And since no McKiernan book would be complete without at least ONE pair of soulmates, we're then introduced to Merrilee, who is literally the girl next door... okay, four doors away, but close enough.
Yet in these last days, Tuck saw for the first time just how black her hair was, and how blue her eyes, and how gracefully she moved;
He also noticed for the first time that she had boobs. Tuck's kinda stupid that way.
and he marvelled, for it seemed to him that he should have noticed these things before.
It's called puberty, Tuck. See, when a man and a woman... sorry, a buccen and a dammen love each other very much...
But even when she became skilled, using Tuck's old stripling bow, still at the time he'd seen only her accuracy and not her grace.
Uh, shooting an arrow is not ballroom dancing. There's only so much "grace" you can have while doing that... unless you're Legolas.
And why was it only in this last week that he realized that she alone really understood him?
Yeah, yeah, Tuck. I bet all the girls fall for that line.
But seriously, this is bullcrap. The whole paragraph MIGHT have passed muster if McKiernan hadn't tried to JAM it down our throats that THESE TWO ARE SOULMATES, MEANT TO BE, MADE FOR EACH OTHER, AND ALL THAT CLICHED CRAP. We don't need to be spoonfed that they're suddenly super-duper-in-luv RIGHT NOW before we've even gotten to know who the characters are! We don't even know the characters, so are we supposed to be impressed that X understands Y like nobody else?
Hell, this is the VERY FIRST TIME. We've met Merrillee. All we know about her is that she's a girl and Tuck has known her forever, but like a good anime protagonist, he didn't clue in on her being attractive until JUST NOW. And we're supposed to care.
Tuck is bummed because he won't be there when Merrilee finally comes of age/becomes a legal adult... and I don't think McKiernan meant for it to sound as creepy or sexual as it does. It's not QUITE as bad as Paolini or Meyer, but it is pretty bad.
So he gives her a present: Tuck handed her a small packet, and inside was a gilded comb. Of course, Merrilee is absolutely thrilled by this. Last Christmas he gave her socks and she was even more impressed by those!
Carefully Merrilee put the gift away in a large coat pocket, saving the paper and ribbon, too.
Apparently Merrilee is one of THOSE people who makes a big production of alway saving and reusing the wrapping materials... which usually get thrown away anyway.
So they sit there watching the frozen stream, and... you know, for an area that's been frozen since September, nobody seems to be very affected by the cold. Maybe I'm just intolerant of the cold, but I really can't get into romantic stuff when my feet have gone numb.
"What are you thinking, Tuck?" asked Merrilee, as the bubbles swirled by below.
"Oh, just that some people go through life like those bubbles down there, caught in a rush of events that push them thither and yon, never able to break free to choose what they would. I was also thinking that many of us are blind until we've but a short time left to see," he answered, then looked up and saw that Merrilee's eyes had misted over, but she smiled at him.
It's official: these two smoked ALL the weed.
And... we unexpectedly change scenes again, with Tuck once again sitting at home with his parents reminiscing about old times. I don't know why he didn't do this in the last scene, but it's a fairly nice scene. We also get some new insights into Danner:
"He always used to win, you know. No one could dislodge him from that center stone, Rillrock. He'd just knock us kersplash right into the Dingle-rill, shouting, 'King of the Rillrock! King of the Rillrock! Danner Bramblethorn is the King of the Rillrock!'"
Wow. Danner sounds like kind of an asshole.
Anyway it turns out that his dad was also an asshole about that rock, and Tuck asks why Danner is hell-bent on being the best at everything. Offhand I'd guess that it has something to do with his dad being so freakishly competitive and probably forcing his son to be the best at everything and NO WIRE HANGERS, but whatever.
"Like sire, like bucco, I always say, Tuck," answered Burt.
Does that mean Burt is an idiot too?
"No, Dad, I mean, what makes people the way they are? What makes me," Tuck paused, then found the word he was searching for, "easygoing, while Danner is, uh..."
And who calls themselves "easygoing"? Other people call you that! Also, why is he bringing this up now, when he's only got a short time left at home before he spends months away from his family?
So the family has a non-combative little argument about whether personality is nature or nurture, and.... no real conclusion is reached, and the conversation just ends without any warning. Well. That was pointless.
They sat and gazed at the fire for moments as the flames twined and writhed and danced
Those naughty dirty little flames!
Anyway, we're told in detail about what a rocking chair, whittling and embroidery all sound like. Then Burt brings up that he's seen some Thornwalkers at the stable leading ponies... and no, I don't think we're told why. He also asks "You all set, Tuck? Tomorrow's the day" and Tuck's mom cries. This is actually a pretty well-written scene.
And with no warning, suddenly it's the next morning. I really wish that Mckiernan would use some dividing symbol to show when these "mini-chapters" are over.
Dawn found grey-cloaked Tuck wandering
Who is Dawn and why should we care about her?
So there are a lot of people there to say goodbye to the handful of adolescents that are leaving, even ones from other towns. And... there's no real details about how people are acting, even the new Thornwalkers. They're just kind of THERE.
"Hey dad, how come I'm the one going off to fight Wolves and protect the border? Why aren't you coming too?"
"Shut up, you ungrateful little twit! Don't you know that young inexperienced soldiers are the best kind? Besides, Daddy can't be more than six miles away from the nearest supply of booze!"
"I hate you, Dad."
And in case you're not bored enough, the Mayor sallied forth into a speech of indeterminate length. Uh, unfinished speeches are by definition of indeterminate length. Anyway, we don't really hear what the speech is about, which is just as well because it would probably sound a lot like Bilbo's party speech, ie the Mayor would start telling them that he doesn't like them half as well as he would like, etc.
and Warrows do love speeches—short ones, that is.
So get Bilbo for the job.
So the mayor rambles incoherently about... stuff. Eventually he shuts up and brings in Old Bilbo... er, Barlo to make ANOTHER speech. Amazingly, the people don't immediate riot.
"Folks, it's time these here brave lads," Yay!—he was interrupted by a lengthy cheer—"time these brave lads were on their way. There's no call to delay them further, 'cause the Thornwalkers (Hooray!), the Thornwalkers has got crossings to guard (Rah!), borders to protect (Rah!), and Wolves to repel." Hip! Hip! Hoorah!
Uhhhh... not quite sure what they're cheering for, because he just described what their JOBS are. Also, all those interjecting cheers are making me wish that I were reading Lord of the Rings. Specifically Bilbo's birthday party.
"And they can't do them duties if they've got ter stand around here listening to speech making and cheering crowds!" Rah! Rah! Old Barlo!
"Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to the Mystery Shack so I can rip off more tourists."
Uhhhh... wait, so they're cheering for the grumpy old guy who trains the people who are actually going off to risk their asses? And... if they can't do their duties while they're sitting there listening to cheering crowds, WHY IS THE CROWD CHEERING?!
So all the noobs join up with their respective guides, and Tuck and Co. are with an emerald-eyed Warrow with fair hair who introduces himself as Patrel Rushlock... which makes me think of Parsi snack food. Also, he's a hobbity hobbit-ripoff, really short.
With a deep bow, Tuck introduced himself and named his companions.
... okay, I don't know why he's bowing, but whatever. Also, his companions probably have names already.
Patrel was small—even shorter than Tarpy, who, for the first time ever, felt as if he simply towered over another young buccan, though he was but one inch different.
Tarpy's kind of a loser, isn't he?
So Patrel tells them what to do, and warns them, "But heed this: keep your bows and quivers. We may need them before we come to Ford Spindle." Wanna bet that they get attacked on the road from out of nowhere and somebody dies? Probably Hob or Tarpy, since we don't know anything about either of them, and Tuck is the Designated Hero and Danner is the Grumpy Sidekick.
"If you have a flute or pipe, or any other tune maker, keep it, too, and we'll have a ditty or three to cheer us along the way."
- A ditty or three? Does "two" not exist in this fantasy world?
- Uh, instruments are not "tune makers." Tunes are melodies and instruments cannot make melodies by themselves.
- DEAR LORD, NOT SINGING! I already suffered through Christopher Paolini's attempts at poetry and I CAN'T TAKE ANYMORE!
Tuck then saw that a six-stringed lute was strapped across Patrel's shoulders to hang at his back.
So... he's only just noticing that the guy has an instrument on his back? That's not something you easily overlook.
So everybody's ready to leave and they're saying byebye to all the relatives and girlfriends... who are given fantasyesque titles other than stuff like "young girls" or "dads" or "grandmothers": All turned to say that one last goodbye to young dammen and maidens, sires and dams, brothers and sisters, grandams and granthers, aunts and uncles and other relatives, friends and neighbors, and additional assorted buccen and dammen who had come to see them off and who were collected in knots and rings and clumps, Warrows with stricken and worried and crying faces, and cheery and smiling ones, and proud and stern and grim looks, also.
HOLY CRAP, I think that sentence made my brain bleed. Commas and "ands" are not replacements for periods!
Also, how do you "collect" in a "knot?" Are these Warrows also contortionists?
So we have a fairly cliche scene where Bert and Tulip say goodbye, with Tuck's dad telling him to kick ass and the mom telling him to wear warm clothes and eat enough. And Tuck... doesn't really react. I mean, he hugs his dad but we have no idea what he's thinking or feeling. He could be annoyed, bored, upset, in denial.... just about anything.
A friend gave him a pouch of Downdell leaf, "The best there is";
I think I'm getting numb to all the crap ripped off from JRR Tolkien.
another friend handed him a new white-clay pipe, "Smoke it well";
And if he smokes it badly, then what?
while a third gave him a small tin box with flint and steel and shavings of touchwood, "Keep your tinder dry."
Well, that's a.... random gift. I mean, all the other gifts seem a bit less utilitarian especially since I imagine the Thornwalkers get tinderboxes as a part of their job. Also, why does this guy need to tell him to keep it dry? I mean, doesn't he KNOW that?
And what is missing from this pleasant picture? Why, the bittersweet parting from a love interest, of course!
Merrilee Holt, who had shyly hung back, squared her shoulders, stepped forward, and held an elden silver locket up to Tuck.
I'm going to make a wild guess here and say that "elden" probably means "really old."
"Would you wear my— favor?" the Warrow maiden asked.
Uhhhhhh... Weren't medieval favors supposed to represent that a guy was fighting on behalf of some woman? He's not doing that.
So she puts it on him and OH SHOCK kisses him, which causes some of the kids nearby to start whooping and presumably catcalling. She also calls him "my buccaran"... and no, I don't know what that means. I suppose this is supposed to be touching, but I've seen this scene in way too many movies. Plus, not knowing what the terminology means is just distracting.
And some cousin of his comes bouncing in and randomly hands him a journal complete with pencil. "Then when you get back you can read to us of all your adventures, hey?" Presumably this is to indicate that something exciting will happen, but in real life, this would make ABSOLUTELY SURE that nothing interesting would happen. Ever. At all. It's like washing your car or carrying an umbrella.
"All right, Willy," said Tuck, stuffing the gift into his jerkin along with the leaf and pipe and tinder-box.
Traditional jerkins don't have pockets. I'm just sayin'. Tuck must look pregnant with all the stuff he's cramming into his top.
So we have the usual final farewells and departure through the cheering crowd and DAMN THIS IS GETTING BORING. The crowd is cheering oh so happily as the heroes go by and blah blah blah.
all became silent except for the creak of leather saddles and harness, the muted sounds of pony hooves stepping in the snow, and an occasional muffled snuffle from one, or perhaps four, of the riders.
... so, only one OR four riders could possibly cry? Two can't cry, or three, just one or four? Also, I imagine Patrel is sitting there thinking, "Hell, it's going to be a long trip."