So they finally got to the gates, and PLEASE GOD NO MORE FILLER.
As Arin looked into the deep shadow veiling the massive gates, a thought came upon her unbidden: Tonight is the full dark of the moon. Is it an ill omen touching our arrival this day?
… why would that be a bad omen? Li'l Miss ElfSue SEES THE FUTURE, and she's spooked because they happened to arrive on a certain day?
Perin brings up that the ironwork of the doors looks like it was made by Dwarves, aka Drimma. The Elves go up to the door, and check out what's written there.
"Hoy, over here," called Ruar. "Runes. They seem to be written in the Drimmen manner, with another style below. I can read neither."
"It reads, 'Here may be found the last words of Joseph of Aramathia. He who is valiant and pure of spirit may find the holy grail in the Castle of Aaauuuggghhh… '"
Vanidar Silverleaf moved to Ruar's side, then laughed. "Leave it to a Drimm to brag so."
"What does it say?" asked Perin.
Silverleaf turned, smiling. "Although I cannot read the runes of the Drimma, the ones below them are written in a Vadarian script, one of the Mage tongues, and say, 'I, Velkki Gatemaster, made this.' "
… what? How is that bragging? It's like saying, "Oh, that artist, such a braggart! He signed his canvas!"
They babble about how see, it totally IS the work of Dwarves… and then the door opens, and a Dwarf steps out. OMG, a Dwarf just stepped out of a place made by the Dwarves! MY MIND IS NOW BLOWN!
Then suddenly our heroes are actually INSIDE the mountain, where they are being served tea by a Mage. It must suck hardcore to have magical superpowers... and your job is to push a little tea-cart around.
the bearded, broad- shouldered Dwarf turned to Irunan. "Wizard, if you have no further need for me, I shall return to my post."
"Actually, I do have need of you. I dropped a ring earlier and it rolled under the sofa-"
"Go fuck yourself."
So the dwarf - his name is Boluk, but I doubt we'll ever see him again - heads off to do... other things, like get the animals stabled.
Irunan smiled, his grey eyes atwinkle. "Yes. We know. Struggling through all that snow. We've been expecting you for some days now."
"We were all placing bets on whether or not you would actually make it, or die horrible deaths of exhaustion and cold. I had sixteen gold pieces betting that you wouldn't!"
And wow, these wizards are DICKS. Apparently they just let people and animals drop dead, even though they know where they are and could actually help them. And no, no reason is actually given WHY they do it. Apparently they just really hate their visitors.
The other Mage nodded and began setting out porcelainware along with two pitchers of clotted cream and plates piled high with scones.
I say, we are terribly terribly British wizards, what ho and pip pip!
"Very rarely do we have visitors come through the hard mountain winter to our holt."
"It might have something to do with our policy of sitting here in our nice warm apartments and watching people die. We're not sure, though. It could just be the weather."
He then mentions that their last winter visitor is a woman warrior from Ryodo, who currently serves as one of their guards. I question how useful a human guard would be in a place full of WIZARDS, but maybe they felt sorry for her. He also states that she "said her tiger brought her here." This would be more suspenseful... if a previous chapter hadn't already TOLD us what that tiger was. It's a tattoo on her boobs. On with the show!
"Tiger? She rode a tiger?"
"Brother of mine, perhaps she merely followed it," said Biren.
"Oh ... mayhap thou art right," said Perin, "though even to follow a tiger is no mere thing."
Both Perin and Biren turned to Irunan. Ride or follow? they both asked simultaneously.
SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP! SOMEONE STAPLE THEIR MOUTHS SHUT.
Irunan inexplicably thinks they're funny. He also reveals that she was on her horse, and there's no sign of a tiger. So... she served the Mages for TWO YEARS and the subject never came up. And nobody saw her chest tattoo, or detected it magically despite it having magical powers itself?
Irunan asked in a polite tone, "And what, pray tell, brings you through such harsh weather unto the Mageholt of Blackstone?
"Well, I had a scary vision and we're just randomly wandering around asking people if they know anything about it."
"It's not a stupid plan!"
Not the whisperings of another tiger, is it?" He smiled.
Ha ha, go fuck yourself.
Arin tells them all about it, and FINALLY we have someone who actually has some idea what's going on. Gelon and Irunan pretty clearly recognize the stone they're talking about, and the whole mention of dragons. Wouldn't this have been embarrassing if they had said, "Nope, sorry, we don't know jack about it"?
"But surely this cannot be!"
"Easter isn't for months!"
Arin and her buddies follow him to... wherever he's going. Even the Elves haven't got the faintest idea where they are, and elves crap gold.
The chamber they had entered was circular and held a great, polished black-granite table, horseshoe shaped and filling half of the room. Chairs padded with red velvet ranged 'round its outer perimeter. Red-velvet-padded chairs stood against the curved black walls all the way 'round the room,
... this sounds terrifying.
At the apex of the table—presumably its head—a dark wooden gavel and gavel block lay on the lustrous surface.
... if nobody yells "Order! Order!" and bangs the gavel, I will be very disappointed.
So everybody sits down, and Irunan takes forever to light the lanterns. So... is there a reason why he didn't just continue the story where they were?
Arin, who had held her tongue till now, asked, "Irunan, what is it? Why art thou so disturbed? Yes, the full of my vision is terrible to contemplate, and I gave thee but a sketch, yet thou dost seem to believe that what I have seen is not possible at all."
... well, here's a shocking idea. Maybe he recognizes the whole dragons + green stone thing, since he reacted so strongly to it. If he doesn't.... he just reacts badly to everything.
"Sir, we got this envelope from the insurance company. They say our rates-"
"Forgive me, Lady Arin, but what you say is true: it is not possible for you to have seen what your vision has shown you."
"Not possible? But I did <see>."
That makes me wonder: how do people pronounce that? Do they say the word with air quotes? Do they use a dramatic voice? What?
Irulan points out that she shouldn't have been able to detect it at all... and then refuses to say any more until the Council gets there.
Like Irunan, they were dressed in robes, some blue, as was his, but of many other colors as well.
Mubble the Pink got teased a lot for his.
We're also informed that most of the Mages are "of indeterminate ages" but that some of them are old, because they expend their life-force through spellcasting, which causes them to age, but they can go to Rwn and go "in-between" to someplace called Vadaria, which is apparently their home realm and they can rest in a "special way" that restores their youth again.
So what does this have to do with ANYTHING that's going on?
McKiernan does have an interesting idea here.... but like the Baeron and the Hidden Ones, it has jack-shit to do with the plot.
Also, if some of them are doddering geriatrics, why haven't they left yet? Hell, why would they wait UNTIL they're doddering geriatrics to replenish themselves. I'd stick around until I was maybe sixty and then LEAVE.
"Irunan, would you advise the Council as to why you called this meeting."
- ... where's the question mark?
- Also, did he really summon up the entire Council without telling them WHY?
Irunan finally blurts out what's going on: "Dara Arin of Darda Erynian, Blackwood, the Great Greenhall, has had a vision of the Dragonstone, of the Green Stone of Xian."
- Why is he naming the forest THREE TIMES?
- And why is he mentioning the Dragonstone TWICE?
- Especially since they're IN XIAN NOW. So presumably everybody there knows what it is.
- And by the way, the Dragonstone sounds suspiciously close to the Dragon Orbs. This is a bit spoilery for the rest of the series, but it's basically the same thing.
That is the cue for all the wizards immediately freak out.
"Lady Arin, I am Arilla, Sorceress"—she spread her hands wide, palms upturned—
"And dramatic introducer of myself."
"and Sage of this Council."
Whatever THAT means.
Arilla windbags for awhile, asking Arin to tell them about her vision. And thank God, we don't have to hear her do it AGAIN.
"Without a doubt, it is the Dragonstone," said Arilla in the stunned silence that followed.
"But how can that be?" protested a red-robed Mage. "The Dragonstone defies all scrying. Even the Dragons themselves cannot sense it."
"Why are you telling me that? I already know."
They babble about how they've been looking for the Dragonstone for awhile, but have totally failed to find it.
"If the pale green stone I saw in my vision is indeed this unscryable Dragonstone, then how could I have seen it at all?"
You know, these guys are supposed to STUDY MAGIC. The subject of wild magic NEVER has come up for them before? Ever?
And in case you're wondering, their definition of "wild magic" is literally that that they have no idea what it is, where it comes from, or how it works. Which means that... well, it's not a deus ex machina, but it has plot convenience. A lot of it.
Which also makes me wonder if wild magic is also responsible for Rael's visions. I mean, it's not exactly the same thing, since another book explains that Rael has to use a crystal instead of fire, and she has to cleanse it in a manner reminiscent of Wiccan cleansings, and... I don't know. They don't seem to be very similar, since Rael's seems more like a ritual than an innate power. But if it didn't exist in any other elves, how would she know to cleanse it or that it could only be used for that purpose?
For one thing, if Rael's power was innate, how would she find it? I mean, I could understand how you could look at a fire and discover that it gives you visions. But how could you discover that you were able to see the future in chunks of carefully and painstakingly cleansed crystal? Did Rael stare deeply into some jewelry she coveted, and get a vision from that?
Eh, I get the feeling I'm thinking about this too much again.
And it also turns out that what really spooks them is that she saw the stone at all, because normally nobody can see it through scrying. So... wild magic.
"Sage, we have not heard all of Lady Arin's vision."
"I know," replied Arilla.
"But I've told ye all," protested Arin.
"Yes, we know. You told us in very, very graphic detail. Speaking of which, cancel lunch. I may never eat again."
What they actually mean is that she probably can't remember everything she saw in her vision. So what are they going to do? Hypnotize her, apparently.
Silverleaf stood and stepped to the side of Arin's chair. Arilla raised her gaze to him.
"I am Alor Vanidar, past Coron of Darda Galion, the Eldwood, the Land of the Larks." Soft exclamations murmured 'round the chamber. Raising his voice slightly, Silverleaf said, "I"—he turned and gazed at Rissa and the other Elves, and then looked down to Arin—"that is, we would hear more of this Dragonstone, more of this Green Stone of Xian. Too, we would hear if there is a way to avert its terrible doom."
- And why are you interrupting?
- Did you just want people to pay attention to you, or do you actually have something useful to say?
- I'm also not sure why the Mages are so impressed by a guy who isn't even king anymore.
Having run out of things to say, Arilla adjourns the meeting so Lysanne can hypnotize Arin. But then....
But before she could bang her gavel down, there came a commotion at the doorway, and pressing through the gathered Mages came an armed and armored figure. Small she was, compared to the Mages, five feet two at most. She was garbed in brown leather—vest and breeks and boots—and hammered bronze plates like bronze scales were sewn on the vest; underneath she wore a pale cream silk jerkin. Her skin was the color of saffron, and a brown leather headband incised with red glyphs held her short-cropped raven-black hair back and away from her tilted eyes and her high-cheekboned face. And at her waist were sheathed two slightly curved swords: one barely longer than a long-knife, the other with a full-length blade.
Yay! Bisexual She-Samurai has joined the meeting without any kind of introduction! And we get another full-length description of her clothes, weapons hair and face! It's like I'm trapped in a Laurell K. Hamilton book!
She says a few things in Japanese, and I don't understand enough Japanese to tell you if she got it right. From what I've been able to find out, she's being excessively formal because she uses the word "watakushi."
Seated at the table, a white-haired Magus, at the end of his current casting cycle, said, "I will translate for you, Lady Arin. First she said, 'I am a tiger.' And then, when she drew her swords, um, 'These are my fangs.' And lastly, when she lay them at your feet, she said something to the effect of, 'They are yours to command.' "
"Mine to command?"
"Yes, her fangs."
"She won't be happy until she's out there stabbing people on your behalf!"
"If you do not accept, she will be dishonored."
Because... Japan. Honor and stuff.
Aiko is introduced to Arin in the most awkward way possible, since she is kneeling the whole time, and Arin is really, really, uncomfortable with the whole servility thing. So she says, "I will accept thy friendship and thine aid, Aiko, and yea, even thy service. Yet heed, thou art thine own woman, free to choose as thou wilt, yet should our paths run together awhile, then I welcome thee." Which is a good attitude... but it makes me wonder why the elves even bother to have monarchs. Their kings seem more like club leaders.
Oh, and this is very similar to elf "wedding" vows in this series... namely the sentiment of "We're totally going to stay together until we decide not to." Just something to think about.
"Ahem!" Arilla harrumphed. All eyes turned her way. She glanced 'round the chamber. "If there is no more business ..."
"If you two are finished gazing into each other's eyes, and Kingy Kingpants McKingerson doesn't feel like butting in just to hear the sound of his own voice..."
So they go off to some other room in the same giant mountain fortress, and Arin takes the chance to ask Aiko some obvious questions.
"I must ask: why didst thou pledge unto me?"
"My tiger told me so."
Again... this might be a very interesting conversation if we didn't already know she has a giant tiger tattoo between her boobs. I almost wonder if McKiernan originally wrote this story in chronological order, and his editor made him alter it. If so.... you didn't do a very good job with this, editor.
And no, the tattoo is not representative of someone or something else. She literally was told to go here by her tattoo. Yes, it IS magical because... well, a talking tattoo either indicates mental illness or magic. Or possibly Portlandia.
So... yeah, if McKiernan had cut out the mention of the tiger tattoo before... this would actually be kind of a cool and suspenseful moment.
Arin glanced at the striding warrior. "And thy tiger told thee to do that as well, to come unto Blackstone?"
"If it is no secret, why?"
"To pledge to you, my Lady."
"To pledge to me?"
Also a fun detail: elf marriage ceremonies are also called pledging.
And in case you're wondering, NONE of the Elves think that this strange woman who claims tigers talk to her and charges around a mage stronghold with swords.... might be a little crazy. Neither do the Mages. No, they just assume it's magic and don't really expect any kind of answers.
Also, apparently you can just walk into this remote, secretive stronghold and just... stay around because you want to.
"She came to us two winters back. Said she had a purpose for coming, but until this day we knew nothing of it or of its import. She has been in service as a Warrior of Blackstone Mountain ... until now, that is."
- "And for some reason we just let her stay around without any kind of explanation. Even though we're a secret and remote stronghold."
- "Also, she has a giant magical mark embedded in her chest, which we haven't managed to notice yet. We iz best wizzards evah!"
- Do they just... have people hanging around to serve them? It makes your wizard civilization less cool, IMHO, if they need dwarves to push their tea-carts.
- I'm also not sure why they need warriors, since they hardly ever leave their mountain except to go to Rwn, nobody can break in, and they don't seem to go pillaging.
"Mayhap it is more 'wild magic,' " volunteered Melor.
"Perhaps," replied Lysanne.
"Which means you mages don't have a clue, and it'll do whatever the plot demands of it, even if it doesn't make sense."
"You know it!"
Arilla takes them to the guest quarters and tells them they can have a bath, and meet up in an hour for lunch. Wizards who lunch. What a concept!
And because the world hates me, the twins start talking again.
"Mayhap we don't have time," said Perin as he moved to the pile of gear.
"Time for what?" asked Biren, helping his brother sort.
Perin stopped and looked at his twin. "Mayhap every moment counts, and if we stop to refresh ourselves, we will have missed whatever opportunity there is to do whatever it is that can be done."
"But, Perin, we have already been on this, um, mission since midsummer, and now is the dead of winter. What count another four watermarks, eh?"
Even the characters are pointing out how ridiculously long this mission has been, and that there is no sense of narrative tension because they have spent SO LONG puttering around.
And again, this was easily avoidable. If they had hitched a ride on Aravan's SueShip Of Speedy Awesometude, they could have kept up that feeling of tension. Same if they had used a trip to Adonar to somehow shave time off the trip. But nooooooo, we had to spend months on the road to absolutely make sure that the audience would go, "Eh. who cares? They've been traveling for months already, so clearly nothing important is happening."
"Hai! In four watermarks I can run three full leagues and some, and mayhap whatever it is that's to be done, wherever it is that we have to go, we will be just three leagues short when the doom falls."
- You are a selfish ass.
- Maybe the doom will end up falling because some prattling douchebag ran away to save his own butt, and the apocalypse will happen because this twat doesn't want to be involved.
- And you notice he's mentioning being somewhere else "whatever it is that's to be done, wherever it is that we have to go"? Yeah, he's totally wussing out.
- And on top of being cowardly, he's also dumb. Arin saw something of apocalyptic, worldwide proportions. What makes you think you can get nine miles away from the APOCALYPSE?
- That's like escaping Jason Vorhees because you stepped a few feet to the left.
Arilla cleared her throat. "You assume, my friends, that it is you who must carry on with whatever it is, if anything, that can be done. Yet perhaps your only part in this affair was to bring word of the vision to us."
Please, God. Let this be the way it works.
"But mayhap not," said Rissa, taking the gear handed to her by Perin. "The vision, after all, came to Arin, hence mayhap it is we who must avert this thing, if it can be averted at all."
- IT CAME TO ARIN BECAUSE ONLY TWO PEOPLE CAN SCRY THIS FUCKING THING. It is completely INVISIBLE to conventional magic.
- Hell, maybe only ONE person can see it, because we don't even know if Rael and Arin have the same kind of magic.
- And why knows if that's even an elf thing?!
- And no, Ms. I'm-Fucking-An-Ex-King-Which-Makes-Me-Important, you have no more relevance to the plot. After they leave Black Mountain, you're probably never going to be mentioned again.
- Kind of racist, isn't she? She figures, "Oh, this vision came to an elf, therefore elves are the ones who will save the world." Fuck off, anyone who isn't a speshul-sparkly elf!
Lysanne doesn't want to talk with Rissa anymore about how ELVES WILL SAVE THE DAY LOLZ, and says that Arin needs to be well-rested so she can be hypnotized the next day. Arin is not happy about this, because McKiernan is really trying to sell us on the idea that this quest is super-urgent and time is of the essence. Which is why they spent months meandering over to talk to a guy on the very, very, very small chance that he might know something. Which he didn't.
Arin shook her head. "But what if Perin is right and we have no time to spare?"
Then the apocalypse will DEFINITELY be on us, because I doubt either of them have been right about anything in their lives.
Arilla tells them to quit dicking around and just do as Lysanne says, and Arin agrees reluctantly. I don't really know why she's suddenly so reluctant, since the mages told her it's no-go because of the long mission. And it's not like she's been really desperate and driven up to this point, only to be thwarted at the ending. She hasn't shown any signs that she's actually worried that this could happen if they delayed even a day.
In fact, Arin hasn't really shown much emotion at all. She's been pretty passive in her flashback time - she doesn't decide where or when to go places, doesn't make decisions, doesn't even indicate that she's worried about the whole apocalypse thing. She's like a character in a video game.
So she and Aiko move into adjacent rooms, and she takes a bath. Without Aiko, I should add. Then she comes out into the common room and Arilla starts telling the story.
"Let me tell you of a day long past at the gates of Blackstone when the Dragons came to call."
"They brought a fruit basket with assorted small cheeses..."