something important. Belgarath is ready to dismiss him, but he sees something that makes him change his mind, and then…

“Some men are planning to kill the king of Arendia. Nachak’s one of them.” Garion had said it louder than he’d intended, and a sudden silence fell over the throne room at his words.
Nachak’s face went pale, and his hand moved involuntarily toward his sword hilt, then froze. Garion was suddenly keenly aware of Barak hulking just behind him and Hettar, grim as death in black leather, towering beside him. Nachak stepped back and made a quick gesture to his steel-clad knights. Quickly they formed a protective ring around him, their hands on their weapons. “I won’t stay and listen to such slander,” the Murgo declared.
“I have not yet given thee my permission to withdraw, Nachak,” Korodullin informed him coolly. “I require thy presence yet a while.” The young king’s face was stern, and his eyes bored into the Murgo’s. Then he turned to Garion. “I would hear more of this. Speak truthfully, lad, and fear not reprisal from any man for thy words.”

So Garion explains, but he hits a snag because he won’t identify Lelldorin as the source of his information, claiming that his loyalty to the person requires him not to betray him. Nachak suggests putting Garion on the rack for an hour to get the truth (that should say something right there), but Korodullin says he puts little faith in confessions obtained by torture, which makes him a much smarter leader than many Presidents of the United States of the last few decades.

To break the impasse, Mandorallen steps in to solve the problem in a properly Arendish way.

“By our law, however, a cause incapable of proof may be decided by trial at arms. I will champion this boy. I declare before this company that this Nachak is a foul villain who hath joined with diverse others to slay my king.” He pulled off his steel gauntlet and tossed it to the floor. The crash as it struck the polished stone seemed thunderous. “Take up my gage, Murgo,” Mandorallen said coldly, “or let one of thy sycophant knights take it up for thee. I will prove thy villainy upon thy body or upon the body of thy champion.”
Nachak stared first at the mailed gauntlet and then at the great knight standing accusingly before him. He licked his lips nervously and looked around the throne room. Except for Mandorallen, none of the Mimbrate nobles present were under arms. The Murgo’s eyes narrowed with a sudden desperation. “Kill him!” he snarled at the six men in armor surrounding him.
The knights looked shocked, doubtful.
“Kill him!” Nachak commanded them. “A thousand gold pieces to the man who spills out his life!”
The faces of the six knights went flat at his words. As one man they drew their swords and spread out, moving with raised shields toward Mandorallen. There were gasps and cries of alarm as the nobles and their ladies scrambled out of the way.
“What treason is this?” Mandorallen demanded of them. “Are ye so enamored of this Murgo and his gold that ye will draw weapons in the king’s presence in open defiance of the law’s prohibitions? Put up your swords.”
But they ignored his words and continued their grim advance.
“Defend thyself, Sir Mandorallen,” Korodullin urged, half-rising from his throne. “I free thee of the law’s constraints.”

And here we get to see more clearly the effect that accepting red gold apparently has on a person – they can be mind controlled into whatever the person promising them gold wants them to do, regardless of whether that’s something they actually want to do. This happened with the Chereks in the last book, but Garion wasn’t really in a position to notice it fully. Here, now, he can fix it in his head as to what happens to people who accept red gold. This continues to reinforce my complaint that there should be no alive Murgos outside of their own kingdoms if this is a known effect, but perhaps the skepticism about Belgarath is a common one, and the idea that red gold is soul-corrupting is similarly believed to be a mythological thing, since they’ve never seen anyone get their soul bought out with red gold before.

Barak, ever resourceful, rips down a sword from a display near the throne and slides it to Mandorallen, before he and Hettar also join the fray with their own weapons. Garion’s hand goes to his sword, thinking he’ll join in, but for once, somebody finally remembers that Garion gets berserker rage, and Belgarath pulls him away from the developing conflict so he can’t get himself injured or killed. The mind-controlled knights are too slow and clumsy for their free-thinking opponents, and several of them are cut down mercilessly before Nachak makes to flee. Garion yells to warn the others, but Hettar is already there and Nachak dies quickly to his sabre. Thus ends chapter ten.

Chapter Eleven starts with Mandorallen claiming victory. Korodullin acknowledges this, but says that the eagerness of the party to do a thorough job has deprived him of the opportunity to mine Nachak for intelligence about other plots. Belgarath says they’re likely to dry up as word of Nachak’s death gets around, which seems like a stretch, honestly. The plots drying up because Nachak’s not financing them any more, I will believe, but I can’t see someone like, say, Lelldorin deciding to quit on the good plot that was given to him because the person who was providing the gold got killed. The nobles of Asturia certainly still have enough wealth to maintain their own lifestyle and keep the serfs oppressed, so they could probably pool their own gold and find a convenient patsy to acquire things for them.

The floors are ordered cleaned and the bodies removed, and Barak, Mandorallen, and Hettar thank each other for the help. It turns out that the ease in which Hettar dispatched Nachak seems to be a weakness in the swordfighting training of every Murgo, which would explain Hettar’s high body count. Garion, for his part, is hoping for some time alone, since he can’t talk to Polgara yet about the guilt he is feeling about all the death that happened because he spoke up about what he’d been told. Instead, he gets cornered by a young woman who has quite a bit of flattery for him and wants to know if he’s single. Before things can get too awkward, however, Mandorallen arrives and gives Garion a perfect excuse to get away. Garion finally unburdens some of his mind to Mandorallen.

“I wanted to thank you, Mandorallen,” Garion said finally, struggling with it a little.
“For what, lad?”
“You knew whom I was protecting when I told the king about Nachak, didn’t you?”
“Naturally,” the knight replied in a rather offhand way.
“You could have told the king—actually it was your duty to tell him, wasn’t it?”
“But thou hadst given thy pledge.”
“You hadn’t, though.”
“Thou art my companion, lad. Thy pledge is as binding upon me as it is upon thee. Didst thou not know that?”
Garion was startled by Mandorallen’s words. The exquisite involvement of Arendish ethics were beyond his grasp. “So you fought for me instead.”
Mandorallen laughed easily. “Of course,” he answered, “though I must confess to thee in all honesty, Garion, that my eagerness to stand as thy champion grew not entirely out of friendship. In truth I found the Murgo Nachak offensive and liked not the the cold arrogance of his hirelings. I was inclined toward battle before thy need of championing presented itself. Perhaps it is I who should thank thee for providing the opportunity.”
“I don’t understand you at all, Mandorallen,” Garion admitted. “Sometimes I think you’re the most complicated man I’ve ever met.”
“I?” Mandorallen seemed amazed. “I am the simplest of men.”

And then undercuts that idea somewhat by giving Garion advice to guard his speech and conduct against the young lady he rescued Garion from, because she’s looking for a husband and he’s of marriageable age and good pedigree.

Also, I feel like Mandorallen thinks of Garion as his page, or maybe his squire, and he hasn’t actually told Garion this, but just acts as if it were true. That would at least explain the “your promises are my promises” bit. I think Mandorallen is being the most honest when he says he was itching for a fight in the first place and Garion gave him a convenient excuse, which then became a very convenient excuse when Nachak failed at being a diplomat when presented with a situation that he should have been able to handle. It seems to be a regular thing that many of the kingdoms are secretly looking for excuses to kill the Scary Foreigners. Despite, you know, living in absolute monarchies where someone could just petition the rulers for a pogrom. Or a privateering license. Or an indulgence, or any other official permission to commit murder on a wide scale.

Anyway, once Mandorallen leaves Garion’s side, the predatory countess manages to corner Garion again, but this time it’s Polgara who rescues him in a way that is entirely her, reminding Garion that it’s time for his medicine, and telling the countess that he needs a potion every the hours or the madness returns.

“The curse of his family,” Aunt Pol sighed. “They all have it—all the male children. The potion works for a while, but of course it’s only temporary. We’ll have to find some patient and self-sacrificing lady soon, so that he can marry and father children before his brains begin to soften. After that his poor wife will be doomed to spend the rest of her days caring for him.” She looked critically at the young countess. “I wonder,” she said. *Could it be possible that you are as yet unbetrothed? You appear to be off a suitable age.” She reached out and briefly took hold of Vasrana’s rounded arm. “Nice and strong,” she said approvingly. “I’ll speak to my father, Lord Belgarath, about this immediately.”
The countess began to back away, her eyes wide.
“Come back,” Aunt Pol told her. “His fits won’t start for several minutes yet.”
The girl fled.
“Can’t you ever stay out of trouble?” Aunt Pol demanded of Garion, leading him firmly away.
“But I didn’t say anything,” he objected.

Yes, blame Garion for the fact that nobody has taught him a gods-damned thing about how to behave around royalty, how to have courtly manners, how to properly and politely turn down someone who has interest in you, or any of these other skills that would serve him well, given how often he is in contact or the presence of nobles and royalty. And also, Polgara decided to go straight to an overkill option by making up a complete mental health issue that Garion does not have. What happens when that piece of information gets around and the selfless young girls of Arendia think that it’s an act of mercy and compassion to fuck Garion as many times as they can before his brains rot, and to get those children going for the same reason? And that whichever one he can manage to get pregnant first will be the one he marries, but all of them will gladly bear bastards for him for as long as he has sense. I assume we’re supposed to believe the rules of propriety and chivalry would prevent this from happening, but I can believe there are some families with second daughters or third daughters who would think that even being one of Garion’s official mistresses would be a better position than they could otherwise achieve. As Silk says, keep the lies simple. Unless anything short of this kind of grandiose story wouldn’t work on Countess Vasrana or any other determined suitor, and even then, Polgara should be blaming the system that rewards predatory girls rather than Garion’s lack of knowledge about a subject he’s gotten no instruction on, because Polgara has always swooped in to drive off any women that have taken an interest in Garion and expected his traveling companions to do the same.

Having already gotten aggravated at Garion for something he didn’t do, Polgara also snaps at Mandorallen when he inquires about something that’s vital to the continued existence of the Arendish kingdom.

“What matter did you discuss with our queen?” he asked. “I have not seen her smile so in years.”
“Mayaserana had a problem of a female nature. I don’t think you’d understand.”
“Her inability to carry a child to term?”
“Don’t Arends have anything better to do than gossip about things that don’t concern them? Why don’t you go find another fight instead of asking intimate questions?”
“The matter is of great concern to us all, my Lady,” Mandorallen apologized. “If our queen does not produce an heir to the throne, we stand in danger of dynastic war. All Arendia could go up in flames.”
“There aren’t going to be any flames, Mandorallen. Fortunately I arrived in time—though it was very close. You’ll have a crown prince before winter.”
“Is it possible?”
“Would you like all the details?” she asked pointedly. “I’ve noticed that men usually prefer not to know about the exact mechanics involved in childbearing.”
Mandorallen’s face slowly flushed. “I will accept thine assurances, Lady Polgara,” he replied quickly.
“I’m so glad.”
“I must inform the king,” he declared.
“You must mind your own business, Sir Mandorallen. The queen will tell Korodullin what he needs to know. Why don’t you clean off your armor? You look as if you just walked through a slaughterhouse.”
He bowed, still blushing, and moved away.
Men!” she said to his retreating back.

As Mandorallen said, if they can’t get an heir, the fiction is exposed and the country goes up in flames. So yeah, I’d say the potential infertility of the queen is the business of the kingdom, even if Polgara (and probably Mayaserana) wishes it wasn’t. Also, of course, the details of what it is are left out because Polgara makes an entirely credible threat to say what they are in great detail, which of course squicks out Mandorallen, because that’s Girl Stuff, eww. Good work on giving a convincing reason why you didn’t want to write that part.

Then she turned toward Garion. “I hear you’ve been busy.”
“I had to warn the king,” he replied.
“You seem to have an absolute genius for getting mixed up in this sort of thing. Why didn’t you tell me—or your grandfather?”
“I promised that I wouldn’t say anything.”
“Garion,” she said firmly, “under our present circumstances, secrets are very dangerous. You knew that what Lelldorin told you was important, didn’t you?”
“I didn’t say it was Lelldorin.”
She gave him a withering look. “Garion, dear,” she told him bluntly, “don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that I’m stupid.”
“I didn’t,” he floundered. “I wasn’t. I—Aunt Pol, I gave them my word that I wouldn’t tell anybody.”
She sighed. “We’ve got to get you out of Arendia,” she declared. “The place seems to be affecting your good sense. The next time you feel the urge to make one of these startling public announcements, talk it over with me first, all right?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he mumbled, embarrassed.
“Oh, Garion, what am I ever going to do with you?” Then she laughed fondly and put her arm about his shoulder and everything was all right again.

We can hope Garion takes this lesson to heart, but given how poorly Polgara has and continues to treat Garion, (this is making my “how you appease the abuser” hairs stand on end) I assume that if he tells anyone, it’ll be Belgarath. Or, more likely, he’ll tell someone else entirely, and they’ll tell Belgarath. Also, the way it’s come across, at least to this point, is that it’s very obvious that it’s Lelldorin who’s involved in the plot. As such, someone can save Garion the embarrassment and let him say honestly that he didn’t break his oath by just discreetly mentioning Lelldorin’s name when Garion isn’t there. Now, the real ethical dilemma that should be foregrounded here is what happens to someone who is credibly accused of being a conspirator. If everyone knows that named insurrectionists get their heads separated from their shoulders, and Lelldorin is supposed to be important to the prophecy, then there’s a real incentive for everyone else not to mention the name either. And then it can be *Garion, there is a time and a place for those kinds of announcements. Because you said it publicly, it had to be dealt with publicly, rather than allowing us to use Nachak to find all his terror cells and catch all of them instead. If you come across good intelligence like that in the future, mention it to Silk and he’ll get it to us.” It still seems like Polgara is treating Garion like he’s a burden and an aggravation, rather than presumably an important part of making everything work correctly.

The plot continues with Garion having a nightmare about being chased by the countess, and because of that, he tries to stick close to Mandorallen the next day. Which lets him be present for Andorig’s apology to Mandorallen.

About midmorning Sir Andorig, the dark-haired knight Mister Wolf had ordered to spend his days caring for the tree in the plaza, came looking for Mandorallen. “Sir Knight,” he said respectfully, “the Baron of Vo Ebor hath arrived from the north accompanied by his lady. They have asked after thee and besought me that I should seek thee out for them.”
“Thou art most kind, Sir Andorig,” Mandorallen replied, rising quickly from the bench where he had been sitting. “Thy courtesy becomes thee greatly.”
Andorig sighed. “Alas that it was not always so. I have this past night stood vigil before the miraculous tree which Holy Belgarath commended to my care. I thus had leisure to consider my life in retrospect. I have not been an admirable man. Bitterly I repent my faults and will strive earnestly for amendment.”
Wordlessly, Mandorallen clasped the knight’s hand and then followed him down a long hallway to a room where the visitors waited.

And the rest of the chapter is Garion watching the cringe-inducing interaction between Mandorallen and Nerina, because he has to be there so that there’s no rumors of impropriety between them while the Baron consults with the king. Garion both wants and doesn’t want one of the two to say something that can’t be taken back about their feelings for each other, and the narrative tells us that Garion loses the last of his prejudice against Mandorallen and begins to feel compassion and “the faint beginning of an understanding of the honor and towering pride which, though utterly selfless, was the foundation of that tragedy which had existed in Arendia for uncounted centuries.” I don’t fully follow the logic of how witnessing this conversation gives Garion any insight at all into the Arendish condition, but all the same, Arendia is a silly and violent place.

Also, that’s fairly fast forgiveness for someone on Mandorallen’s part, since not a chapter ago it seemed like he was going to have to have a widespread campaign to crack the heads of people who questioned his parentage. Then again, Mandorallen might recognize that what Belgarath did is a far wiser punishment than he would have inflicted, and he’d rather buy the hatchet than risk the old man turning his eye on him.

Chapter Eleven finishes with Durnik telling Garion that they’re getting ready to leave. Which ends Part One of this book. Part Two is Tolnedra, so maybe, hopefully, we’ll get to understand a little more about this cosplay Rome. Even if that understanding is “the author consulted less than zero sources on building this empire.”

Deconstruction Roundup for October 22, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is still letting the muse do what they’re going to do in hopes that they’ll eventually get back on track with the thing that does have to get done.)

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 waiting for everyone else to get their heads properly affixed so they can behave in socially acceptable ways.)

Queen of Sorcery: The Fair Break

Last time, Lelldorin left the party, with Mandorallen and others telling him point-blank that he had to rest and recover or he’ll die. And they also went through a war that had been apparently engineered through Grolim mind control and succeeded at breaking the war by Mandorallen thumping others at jousting, and then Durnik thumping the Grolim while he was casting, earning him a scold from Polgara.

Queen of Sorcery, Chapters Eight and Nine: Content Notes: sex-negativity

Chapter Eight starts with learning why Hettar will kill any Murgo he comes across if he can get away with it – it’s revenge for the death pf his parents, who died from torture, and the torture of the seven year-old Hettar by those Murgos. Hettar got his first revenge kill at ten, and Cho-Hag made him watch the Murgo die, thinking he’d have the same reaction that Durnik did and swear off revenge, but it didn’t take with Hettar. Garion hears this story and thinks that if revenge for the death of his parents an sustain Hettar, it can sustain him, too. And then we have an interesting destiny versus free will debate, one that would be a lot more complicated if there weren’t gods in the world.

“It is our nature,” the knight in his gleaming armor was saying in a melancholy voice. “We are over-proud, and it is our pride that dooms our poor Arendia to internecine war.”
“That can be cured,” Mister Wolf said.
“How?” Mandorallen asked. “It is in our blood. I myself am the most peaceful of men, but even I am subject to our national disease. Moreover, our divisions are too great, too buried in our history and our souls to be purged away. The peace will not last, my friend. Even now Asturian arrows sing in the forests, seeking Mimbrate targets, and Mimbre in reprisal burns Asturian houses and butchers hostages. War is inevitable, I fear.”
“No,” Wolf disagreed. “it’s not.”
“How may it be prevented?” Mandorallen demanded. “Who can cure our insanity?”
“I will, if I have to,” Wolf told him quietly, pushing back his grey hood.
Mandorallen smiled warmly. “I appreciate thy good intentions, Belgarath, but that is impossible, even for thee.”
“Nothing is actually impossible, Mandorallen,” Wolf answered in a matter-of-fact voice. “Most of the time I prefer not to interfere with other people’s amusements, but I can’t afford to have Arendia going up in flames just now. If I have to, I’ll step in and put a stop to any more foolishness.”
“Hast thou in truth such power?” Mandorallen asked somewhat wistfully as if he could not quite bring himself to believe it.
“Yes,” Wolf replied prosaically, scratching at his short white beard, “as a matter of fact, I do.”
Mandorallen’s face grew troubled, even a bit awed at the old man’s quiet statement, and Garion found his grandfather’s declaration profoundly disturbing. If Wolf could actually stop a war single-handedly, he’d have no difficulty at all thwarting Garion’s own plans for revenge. It was something else to worry about.

I think Mandorallen’s boast would have to have context to be believable, but it’s almost as bad to believe that he’s telling the complete truth and that he and his cheerful willingness to “only” severely injure his opponents is being the most peaceful of Arends. That’s more “we probably should have skipped Arendia, it is a violent place” evidence, but the Mrin demands, and so here we are.

That said, I feel like the narrator is understating that we have finally found something that makes Mandorallen have a second thought about just how powerful the old man in front of him is. People usually change for one of two reasons: because they genuinely want to, which is usually the most difficult but also the longest-lasting change, and because there’s something more powerful than they are that will deliver consequences if the change does not happen. Depending on which philosopher you follow at your core, you may believe that one or the other of these reasons is more likely or more necessary, but those are generally the two major reasons that change happens. Belgarath just threatened to forcibly change the nature of an entire country if they couldn’t get it together. (Which sounds like one of those Grolim tricks they keep discounting.) I wonder what the god of the Arends has to say about that kind of threat.

In any case, the party decides they may as well just stop at the Great Fair and get some additional supplies. The horses are apparently complaining, according to Hettar, which is exaggeration and lies, which horses do all the time, according to him. The knowledge that horses lie and are good at it apparently restores Silk’s faith in the universe and earns a quip from Wolf that Silk is an evil person. I don’t fully get it, honestly, but it’s there. At the fair itself, many of the merchants seem to know Silk by previous experience, which makes Durnik nervous that Silk is going to be recognized.

“Isn’t there some danger that somebody’ll recognize you as that other merchant?” Durnik asked. “The one the Murgos are looking for?”
“You mean Ambar? It’s not very likely. Ambar doesn’t come to Arendia very often, and he and Radek don’t look a bit alike.”
“But they’re the same man,” Durnik objected. “They’re both you.”
“Ah,” Silk said, raising one finger, “you and I both know that, but they don’t. To you I will always look like myself, but to others I look quite different.”
Durnik looked profoundly skeptical.

Which makes me wonder if Drasnians have disguise magic in their corner, such that Silk can turn on or off whether he’s recognizable at will, such that when he boasts that Ambar and Radek don’t look anything alike, he’s telling the complete truth, and Durnik is confused because Silk’s not using the disguise magic on him.

The party meets up with Delvor, an agent from Drasnia, and they chat in audible language about commerce and in manual language to establish there was a Murgo at the fair, but he left, and there are some Nadraks, but Delvor can’t tell if they’re real merchants or a cover for somebody. (This worldbuilding, argh.) Delvor offers the use of his tent, and to keep up the disguise, Silk gets to go out selling all of the curios that he hid in the folds of the wool that they’ve been carrying. Aunt Pol tells him not to corrupt Garion too much, since Garion’s acting as Radek’s porter, and Silk gets to go out on the town and practice his merchanting and haggling, which he is clearly enjoying, along with the feeling that comes with it of having swindled people into paying much more than any of his goods are worth. We are told “Garion, swept along by the little man’s enthusiasm, began to understand his friend’s fascination with this game where profit was secondary to the satisfaction of besting an opponent.” Just in case we were worried that Silk might actually be the evil little man he’s been called for enjoying the swindling, we’re told that Silk plays the game not for the money (presumably, he already has and will have more than enough of that for his entire life, being a prince and all that) but for the satisfaction of winning. Which tracks, as best I can tell, about how all the people for whom their money is merely numbers also play the game. They don’t care what happens to everyone else so long as they get the upper hand on someone.

At the end of Silk’s wheeling and dealing, he’s got a bottle of perfume that he doesn’t actually know the value of, which annoys him greatly, because not knowing the value means he doesn’t know what to ask for it in trade. Eventually, he gives it as a gift to Polgara, who remarks upon it as being a “princely” gift, and Silk is left aggravated at the Rivan he traded “two ivory-bound books of Wacite verse” for the perfume. Delvor arrives shortly after with the news that five Murgos and two dozen Thulls have just arrived at the Fair, claiming to have come from the south, but actually coming from the north, because there’s clay on their boots which doesn’t come from the south. Barak suggests the best way to stop the Murgos and Thulls from slowing them down is to kill them all, but Silk says that’s an easy way to get in trouble with the legionnaires that patrol the fair as its police. Delvor tells them that the lead Murgo is named Asharak, which aggravates everyone, and then Garion spots (and Durnik confirms) that Brill is out there as well. Which leads Belgarath to tell Durnik to be visible but not to let on that he knows he’s being watched, which is the beginning of a plan, essentially, to keep Brill’s attention on them by coming and going with just enough frequency that he doesn’t report back to Asharak at any point, denying the intelligence until it will be too late and the party will have escaped out the back of Delvor’s tent while everyone is intently watching the front and waiting for the right time to attempt to capture them. Barak suggests having Hettar just stab Brill in the back, but Belgarath says it’s better to feed him false intelligence instead.

The plan goes according to spec and the chapter ends with a touch of revenge against Asharak that he’ll have to sort out before pursuing them.

Silk shook his friend’s hand. “I’d still like to know where you got those lead coins.”
Delvor winked at him.
“What’s this?” Wolf asked.
“Delvor’s got some Tolnedran crowns stamped out of lead and gilded over,” Silk told him. “He hid some of them in the Murgos’ tent, and tomorrow morning he’s going to go to the legionnaires with a few of them and accuse the Murgos of passing them. When the legionnaires search the Murgos’ tent, they’re sure to find the others.”
“Money’s awfully important to Tolnedrans,” Barak observed. “If the legionnaires get excited enough about those coins, they might start hanging people.”
Delvor smirked. “Wouldn’t that be a terrible shame?”

Everyone sneaks out after this and the chapter finishes properly. If Tolnedra is supposed to be fantasy Rome, though, I believe the correct punishment for this would be crucifixion, because if having an untainted monetary supply is as important to the Tolnedrans as Barak claims it is, this is the kind of offense that you want to leave a warning for anyone else who’s thinking about doing the same. That said, based on what we know so far, I think that the need for a pure money supply would be a Drasnian thing, rather than a Tolnedran one. Also, for someone who knows a bit about historical Rome, lead coins were currency during at least some portions of the Empire. To the point that Romans who kept their currency in their mouths to prevent robbers from getting it, or so the story goes, got lead poisoning. So. Counterfeiting would definitely be seen as a crime against the emperor, with harsh penalties for those who did it, but lead might not be the material to use in this particular case for the counterfeit.

Chapter Nine starts with what would be a great introduction to this book if we were trying to set up the “our heroes are the evil side” idea.

Garion was numb with exhaustion by then, and his mind had drifted into an almost dreamlike trance. The faces of his companions all seemed strange to him as the pale light began to grow stronger. At times he even forgot why they rode. He seemed caught in a company of grim-faced strangers pounding along a road to nowhere through a bleak, featureless landscape with the wind-whipped cloaks flying dark behind them like the clouds scudding low and dirty overhead. A peculiar idea began to take hold of him. The strangers were somehow his captors, and they were taking him away from his real friends. The idea seemed to grow stronger the farther they rode, and he began to be afraid.
Suddenly, without knowing why, he wheeled his horse and broke away, plunging off the side of the road and across the open field beside it.
“Garion!” a woman’s voice called sharply from behind, but he set his heels to his horse’s flanks and sped even faster across the rough field.
One of them was chasing him, a frightening man in black leather with a shaved head and a dark lock at his crown flowing behind him in the wind. In a panic Garion kicked at his horse, trying to make the beast run even faster, but the fearsome rider behind him closed the gap quickly and seized the reins from his hands. “What are you doing?” he demanded harshly.
Garion stared at him, unable to answer.
Then the woman in the blue cloak was there, and the others not far behind her. She dismounted quickly and stood looking at him with a stern face. She was tall for a woman, and her face was cold and imperious. Her hair was very dark, and there was a single white lock at her brow.
Garion trembled. The woman made him terribly afraid.
“Get down off that horse,” she commanded.
“Gently, Pol,” a silvery-haired old man with an evil face said.
A huge red-bearded giant rode closer, threatening, and Garion, almost sobbing with fright, slid down from his horse.
“Come here,” the woman ordered. Falteringly, Garion approached her.
“Give me your hand,” she said.
Hesitantly, he lifted his head and she took his wrist firmly. She opened his fingers to reveal the ugly mark on his palm that he seemed to always have hated and then put his hand against the white lock on her forehead.
“Aunt Pol,” he gasped, the nightmare suddenly dropping away.

Which could either be reality reasserting itself for him, or the evil people putting him into a trance to make him more docile or friendly. Having re-recognized everyone, Garion explains what happened, Belgarath diagnoses the problem as “Garion took his amulet off,” tells him yet again that he can’t remove it for any reason at all, and then with Polgara and her amulet, they do something that involves Garion seeing a vision of Aldur. Presumably this time they’ve set up actual protections and alarms in case someone tries this again. Or possibly even found some manner of instilling in Garion that kind of primal fear that would prevent him from taking of the amulet unless he really had to.

This whole sequence is good for that alternate universe that would probably have been more interesting than the story we have now, and with things described that way, there could be a lot of ambiguity about which of those two worlds is the real one and which of them is the compulsion. I wish we had more of this story, instead.

As it is, Garion points out a raven, which Durnik thinks is suspicious, because it’s circling them, and Polgara says that it’s Chamdar after extending her senses to check (and telling Garion to keep his own mind inside his own body.) After Belgarath tells Polgara that her owl form won’t catch Chamdar’s raven, Polgara instead convinces an eagle to hunt the raven, who doesn’t notice the attack until it’s too late to stop it. With Chamdar chased off, Belgarath decides the best thing to do is make for Vo Mimbre, so that he can tell Korodullin about the infestation he’s got in his kingdom.

“Korodullin?” Durnik looked puzzled. “Wasn’t that the name of the first Arendish king? It seems to me somebody told me that once.”
“All Arendish kings are named Korodullin,” Silk told him. “And the queens are all names Mayaserana. It’s part of the fiction the royal family here maintains to keep the kingdom from flying apart. They have to marry as closely within the bloodline as possible to maintain the illusion of the unification of the houses of Mimbre and Asturia. It makes them all a bit sickly, but there’s no help for it—considering the peculiar nature of Arendish politics.”
“All right, Silk,” Aunt Pol said reprovingly.

So all the Rivan Warders are named Brand, all the Nyissan queens are named Salmissra, all the Arendish kings are Korodullin and all the queens are Mayaserana. I feel like this author really hated coming up with names, so he found as many excuses as possible to keep reusing them.

Also, this is going to sound stupid as everything, but given how much a goodly number of Asturians seem to want open rebellion and the opportunity to crush Mimbrates, where are they finding the queens Mayaserana from if they’re supposed to be Asturian? Are there enough sympathizers in the Asturian nobility to find a suitable woman every time there needs to be a new one? I’m pretty sure Silk’s comment is supposed to mean that the royal family routinely marries within the boundary lines of consanguinity, with the attendant sex-linked recessives and rarer genetic diseases that spring up in the royal families of Latin Christendom, but I’m trying to figure out why this would be necessary if there are willing Asturian women who can trace their lineage to the original Mayaserana who could be brought in for needed genetic diversity. (The problem with reading a paint-by-numbers fantasy that runs on popular perception of the tropes is when you have at least a little training in the time periods they’re mimicking, the mimicry quickly becomes annoying or aggravating because of how wrong it is.) If there aren’t any Asturian women willing to take on the fiction of being a Mayaserana, then presumably this whole thing should have exploded long before this point, and then it doesn’t matter where the Mimbrate king finds his wife, because the supposed peace brokered has been shattered. Which, I suppose, would draw the ire of Ancient Belgarath or his daughter, but it’s been long enough, I think, that most people think of Belgarath as a figure of legend, rather than the old man standing in front of them. (YEEEES! MA-GIC HEL-MET! And I’ll Give You A SAAAAM-PLLLE!) So, again, why do we have this situation, other than “the author picked and chose which bits he wanted to include without thinking about the whys or how it might affect the world”?

There’s a little back and forth about how Chamdar is probably trying to set himself up as Grolim High Priest at this point, and a travelogue, where Garion figures out that he was targeted by Chamdar, but Belgarath doesn’t say the real reason why instead, and where Garion can’t find anything other than “he’s an Arend” as a reason why to dislike Mandorallen, believing everything else that he has as a reason was influenced by Lelldorin.

And then there’s a lady, which has a story behind it, and the narrative takes time while telling this story to mock Durnik and his beliefs.

“When Mandorallen was about Garion’s age, he showed a great deal of promise—strong, courageous, not too bright—the qualities that make a good knight. His father asked me for advice, and I made arrangements for the young man to live for a while with the Baron of Vo Ebor—that’s his castle back there. The baron had an enormous reputation, and he provided Mandorallen with the kind of instruction he needed. Mandorallen and the baron became almost like father and son, since the baron was quite a bit older. Everything was going along fine until the baron got married. His bride, however, was much younger—about Mandorallen’s age.”
“I think I see where this is going,” Durnik remarked disapprovingly.
“Not exactly,” Wolf disagreed. “After the honeymoon, the baron returned to his customary knightly pursuits and left a very bored young lady wandering around his castle. It’s a situation with all kinds of interesting possibilities. Anyway, Mandorallen and the lady exchanged glances—then words—the usual sort of thing.”
“It happens in Sendaria, too,” Durnik observed, “but I’m sure the name we have for it is different from the one they use here.” His tone was critical, even offended.
“You’re jumping to conclusions, Durnik,” Wolf told him. “Things never went any further. It might have been better if they had. Adultery isn’t really all that serious, and in time they’d have gotten bored with it. But, since they both loved and respected the baron too much to dishonor him, Mandorallen left the castle before things could get out of hand. Now they both suffer in silence.[…]”

This is in line with other mockery of Sendarian prudery that’s happened beforehand, usually with Durnik as the target of the same. It’s actually a nice change of pace from how fantasy worlds often uncritically parrot various conservative Christian moralities without thinking about whether they actually apply in the case of the world built. (In Garion’s case, everyone wants to make sure he doesn’t get busy because there’s probably prophecy or other things involved with him.) Right after Belgarath displays this pragmatism of belief, though, the author does decide that Polgara also needs some mockery.

“Does the baron know about it?” Durnik asked.
“Naturally,” Wolf replied. “That’s the part that makes the Arends get all mushy inside about it. There was a knight once, stupider than most Arends, who made a bad joke about it. The baron promptly challenged him and ran a lance through him during the duel. Since then very few people have found the situation humorous.”
“It’s still disgraceful,” Durnik said.
“Their behavior’s above reproach, Durnik,” Aunt Pol maintained firmly. “There’s no shame in it as long as it doesn’t go any further.”
“Decent people don’t allow it to happen in the first place,” Durnik asserted.
“You’ll never convince her, Durnik,” Mister Wolf told the smith. “Polgara spent too many years associating with the Wacite Arends. They were as bad or worse than the Mimbrates. You can’t wallow in that kind of sentimentality for that long without some of it rubbing off. Fortunately it hasn’t totally blotted out her good sense. She’s only occasionally girlish and gushy. If you can avoid her during those seizures, it’s almost as if there was nothing wrong with her.”
“My time was spent a little more usefully than yours, father,” Aunt Pol observed acidly. “As I remember, you spent those years carousing in the waterfront dives in Camaar. And then there was that uplifting period you spent amusing the depraved women of Maragor. I’m certain those experiences broadened your concept of morality enormously.”
Mister Wolf coughed uncomfortably and looked away.

It backfires spectacularly, of course, because despite the general sex-positivity of the position of “eh, adultery, whatever” (ETA: sex-positive in this case means “having sex is a good thing and people should do it rather than contort themselves into painful positions to avoid doing what they want” rather than any broader, more general message about it being a good idea to break contracts and promises that someone has made to someone else, since there’s no corresponding worldbuilding about how seriously Arends take marriage vows or whether they think of them as things that come alongn with pre-arranged marriages or the like) and the consistent “no, Durnik, the world does not work according to your prudery” messaging, we still have this argument that Polgara’s infatuation with courtly love is a morally superior position to Belgarath’s time with the sex workers. I have to guess it is because sex workers and actual sex with sex workers is immoral in this world, because the narrative does not say anything about how Polgara is alone in her opinion, and also, Belgarath looks embarrassed about that being brought up, so presumably there’s at least some shame component attached to it. I’m guessing the approved relationship model here is something like “healthy sex life, probably within the confines of a religiously blessed union, with a partner who does not do sex work,” which is sort of the U.S. default official position for someone who doesn’t have a more conservative or liberal interpretation they are being vocal about.

The “Polgara loves courtly romance and the Arends and it makes her turn into a giggling, gushing girl devoid of sense” thing can go die in a fire. Women are allowed to like nice things and to request things like baths or be charmed by an accent and cadence that hasn’t been heard in a while. She can like all these things and still be a shit parent and a Sorceress Supreme and all of those other things and we don’t have to descend to the level of “at least I don’t spend my free time drinking and whoring” to get there.

The plot continues with the party getting prepared to enter Vo Mimbre, having inquired of monks that don’t lie and also answer any questions they’re asked as to whether any Murgos have passed their way and received a negative answer. Which doesn’t mean much when you’re dealing with people who want to wipe their presence from your mind or otherwise manipulate it, but I guess this is supposed to be taken as reliable information. Polgara insists on everyone being properly dressed to make good impressions. Belgarath is not having any of the fancy clothing options, but that doesn’t deter Polgara.

“Lots of things are silly, father. I know the Arends better than you do. You’ll get more respect if you look the part. Mandorallen and Hettar and Barak will wear their armor; Durnik and Silk and Garion can wear the doublets Fulrach gave them in Sendar; I’ll wear my blue gown, and you’ll wear the white robe. I insist, father.”
“You what? Now listen here, Polgara—”
“Be still, father,” she said absently, examining Garion’s blue doublet.
Wolf’s face darkened, and his eyes bulged dangerously.
“Was there something else?” she asked with a level gaze.
Mister Wolf let it drop.
“He’s as wise as they say he is,” Silk observed.

Well, there’s also the possibility that he might not be doing it all of his own accord. The Will and the Word, after all, could mean that there was some extra oomph behind it and Garion doesn’t notice. Because, was she is currently characterized, I expect Polgara would use something like that on her own father as a way of settling the argument before it can begin. (She even says this in a not quoted bit above about how they might argue about it for an hour or two, but she’s getting her way regardless of his objections.) And also, the explanation consistently used “Be [Z]” as the usual way of phrasing the Word to enact the Will.

Having gotten everyone the way she wants them, the party enters Vo Mimbre and the chapter ends. There’s probably going to be more action in the next chapter than there was in this one, so I suppose that’s a good thing.

Deconstruction Roundup for October 15, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is still trying to get things done on time Even though that’s not always going as well as they would like.)

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 still extremely tired of the way that capitalism is prolonging the worldwide pandemic.)

Queen of Sorcery: The Average Emotional Commitment of an Arend

Last time, the adventuring company got ambushed, which was profoundly disturbing to Durnik, got accosted on the Imperial Highway, which was profoundly aggravating to the Tolnedran legion captain trying to keep the Mimbrates off the highway, got to see the lives of the serfs up close, which appeared to be profoundly disturbing to Lelldorin, and Asharak has his mental claws in Garion again, which is profoundly aggravating to me.

Queen of Sorcery: Chapters Six and Seven: Content Notes: privilege guilt, protagonist-centered morality, sexism, mind control

Having now seen the plight of the serfs up close, Lelldorin is ready to right the wrong completely, in the kind of way that people who have just learned about a structural wrong are wont to do.

“How can they bear it?”
“Do they have any choice?”
“My father at least looks after the people on his land,” the young man asserted defensively. “No one goes hungry or without shelter—but those people are treated worse than animals. I’ve always been proud of my station, but now it makes me ashamed.” Tears actually stood in his eyes.
[…Garion’s glad Lelldorin gets it, but he’s not sure what Lelldorin’s going to say next…]
“I’ll renounce my rank,” Lelldorin declared suddenly as if he had been listening to Garion’s thoughts, “and when I return from this quest, I’ll go among the serfs and share their lives—their sorrows.”
“What good will that do? How would your suffering in any way make theirs less?” Lelldorin looked up sharply, a half-dozen emotions chasing each other across his open face. Finally he smiled, but there was a determination in his blue eyes. “You’re right, of course,” he said. You always are. It’s amazing how you can always see directly to the heart of a problem, Garion.”
“Just what have you got in mind?” Garion asked a little apprehensively.
“I’ll lead them in revolt. I’ll sweep across Arendia with an army of serfs at my back.” His voice rang as his imagination fired with the idea.
Garion groaned. “Why is that always your answer to everything, Lelldorin?” he demanded. “In the first place, the serfs don’t have any weapons and they don’t know how to fight. No matter how hard you talk, you’d never get them to follow you. In the second place, if they did, every nobleman in Arendia would join ranks against you. They’d butcher your army, and afterward, things would be ten times worse. In the third place, you’d just be starting another civil war, and that’s exactly what the Murgos want.”
Lelldorin blinked several times as Garion’s words sank in. His face gradually grew mournful again. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he confessed.
“I didn’t think you had. You’re going to keep making those mistakes as long as you keep carrying your brain in the same scabbard with your sword, Lelldorin.

Seems like Garion’s inner voice came out to say hello again. Or Garion’s been paying a lot more attention to everyhing than the narrative has been letting on.

That said, this is exactly correct with regard to how many people react when confronted with the reality of systemic oppression and their own complicity in it. Shame and embarrassment and a want to fix the thing immediately, or to somehow make a gesture to absolve oneself of the matter entirely, because nobody likes finding out that they’ve been oppressing other people. So long as the “other” is an abstract concept, something that isn’t your neighbor, your friend, your co-worker, your child, you don’t have to feel responsible, but as soon as it’s someone you know, then there’s a problem. And Lelldorin does what most people do in that situation and makes it about himself, instead of about the people who are being oppressed. He’ll give up his place, or he’ll make himself the leader of a serf revolt and fix things, but it’s about him, and not about them. A thing that would be more likely to help would be to free the serfs and provide them with enough to get themselves established and able to survive on their own, and then deal with them as people from that point forward. And then to talk to all of their neighbors and friends and convince them to do the same thing, possibly by showing how much more successful your people are by being free and able to bargain themselves, rather than as serfs. I doubt Lelldorin or his father will go that far, and I suspect that the longer Lelldorin stays away from contemplating the plight of the serfs, the more likely it is he’s not going to do anything at all.

Garion says that Arends aren’t stupid, just impulsive, and Lelldorin points out the places they are about to cross are full of bodies, many of them unburied but for the moss growing on them, because it’s the best place for people to ambush each other, and they have been for as long as the wars have been going on, and that’s not impulsive at all. And they have two days of travel in this space where they can all be reminded of past destruction.

“Two days, probably.”
Two days? And it’s all like this?”
Lelldorin nodded.
Why?” Garion’s tone was harsher, more accusing than he’d intended.
“At first for pride—and honor,” Lelldorin replied. “Later for grief and revenge. Finally it was simply because we didn’t know how to stop. As you said before, sometimes we Arends aren’t very bright.”
“But always brave,” Garion answered quickly.
“Oh yes,” Lelldorin admitted. “Always brave. It’s our national curse.”

It almost sounds like Brand’s plan to get the factions to stop fighting by having them marry was doomed from the start, because the hat of the Arends is that they’re gangs, and gangs have an infinite amount of wrongs to revenge themselves with, and they recruit people by telling them they’ve been wronged by someone else, and then once the cycle starts, it won’t stop until everyone’s dead or they somehow manage to actually let go of the wrongs and make a peace, and then stick to it. It’s going to end either in geocide or reconciliation. No wonder Belgarath doesn’t want anything to do with the place.

The plot continues with the party getting attacked by Algroths, which are troll-cousins, but the kind of entities that don’t leave survivors when they attack. Lelldorin suggests a tor where someone held off a Mimbrate army for a month as a good defensive point, and the party books it for that space, slashing and stabbing along the way. The Algroths have venomous claws, and for once, it’s not Garion who gets clawed along the way, it’s Lelldorin. Once the party is secure in a defensible place, they work to get the venom out of Lelldorin, which requires a certain amount of magic from Polgara to light a fire in the rain, but after that, it’s mostly boiling water and lancing wounds that are trying to close over venomous blood. While that’s going on, a horn blows, which Belgarath says is the sign of someone he’s expecting, and whistles to let that person know where they are. The unknown person makes a grand entrance a few paragraphs later, after another horn blow.

And then a huge horse bearing a man in full armor bust out of the trees and thundered down upon the attacking creatures. The armored man crouched over his lance and plunged directly into the midst of the startled Algroths. The great horse screamed as he charged, and his iron-shod hoofs churned up big clots of mud. The lance crashed through the chest of one of the largest Algroths and splintered from the force of the blow. The splintered end took another full in the face. The knight discarded the shattered lance and drew his broadsword with a single sweep of his arm. With wide swings to the right and the left he chopped his way through the pack, his warhorse trampling the living and the dead alike into the mud of the road. At the end of his charge he whirled and plunged back again, onve more opening a path with his sword. The Algroths turned and fled howling into the woods.
“Mandorallen!” Wolf shouted. “Up here!”
The armored knight raised his blood-spattered visor and looked up the hill. “Permit me to disperse this rabble first, mine ancient friend,” he answered gaily, clanged down his visor, and plunged into the rainy woods after the Algroths.
“Hettar!” Barak shouted, already moving.
Hettar nodded tersely, and the two of them ran to their horses. They swung into their saddles and plunged down the wet slope to the aid of the stranger.
“Your friend shows a remarkable lack of good sense,” Silk observed to Mister Wolf, wiping the rain from his face. “Those things will turn on him any second now.”
“It probably hasn’t occurred to him that he’s in any danger,” Wolf replied. “He’s a Mimbrate, and they tend to think they’re invincible.”

*siiiigh* So we have two different hot-blooded people trying to share the same territory, then. No wonder they’re always fighting, revenging, and avenging each other. None of them have a lick of sense in their heads.

Mandorallen, Barak, and Hettar beat back the Algroths, and then Mandorallen is more formally introduced.

“And pray tell, who is this lady, whose beauty doth bedazze mine eye?”
“A pretty speech, Sir Knight,” Aunt Pol replied with a rich laugh, her hand going almost unconsciously to her damp hair. “I’m going to like this one, father.”
“The legendary Lady Polgara?” Mandorallen asked. “My life hath now seen its crown.” His courty bow was somewhat marred by the creaking of his armor.

And apparently his flattery works on Polgara, which very well sounds very shallow and very “wimmins, amirite?” to me. She’s a freaking unaging sorceress, and you’re telling me she reacts like this to courtly speech? It really seems like the narrative wants to undercut Polgara at every turn with “But don’t forget, she’s a WOMAN and WOMEN are susceptible to flattery and other things that mean Polgara’s not actually reliable enough to achieve anything important.”

Lelldorin’s introduction has Mandorallen remark that the rumor mill says Lelldorin is rebelling against the crown, but Belgarath basically says “what we’re doing is more important” and before Mandorallen can argue anything, the shadowless rider appears. Garion, of course, can’t actually remember what the important thing he needs to know about this encounter, but unlike all the other times, this time, the rider pulls down his hood, revealing “a steel mask cat in the form of a face that was at once beauriful and strangely repelling”, and then he speaks. As it turns out, this is not Asharak again, but another Grolim by the name of Chamdar, who is dropping in to see how the Prophecy is going with Belgarath and how he managed to translate/interpret it into actionable language. And to taunt a little bit about how it’s inevitable that Zedar wil get the Orb to Torak and so all their effort is for nothing. Except he doesn’t seem to believe it quite as much as he should.

“It isn’t complete yet, old man.”
“It will be, Chamdar,” Wolf replied confidently. “I’ve already seen to that.”
“Which is the one who will live twice?” the figure asked suddenly.
Wolf smiled codly, but did not answer.
“Hail, my Queen,” the figue said mockingly then to Aunt Pol.
“Grolim courtesy always leaves me quite cold,” she returned with a frosty look. “I’m not your queen, Chamdar.”
“You will be, Polgara. My Master said that you are to become his wife when he comes into his kingdom. You’ll be queen of all the world.”
“That puts you at a bit of a disadvantage, doesn’t it, Chamdar? If I’m o become your queen, you can’t really cross me, can you?”
“I can work around you, Polgara, and once you’ve become the bride of Torak, his will becomes your will. I’m sure you won’t hold any old grudges at that point.”
“I think we’ve had about enough of this, Chamdar,” Mister Wolf said. Your conversation’s beginning to bore me. You can have your shadow back now.” He waved his hand negligently as if brushing away a troublesome fly. “Go,” he commanded.
Once again, Garion felt that strange surge and that hollow roaring in his mind. The horseman vanished.
“You didn’t destroy him, did you?” Silk gasped in a shocked voice.
“No,” Mister Wolf told him. “It was all just an illusion. It’s a childish trick the Grolims find impressive. A shadow can be projected over quite some distance if you want to take the trouble. All I did was send his shadow back to him.” He grinned suddenly with a sly twist to his lips. “Of course, I selected a somewhat indirect route. It may take a few days to make the trip. It won’t actualy hurt him, but it’s going to make him a bit uncomfortable—and extremely conspicuous.”

Chamdar is then mentioned to be one of the chief Grolim priests, and when Polgara says Lelldorin is going to be down for at least a week, Durnik suggests rigging up a litter to transport him between some horses, which is accepted as a suggestion, since they still need to make ground and not be exposed. Which gets us through the end of Chapter 6.

I’m still a bit miffed that Grolim mind tricks still work on Garion, given that Polgara and Belgarath just broke one and would presumably have thought to shield him against the others, preferably in some other way than an amulet that can be taken off. On the same logic of it still working and the last one working, one would think that Belgarath wouldn’t use that same “the Grolims think it’s impressive” tone as if it were something so far beneath him that he would never use it. Because it’s still pretty clearly working on Garion. And, yet again, they haven’t noticed that it’s happening. So it’s got to be more than just “well, the primitive foreigners think it’s impressive, but the Civilized people don’t.” going on here.

Also, there’s a particularly creepy vibe to “our God has chosen you as his bride, and when everything is complete, you won’t have any free will to resist him, so enjoy your incoming reality as his slave!” I realize that the sexual assault threat has to go to Polgara, because, at least up to this point, we don’t have any other women in the party, but still, Sorcerors of Gor doesn’t really seem like the thing you want to be emulating, y’know?

So, Chapter 7, for the most part, is going to be “Yet another of Chamdar’s subordinates creates a delay,” but there will be some choice parts worth quoting in it, so here we go all the same. The first part of the chapter is about Lelldorin’s steadily worsening condition as the party continues to try and make time. Garion has decided that his opinion of Mandorallen is that he has “an egotism so pure that there was a kind of innocence about it[…]and Mandorallen’s extravagant courtesy to Aunt Pol struck Garion as beyond the bounds of proper civility. To make maters even worse, Aunt Pol seemed quite willing to accept the knight’s flatteries at face value.” Garion seems satisfied that the other men seem to have the same kind of opinion of Mandorallen, and his attempts at telling Lelldorin to bear his injury with good cheer gets him pointedly told to go somewhere else. (Which he does, but not before complaining about Lelldorin’s incivility.) I don’t know if Pol is genuinely interested in the flattery, or whether she considers this to be part of her proper due from everyone, and only Mandorallen has figured out how to properly worship her. It still feels like “wimmins, amirite?” in this context, despite it being Garion who is complaining.

And, as expected, Eddings makes the mistake of confusing thee/thou for formality.

“Do they all talk like that?” Garion asked with a certain rancor. “Thee’s and thou’s and doth’s?”
“Mimbrates tend to be very formal,” Aunt Pol explained. “You’ll get used to it.”
“I think it sounds stupid,” Garion muttered darkly, glaring after the knnight.
“An example of good manners won’t hurt you all that much, Garion.”

Which I wouldn’t have batted at eye at as the reader during the time when this book is something to be read, but if Mimbrates were formal, it they would constantly be using “you” and “one” and so forth.

Anyway, Garion asks about the whole “Bride of Torak” and “Prophecy” thing, and while he doesn’t get brushed off this time, Polgara indicates she’s not all that interested in the being betrothed to the evil god or the Mrin Codex, and how it talks about “the bear, the rat, the man who will live twice” and now I know why Silk in the first book keeps getting referred to as “rat-faced” and Barak is the territory of the Bear God and has the Doom.

There’s a commotion in front of them, which Mandorallen goes to investigate, and sadly reports back that there’s a war going on in front of them, which they can’t go around, and so Mandorallen suggests the most direct route he knows.

“Do you think they’ll take money to let us pass?” Durnik asked dubiously.
“In Arendia there is another way to make such purchase, Goodman,” Mandorallen responded. “May I prevail upon thee to obtain six or eight stout poles perhaps twenty feet in length and about as thick as my wrist at the butt?”
“Of course.” Durnik took up his axe.
“What have you got in mind?” Barak rumbled.
“I will challenge them,” Mandorallen announced calmly, “one or all. No true knight could refust me without being called craven. Will thou be my second and deliver my challenge, my Lord?”
“What if you lose?” Silk suggested.
Lose?” Mandoralled seemed shocked. “I? Lose?

…yep. Because they’re Arends, this is supposed to make completely logial sense. Rather than both armies going “Fuck off, we’re fighting!” or “I don’t see an army. Crush ’em.” And so…

“Sir Mandorallen, Baron of Vo Mimbre, desires entertainment,” he [Barak] declaimed. “It wouls amuse him if each of your parties would select a champion to joust wih him. If, however, you are all such cowardly dogs that you have no somach for such a contest, cease this brawling and stand aside so that your betters may pass.”
“Splendidly spoken, my Lord Barak,” Mandorallen said with admiration.
“I’ve always had a way with words,” Barak replied modestly.

What’s the cause of this war? An insult. When Mandorallen asks what the insult was, neither of them can answer, which makes Mandorallen boggle even more, before there’s even more words thrown.

“Of Sir Mandorallen the bastard we have all heard,” a swarthy knight in black enamelled armor sneered, “but who is this red-bearded ape who so maligns his betters?”
“You’re going to take that?” Barak asked Mandorallen.
“It’s more or less true,” Mandorallen admitted with a pained look, “since there was some temporary irregularity about my birth which still raises questions about my legitimacy. This knight is Sir Haldorin, my third cousin—twice removed.Since it’s considered unseemly in Arendia to spill the blood of kinsmen, he thus cheaply gains reputation for boldness by casting the matter in my teeth.”
“Stupid custom,” Barak grunted. “In Cherek kinsmen kill each other with more enthusiasm than they kill strangers.”
“Alas,” Mandorallen sighed. “This is not Cherek.”
“Would you be offended if I dealt with this?” Barak asked politely.
“Not at all.”
Barak moved closer to the swarthy knight. “I am Barak, Earl of Trellheim,” he announced in a loud voice, “kinsman to King Anheg of Cherek, and I see that certain nobles in Arendia have even fewer manners than they have brains.”
“The Lords of Arendia are not impressed by the self-bestowed titles of the pig-sty kingdoms of the north,” Sir Haldorin retorted coldly.
“I find your words offensive, friend,” Barak said ominously.
“And I find thy ape face and scraggly beard amusing,” Sir Haldorin replied.
Barak did not even bother to draw his sword. He swung his buge arm in a wide circle and crashed his fist with stunning force against the side of the swarthy knight’s helmet. Sir Haldorin’s eyes glazed as he was swept from his saddle, and he made a vast clatter when he struck the ground.

After this display, one of the knights in the party suggests just killing them all with their numbers, like a sensible army should, but Mandorallen threatens to kill him if he pulls his sword, and then chides everyone on not having their manners. Because, apparently, a challenge like this guarantees safe passage for the challenger until the challenge is done. So Mandorallen gets his jousts. Silk makes a comment about whether they should be concerned about whether Mandorallen will lose, and Belgarath tells him there’s no chance. He’s apparently just that good.
The first jouster takes three lances before being unhorsed, and then when he tries to keep fighting, gets bashed in the head by Mandorallen’s sword and declared vanquished when he doesn’t respond. He also has a bloody nose, his eyes have rolled back, his face is blue, and his right side is twitching. The second jouster only takes one lance, and being unhorsed breaks his leg.

Challenges complete, the party makes a move to proceed, but they’re stopped by the kill them all knight from before, who turns out to be not just a Murgo, but a Grolim. (Yawn.)

“Well, Grolim?” Aunt Pol challenged, pushing back her hood.
The mounted man’s eyes widened as he saw the white lock in her hair, and then he raised his hand almost despairingly, muttering rapidly under his breath.
Once again Garion felt that strange surge, and the hollow roaring filled his mind.
For an instant Aunt Pol’s figure seemed surrounded by a kind of greenish light. She waved her hand indifferently, and the light disappeared. “You must be out of practice,” she told him. “Would you like to try again?”
The Grolim raised both hands this time, but got no further. Maneuvering his horse carefully behind the armored man, Durnik had closed on him. With both hands he raised his axe and smashed it down directly on top of the Grolim’s helmet.
“Durnik!” Aunt Pol shouted. “Get away!”
But the smith, his face set grimly, swung again, and the Grolim slid senseless from his saddle with a crash.
“You fool!” Aunt Pol raged. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“He was attacking you, Mistress Pol,” Durnik explained, his eyes still hot.
“Get down off that horse.”
He slid down.
“Do you have any idea how dangerous that was?” she demanded. “He could have killed you.”
“I will protect you, Mistress Pol,” Durnik replied stubbornly. “I’m not a warrior or a magician, but I won’t let anybody ry to hurt you.”
Her eyes widened in surprise for an instant, then narrowed, then softened. Garion, who had known her from childhood, recognized her rapid change of emotion. Without warning, she suddenly embraced the startled Durnik. “You great, clumby, dear fool,” she said. “Never do that again—never! You almost made my heart stop.”
Garion looked away with a strange lump in his throat and saw the brief, sly smile that flickered across Mister Wolf’s face.

This seems like another one of those things that you should tell people about. Because the most tactically sound thing to do when the enemy spellcaster is in combat or distracted by your spellcasters is to bash them on the head so they stop trying to use their magic against your people. If that causes uncontrolled magic explosions that can lash out and hurt people, that’s worth knowing before someone gets the bright idea to do it.

Once the Grolim goes insensate, it turns out that he had been using his magic to create the war as a way of slowing the party down. Once free of the mind control, the knights are more than happy to let the party pass, and they have a particularly grisly fate in mind for the foreigner that mind-whammied them into fighting each other. Which is a lost opportunity, honestly. This could have just been Arends being stupid Arends until someone beat sense into them, and maybe even you could have the war resume as soon as they left because, well, a forgotten insult is just the kind of thing that keeps going on and on and on. Not everything has to be a Grolim plot or something similar.

The newly-freed knights are asked to take care of Lelldorin, because he’s going to be a hindrance. Lelldorin, naturally, will have none of this, and it takes some harsh words from Mandorallen to finally get him to stay put.

“Young Lelldorin,” Mandorallen replied bluntly, even harshly, “I know thy distaste for the men of Mimbre. Thy wound, however, will soon begin to abscess and then suppurate, and raging fever and delirium will afflict thee, making thy presence a burden upon us. We have not the time to care for thee, and thy sore need would delay us in our quest.”
Garion fasped at the brutal directness of the knight’s words. He glared at Mandorallen with something very close to hatred.
[…Lelldorin thinks he’s still going to go, even after Pol forbids him to it, and one of the women who comes to tend to Lelldorin finally sits him down…]
She shrugged. “As it please thee. I expect that my brother will be able to spare some few servants to follow after thee to provide thee that decent burial which, if I misjudge not, thou wil require before thou hast gone ten leagues.”
Lelldorin blinked.

Having finally been convinced that he’s not going anywhere, Lelldorin pulls Garion in close, tells him to go warn the king about the plot that he’s part of, and reveals to Garion that Nachak is the ambassador at the court, the “personal representative of Taur Urgas, King of the Murgos.” Which means that he has both endless resources and the king’s ear at his disposal, and the plot Garion knows of might be just one of many, so Garion’s job just got a whole lot harder. Plus, all of the burden of who to tell and when falls on Garion. (That said, despite now having a clear pathway to explain everything to the other people in the party, even though he’s said he won’t name names, Garion is going to wait to actually say something, instead of immediately going to Belgarath and spilling the entire affair. For reasons that I can best describe as “the author wants maximum drama, so the sensible decision never happens.”)

Once the party gets back on the road, Garion decides to have it out with Mandorallen.

With deliberate purpose, Garion pulled his horse forward until he drew in beside Mandorallen. “I have something to say to you,” he said hotly. “You aren’t going to like it, but I don’t really care.”
“Oh?” the knight replied mildly.
“I think the way you talked to Lelldorin back there was cruel and disgusting,” Garion told him. “You might think you’re the greatest knight in the world, but I think you’re a loudmouthed braggart with no more compassion than a block of stone, and if you don’t like it, what do you plan to do about it?”
“Ah,” Mandorallen said. “That! I think that thou has misunderstood, my young friend. It was necessary in order to save his life. The Asturian youth is very brave and so gives no thought to himself. Had I not spoken so to him, he would surely have insisted upon continuing with us and would soon have died.”
“Died?” Garion scoffed. “Aunt Pol could have cured him.”
“It was the Lady Polgara herself who informed me that his life was in danger,” Mandorallen replied. “His honor would not permit him to remain behind lest he delay us.” The knight smiled wryly. “He will, I think, be no fonder of me for my words than thou art, but he will be alive, and that’s what matters, is it not?”
Garion stared at the arrogant-seeming Mimbrate, his anger suddenly robbed of its target. With painful clarity he realized that he had just made a fool of himself. “I’m sorry,” he apologized grudgingly. “I didn’t realize what you were doing.”
Mandorallen shrugged. “It’s not important. I’m frequently misunderstood. As long as I know my motives are good, however, I’m seldom very concerned with the opinions of others. I’m glad, though, that I had the opportunity to explain this to thee. Thou art to be my companion, and i ill-behooves companions to have misapprehensions about each other.”
They rold on in silence as Garion struggled to readjust his thinking. There was, it seemed, much more to Mandorallen than he had suspected.

One more sentence about turning south and Chapter 7 is finished. So.

Cocowhat by depizan

Garion doesn’t have to back down or apologize for anything. Just because Mandorallen believes being that harsh was necessary to get Lelldorin to finally stay down and heal doesn’t mean he isn’t the worst kind of egotistical asshole. (The worst kind being someone who can, in fact, back up their bluster.) After all, Mandorallen just freely admitted to Garion that he doesn’t give a rip what other people think about him, so long as he believes he’s right. We’ve noted that these stories are very much working on Protagonist-Centered Morality, and here Mandorallen is to explicitly say that he believes he’s the Protagonist. In his favor, he’s the closest we get to the knight in shining armor, the kind of character who would be the Protagonist if we didn’t have the plucky farm boy instead. Against him, the same thing, although at the time these are written, we don’t have quite the same ease of access to the vocabulary that allows us to articulate that he has privilege and has probably never had to spend a day of his life where he wasn’t nobility or the most important character in the story. In a more comedic work, the narrative would start following him around before being taken back to the actual story, or some very important thing to the plot would have happened while the narrative was following Mandorallen doing such things as brushing his horse or cutting himself some additional lances. Here, I would find it most satisfying to see Mandorallen repeatedly go do something because he’s sure of his rightness and turn out to be completely wrong about it in ways that actively hurt the quest or the party, in the same way that Lelldorin was eventually convinced of the wrongness of serfdom by seeing what the actual effects are (and by having Garion shoot down all of his surface level beliefs on how he could fix it.)

Next week, well, hopefully we’ve gathered all the people we need at this point and we can stay moving in the direction of actually trying to foil the plot?

Deconstruction Roundup for October 8, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is in a bit of crunch time for themselves regarding projects not sufficiently worked on.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

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

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorum Press

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are still extremely tired of the way that capitalism is prolonging the worldwide pandemic.)

Queen of Sorcery: The Average Intelligence of an Arend

Last time, the adventuring company stopped for the night at a relative of Lelldorin’s, where one cousin was trying to assimilate into Mimbrate society (supposedly because he’s chasing a girl who won’t give him the time of day without land) and the other is also a conspirator in this Murgo-assisted assassination plot. Also, Garion’s inner voice said “hold my beer” and explained to the Arends the secret of Murgo gold and the stupidity of following along with a Murgo’s plot.

Queen of Sorcery: Chapter Four: Content Notes:

Reldegen asks Begarath to stop by more often and let them talk a couple months away, which Belgarath declines because of his urgent business. Silk mentions that he thinks Reldegen is remarkable because he “actually detected an original thought or two in his head.” Barak praises his food, to which Polgara notes that Barak would feel good about it, having consumed the greater portion of a deer all by himself. Lelldorin is still chagrined by the talking-to he got from Garion’s inner voice yesterday, and Garion tells Lelldorin to spit it out rather than be concerned about how it will land. Which surprises Lelldorin that his emotions can be read that well, of course. That said, Garion does get Lelldorin to tell him about how Nachak the Murgo recruited them into his plan.

“He told us what the king is planning. You wouldn’t believe it.”
“Probably not.”
Lelldorin gave him a quick, troubled look. “He’s going to break up our estates and give them to landless Mimbrate nobles.” He said it accusingly.
“Did you verify it with anybody but Nachak?”
“How could we? The Mimbrates wouldn’t admit it if we confronted them with it. It’s the kind of thing Mimbrates would do.”
“So you’ve only go Nachak’s word for it? How did this plan of yours come up?”
[…Nachak appealed to their nationalism, then started giving them money out of friendship…]
“You’re an Asturian,” Garion told him. “You’d give somebody your life out of friendship. Nachak’s a Murgo, though, and I’ve never heard that they were all that generous. What is comes down to, then, is that a stranger tells you that the king’s planning to take your land. Then he gives you a plan to kill the king and start a war with Tolnedra; and to make sure you succeed with his plan, he gives you money. Is that about it?”
Lelldorin nodded mutely, his eyes stricken.
“Weren’t any of you just the least bit suspicious?”
Lelldorin seemed almost about to cry. “It’s such a good plan,” he burst out finally. “It couldn’t help but succeed.”
“That’s what makes it so dangerous,” Garion replied.

Apparently with a snarky inner voice comes wisdom. Also, “they’re going to take your land and redistribute it to their own people” is something I’m still a bit surprised hasn’t already happened, given that it seems that the Asturians didn’t exactly decide to integrate with the Mimbrates since Brand, Polgara, and Belgarath basically told them they had to. This whole trip seems to be designed around proving that the stereotypes about Arends are all true, every last one of them. They’re willing to go along with someone who would probably profit a lot more from his own plot succeeding than the “patriots” that he’s recruiting to do it for him, because the plan is too good not to turn him down? That’s not very bright, but there’s also red gold involved, so…

Also, how does Garion know that Murgos aren’t generous? All the stories he’s heard and the actions he’s seen suggest that Murgos are more than happy to give away their red, soul-corrupting gold because of the leverage that it gives them over the minds and bodies of others. Which, I suppose, doesn’t count as generosity if they expect that result, but most people in this world don’t know or don’t believe the stories about red soul-corrupting gold, so “generous” would be an apt description to use to then close the trap on Lelldorin’s logic, for what good it will do.

In any case, Garion suggests that the best thing to do would be to tell Wolf about the plot and who is behind it, but Garion says he’s going to defer to Lelldorin’s decision out of friendship, which would be a better thing to do if the narrative made it clearer that Garion was only saying this after heavily implying that the only correct course of action would be to tell somebody about it. Right after that, Garion attempts to get Lelldorin to see the plight of the serfs again, by calling a serf village not fit for pigs in Sendaria.

Two ragged serfs were dispiritedly hacking chunks of firewood from one of the stumps near the road. As the party approached, hey dropped their axes and bolted in terror for the forest.
“Does it make you feel proud, Lelldorin?” Garion demanded. “Does it make you feel good to know that your own countrymen are so afraid of you that they run from the very sight of you?”
Lelldorin looked bafled. “They’re serfs, Garion,” he said as if that explained.
“They’re men. They’re not animals. Men deserve to be treated better.”
“I can’t do anything about it. They aren’t my serfs.” And with that Lelldorin’s attention turned inward again as he continued to struggle with the dilemma Garion had placed upon him.

By which, I think the narrative means to tell or not to tell about the assassination plot, not whether or not serfs deserve basic humanity. “They’re not my property” would ring some bells about the villainy of the mindset involved to a reader that was willing to think hard about their own history and how that phrase might have been applied to other people who were denied basic humanty for a very long time. It really does seem like the best thing for everyone would have been to skip Arendia, or at the very least, try to get through without stopping for anything or anyone they didn’t absolutely have to interact with.

Especially since after making camp for the night, they’re ambushed by robbers, which Hettar warns them about, since the horses warned him about it. Garion watches Lelldorin bolt for one of the tents they’ve set up and has a moment of disappointment about his friend not staying to fight. At which point we should probably note that Lelldoin’s boast was not about being the best swordsman in Arendia, because Garion seems to have forgotten that. Garion does something sensible…

“Arm yourselves!” the big man roared, drawing his sword.
Garion grasped Aunt Pol’s sleeve and tried to pull her from the light.
“Stop that!” she snapped, jerking her sleeve free. Another arrow flied out of the foggy woods. Aunt Pol flicked her hand as if brushing away a fly and muttered a single word. The arrow bounced as if it had struck something solid and fell to the ground.

…and Polgara gets irritated at him for it. Yes, it is a good idea to try and get your people out of being easily visible against people shooting arrows at them, but Polgara probably thinks Garion is trying to protect her and she doesn’t need that. (And also happily make some amount of psychic noise to drop the arrow headed her way.)

As soon as the melee attackers get within range, Lelldorin reappears with his bow and quiver and starts pincushioning attackers swiftly, many of whom seem quite surprised to have sprouted feathers. Garion, of course, is ashamed to have doubted his friend’s courage. Barak and Hettar start laying about with abandon. Silk gets into the attack. The actually important thing about this battle is that when Garion tries to get his own sword, he’s grabbed from behind, bashed on the head, and hears “This is the one we want,” before falling unconscious. He won’t mention that phrase to anyone after he’s recovered, but that’s important to the reader that this is no ordinary robber ambush.

After Garion gets knocked out, the narrative fast-forwards to him already in Barak’s arms, coming back to the camp, a knot on his head from where he got hit, a concussion to go with it that’s bad enough that standing on his own is a bad idea, and the aftermath of the fight still around them. Lelldorin returns soon after Garion arrives, and talks about how there was a beast out there while he was trying to track the two who took Garion. So the implication here is that Barak went into Beast Mode again. And this time around, it’s Silk who has some choice words about Arendia’s system of government.

“Who were those men?” Garion asked.
“Robbers, most likely,” Silk surmised, putting away his dagger. “It’s one of the benefits of a sociey that holds men in serfdom. They get bored with being serfs and go out into the forest looking for excitement and profit.”
“You sound just like Garion,” Lelldorin objected. “Can’t you people understand that serfdom’s part of the natural order of things here? Our serfs couldn’t take care of themselves alone, so those of us in higher station accept the responsibility of caring for them.”
“Of course you do,” Silk agreed sarcastically. “They’re not so well-fed as your pigs nor as well-kenneled as your dogs, but you do care for them, don’t you?”
“That’ll do, Silk,” Aunt Pol said coolly. “Let’s not start bickering among ourselves.”

And then she examines Garion’s head, pronounces it not that bad, and then tells Garion he’s going to have to protect his head, lest all the banging soften his brains.

Still, if we weren’t already getting it thumped over our heads about how this should make any reader who knows the history of serfdom or of the slave trade uncomfortable, we even have the “they’re too stupid to be able to care for themselves, so we have to accept the responsibility of caring for them” argument. You know, the White Man’s Burden. Lelldorin may be a crack shot and a decent swordfighter, but he’s uncritically repeating some of the worst propaganda in favor of dehumanization. Yet again conforming to the stereotype of Arends being good fighters but less bright than a shadow on a moonless night.

Durnik asks if they should bury the attackers, which is seen as yet another one of those Sendarian Weidnesses, but eventually Barak says he’s tired of looking at the corpses and enlists Hettar’s help to drag them all over into a pile, which is probably as close as a burial as things will get. And also, Durnik is absolutely going to have nightmares tonight, because this is the first time he’s actually killed somebody.

“I killed one of those men, Garion,” the smith replied in a shaking voice. “I hit him in the face with my axe. He screamed, and his bood splashed all over me. Then he fell down and kicked on the ground with his heels until he died.”
“You didn’t have any choice, Durnik,” Garion told him. “They were trying to kill us.”
“I’ve never killed anyone before,” Durnik said, the tears now running down his face. “He kicked the ground for such a long time—such a terrribly long time.”
“Why don’t you go to bed, Garion?” Aunt Pol suggested firmly. Her eyes were on Durnik’s tear-streaked face.
Garion understood. “Good night, Durnik,” he said. He got up and started toward one of the tents. He glanced back once. Aunt Pol had seated herself on the log beside the smith and was speaking quietly to him with one of her arms comfortingly about his shoulders.

Which ends Chapter Four. Durnik had talked a big game about being able to do more than bash people to stun them or incapacitate them, but when he actually watched someone die messily in front of him, he found out he has no stomach for it at all. He’s a smith at heart, not a soldier, and he came along because he couldn’t let Polgara go unescorted. That night, he’s probably wishing he never left the farm. Will we see this affect Durnik in the future? Nobody knows.

On to Chapter Five, then. Where the first thing Garion sees, after trying to get some comfort from his Aunt in the middle of the night and finding her tent empty, is an old wolf and a brown owl out in the mist, but then the mist covers them for just a moment and then it’s not the wolf and the owl, but Wolf and Polgara. Garion chalks up such a vision to still being light headed from taking a thump to the head, but then hears Belgarath and Polgara talking about how they need to make better time to stop Zedar, and how if there are too many more delays, he might have to be more direct. Which Pol (and all of us) have been trying to tell him this entire time. Apparently, they were also looking for Murgos and came up empty. The robbers were sent by an Arend lookout, who was extremely well-briefed on their appearances, and who will be rewarded for his part in setting up the fiasco by getting his throat cut by his fellows. (So Polgara doesn’t have to go back and fuck him up herself, which draws a rebuke from Belgarath about how she fixes things that will fix themselves over time and changes things that don’t want to change.)

As it is, they break camp in the morning and travel on the Tolnedran highway until a group of Mimbrate knights stop them and demand to know their business. Lelldorin is told explicitly by Belgarath and Polgara to keep his feelings to himself and act like a loyalist when the knights are approaching them. Silk takes the lead, introducing himself as Radek of Boktor and spinning the cover story established at the beginning, explaining also that they were set upon by robbers last night in the hopes of getting the Mimbrate knights to move along quickly. The knights, however, want to question Lelldorin, since he’s an Asturian, about the whole matter, and to his credit, Lelldorin does what he’s told.

“This province of Asturian seethes with rebellion and brigandage,” the knight said sternly. “My men and I are sent to suppress such offenses. Come here, Asturian.”
Lelldorin’s nostrils flared, but he obediently came forward.
“I will require thy name of thee.”
“My name is Lelldorin, Sir Knight. How may I serve thee?”
“These robbers thy friends spoke of— were they commons or men of quality?”
“Serfs, my Lord,” Lelldorin replied, “ragged and uncouth. Doubtless fled from lawful submission to their masters to take up outlawry in the forest.”
“How’s may we expect duty and proper submission from serfs when nobles raise detestable rebellion against the crown?” the knight asserted.
[…Lelldorin lays it on a bit thick, but it seems to please the knight. Not enough that he still doesn’t decide he’s going to detain them all to verify the details of what they’ve said. Silk protests vigorously, but gets nowhere with thee knight until…]
In single file, resplendent in burnished breastplates, plumed helmets and crimson capes, a half a hundred Tolnedran legionnaires rode slowly along the flank of the armored knights. “What seems to be the problem here?” the legion commander, a lean, leather-faced man of forty or so, asked politely as he stopped not far from Silk’s horse.
“We do not require the assistance of the legions in this matter,” the knight said coldly. “Our orders are from Vo Mimbre. We are sent to help restore order in Asturia and we were questioning these travelers to that end.”
“I have a great respect for order, Sir Knight,” the Tolnedran replied, “but the highway is my responsibility.” He looked inquiringly at Silk.
“I am Radek of Boktor, Captain,” Silk told him, “a Drasnian merchant bound for Tol Holenth. I have documents, if you wish to see them.”
“Documents are easily forged,” the knight declared.
“So they are,” the Tolnedran agreed, “but to save time, I make it a practice to accept all documents at face value. A Drasnian merchant with goods in his packs has a legitimate reason to be on an Imperial Highway, Sir Knight. There’s no reason to detain him, is there?”
“We seek to stamp out banditry and rebellion,” the knight asserted hotly.
*Stamp away,” the captain said, “but off the highway, if you don’t mind. By treaty the Imperial Highway is Tolnedran territory. What you do when you’re fifty yards back in the trees is your affair; what happens on the road is mine. I’m sure no Mimbrate knight would want to humiliate his king by violating a solemn agreement between the Arendish crown and the Emperor of Tolnedra, would he?”

Thus chastised, the party is allowed to move on. Barak compliments the captain as being an exceptional Tolnedran (“I don’t think much of Tolnedrans ordinarily, but that one’s different.”) and they make as good of time as they can do as to put distance between themselves and the knights, just in case.

That said,

Cocowhat by depizan

What happened in the past that all the sovereign nations that the Imperial Highways run through agreed to treaties that said the major roads are the sovereign territory of the Empire, rather than of the nations that they are located in? (It does explain why there are legions and hostels and fortifications in someone else’s territory.) About the only way I can think of this working is if all of the places the highway runs through once were Tolnedran provinces (since Tolnedra is supposed to be fantasy Classical Rome) and, for whatever reason, the great Tolnedran empire broke apart into these kingdoms, but Tolnedra remained powerful enough to insist that these new kingdoms let them keep control of the roads on the threat of those new kingdoms becoming Tolnedran provinces again. Which, as best as I can tell, would engender a long-standing hated for Tolnedra and an unwillingness to use their roads or respect those treaties, once Tolnedra lacked the ability to police the entire highway and enforce the treaties.

All of these places have armies and fortifications and the possibility of an occupation happening at any time. Why haven’t they renegotiated, either by diplomacy or by force? Especially here in Arendia, where conflict seems to be ready to go at any time, and that will have the entire might of the kingdom behind it immediately?

Second, the Mimbrates’ opinion that the serfs will never learn to respect their betters when the nobles don’t tells me that the Mimbrates aren’t interested in cooperation and instead intend on suppression of the Asturians as their way of maintaining order. Even if “who started it?” will have both sides pointing at each other, it’s been going on long enough that it’s going to take a concerted effort to share power and do it seriously, or one or the other is going to be trees and ruins to history and the other will write that history to make sure that everyone knows who won and who was rebellious.

Third, the Tolnedran captain’s routine sounds like a well-rehearsed script, the sort of thing that happens when every day, on patrol, you come across some Mimbrates on the Highway harassing legitimate travelers and you have to get the knights gone before they scare off the travelers or make it seem like the Empire can’t protect its own roads. Don’t rise to the bait, don’t indulge the knights in their conspiracy thinking, state the treaty, get the travelers moving. There’s no tone information coming from the captain, but I imagine it as a mix of “ugh, these guys again,” and the attitude a customer service person learns to adopt when confronted by someone who broke the thing through their own lack of intelligence and now are demanding what you’re going to do to fix the problem they very clearly created. I wonder how many letters to the Crown he’s written as formal complaints and other letters he’s written to his supervisors back in Tolnedra about the situation he is in, please send more legions so we can just keep the Mimbrates off the road instead of having to catch them when they’re harassing others.

The plot progresses to a Tolnedran hostel, where the sight of having seen people die in very messy and insides-exposing way gets Garion to take a bath on his own without prompting, deciding that physical cleaning well allow him to brainbleach as well. Which means he takes off his protective amulet while bathing, and that’s going to have consequences because, of course, you’re not supposed to remove the amulet ever, even to bathe and sleep. And, naturally, this brief bathing period is enough for a hostile actor to do something to Garion and hide it from Polgara and Belgarath, who don’t notice the change at all. (Yes, I’m reading ahead, and yes, this is exactly as contrived as it sounds, because the villainous person has to be within a relative range of Garion, has to do something magical within that range, and has to get away without it being noticed. Even with Belgarath and Polgara theoretically now looking out for something like that, since it has happened once before already. And, this thing has to be able to defeat the protection the amulet provides when it gets put back on, as well. Which means that Grolim powers are either much better than our heroes have given them credit for, the protections and powers of the protagonists are much weaker than they claim, or the author couldn’t figure out how to make a convincing reason that this would work and decided that if they didn’t talk about it except when it was plot necessary, we wouldn’t notice how improbable this all actually is. (The easiest way might be to say that the Grolims have developed a silencer for the noise that magic makes when you use it, allowing them to do things that would otherwise be unmistakably noticed without detection. A really clever way of doing it would be to make the red gold the mechanism for it, such that all the red gold buzzing loudly as magic masks the more subtle things happening underneath undetectable unless you can filter the noise really well. It would even make it villains competent and somewhat frightening.))

After a delay of several days due to a horse getting an injury, they stay again at a different Lord’s house, where Lelldorin finally starts seeing the destruction and devastation the way Garion would like him to.

A half-dozen ragged beggars stood in the mud on the outskirts, their hands held out imploringly and their voices shrill. Their houses were nothing more than rude hovels oozing smoke from the pitiful fires within. Scrawny pigs rooted in the muddy streets, and the stench of the place was awful.
A funeral procession slogged through the mud toward the burial ground in the other side of the village. The corpse, carried on a board, was wrapped in a ragged brown blanket, and the richly robed and cowled priests of Chaldan, the Arendish God, chanted an age-old hymn that had much to do with war and vengeance, but little to do with comfort. The widow, a whimpering infant at her breast, followed the body, her face blank and her eyes dead.
[…the inn is no better…]
“Charming,” Silk said sardonically, pushing away his untouched bowl. “I’m a bit surprised at you, Lelldorin. Your passion for correcting wrongs seems to have overlooked this place. Might I suggest that your next crusade include a visit to the Lord of this demesne? His hanging seems long overdue.”
“I hadn’t realized it was so bad,” Lelldorin replied in a subdued voice. He looked around as if seeing certain things for the first time. A kind of sick horror began to show itself in his transparent face.

It appears that actually seeing the thing up close, rather than being able to abstract it away and not have to pay attention is making the gears turn in Lelldorin’s head. Which is good, but the equation now is whether it will stick in his head, or he’ll rationalize it away as this Lord being extra terrible (as Lelldorin mentioned his reputation to be before he saw this reality) and that everything is fine. I don’t have high hopes for Lelldorin to continue being able to see this for what it is, but we can extend him the grace of believing he can change.

The chapter closes out with Garion taking a walk, and while listening to a bit play a flute, an old familiar face shows itself.

At the edge of the forest beyond the field, a dark-robed and hooded man astride a black horse came out of the trees and started watching the village. There was something ominous about the dark figure, and something vaguely familiar as well. It seemed somehow to Garion that he should know who the rider was, but, though his mind groped for a name, it tantalizingly eluded him. He looked at the figure out the woods for a long time, noticing without even being aware of it that though the horse and rider stood in the full light of the asserting stun, there was no shadow behind them. Deep in his mind something tried to shriek at him, but, all bemused, he merely watched. He would not say anything to Aunt Pol or the others about the figure at the edge of the woods because there was nothing to say; as soon as he turned his back, he would forget.

So yes, despite having been broken of the Grolim geas in the last book, because he removed his amulet to bathe, Asharak is conveniently right there to mind whammy Garion again and do a better job this time. And has probably collected whatever information he wanted to from Garion so that he can continue to interfere with the progress of the quest. Nobody thought to install some psychic defenses in Garion in case Asharak tried again, or did a deep probe to make sure there weren’t any other control mechanisms, or basically made Garion forget about the amulet so he wouldn’t accidentally take it off? It’s not like Polgara had been a big champion of Garion’s autonomy up to this point. It would certainly be easier in the long run if she could just compel him to do the right thing for himself all the time and not know or remember she did it to him.

It feels neglectful, which is in character for Polgara, but we also were supposed to believe that the relationship had turned a corner and that she actually cared more about him now, instead of seeing him as prophecy baggage. So, I’m sure this will help increase the drama quotient and otherwise add tension to traveling through a land with someone who will be treated like he’s an insurrectionist, even before they find out he has an actual plan to engage in an insurrection. And with the possibility of Zedar getting the Orb he stole to Torak before he can be stopped, which is presumably a world-ending event.

More travels on the Imperial Highway next week.

Deconstruction Roundup for October 1, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is ready for a professional conference to get going, virtually, this weekend.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

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

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are recognizing that things you were unhappy about from the last conference attendance are still having trouble this time around.)