The Dragonbone Chair Part Seven, Chapters 19 – 21

Ho and Hullo, and we’re back, with much excitement, poses of grandeur, and lecture-like ramblings. This little section provided me with much more interesting things to talk about than the last, and I worry that people may grow tired of the streams of text which follow. However, I do not worry so much that I change that. So there.

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 prepare for the ponderous pontifications that await!

Chapter 19 – The Blood of Saint Hoderund

Summary

Binabik and Simon have been walking through the forest for hours, with much complaining from Simon. Binabik attempts to tell Simon about the lands around them, but stops, disappointed, when Simon shows he is not interested. They stop to rest, and Simon immediately falls asleep, leaving Binabik with the task of checking the camp and preparing food. The next day, Simon senses Binabik’s disappointment.

“Binabik, do you want to tell me about the book of the forest today?”

His companion smiled, but it was a smaller, tighter grin than Simon was used to seeing. “Of course, friend Simon, but I am afraid I have given you a wrong thinking. You see, when I am speaking of the land as a book, I am not suggesting you should be reading it to improve your spiritual well-feeling, like a religious tome – although paying attention to your surroundings for that reason is certainly possible. No, I am speaking of it more as a book of physic, something one learns for the sake of health.”

‘It is truly amazing,’ Simon thought, ‘how easy it is for this little fellow to confuse me. And without trying.’

Simon asks the necessary questions to continue the conversation, and Binabik takes a turn for the serious, explaining the age and power within this forest, which ‘not even the Sithi claim,’ and tells him they must be extra careful while they are here. This frightens Simon a bit, but they continue forward nonetheless.

The two eventually reach the Knock, a dipping point in the land, and make their way down the steep descent. Simon is confused when Binabik seemingly goes the wrong way to get back to the road, but Binabik explains that he thought “it might be nice – be a niceness? . . . a nicety? to take some respite tonight in a place where you may be sleeping in a bed, and eating at a table. What are you thinking about that, hmmm?” Simon, of course, thinks this is a wonderful idea, but is still curious why Binabik seems to take the more hidden path, as though fearing being exposed.

When Simon catches up to Binabik, the troll apologizes for being ‘sharp’ with Simon earlier, and then tells the youth about Saint Hoderund’s of the Knock, where they will be staying. Binabik explains that name comes from an old Rimmersgard word for ‘boneyard,’ which gives Simon a creepy feeling, and says this place is the site of some of the largest battles in the history of Osten Ard, and where they are standing, thousands of bodies lie beneath them. They see smoke in the distance, thinking Saint Hoderund’s is preparing dinner, and Binabik continues his history lesson, speaking of how Hoderund, the namesake of the monastery, attempted to preach to Fingil, king of the Rimmersgarders, to withdraw from battle with the Hemystiri, that this battle was blasphemous to God.

“As told,” the troll resumed, “Fingil was finding Hoderund’s new Aedonite ideas most offensive. He commanded the priest be executed, but a merciful soldier instead let him go.

“But go away Hoderund did not do. When the two armies met at last, he rushed out onto the battlefield, between directly the Hemystiri and Rimmersgarders, brandishing his Tree and calling down on to them all the peace of Usires God. Caught between two angry pagan armies, he was quickly killed very dead.

“So,” Binabik waved his stick, beating down a high tussock of grass, “a story whose philosophy is difficult, hmmm? At least for we Qanuc, who prefer both being what you call pagan, and being what you call alive. The Lector in Nabban, however, called Hoderund a martyr, and in the early days of Erkynland named this place a church and abbey for the Order Hoderundian.”

Binabik’s story ends after letting Simon know the battle was very dreadful and bloody, and the two begin the final upwards incline to the chapel in silence. Binabik breaks the silence by singing a Sithi song, and explains, by attempting a translation, that it is about the Sithi’s lament for this battle site. Simon says that he felt something within when Binabik sang the song.

“That is then good,” Bmabik smiled, “but no words of mine can be matching the Sithi’s own songs, especially this one. It is one of the longest, I am told, and saddest. It is also said that the Erlking Iyu’umgato made it himself, in the last hours before he was killed by, by – Ah! Look, we are now at the top!”

Simon raised his eyes;, in truth, they had almost reached the summit of the long rise, the endless sea of Aldheorte’s huddling treetops stretching before them.

‘But I don’t think he stopped talking because of that,’ Simon thought. ‘I think he was about to say something he didn’t want to say.’

They walk the last little bit to the monastery, with Simon momentarily getting frightened by a ‘foreboding’-looking scarecrow, then round the last curve on the pathway. Ahead of them, Saint Hoderund’s is burning, and the gate has been left open.

They rush inside to see that most of the chapel and buildings have been reduced to ashes and rubble, and bodies litter the ground. Binabik goes to look around, and comes back to Simon to tell him he has found no survivors. They then hear Qantaqa barking and rush to see what she has found. The wolf has backed a surviving monk up against a wall – when the monk sees the troll, he begins blathering about pagan demon trolls and wolves, blaming them for the destruction here. Binabik calms Qantaqa while Simon helps the man back out into the light, trying to comfort the clearly frightened man.

Simon gets the man to talk and introduce himself as Brother Hengfisk, but there is very obvious tension between the Rimmersgarder and the troll. The man then says he must see to his charges, and leads Simon towards them – Simon says maybe Binabik can help, but the man scoffs at this notion.

“But wait!” called Simon. “What happened to the abbey?”

“I do not know,” Hengfisk said without turning, “I was not here.”

Simon looked to Binabik for help, but the troll made no immediate move to follow. Instead, he called after the limping monk.

“Oh, Brother Hangfish?”

The monk whirled, furious. “My name is Hengfisk, troll!” Simon noted how quickly color came to his face.

“I was merely making translation for my friend,” Binabik grinned his yellow grin, “who is not speaking the language of Rimmersgard.

You say you are not knowing what happened. Where were you when your brethren were being so very slaughtered?”

The monk seemed about to spit back a reply, but instead reached his hand up to his Tree and clutched it, A moment later, in a quieter voice, he said: “Come, then, and see. I have no secrets from you, troll or from my God.” He stalked away.

“Why were you making him mad, Binabik?” Simon whispered. “Haven’t enough bad things happened here already?”

Binabik’s eyes were slits, but he had not lost his grin. “Perhaps I am being unkind, Simon, but you heard his speaking. You have not been seeing his eyes. Do not let yourself be fooled by the wearing of a holy robe. We Qanuc have wakened too many times in the night, finding eyes like this Hengfisk’s looking down on us, and torches and axes close by. Your Usires Aedon has not burned with success that hatred from his northern heart.” With a cluck for Qantaqa to follow, the troll moved after the stiff-backed priest.

“But, listen to you!” Simon said, holding Binabik’s eye. “You’re full of hatred, too,”

“Ah.” The troll lifted a finger before his now-expressionless face. “But I am not claiming to believe in your – forgive the saying – upside-down God of Mercy.”

Simon took a breath to say something, then thought better of it.

Hengfisk leads the two into an intact room, where two monks, Langrian and Dochais, lie near a fire. Langrian, a Rimmersgarder, has obvious wounds, but Dochais, a Hernystirman, has no wounds that seem to contribute to his condition. The monk tells Simon that Dochais has caught some ‘fever of the brain,’ and is mad. Binabik kneels before Langrian, checking bandages and offering his caretaking, when Dophais awakens violently.

Dochais, eyes still shut, had stiffened, his back so bowed that his waist rose from the ground. His head was thrown back, and snapped from side to side.

“Binabik!” Simon shouted in terror, “he’s . . . he’s . . .”

“Aaaahhhh!” The voice that pushed up from Dochais’ straining throat was harsh with pain. “The black wagon! See, it is coming for me!” He thrashed again, like a landed fish, and his words brought Simon a thrill of reawakening horror.

‘The hilltop … I remember something . . . and the creak of black wheels . . . oh, Morgenes, what am I doing here?!’

A moment later, while Binabik and Hengfisk stared in amazement from the far side of the fire pit, Dochais had pulled Simon forward until the youth’s face was almost touching the Hernystirman’s own fear-stretched features.

“They are taking me back'” the monk hissed, “back to . . . back to . . . that terrible place!” Shockingly, his eyes popped open and stared blindly into Simon’s own, a hands-breadth away. Simon could not struggle out of the monk’s grip, even though Binabik was now at his side trying to help pull him free.

“You know!” Dochais cried, “you know who it is! You have been marked! Marked like I was! I saw them as they passed – the white foxes! They walked in my dream! The white foxes! Their master has sent them to put ice on our hearts, and take away our souls on their black, black wagon!”

Simon pulls away and Dochais falls back to the floor.

Commentary

First of all, long, long chapter, with a lot of good history, humor, and plot-movement. Let’s take it one step at a time.

Near the beginning, we get to see the first bits of Binabik’s spirituality. We saw some before from Simon’s POV, but it was quick, and Simon didn’t really care a lot, so he glossed over the fact that Binabik was sitting in front of a fire, humming, and tossing bits of bones around. This one is told from Binabik’s POV, and we get to clearly see what his thoughts are.

On the first pass he turned up Wingless Bird, Fish-Spear, and The Shadowed Path. Unsettled, he closed his eyes and hummed a tuneless tune for a while as the sound of night-insects slowly rose about him. When he threw again, the first two had changed to Torch at the Cave-Mouth and Balking Ram, but The Shadowed Path turned up again, the bones propped against each other like the leavings of some fastidious carnivore. Not the sort to follow the bones to hasty decisions – his master had taught him too well – Binabik nonetheless slept, when he finally could, with his staff and bag cradled close.

Binabik obviously takes the tossing of the bones seriously enough that tossing the same pattern twice unsettles him and causes him to want to sleep with security close at hand. This implies, to me, more than simple superstition, and possibly an actual religious overtone to these tossings – at the very least, he holds the meanings to be reverent in some way.

We never hear a lot about what – if any – type of religion the Qanuc observe, though they obviously have this bit of spirituality, and they obviously have a rich mythology, based on the story in the previous chapter of Sedda and her net-weavings. Every time Binabik brings up the bones, it seems to me to be in the same light as someone who reads their horoscope every day. Most people (but not all) don’t read “Look for opportunities today to make a great fortune from a past loved,” in their horoscope and spend the entire day trying to figure it out. On the rare situations when coincidence strikes and someone is delivered that ‘great fortune,’ most who read the horoscope will think back and say, “Hey, they were right,” but still very few put a lot of faith into living their lives by way of what Mistress Anne says in the astrology section of the news paper. Binabik even explains to Simon, later in this book, that the symbols aren’t direct statements as to what a troll should or shouldn’t do, but rather metaphoric guidelines.

Of course, every time we get to see the result of Binabik’s tossings, we get to see things like ‘The Shadowed Pass,’ or ‘The Black Crevace,’ or whatever the currently-most ominous-sounding toss can be, but I reckon that we, the readers, aren’t privy to every single toss Binabik makes. It just simply wouldn’t be entertaining for Mr. Williams to tell us about all the tossings like, ‘Butterflies in the Stream,’ and ‘Misty Morning Mildew’ that Binabik tosses.

Which brings me back to the horoscope point. And also a point that can be brought up in a lot of talks about religious signs and such – but I won’t go too deep down that road today. Basically, here it is. Binabik gets a random assortment of tosses, and those that are pertinent to the story are revealed. Thus, when we see things later in the chapter (or later in the book) that seem to correspond with these tosses (such as the burning of Saint Hoderund’s), we (and Binabik) can say, “Hey, it’s a good thing the bones were tossed today!” But at the end of the day, it still comes back to superstition.

I think the point I’m trying to make with this is that Mr. Williams never really comes right out and says it, but I am relatively sure that most of the religious mysticism that appears in these books is based more completely on mythology, superstition, and chance. There may have existed a Usires Aedon, but from the little evidence given in the book, it seems highly unlikely that he was the son of a One True God, and that that God now grants his priesthood the power of miracles in day-to-day life. And though chance may make an occasional bone-tossing look accurate, I think it’s the same thing as saying that if you roll two 6-sided dice every morning, and if the results are six or below, you’ll have a bad day, and seven and above, you’ll have a good day – my thoughts are you’ll have just as many bad or good days as you would have otherwise.

Moving on, I quoted some lines that just struck me as humorous, mostly due to the way Binabik tries to translate his native Qanuc tongue into Erkynlandish. What I did not quote was his conversation with Simon about the Aldheorte Forest, which is really the first time, that I can recall, the great Forest actually receives attention as a character – Binabik very much describes it as alive, and possibly even sentient. We get to see more things like this over time, and I don’t think I would feel too wrong in saying that I’m pretty sure Mr. Williams is trying to get to exactly that point – that the Forest is alive, it is ancient, it is sentient, and it has possible motivations all of its own.

It is not the first time (or the last, I imagine) this has been done in a fantasy series – in The Belgariad, the Vale of Aldur is described very much in that way, especially the Old Tree there. There are places like that in The Riftwar Saga as well, and of course, Fangorn, Mirkwood, and Lothlorien Forests in The Lord of the Rings all have similar characteristics. I am going to be watching especially for more examples of anthropomorphism as this goes on, as this greatly intrigues me.

Binabik’s telling of Hoderund was pretty funny.

Then we get to the monastery, and our situations begin becoming dire once again. We had a few mostly-worry-free chapters, and now we are moving back into the grand scheme o’ things.

We do not get a lot of description in this chapter of exactly what the purpose of this raid and attack was, but that will come up soon.

What we do get is the first real indication of the deep level of prejudice and malice between trolls and Rimmersgarders. It is easy to look at Binabik often as a child-like person, full of ‘niceties,’ and charming to boot, but what he shows here is some very real and scathing hatred for Hengfisk, without even knowing the man in the slightest. Of course, one could say Hengfisk started it with shouting about demons and the like as soon as he saw Binabik, but on the other hand, I imagine at least a little bit of leeway can be offered to those who have suffered such a tragedy as Hengfisk did. On the other other hand, it’s not like he was there during the raid, so he should certainly have been in a little bit better mindset than ‘raving lunatic.’ Then again, on the other other other hand, how many of us can speak with great authority on leaving work to go for lunch one day, then coming back and finding everyone you work with slaughtered and the building burned down? Of course, irrational prejudice and racism is really nothing new – hell, the Sithi can certainly speak for that in terms of this series, and I don’t think most human readers have to look far to find examples of it here in the ‘real world,’ either. But this passage does, in my adult state (which I was not in when I first read this series back in the day), make me look at Binabik in a slightly different light than I always have in the past.

Simon has a few scares himself in this chapter, none of which I quoted, but I find it very realistic that he was frightened by the scarecrow, after having just seen the man on the gibbet a few chapters earlier. And then so soon afterwards, with the hope of hot food and a warm bed on his mind, he comes upon the carnage of Hoderund’s. Poor, poor Simon. Still, it does show very good strength of character that, once he was done throwing up, he was able to help the monk Hengfisk, even verbally defend him to Binabik, and finally know when to stop talking so that he didn’t have an unnecessary argument with the troll in a time such as this.

It is also sad for him, I believe, that he is now realizing how trapped he is – Brother Dochais’ words remind him too much of that dreadful memory on Thisterborg (which he cannot remember at the moment). Let’s see how he copes with the next chapter.

20 – The Shadow of the Wheel

Simon dreams that he sees an impossibly large wheel – as tall as a tower – rolling towards him. He gets caught on the wheel and gets rolled all the way to the summit, where he can see the entire continent – in particular, he can see Green Angel Tower – before the wheel grinds him back down to the earth. Then he is in blackness and hears voices.

‘Where are you, boy? Are you dreaming? I can almost touch you. ‘It was Pryrates’ voice that suddenly spoke, and he felt the malevolent weight of the alchemist’s thoughts behind it. ‘I know now who you are – Morgenes’ boy, a scullion, a meddler. You have seen things you should not have seen, kitchen boy – trifled with things beyond you. You know far too much. I will search you out. Where are you?’

And then there was a greater darkness, a shadow beneath the shadow of the wheel, and deep in that shadow two red fires bloomed, eyes that must have gazed from a skull horribly full of flame.

‘No, mortal,’ a voice said, and in his head it had the sound of ashes and earth, and the mute, unvoiced end of things. ‘No, this is not for you.’ The eyes flared, full of curiosity and glee. ‘We will take this one, priest.’

Simon felt Pryrates’ hold slipping away, the alchemist’s power withering before the dark thing.

‘Welcome,’ it said. ‘This is the Storm King’s house, here beyond the Darkest Gate . . . What … is . . . your . . . name?’

And the eyes fell in, like crumbling embers, and the emptiness behind them burned colder than ice, hotter than any fire … and darker than any shadow . . .

“No!” Simon thought he shouted, but his mouth, too, was full of earth. “I won’t tell you!”

‘Perhaps we will give you a name . . . you must have a name, little fly, little dust speck . . . so that we will know you when we meet . . . you must be marked . . .

“No!” He tried to struggle free, but the weight of a thousand years of earth and stone were upon him – “I don’t want a name! I don’t want a name! I1 don’t . . .”

” . . want a name from you!” Even as his last cry echoed out through the trees, Binabik was crouching over him, a look of real concern etched on his face. The weak morning sunlight, sourceless and directionless, filled the glade.

Binabik checks on Simon, then tells him to find some food, before going back to his two patients. Langrian is doing better, but there is no hope for Dochais. Simon rummages through Binabik’s bag, and then goes to a local stream to get some water; the troll asks Simon to also fill up his skin so he can use the water for nursing his wards. Simon cleans his face at the stream, then fills Binabik’s bag. Simon loses time by reading some of Morgenes’ manuscript – a passage comparing Prester John to Camaris-sa-Vinitta – until Binabik interrupts him demanding the water. Simon guiltily comes back with the water to see Hengfisk has also come back to the camp. Binabik is talking about Langrian’s positive recovery when the wounded man opens his eyes. He asks about the other monks, but then goes back to sleep.

That afternoon, Dochais dies, having a seizure and then whispering, “Storm King,” which troubles Simon. Later, Binabik and Hengfisk have an argument – the monk is demanding Binabik and Simon help bury all the bodies, but Binabik is ready to move on, and says he will only help bury the body of Dochais, who was his ‘ward.’

“. . .Would you leave the others to be food for wolves?” Hengfisk’s anger was not at all controlled, and his eyes pushed out, wide and staring in his reddening face.

“I tried to help Dochais,” the troll snapped. “I failed. We will bury him, if that is what you wish. But it is not my plan to be spending three days to bury all of your dead brethren. And there are worse purposes they could serve than ‘food for wolves,’ and perhaps did while living, some of them!”

It took a moment for Hengfisk to work out Binabik’s tangled speech, but when he did his color grew even brighter, if such was possible.

“You . . . you heathen monster! How can you speak ill of unburied dead, you . . . poisonous dwarf'”

Binabik smiled, a flat, deadly smile. “If your God loves them so, then he has taken their . . . souls, yes? … up to Heaven, and to be lying around will do harm only to their mortal bodies – . .”

Before another word could be spoken, both combatants were startled out of their dispute by a deep growl from Qantaqa, who had been napping on the far side of the fire pit, beside Langrian. In a moment it became clear what had startled the gray wolf.

Langrian was talking.

Langrian asks about the other monks again, to which Binabik responds simply, “All dead,” and then asks the man what happened here. A party of travelers had arrived and asked for shelter and asked about a group of Rimmersgarders traveling north from Erchester. Later, they find that such a group is coming towards the abbey, and set up ambush, but not before killing many of the monks. Langrian goes to sleep again after this, and Binabik goes for a walk to think, while Hengfisk and Simon perform a solemn funeral for Dochais. Later, Simon and Binabik return to the abbey to search for both clues, and useful items amongst the wreckage. Binabik sends Simon to search for new boots. Simon finds a journal of one of the monks, when Binabik returns with some boots found for Simon, and tells the youth he will be searching more in the Traveler’s Hall. Simon sits for awhile longer, then gets up to head towards his meeting spot with Binabik, but is ambushed by someone. He manages to call to Binabik for help, but is then knocked out.

Commentary

First of all, the Weighty Wheel of Overwhelmingness (TM) – we get to see another one of Simon’s dreams here, and though Simon is able to reason out its meaning – that he is caught in the cycles of something much greater than himself – it still strikes me as an odd dream. I still believe that most of Simon’s dream-related ‘powers’ come not from any innateness, but rather from Pryrates’ little failed-mind-meld thingamabob from Thisterborg. It makes extra sense in that regard since, of all the Osten Ard Simon sees from the top of the Wheel, it is Green Angel Tower that stands out, because that is where Ineluki, Utuk’ku, Pryrates, and Elias are all looking – that is where shit will go down. Especially since we immediately jump to a dream-scene of Simon being very obviously in Pryrates’ mind (and/or vice-versa), which means that there could be some . . . seepage . . . from Pryrates into Simon.

Something extremely interesting about this dream, though, is how much interest the Red Hand entity takes in Simon – it seems like it would be so easy to dismiss one such as he, but instead, the creature decides to taunt and torment Simon, and even goes so far as to tell Pryrates to ‘Back Off, this one’s mine, yo!’

The mid-section of the chapter doesn’t show a lot except what is needed to highlight the very real enmty between Binabik and Hengfisk, regarding the funeral, the burial, and even the difference in how Binabik and Hengfisk each talk to the wounded Langrian. It’s funny that Qantaqa has to break them up – seriously guys, chill the frak out! There’s a dyin’ dude over here! (In Wolfish).

Both the times Simon sits down to read a bit in this chapter, he is interrupted by Binabik. Seems as though the troll doesn’t want Simon learning his words after all.

After that, we get a little bit more of Simon being Simon, reminiscing about the ‘scatter-cat’ on the rooftops, before getting captured (again). I wish he could have read some more of the book he found in the dead monk’s room. I always liked the little opening poem inside:

Piercing My Hearte there is A Golden Dagger;
That is God
Piercing God’s Hearte there is a Golden Needle;
That is me

“There’s a lot of God in us, and there’s a little bit of all of us in God,” is what that seems to be saying to me. Interesting religious perspective.

Away we go!

21 – Cold Comforts

Summary

Duke Isgrimnur is practicing carving on some wood and wondering about ‘that be-damned storm’ coming out of nowhere. He ponders on the brigands he had been in pursuit of – their leader had worn a helmet in the form of a snarling hound’s face – and why they had ambushed the duke to begin with. The duke feels sorry for the monks, but blesses them for the warning shout one had given, and just wishes he could have caught the men, who had much fresher horses and had outpaced the duke’s men. That had almost caught them at one point.

Instead, a strange thing had happened. One moment they had been rolling along in the sunlight, then the world had grown perceptibly darker. When it did not change, when half a mile later the hills around them were still lifeless and gray, Isgrimnur had looked up to see a knot of steel-colored clouds swirling in the sky overhead, a fist of shadow over the sun. A dim, grumbling crack, and suddenly the sky was spilling rain – a splatter at first, then torrents.

Isgrimnur had halted his men and had them set up camp, but two of the men, Einskaldir and Sludig, had gone back to the monastery to search for clues and survivors. Now Isgrimnur sits cursing the ruined carving he has been working on when the two men come back on galloping horses, bringing with them a corpse (Hove, one of their men) and an unconscious boy. Einskaldir explains there is no reason for a boy to have been there, so they want to question him. The boy looks familiar to Isgrimnur, but he cannot place him.

That night, the men try their best to keep their spirits up while Isgrimnur puzzles on the attack. His reasons keep circling back to Elias being somehow responsible, though he knows not why. One of his men, Frekke, tells him ‘the boy’ is awake, and Isgrimnur goes to speak with him.

At the duke’s approach the boy stopped chewing and regarded Isgrimnur suspiciously for a moment, mouth half-open. But then, even by fireglow, Isgrimnur saw something pass across the boy’s face . . . was it relief? Isgrimnur was troubled. He had expected, despite Einskaldir’s suspicions – the man, after all, was as prickly with mistrust as a hedgehog – to find a frightened peasant boy, terrified or at least dully apprehensive. This one looked like a peasant, an ignorant cotsman’s son in tattered clothes, covered in dirt, but there was a certain alertness to his gaze that made the duke wonder if perhaps Einskaldir hadn’t been right.

“Here now, boy,” he said gruffly in the Westerling speech, “what were you doing poking about the abbey?”

“I think I’m going to slit his throat now,” Einskaldir said in Rimmerspakk, pleasant tone in horrid contrast to his words. Isgrimnur scowled, wondering if the man had lost his mind, then realized as the boy continued to stare blandly up at him that Einskaldir was only probing to find if the boy spoke their tongue.

‘Well, if he does, he’s one of the coolest wits I’ve ever seen,’ Isgrimnur
thought. No, it beggared imagination to think a boy this age in the camp of armed strangers could have understood Einskaldir’s chilling words and not reacted at all.

“He doesn’t understand,” the duke said to his liegeman in their Rimmersgard tongue. “But he is a calm one, isn’t he?” Einskaldir grunted an affirmative and scratched his chin through his dark beard.

“Now, boy,” the duke resumed, “I asked you once. Speak! What brought you to the abbey?”

The boy (Simon) answers that he was fleeing Erchester (with his dog, Binnock), and heading to Naglimund. When the duke questions more closely, Simon is able to recall his harper friend’s name, Sangfugal, which convinces Isgrimnur of his story. He offers Simon a place to sleep and a horse to ride with them, as they are also heading to Naglimund. Simon accepts, and then claims to worry over “Binnock,” his dog, to which the duke responds, “Trust me, boy. If he doesn’t find you, he’ll find someone else, and that’s a fact.”

******

That night, Simon hopes for Binabik’s safety while he tries to figure out if he should stay with the duke and his men. He worries about where Isgrimnur stands, and whether or not the duke is on Josua’s or Elias’ side. Restless, he stares at the sky for awhile before dozing. He is awakened by the sound of a guardsman walking by, and then again later by the feel of rain falling. He looks over to see the same guardsman.

Something in the man’s stance, something that suggested that though he stood rock-still he was nevertheless struggling, made Simon open his eyes wider. The rain began to sheet down, and thunder growled distantly – Simon strained to see the sentry through the boiling downpour. The man was still standing in the same place, but something was moving now at his feet, something active that had pulled free from the general blackness. Simon sat up, and the raindrops pounded and splashed on the ground all about.

A flash of lightning abruptly lit the night, making the rocks glare forth like painted wooden props from a Usires Play. Everything in the camp came clear – the steaming remains of the fire, the huddled, sleeping forms of the Rimmersmen – but what leaped to Simon’s eye in that split instant was the sentry, whose face was stretched in a hideous, silent mask of absolute terror.

Thunder crashed, and then the sky was smeared with lightning again. The ground around the sentry was seething, gouting up in great sprays of dirt. Simon’s heart lurched in his breast as the man fell to his knees. The thunder cannoned again; lightning flared three times in succession. The earth continued to fountain up, but now there were hands everywhere, and long thin arms, glinting slickly in the rain as they crawled up the body of the kneeling man, pulling him down, face forward into the black soil. The sky-glare caught a greater surge of movement as a horde of dark things pushed up from the earth, thin, ragged things with waving arms, staring white eyes, and – horribly revealed as the lightning leaped across the sky and the rain hissed down – matted whiskers and tattered clothes. As the thunder died out Simon shouted, choking on water, then shouted again.

Dozens of Bukken, or ‘diggers,’ are attacking the camp. Simon grabs an axe to attempt to defend himself while all the Rimmersmen take up fighting, but the good guys are far outnumbered. A digger knocks him down and has its hand on his throat when Binabik appears on Qantaqa to rescue Simon. Simon tries to stay to help the Rimmersmen, but Binabik tells him that is foolish, and they must flee. Qantaqa fights off some of the diggers while Binabik tries to convince Simon, but Simon still resists.

“It was my bound promise to protect you,” Binabik said, tugging Simon along. “That was Doctor Morgenes’ wish.”

“Doctor . . . You know doctor Morgenes . . . !?”

As Simon stared, mouth working, Binabik stopped and whistled twice. Qantaqa, with a last ecstatic shiver, flung two of the creatures aside and bounded toward them.

“Now, run, foolish boy!” Binabik shouted. They ran – Qantaqa first, leaping like a hart, her muzzle black with blood, Binabik after. Simon followed, tripping and staggering across the muddy plain as the storm shouted unanswerable questions.

Commentary

Welcome back Isgrimnur, I’ve missed you.

We get a lot of information about the Rimmersmen here, and the way they treat their friends and family, and we also get a nice, deep look into Isgrimnur’s personality. I must say, as much as the story makes him out to be loud, thunderous, and sometimes obnoxious, he seems to me to be one of the more level-headed characters in the series (minus that time he almost picked a fight with Pryrates and Elias in the middle of the High King’s throne room). He seems to have a good way of thinking through a situation, without rushing down the wrong paths, and without prejudging. Plus, he (and Einskaldir) really seem like the kind of people you want to have around you in the middle of the bad side of town.

Speaking of thinking through situations, Simon did a pretty damn good job here as well. He quickly covered his call for Binabik, which served the purpose (though he didn’t puzzle this out until a little later) of making sure the Rimmersmen didn’t know an ‘evil troll’ may be following them. He also did well at covering his fear and lying his ass off. Maybe those are Simon’s powers?

Seriously though, I’m proud of my boy here, and this chapter seems to be one of those turning points towards his eventual maturity – he is forced to make decisions on his own (insofar as how to answer certain questions), and he makes them without whining, wringing his hands, and asking “why me?”

Diggers. Eek. I’ve had nightmares about situations like the attack on the duke’s camp. And the diggers are nightmarish creatures – little baby-faced demon-spawn that come up under your feet – and some of the most horrifying creatures in modern fantasy literature. I wouldn’t quite call them Lovecraftian, but they’re the next best (worst?) thing. And from what I know later, they certainly follow the Storm King’s designs, but they surely didn’t always do so (since Ineluki was once “good”), which begs the question of what he was able to do and say to convince monstrous clans of diggers to help him out when needed.

It’s also curious where these creatures originate from. In terms of, let’s say, evolution. I mean, humanoids make sense if you follow the general ideas of evolution. The shaggy giants also make sense. But diggers? Surely if they had evolved naturally in some way, they would have features about them that were adapted to burrowing through the earth – shovel-shaped hands/paws, long, pointed noses for poking the the mud, that sort of thing, like burrowing creatures that live in the ‘real world.’ But they don’t. They look like little demon people. Which means that, likely, they did not come about naturally, but were created by someone, or some thing. But who? Who would have created something like that. We can probably assume they’ve been around for a very long time, since those most familiar with them (the Rimmersmen and the Qanuc) don’t make any mention of them being a recent addition to the ‘fauna’ of Osten Ard. Which leaves the Sithi and the Norns. However, we know the Norns were once much closer to the Sithi, and not likely filled with the pure malevolence that fills them to this day, and we can probably be pretty sure that the Sithi weren’t sitting around one day and thinking, “You know? I think what this world needs are some little tiny demon people who dig through the ground and slit peoples’ throats.” I suppose the Norns could have created them for vengeance after the Parting, but I still just can’t see that. If they were created as a ‘tool’ for vengeance, then why create creatures that are limited by the density of the dirt under your feet? I iz confuzed. But not enough to worry about it any longer.

Finally, we get the ‘Big Reveal’ of this part of the book, that, ‘Surprise!’ Binabik was helping Simon all along very much on purpose, and now must let Simon know that to get the foolish boy out of camp. I don’t think I was terribly shocked by this the first time I read it, but I honestly can’t remember. Sometimes I wish I could re-read a book for the first time, to regain all the thoughts, feelings, and emotions I felt the first time. Ah well. We’ll talk more about Simon’s insistence on staying (and likely dying) with the duke when next we see him.

That that’s all for now. Thanks for reading!
E.S.

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