Back again, with another part of the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn re-read and analysis. Just a word of apology for those following about my chronic tardiness on this blog – I am not a (terribly) lazy person, and I typically don’t have a lot of issues with procrastination – but I have recently started working on projects in some of my other endeavors, and those are taking up a bit more of my free time than I had originally planned. However, I think I’m going to be able to get a reasonable schedule going here. My plan is to post MS&T re-reads on Mondays and the Wheel of Time Casting Call on Fridays, giving me those other days in between to work on those projects, and talk about other things that come up. I’m going to try to stick to this schedule, and we’ll see how it works out.
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.
Insert Witty Alliteration Here.
16 – The White Arrow
Simon is feeling extremely sorry for himself (again), and is having a rough time of it all. He ponders the inequity of his situation, finding it unfair that his innocence has led him to this horrifying existence. He spends a few moments cursing everyone, including God (look[ing] fearfully from his chill handful of water, but his silent blasphemy went unpunished), and crying, then goes to a stream to drink some water and wash up.
He remembers that he has Morgenes’ manuscript, and after shuffling around a bit, settles down and flips through it absently for awhile, trying to think through his predicament. He accidentally tears a page slightly, and reads through it.
“. . . is strange, then, to think how those who wrote the songs and stories that entertained John’s glittering court made of him, in an effort to construct him larger than life, less than he truly was.”
“Consider for example,” it continued, “his coming to Erkynland out of the island of Warinsten. The balladeers would have it that God summoned him to slay the dragon Shurakai; that he touched shore at Greneford with his sword Bright-Nail in hand, his mind set only on this great task.
“While it is possible that a benevolent God called him to free the land from the fearsome beast, it remains to be explained why God allowed said dragon to lay waste to the country for long years before raising up its nemesis. And of course, those who knew him in those days remembered that he left Warinsten a swordless farmer’s son, and reached our shores in the same condition; nor did he even think on the Red Worm until he had the better part of a year in our Erkynland . . .”
It was vastly comforting to hear Morgenes’ voice again, even if it was only in his own head, but he was puzzled by the passage. Was Morgenes trying to say that Prester John had not killed the Red Dragon, or only that he had not been chosen by God to do so? If he hadn’t been chosen by the Lord Usires in heaven, how had he killed the arch-beast? Didn’t the people of Erkynland say he was the king anointed by God?
As he sat thinking, a cold wind kited down through the trees and raised gooseflesh on his arms.
Simon, thinking about how cold he is, realizes that he is going to have to follow Josua to Naglimund – the Erkynguard are looking for him as a criminal. Decision made, he begins traveling.
During his first few days of traveling west around the forest, staying hidden amongst the trees of the Aldheorte, Simon manages to find some clothes that he steals from a cottage, and eventually comes to the decision that he should sleep during the day and walk the road at night. He pilfers from the gardens of locals along the road, struggling to keep going. He attempts to read some of the manuscript each evening in the fading light, but usually can’t get too far before sleep overcomes him.
One page, on which the names of John, Eahlstan the Fisher King, and the dragon Shurakai were prominent, caught his mayfly attention, but after he had read it through four times, struggling, he realized that it made no more sense to him than would the year-lines on a piece of timber. By his fifth afternoon in the forest he only sat, crying softly, with the pages spread on his lap – he absently stroked the smooth parchment, as he had once scratched the kitchen cat uncountable years ago, in a warm, bright room that smelled of onions and cinnamon. . . .
A week or so later, he passes another village (Sistan), and almost goes into the village to steal a ‘meat pie’ from a windowsill, but then gets scared. Five days after that, still walking westward, he has come across a lone house, that after spying for awhile, decides to approach and beg for mercy of the inhabitants. No one is home, however. Simon hears commotion behind the house and goes to check on it. Around back, he finds a figure stuck in a crude trap. After studying it, he attempts to free the person (which he figures to be a Sitha), but the Sitha kicks at him. The Sitha goads Simon forward, trying to kick him again, but Simon wisely figures the ruse out and steps back.
“I don’t . . . don’t want to hurt you,” Simon said at last, and realized he was speaking as though to a child. “I didn’t set the trap.”
The Sitha continued to regard him with baleful crescent eyes. ‘What terrible pain he must be hiding,’ Simon marveled. ‘His arms are pulled up so far that . . . that I would be screaming . . . if it were me. . .’
Protruding above the prisoner’s left shoulder was a quiver, empty but for two arrows. Several more arrows and a bow of slim, dark wood lay strewn on the turf beneath his dangling feet.
“If I try to help you, will you promise not to hurt me?” Simon asked, forming his words slowly. “I’m very hungry, myself,” he lamely added. The Sitha said nothing, but as Simon took another step he coiled his legs up before him to kick; the youth retreated.
“Be damned!” Simon shouted. “I only want to help you!” But why did he? Why let the wolf out of the pit? “You must . . .” he began, but the rest of his words were snuffed out as a large dark form came swishing and crackling out of the trees toward them.
The owner of the house has returned, and brags to Simon about how he had caught the thief in his trap. When Simon asks what the man will do with the creature, the man says he will kill it, which horrifies Simon. The man tells Simon to leave his home, and attempts to kill the Sitha with an axe. The Sitha is able to dodge weakly, somewhat fighting back from the trap, while Simon looks for something to stop the grisly affair. He finds a rock and hits the man over the head with it, killing him instantly. Simon empties his stomach, then cuts the Sitha loose – when it lands, the ‘Fair One’ quickly picks up all his belongings and darts away into the forest.
The spotted sunlight had not finished rippling on the leaves where he had passed when Simon heard a buzz like an angry insect and felt a shadow flit across his face. An arrow stood out from a tree trunk beside him, quivering gradually back into visibility less than an arm’s length from his head. He stared at it dully, wondering when the next one would strike him. It was a white arrow, shaft and feathers alike bright as a gull’s wing. He waited for its inevitable successor. None came. That stand of trees was silent and motionless.
After the strangest and most terrible fortnight of his life, and after a particularly bizarre day, it should not have surprised Simon to hear a new and unfamiliar voice speaking to him from the darkness beyond the trees, a voice that was not the Sitha’s, and certainly did not come from the woodsman, who lay like a felled tree.
“Go ahead to take it,” the voice said. “The arrow. Take it. It is yours.”
Simon should not have been surprised, but he was. He dropped helplessly to the ground and began to cry – great choking sobs of exhaustion and confusion and total despair.
“Oh, Daughter of the Mountains,” the strange new voice said. “This does not seem good.”
An exciting chapter, where several important things happen, and several pages of very unimportant Simon-wandering happens. This is the end of Simon’s alone-time for a little while, for which I am grateful. Mr. Williams does such a great job of making Simon’s situation seem so desperate and tense that I am beginning to feel that way myself.
A few of the quotes are good little tidbits of foreshadowing about Simon’s heritage, and the deep, dark secret of John’s real “confrontation” with the dragon Shurakai. The hints are only barely there, and I feel you would definitely have to have already read the entire series to understand what they’re getting at, but it’s nice to see Williams’ plans so carefully laid out all the way back here in book one.
It is surprising that those two passages quoted did draw Simon’s attention. I can tell from the text that he is drawn to them for reasons (he doesn’t understand), and it could very well be subconscious understandings of the situations – maybe he actually knows, from conversations with Morgenes, that John didn’t actually kill the dragon, and maybe he knows there is much more to it, but it is knowledge buried deep. I suppose I have always thought that he doesn’t truly figure everything out until he starts wandering the Dream Road (and Leleth helps), but it could be that even right here, he knows that there is much more than meets the eye with the history of King John.
The part about him tearing up after accidentally ripping a page in the manuscript hit me as very emotionally authentic – my grandfather left me a knife after he died that had been his for many years. I had always asked if I could have it, and since it was his best knife, he wouldn’t give it to me, but he left it to me in his will. When I was eighteen, I was using it to pry back a stubborn screw that was at the wrong angle, and the blade snapped. I actually cried for a bit, I am not ashamed to admit, because it felt to me that I had just lost one of the last physical relics of my grandfather. I was unable to get the blade replaced – and honestly didn’t really want to – and it now still sits on my nightstand, broken and all. Don’t really know where I’m going with this.
Simon’s questioning of purpose and God was pretty intriguing as well. I believe that everyone who has lived a mostly good life, and has been taught that an omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient deity is always watching over them, has at some point questioned their god in the same way that Simon does. We do not now at this exact point a lot of the dogma of the church of Aedon (though we find out much more later through Dinivan, Lector Ranessin, and even Cadrach), but it seems to me that the ‘unquestioning faith’ of Christianity is very much played upon throughout this series in its fictional version of that religion. Something like, “Fate rules all, and though you may not always understand what is going on, God is looking out for you. His plans are not for you to question (or even understand all the time), but they are for the best.” Reminds me a bit of Job (who is my favorite biblical character) and his trials.
Anyway (and lastly), Hello Jiriki! We will see you again (not very) soon. And welcome to the re-read Binabik, I hope you find it as interesting and entertaining as I find you. Many cute and interesting new forms of sentence syntax await us through your dialog.
17 – Binabik
Simon finds a strange and little man is talking to him, urging him to take the ‘White Arrow,’ and also to move on. Simon asks who he is.
“Me?” the stranger asked, pausing as though giving the question much thought. “A traveler like yourself. I will be happy to explain more things at a later time, but now we should go. This fellow,” he indicated the woodsman with a sweep of his stick, “will reliably not become more alive, but he may have friends or family who will be unsettled to find him so extremely dead. Please. Take the White Arrow and come with me.”
Mistrustful and wary, Simon nevertheless found himself rising to his feet. It was too much effort to not trust, for the moment; he no longer had the strength to stay on guard – a part of him wanted only to lie down and quietly die. He levered the arrow loose from the tree. The tiny man was already on the march, climbing back up the hillside above the cottage. The little house crouched as silently and tidily as if nothing had happened.
“But . . .” Simon gasped as he scrambled up after the stranger, who moved with surprising quickness, “. . . but what about the cottage? I am … I am so hungry . . . and there might be food . . .”
The small man turned on the hillcrest to stare down at the struggling youth. “I am very shocked!” he said. “First you make him dead, then you wish to rob his larder. I fear I have fallen in with a desperate outlaw!” He turned and continued into the close-knit trees.
They walk onward, Simon asks who the man is again. The little man introduces himself as Binbiniqegabenik, or ‘Binabik’ for short, and explains that he is a traveler of the troll-folk from Yiqanuc. Quantaqa, Binabik’s wolf friend, shows up, and after a moment of startlement from Simon, they continue on towards Binabik’s camp. While Binabik prepares dinner, Simon dozes off a few times, with Binabik feeding him a drink, and then finally sleeps for the night. The next morning, he awakens to Binabik tossing bones and a pair of pigeons cooking. Simon still doesn’t completely trust the small man, but lets the troll read to him the inscriptions on the Arrow. Binabik explains that the White Arrow is the ‘mark of a debt that is owing,’ and that Simon should keep it safe. They eat their breakfast, then Binabik asks Simon where the youth is traveling. Simon has a moment of doubt, but then admits he is traveling north, to Naglimund. Binabik says he, too, is traveling northward
“Ultimately, I expect to be traveling far north,” he replied without looking up. “It seems that we have a coincidence of paths.” Now he raised his dark eyes. “How strange that you should be traveling toward the Naglimund, which stronghold’s name I have heard much in recent weeks.” His lips quirked in a tiny, secret smile.
Simon grows suspicious at this, but Binabik is not concerned with talking about it, and instead instructs Simon to prepare for them to break camp.
Very, very short chapter, basically with no real purpose other than introducing Binabik, which should be obvious from the chapter title. Only a few things to point out really.
First, we get to meet the new character (who, from what I have heard, is many peoples’ favorite – mine included – in the series), and listen to his almost-Yoda-ish talking style. I love that Mr. Williams gave Binabik such a distinct talking style and dialect – it really shows that he is speaking a translated language, and that Erkynlandish is not his first tongue, which adds a nice bit of realism to the story. Plus, it’s really kind of funny and cute to listen to. I love his introduction to his camp: ” ‘Bhojujik mo qunquc,’ as my people say.” Binabik made an expansive gesture around the clearing. ” ‘If the bears do not eat you, it is home.’ ”
Some of Simon’s reactions to Binabik and Qantaqa in this chapter are pretty humorous, and show Simon’s naivety pretty nicely, but most of the chapter is about Simon getting over his initial mistrust of Binabik so that they can become friends. There is a touching moment when Simon snatches Morgenes’ papers from Binabik’s hands, and feels immediately bad for it because of Binabik’s hurt expression, but of course, Simon has been through a lot at this point, and has reasons for his reactions and mistrustings.
Then, we get mention of the debt the Sithi Jirki now owes Simon, though we do not know yet how it will play out. As with most fantasy stories, and their constant following of the Law of Conservation of Characters, we should never have had a doubt that Jirki would make another appearance, but even so, I doubt many people ever guessed how important the White Arrow would become.
Finally, Binabik’s reaction to where Simon is going is telling – he knows what Simon is up to (and Simon likely even realizes this subconsciously), and also has a bit of a sorrowful reason for himself as to why he will ‘ultimately’ be traveling north as well.
Oh well, not much more to say on that.
18 – A Net of Stars
As Binabik and Simon travel, they talk, with Binabik telling Simon how scared the people of the lands are of the High King. After Simon asks one too many questions in rapid succession, Binabik stops them for a rest, criticizing Simon’s worn shoes, “A man’s soul is in peril when his feet are hurting.” Binabik then tells Simon the story of how he met and raised Qantaqa – not as a pet, but as a friend – and then the two continue on their journey. Binabik continues telling Simon stories of his travels and meetings for awhile.
“And the Sithi are real . . .” Simon said quietly, with wonder and more than a little fear as he remembered. “The doctor was right.”
Binabik cocked an eyebrow. “Of course Sithi are real. Do you suppose they sit here in the forest wondering if men are real? What a nonsense! Men are but a recentness compared to them – although a recentness that has terribly damaged them.”
“It’s just that I had never seen one before!”
“You had never seen me or my people, either,” Binabik replied. “You have never seen Perdruin or Nabban or the Meadow Thrithing … is this, then, meaning that they do not have existence? What a fund of superstitious silliness is owned by you Erkynlanders! A man whose wisdom is true does not sit in waiting for the world to come at him piece by piece for proving its existence!” The troll stared straight ahead, eyebrows knotted; Simon was afraid he might have offended him.
Simon apologizes for being an ‘unthinking scullion boy,’ to which Binabik rants for awhile on the fact that even scullion boys have the ability to think.
Simon begins to notice that they are traveling west again, and when he asks Binabik about this, the troll tells him they are heading for the Knock, the southern tip of the Wealdhelm mountains. Binabik decides it is time to search for a camping spot and prepare dinner, and shows Simon his clever walking stick.
He gave his walking stick a quick twist; to Simon’s surprise it separated into two segments. The short one, he now saw, was the handle of a knife whose blade had been concealed within the hollow length of the longer section. The troll up-ended the longer segment and shook it, and a leather pouch slid out onto the ground. He then removed a small piece from the other end; the long segment was now a hollow tube. Simon laughed with pure delight.
“That’s wonderful!” he exclaimed. “Like a conjuring trick.”
Binabik nodded sagely. “Surprises in small packages – the Qanuc credo, that is!” He took the knife up by its cylindrical bone handle and poked for a moment in the hollow tube. Another bone tube slid partway out, and he finished the removal with his fingers. When he held it up for inspection, Simon could see that this tube had a row of holes along one side.
“A … flute?”
“A flute, yes. Of what good is supper without music following?”
Binabik put the instrument aside and poked the leather pouch with the knife tip. Unfolded, it revealed a pressed clump of carded wool and yet one more slim tube, this one no longer than a finger.
“Smaller and smaller we go, yes?” The troll twisted this open to show Simon the contents, tiny needles of bone or ivory, packed close together. Simon reached out a hand to touch one of the delicate slivers, but Binabik hastily pulled the container away.
“Please, no,” he said. “Be observing.” He plucked one of the needles out with thumb and arched forefinger, holding it up to catch the dying afternoon light; the dart’s sharp tip was smeared with some black and sticky substance.
“Poison?” breathed Simon. Binabik nodded seriously, but his eyes showed a certain excitement.
Binabik is able to use his walking stick/blowgun/flute tool to hunt down two birds and a squirrel, and while they eat later, Simon ponders on the woodsman he killed, and whether or not the man had a family. He also finds himself to be overjoyed that Binabik will be staying with him until Naglimund, but then feels discomfort again once Binabik asks why Simon is going there to begin with. He tells a story that he has a harper friend (Sanfugal) there, and that he just needs a place to live. After some silence, Binabik begins telling Simon about the stars in the sky. To tell the story fully, Binabik sings a song to Simon about mythological beings who the stars are named after, which Simon falls asleep to.
While not necessarily a short chapter, still not a lot happened in this. This chapter is here for the purpose of Simon (as well as us, the reader) gaining some trust in Binabik, and wanting him to be a part of our little group.
Binabik’s talk to Simon about the ‘reality’ of the Sithi and other peoples of the lands is, I think, an important topic. I’ll look at it from a slightly different angle. It is easy to assume the world does not truly exist outside of our own strongholds/homes/castles/whathaveyou. Obviously not in a literal sense, of course, but at an emotional level. A terrible earthquake that happens ten thousand miles away in another country and kills thousands of people is dreadful, and no one (well, mostly no one) wishes that on anyone else, but very rarely does it still make one believe that it could happen to them. In fact, this can be said of many, many things on our silly little planet. However, if you knew someone from that country, if you were dear friends with them, then their hurt would become your own. It’s almost always the case. Many people don’t care about cancer until a loved one falls ill with it, and many people don’t recognize that people in other countries exist until it is brought home in an important way. Now, obviously this is not the same point Binabik brings up, but I find it interesting and philosophically intriguing that Simon literally seemed not to believe that the Sithi even existed until he was forced into a situation where he was personally responsible for the well-being of one. Even after seeing the Sithi city in extremely excruciating detail, he still pictures them as mythological beings. I think we all do this. It’s not just about religion – it’s about being comfortable with ourselves and the world.
Less seriously, I always wanted a walking stick like Binabik’s. I used to play with ‘Spytech’ (TM) gear when I was young, and his stick always made me think of that kind of stuff. Maybe I would even relearn how to play the flute, after not playing for fifteen years. Or I could just make a much larger walking stick which turned into a bassoon, instead.
Otherwise, Binabik says some more clever and cute things, and that wraps this chapter up. Unfortunately, not really a lot to talk about. That will change soon. Next week, we get back into the action and the plot unfolds just a wee bit more.