Welcome back to another re-read of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, by Tad Williams, and covering chapters 25 to 27, in which not-very-girly girls (apparently) need rescuing, dreams get REAL SERIOUS YO, and teenage boys do stupid teenage-boys-type of things. Oh, and there may be some sadness. 🙁
As I will continue to say until the very last of these re-reads is done, 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.
Harsh Lessons Ahead.
Chapter 25 – The Secret Lake
Simon hacks himself a tree branch and holds onto Qantaqa while Binbabik prepares himself with rope. Simon takes Qantaqa down to a jutting out in the canyon, where he can see the hounds closing on Binabik quickly.
It was like the recurrence of his worst nightmare, like Morgenes in flames standing between Simon and the deadly hand of Elias. He couldn’t sit and watch Binabik killed before his eyes. As he started to pull himself forward, the dogs leaped toward the troll. Simon had only a moment’s impression of long, pale snouts, of empty, pearl-white eyes, and a flare of red curving tongues and red mouths . . . then Binabik jumped backward, down into the canyon.
“No!” Simon shrieked, horrified. The five or six creatures that had been nearest lunged forward, unable to stop, and tumbled over the cliff in a squealing tangle of white legs and tails. Helpless, Simon watched the clot of whinnying dogs bounce against the steep rock face and plummet down into the trees far below with an explosive popping of broken branches. He felt another choking scream rise in his breast . . .
“Now, Simon! Let her go!”
Mouth agape, Simon looked down to see Binabik’s feet braced against the canyon wall, the troll hanging suspended from the rope about his waist not two dozen feet below the spot where he had jumped. “Let her go!” he called again, and Simon finally uncurled his restraining arm from Qantaqa’s neck. The remainder of the dogs were milling at the rim above Binabik’s head, sniffing the ground and staring down, barking savagely at the little man who hung so frustratingly near.
Qantaqa engages several hounds while one comes for Simon, forcing himself to defend with his cudgel. He is able to toss the dog over the cliff, and Binabik saves him from another with a poisoned dart. Qantaqa survives her battle as well, and the three regroup. They investigate the dead dogs, and find that they are marked with the sign of Stormspike, the homeland of the Norns. The dogs’ collars also have the brand of Elias’ kennels, which is confusing.
The three find a way around the canyon, but soon hear another dog ahead, along with what Simon believes to be a child screaming. They quickly come to a scene of a hound having trapped something in a tree, and Qantaqa and the hound close for battle. Binabik joins the fray with his knife once Qantaqa is wounded, and they kill the hound. Simon approaches the tree and sees two individuals in the branches – Malachias, whom Simon knows from the Hayholt, and a little girl, who seems to be wounded. They then hear more horns behind them, and coax the two down so that they may all flee. Binabik sends Qantaqa ahead to find Geloë, and hopefully confuse their scents. Binabik, Simon, and the two then hide.
Eventually several hounds, and then the hounds’ masters, arrive close by. Baron Heahferth, whom Simon recognizes from the Hayholt, and a strange-looking man named Ingen Jegger speak and threaten each other, before Jegger orders Heahferth and his men to follow Qantaqa’s trail. Once they leave, Binabik inspects Leleth, finding her injuries to be very bad, and has Simon carry the girl as they head for Geloë’s.
They made their way northwest through the dense forest, the lowering sun lancing through the branches. Simon asked the troll about the man named Ingen and his odd way of speaking.
“Black Rimmersman, I am thinking,” Binabik said. “They are a rare lot, not often seen except at northernmost settlements where they some times come to trade. They do not speak the language of Rimmersgard. It is said they live on the fringes of the lands belonging to the Norns.”
“The Norns again,” Simon grunted, ducking beneath a branch that had sprung from Malachias’ careless hand. He turned to confront the troll. “What is going on?! Why should such people be concerned with us?”
“Perilous times, friend Simon,” Binabik said. “Through perilous times we are passing.”
Several hours went by and the shadows of afternoon grew longer and longer. The patches of sky that glimmered through the treetops turned slowly from blue to shell pink. The three walked on. The land was mostly level, from time to time sloping away like a shallow beggar’s bowl. In the branches above, squirrels and Jays carried on their endless arguments; crickets droned in the leaf-tangle at their feet. Once Simon saw a large gray owl scudding like a phantom through the twining branches overhead. Later he saw another, so like the first as to have been its twin.
The stream they are following eventually becomes wider, and then drops into a large, hidden lake in the forest. In the center of the lake, a house, which Binabik names “The House of Geloë,” sits on stilts. As they approach, Qantaqa bounds toward them, and she and Binabik have a joyful reunion.
Other than the diggers, I suppose this is the first real ‘action’ chapter we have, especially concerning Simon trying to defend himself from enemies. He survives on what I like to call “Luck of the Heroes,” by wielding a stick against a powerful dog trained for hunting. Do we worry about realism at a time like this? I do not.
Binabik’s little rope trick is pretty awesome – I remember reading one of the Drizzt books later, and seeing Bruenor do something similar, and thought to myself, “R.A. Salvatore must have gotten that from Williams,” but of course, that little trick is something we’ve seen in movies, TV shows, and books for ages. It just so happens that Williams pulls it off very well here, in such a way that it was truly tense for a moment when it looked like Binabik had jumped to his death. And poor Simon, for that one moment, watching his friend hurl over a canyon ledge.
The mystery of the hounds themselves always seemed to me to be a bit of a non-mystery. I mean, it seems like there can only be one logical explanation – the hounds are bred in Stormspike, then sent to Elias to be trained by Erkynlanders. Of course, the why of that is not quite so obvious, but I figure even Binabik would have said, “Well, I guess Elias has Norn hounds for some reason.”
So Ingen Jegger, we finally meet. This is the huntsman Elias mentioned to Guthwulf earlier, and he is immediately meant to be villainous, if by no other reason that Simon’s reaction to seeing and hearing the man speak. He becomes a bit of Simon’s nemesis over the story, even almost moreso than Elias, Pryrates, Ineluki, or Utuk’ku, and I find this to be particularly important, because it gives Simon someone who, rationally speaking, Simon could confront and at least have a smidgeon of a chance of winning. Ineluki, Utuk’ku, and Pryrates are all way over Simon, Binabik, Josua, and many of the other ‘normal’ characters’ heads, and Elias, though simply a flesh-and-blood mortal, has the power of kingdoms behind him. But Ingen gives us a character that could be a worthy match to other more human protagonists, and this makes him important. Unfortunately, Simon himself never really gets to confront Jegger in a mano-a-mano type of battle, so I have to wonder if that was originally Williams’ plan, or he detoured later in the story? It does seem odd to me, now that I think about it, that Simon doesn’t really have any real nemeses that he confronts and defeats – unless you count Inch, but I wouldn’t really even count him, since Inch was not someone who Simon was thinking about and dreading through three books.
Anyhoo, what exactly are “Black Rimmersmen” anyway? They call them that, and Jegger’s description mentions a “dark face,” but . . . are they black, or not? I feel that if they were black, and that was something strange enough worth commenting on, then it would be mentioned in less-subtle ways. Is ‘black’ meant to be more of a metaphorical description, (ie – black-hearted Rimmersmen)? If it was just that they have darker skin tones, that wouldn’t make sense, because Tiamak is often called “brown,” by those around him, and he is the darkest-skinned person in the series I recall meeting whose skin is commented on. I don’t recall ever meeting any other Black Rimmersmen the entire story, so someone may have to refresh my memory on it.
And, we get back to tricksy, tricksy Malachias/Marya/Miriamele, and this part of the story is one of the unfortunately-least-realistic parts to me, because it seems really out of place that Simon can’t tell she’s a girl. I mean, she’s fifteen (or sixteen?), and it is certainly mentioned both before (by Hepzibah) and later (by others) that Miriamele is beautiful, so one would figure Simon could notice some of the . . . ahem . . . things that differentiate boys from girls. I suppose it’s worth mentioning that she could have been hiding under a lot of clothes, but even so, once Simon finds out, he even says something to the effect of, “How could I have ever thought she was a boy?” meaning there are very obvious girly-features to the princess, but she presumably doesn’t change how she dresses to wear more revealing and/or feminine clothes, so what’s different now?
Okay, so turning the creep-factor down a notch or two . . . I pointed out in a quote the fact that Geloë was hanging around, even though our travelers knew not. One of my absolutely favorite reveals throughout the course of the series is Williams’ reveal of Geloë’s importance and power. The owls are so awesomely subtle, that I believe I did not notice even on my second read through of the series, many eons ago.
But we’ll talk more about Geloë very soon now.
Chapter 26 – In the House of Geloë
Geloë welcomes the travelers into her home, and after a brief greeting, Geloë leaves Binabik, Malachias, and Simon to themselves while she tends to Leleth. The home is filled with all sorts of strange things that remind Simon of Morgenes’ chambers. Binabik makes some soup for them, and once he finishes it, Simon soon falls asleep on the floor. When he awakens later, it is night, and Binabik and Geloë are speaking softly. He inquires about Leleth, and then asks if she has heard about Morgenes.
“I already knew.” Geloë stared at him, firelight reddening her bright eyes. When she spoke, it was with powerful deliberateness. “You were with him, boy. I know your name, and I felt Morgenes’ mark upon you when I touched you as I took the child.” As if to demonstrate, she held out her own wide, callused hand.
“You knew my name?”
“Where the doctor is concerned, I know many things.” Geloë leaned over and poked up the fire with a long, blackened stick. “A great man has been lost, a man we can ill afford to lose.”
Simon hesitated. Curiosity at last won out over awe. “What do you mean?” He crawled across the floor to sit near the troll. “That is, what does ‘we’ mean?”
” ‘We’ means all of us,” she said. ” ‘We’ means: those who do not welcome darkness.”
Binabik tells Simon that he has shared their entire story with Geloë, but she says that she unfortunately has no answers. She suggests they sleep for the night, and she will attempt to find answers tomorrow. Simon settles down on his cloak and eventually goes to sleep, and has a dream of a hidden Morgenes telling him to “beware the false messenger.” When Morgenes is revealed, he is burned as though from the fire, and Simon wakes up screaming. Geloë is standing nearby.
“You had powerful dreams like this when you lived at the castle, boy?” she asked, fixing him with a stem eye as if daring him to deny it.
Simon shivered. Faced with that overwhelming gaze, he felt no urge to tell anything but the truth. “Not until . . . until the last few months before . . . before . . .”
“Before Morgenes died,” said Geloe flatly, “Binabik, unless the learning I have has deserted me completely, I cannot believe this is chance, for him to dream of Morgenes in my house. Not a dream like that.”
Geloë has Simon lie down again, and Binabik asks if Simon has had other dreams like that before. Simon denies anything, but as he goes to sleep again, he remembers a fire on a hill, and the creaking of wagon wheels and wonders if that was a dream.
The next morning dawns gray and murky – Geloë has taken Malachias out to gather herbs, and Simon and Binabik prepare a fire and tend Leleth’s bandages. Binabik cooks up some tea and asks Simon how he knew Malachias – once explained, the troll says they should keep an eye on the boy. Geloë and Malachias soon return, and the wise woman mixes in other herbs to the pot of water Binabik has prepared. Simon goes outside and looks around for awhile before Binabik brings him some food and asks him to come back inside so they can help Geloë search for answers.
“Searching how? Are we going somewhere?”
Binabik looked at him seriously. “In some way, yes – no, do not be looking so cross! I will explain.” He cast a pebble. “There is a thing that is done sometimes, when ways of finding things out are closed. A thing that the wise can do. My master Ookequk called it walking the Road of Dreams.”
“But that killed him!”
“No! That is to say . . .” the troll’s expression was worried as he searched for words. “It is to say, yes, he died while on the road. But a man may die on any road. That is not meaning that anyone who walks upon it will be dying. People have been crushed by carts in your Main Row, but hundreds of others walk upon it every day without harm.”
Binabik then explains that the dream road is a place where people who know how can go in their sleep, to search for answers, or to see things more clearly that can otherwise not be seen in the waking world. Simon agrees to travel this road with them on the condition that Binabik tells him what really happened to his master on the dream road. The troll explains that two dangers await on the road – the first is, the walker cannot find his way back, and the second is meeting other travelers on the road who are dangers – he is sure Ookequk met such a ‘traveler.’
Once inside, Geloë sits Binabik and Simon with herself around a fire and dabs various poultices on their heads, hands, and lips. They hold hands and Geloë says some words before they are then wrapped in darkness. The darkness fades and Simon sees a field of white.
A moment later the field of white became a vast, glittering mountain of ice, a mountain so impossibly tall that its head was hidden in the swirling clouds lining the dark sky. Smoke belched from crevices in its glassy sides and streamed upward to join the cloud-halo.
And then, somehow, he was inside the great mountain, flying as rapidly as a spark through tunnels that led ever inward, dark tunnels that were nevertheless lined with mirroring ice. Uncountable thousands of shapes made their way through the mists and shadows and frost – gleaming, pale-faced, angular shapes who marched the corridors in moving thickets of glimmering spears, or tended the strange blue and yellow fires whose smokes crowned the heights above.
The spark that was Simon still felt two firm hands grasping his own, or rather felt something else that told him he was not alone, for certainly a spark could have no hands to hold. He was at last in a great chamber, a vast hollow in the mountain’s center. The roof was so high above the ice-glazed tiles of the floor that snow flurried down from its upper reaches, leaping, whirling clouds of snow like armies of tiny white butterflies. In the center of the immense chamber was a monstrous well, whose mouth flickered with pale blue light, and which seemed the source of a hideous, heart-squeezing fear. Some heat must have been floating up from its unguessable depths, for the air above it was a roiling pillar of fogs, a misty column gleaming with diffuse colors like a titan icicle catching the sun’s light.
Hanging somehow in the fog above the well, its shape not quite clear or its dimensions entirely guessable, was an inexplicable something: a thing made up of many things and many shapes, all colorless as glass. It seemed – as its lineaments appeared here and there in the swirling mist-pillar – a creation of angles and sweeping curves, of subtle, frightening complexity. In some not quite definable way it seemed an instrument of music. If so, it was an instrument so huge, alien, and frightening that the spark that was Simon knew he could never hear its awful music and live.
Facing the well, in an angular seat of rime-crusted black rock, a figure sat. He could see it clearly, as though suddenly he hovered directly over the terrible, blue-burning well. It was cloaked in a white and silver robe of fantastic intricacy. Snowy hair streamed down over its shoulders to blend almost invisibly with the immaculate white garments.
The pale form lifted its head, and the face was a mass of shining light. A moment later, as it turned away again, he could see that it was only a beautiful, expressionless sculpture of a woman’s face . . . a mask of silver.
The dazzling, exotic face turned back toward him. He felt himself pushed away, brusquely disconnected from the scene like a clinging kitten being pulled free from the hem of a dress. A vision swam up before him that was somehow a part of the wreath of fogs and the grim white figure. At first it was only another patch of alabaster whiteness; gradually it became an angular shape crisscrossed with black. The black shapes became lines, the lines became symbols; at last an open book hung before him. On its opened page were letters Simon could not read, twisting runes that wavered and then came clear.
A timeless instant passed, then the runes began to shimmer once more. They pulled apart and reformed themselves into black silhouettes, three long, slender shapes . . . three swords. One had a hilt shaped like the Tree of Usires, another a hilt like the right-angle crossbeams of a roof. The third had a strange double guard, the cross pieces making, with the hilt, a son of five-pointed star. Somewhere, deep in Simon’s self, he recognized this last sword. Somewhere, in a memory black as night, deep as a cave, he had seen sucha blade.
The swords disappear and Simon fights their disappearance, desperately wanting answers to why so many people have died. As he thinks these questions, the mountain appears again, then morphed into the shape of a massive white tree, which then morphed into a tall white pillar with flames at the top, and a deep, booming bell sound being made. Then, the blackness that has spoken in his dreams before addresses him as “Little fly,” and taunts him, trying to catch him. He is freed by a gray owl who carries him over the lands of Osten Ard.
Simon awakens to see Binabik and Geloë very dazed by the experience – Simon’s head is pounding as well. He fetches some water outside, noticing that it almost seems as if the house had moved while he was out (but dismissing that), and gives some to Binabik and Geloë. He realizes somehow that Geloë saved his live on the dream road, and asks Binabik if they all saw the same thing. Malachias mentions that the whole how was shaking during the ordeal.
That evening, around soup, Geloë very grimly explains what she saw – that the Norns are preparing for war in the great mountain Stormspike, and that the figure in the silver mask is Utuk’ku, Queen of the Norns. She explains that the Sithi and Norns were once part of the same tribe, but that they split many thousands of years ago. Simon says he’s seen the Norns before, after he left the lichyard (Malachias shifts nervously at this statement), he saw them up on Thisterborg, giving Elias and Pryrates something, but he cannot remember what. She then tells Simon and Binabik that the book they saw was ‘Du Svardenvyrd,’ or ‘The Weird of the Swords,’ an ancient book written by Nisses. Simon says he saw three swords.
Malachias interrupts to tell Simon that he was the one calling to Simon that night in the lichyard.
Geloë smiled. “At last, one our mysteries begins to speak! Go on, child. Tell them what you must.”
Malachias blushed furiously. “I . . . my name is not Malachias. It is . . . Marya.”
“But Marya is a girl’s name,” Simon began, then broke off at the sight of Geloë’s widening grin. “A girl . . .?” he said lamely. He stared at the strange boy’s face, and suddenly saw it for what it was. “A girl,” he grunted, feeling impossibly stupid.
The witch woman chuckled. “It was obvious, I must say – or it should have been. She had the advantage of traveling with a troll and a boy, and the cloak of confusing, dangerous events, but I told her the deception could not last.”
“Especially not all the way to Naglimund, and that is where I must go.” Marya rubbed her eyes wearily. “I have an important message to bear to Prince Josua from his niece, Miriamele. Please do not ask me what it is, for I may not tell you.”
She then explains that Leleth is the princess’ handmaiden, not her sister, and Geloë says Leleth must remain with her, as she is unfit to travel. Geloë then tells them they must travel along a river to Da’ai Chikiza, an ancient Sithi city, but first they must sleep. Simon goes to sleep moodily, not understanding his role, and not understanding why Marya had been spying on him.
Well, I will hope the ‘Fair Use’ Police don’t come banging at my door for the amount of the dream sequence I quoted, but quite frankly, but that scene is one of my favorites in the entire series, and there is no way a simple summary could have done it justice. But we’ll get to that in a moment. In order . . .
Simon’s dreams are mentioned here to have started around Morgenes’ death – Geloë (possibly) takes this to mean Simon is haunted by the death, but I still find the most rational explanation is this: his experience on Thisterborg with Pryrates was also basically the next night, and he didn’t have time to dream really before then, so it makes just as much sense that it would have to do with the unbroken ‘mind-meld’ Pryrates had him held in. So yeah, not much to say on that except I still stand strongly in the camp that Simon (unfortunately or not) doesn’t have powers of his own, but they are come to him through his connection with Pryrates for some reason.
I like that Geloë is given so many descriptors of birds. Just to name the three that come to mind, it is said she has wise eyes of a “bird of great heights,” then separately that her “shoulders hunched like a bird huddling in the rain,” and also that “she resembled a bird, a proud, steep-soaring bird at that.” These are all very obvious on re-reading the series, but are subtle enough that a first-time reader should be adequately surprised when the truth is revealed later. And much more will be talked about with regards to Geloë and her origins later. I want to get to the relevant parts of the books first, but I will definitely be marking things to talk about and write a nice little essay once it comes time.
The Road of Dreams sounds a lot like what Tel’aran’rhiod becomes in the Wheel of Time, especially with quotes like this: “I was taught that by dreaming is one way to mount up to this road, one any person can do.” Binabik furrowed his brow. “But when a person reaches to the road by ordinary night dreaming, he cannot then be walking along the road: he sees from one spot only, and then must come back down. So – Ookequk told to me – this one does not often know what he is looking at. Sometimes,” he gestured out at the mist that clung to the trees and lake, “it is only fog that he sees. The wise one, though, can be walking along the road, once he has mastered the art of climbing to it. He can be walking and looking, seeing things as they are, as they change.” Not saying anything by this, just find it interesting.
Geloë’s obvious pleasure at seeing Simon’s discomfort about Marya is humorous. She definitely seems to be milking the situation a bit. 🙂
Finally, there is the dream itself. There is a lot to go over here.
I remember the first time I read this sequence, the scene where Simon becomes the ‘spark’ and flies towards the mountain and then sees Utuk’ku literally haunted me. Not in a creepy/frightening way, but in a way that stuck with me for a long time. It’s extremely cinematic in its reveal of first the mountain, then the interiors, then the Harp, and finally of Utuk’ku looking up from her place. I can picture to this day exactly what I pictured when I read it, and if given all the resources necessary, I could make a hell of a short film based off of this scene. In fact, it may be time to try to get in touch with some people about that. 😉
Speaking of which, I guess this is where we officially welcome Utuk’ku to the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn re-read – I’ve mentioned her multiple times, but this is definitely the first time she’s made an actual appearance. For some reason, I do find it strange that Geloë and Binabik both seem to have a lot of questions about who the Norns are. I mean, sure, they’ve kept themselves hidden behind the great northern mountains for eons, but surely there is some sort of history, possibly from the time when Sithi and mortals (especially the Hernystiri) were friends? And then the League of the Scroll – which Geloë is certainly associated with, and Binabik is the next-best thing to a full member – would certainly have had a little bit of information about the relationship between the Sithi and the Norns. Perhaps this is explained somewhere later and I’ve just forgotten about it.
Du Svardenvyrd comes next, and it should be obvious to the re-readers that this is the point where we first encounter the “false messenger.” But there are a few things about this that seem odd to me. Firstly, Simon first dreamed of three swords waaaay back in chapter 14, which is before he had his mind-meld with Pryrates. So why would he have had this dream? Secondly, Simon’s dream of Morgenes in the current chapter mentions the “false messenger” for the first time, and that seems as though it should be obvious help, so surely this is not a dream from Pryrates/Utuk’ku/Ineluku/Red Hand/etcetera – it is either a real spiritual experience of some sort, or a ridiculously odd coincidence. And since we’re in the middle of an epic fantasy series, I can make promises that this ain’t no coincidence. Therefore, we have Simon dreaming of three swords before he has any reason to, and then Morgenes telling him of the “false messenger” the very night before Simon encounters that “false messenger.” The only conclusion I can really draw is that, for whatever reason, Simon has been chosen since even before Thisterborg to receive visions/dreams/whatever from Ineluki, Pryrates, and Utuk’ku, and they are coaxing him into doing their bidding. This would mean his dream of Morgenes was real, and in some way, Morgenes is communicating with him from beyond the grave. Which . . . well . . . just doesn’t really seem to fit with what I know about Morgenes, Simon, and their respective powers (or lack thereof). So anyway, just a bit of a ramble there. Hopefully something will come up (or someone will comment here) that will lead me to better understanding of how this dream thing works.
Oh, and back on this subject again, but I still have serious problems believing, whatever Geloë’s explanation, that Simon and Binabik could not tell Marya/Miriamele/Malachias was of a different gender. Whatever.
Maybe it’s time to continue . . .
Chapter 27 – The Gossamer Towers
Geloë awakens the group by alerting them they have been found – men are surrounding the lake. The men may not know the house is here, but it is too coincidental to take chances. Simon wonders how she can see the far side of the lake from in the house, but decides it is better not to ask too many questions. Geloë informs them they must take a boat up an inlet stream and silently pass the hunters. When Binabik and Simon get discouraged by this, and the fact that Ingen Jegger may see them, Geloë tells them not to worry, “some useful distraction” may keep them otherwise occupied.
Simon and Geloë go outside the house to untie her boat, and he is certain that one of the trees beside the house was on the other side when they first arrived, but how could a tree move? He also thinks the house smells like an animal. On his way back, he trips over something scaly and looks down to see what it was.
Although the water was very nearly opaque in the darkness, Simon was sure he could see the outlines of some strange type of log, or rather a vast branch of some kind, for he could see that the thing he had tripped over, lying close beneath the surface of the water, joined two other scaly branches. Together they seemed connected to the base of one of the two pillars on which the cottage stood suspended over the lake.
And as he stepped carefully over it, sliding silently through the water toward the shadow that was Geloë, he suddenly realized that what the tree roots – or branches, or whatever they were – what they truly looked like was . . . some kind of monstrous foot. A claw, actually, the claw of a bird. What a funny idea! A house did not have bird’s feet, anymore than a house got up and . . . walked.
Simon was very quiet as Geloë tied the boat up to the base of the plank.
Simon, Marya, and Binabik get in the boat and get to rowing silently away from the house. After moving silently through the lake for awhile, they see tents off to one side, and realize they are approaching the camp of the hunting men. One of the sentries almost spots them, but is attacked by a bird, which allows the three to use the distraction to row into the inlet. They paddle for a long time before resting. Simon gets distracted staring at Marya a couple of times, and then the two argue over who is older. They have to get out of the boat to carry it to where the inlet meets the actual Aelfwent river.
They row around rocks beneath the river, and Simon gets caught up in the adventure and sings a song about Usires the sailor. Marya then sings a song from Meremund (after insulting Simon a bit), and they all join in at the end, before having to dodge more rocks. It starts to rain, but Simon is in a good mood nonetheless.
When the light filtering down through the canopy of trees began to dim, they steered the boat to the side and made camp. After building a fire, using his sack of yellow dust to kindle the damp wood, Binabik produced a parcel of fresh vegetables and fruits from one of the packs Geloë had provided. Qantaqa, left to her own devices, went slinking off into the tall brush, returning some time later with her fur soaking wet and a few streaks of blood adorning her muzzle. Simon looked at Marya, who was meditatively sucking on a peach pit, to see what her reaction would be to this evidence of the brutal side of the wolf’s nature, but if the girl noticed she showed no signs of unease.
‘She must have worked in the princess’ kitchens,’ he guessed.’Still, if I had one of Morgenes’ stuffed lizards to slip in her cloak, then she’d jump, I’ll wager’
Thinking about her working in castle kitchens set him to wondering just what it was she had done in the princess’ service – and now that he thought of it, what had she been doing spying on him? But when he tried to ask her questions about the princess, she only shook her head, saying that she could not say anything about her mistress or her services until the message had been delivered at Naglimund.
Binabik asks Marya what she will do if Josua is not at Naglimund, to which she has no answer.
The next day, they set to rowing again, and keep each other entertained by telling stories about their home life. Simon worries if the hunters are chasing them, but Binabik reassures them that they are safer now than they have been in awhile. That afternoon, while rummaging through his sack, Simon finds his White Arrow, and brags about it to Marya. When she doesn’t seem impressed, he goes on to say he may as well throw it away for all the luck it’s brought him, but at that moment, their boat strikes a rock, and Simon goes overboard, losing the Arrow. The current pulls him away from the boat until Marya can get a paddle out to him for him to grab so the troll and girl can pull him aboard. He curls up on the bottom of the boat after regurgitating a lot of the river, while Binabik and Marya search for a spot to tie the boat to dry land.
He recovered enough strength to crawl out of the boat by himself on shaking legs. As he fell on his knees, spreading grateful palms on the soft forest floor, Bmabik reached down and plucked something loose from the sodden, ragged mess that was Simon’s shirt
“See what was caught up in your clothes,” Bmabik said, an odd look on his face. It was the White Arrow “Let us make a fire for you, poor Simon. Perhaps you have had a lesson – a cruel lesson, but a serious one – about speaking ill of Sithi gifts while sailing on a Sithi river. ”
Denied even the strength to be embarrassed as Binabik helped him shed his clothes and wrapped him in his cloak, Simon fell asleep in front of the blessed fire. His dreams were unsurprisingly dark, full of things that clutched and smothered.
The next day, Marya takes his position at the stern as he is sick with a fever. Throughout the day, the girl and Binabik take turns checking on him. That night, they camp again and Binabik reads in Morgenes’ book for awhile before Simon dozes off – he awakens once to Marya sleeping on his shoulder.
The next day, they come to the Gate of Cranes, a bridge that goes over the river and is one of the twelve Gates into Da’ai Chikiza. Binabik explains that though the bridges look fragile now, they were made to last – however, they may, too, fade one day, just as the Sithi have. The travelers row beneath eleven other bridges, then round a bend in the river and come upon the city.
As they rounded a bend, it was before them; a forest of impossibly graceful towers, set like a jeweled puzzle within the larger forest of trees. The Sithi city, flanking the river on either side, seemed to grow out of the very soil. It seemed the forest’s own dream realized in subtle stone, a hundred shades of green and white and pale summer-sky blue. It was an immense thicket of needle-thin stone, of gossamer walkways like bridges of spiderweb, of filigreed tower tops and minarets reaching up into the high treetops to catch sun on their faces like icy flowers. The world’s past lay open before them, breathtaking and heartrending. It was the most beautiful thing Simon had ever seen.
But as they floated into the city, the river winding around the slender columns, it became apparent that the forest was reclaiming Da’ai Chikiza. The tiled towers, intricate with cracks, were netted in ivy and the twining branches of trees. In many places, where once there had been walls and doors of wood or some other perishable substance, the stone outlines now stood precariously unsupported, like the bleached skeletons of incredible sea creatures. Everywhere the vegetation was thrusting in, clinging to the delicate walls, smothering the whisper-thin spires in uncaring leaves.
In a way, Simon decided, it only made it more beautiful, as though the forest, restless and unfulfilled, had grown a city from out of itself.
Binabik’s quiet voice broke the silence, solemn as the moment; the echoes quickly vanished in the choking greenery.
” ‘Tree of the Singing Wind,’ they named it: Da’ai Chikiza. Once, can you imagine, it was full of music and life. All the windows burned with lamps, and there were bright boats at sail upon the river.” The troll tilted his head back to stare as they passed beneath a last stone bridge, narrow as a feather quill, clothed in images of graceful antlered deer. “Tree of the Singing Wind,” he repeated, distant as a man lost in memory.
They steer the boat to a landing and get out, looking around, and are immediately attacked by arrows. They see Ingen Jegger and armed men across the river, commanding them to stand down. A firey arrow sets their boat aflame and Binabik commands them to run. As they do, he hears a terrified scream and looks back to see Binabik down on the ground, Qantaqa howling beside him.
Most of this chapter is one of those journeying chapters, meant to get Our Heroes from Point A to Point B.
In case any of you are wondering what exactly is up with Geloë’s house, I refer you to this page. Williams uses a lot of real-world inspiration and and influence in the books, and this is one of those places that seems to have a direct mirror image to our own mythology. Baba Yaga was known as a witch who would kidnap children, but also known as a wise woman who can help lost souls be found – I say that second part certainly fits Valada Geloë pretty well. The build-up to this reveal is pretty fun, as it is easy to tell the author is about to tell us ‘something important,’ and then it turns out basically to be a humorous little aside meant or Simon to have a moment of realization. He has another one earlier to, when he realizes that perhaps the owls and Geloë are related, and decides not to question further. Wise boy.
There are some good moments within, especially in the extremely realistically adolescent argument(s) Simon and Marya have, and the way Simon decides to rebel against even Binabik (for a short while). I think I have been there at least once or twice (or thrice). It is also easy to see Simon’s already-developing attraction to the princess, which is a good thing, I think, because it happens before he knows who she is, and that makes it easier to see the honesty within. And behind it all, he wants to stick a lizard up her dress. Dirty minds . . .
Finally, we get to the beautiful Sithi city (where I want to live). We do not get to spend a lot of time in this city, but I think it is the loveliest place described in the series – I imagine from various clues we’re given, and Simon’s viewings into the Scale later, there were other places that would have been equally as beautiful to read about, but this is the only one we actually get to set foot in as readers, and so I let the authors’ words speak for themself. As is prone to happen in fantasy, a moment of beauty and awe is interrupted by horror and tension.
When I first read this series, I had suspicions that Binabik might die here – not because there were clues that said he would, and not because ‘that’s what happens to mentors in a fantasy series,’ but rather because Williams had been so cruel to Simon up to that point, I figured he wouldn’t have a problem killing off the only friend Simon had left. Logically, from a story-telling point of view, I see why Simon actually needs Binabik – he is otherwise too young to continue this adventure without a guiding, friendly hand with him at all (most) times, but I still thought it twenty years ago. And that made me very, very sad. 🙁
Anyway, not really a whole lot more to say about this chapter. I’ll see you next week.