Lightning stroked the night
Are we getting some sort of atmospheric foreplay here?
the glare flaring through the narrow windows, thunder rolling after.
Look out! A thunder is about to roll over us!
Anyway, we’re in a miserable little tavern by the seaside. Seriously, right on the very edge of the ocean. Apparently actual WAVES are crashing against its foundation. Is this crapfest sitting on the far end of the docks? I can see why it’s in such bad shape.
Inside, there are these two guys called Olar and Tryg. If you can’t guess by the names, they are part of a vaguely Nordic culture even though they have a sort of weird generic folksy Anglo accent. And of course, there are a pair of bitchy housewives Mysterious Strangers sitting in the corner, so of course Olar comes to the natural conclusion that since they’re women, they must be prostitutes. Natural conclusion, if you live in The Eye of Argon. Look, we know you’re desperate for some booty of the non-pirate variety, but seeing all women as hookers isn’t the answer.
Anyway, Tryg says that it isn’t a good idea to mention his theories because the women might rip off his testicles if they heard him. The reason why? “‘Cause one o’ them be an Elf, ‘n’ t’other’s a, a, well I don’t rightly know her kind, yet she be th’ one wi’ th’ gleamin’ swords.” I guess Elves never become prostitutes, because they are a sparkly Suey species who would never do anything except be floaty, ethereal and prettyful. And I guess the implication is that any woman who uses weapons must be a violent psycho bitch.
Olar drew his breath in through clenched teeth and glanced toward the shadows of the darkened corner as lightning again stroked nearby, thunder slapping after.
And then the rain brought out the cat ‘o nine-tails, and the hailstones brought the handcuffs. Man, thunderstorms are kinky shit!
And like any good lightning bolt, it gives us a convenient shot of the faces of those two women. Zoom in…. whoops, forgot that we’re not filming a movie. This is a book, so cinematic flourishes really aren’t necessary.
The flare briefly illuminated the outsiders’ faces: delicate, strange, exotic.
… Okay, I can sorta understand the delicate and exotic parts, since one is an elf and one is Japanese. But “strange”? One of them is basically a pretty petite chick with pointy ears. She’s not really strange and inhuman like, say Jiriki from Tad Williams’ high fantasy series – Jiriki is REALLY strange to a human, both physically and mentally.
Anyway, elf chickie-boo is fair skinned— ivory and alabaster which leaves me wondering why most elves never have, say, olive skin or dark brown skin. I mean, it’s sort of understandable in Tolkien’s works because he drew on a lot of Celtic and Nordic mythology, but most authors just give their elves a sort of luminous hippie-dippy culture. Also, she had hazel eyes aslant and chestnut locks falling to her shoulders, with pointed-tipped ears showing through – pretty standard stuff so far, although this is a pretty long lightning flash.
And then we have…. drumroll…. Samurai Chick! Yeah, she’s basically an anime character. She’s saffron skinned—tawny, ivory yellow. Okay, first of all, I have seen many Japanese people, both secondhand and in person, and I’ve never seen a saffron-skinned one. The color saffron is a deeper golden yellow like the upper band in the Indian National Flag like so
Ya see? If I saw a Japanese person with THAT color skin, I would recommend they get their asses to the nearest hospital because they are obviously dying of jaundice. Or possibly they fell into a giant curry vat. Or they’re obsessed with bad fake tan. You choose. And to further confuse us, he refers to her as ivory yellow even though an “ivory yellow” would be very very very pale yellow, and not saffron at all. Is this woman colored in stripes?
her tilted eyes glittered onyx, her short-cropped raven-black hair shone glossy . . . but this one’s ears were not tipped.
I defy you to map out that sentence. For one thing, shouldn’t it be “shone glossily”? How does anyone glitter onyx? Is it like glittering granite, glittering marble, or glittering shale?
Anyway these two women are sitting in a corner and apparently waiting for someone. Shouldn’t they actually order something? Because for the record, I hate assholes who come to a restaurant and just SIT there with the same refillable coffee cup for FOUR HOURS and never ordering anything or eating anything. Sometimes they sit on their asses and drink little cups of FREE WATER while they take advantage of the piles of blow sitting around free wi-fi and just sit around generating litter and talking talking JUST TALKING AND NEVER LEAVING…
… I’m sorry, where was I?
Anyway, samurai chick is inexplicably laying out her swords on the table without their sheaths. I suppose this is meant to be menacing, but I don’t get it – why is she doing this? Nobody’s attacking them and there’s no sign that anyone will, so why is she putting these swords on display? Is this supposed to be some sort of “I’m badass, don’t mess with me!” message? Or is the bread unusually hard and she needs her katana to cut the sandwiches?
So Olar and Tryg keep speculating what the two women are doing there – maybe they want to go somewhere on a boat, or hire a Dragonship for a vaguely Vikingesque raid on enemies… somewhere. Or maybe they just like sitting in corners of little backassward taverns.
Then he leaned forward and slurped at the foam in his mug.
No wonder nobody else comes to this hole. They don’t serve you beer, they serve you FOAM.
Then we get some rapid infodumping about elves, in case you don’t know that (like Tolkien) McKiernan has two different “types” of elves…. who are basically exactly alike in all ways except one breed is slightly taller than the other. That’s it. No ideological, cultural, social or even visual differences exist except a few inches.
This is one of those things that made logical sense in Tolkien’s world, but not in other people’s – the Silvan Elves had a history to explain why they weren’t with the other non-Silvan Elves, and without going into too much detail, it made sense there.
“Th’ Elf,” he hissed, “d’ye suppose she be one o’ them Lian, one o’ them Guardians?”
In case you’re wondering, the Lian are your average garden-variety elves. They’re about as generic as it’s possible to be, and every time a mortal takes a trip to wherever they live, we get WAY too much information about how their society works. As in, I don’t need to know what the bathrooms in Rivendell are like.
“Too short. More like them what lives in th’ deep woods—”
“Dylvana, ye mean?” interjected Yngli.
Yes, you lumpy dumbass. Unless you know of ANOTHER type of elves who live deep in the woods… wait a minute, the Lian live deep in the woods too. This is so confusing!
“Like as not.” Yngli smiled. “Then she be my size.”
Tryg looked at the grin on Yngli’s face. “P’rhaps y’r size, my smallish friend, but I wouldn’t go about getting ideas, else ye, too, are like t’ lose y’r hopes f’r future offspring, from what I hear about Dylvana females.”
“Sorry Yngli, but we’ve all taken precautions to make sure you never reproduce. Or get laid. We need a designated loser to look down on, y’know!”
Also, I know this is to reinforce that Elves Are Badass, but honestly we never see any elves getting violent over anything much unless they’re attacked by Minions Of Generic Evil. They certainly don’t seem to get violent over sexual propositions, so unless he tried to rape her or grab her boobs, I don’t see why this elf chickie would rip off his penis just because he came on to her.
“Excuse me, miss. I was wondering if I could buy you a – ”
“How dare you hit on an elf!”
“Arg, my reproductive organs! My gonads! The pain!”
“Wha’ about th’ yellow one?” sissed Olar. “D’ye suppose she be an Elf, too?”
In case anybody is wondering, “siss” is an actual word. It’s a silly and old-fashioned one, but it is real.
Anyway, Olar and Yngli toss out some racial stereotypes, and then wonder if the women are there to kill somebody or castrate them. I gotta wonder if they talk like this about all their customers, or if these guys are just too bored to care. Maybe if the women would order some damn food, something else would happen.
Then an old man comes in, and I’m pretty sure he’s meant to be really gross: water runneling down through drenched strings of unkempt, long hair fringing ’round his glistering wet bald pate, his scraggly beard and his ragged cloak dripping. I get it. He’s wet. Because it’s rainy. Next distinguishing characteristic.
“Get out, Alos!” shouted Tryg above the blow.
… they have cocaine in Generic Fantasyland? AWESOME.
The old man staggered a few more feet, a trail of wetness following.
Great, he peed on the floor. Did someone fail to housetrain Alos?
Tryg heads over to throw the old coot out, and Alos starts trying to run away to somewhere else in the tavern. Meanwhile, there’s still a storm outside, just like there was a few minutes ago. Tryg starts dragging Alos out, while telling him about six or seven times that he doesn’t want Alos in there. I can see why, because the geezer is apparently not hearing a word he says.
In the swaying lanternlight, the old man looked up at Tryg, one eye watery brown, the other, the right one, blind, the entire cornea white.
Anyone else wanna guess that the one blind eye is a Major Plot Point?
Anyway, Alos starts whining for some booze, but understandably Tryg isn’t taking any of that. Then suddenly Yngli panics for no particular reason that we can see, and Olar tells him to “‘ware.” Whatever that means..
for there just behind stood the yellow lady, her swords in hand, the blades viciously gleaming in the shifting light.
This gal is a bit over-the-top, isn’t she? I mean, does she really need to physically threaten the locals in order to have them dump a worthless old coot at their table?
She had left her cloak behind, and for the first time Tryg could see that she was not wearing a proper dress like a proper lady should
… just like every single female character in this series who does anything at all. I don’t know why dresses are the norm at all because almost nobody wears them. Also, if someone is from far enough away that you don’t even know what ethnicity they are, why are you applying YOUR cultural norms to them?
but instead was garbed in brown leather—vest and breeks and boots.
She must creak when she walks.
So we get a description of her clothes, and how she has bronze mail and a silk shirt and a headband. Like one o’ them Jordian warrior maids . . . ‘cept she ain’t no Jordian, being slanty-eyed and yellow and all. I get the impression that Tryg doesn’t get out much.
So Samurai Chick says that her “mistress” wants to speak to Alos, and Tryg tries to talk her out of it: “Lady, he be nought but a derelict, a beggarly drunk, and no good’ll come o’ this.” Uh, he’s a barkeeper. Who uses words like “derelict”? Samurai Chick then threatens him with her swords, establishing that she’s basically crazy and/or violent, and Tryg lets the coot go.
With a great show of dignity, Alos stood erect and gripped the lapels of his sodden cloak and straightened the garment
I don’t pretend to be a clothing expert, but do cloaks even HAVE lapels?
stretching his dirt-encrusted wet scrawny neck as he did so; then he turned his white eye toward his rescuer and bobbed his head and grinned a mindless, gap-toothed, ocherous smile.
Okay, Mckiernan, we get it. He’s really gross and nasty and you’d probably cross the street to avoid even smelling him. We. Get. It.
“First we’ll have us a drink, aye?”
Have we mentioned yet that Alos also really likes booze? Lots of it? Because he does. He likes booze.
So Samurai Chick puts her swords away and heads back to the table, and Alos follows her while being really gross and nasty.