The Dark Tide Chapter 5 Part 2

So now we’re in the war council, where we will meet characters who are SO important that we’re probably never ever going to see them again. I wonder if they will also have no impact on the plot? Oh joy! Such suspense!

 
Hagan of Valon, young and strong and flaxen-haired;

My first guess would have been short, pink-haired and face-painted.

Medwyn of Pellar, grizzled and gnarled but with bright, alert eyes;

So he’s an elderly cat. Got it. And by the name, I assume Pellar is Wales.

 
Overn of Jugo, fat he was, with a great black beard and bushy eyebrows;

Ah, Santa in his youth.

 
Young Brill of Wellen, tall and slender, an air of detached inwardness,

He frequently wrote poetry about how life is pain.

 
some said he was a berserker;

EDITOR! SENTENCE FRAGMENT!

Also, I’m not quite sure why it’s apparently a rumor that he’s a berserker. I mean, it’s not like a weird fetish or an embarrassing bodily mark, which you can keep private. It’s likely to be something you do in front of a LOT of people, very loudly.

 
and Gann of Riamon, taciturn and reserved, perhaps the best tactician there.

  1. You can tell by the table full of little green army men.
  2. He spends the entire chapter stoned, which is why the good guys fail miserably and die.
  3. Spoiler alert.

 
A mixed lot they were, yet warriors all,

Um, being a warrior does not make you worthy of being on a war council. Merely being a warrior – say a low-level soldier – doesn’t mean you have the expertise to direct an entire WAR.

For that matter… what are these guys doing? I mean, are they just there to advise the king? Are they generals? Did he select random warriors just… because he’s a really shitty tactician?

Unsurprisingly, the Wobbits feel incredibly out of place here BECAUSE THEY ARE. Seriously, this is a group of warriors who are supposed to advise the king. The Wobbits have almost no experience in the field, and the two encounters with enemy Vulgs have been DISASTROUS. They have no knowledge of tactics, of battle plans, of battle psychology, of ANYTHING except aiming an arrow at something and hopefully hitting it. And they have sparkly Elijah Wood eyes.

That is the ONLY thing they have going for them: basic battle skills and Sue eyes. So why the hell does the king want them on his council?!

Oh, and that stupid drum keeps DOOMing through the whole conversation.

 
King Aurion spoke: “Warriors, we have fallen upon dire times.”

“It’s very dark outside. Evil creatures are surroudning the castle. The Pope is Catholic. Water is wet.”

He basically tells them what they should already know – and since the reader has presumably read the first part of Chapter 5, we should know too. I guess Aurion loves hearing his own voice.

 
“Would that I knew where mine own Host stands, or when they will come. Even now the Legion may be marching north, yet we know not, for Modru’s curs waylay the messengers, and perhaps the muster has not yet begun. But no word has come from the south, and with the Horde ’round our walls, none shall come lest it be borne by the Host itself.”

“Now you might be wondering why I don’t know where mine own Host is, especially since we’ve known that this invasion was coming for months and a king should probably know where his whole army is in a crisis. But I’m too much of a tactical genius to know where my army is or when they might show up. Look to the east, my ass!”

So it turns out that these guys came up with two plans, which Aurion outlines to everybody there even though the warriors already know because THEY WERE THERE, meaning that he’s only educating people who don’t understand military tactics anyway. This dude is wasted as a king. His time-wasting windbaggery is needed in Congress.

  1. Plan 1: they run out and fight the baddies on the field.
  2. Plan 2: they just sit on the castle and fight off the baddies.

Obviously Plan 1 is out, since his genius military tactics mean that they hardly have anybody fighting on their side. So they… are going to sit on the castle and defend it. Just like they were already doing.

Is there an actual point to this meeting, or is the king just starved for attention and likes to hang out with his buddies?

“Well now the enemy is come, and his numbers would seem to leave us little choice but to defend the ramparts, for we are beringed by a mighty Horde, and, mark me, they will attack.”

You know, this would make sense if he was talking to someone who hadn’t gone outside and seen what was going on.

This is like a Star Trek episode where the captain calls everybody to the conference room and announces, “Here’s the plan: we’re going to fly around the galaxy in a spaceship and meet aliens with funny foreheads. Any thoughts?”

This is one of my big problems with The Dark Tide. It’s slender as high fantasy books go, specially since high fantasy authors tend to love writing giant bricklike tomes that are much longer than they need to be COUGHrobertjordanCOUGH and this one is just a couple hundred pages long. But it REALLY needs editing. McKiernan has a nasty habit of repeating himself over and over as if he expects the reader has just forgotten important stuff like, oh, the height of a Hlok or what the Spindlethorn is like.

 
“I have called you unto me to ask if there be aught we can do but wait for the enemy to strike. Has any seen some weakness in the Swarm we can turn to our vantage? Have we any option but to ward the walls of Challerain Keep? Advise me now, I listen.”

… well, maybe they could advise you if they were allowed to go about their jobs and observe the forces of evil instead of sitting in a little dark room waiting for you to tell them what they already know. Is this king going to die soon? PLEASE?

Nobody talks, probably because they’re busy wondering why the king is constantly telling them stuff they already know. So the only people who can talk are the people who DON’T know anything.

 
Tuck stood in his chair and was recognized. “I am sorry, Sire, for being so stupid, but I have a question: Why has not the enemy attacked? For what do they wait?”

… if he knew that, don’t you think King ExpositionFairy would TELL YOU?!

In fact, Gildor basically says that they don’t know shit, except that the Evil Plan is evil. Thank you, very necessary.

 
“How long can we last? Food and drink, I mean,” asked Patrel.

“Well, if we toss you Wobbits to the Horde, six months. If we don’t, two weeks.”

Not really kidding, actually. They have maybe six months of supplies, assuming they don’t all get invaded and die because they don’t have the friggin’ army. We’re also told that they plan to let the lower levels of the city be conquered, because the upper tiers are so much smaller and easier to defend. I’d question why they don’t make a really thick high wall down at the bottom to make it a moot point… but I’m not a tactical genius like King Exposition.

Again Tuck’s blood ran chill, and his mind was filled with visions of hordes of ravers swarming up and over the castle walls.

All those glowsticks and X pills!

Patrel thinks this is really stupid, because then they’ll be trapped. Of course, they’re ALREADY trapped, so I don’t see how retreating into the upper tiers really makes a difference.

 
“Nay, Captain Patrel,” answered Aurion, “you understand the plan perfectly, for that is exactly our strategy, our road to victory.”

… I don’t get it. This… is confusing.

So I’ll just show you two odd-looking cats and a spinning light thing.

But this just pisses Danner off, because Danner would rather die in a big violent fight than use tactics… even if they’re short-term ones.

 
“A road to victory, you say? A path to destruction, I call it. I say let us cleave into their ranks and engage them in battle. If we are to die, let it be in full attack and not while trapped like cornered rats!”

Hey, don’t insult rats, you crazy little Suey man-child.

Since the room is full of warriors, a bunch of them love the idea cuz… I guess it sounds badass to be suicidal.

 
But Gann of Riamon quietly held the floor: “And what, Sir Danner, will such a move gain?”
“Why… why…” spluttered Danner, “we’ll take many of the maggot-folk down with us. Die we will, but a mighty swatch we shall cleave among them.”

… why did they let Danner into the war council? No, seriously. Why? He’s as helpful as a match when you’re trapped in a crate of dynamite.

 
“And then what?” Gann’s voice was coldly measured.

They all go to Sto-Vo-Kor?

 
“Then what, you ask? Then what?” Danner ground his teeth in fury. “Nothing! That’s what! Nothing! We’ll be dead, but so will many of the enemy. Yet we will have died a warrior’s death, and not that of a trapped animal.”

And freeing the enemy, who outnumbers you by thousands, to go racing off and kill the civilians who are less than a day away. But hey! Let the women and children all die, as long as Danner gets the death of a true Klingon!

In fact, Gann points that out right away, basically squelching Danner’s whole stupid… I can’t say it’s an argument, because that implies that THOUGHT went into it. In fact, Gann seems to be the only person in the whole building who knows even the vaguest stuff about tactics and what to do in a war. Are we sure he’s not secretly the king?

Hagan tries to comfort Danner by offering him some gagh and bloodwine… uh, sorry. He actually says this: “I know how you feel, for I sense we are much alike in this, you and I. It galls the spirit to be ever on the defensive, ever in retreat. Attack! That is our solution to life’s ills. Attack!”

“When you’re out of milk, ATTACK! When you’re mildly annoyed by relatives, ATTACK! When a light bulb burns out, ATTACK!”

Tuck was amazed at Hagan’s keen insight into Danner’s nature, for Tuck knew the Man was right. Danner did attack when faced with life’s ills, be it fear, trouble, a different viewpoint, or any other adversity: when Danner was crossed, he attacked. Even when it led toward undesired ends, Danner still attacked.

So… what you’re saying is that Danner is a friggin’ idiot who would be a nightmare to be around, and probably get you killed if you went into battle with him. But at least you’d have a warrior’s death! And isn’t that the only point?

 
Why Tuck had not seen this about Danner before, he did not know, for it now seemed so obvious.

YES. IT IS.

And Tuck is also an idiot. He’s spent his whole fucking life growing up with Danner, and he’s failed to notice Danner’s ONLY REAL CHARACTERISTIC?!

Vidron points out the problems in Gann’s plan… which are basically things they can’t possibly deal with, and have no real alternatives for. But hey, it gives us another paragraph of filler. We’re also told that they’ve had lots of plans and counterplans, and have argued a lot in the past… whicj makes me wonder why they’re doing this now.

 
“Instead, this I ask, for ye have all seen the numbers of our enemy, and they are mighty: Is there aught else we can do, now that we know what we face? Does another plan come to mind we have not already discarded?”

NO. We’ve already seen that nobody has any ideas except barricading themselves in this stupid city. So can we please get to a scene that is SLIGHTLY more interesting than this?

 
“Then this War-council is done.”

THANK YOU.

 
And then Aurion says… this: “Sir Tuck, move your belongings into my quarters,”

… oh wow, that is worthy of Paolini.

But no, he actually means that the Wobbits should move into his, Gildor’s and Vidron’s rooms so they can see slightly further into the Dimmendark. Even though, you know, the baddies are already within visual range.

So the Wobbits are depressed because the place is empty and nobody’s around. And Tuck cries. TAKE A SHOT.

 
Without speaking, he turned and trudged toward the barracks doors, and Danner and Patrel walked with him. And as the trio crossed the courtyard, they did not look back.

… you’re leaving the barracks. Which are empty, and you’ve only been living in them a few days.

Okay, the melancholy farewell thing made sense when they were leaving home… and it sort of made sense when they left the Thornwalker camp since they were leaving their homeland… but this makes NO sense. Why should they look back… AT THE BARRACKS?!

So after Tuck drops his stuff off in the King’s quarters, he goes up to the wall and rejoins the rest of the cast.

 
“Out there, Tuck, look,” said Argo, pointing far to the northwest. “Nearly beyond seeing. I can’t quite make it out. What is it?”

What makes you think HE can see it, you dipshit?

None of the Wobbits can tell what it is, except that it might be horses. Or Helsteeds. How helpful.

 
King Aurion, again frustrated at not being able to penetrate the murk, cried, “Rach!” and struck the stone curtain with the edge of his fist.

  1. And then he cried “Ow!” for he had broken his fingers.
  2. Stone curtain? Why is there a stone curtain? What does it do?!
  3. And how does one make a stone curtain… since curtains by definition are made of cloth?

Because the king has nothing better to do than look at random riding animals, he insists that all the Wobbits keep an eye on that. I wonder if it will be important to the plot!

And in a whiplash-inducing transition, suddenly Tuck is going to bed. The drum is still going (and because I love you, I am not including every DOOM DOOM DOOM DOOM!), and he dreams about people riding in the Dimmendark. His dreams are pretty mundane.

 
—but whether they were Men on horses or Ghûls upon Hèlsteeds, he could not tell.

Dude, that’s not how dreams work. You tend to just know things magically in dreams.

So while he’s sleeping, the Wobbits keep seeing… movement. Yeah, there’s an entire army sitting right in front of them, but somehow they’re able to single out SPECIFIC movements. It’s as if they magically know that the riders are… IMPORTANT TO THE PLOT!

Rage crossed the King’s features when a messenger came bearing the news that the Rukha now plundered the barrow mounds along the north wall.

“How dare they pillage those burial mounds that we’ve ignored for hundreds of years and made no effort to move into safer surroundings! THIS SHALL NOT BE TOLERATED!”

So the Wobbits talk about their dreams, and McKiernan takes that opportunity to do some plundering himself:

 
“and, you know, every time I looked up, Gildor was sitting at his window seat, softly strumming his harp. When I asked, he said not to worry, that the sleep of Elves is ‘different’—but just how, he did not say.”
“I wonder what he meant, ‘different’?” Danner pondered,

He meant like-Legolas different.

and he could sleep, if sleep it could be called by Men, resting his mind in the strange paths of elvish dreams, even as he walked open-eyed ing the light of this world.
The Two Towers, page 31
Legolas already lay motionless, his fair hands folded upon his breast, his eyes un-closed, blending living night and deep dream, as is the way with Elves.
The Two Towers, page 49


It looks like he’s angry, but he’s actually asleep.

As they went toward the ramparts, Danner said to Tuck, “I’ve been thinking about the pickle we’re in.”

A pickle?! That’s the strongest word he uses to describe IMPENDING DESTRUCTION AND DEATH?

 
“What it all boils down to is that the Horde still waits… for who or what, no one can say; and our own forces stand ready to defend the walls, falling back until we are trapped in this… stone tomb.”

… McKiernan, we know this. You know this. You have spent the whole chapter TELLING us that.

WHY ARE THEY EXPOSITING ABOUT IT?!?!?!?!?

WE ARE NOT SO STUPID THAT WE DON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED 20 PAGES AGO! I am capable of remembering more than your average rodent!

Danner and Tuck spend the next page or so grousing about how trapped they feel, and reiterating ALL the strategies we’ve been told already. I guess McKiernan thinks his readers are that dumb, because otherwise he might assume we didn’t need this repeated RIGHT AFTER IT HAPPENED.

 
The cold was bitter, and hoods were pulled up and cloaks drawn tightly about to fend off the icy clutch.

They were slightly concerned about the icy hands grabbing at people’s faces, though.

 
“Arg! That infernal drum!” cried Danner, his voice filled with ire. “If nought else comes of this, I’d like to stuff that Rück drummer inside his own instrument and pound it to a fare-thee-well.”

I agree with you, Danner. Even if you are a moron.

Unfortunately, this is another forced comic relief moment. And you know what that means!

especially Vidron, who found the thought of a Rutch trapped in a drum being whaled by a Waeran hilarious.

Ha. Ha. HAR. I’m crying from how funny that is.

Fortunately for my sanity, Patrel interrupts them to say that he sees a fire somewhere in the Dimmendark, and Tuck spots riders amongst them. It turns out that somebody has set fire to some siege towers

 
“What size the force?” barked Aurion. “Men or Ghola?”

“Uh, sir, why would the Ghuls attack their own army?”
“SHUT UP! I AM A TACTICAL GENIUS!”

 
“They ride as if to defend something, or to intercept a foe,” said Vidron. “What of the other riders, the ones at the fire?”

You can barely see anything! How can you tell what tactical maneuvers are being taken!

 
“Gone,” answered Patrel. “They’re gone.” Doom!
And Tuck realized that Patrel was right.

DOES TUCK EVER REALIZE ANYTHING FOR HIMSELF?! It seems like he’s constantly realizing that someone else was correct! Is this twerp really our HERO?

 
a flicker of understanding seemed to pass over Aurion Redeye’s features, and he smacked a fist into the palm of his hand, and a gloating “Hai!” burst forth.

Whatever that word means.

And yes, he has figured out what smarter readers will have figured out as soon as they heard that there were riders messing up the Spawn’s shit: It’s our token Aragorn ripoff and his merry band of generic faceless extras who will die without a single minute of screen time.

 
“Well,” asked Patrel, “what do you think it was?”

Wow, I dunno. It might, just might, be the only good guys out there who are NOT a full-scale army.

Gildor then realizes that he hasn’t done anything except rip off Legolas in this chapter, so he goes leaping up on the wall and announces that he senses something evil. Wow, no shit. Could it be the Giant Army of Generic Evil surrounding the castle?

 
“There!” cried Danner, pointing. “Something looms in the dark.”

“And it’s weaving with wool, not cotton!”

 
“Look there, in front!” cried Tuck. “Ogrus! They must be Ogrus!”

“Oh wait, false alarm. It’s just the Real Housewives of New Jersey.”

Conveniently just at that moment, the troll-ripoffs come trumdling out with… sigh, siege towers and a giant-ass battering ram.

“Ai!” cried Gildor upon hearing the news, “now we know what it is that the Horde awaits—the siege engines needed to assault the Keep. What an evil day this is.” Doom!

Well, that was a waste of suspense. I assumed they were waiting for something other than their gear.

And why were the siege engines a day behind them? And why are Ogrus, who are arguably the dumbest creatures in this army, somehow more “evil” than the Ghuls or the other creatures? Or… was he talking about the siege engines? I’m confuzzled.

 
“In the fore is a great ram, and then three catapults come next. But behind are four… no, five tall towers, each high enough to o’ertop the walls. ‘Round them all rides an escort of Ghûls.” Doom!

WE GET THE MESSAGE. PLEASE SHUT UP.

And again, we’re being told stuff that we were literally told maybe a page ago. Filler, how I love thee.

 
“Hey!” cried Danner. “That’s what we must’ve seen burning out on the plains.” At Tuck’s blank look, Danner explained, exasperated that Tuck did not see it for himself. “The towers, Tuck, the towers. One of them must have been what we saw burning.”
Then a puzzled expression came over Danner’s face. “But who would burn the tower? Surely not the Ogrus, for they would not torch their own engine of destruction.”

… REALLY? We’re really doing this? I figured out the identify of those riders PAGES ago, and the Wobbits STILL can’t figure it out.

Tuck FINALLY figures out something that someone hasn’t spoon-fed him, namely that the towers are being torched by Galen. Aurion, being kind of a dick, apparently knew this but didn’t SAY anything.

 
” ‘Twas my son Galen and his company who did that deed, striking from the cover of the Enemy in Gron’s own foul darkness, turning Modru’s own vile cover ‘gainst his lackeys, then melting away into the shadows ere the foe could strike back.”

  1. Gron is a COUNTRY, so by definition that isn’t its darkness.
  2. Also, I’m not quite sure how Galen is managing to go COMPLETELY UNNOTICED. They are surrounded by countless enemies on every side. There aren’t a lot of gaps for him to hide in.
  3. And the Minions of Generic Evil have been hanging around in the dark for 2000 years. I would expect them to have slightly better night vision than their sunlight-dwelling enemies… especially since a vast storm of darkness that renders YOUR troops blind is kind of useless.

 
“Just so.” Gildor nodded, for he had sensed that the shapes seen afar only by the Warrows were not foe, yet he had said nought.

Is there a REASON Gildor and Aurion didn’t want to mention that those shapes weren’t enemies? Or do they just like dicking with their “friends”?

So Aurion starts grandstanding to the heralds: “The machines of the Enemy have come, and now his minions will assault the walls of the Keep. Go forth unto all of the companies and have them make ready their final preparations, for the Horde will not long wait.”

I’m not very knowledgeable about military matters, but isn’t that the sort of crap that the captains and generals SHOULD BE ABLE TO TELL FOR THEMSELVES? If they need the king to tell them that shit’s about to go down, and they should be ready… then they’re probably too dumb to fight anyway.

We’re also told that because the regular arrows are too long for Wobbit bows (which would make them less effective), the Wobbits are having to make their own.

 
“We simply shall have to make every one count,” said Tuck, “for as my instructor, Old Barlow, would say, ‘The arrow as strays might well’er been throwed away.’ ”
“Hmm,” mused Gildor, “your instructor had the right of it.”

Yes, clearly the guy who said that has great wisdom. The Chinese fortune cookie factory really misses his scintillating knowledge. Seriously, Gildor is an ELF. He’s more than two milennia old. And that sort of stuff doesn’t seem really obvious to him?

So finally we see Grond… uh, Whelm.

 
Now they could see that it had a mighty iron head, shaped like a clenched fist, mounted on the end of a massive wooden beam.

Nah, still sounds silly. The “fist” thing just doesn’t have the menace of Grond.

“It is called Whelm, and dark was the day it rent through the very gates of Lost Duellin.”

It’s called WHELM? Isn’t that like naming your car “Zoom”?

For some reason, Tuck is more upset by the siege towers than the giant-ass battering ram

 
Tall they were, and massive, clad with brass and iron. He did not see how Lord Galen’s company could have set one afire. Yet inside was wood: platforms, a frame with stairs mounting up, ramps set to fall upon the besieged battlements—bridges for the foe to swarm across.

… so in other words, Tuck is too stupid to realize that WOOD BURNS.

 
“but I fear that the catapults will prove the undoing of the city below, for they are terrible machines and will fling fire.”

No, they will probably fling something solid, since fire requires something to burn off of.

Tuck has yet another awkward epiphany, where he realizes that he, Gildor and Vidron all see something different as being the worst machine. He comes to the conclusion that this can only be racial in nature, and that Wobbits, Elves and Men only see different things because they belong to different species. It can’t be AGE or MILITARY experience, just race.

So now the Bad Guys are in position, preparing to attack… and don’t. Nope, they just stand there while two of their number go trotting up to the gate.

 
“They come to parley,” said Lord Gildor.

“And I think… yes, one of them is holding up a CAN WE USE YOUR BATHROOM? sign.”

And even though Vidron thinks it’s a stupid idea, Aurion is hell=bent on going down to talk to them personally. Why? Because he’s sick of being cooped up in the castle. No better reason! Tactical genius!

You know, I think this whole dynasty is suicidal. I mean, the crown-prince is out there in the middle of the enemy army on a clearly dangerous mission that anyone else could have done. The younger prince wants to run out and fight the baddies directly even though he’s fifteen and can’t fight worth a damn. And now the High King, who SHOULD be thinking about the well-being of everybody in this city, wants to saunter outside the city limits so he can surround himself with deadly enemies.

“But, Sire, I must protest!” cried Vidron. “There are two upon Steeds. It is a trap to lure you forth.”

YES. IT IS.

 
“One is no Ghûlk,” he said at last, “and he bears no weapon.”

Yes, because it’s all okay and totally not a trap as long as there’s only ONE Ghul with a weapon.

 
“But, Sire, I beg thee, take one of us.” Vidron’s hand swept wide, gesturing to all the warriors upon the rampart.

“Hmm, how about I take along the timid tiny one who cries all the time?”
“Sir, are you TRYING to get yourself killed?”
“Sure am! I’m a bad composite of Denethor and Theoden, which means I need to die ASAP.”

I wish I were kidding, but I’m not. The King decides to bring along TUCK of all people along to protect him, because… no reason. Hmm, I think I’ll list Tuck’s many qualifications for this job:

  1. Untrained in close combat
  2. Cries all the time
  3. Emotional maturity of a tween
  4. Incapable of figuring anything out without help
  5. Has never been in a major battle
  6. All previous missions led to major fatalities
  7. Short
  8. Weak
  9. Dumb
  10. Lightweight

AND SO ON. Hell, bringing DANNER would make more sense than Tuck, because at least he’s hyperaggressive, and you might be able to escape while he’s chewing off the enemy’s feet.

So they spend a very long time riding aaaaaaalll the way down to the outside of the city… and no, there’s no mention of keeping extra soldiers just inside the gate, so they can ride to rescue the king if anything goes down. Nope, they’re just sending out the king with nobody but the lamest halfling EVER.

 
for standard bearers at parleys are honor-bound to carry no weapons, else treachery would be suspected.

Wow, I wonder if the other standard bearer is secretly armed. That would shock me greatly. I mean, the minions of pure evil being treacherous? What a twist.

 
As they approached Modru’s emissaries, Tuck’s blood ran chill at the sight.

They SPARKLED. Clearly they were vampires!

 
In the Rück, Tuck saw what Gildor had described: a foe who was swart, skinny-armed, bandy-legged, with needle-teeth in a wide-gapped mouth, bat-winged ears, yellow viperous eyes—a hand or three taller than Warrows.

He looked like of like one of the Kardashians without makeup.

But the one that really scares Tuck is the Ghul, who is basically like a non-rotting zombie, or maybe a vampire without any fangs. Or the Witch King if you’re wearing the Ring…

Tall he was, Man-height, but no Man was this malignant being, clothed in black and astride a horselike creature.

No Man he was! Instead, he was a politician.

We’re also filled in on the Helsteeds, who were mentioned before, but apparently despite having incredibly detailed descriptions of the Vulgs, Rucks, Hloks, Ogrus and Ghuls… nobody knew about the animals they ride on. Basically they’re a sort of reptilian cross between horses and fell beasts, with “rat tails,” cloven hooves and slitted pupils. Also, they have a “miasma” that freaks out real horses. I think they need a bath.

Also, there is a human there. He appears to be brain-dead.

 
Yet he was strange, for spittle drooled from the corner of his mouth and his features were vapid, empty-eyed and slack-jawed, holding no spark of intelligence.

I see someone watched a Keeping Up With The Kardashians marathon.

So as they approach, the Ghûl spoke a word in the harsh, slobbering, foul Slûk speech: “Gulgok!”

“Sire, what does that word mean?”
“It means, ‘I’m now off the clock.'”

No, suddenly the human is immediately possessed by Modru. Ah, I see McKiernan is trying to one-up the famous “Mouth of Sauron” scene by actually having the Dark Lord talk through his emissary instead of just using him as an errand-boy.

See, there’s a problem with that idea. Sauron is scary partly because we can feel his presence without him ACTUALLY being present… or talking. Talking makes villains a lot less scary, especially when it’s totally unnecessary.

 
With a cry, Tuck threw up his hand, and the King turned pale, for a great malevolence lashed out at them.

I would like to mention that unlike Sauron, Modru is not a godlike being. He’s basically an evil wizard. There are several evil wizards in this series, and NOBODY reacts to the other ones this way.

 
“Aurion Redeye. I had not expected you,” the voice gloated, and the evil eyes turned to Tuck and glittered. “This is even sweeter, for you draw mine other enemies into the trap with you.”

See? Even the villain can’t believe what an idiot King Tactical Genius is.

Also, what other enemies? Does he somehow know Tuck? Or is he talking about Wobbits in general? In that case… yeah, you got a few dozen Wobbits to wreak revenge on. Good luck and everything.

Modru then comments that he has a giant army, that Aurion shouldn’t bother trying to fight it, and that he’s making the generous offer of slavery instead of death if they surrender right now. I… don’t really see why he needed to possess a brain-damaged body to say that. Couldn’t he just send someone to make the offer for him?

 
“Pah!” spat Aurion. “Say this to your vile Lord Modru: Aurion Redeye chooses freedom!”

  1. “And he chooses to scream it like Mel Gibson back when people liked him! FREEEEEEEDOOOOOOOMMMM!”
  2. Also, this is actually supposed to be Modru speaking through the human. So… why would he say that to himself?
  3. Is Aurion not entirely clear on how this possession works?

For some reason, this generous refusal REALLY pisses off Modru, and his minions immediately whip out weapons. Wow, I’m so shocked. Really, really shocked. The bad guys were lying. Because they’re bad.

Fortunately for our heroes, Modru’s minions are actually pretty terrible with their weapons… and, you know, he doesn’t need to have those two in particular kill Aurion. They’re surrounded by thousands of others who presumably DO have weapons. Why isn’t he siccing them on Tuck and Aurion?

So Tuck is unarmed because of this really bizarre tradition where the standard-bearer can’t have a weapon but the person doing the parleying can. But that doesn’t stop him from attacking the Ruck and whacking him on the head with the standard SO HARD that it smashes in his skull AND breaks his neck. I’m fairly certain a medieval standard is not strong enough to do that, especially when you’re racing by on a horse while swinging it around.

And really, where did Tuck get the training to do this without getting thrown off or hurt? What he basically did was jousting… except instead of hitting the other person DEAD ON, he SMASHED THEIR HEAD IN FROM ABOVE. I don’t even think that’s possible. And if it is, it should take years of training to be able to do it without hurting yourself or getting dehorsed.

Tuck wheeled the pony around, and he heard and saw the clang of sword upon tulwar. And the Ghûl was skilled, for his blade slashed through Aurion’s guard and skittered across the King’s chain mail. But again, Tuck did not see more, for he rode his pony to come between the battling pair and the other emissary, placing himself in harm’s way to fend off a charge by the third foe. Yet the Hèlsteed moved not, and Tuck looked up into the visage of this enemy, but the eyes were vacant and the mouth slack and the face now void of wit.

Clang! Chank! Sword and tulwar clashed. Thunk! The King’s blade bit deeply, cleaving a great gash in the Ghûl, yet the foe did not bleed and fought on as if unwounded. Ching! Thock! Now the tulwar slashed across the King’s forearm, and blood welled forth. Chunk! Again Aurion’s sword rived, once more the Ghûl’s flesh gaped, yet it was as if nought had happened.

“His mount!” cried Tuck, and Aurion’s sword slashed through the throat of the Hèlsteed. Black gore spewed forth as the creature fell, flinging the Ghûl off. Tuck heard the snap of breaking bones, yet the Ghûl rose to his feet as if unharmed and slashed his tulwar up at Aurion, but the blow was caught by the King’s blade. Now the Ghûl emitted a chilling howl, and like cries answered from the Horde. Hèlsteeds bearing Ghûls raced forth from the ranks. Tuck saw them hurtle out, and in desperation he clapped heels to his pony and charged at the Ghûl, couching the splintered flagstaff like a spear, as he had seen Igon do at practice. Forward raced the pony. With a hideous Thuck! the jagged shaft caught the Ghûl full in the back and punched through, the splintered end emerging from his chest, and the jolting impact hurled Tuck backward over the cantle and to the frozen ground as the pony ran on. Dazed, the Warrow could hear the King calling his name. He floundered to his feet, only to be jerked up off the ground and flung on his stomach in front of Aurion Redeye across Wildwind’s withers.

Tuck could not catch his breath as the King’s grey horse thundered for the north gate, and the pounding gallop caused Tuck to retch and lose his breakfast. Toward the portal they sped, with Ghûls in pursuit. But Wildwind was not to be headed, and he raced under a canopy of arrows shot from the walls at the pursuers. With howls of rage, the Ghûls sheered off the chase as Wildwind came to the side-postern and through, closely followed by Tuck’s free-running pony.

“Killed ’em! Killed ’em both, he did!” cried Hogarth, the Gate Captain, a fierce grin splitting his face as he pulled Tuck from Wildwind’s back and to the ground. But Tuck could not stand and fell forward to his knees, his arms clutched across his stomach, face down as he gasped for air. He found he was weeping. Aurion leapt down beside him.

“He’s got the wind knocked out of him,” said Aurion. “Stand back.” And the King held the Warrow by the shoulders as the Wee One gasped and wept, while the Kingsmen upon the wall roared a mighty cheer.

At last Tuck got control of his breathing, and soon the weeping stopped, too. And the King said in a low voice that only the Waerling could hear, “Sir Tuck, you must mount up the wall so that all may see you. Heroes are needed in these dark times to rally the spirits of all of us.”

“But, Sire, I am no hero,” Tuck said.

The King looked at the Warrow in astonishment. “No hero, you say? Fie! Whether or not you feel like a hero, you are one, and we need you. So come, mount up to the parapet with me.”

And so, up the ramp and to the battlements above the north gate went the King and Warrow, and all the Men shouted great praise. Tuck looked forth upon the field. Of the third emissary there was no sight, but out upon the snow, near the carcass of the Hèlsteed, lay a skull-crushed Rück and a shaft-pierced Ghûl, slain by Tuck’s own hand. Yet Tuck did not feel the pride that the shouting Men took in him; instead, a sickening horror filled his being. For although it is one thing to kill a snarling Vulg with arrow as he had done at Spindle Ford, it is quite another thing to slay beings that walk about upon two legs and wear clothes and speak a language. Too, it had been so utterly violent—smashing, crushing, jarring, stabbing. The sight of his victims brought only a bitter nausea upon him.

But another sight there upon the field overrode his horror and filled him with dread: Oh, please let it not be an omen, he thought, as there on the field, where the Rück had planted it, stood the Sun-Death sigil of Modru, and below it, lying crumpled in the snow, was the broken scarlet-and-gold standard of Aurion.

Tuckerby shook his head to dispel the foreboding thoughts and realized that he was being spoken to.

“Lor! What a close chase,” said Corby Platt, returning Tuck’s bow and quiver to the Warrow hero. Corby was a young buccan formerly of Tuck’s squad but now assigned to the north gate. And he gestured at the slain enemy. “That’s two for the Bosky, Tuck, and one o’ them was a Ghûll”

“Wood through the heart,” said Hogarth, “that’s what slew the Ghol—impalement. And it’s a good thing, too, for King Aurion had not the time to dismember it, for the other Ghola were riding hard upon you. Hoy! but it was a fine bit of lancery, Sir Tuck.”

“It wasn’t as if I thought to do it—to spear the Ghûl with wood, that is,” said Tuck. “It’s just that he was there and I had the shaft in my hand, and, well, it just happened.”

“Yet had you not acted, then it is we who would be crow bait, and not the other way around,” said Aurion, placing a hand upon the shoulder of the Waerling. “You are a fine knight, Small One.”

“But I was de-ponied!” exclaimed Tuck. “No knight am I.”

“Ar, well,” said Hogarth, “you just need to learn how to lean into your stirrups and clamp your thighs to your mount.”

“No thank you! From now on I’ll just stick to what I know.” Tuck flourished his bow, and the Men upon the wall shouted another great cheer for the wee warrior. But this hail was cut short by the enemy: Boom! Doom! Doom! The great Rücken drum took up a pounding beat, and harsh horns blatted.

“Sire, they move the trebuchets forward,” called Hogarth.

“They begin the attack,” said Aurion. “Signal our own catapults to prepare.”

Rahn! Hogarth blew upon his oxen horn, and a signal flag was raised.

Out upon the field, Tuck could see the great Ogrus wheel forth one of the catapults. This one slowly approached the north gate. Word came from the east and west that the other two trebuchets were drawing toward the first wall, too. Behind came more Ogrus, towing waggons. As the Trolls hauled the great engine into position, a sense of dread came upon Tuck, for he knew by Vidron’s words earlier that these were terrible weapons.

“Lor, look where they stop,” breathed Hogarth.

“What is it?” cried Tuck, alarmed but not knowing why.

“Our mangonels have not that range,” answered Hogarth, pointing up the mount toward the King’s own catapults between the first and second walls. “We cannot return their fire, for we cannot reach them.” Doom! Boom! Doom! Doom! The Rücken drum pounded on.

Through the pulsing drum beats, a distant clatter of gears sounded, and the throwing arm of the catapult was hauled down and loaded with a black sphere from one of the waggons. A Rück with a torch set fire to the missile, and at a cry from a Hlök, Thuk! Whoosh! the arm flew up, hurling a flaring pitch-and-sulphur ball sputtering through the sky and over the wall, to smash and explode upon one of the buildings. Fire splashed outward, and smoke rose up into the air. Warriors rushed to quench the blaze, but another burning ball burst nearby, and flames raged. Again and again the blazing missiles burst upon the city, crashing down upon the tile roofs and wooden walls, and flaming liquid splashed and dripped. Soldiers rushed thither and yon, trying to extinguish the fires, to beat out the flames. But the burning sulphur and pitch clung tenaciously to the blazing wood and ran in rivers of fire beyond reach, spreading in swift strokes. And where quenched, flames would burst forth anew as fire ran back to spring up again.

Missile after missile crashed down to add to the fires, and raging flames grew and fed upon the shops and houses lining the streets, and swept across the town. Away to the south and west rose the smoke of other fires as the great trebuchet there flung its hideous cargo of holocaust upon that part of Challerain Keep. And the third catapult of the enemy hurled fire upon the eastern flank of the city. Thwok! Thock! The fuming balls hurled forth, sailing down to blast apart. Thock! Thack! Time and again the enemy catapults sounded, hurtling a fiery rain upon the open Keep. All around the mount the flames raged wildly, springing from building to building and street to street, the fires from the north racing toward those raging forth from east and west. Black smoke billowed up and sent warriors reeling and coughing. The heat choked off breath, for the very air seared the lungs, and many collapsed. The fallen were borne forth from the inferno by their exhausted comrades, yet others perished, trapped in the fire storm.

Hours passed, and still the siege engines of Modru hurled sputtering Death, the thwok! of the great arms now unheard in the roar of the flames. The answering shots of the King’s mangonels fell short, and the Men on the wall wept and raged in frustration, for the city burned and they could do nought to save it. Unchecked, the missiles crashed, and red and orange columns of roaring flames cast writhing shadows out into the Dimmendark. The works of centuries of man’s existence upon Mont Challerain fell victim to the ravening fire. And Tuck recalled Vidron’s words; and now the Warrow knew that these indeed were terrible machines, for the ancient city of Challerain Keep was being razed to the ground.

And thus the city burned, the great engines casting holocaust nearly unto the fourth wall. When it became apparent to the King that nought could be done to quench the raging flames, he ordered that the fires be let to run their course unchecked, for the warriors must needs save themselves for the coming battle. And so for two ‘Darkdays they watched the burning of much they held to be precious and wept to see such destruction. The Horde beyond the walls jeered in revelment and brandished their weapons, but they made no move to assault the battlements. They knew that the fires sapped at the strength and spirit of the Kingsmen, and they waited for the moment when the defenders’ will would be at its lowest ebb. And all through the burning, and finally unto the time that black char and ashes and thin tendrils of acrid smoke were all that remained where once stood a proud city, the great drum knelled: Doom!

The sharp ring of swift steps upon polished stone jolted Tuck awake. A lanthorn-bearing warrior of the Kingsguard strode hard past the Warrow’s couch and into the King’s chamber. Muzzy with sleep, Tuck sat up and rubbed his eyes, wanting nothing more than to fall again into exhausted slumber. But what he heard next jarred him fully awake.

“Sire,” the warrior’s voice was grim, “they stir as if to attack!”

Quickly, Tuck donned the underpadding and then the silveron armor, and he slipped into his boots and down overclothing. As he flung on his Elven cloak and took up his bow and quiver, the King strode out, girting his sword and helming himself.

“Come!” commanded Aurion, and he paced away, following the warrior with the lanthorn, while Tuck ran behind, clapping his simple steel cap upon his own head.

In the stables, as Tuck saddled his pony, Danner and Patrel came with Vidron and Gildor, but there was not time to say other than “Good fortune!” Then the King and Tuck mounted and hurriedly clattered out and across the courtyard.

Down through the charred ruins they rode, and by the twisting route they took, Tuck’s grey was as quick as Aurion’s Wildwind. Unto the north gate of the first wall the King and Warrow came, riding amid soldiery running toward the bulwark. Whence came these warriors, where quartered, Tuck did not know, for most of the buildings had burned. Yet here they were, streaming to the defense of the first wall, as Captains among them cried out orders. Yet above the shouts Tuck heard the blare of Rücken horn and the beat of enemy drum: Doom! Doom! The advance had begun.

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