Welcome back, after yet-again-another-delay. I swear, I swear, this will pick up soon. The Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn re-read is continuing today, and as I will say with each and every entry into this series, If you have never read this series before, and have somehow found this site by accident, there WILL BE MASSIVE SERIES-BREAKING SPOILERS throughout this re-read and analysis. I do not believe I can stress this enough. DO NOT read this if you have never read the series before, unless you just don’t mind knowing how a many-thousand-page epic series concludes. There will be Spoilers. The will be MANY Spoilers. You have been warned.
Now, join me as we listen to libelous lyrics, liberate a lugubrious lord, and lament the loss of a learned leader!
10 – King Hemlock
Two days after Simon’s rooftop viewing of Falshire burning, Simon is told by Inch that Morgenes needs to see him. As the two head for the doctor’s chambers, Inch confronts Simon, who he believes has ‘taken his place.’ Simon tries to defend himself, but Inch presses on.
“Before you came,” Inch said, his wide, round face moving down towards Simon’s like a basket being lowered from an upstairs window, “. . . before you came, I was his helper. I was going to be next.” He frowned, pushing his lower lip out and knitting his single bar of eyebrow into a steeper angle, but his eyes were still mild and sad. “Doctor Inch, I would have been.” He focused his gaze on Simon, who half-feared he would be crumpled beneath the weight of the paw on his collarbone. “I don’t like you, little kitchen boy.”
Inch shuffles away as Morgenes comes from his chambers, ushering several drunk priests out (“They came for my contribution to the All Fool’s Day celebration”). Morgenes has Simon hold a ladder while the doctor paints red symbols above his door. Simon asks what the symbols are for, and the doctor scolds him, reminding Simon that the youth must ask all questions in writing.
“Will I always have to write down my questions? I can’t hope to write as fast as I can think up things I want to know about.”
“That,” said Morgenes, squinting at his last stroke, “was the general idea behind the rule. You, boy, devise questions like God makes flies and poor people – in droves. I am an old man, and prefer to set my own pace.”
“But,” Simon’s voice took on a desparing tone, “I shall be writing the rest of my days!”
“I can think of many less worthwhile ways you might spend your life,” Morgenes responded, beetling down the ladder. He turned to survey the complete effect, the arch of strange letters all all along the top of the door frame. “For instance,” he said, casting a sharp, knowing eye over to Simon, “you might forge a letter and join Breyugar’s guardsmen, then spend your time having little bits of you hacked off by men with swords.”
‘Curses’, thought Simon, ‘caught like a rat’.
The doctor severely reprimands Simon for his lie. Simon tells the doctor he wasn’t wanted for the guardsmen anyway. Morgenes says, “good,” telling him that soldiers do knowing but sit in barracks, dicing, unless they have to go out to kill people, then he tells Simon that Fengwald and his knights burned Falshire’s wool district, killing many men, women, and children in the process, and asks if “this is the company you wish to join!?”
Simon screams that there is no glory in being a scullion or being in rooms filled with “stupid books,” which hurts Morgenes’ feelings, making Simon feel worse. He runs to a corner and cries for awhile, then the doctor comes over to comfort him, apologizing for not noticing Simon’s disgruntlement with apprenticeship, to which Simon apologizes for acting like a child (“Please forgive the stupidity of a kitchen boy, Doctor . . . a kitchen boy who thought he could be more than that”). Simon gets mad again when he finds Morgenes laughing at the statement, but Morgenes mollifies him by complimenting his wits, and telling him the youth is too good for guardsmen duty.
“Ah, Simon, bless you! Don’t let the clanking and boasting of King Elias’ goodfellows and bravos impress you so much. You have a keen wit – well, sometimes, anyway – and you have gifts you know nothing about – yet. Learn what you can from me, young hawk, and those others you find who can also teach you. Who knows what your fate will be? There are many kinds of glory.” He upended the butt [of his drink] for another frothy mouthful.
After a moment’s careful inspection of Morgenes to make sure that the last speech was not just another tease, Simon at least permitted himself a shy grin. He liked being called “young hawk.”
Simon asks if the doctor will show him some magic, which changes Morgenes’ mood quickly back to anger. The old man asks Simon to please stop asking about magic, and even offers to “answer all your other questions for a month entire, and you shall not have to write down a one!” Simon tries to bargain with Morgenes more on the subject, but the doctor puts his foot down, telling Simon that simply, he is not ready for the information and power that comes with that knowledge. He explains to Simon that magic is basically just the manipulation of the laws of nature, then explains that the consequences are very dire, because “you cannot exert a force without paying for it.” The doctor makes Simon promise to remember this very important lesson. Simon then questions Morgenes on his pendant, which he notices is a quill pen, before the doctor runs him off to do his chores.
That night, a loud crash awakens many in the Hayholt. No one can find any evidence of the explosion. Caleb, the dim-witted son of Shem, claims to have heard voices within the boom, and to have seen a great fireball above Hjeldin’s Tower. No one believes him. The next day, it is revealed that rain clouds have formed in the sky.
One month later, during a conference of important people within the Hayholt, Isgrimnur asks Elias to please send aid to the Frostmarch. When Elias hears accusations of neglect in Isgrimnur’s speech, Eolair stands for Isgrimnur to also beg for aid, telling the High King that the situations of many people outside of the Hayholt are dire. Elias counters that Eolair’s king, Lluth, has not sent in the new required taxes (“Tribute!” snorted Guthwulf), to which Eolair responds that the Erkynguard has not been keeping the roads safe from bandits. Elias scoffs at the demands, insulting Eolair, when Sir Fluiren of Nabban begs the king not to speak so ill of allies. The king and Eolair apologize to each other. Isgrimnur takes advantage of the momentary civility to ask for aid again, telling the High King that the snows and blizzards of the north have caused important roads to be shut down. Guthwulf makes a snide comment about Isgrimnur expecting the king to stop the bad weather.
“I do not suggest that he should!” the duke rumbled.
“Perhaps,” Pryrates said from the head of the table, his wide smile painfully inappropriate, “you also blame the king for his brother’s disappearance, as we have heard it rumored?”
“Never!” Isgrimnur was genuinely shocked. Beside him Eolair narrowed his eyes, as if seeing something unexpected. “Never!” the duke repeated, looking helplessly at Elias.
“Now, men, I know Isgrimnur would never think such a thing,” the king said, waving a listless hand. “Why, old Uncle Bear-skin dandled both Josua and myself on his knees. I hope, of course that Josua has suffered no harm – the fact that he has not appeared at Naglimund in all this time is troubling – but if anything foul is afoot, it is not my conscience that will need soothing.” But as he finished, for a moment Elias did look troubled, staring at nothing as though he wandered through a confusing memory.
Isgrimnur gets to the point, telling Elias his kingdom needs more men, as robbers, outlaws, and “worse things” are making life difficult in Rimmersgard. Eolair continues where Isgrimnur leaves off, reminding the gathering that in past days, giants and the White Foxes roamed the lands, and evil is ahead of them. Pryrates mocks the count, then Isgrimnur stands up for Eolair, and everyone yells at each other some more, before Eolair recounts a terrifying story of a black cart in the Frostmarch, being drawn by white horses. The cart bears a casket, and black-robed monks walk alongside it. When asked what this is supposed to mean, Eolair responds:
“They say, my king, that it is your father’s death-cart – begging your pardon, sire – and that as long as the land suffers, he shall not sleep peacefully in his barrow.”
After an interval, the king spoke, his voice barely louder than the hissing of the torches.
“Well, then,” he said, “we will have to make sure my father gets his well-earned rest, will we not?”
Towser approaches the throne and all the king’s courtiers. Elias, drunk, asks the bard how he was given a dog’s name.
“I gave myself a dog’s name, sire. Your noble father used to tease me for being so faithful, because I would always go with him, be at his side. As a jest he named one of his hounds ‘Cruinh,’ the which was my given name.” The old man turned slightly, so as to play to the crowd more fully. “‘So then,’ quoth I, ‘if the dog be given my name by John’s will, then I shall take the dog’s in turn.’ I have never answered since to any name but Towser, and never shall.” Towser permitted himself a tiny smile. “It is possible that your revered father regretted somewhat his joke thereafter.”
Elias demands Towser to sing a song, which Towser does. The song is very bluntly about a royal man killing his brother, and nearing the end, Guthwulf screams that the song is treason, and almost kills Towser on the spot. Elias screams for Towser to leave, which he does.
First of all, right out of the gate, that’s a pretty tense chapter. First you have the confrontation between Morgenes and Simon over Simon’s lying, then you have the meeting between all the ‘important folks’ where Isgrimnur has to beg for assistance (and sheesh, Pryrates sure didn’t even bother to try to make things better – everything he said in that chapter was an outright and blatant mockery or insult of Isgrimnur or Eolair), and then finally Towser’s little game. Which, man old bard, you’ve got some serious cojones. I mean, we all know the king is kinda cuckoo, and we all know his followers are all complete nuts, AND we all know he was drunk off his ass when you decided to play with the snark, but writing a song about the king assassinating his brother? Dude, I’d like to roll with you sometime. Except not, cuz you kind of turn into a joke later on, sadly to say, AND you’d probably get me killed with your stupid songs.
So, back to the beginning, I honestly can’t help but feel a little bit sorry for Inch at this point. I mean, sure, he’s a lumbering, hulkish brute of a man with the IQ of a sewer rat – and let’s be fair, from all evidence, that may be quite an insult to sewer rats – but he honestly seems very hurt by the doctor shoving him aside for Simon’s sake. And of course, we all know what he does later, and that’s unforgivable, but at this point, he’s just another innocent getting caught in the mix of the big, Bad Things (TM) that are brewing. Of course, then he goes and ruins it with the last thing he says to Simon – I mean, surely you don’t expect sympathy from people who have wronged you when you tell them how much you dislike them? But as an aside (kind of), I like the sound of “Doctor Inch.” Kinda rolls off the tongue, no?
The various back-and-forth exchanges between Simon and Morgenes in this chapter are very entertaining, even with all the heartache going on. I left out some of the good stuff, because A – it doesn’t translate out of context, and B – I hope Tad Williams will read this some day, and I don’t want to be accused of plagiarism or copyright infringement by my favorite author . . . anyway, you should read the chapter yourself. Morgenes has some very loving (though in an oddly insulting way) things to say about our dear boy, and you can really tell in this chapter that he really and truly cares for Simon.
HOWEVER, let’s talk about that. When I was young, I learned that I had a very good ear for music. I don’t have perfect pitch or anything, but I can usually hear something and play it back without a lot of thought involved. My mother was a pianist, and so I decided I wanted to take after her and learn to play the piano. She got me lessons (as any good mother would do!), and I began playing and practicing. However, not long after I started, I realized that there was a lot more to learning to play than I had thought – even with my good ears, I couldn’t just sit down and play a piece without practicing it, and I couldn’t practice a lot of pieces efficiently until I learned to play scales properly, and I couldn’t learn to play scales properly until I had a basic understanding of the fundamentals of music theory. I’m sure you can see where this is going – to be good at “Z,” you often need to know “Y,” but to know “Y,” very often you also have to know something about “X.” It’s the way of the world. So, I got bored. Many young musicians do. I stopped practicing like I should, and when I could, I would sneak out and play soccer with my friends instead. My mother was resolute about me practicing, insisting I keep it up, always telling me, “You’ll thank me later.” But at the time, I did everything I could to find a way not to play piano. Now, twenty-five years later, I do thank my mother everytime I sit down at a piano. But that just brings me to my point here. Often – hell, just about always – children do not have the ability to understand or comprehend what they may later regret in hindsight. It’s probably a bit of a blessing, so that kids can just go out and play and have a good life, and not worry about whether or not that rock is really slippery and may lead to a broken leg. But it also means that young children literally have no way whatsoever to understand what it means when an adult tells them, “You’ll thank me later,” or “You’ll regret this if you don’t take my advice,” or whathaveyou. Thus, I find it a grave disservice to children and young people to speak to them in those terms. To me, teaching someone to play piano (which is something I do nowadays) is not about trying to convince them that someday they will love it (even if they have to hate it right now!), but rather to make sure they are having fun, even if they are playing and doing the things I found extremely boring. So yeah, lots of anecdotal mumbo there to say, I can sympathize with Simon, and perhaps Morgenes could have taken a better route to teaching Simon what he wanted him to know. But then we wouldn’t have this awesome story.
The very short interlude in the middle of the chapter was very intriguing and suspicious, especially considering just three chapters previously, Elias accused Pryrates of not being able to do anything about the weather. I never really thought about it before, but to me, this seems a very clear indication that that’s exactly what Pryrates did – ‘something about the weather.’ Funny, I’ve read this series a dozen times at least, and never caught that – something new every time.
There isn’t much to say about the Isgrimnur portion – the old duke seemed to be really treading dangerous territory, and I know he feels obligation to his people and all, but I think there comes a time when you just have to watch your mouth. Granted, he’d been ‘watching his mouth’ for a year or so at this point, but one can still find more tactful ways to bring things up, is all I’m saying. ‘Specially with ol’ crazy-pants on the throne.
Towser, again, kudos, I think Guthwulf may have been frothing at the mouth there.
And poor Miriamele – though we know very, very little of her at this point, she is made into a very sympathetic character, by nature of who she is always around, or how she always looks or seems so terrified. We’ll see you soon, little lady.
Finally, since I didn’t quote the song, you may not realize this, but the chapter’s title is a reference to Towser’s ditty. The more you know.
11 – An Unexpected Guest
Simon is dozing in a hayloft on the last day of Avrel when he hears voices below. Shem Horsegroom, Ruben the Bear, and Towser are all drunk, singing below. Simon contemplates showing himself, but realizes he will have more fun watching and listening to the other people. Towser is talking that he is leaving, likely heading for Naglimund, even though Josua is not there, and also talking about how Elias is no true king, not like his father.
“Did I tell you,” the old man abruptly said, “did I tell you about the king’s sword? King John’s sword Bright-Nail? He gave it to me, you know, saying: ‘Towser, only you can pass this to my son Elias. Only you . . . !” A tear winked on the jester’s furrowed cheek. “‘Take my son to the throne room and give him Bright-Nail,’ he told me, and I did! I brought it to him the night his dear father died … put it in his hand just the way his father told me to . . . and he dropped it! Dropped it!” Towser’s voice rose in anger. “The sword that his father carried into more battles than a brachet has fleas! I could scarce believe such clumsiness, such . . . disrespect! Are you listening, Shem? Ruben?” Beside him the smith grunted.
“Hist! I was horrified, of course. I picked it up and wiped it with the linen wrappings and gave it to him; this time he took it with two hands. ‘It twisted,’ he said, like an idiot. Now as he held it again the strangest look passed over his face, like . . . like …” The jester trailed off. Simon was afraid he had fallen asleep, but apparently the little man was merely thinking, in a slow, wine-addled way.
“The look on his face,” Towser resumed, “was like a child caught doing something very, very wicked – that was it exactly! Exactly! He turned pale, and his mouth went all slack and he handed it back to me! ‘Bury this with my father,’ he said, ‘It is his sword; he should have it with him.’ ‘But he wanted it given to you, my lord!’ I said . . . but would he listen? Would he? No. “This is a new age, old man,’ he told me, ‘we do not need to dote on these relics of the past.’
Can you imagine the thundering gall of such a man!?”
Towser continues explaining how Elias wouldn’t even put the sword in his father’s grave – he made Josua do that. As Towser slumps off into a drunken stupor, Simon slips out of the hayloft, reminiscing on all the strange events of the year.
‘Everything happens to someone else,’ Simon decided, half-glad, half-regretful. ‘Everything happens to strangers.’
Miriamele is sitting in her room, looking out the window, and sees Simon, “a kitchen boy.” Her father, the High King Elias, enters and asks Miriamele why she hates him now. She explains that she rather hates the things she sees around her, not him. He assumes that she is upset about the upcoming wedding to Fengbald, but she denies that, instead saying that she just wants to go home (to Meremund), and see the ocean again, and that she hates seeing all the evil and wickedness happening around her, particularly in regards to Pryrates. This seems to offend (and worry) Elias, who tells the princess that Pryrates is his loyal servant. Miriamele runs into her room, and Elias chases her to the door, demanding she open the door, then begging an unlistening and unanswewring Miriamele to just marry Fengbald and bear him a grandson, so that he has an heir, and he will allow her to do and go anywhere she wants.
“You may spend the rest of your life staring at the ocean.” He brought up his hand and wiped something from his face. “I do not like to look at the ocean myself … it makes me think of your mother.”
One more time he struck the door. The echo bloomed and died. “I love you, Miri . . .” the king said softly.
Simon is hungry, and has decided that the best way to get an early meal is to avoid Rachel at all costs. He takes an underground tunnel, passing storage rooms (and being tempted to open up the barrels to see what ‘treasures’ are inside), and comes to an open hatch that should not be open. With only a moment’s thinking, he climbs down the ladder to explore the very dark room beneath. The room is a closet, but it continues down the ladder to even lower (and darker) basement rooms. As he’s exploring, he hears footsteps below him, approaching the ladder. He hides, and as the person climbs up, he scolds himself on coming into the rooms. The footsteps climb higher, seemingly going to pass right by him, but then they stop and climb back down slowly. Simon can see that it is Pryrates, and the priest is staring almost straight at his hiding spot.
‘Come out.’ Pryrates’ lips had not moved, but Simon heard the voice as plainly as if it had whispered in his ear. ‘Come out. Now.’
The voice was firm but reasonable. Simon found himself ashamed at his conduct: there was nothing to fear; it was childish foolishness to crouch here in the dark when he could stand up and reveal himself, admit the little joke he had played … but still . . .
‘Where are you? Show yourself.’
Just as the calm voice in his ear had finally convinced him that nothing would be simpler than to stand and speak – he was reaching for the sacks to help himself up – Pryrates’ black eyes swept for a scant moment across the dark crack through which Simon peered, and the glancing touch killed any thought of rising as a sudden frost shrivels a rose blossom. Pryrates’ gaze touched Simon’s hidden eyes and a door opened in the boy’s heart; the shadow of destruction filled that doorway.
This was death. Simon knew it. He felt the cold crumble of grave soil beneath his scraping fingers, the weight of dark, moist earth in his mouth and eyes. There were no more words now, no dispassionate voice in his head, only a pull – an untouchable something that was dragging him forward by fractions of inches. A worm of ice clasped itself around his heart as he fought – this was death waiting . . . his death. If he made a sound, the merest tremble or gasp, he would never see the sun again. He shut his eyes so tightly that his temples ached; he locked teeth and tongue against the straining need for breath. The silence hissed and pounded. The pull strengthened. Simon felt as though he were sinking slowly down into the crushing depths of the sea.
Suddenly, a gray cat jumps out of a hiding place, yowling, and dives down the hatch. Pryrates assumes the cat was who/whatever was hiding, and continues up the ladder, closing the upper hatch behind him. Simon sits still for several more minutes, shaken, and wonders what to do next. He figures Pryrates may still be above close by, and that the cat – which had saved his life – may need rescuing itself, so climbs down the ladder.
He notices a very dim light below, and climbs far underground, finally reaching a surface. The dim light is coming from a strange, glowing outline of a rectangle on the wall. The rectangle glows for another moment, then goes dark, leaving Simon in blackness. The cat shows back up, and Simon thanks her for saving him, before realizing that the glowing outline was likely a ‘magical door.’ He feels along the stone wall, pushing, unable to get the door to open. Finally, frustrated, he says, “”Oh, Elysia Mother of God, open! . . . Open!” and the wall grows hot and the door opens. A torch burned inside, and Simon has a moment of fear that this means the priest may be coming back, but then stubbornly presses on, recalling Morgenes talking about old Sithi ruins beneath the castle, and wondering if these passages are such. He follows the passage for awhile, realizing he must be actually under the Kynslagh bay, and eventually comes to another torch. There are spaces that were once rooms, and a metal door leading somewhere. Simon approaches the door, trying to open it, then opening the eyehole to look inside.
To his great surprise there was a handful of rushes burning in a wall bracket in the chamber, but any heady and terrifying thought of having found Pryrates1 secret hoard-room was quickly dashed by the dank, straw-covered floor and bare walls – There was something at the back of the chamber, though . . . some dark bundle of shadow.
A clanking noise pulled Simon around in surprise. Fear washed through him as he looked frantically about, expecting any moment to hear the thump of black boots in the corridor. The noise came again; Simon realized with astonishment that it sounded from the chamber beyond the door. Putting his eye cautiously back to the hole, he stared into the shadows.
Something was moving at the back wall, a dark shape, and as it slowly swayed to one side the harsh, metallic sound echoed again in the small space. The shadow-shape raised its head. Choking, Simon jumped back from the spy-hole as though slapped across the face. In a whirling moment he felt the firm earth totter beneath him, felt that he had turned over something familiar to find crawling corruption beneath. . . .
The chained thing that had stared out at him – the thing with the haunted eyes – was Prince Josua.
Ahh, our first true cliffhanger in the series, and also, the sign that the adventure is finally, truly beginning.
This is a very tense chapter. You can (or at least, I can) really feel the angst and sorrow that Miriamele must feel, penned up in a castle with someone who used to be her loving father, and being forced to marry someone she loathes, and living far from the place she considers her true home. She really seems to see that what is happening is really, Really Bad, and just desperately wants her father to find his way back to the good side of things. She – like most people, likely – also seems to suspect and intuitively know that Pryrates is the root (or at least, one of the roots) of all these feelings of darkness.
I believe that really says something about the nature of evil inside the red priest. He is really ‘black,’ in the metaphor of black-and-white good-and-evil. There is very little redeeming about him, and he also makes no effort to hide this fact – he showcases his evil as though it is his pride, and wears it as shamlessly as his cloak. Many readers over the years have complained that in this series, Tad Williams made the good guys and the bad guys ‘too white’ and ‘too black,’ but I disagree. Sure, Pryrates is evil, all the way to his core, and Utuk’ku is about as close to it as we can understand knowing the nature of her. But both Elias and Ineluki are definitely something else. Sure, by the end of the series (and even right now), they have been twisted into something that may as well be evil, but there is much more to them than your standard, run-of-the-mill mustachio-twirling black-hat. I actually love them both as villains, because they are so damned sympathetic. The reasons behind both of their actions, I can entirely understand, whether or not I condone them, and it makes it that much more sorrowful when you find out how things eventually end.
Simon’s fear in his almost-confrontation with Pryrates is palpable – I have sweaty fingers and my heart is thumping just from reading the chapter. I’ve never had a moment in my life where I’ve actually feared I may be looking death in the face – there have been two instances in my life where I’ve had a near-death experience and I realized after the fact, and I imagine my reaction was at least similar once I realized what happened, but to actually be thinking ‘I may die here,’ and having to force yourself to remain calm, cool, and collected – well, Simon my boy, that takes a lot more backbone than I imagine you give yourself credit for.
Other than the ‘big reveal’ (Josua) and the major foreshadowing (the reasons for which Elias has chosen this particular path, as well as his fear/pain of his father’s sword), there’s not a lot more to talk about here. Except, Simon, you poor schmuck, everything does not happen to other people. Don’t you know, when you say things like that, you bring the irony of the Gods down upon you?
12 – Six Silver Sparrows
Simon rushes out of the passage and is across the castle courtyard before he thinks of going to Morgenes with this news. He runs to Morgenes’ chambers, banging on the door, and when the startled doctor opens the door, he rushes inside, out of breath. After making sure no one else is around, Simon hurriedly tells the doctor of his adventure. The doctor believes him, and Simon asks what they will do next.
“As for what to do, the first thing is for you to go and eat supper.”
“Supper?!” Simon choked, spattering hippocras down his tunic. “With Prince Josua . . . ?”
“Yes, boy, that’s what I said. Supper. There’s nothing we can do right this instant, and I need to think. If you miss your supper, it will just raise a hue and cry – albeit a small one – and it will help to do just what we don’t want to do: attract attention. No, go now and eat supper . . . and between bites, keep your mouth shut, will you?”
Simon goes to mealtime, barely able to contain himself, and rushes away as quickly as possible, explaining to Rachel that the doctor needs him for an important task. He meets with Morgenes and they head down to the cellar where Simon found the passages. Morgenes produces a small, glowing crystal for light, and the two head down through the hatches, with Simon narrating how events had transpired. Down in the lowest level, they search the wall for the ‘magic door.’
The doctor rubbed his hand in a circular movement across the wall, muttering something under his breath, but no crevice appeared. After Morgenes had squatted by the wall talking to himself for some time, Simon grew tired of bouncing from one foot to the other and crouched down at the doctor’s side.
“Can’t you just say some magic and make it open?”
“No!” Morgenes hissed. “A wise man never, I repeat, never uses the Art when he doesn’t need to – especially when dealing with another adept, like our Father Pryrates. We might as well sign my name to it.”
Morgenes finally figures out the trick, explaining that the door itself is not magic, just hidden by ‘the Art.’ They make their way to the prison, and Morgenes looks inside, confirming that it is Josua. Morgenes inserts a ‘Naraxi pig-sticker’ into the lock, after putting some dark substance on the needle, and then has Simon twist the item inside the lock, which opens the latch. They enter, approaching Josua, and Morgenes kneels, inspecting the chains holding the prince. He rubs some other substance on his hands, then tells Simon to shield his eyes.
As the youth raised his hands he saw Morgenes reaching for the ring that bound the prince’s chains to the stone. An instant later a flash of light glared pinkly through Simon’s meshed fingers, accompanied by a crack like hammer on slate. When the youth looked again Prince Josua lay with his chains in a heap on the floor and Morgenes kneeled beside him, palms smoking. The wall-ring was blackened and twisted like a burnt bannock.
“Faugh!” the doctor gasped, “I hope … I hope I … never have to do that again. Can you pick up the prince, Simon? I am very weak.”
Simon and Morgenes help carry Josua down the passage and manage to get him up the ladder. Inside the main storeroom, Morgenes reveals a secret passage. Simon exclaims that he didn’t know of any such passage. Morgenes responds:
“Simon, there are more things you don’t know than there are things that I do know. I despair of the imbalance. Now close your mouth and let’s hurry.”
They were able to stand again on the far side: Morgenes’ crystal revealed a long, angled corridor, unremarkable but for a fabulous accumulation of dust.
“Ah, Simon,” Morgenes said as they hurried along. “I only wish I had time to show you some of the rooms past which this hallway creeps – some were the chambers of a very great, very beautiful lady.
She used this passage to keep her secret assignations.” The doctor looked up at Josua, whose face lay against Simon’s neck. “Sleeping, now,” Morgenes murmured. “All sleeping.”
They make their way into and through the passage, and finally come out in the Hall of Records, only a few hundred paces from Morgenes’ chambers. They make the dash, and no one stops them, but Simon thinks he sees Inch creeping along in the shadows of a wall. Once inside, Morgenes gives Josua something to drink.
“Better?” the doctor asked.
The prince nodded weakly. “Stronger already. This liquor feels like what Pryrates gave me … but not so bitter. Said that I was weakening too fast . . . that they needed me tonight.”
“Needed you? 1 don’t like the sound of that, hot at all.” Morgenes brought the jug over to Simon. The drink was busy and sour to the taste, but warming. The doctor peered out the door, then dropped
“Tomorrow is Belthainn Day, the first of Maia,” he said. “Tonight is … tonight is a very bad night, my prince. Stoning Night, it is called.”
As Simon drinks, Morgenes comments that he finds it ominous that Josua would be needed tonight. Morgenes and Josua speak of the prince’s capture, and who may be responsible – they both believe Pryrates definitely is, and Elias likely may be. They also discuss what the prince would have been ‘needed’ for, but come up with nothing. Morgenes makes a comment that it may be related to word he’s heard from up north about ‘the White Foxes,’ but Josua doesn’t know.
Morgenes asks Simon to get rid of the chains on Josua. Simon strikes off the chain and shackle on Josua’s right stump, then moves to the left side. Josua asks Simon to remove the chain, but not the shackle, so that he keeps it as a reminder. Morgenes then ushers Josua to a side of the room, telling the prince he must go to Naglimund, there is nothing they can do here right now – they cannot confront Pryrates and Elias without both proof, and more people to back them up. Morgenes shows Josua a hidden passageway in his own room, and gives the prince a map, which will lead him to the lich-yard. The two discuss things privately for a moment, and Morgenes tells Josua to be going, and to make sure to send word once he is safe in Naglimund.
Josua thanks Morgenes and Simon, then makes his way down the passage. Morgenes gathers up Simon and tells him they have things to do. Morgenes does a few things which Simon doesn’t understand, making Simon wait on him for awhile, then finally announces that he has done all he can for the time being. He tells Simon to go back to come back after his chores tomorrow, which astonishes the boy, who can’t believe they will go on doing things as usual. Morgenes scolds him for his foolishness, telling Simon they cannot act out of the ordinary yet, especially not on such a dangerous night as ‘Stoning Night.’ Before he can continue, they are interrupted by pounding at the door. It is Inch, and Morgenes yells for him to go away, and just as Simon is explaining that he thought he saw Inch earlier, another voice demands the door be opened. Morgenes and Simon push the long table in front of the inner door, with Morgenes trying to stall by yelling about being busy and tired, when they finally hear Pryrates’ voice outside, and axes attacking the outer door. Simon turns to Morgenes to see the doctor looking in a bird cage, seemingly speaking with the birds inside.
“What are you doing!?” Simon gasped. Morgenes hopped down carrying the cage, and trotted across the room to the window. At Simon’s yelp he turned to look calmly at the terrified youth, then
smiled sadly and shook his head.
“Of course, boy,” he said, “I must make provision for you, too, just as I promised your father. How little time we had!” He set the cage down and scuttled back to the table, where he groped about in
the clutter even as the chamber door began to rock with the impact of heavy blows. Harsh voices could be heard, and the clatter of men in armor. Morgenes found what he sought, a wooden box, and up-ended it, dumping some shining golden thing into his palm. He began to move back to the window, then stopped and retrieved also a sheaf of thin parchments from the chaos of the tabletop.
“Take this, will you please?” he said, handing the bundle to Simon as he hurried back to the window. “It’s my life of Prester John, and I begrudge Pryrates the pleasure of criticism.” Stupefied, Simon
took the papers and tucked them into his waistband beneath his shirt. The doctor reached into the cage and removed one of its small inhabitants, cupping it in his hand. It was a tiny, silver-gray sparrow; as Simon watched in numb astonishment the doctor calmly tied the shiny bauble – a ring? – to the sparrow’s leg with a bit of twine. A tiny scrap of parchment was bound already to its other leg. “Be strong with this heavy burden,” he said quietly, speaking, it seemed, to the little bird.
Morgenes releases the sparrow and five others, each with similar burdens, and then sends Simon towards the tunnel as the axes finally start breaking through the inner door. He gives Simon a small round item that will produce light when rubbed, then tells Simon to hurry through the tunnels, and to ‘Look for the Tan’ja Stairs, then climb!’ Simon cries to Morgenes to come with him, but Morgenes shakes his head as the guards and Pryrates barge into the room.
“Stop!” a voice thundered through the room – Simon was still able to marvel, in the midst of all his fear and confusion, that such a sound could come from Morgenes’ frail body. The doctor stood now before the Erkynguard, fingers splayed in a strange gesture. The air began to bend and shimmer between the doctor and the startled soldiers. The very substance of nothingness seemed to grow solid as Morgenes’ hands danced strange patterns. For a moment the torches outlined the scene before Simon’s eyes as if it were frozen on an ancient tapestry.
“Bless you, boy,” Morgenes hissed. “Go! Now!” Simon retreated another step down the corridor.
Pryrates pushed past the stunned guards, a blurry red shadow behind the wall of air. One of his hands stabbed forth; a seething, coruscating web of blue sparks marked where it touched the thickening air. Morgenes reeled, and his barrier began to melt like a sheet of ice. The doctor bent and swept up a pair of beakers from a rack on the floor.
“Stop that youth!” Pryrates shouted, and suddenly Simon could see his eyes above the scarlet cloak . . . cold black eyes, serpentine eyes that seemed to hold him . . . transfix him . . .
The shimmering pane of air dissolved. “Take them!” spat Count Breguyar, and the soldiers surged forward. Simon watched in sick fascination, wanting to run but unable to, nothing between him and the Erkynguards’ swords but . . . Morgenes.
“ENKJANNUKHAI SHFIGAOf” The doctor’s voice boomed and tolled like a bell made of stone. A wind shrieked through the chamber, flattening and extinguishing the torches. In the center of the maelstrom Morgenes stood, a flask in each outstretched band. In the brief instant of darkness there was a crash, then a flare of incandescence as the glass beakers shattered into flame. In a heartbeat fiery streams were running down the arms of Morgenes’ cloak, and then his head was haloed in leaping, crackling tongues of fire. Simon was buffeted by terrible heat as the doctor turned to him once more; Morgenes’ face seemed already to shift and change behind the blazing mist that enveloped it.
“Go, my Simon,” he breathed, and he was voiced in flame. “It is too late for me. Go to Josua.”
As Simon staggered backward in horror, the doctor’s frail form leaped with burning radiance. Morgenes wheeled. Taking a few halting steps, he threw himself with outspread arms onto the screeching, quailing guardsmen, who tore at each other in their desperation to escape back through the broken doorway. Hellish flames billowed upward, blackening the groaning roofbeams. The very walls began to shudder. For a brief moment Simon heard the harsh choking voice of Pryrates intertwined with the sounds of Morgenes’ final agonies . . . then there was a great crack of light and an ear-thumping roar. A hot whip of air flung Simon down the passageway, blowing the door shut behind him with a noise like the Hammer of Judgment. Stunned, he heard the grinding, splintering shriek of the roof timbers collapsing. The door shuddered, wedged shut by many thousandweight of scorched oak and stone.
Well . . . bye Morgenes. You were one of the coolest cats in fantasy, and though we will get to see more of you (in certain ways), you are also one of the few dead guys in modern fantasy who actually has the tact to stay dead. Kudos!
And before I get into this, I acknowledge that I had to quote a ton of this chapter, but I really saw no way around it to fully show what happened. Mr. Williams, if you are reading this, I apologize, and hope you will understand why so much needed to be quoted – you wrote this section so well, there is literally no way to summarize without most of those quotes, and still get the same effect. Also, if you’re reading, is this an appropriate time to hit you up for an autograph or three on my hardback copies? 🙂
Now, first things first – this chapter may very well put to rest the very short debate I and Firsfron had in the comments of the last part of my re-read, regarding the nature of Morgenes’ magic. Though the first part of the chapter, Morgenes’ actions definitely seemed to be mostly alchemical in nature, I do not believe that the last section there can be described as anything other than pure, awesome, and very real ‘magic.’ So yeah, I was kind of wrong. And proved wrong relatively quickly at that. Shows you what happens when you think you know more than you do.
So the rescue actually goes mostly smoothly, and wise ol’ Morgenes knows more secrets than he lets on, through the knowledge of hidden passages, picking locks, and planning treason and such. It’s surprising in modern fantasy for a rescue to go according to plan, so I guess by the various Laws of Fantasy, things had to go very, Very Bad afterward. And all because of jealous ol’ Inch. You bastard, you’ve lost what sympathy you gained. I hope you get crushed in a gear or something.
So we get to hear about Stoning Night, and all that implies, and I guess what is most curious to me about this is that it seems that Simon is only lost down in the tunnels for a relatively short while. We’ll find out for sure soon enough, I suppose, but I had the impression it was days – but when he comes out, I’m relatively sure the ritual he sees up at the Anger Stones are taking place on Stoning Night. Weird that the next few chapters all happen in a relatively short period of time.
(By the way, nice world-building there in the mention of Belthainn Day, giving the world, culture, etcetera a bit more flavor. That’s one of those things I love Tad Williams for – as far as I’m concerned, his world-building is second to none.)
So, we get to see Morgenes making preparations for Simon’s protection and well-being, and then one of the most dramatic scenes in the series happens. What is most amazing to me about it is how much emotion I felt when reading this scene, even after twenty-ish years of re-reads. I would not be lying to say there was some wetness around someone’s eyes (not saying whose) and a little bit of heavy breathing and having to put the book down for a moment. And even through what must be agonizing pain and heart-wrenching fear, the only concern on Morgenes’ mind as he is dying is making sure that Simon is safe and cared-for. The quick mention of knowing Simon’s father was nice, too, giving us a bit of inkling that Morgenes (once again) knew many things that were important and that few others (if anyone) knew. Of course, we know who one of those birds is going to, and Simon will eventually receive his inheritance of the ring, but at this point, it was definitely a mystery as to why the ‘baubles’ were being sent out. As for the six sparrows, I’m assuming they went to (or towards) Dinivan, Jarnauga, Tiamek, Ookequk, and Geloë. Who would the sixth have been? Cadrach? The Sithi? Or am I just forgetting someone ridiculously important?
We get to see the first real ‘magic’ in the series, and for the most part, magic is used very sparingly – I like that aspect of the world, that it is rare, and that only certain people have access to (or the will to use) the Art – it gives the whole world a bit more of a realistic feeling in my opinion. I think there is another reason for it though.
I believe the nature of magic in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn was built around Simon. Weird, huh? Allow me to explain. You see, in most stories where magic/sorcery/One Power/whathaveyou plays a very important and frequent role, usually the main protagonist is a wielder of that power. Thus, he can partake in discussions of it, use it, and defend himself against it. Garion in The Belgariad, Rand in The Wheel of Time, Pug/Milamber in The Riftwar Sage, just to name a few. Therefore, since the heroes will eventually become world-shaking demi-gods, it makes sense for magic to be more prominent – otherwise, there is nothing that can truly threaten the hero. In MS&T, our hero is a nobody. He has no powers, he’s not really that smart, and he’s too young to understand what is going on. Sure, Morgenes implies that Simon may have the abilities, and I believe the fact that he can resist Pryrates, Ineluki, and the various other mind-magics that are thrown against him so well is certainly a clue to this. I seem to recall even Ameratsu says something to the effect of it. However, whether it be the case or not that he has the inborn talent, he never learns to use it. Therefore, the only way to make a story interesting for our protagonist, is to take away conflicts that are so far out of his realms of capability to handle so as to nullify him completely, and give him conflicts that are more realistic. Does that make sense? At the end, I don’t even remotely see this as a flaw, just as a smart writing device that Mr. Williams used to make the hero more sympathetic and realistic to we, the readers. And when Simon does have to confront this deadly, rare power occasionally, he does exactly the sensible thing that anyone in his shoes would (or, at least, should) do, and runs from it. I think this gives us a story that makes it much easier for us to resonate with the hero and his dilemmas.
That being said, the magic battle here was TEH COOLZ, YO, and I certainly don’t mind when other magical events happen (usually to the grave and utter detriment of the good guys, of course).
And with that, I think I will be adieu to you and Simon for awhile, and prepare for the next section, which has just as much (or more) tension in it as this one. Thanks for reading!