[Six Months Past]
Thanks. We know already.
Alamar rummaged about in a cupboard, grumbling, “Herb tea. Herb tea. Ha! In the back—dratted mice.”
A smile flickered across Jinnarin’s face. Farrix said that Alamar was eccentric, yet surely the Mage doesn’t believe that mice conspire against him, hiding the tea.
McKiernan… don’t explain the joke. You ruined it.
So she makes an incredibly tiny fire in his hearth, while Alamar makes tea, then stomps off to his astrolabe.
After a moment—“Blast!”
“She put her top back on!”
No, he actually missed some… thing that he was supposed to be watching. Uh, why isn’t he using a telescope, then? An astrolabe isn’t used for observation, it’s used to locate and measure celestial bodies, triangulate, and other stuff like that.
Also, Alamar’s house is a total sty.
Alamar hobbled to a large, cluttered, rolltop desk and cast the journal down among scrolls and tomes and scattered papers, pausing long enough to jerk a parchment from a pigeonhole and scowl at it a moment, then roll it up and jam it back in.
“Dammit! My Rosie the Riveter porn has gone missing!”
Then he spends about FOREVER making tea.
“Have you got a cup?” The Mage filled the teapot with steaming water.
Fumbling through the packs that Rux had borne, she withdrew a carven acorn, a handle affixed to one side, a base attached to the bottom.
… this sounds very cute, but acorns aren’t very durable. Or carvable. They’re just meant to contain a seed, so they rot and/or break really easily.
I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it would have been better if she had a little cup made of anything else.
So Alamar keeps making tea and blaming mice, and for some reason this makes the fox really, really jumpy. If this was all it takes to make him nervous, things aren’t looking good for ANYTHING THAT HAPPENS AFTER THIS.
“Look here, Pysk, you ought to do something about that—that dog of yours. Why, he’s as jumpy as a wild beast.”
- … is he really that dumb?
- No, seriously. This character is supposed to be a wise, ancient and learned Mage.
- And yet he apparently can’t tell that foxes are wild beasts.
- Or the difference between a dog and a fox.
See, THIS is a dog.
This is a fox.
Now there are resemblances, especially since they both belong to Canidae. But you can tell them apart pretty easily. Even domesticated foxes, which are the most doglike ones, are pretty clearly foxes.
I could understand if this was a wolf, because wolves and dogs are technically the same species, and some dogs look almost exactly like wolves. But I can’t think of any dogs who look like foxes.
“All right, now, what’s all this about Farrix missing?”
If you just spent 20 minutes making tea, you clearly don’t care THAT much.
To reinforce that nobody is in a hurry, Jinnarin spends the next few minutes gawping at Alamar. We’re told that Mages look like the happy medium of Elves and humans.
“Are you just going to sit there and stare at me, or are you instead going to tell me about Farrix?”
Good question. She isn’t acting very worried.
So Jinnarin tells GrumpyMage all the stuff that has already happened, and that she doesn’t have a lot of useful information except an estimation by Farrix. It also turns out that his fox Rhu came home about two months later with a note.
The eld Mage peered at the wee document, squinting his eyes. “Faugh! Too small. I can’t read this.”
… why did EITHER of them think he could read something that small?
So the letter says that he built himself a little coracle and plans to go out and investigate in the ocean, and that the fox returning means I am off on another of my ventures. Honestly, that seems really stupid. He’s the size of a Ken doll and so far we don’t see any useful magical powers that could keep him safe on a tiny self-propelled boat with limited supplies.
I have told Rhu to wait awhile, a day or so. If he returns without me, you will know that I am off on another of my ventures.
I love you, Farrix
P.S. Don’t clean under my bed. I’m not hiding any magazines there.
P.P.S. I’m going to mail you my dirty laundry.
So after Farrix was gone for most of a year, they followed Rhu back and found nothing.
“Hmph!” grunted Alamar. “How d’ you know that he took you to the right place? I mean, it’s not as if they are smart and all, like Wolves. Instead, what we are talking about are foxes! So, how d’ you know he got anywhere near?”
Outrage flushed Jinnarin’s face. “They are our companions! And trustworthy! Farrix’s Rhu wouldn’t make a mistake in something as important as that.” She glanced down at Rux asleep before the fire, as if to assure herself that he had not overheard this—this slur against Foxkind.
- Actually, foxes are fairly intelligent because they belong to Canidae.
- But their smarts are not really useful for humans (or humanlike creatures) because they’re focused on survival, not on figuring out what humans want them to.
- Being “trustworthy” doesn’t make you smart or reliable. It just means you can be trusted. Not that you’re competent.
- Jinnarin, foxes don’t understand speech. They’re animals.
- And no, we never see any indication that these are special magic foxes. They’re just FOXES.
“Set aside your doubt, Alamar—Rhu led us to the right place all right.”
Alamar, too, scowled down at Rux, then turned his attention once more to the Pysk. “And…?”
“And nothing. There was no sign of Farrix.”
So she knows Rhu took them to the right place… because there is no evidence to actually support it.
It turns out that Alamar owes Farrix a life-debt or whatever because Farrix once saved him from a boar. And since Farrix is clearly an idiot, he didn’t bother to TELL the Mage his name even though he took care of him for an ENTIRE WEEK.
A great grin spread across his face, transforming it from one of irascibility into one of discovered joy. Catching up the pot, he splashed more tea into Jinnarin’s acorn, overflowing it, the Pysk scrambling back and away from the spreading puddle. Not noticing the spill, Alamar dropped a great dollop of honey into the tiny cup, the sweet glob splashing out the rest of the tea and oozing over and down the sides.
So… making a huge mess is how he expresses joy? Thank God he didn’t win the lottery, or his house might have to be cleansed with fire.
“And you never knew his name?”
Alamar shook his head. “I called him Pysk. It seemed enough at the time. Then he was gone and it was too late….I always wondered, though, just who Pysk was—”
… and for some reason, in that WHOLE WEEK spent entirely around each other, Farrix didn’t bother to say, “Uh, my name is Farrix. So please, call me that.”
A look of indignation filled Jinnarin’s face. “He was Farrix! Best of the Fox Riders!”
And what, she thinks this makes him famous?
“And it’s a wonder that he stopped to help anyone as rude as you. Imagine, not even knowing your benefactor’s name! And you slandered his fox, too!”
- Well, Farrix clearly didn’t give a shit, or he would have introduced himself.
- Or does she think that Alamar should have telepathically pulled it from the ether?
- And oh noes, he totally slandered that fox by saying that it might have made a mistake.
- I don’t know why this should have kept Farrix from helping him in the past, since that happened JUST NOW.
This scene is important thematically, though. It establishes the two important themes of this book:
- Jinnarin is a high-strung idiot who never shuts up.
- Jinnarin and Alamar fight all the time. ALL. THE. TIME.
Jinnarin throws a hissy fit, and Alamar clearly feels bad for… some reason. To McKiernan’s credit, nobody starts laughing hysterically at something not-funny.
Alamar finally asks the obvious question: “Has Farrix disappeared like this before?” The answer, of course, is yes. We know this, because McKiernan already told us.
“Oh yes,” answered Jinnarin softly. “Several times in the millennia I’ve known him.” She looked up at the Mage, and her eyes filled with joy. “Farrix is, well, he is filled with curiosity and cannot seem to let go until he has an answer to whatever it is that he wants to know.”
“He’s always abandoning me for years at a time and giving me no idea if he’s dead or alive, no idea how to reach him, and no idea when he’ll be back. He’s SO wonderful!”
I get the feeling that Jinnarin is one of those annoying people who stands around in parties, loudly talking about the many virtues of her darling hubby and how wonderful he is… while he bangs a caterer upstairs.
“Oh yes. Seasons and seasons, in fact. Why, once he was gone for seventy-two summers.”
Yep. He’s totally having an affair. I don’t care how immortal they are – any guy who spends THAT long away from home is searching for some strange.
“I told you: Farrix always said that if ever there was trouble, to come and see you.”
“And just what makes you think that there’s trouble this time?”
Jinnarin took a deep breath. “Well, Alamar, this time, you see, I’ve been having these dreams.”
“It’s a dream of a giant flaming eye and Elijah Wood with a gold ring, and a world that strangely resembles ours but is a LOT more 3-D…”