So now we’re at Blackstein Lodge. Egil is still passed out from alcohol and shock, and Arin is looking at a fire and trying to <see> just who the one-eyed man was, to no avail. In case you haven’t read other McKiernan books, using those little <>s means that something is MAGIK!, and so I assume that when she stares into the fire she’s trying to… magically look at something.
Oh, and since we haven’t been told in the first two sentences that Alos is really gross and yucky, Aiko is in the next room scrubbing him while he screams like an overexcited toddler.
Aiko scrubbed the old man, hauling him shrieking from tub to tub as the water in each became too filthy, the lodge boy running back and forth, bearing fresh hot water after dumping the old out through the trough of the bathing room.
This is a pretty luxurious hotel they’re at, especially considering that this is supposed to be a medieval world. Not only do they have a spacious bedroom area, but they also have a BATHROOM which is large enouugh to have its own drain system, room for several tubs of water, and friendly employees to help you bathe the homeless guy you dragged in. Does it also have golden faucets and porcelain tile?
So Arin has apparently been sitting there NOT having a vision, while the poor lodge boy is forced to help Aiko bathe the gross old guy and burn his clothes. Yeah, apparently they have a greatroom too. This medieval lodge suite is bigger than any hotel suite I’VE ever been in!
So then Thar comes in with a sack, and announces that he’s gotten the various crap Arin requested for her herbal painkiller drug. Good grief, Elf Chick really isn’t being very helpful, is she? she’s been sitting on her ass all night while Thar does her pharmeceutical shopping and Aiko tries to scrub a gross old man. I know she’s supposedly trying to “see” but we later discover that she can’t really MAKE the visions come, meaning that this entire attempt is pointless.
He set the bag on the small table next to the chifforobe.
Just how many pieces of furniture does this medieval hotel have?! This is starting to resemble Carvahall!
From the next room there came a sodden thunk! and the yowling ceased.
“Aiko?” called Arin.
“He tried to get away, Dara, but slipped and hit his head,” came the reply.
…. HA. Funny. Because she hit him. It’s funny.
Arin says that she’s gonna teach Thar how to make a general anesthetic, I mean sleeping draught… and a crude painkiller. Again, how did this guy manage to become a healer if he can’t even knock someone out?! I mean, do they give the “healer” label to anybody who can put a band-aid on?
Arin began laying out the contents of the bag: harf root, laka reed, soda stone, oil of cod . . .
Cod liver oil? The complex elven remedies of the Ye Olde Ethereal Ripped-Off Elves involve cod liver oil?
Do I even need to mock that?
So we get two moments related to Alos after that: the lodge kid comes over and asks for various mouth hygiene items, and Thar mentions that Alos isn’t seriously hurt, but he doesn’t see how he got that bump from slipping and falling. Haha, he doesn’t get that Aiko whacked him on the head. Hilarious. So Arin shows Thar how to make a sleeping draught, while Aiko continues to abuse Alos by stuffing stuff in his mouth.
Thankfully, we don’t get a grind-by-grind description of the stuff. Instead, we cut back to Arin trying again to “see”. By this time, Aiko has finished scrubbing Alos and he’s asleep, although McKiernan makes sure to mention that he’s flatulent. Thank you for telling us.
Time for a sexy Samurai Chick description!
In one corner with her back to the wall Aiko sat in a lotus position on a square of tatami, the woven straw mat from her family home in Ryodo and borne with her throughout her travels.
- But is Samurai Chick a Buddhist or a Shintoist? We need to know!
- Just to be nitpicky, most tatami mats are used for home flooring and division.
- So the Mithgarian Japan is called Ryodo… I honestly don’t know more than a few words of Japanese, but I actually googled the name Ryodo and found that for the most part, it’s either a personal name or part of the “Bunbu Ryodo” (The Way of Pen and Sword) practice. I’m not saying that McKiernan’s use of it is incorrect because I don’t know enough about the language, but it is a little odd.
Her hands curled laxly on her thighs; her eyes were closed, though she was not asleep but resting in deep meditation.
And after smelling that much concentrated BO, only meditation will make the nightmares go away.
She was dressed in a black silken chemise, and the tattoo of an ornate red tiger could just be seen glowering balefully out from between her breasts. Her leather-and-bronze armor was racked in the chifforobe, but on the mat before her lay her two gleaming swords. Her hair was still wet from her own bath, and her glowing skin held the sheen of gold, for she had needed to scour herself free from the taint of the old man’s layers of filth.
- Samurai Chick is a leetle OCD isn’t she?
- Just how low-cut is this chemise?! Shouldn’t she be wearing more utilitarian underwear that doesn’t show off her boobs?
- Why does she have her swords UNSHEATHED in front of her? It doesn’t seem very smart to do that.
So then Egil sorta wakes up and starts freaking out. He mumbles the names of… I guess they’re supposed to be shipmates of his. Then he passes out.
An unspoken question in her eyes, Aiko looked across at the Dylvana.
“Will you marry me?”
“Orri said he had ill dreams,” whispered Arin.
And thank you, Captain Obvious. We couldn’t tell he was having a nightmare unless you TOLD us.
So Arin sits up all night, and apparently Aiko meditates all night. Yo, McKiernan, meditation and sleep are not interchangeable. You can’t just sit up all night and forgo sleep and be fine!
The next morning, Arin stood and stretched, then stepped to the bedside and again measured Egil’s pulse. As she did so she looked down at his face only to find his good blue eye fixed upon her, his gaze now filled with sanity and not berserker madness.
… wait, she went over and took his pulse without even glancing to see if he was awake? That’s… a little weird. Most people would notice “Oh, he’s awake!” before they started fumbling around for his pulse. It’s even weirder if she took it from his neck.
“Am I dead, Lady? Gone beyond the sky?”
Ann smiled. “Nay, Egil, thou art yet in Mithgar.”
Egil put his hand to his bandaged head. “I should have suspected. I am in too much pain to be dead.”
So… if you knew you weren’t dead, why would you ask anyway? Dead people usually don’t feel EXCRUCIATING PAIN from a destroyed eye and huge facial gash.
The answer is that he asked as a segue into this comment:
“Though you are the vision of an engel.”
“Engel?” Arin’s face clouded momentarily. Then she laughed. “Oh, I see: one who lives beyond the sky.”
Wow, I think I just went into diabetic shock from that comment. Also, this remark about her looking like an angel is pretty weird. For two reasons.
- The word “engel” is an old English form of “angel. And… this guy is a pseudo-Viking. It would make more sense if he called her a valkyrja, wouldn’t it?
- It just… doesn’t fit into the cosmology of this world. It might make sense if this was like Tad Williams’ Memory Sorrow and Thorn series, where the dominant religion is basically Christianity with a few details changed. Or Middle-Earth, which is basically a Roman Catholic cosmology with the addition of some fiction creatures. Angels are a Judeo-Christian concept, so it would actually fit.
The problem is, there’s nothing even vaguely Judeo-Christian about McKiernan’s worldbuilding. It’s obviously a polytheistic world with Adon, Elwydd, Gyphon and a bunch of other gods, and there is NEVER a mention of any lesser supernatural creatures that are even COMPARABLE to angels.
What’s more, everybody believes in these gods. EVERYBODY. Okay, there are one or two nods to very remote cultures having other gods like in Fantasy African Tribes, but it’s pretty obvious that these aren’t for real and usually they end up believing in Adon and the other real gods too. Which isn’t too hard, since McKiernan’s gods can actually be MET and spoken to face-to-face by anyone with High Plane blood, meaning any elves can go saunter up and talk to him. No actual faith required for any elves, or for anyone who trusts elves (which is everybody on the side of good).
In fact, even the bad guys belong to the same belief system! They don’t FOLLOW the Good Gods but they do believe they exist even if they follow the Evil God. And it’s implied that the gods are actually worshiped by all cultures, which means that everybody in this entire world basically has the same vague religion.
So that means that pretty much nobody has any beliefs that really vary…. yet the pseudo-Vikings believe in angels! This makes NO SENSE AT ALL!
“Where am I? Who are you? Last I remember, the damned Jutes were pursuing and flaming arrows were thick as flies on a dung pile.”
Arin began preparing a potion, adding tepid water to a white powder in a cup and then stirring. “Thou didst fall to thy fever.”
… that’s… not an answer, lady. He just said he couldn’t remember anything since the battle, so that means he doesn’t remember getting hurt and getting sick. And it doesn’t tell him where he is or who YOU are.
Amazingly, Egil doesn’t demand to know what happens. I guess he has psychic powers. He asks if the blade was poisoned, and Arin says that she thinks the blade was just dirty.
“Thar? Healer Thar? Then, Lady, I am in Mørkfjord?” Egil looked ’round the room.
“Aye. In Blackstein Lodge.”
Egil’s eye widened
“OH SHIT! I hate Blackstein Lodge!”
at the sight of Aiko sitting as still as a statue of gold
We don’t need to have Aiko’s skin tone spelled out to us every time she’s mentioned. Plus, this simile doesn’t work because she’s wearing clothes that are NOT gold.
Actually, he’s amazed that she’s traveling with a knife-happy Asian chick and a creepy old man, so he asks who she is. Arin introduces herself: “I am Arin, Dylvana of Darda Erynian, the Great Greenhall to the south.”
A small nitpick: how can a forest (which is what a “Darda” refers to) be a hall of any kind?
For the first time Egil saw what she was. “Elf,” he whispered half to himself.
Yes, he’s been staring at her for the past few minutes, but he failed to notice her BIG POINTED EARS and the fact that she’s half his size. We have a genius on our hands.
Arin canted her head toward Aiko. “My companion is Aiko, Ryodoan by birth, past Warrior of the Mages of Black Mountain, but now in service to me.”
… “past warrior”? I honestly don’t know if that’s technically wrong, but… it sounds wrong. Would the word “formerly a warrior serving” have been too much?
Then Arin gives him a painkiller potion, which is apparently necessary because aside from his injuries, he’s also got a helluva hangover.
“Good,” grunted Egil. “My head is pounding and my stomach churns as if I’d been on a ten-day drunk; my forehead and cheek are sore to the touch; and my left eye burns as if it has been dipped in a molten pit of Hèl.”
I want to hit my head against a book of Norse Mythology. Hèl is a real mythological name, but it was not a place of suffering for sinners or anything like that. It wasn’t even a PLACE, but a person’s name – the woman who ruled over the underworld (called Helheim). And even if you stretch the name to include the place she lived in… there weren’t any molten pits there.
So Arin drops the bomb on him then: his face was cut open and sewn shut, and his eye has been destroyed. Egil… takes this very well, actually.
Egil took a deep breath and gradually let it out, and handed her the empty cup. “Then it is as I feared: I am now Egil One-Eye.”
So… no grief? No yelling? No being upset? Just… giving yourself a nickname and instantly coming to terms with it?
Okay. Then there’s a rather pointless scene where Egil falls asleep, and Thar shows up with a giant deluxe breakfast
Thar looked at the yellow woman in black chemise, a baleful red tiger staring out, then said, “Would ye break y’r fast wi’ me?”
So he’s staring at her boobs? It adds a whole new dimension to that comment.
He goes and checks on Egil, and Aiko gets mad when he calls Arin “my dear.” Alos wakes up and starts freaking out when he sees Aiko, then discovers that his clothes are gone.
“My clothes! Someone has stolen my clothes!” he sniveled. Ineffectual in his modesty and still on his hands and knees, back to the pallet he scuttled, where he snatched up his blanket and, struggling, wrapped it ’round his scrawny self,
Now I have the image of Alos stark naked in my head. There is not enough bleach in the world to get it out.
So Arin asks Alos to come have breakfast with them, and of course Alos first asks: “Be there any morning ale? No?” His countenance fell, then perked up again. “Wine? A hearty breakfast wine perhaps?” Seriously, I don’t think it’s possibly to survive on a liquid diet alone, but apparently Alos is supposed to. He never eats anything, he just chugs down anything with a higher alcohol level than hand wipes. So he whines about how there’s nothing more than tea.
“Wilt thou join us, friend?”
“Friend?” Alos looked up at her in surprise.
NO. OH FUCKING NO. No more friend discussions! I’m still scarred by the last one I had to flog!
So Alos reluctantly agrees to have breakfast with them, and almost has another scuffle with Aiko because he mentions her “torturing ways”, with way too many details about what he thinks she did.
Egil nodded. “Aye, I would at that. But first I’ve got to relieve myself.”
Speaking of too many details, this is something that crops up more and more as time goes on in McKiernan’s publishing history. Peeing, I mean.
Since he’s been sick, Aiko and Arin have to hold him upright, and we’re told that he’s eight inches taller than Aiko and more than a foot taller than Arin. I don’t know WHY we’re being told this.
They were scanty compared to him, though at a lean eleven stone six he was by no means heavy. To the contrary, he was slender and lithe and muscled well enough.
This is starting to sound kinda Stuey. He’s even got an appropriate scar with the cool factor, especially when he gets a patch.
So he wants them to go away while he pees, which isn’t really a good idea since he can’t possibly stand on his own right now.
Aiko sighed. “Would you rather collapse, orokana ningen?”
Uhhhhh…. this is why you shouldn’t include foreign phrases in a book unless you’re 110% sure what they mean. The “orokana” part is correct, but “ningen” doesn’t mean “man.” She just called him a “foolish human”… which implies that she’s not, even though she obviously is.
So he tries to pee unaided, and almost falls down, so the girls have to help him.
Following breakfast Egil fell asleep again, and Thar was called away by a message from the widow Karl.
This would be more interesting if we knew who that was. Also, generally when you talk about “the Widow Somethingorother,” you capitalize “widow.”
And apparently Arin ordered a fresh set of clothes for Alos. Apparently she ordered them LAST NIGHT even though most of it was spent doing surgery and trying to see the future. Did she also cure the common cold while she was at it? So Alos gets dressed, preens a little while in front of the mirror, and wants to leave, but
Aiko shook her head in disgusted disbelief, but Arin said, “Nay, Alos, I would have thee stay.”
“Most of the time, people are trying to get me to go away. This is a word I haven’t heard in years!”
“Aye. There’s a tale I would tell thee, but after Egil wakens, for I would have him hear it as well.”
“There is much I must infodump upon thee.”
So Arin bribes him to stay by offering him some ale until Egil wakes up and she can tell us what the hell is going on.
So they spend the rest of the morning… not doing much at all. Alos drinks and whines, Arin sits on her ass, and Aiko does sword stuff in the courtyard. Good thing they don’t need it for horses or new guests or anything.
Disgruntled, Alos blew his nose into his new kerchief. As he examined the result, he said, “But I’m certain that my friends at the Stag would surely have given me four or five by now.”
McKiernan, are you trying to make me puke? Even the most dedicated alcoholic isn’t THIS gross. Seriously, I’m amazed he hasn’t crapped on the floor and rolled in it.
So Egil wakes up, pees again and asks to see his reflection.
Egil looked at the raw sword wound. “Ugly.”
“Don’t worry, the plastic surgeon says he can change your nose to fit your face… oh wait, you meant the scar.”
Egil glanced up at Arin. “A patch. I need an eye patch. What color would you say? Red? Yellow? Something bright, regardless. Something the Jutes will not forget when Egil One-Eye returns and wreaks his vengeance on them.”
Seriously, why is this guy so calm about it? He almost died ONE DAY AGO and had really gruesome guerilla surgery in the middle of a bar, and he found out just a few hours ago that he LOST AN EYE. So what’s his reaction? “I need a cool-looking eye patch!”
“Mayhap thou wilt postpone thy vengeance once thou hast heard a tale I will tell.”
“It’s called The Tale of Mrs. Tiggywinkle. It’s about an anthropomorphic hedgehog who does laundry.”
Egil isn’t really interested in anything other than getting revenge, Alos is only interested in getting pickled, and Aiko is pissed because Egil keeps calling Arin “engel.”
Aiko rose up from her tatami and stalked over to Egil’s bedside. “Wounded you may be, perhaps still fevered, yet you will give the Dara her proper due and address her accordingly.”
“Calling her “engel” is out of the question! Call my girlfriend that again, and I shall inspire another castration joke!”
Only Alos was in position to see the glimmer of disappointment flicker across Arin’s face,
“Damn, I was hoping to have someone ogle me other than Samurai Chick!”
They call for more booze, and I have the feeling that soon I’m going to need it too. And now, Arin is FINALLY getting ready to explain the damn plot, and after five chapters of on-the-bar surgery and descriptions of Alos wetting himself, it can’t happen soon enough.
“I have a tale to tell and I would have ye both hear it, for it has to do with the very fate of Mithgar, or so I deem.”
“I’m the only one who deems it that way. The other elves think I’m overreacting.”
“Aiko and I have traveled far to come unto Mørkfjord to look for a one-eyed man—”
“Or woman,” interjected Aiko.
“Aye, or woman,” amended Arin.
Why stop there? Check if anyone has a one-eyed dog. A one-eyed cat. A one-eyed guinea pig. A pet Cyclops. A copy of One Eyed Jacks. Mike Wazowski. The possibilties are ENDLESS!
“You came looking for us?” asked Egil, glancing over at Alos.
“Looking for one of thee, it would seem.”
Again, this is narrowing it down way too far. It turns out that the prophecy in question is REALLY REALLY VAGUE and really could refer to ANYTHING. In fact, McKiernan jettisons the whole “it’s a person” thing pretty quickly and establishes that it might be a person, or it might not.
Alos looked up from his cup. “What’s this all about, m’Lady? This fate of Mithgar?”
“That hasn’t been in danger in a whole week!”
” ‘Tis about a green stone, Alos, the Green Stone of Xian.”
- How the hell do you pronounce that? Zi-an? Shyan? Was it spelled that way to mess with readers?
- That sounds REALLY anticlimactic when you think about it. “What’s this fate-of-the-world thing about?” “It’s about a rock.” “… okay.”
Egil looked at Aiko. “Xian? Why, that’s where Black Mountain is said to lie. That’s where the Mages live.”
“There and on the Island of Rwn,” replied Arin.
Because mages wouldn’t be cool if they didn’t live in remote hard-to-reach areas.
He turned to Aiko. “I need another drink.”
I know how you feel.
“Perhaps,” said Egil, bringing his own cup to his lips and taking a sip, “perhaps your tale would go swifter if you told us the whole of the story and we did not interrupt.”
Arin nodded ” ‘Tis a long tale, yet one worth the fullness of it, else ye will not be able to judge if ye will join us in our mission.”
This is going to be a very, very, very long snark. Alos, pass me some of that booze. Seriously, this is the flashback of your nightmares, going on for what feels like dozens and dozens of
As Arin stared at the flames of the fire, gathering her thoughts, quietness descended, and only the muted sounds of the lodge broke the still: dishes clattering in the kitchen; laughter from the greatroom; an axe hewing wood outside; and other such. In the room a burning knot in the fireplace popped,
And then everyone yelled, “GET ON WITH THE FUCKING STORY!” If we’re going to get buttraped with a huge flashback that could easily have made a separate novella, at least DO IT. Don’t sit there and stare at the fire for no real reason while everybody else listens to dishwashing.
So Arin tells us what anybody with eyes has already figured: “I am a flame seer, and at times divinations come as I peer deeply into fire: visions, redes, oracular pronouncements.” I also peer deeply into the thesaurus!
“They herald that which has happened, that which is happening now, and that which will happen someday.”
- I don’t think you can “herald” something that has already happened.
- What’s the point of having mystical predictions of stuff that either is happening now and that you can’t do anything about, or that has already happened and can’t be changed?
- Aside from easy exposition?
- And I’ve seen before that visions of what’s going on now is… useless. Really useless.
“These Seeings are most often significant, as if only things of importance are great enough to be Seen.”
“Occasionally you get a Seer who keeps having visions of lost keys, forgetting to buy broccoli, and impending in-law visits. They don’t tend to be as important as me.”
“At times I See events which are joyous and at other times quite grim— calamitous, a catastrophe of great scope.”
“Like when they decided to make Battlefield Earth. I had nightmares about John Travolta with mossy teeth and dreadlocks for MONTHS.”
“But my visions are mysterious, cloaked in confusion, and to fathom their meanings is most difficult; they are riddles to resolve, and oft I fail.”
This is mainly because that way the prophecies don’t have to stick solidly to the actual plot, and the author can just take care of it in thousands of chronological years.
“I cannot command what I will See, for these divinations all come at their own whim; I govern them not.”
“Which is why I go through so many pairs of socks. Otherwise I’d See where the lost ones are, dammit!”
“Most of the time when I gaze into the flames, nothing at all will appear;”
… except those little sparkly flashes you see after you’ve been staring at something too bright.
“Such was I doing, staring into the flames, when I beheld the horror of the Green Stone. …”
“It was GREEN! It was A STONE! Isn’t that horrifying?”