The Dark Tide Chapter 1 Part 2

Thus the saying Word from the Beyond meant that any information from beyond the borders, from Outside, was highly suspect and not to be trusted until confirmed; certainly such news was not Sevendell Certain.

… what the hell is McKiernan talking about? Is he actually creating folksy slang terms? Because those don’t tend to work…. at all… ever.

Anyway, Will refuses to back down and says that Toby actually saw the wagons being sent off. I’m honestly not sure why the keep doesn’t have enough of their own, but then we wouldn’t be treated to THIS scene. And then suddenly everybody changes their mind and decides that IT’S TRUE IT’S ALL TRUE. These people are like lemmings, except lemmings have more active brain cells.

Feeny took a pull from his own mug, then said, “I suppose it’s the Evil up north.”

As opposed to the Mild Annoyance down south, and the Batshit Crazy But Not Really Bad At Heart to the west.

 
“That’s what they say,” spoke up Nob Haywood, a local storekeeper. “Only I talked to Toby, too, and he’d heard that the Big Folks are saying that it’s Modru’s doings!”

Da-dummm… ladies and gentlemen, we now have our required Dark Lord in his Fortress of Evil in the Land of Evil.

Like that, but not scary. And he talks more.

 
Ooohh! said some in the crowd, for Modru of Gron strode through many a legend, and he was always painted the blackest evil.

Maybe he’s just grumpy because people keep throwing evil paint on him.

 
“They say he’s come back to his cold iron fortress way up north,” continued Nob, “though what he’s doing there, well, I’m sure I don’t know.”

I’ve heard he’s doing his cold iron fortress in pastels with a springtime theme, and some mahogany furniture to add some depth to the color scheme. Also, he’s collecting impressionist paintings.

So Gaffer Tom – yeah, really, a “gaffer” character in a LOTR ripoff, what a shock – starts announcing that Modru is obviously to blame here, because “the old tales say he’s Master of the Cold, and Wolves do his bidding, too.” Wut? So a minute ago they were unwilling to believe stuff that came from outside their little land, and now they’re willing to believe that old folktales are 100% true?

Gaffer Gamgee… um, I mean Tom also infodumps us about how it’s been snowing since September, and “everybody knows that ain’t altogether natural.” Really? I thought that was totally normal! Along with the red sky and the metal grass.

Also, there are wolves in the area and they’re coming closer. What do you want to bet that our heroes will have an encounter with them and somebody’s gonna die?

 
And the Gaffer had voiced their deepest fears, for if it truly was Modru returned, then it was a dire prospect all of Mithgar faced.

… would it be too much to ask that he SHOW us that, not tell us?

Then some guy called Bingo Peacher, who apparently escaped from a P.G. Wodehouse book, poohpoohs the idea, because…. “Modru, he don’t command wild Wolves. Nobody commands Wolves.” Except Dracula!

 
“Ar, maybe now and again”

I’m sorry, when did this become a pirate story?

 
“there are tales of Wolves helping the Elves, but even the Elves don’t tell em what to do, they asks them to help.”

Because wolves have teeth and Elves have…. pretty hair. That’s why they work together.

Okay, I’ll give McKiernan credit: Bingo actually points out that “you’ve got ter give ’em wide berth, and they’ll do the same for you unless they’re starving— then look out.” My big question is: how come nobody else knows this?! Do only elite hunters know what animals are dangerous and how they behave?

“Watch out, a lethal herd of flesh-eating cows is coming this way! They are servants of evil! Kill them all!”
“No, wait! I am a great hunter! The cows will only gore you if you provoke them… or occasionally involve them in Spanish bullfighting.”
“Okay then. Forget it, people.”

Anyway, Bingo seems like a pretty smart guy compared to the gaggle of idiots hanging around this tavern while their kids stagger around in the snow trying to learn how to shoot so they can go fight and die. He states that he believes Modru is responsible for the freaky weather, and he thinks that the Wolves are there because they’re desperate for food. Sounds reasonable.

 
“Wild Wolves is too independent and don’t bow down to no one, not even Modru.”

Which explains where dogs came from. Seriously, they’re SCARED of humans, not defiant toward them.

 
“Oh no, Gaffer, it ain’t the Wolves that Modru commands; it’s Vulgs!”

… okay, I liked it better when the wolves served the forces of evil. At least “wolf” is a cool name. Vulg? Vulg?

Anyway, everybody shudders at the idea of Vulgs, which are…. wargs. No, he doesn’t call them “wargs,” but that’s basically they are.


“I would like to borrow a cup of sugar!”

Grim fear washed over the crowd at the One-Eyed Crow.

And then the barkeep apologized because the barrel of grim fear exploded all over the patrons.

So Will is suddenly seized with a fit of infodumping, and tells us that nobody should believe in all that crap about Vulgs because “even if they were true, well, you all knows that Modru and Vulgs can’t face the daylight: they suffer the Ban! And Adon’s Ban has held true from the end of the Second Era till now—more than four thousand years!” Wow! I wonder if the Dark Lord will find a loophole in that that allows him to conquer the world… naaaaahhhh!

And thank you, Will, for telling everybody in the room what they already know.

 
Many was the time as a youngling he’d been told that Modru and his Vulgs would get him if he didn’t mind his manners

… so the Dark Lord with his demonic powers and his armies of darkness…. is used to scare little kids? I’m pretty much underwhelmed here.

 
he recalled the fearful saying: Vulg’s black bite slays at night.

But not during the daytime. And if you get bitten right after sunset but the sky isn’t dark, just sort of orangey, you’ll be on bedrest for awhile.

And so Gaffer Gamgee… er, Tom starts rambling about how maybe it is Modru who’s responsible for the Inappropriately Capitalized Disappearances, and Will argues with him about how he shouldn’t scare people, and starts vomiting exposition: “we all know that the Gammer began organizing the Wolf Patrols up in Northdell, ’cause they’re the first ones as is had to deal with them.”Yes, because the best people to deal with wolves are teeny tiny people who sit on their tiny asses all day. Also, what does the DJ/producer have to do with any of this shit?

 
“And the Gammer has asked Captain Alver down to Reedyville to take over and lead the Thornwalkers. What’s more, archers are being trained, and Wolf Patrols organized, and Beyonder Guards set. All I can say is Wolves and any other threat will soon fear Warrows, right enough.”

Isn’t it nice to see people’s egos inflating right before they explosively decompress?

The folks in the crowd murmured their endorsement of Will’s last statement about old Gammer Alderbuc, past Captain of the Thornwalker

… what statement? All he stated were facts – he said the guy has been organizing patrols and asked somebody else to take over. What’s to endorse?

 
all were confident in the abilities of the Thornwalkers, for many of those there in the Crow had been ‘Walkers themselves in their young-buccan days.

That’s like saying, “I once worked in a post office, so I now am confident in the efficiency and convenience of the postal service.” Right before everybody else starts stoning you.

 
And although these facts concerning the Thornwalkers were well known throughout the Boskydells,

… we didn’t know then so we need to have it hammered into our faces.

 
still the crowd in the One-Eyed Crow had listened to Will’s words as intently as they would have were they hearing them for the first time, for Warrows like to mull things over and slowly shape their opinions.

In other words, Warrows are blithering idiots who are incapable of actually forming a personal opinion because they sway in the direction of whoever happens to be talking to them at the moment, so the same crap keeps getting churned over and over and over even though everyone knows it already. Political elections must be a bitch around there.

And just when that scene seems to be over there’s EVEN MORE EXPOSITION DEAR LORD PLEASE KILL ME NOW! As to the Thornwalkers, ordinarily they were but a handful of Warrows who casually patrolled the borders of the Boskydells…. usually trying to avoid alien abduction.

 
Like the Constables and Postal Messengers, in times of peace they served less as Boskydell officials and more as reporters and gossips who kept the outlying Bosky folks up on the Seven Dells news.

I am so glad that I don’t live there, since apparently the law force and postal service prefer to hang around chitchatting with housewives instead of…. I dunno, catching criminals and delivering mail.

 
But in times of trouble—such as this time was—the force was enlarged and “Walking” began in earnest.

Because when the world is freezing and the forces of evil are about to invade, you want to… walk. That’ll fix things.

 
For, although the Land was protected from Intruders by a formidable barrier of thorns—Spindlethorns—growing in the river valleys around the Land

WHOA WHOA WHOA what the hell? When was this happening?! What is that?! Suddenly there’s random thorns springing up all around with no rhyme or reason?

 
still those who were determined enough or those who were of a sufficiently evil intent could slowly force their way through the Thorn wall.

So if you’re evil, you can somehow get through a giant thorny hedge? Ah, a little-known benefit of being evil.

 
Hence, the patrols and guards kept close watch on the Boskydell boundaries, “Walking the Thorns” as it were, or standing Beyonder Guard

WHAT THE HELL IS HE TALKING ABOUT? I don’t understand half these phrases!

 
making certain that only those Outsiders with legitimate business entered the Bosky.

“Hmm, let’s see your passports, driver’s license and good/evil affiliation. No, I need to know if you serve the forces of evil or the forces of good. All right, I need to see a signed recommendation from King Aurion or a member of his immediate family, and undersigned by somebody else in the supporting cast or an elf, since elves crap gold. Also, I need to know if your business here is social, business, or a simple vacation in one of our pleasant but lawless towns.”

And so the Spindlethorn patrols, or Thornwalkers as they were called, were especially important now, what with Wolves crossing into the Land and strange Folk prowling about.

So let me get this straight: there is a giant hedge of giant thorns surrounding their entire land… and… wolves can get through. In fact, people can get through as well. What’s the point of having a thorny hedge if anybody who wants can just saunter through?!

Also, this sounds suspiciously similar to something JRR Tolkien wrote, specifically the High Hay. Except, you know, that wasn’t ridiculously huge and used as a military barrier, and it only went about 20 miles.

 
Why, indeed, that was the reason Old Barlo was training a group of archers: to add to the Thornwalker ranks.

… wouldn’t it have made slightly more sense to have this piece of infodumping when we actually SEE the Thornwalkers?

And then it’s back to OH FUCK ME THIS SCENE IS STILL GOING ON! I won’t bother telling you what Gaffer Tom says because it really doesn’t matter and the narrative immediately switches away from the alcoholic second-string Wobbits.

 
And shoot true they did, for not only was Old Barlo a good teacher, but Warrows, once they set their minds to it, learn quickly.

Despite their strangely tiny brains and incredible lack of any personal identity.

And suddenly, without warning we’re jolted back to the younger Warrows learning from Old Bilbo… er, Barlo. He’s basically a tiny drill sergeant who has been training them in all sorts of weather and terrain, etc etc. And as the scene ends Barlo tells them that they’re not going to learn anything more so they should all get their asses moving to a military camp. His pupils respond by throwing their hats in the air… okay, normal reaction… and shooting the target. Not so normal reaction.

Note: he tells them outright that they’re headed for trouble, that they’re needed for guards and wolf patrols, and basically that their skills are actually gonna be needed. None of them seem to actually listen to this, because they’re too busy celebrating.

 
“Did you hear that, Danner?” bubbled Tuck, jittering with excitement. “We’re done. School’s out. We’re Thornwalkers—well, almost.”

“I can’t wait for the girls to see me in uniform! Maybe I’ll actually get laid!”

 
“Hold it down!” shouted Old Barlo above the babble, as he took a scroll from his quiver

… he keeps papers in his quiver? Uhhh… why?

But wait! Shocking plot twist alert! It turns out that Captain Alver has announced that they have only one week before they go to Afghanistan…. er, the border so they can do their military duty, mainly because their elders are lazy assholes who are drunk all the time. And even though Barlo just said that they were specially trained because they were needed JUST A MINUTE AGO, this comes as a HUGE SHOCK to all his students. Apparently they weren’t actually listening.

One week? Leave home? Leave Woody Hollow? Why of course, you ninnyhammer, he thought, you’ve got to leave home if you’re joining the Thornwalkers.

YOU DON’T SAY?

Seriously, how dumb is Tuck? They’ve apparently been training for WEEKS and WEEKS to become Thornwalkers for the specific purpose of filling the ranks, and yet Tuck never even CONSIDERED that he might have to leave his home.

Also, this raises the question: is Barlo the only person who can train these idiots in how to shoot? I mean, he’s got only a few guys learning from him at a time – at this rate, it would be years before any notable number of people were ready to go… and the ones he HAS trained would probably all be dead from garden implement accidents long before then, because they seem to be pretty dim.

 
Besides, he had only thought about becoming a Thornwalker, and he’d not really envisioned what that meant in the end, leaving his comfortable home and all.

It’s official: Tuck is an idiot. Apparently even though all day every day he’s been preparing to join the military, he never once thought about what the future would be like! Do any of the Warrows have functioning brain cells? So far I’ve seen maybe two of average intelligence, with everybody else as a dithering blithering moron.

And then Tuck zones out while Barlo is talking which probably explains why everybody is so surprised. He, Danner, Tarpy and some guy called Hob (Hob, you’re going to die because you are an afterthought) are being assigned to a northern outpost. Anyone want to place odds on whether they’re going to end up going to the Keep and fighting the Vague Yet Cliched Evil Up North?

In fact, in case we haven’t been paying attention, Tuck spells it out in GIANT BLINKING NEON LETTERS: 

 
“The Eastdell Fourth, Danner,” said Tuck. “Ford Spindle. That’s on the road to Challerain Keep, King Aurion’s summer throne.”

Of course, I don’t know why they care so much about said king since he obviously doesn’t have any impact in their lives and doesn’t seem to have any authority over them, but whatever.

 
“And we won’t be doing too much Wolf patrolling either, if we’re stuck at the ford,” grumped Danner, disappointed. “I was looking forward to feathering a couple of those brutes.”

… what the hell is Danner talking about? They’re going UP NORTH. Where the wolves are coming from. What does he have to complain about? He’s in the best possible position!

And then McKiernan introduces us to Tarpy and Hob, both of whom are probably going to die. We find out that Danner is the tallest and Tarpy is incredibly short. We also find out how the author distinguishes Warrows from hobbits even though there’s they’re otherwise identical: Except for their height, as with all Warrows, their most striking feature was their great, strange, sparkling eyes, tilted much the same as Elves’, but of jewellike hues. If this were published now, I’d say that someone had seen the Lord of the Rings movie with Elijah Wood, but since this predates Jackson’s movie I guess it’s a happy coinkydink.

Tuck’s a sapphirine blue, Tarpy’s and Hob’s a pale emerald green, and Danner’s, the third and last color of Warrow eyes, amber gold.

… that is really weird. I’m pretty sure that eyes don’t just come in three specific colors and shades – so no Warrow has light blue eyes or dark-amber-bordering-on-brown eyes?

 
Like Elves, too, their ears were pointed, though hidden much of the time by their hair;

Still sounds hobbity.

 
for, as is common among the buccen, they each had locks cropped at the shoulder,

… and then carefully styled with bangs and waves and some careful layering to add volume!

 
Unlike their elders, they each were young-buccan slim, not yet having settled down to hearth and home and four meals a day, or, on feast days, five.

Seriously, we get it – Warrows are basically Suefied hobbits, right down to the dietary habbits. We also get a folksy quote about why they’re supposed to eat so much and how “us Wee Folk need at least four meals a day just to keep a body alive!” Which sounds like ass-covering, because if they need that much just to stay alive then they wouldn’t be pudgy, would they?

So the four guys gather and have a really boring pre-combat discussion about bad/good luck and how awesome they are. Barlo gives another boring speech that isn’t really important, except he tells them to say goodbye to their family, friends and girlfriends because…

 
“for like as not it’ll be next spring or later before you’ll be to home again.”

“And since we’re currently stuck in a winter that WON’T end, you could have gray beards down to your knees before THAT happens.”

This announcement shocks Tuck, because he won’t be there for Vague Christmas Substitute or New-Year’s-By-Another-Name. But since Warrows are basically hobbits with ADD, Barlo distracts ALL of the new recruits by announcing, “Cheer up, lads!” Old Barlo said heartily,” ’cause now it’s time for your graduation present. We’re off to the One-Eyed Crow, where I’ll set up a round of ale for each and every one!”

That’s right, Barlo. Booze them up before they can get mopey, and it won’t occur to them to be upset until the week is already over. Otherwise they’d TP your house and stick paint bombs in your mailbox.

So since Warrows are incapable of focusing on anything for very long, all the new Thornwalkers are happy and merry and pleasant as they saunter off to get really smashed and take a tour of the local strip clubs.

And without any kind of transition, we’re then told that Tuck spends the next week hanging around the various places in his hometown, being mopey and dramatic as he says goodbye even though we KNOW he’s gonna survive because he’s our resident pseudo-Frodo expy.

 
But the place to which Tuck turned the most was The Root, his home, with its warm, cozy burrow rooms,

OH FOR FUCK’S SAKE.

Would it be SO hard to not give the halfling hero an UNDERGROUND home? You know, EXACTLY like hobbits have?!

But what am I saying? The Warrows themselves are basically Suefied hobbits so why wouldn’t their homes also be?! But for fuck’s sake, JRR Tolkien came up with the idea of these down-to-earth tiny people who happen to live in underground homes, and it’s not like there was any preexisting material on this subject. So WHY WHY WHY does McKiernan have to rip this off?!

Yes, I know the Root was featured in the sequels, The Silver Call Duology, which McKiernan wrote originally as a sequel to LOTR. But this was published BEFORE that duology. He could have easily rewritten it to be a more conventional house, or the kind of houses (like tree flets) described elsewhere in the book. It literally makes no difference what KIND of house it is.

Oh, and I don’t know why the Root would have a name. It made sense in LOTR and The Hobbit because Bilbo was wealthy and effectively local gentry, and Bag End was supposed to be palatial by hobbit standards. The Root? It’s just another home. There’s nothing special about it at this point.

 
And to his mother’s surprise he actually straightened his cubby

Just before fingerpainting and after naptime!

 
Each evening he sat before the fireplace, having a pipe with his sire, Burt, a stonecutter and mason, while his dam, Tulip, sewed.

Tulip used to have a pipe too, but after she set the curtains she was hemming on fire, she had to switch personal vices. Now she snorts cocaine!

And they quietly talked about the days that had been, and the days that were, and the days that were yet to come.

And then after five minutes they ran out of things to talk about, so they talked instead about how Daisykins Pumpernickel is having a torrid affair with Beansy Bottombumper whenever her husband is out of town.

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