So we pick up the next morning, when the Warrows are stuffing their faces and talking a lot. So yeah, standard.
Tuck, Danner, and Patrel had spoken to all at length the previous day upon returning from the King, and the news they bore fired the furnaces of speculation. But though the ore they smelted was high-grade, much dross was produced for every pure ingot.
I think McKiernan just lost control of that very weird metaphor.
The gathering War dominated all thought, and the conversations turned ever to it, as iron pulled by lodestone.
... only to follow it up with an even weirder metaphor.
Also, I'm not quite sure why it's so surprising that their conversations would be all about the war, since they are in this place BECAUSE of the war, and they're almost certain to lose. I'm not sure why talking about the war they've come there to fight is comparable to "dross."
Patrel, Tuck and Danner are all called to see Vidron, so they leave the DeadMeat Brigade to their dinner and meander off through the needlessly complex castle. You know, castles actually were pretty simple structures. They weren't full of these weird passages that go up/down/through/under everything.
See that? Real-life castle. Not complicated. It could be made out of Legos. A PALACE could be complicated, but that's not the same thing as a castle.
Vidron is apparently having an argument with somebody about the Wobbits: "I say, Nay!" cried a voice. "I remind you, I and my Men are not in your command. Instead I take my instructions directly from the King and none else. And we are sworn to but one duty, and that is to protect the person of the High King. I will not remove any from that charge and place them at your behest, Fieldmarshal."
Vidron basically tells him "fuckyouverymuch," and tells this guy named Captain Jarriel that the decision has been made, and that forty men are going to be sent out on field duty so the Wobbits can take their places.
Unsurprisingly, Jarriel is royally pissed at this decision, since he has this weird idea that three-foot-tall morons who have maybe four months of training, have no experience except a couple skirmishes and keep losing to the bad guys... might not be the best people to have guarding the king. I mean, who would ever think THAT?
"May I remind you, sir," boomed Vidron, "that these Folk are renowned for their extraordinary service to the Crown. Or have you forgotten their role in the history of the Ban War, the Great War itself, when last we faced the Enemy in Gron, the very same Enemy, I might add?"
Again, this was thousands of years ago. I'm pretty sure that after that time, everybody would have decided that their role was wildly inflated because since then, they really haven't done a lot.
Also, just how long does recognition go in this fantasy world? I mean, IT'S BEEN TWO THOUSAND YEARS, and they're still getting lauded for playing a small part in a war that lots of OTHER races fought and died in, like they won the whole fucking war themselves.
This makes sense in Lord of the Rings because the Hobbits really DID do something special and unusual that nobody else could do, but not so for the Wobbits! And the Hobbits didn't even get recognition as a species! Hell, most people didn't even KNOW what they did.
I mean, sure they HELPED win a war two thousand years ago, but what've they done lately? That's like saying that the French should automatically be put in charge of all military endeavors because Charlemagne was a badass. Or Italy should be in charge of military endeavors because ANCIENT ROME.
"Faugh! Hearthtales and legends! I don't care what fables you might believe about these Folk, for I intend to take this matter up with the King, himself. Then we shall see!"
... I like this guy. It's a shame, because he's probably going to either die or never be mentioned again.
Also, I'm not a military expert, but this entire interaction seems off. For one thing, it seems like a bad idea to station the Wobbits under a guy who literally wants nothing to do with them, while splitting up his entire platoon who trust and know each other. I'm sure stuff like this SOMETIMES happens in real life, but when you're faced by an invading force that is pretty much certain to destroy you all, why invite more trouble?
Oh, and Patrel and Tuck literally had to hold Danner back during this whole conversation, and then they barge into Vidron's bedroom.
"Pip-squeaks and runts we are?" Danner demanded. "Just who was that buffoon?"
"That was Lord Vader. You really shouldn't piss him off."
Nah, actually Vidron has a really weird reaction to Danner being pissed, which causes an even weirder reaction.
The Kingsgeneral looked at the spectacle of a fuming Warrow: feet planted wide apart, clenched fists on hips, jaw thrust out, all three feet seven inches aquiver with rage. And then Vidron burst out laughing, falling backward on his bed, his foot halfway into the boot.
... hysterical. Har. I'm sorry, what is funny about this?
Great gales of laughter gusted forth, and every time he tried to master his guffaws they would burst out again.
... and then Danner stabbed him for disrespecting them.
No, they start laughing too, even though this guy is laughing hysterically at one of them being pissed. I honestly don't get it. This is another McKiernan standard, where whenever people get pissed or depressed, somebody either tells an unfunny joke or does something that another character finds uproariously funny. Everybody laughs for a seemingly endless time, nobody actually deals with their anger or depression, and the reader feels horribly awkward.
"By the very bones of Sleeth, each time I meet you three, humor drives ire from my heart. It is not every day that I am brought to task by an angry Waldan, bearded in my very den, as it were. Ah, but you are good for my spirit."
So... calling them babies offends them to the point where they start shooting around. But talking about how FUNNY they are doesn't bother them at ALL.
... because logic.
"And you, sir, are good for ours," replied Patrel. "Yet Danner's questions remain, and I'll add my own: Why have you summoned us?"
"Well, I just can't reach this marble that rolled under my bed, and it's too low for me to crawl under..."
Vidron puts on his shoes while telling them that they have been reassigned to work with the guy who just left, who also hates them. Basically they're going to patrol the area. Whee.
"A loyal Man, he is, and one I would gladly have in my command, but he stubbornly sees only one way to perform his charge of office."
Uhhhh... no, he just doesn't want his squad broken up so they can include a bunch of undertrained three-foot-tall noobs. And I don't blame him, especially since the purpose of his entire presence and duty is being COMPROMISED by the Wobbits. If the king got killed because of them, it would be on HIS HEAD... especially since everybody is completely up the Wobbits' butts and would NEVER blame them.
Also, HE is stubborn and only sees one way? Yeah, nothing like YOU totally ignoring his complaints because you have a crush on the Wobbits. Freak.
"yet had he but listened, I would have told him that High King Aurion himself suggested your assignment."
That doesn't have anything to do with his actual duty. Heads of state give orders that compromise their own safety all the time, usually because they're clueless. JFK once ordered the Secret Service to let an attractive girl into the White House because... well, she was hot. Turns out she was an escaped mental patient and she had a huge-ass knife.
That's why kings, presidents and such HAVE security details - so they can be kept safe, not so they can undermine it because their favorite undertrained Sue-hobbits have pranced onto the scene.
And this is especially true because the Wobbits are HORRIBLE at what they do. Not only do they have the attention span of gnats, but their leaders don't have a clue what's going on and don't try to find out. And almost all the casualties we've seen so far are because the Wobbits are idiots who can't do their jobs or have basic common sense. Why the hell would ANYONE put them in important tactical situations?!
"Just a moment, now," objected Danner. "We are here to tackle Modru, not to hide away behind the walls of some remote castle."
- So, if Jarriel has a problem with them being assigned to his unit, he's being an asshole. If THEY have a problem with it, it's an endearing quirk.
- Also, where the hell did Danner get the idea that they, a few dozen Wobbits with a few months of training, were gonna tackle the ARMIES and magical forces of the Generic Dark Lord?
- Does anyone else feel that Danner is not good military material?
So Vidron starts lecturing them on why they should stay at the castle: "by your company of Waldfolc warding the castle, forty Men can be freed to take the field against the Enemy, and forty Men on horseback can range farther faster than forty Waldana on ponies, whereas forty Waldana on Castle-ward, clear of eye and skilled in archery, are as good as, nay, better than forty Men in the same assignment."
He actually makes some decent points... except that, as I said, those men are actually supposed to be guarding the king. That is what they are TRAINED for. It's TOTALLY different from being infantry. Also, the "skilled" Wobbits would be easier for the enemy to knock around. Also, their bows are smaller, meaning they're not nearly as powerful and the range is diminished.
So yeah, this is basically shooting yourself in the foot.
"Now, now, before you object, Jarriel is a fair Man, just stubborn. Give it a try. Should it become unbearable, try harder then see me. After all, by then I'll need a laugh or two."
Vidron is really kind of an asshole, isn't he?
"Sir, Jarriel is forcing us to clean out the outhouses."
"Uh, it's disgusting and degrading, and he's openly said he's trying to make us quit-"
"HAHAHAHAHAHAHA... STOP STOP, YOU'RE KILLING ME!"
So they go wandering off to see Jarriel, who is a professional about this disaster and doesn't talk to them at all. No mention of whether Danner kicks him in the kneecaps.
A page was assigned to show all the members of the Waerling company the ins and outs of the castle.
Again, medieval castles were pretty simple structures. How big IS this place, especially if the king only comes by sometimes?! This isn't even supposed to be his proper home!
And if the place is being evacuated, why are they keeping PAGES around the place?
They spend all day doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING but wandering around getting acquainted with the castle. The next day they're measured for armor that obviously doesn't take very long to make, which are corselets made of overlapping boiled leather plates affixed to padded jerkins, these to wear as armor. I'm going to be fair and mention that yes, this is a traditional way of making some armor, although I don't know how long it takes to make.
On the third day, the day watch on the north wall was assigned to Tuck's squad, while Danner's took on the south rampart.
"Danner, quit throwing jellybeans at the soldiers."
"But I'm BORED."
"Har!" barked Argo as they overtopped the ramp alongside the bastion gorge and came upon the banquette behind the crenellated battlement. "I said it before and I'll say it again: these walls were not meant to be patrolled by Warrows. Cor, I can't see over the merlons at all, and only by walking along the weapon shelf can I look out through the crenels."
- ... can you tell McKiernan read some books on castle architecture and terminology? Can you? Can you? HAVE YOU NOTICED? It's so seamless!
- And they only got a tour the day before yesterday! And already they not only know their way around, but have memorized terms that they would never have heard in their lives like "merlons"!
- NO SHIT, SHERLOCK. This idiot actually thought the place was designed for three-foot-tall people?!
So they... just don't do anything. They just hang around on the ramparts and occasionally look outside, where nothing is really happening.
Finley walked over to a set of machicolations, sighting through the holes where they would rain arrows down along the ramparts should the enemy attempt to scale them.
Holy crap, if you're going to drop that sort of terminology, at least get it right. An arrow slit is not the same as a machicolation, which is similar to a murder hole! You DROP things through the machicolation, and you SHOOT through arrow slits.
And because we haven't been bored enough yet, it's time for pretentious dialogue!
"I keep thinking about Captain Darby's words back at Spindle Ford, when he asked for volunteers to answer the King's call. 'Will you Walk the Thorns, or will you walk instead the ramparts of Challerain Keep?' That's what he asked us. At the time I didn't consider his words prophetic, yet here I am, upon the very walls he spoke of."
... and was he also suggesting that the people who were left behind would walk on top of the thorns?
Seriously, this is like someone being told, "You'll be on the front lines" by their mother, and then seeing it as EPIC FORESHADOWING when they actually get stationed there.
"Perhaps there's a bit of a seer in each of us," answered Patrel, taking a bite of bread. He chewed thoughtfully. "The trick is to know which words foretell and which don't."
So... you have psychic senses if SOME things you say come true, even if you're wrong 99 times out of 100. I know this from the Gospel of Peter Venkman.
At last Patrel said, "Ah, it looks so dangerous, that black wall out there. And who knows what lurks in the darkness beyond?"
.... uh.... bad guys? We've already been infodumped about the various Evil Knockoffs of Tolkien characters already, so I'm not really feeling the suspense here.
"But this we must do: tonight, and every moment off duty that can be spared, have your buccen fletching arrows, for there may come a time when we will need all the bolts we can get."
"Wait, we're supposed to fletch arrows when we need bolts? How does that work?"
Tuck nodded without speaking as he and Patrel watched the brooding land.
The land was emo and sulky, for no one understood the deep dark PAIN of its soul.
And because nothing interesting has happened lately, even by this book's standards, Princess Mary-Sue comes wandering out onto the battlements to... stare at the Dimmendark. Kind of boring.
She seemed to shiver, and Tuck wondered if the cold stone chilled her, or was it instead the far dark loom.
The dark loom?
Why is she looking at that?
Since Tuck is apparently in love with her, he tells her that she can go sit next to a fire a little distance away... which raises the question why she wasn't there to begin with.
Laurelin warmed herself and then stepped to a nearby crenel. Long she looked, and Tuck stood on the shelf at her side gazing northward, too.
"... what are we looking at again?"
"We're not looking at anything. It's supposed to be DRAMATIC."
So then Laurelin natters on for a few minutes about how she and her boyfriend have this fantasy of living in a cute little cottage in the woods. Yeah, that's the sort of fantasy that rich people have, but in about five hours she would be demanding her servants come and clean the place.
"Now the Argent Hills can be seen no longer, for they have been swallowed by that terrible blackness. Yet I know that they are still there, behind the dark wall, just as is my beloved."
... yes, that is true. That is usually how it is when you can't see things. Most babies figure out that just because you can't see something doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Is this supposed to be deep?
And then Laurelin just... leaves. Yeah, I guess she only wanted to gaze dramatically for a few minutes. But don't worry, for her Royal Sueness comes back the next day and stares dramatically at the horizon. For some reason she apparently only does this at sunset, even though I would think the MIDDLE of the day would be a little more effective since there's more light.
And no, I am not sure why these two days weren't merged into ONE, so this would be just one conversation.
At last Laurelin spoke: "Ah, but I do not like looking for my Lord out over the barrows of dead heroes. He stands in harm's way, and gazing past graves would seem to portend no good."
"Which is why I've been coming to this exact spot for days, instead of just moving twenty feet in either direction. I've NEVER noticed the graves right in front of me until just now."
So of course, Tuck doesn't know what the hell she's talking about, so she points out a Stonehenge-type monument that is apparently the middle of a whole bunch of graves. Yeah, apparently there are a whole bunch of graves for noblemen and respected warriors, and it's just... left to fall apart and get filled with weeds. I guess they didn't like those guys very much, or they'd hire a damn gardener.
"My Lady, what is that in the stone ring's center?"
"Tis a bunch of New Age whackjobs, running naked through the stone ring. They do that a lot."
This is actually kind of a ridiculous scene, because it's just SO implausible. This stone ring is supposed to be OUTSIDE the city limits, which took the Wobbits ALL MORNING to walk through. And yet Tuck and Princess MarySue are able to see it clearly?!
I mean, use Minas Tirith as an example since this city is cut-and-pasted directly from that city. Does anyone seriously think that a person on that big stone diving board could clearly see a little cluster of falling-apart graves OUTSIDE the city limits? Of course not!
"A crypt, Sir Tuck, a crypt, hidden in summer by a tangle of vines and in winter by a blanket of snow."
Again, would it kill anyone to hire a gardener?
"Lord Galen took me once to see it - the ancient tomb of Othran the Seer, according to legend, Othran who came from the sea, they say, a survivor of Atala, lost forever."
- The sentences, so fragmented, as he, the writer who penned them, wrote them down, wrote them in ink, or on his computer.
- A sunken land named "Atala"? Imaginative.
- Did this guy swim there?
And yes, in case you're wondering, Tolkien DID write a fictionalized version of Atlantis, namely the island of Numenor, which sank into the sea after the involvement of Sauron.
Except Tolkien's sunken island nation was actually relevant, because that's the land of the Dunedain. So it's the place that the whole line of Gondorian kings - including Aragorn - was descended from, and in turn it was descended from a legendary elf/Maia-mortal love affair. Oh, and the first king of that place was also Elrond's brother.
It was sunk because the civilization had become corrupt and cruel, and the sinking of it changed destroyed Sauron's body, altered the arrangement of the Undying Lands, and then GOD CHANGED THE SHAPE OF THE PLANET.
McKiernan's island sank because... the bad guy is evil. That's basically the only importance of it.
"Yet the worn carvings in the stone are arcane runes of an elden time, and only the Lian Guardians are said to have read them, for the Lian are skilled at tongues and writings."
"But they won't tell anyone what they say. They're kind of dickish."
No, actually they have told people, which means it's time for...
"My Lord Galen says that there is an eld inscription: Loose not the Red Quarrel Ere appointed dark time. Blade shall brave vile Warder From the deep, black slime. Those are the words the Elves are said to have ciphered from yon stone."
... wow, that was truly awful poetry. And it's in the most basic form imaginable.
- Don't sprain your brain figuring out what the Red Quarrel is. It'll pop up conveniently later on.
- What is a "dark" time? Does she mean a dangerous or ominous time?
- That's right: McKiernan couldn't find a better rhyme for "time" than... "slime."
- BUY A RHYMING DICTIONARY.
- I mean, a full 1/4th of the epic fantasy riddle is just talking about SLIME.
- And I'm confused by the second half. Is the blade or the Warder from the slime? Is someone HOLDING said blade, or is it doing this on its own?
- And see the second half of the riddle about the blade and the Warder... and the slime? Yeah, that's not important. There IS a Warder, and they do have to use a blade to fight him off, but it's not really important in the grand scheme. It's just a one-off fight.
- So... why is this in the same riddle as "here's how to save the world"? Because apparently McKiernan couldn't come out with a rhyming riddle on the one topic.
"What do they mean?" asked Tuck. "Red quarrel,vile Warder, appointed dark time."
... I'm sorry, what is the point of having a cryptic prophecy by a seer if you know everything about it?
"Sir Tuck, you ask me to answer an enigma that has stumped the sages ever since Elf first came upon the crypt in elden times,"
Ah, Elf. A character named Elf.
"since Man first settled these lands and chose to place his barrows around an ancient tomb, even then a ruin, in the hope that the wraith of the mystic seer of Atala would give guide to the shades of Man's own fallen heroes."
- ... okay, I think the timeline is getting a little weird here. She makes it sound like the fall of Atala and Othran's arrival were practically prehistoric and nobody was around then except maybe the gold-crapping elves.
- Except... well, Atala sank in the War of the Ban, which is the same war in which the Wobbits got their one claim to fame. People remember THAT like it was last week, but nobody even comes CLOSE to remembering this famous seer?!
- Also, if you go back and read the Hel's Crucible duology... the civilizations back then were almost EXACTLY the same as in THIS story.
- And if no one lived near there, WHO BURIED OTHRAN? Who erected a giant barrow?!
- And why was Othran living out in the middle of an unoccupied land nowhere near the fucking ocean?!
- Especially since they had plenty of big cities back then.
Tuck looked down upon the tower in wonder as Laurelin spun forth the eld tale. Slowly the shadows mustered unto the low foothills, and when the Princess fell silent, darkness covered the land.
... so what, night was just WAITING for her to finish her story?
So Laurelin just wanders in again, having fulfilled her talking quota for the day. But of course the next day she wanders back out, because it's time for GIRL TALK! No, seriously, she wants to gossip with Tuck about his love life. Tuck bursts into tears, because she is SO obviously not into him.
On the third evening Laurelin, looking down at Tuck, asked the small Warrow, "Do you have a beloved? Oh, I think you must. Do I see a sweetheart's favor around your neck?"
"You mean the wooden sign that says 'Property of Merrilee, All Other Bitches Keep Off'?"
"No, the other one."
"You mean the dog collar and long-distance leash?"
"No, the other one."
"You mean the locket?"
"Of course. What else WOULD I mean?"
"Yes, my Lady," he answered, "only, in the Boskydells a sweetheart is called 'dammia,' er, I mean, I would call her dammia' while she would call me 'buccaran.' That is what we Warrows name each other, uh, Warrow sweethearts, that is."
McKiernan... I don't care.
"And yes, this is my dammia's favor, given to me on the day I left my home village of Woody Hollow."
"Along with the tattoo on my head saying 'Belongs to Merrilee.' She's a little possessive."
"Why, this is beautiful, Tuck. An ancient work. Perhaps from Xian, itself."
- Yes, don't tell us what the hell Xian is. Let us randomly guess.
- So I'll fill you in: Xian is supposed to be some quasi-Asian country/city.
- And yes, Xian DOES still exist at this time, and does to the end of the series.
- Guess what Xian is known for: MAGES.
- Guess what Xian is NOT known for: METALWORKING.
- And where the fuck did a random Wobbit get an ANCIENT locket made by friggin' wizards? Did she order it from eBay?
Laurelin pressed a hidden catch and the locket sprang open. Tuck was dumbfounded, for although he had touched the locket often, he had not known that it actually opened.
HOLY FUCK, how stupid IS Tuck? He didn't KNOW that a locket opened, even though the entire PURPOSE of a locket is that you open it up to see something INSIDE it?!
See, these are lockets:
Each one can clearly open, because they have a HINGE and a visible line around them where the locket opens. MONKEYS could figure out that these things open. Yet apparently Tuck couldn't figure it out?!
So it turns out that there's a picture of Merrilee inside, and Tuck practically wets himself with anticipation at getting it back so he can ogle his childhood fri... uh, girlfri... love interest. Does Princess Sue notice his obvious distress? Nope, she's busy nattering about her boyfriend.
"My Lord Galen wears mine own golden locket at his heart, but no portrait has it, just a snippet of my hair. It must ever be so, that warriors in all times and all Lands have carried the lockets of their loved ones upon their breasts. If not lockets, then other tokens do soldiers bear into danger, to remind them of a love, hearth, home, or something or someone else dear to their hearts."
- "... and it can be used to guilt them when they visit brothels."
- Seriously, SHUT UP. Nobody gives a damn about your boyfriend and how much he wuvs you. WE DON'T CARE. We've been given no reason to care about HIM, and we haven't been given a reason to care about YOU.
- Laurelin sure likes to talk about herself and how important she is to her boyfriend. I bet he has a piece on the side.
- And do we ever see other warriors carrying lockets or other tokens? Warriors from any land or any other time period? NOPE. Not once. Not a single friggin' time.
Laurelin finally stops yapping about herself, and gives Tuck his locket back. His reaction to seeing Merrilee's picture?
Oh, my black-haired dammia, you are so beautiful.
"... which is why I haven't thought about you once in the last several weeks."
No seriously, after several WEEKS where he didn't think about her at ALL, and one contrived scene where he realizes he sorta-kinda-likes her, suddenly Tuck realizes that he LOVES Merrilee. I don't think romance needs to be all Edward-and-Bella mutual obsession shit, but I think when you've fallen in love with someone, you tend to think about them more than once every TWO MONTHS.
"Ah, Sir Tuck, you must miss her very much," said the Princess.
Blinking back his tears, Tuck looked up to see Laurelin's sad grey eyes upon his blue ones. "Yes, I do. And, you know, I didn't realize just how much until I saw her portrait just now." Tuck shuffled his feet, embarrassed. "You see, until you opened the locket, I didn't know she was there, all the time secretly next to my heart."
I think I just overdosed on cheese and got sick. Holy shit, who TALKS like that?
"Ah, but Sir Tuck, did you not know?" asked the Princess. "We Women and dammen do practice our secret arts to remain in the hearts of our Men and buccen."
"We HAVE to, because otherwise our boyfriends would totally forget about us for months at a time. Except MY boyfriend, who is totally different!"
So instead of watching for enemies and doing his duty, Tuck drools over Merrilee's portrait for the rest of his shift AND the entire evening. Danner thinks this is stupid, but everyone else thinks it's cute.