Vilmos’ group continues to travel. Ayrien shows up, goes scouting, comes back, people are nervous and whispering, not talking. Vilmos takes a nap, then Xith wakes him and says they need to make a detour, but, shocker, won’t explain where. They go tearing off in a gallop. Eventually, Vilmos finds out that they’re headed for the city of Solntse, so Xith was just refusing to answer questions because he’s an asshole. Also, I hate to keep going back to the map, but:
They start off around Solstice Mountain, cross the Barrens with the plan of heading to the sea, go under the mountains, take a detour around Krasnyj, and now they’re backtracking the opposite direction to go to Solntse. WHY WOULD ANYONE CHOOSE TO TRAVEL IN THIS WAY? And if you have some actual reason, fucking tell us!
They’re galloping towards the city, and suddenly they’re attacked by a group of bandits, who apparently thought it was a great idea to attack a group when one of them is a giant. It doesn’t go well.
To his shock, Vilmos watched the man’s innards spill into his hands (page 173).
They arrive at the city gates and pay a small bribe to get in. Vilmos is confused about why everyone isn’t staring at their group that includes a gnome, a giant, and a bird-man. Turns out, Noman has cast Minor Illusion on their group so that to all outsiders, they just look like an ordinary group of barbarian traders.
They wander around for a bit and Vilmos notices some buildings look familiar, which is of course because about 400 pages ago, he and Xith visited Solntse for nothing to happen, except for Vilmos to creep on a young lady and watch a fighting competition. Eventually they get to the garrison and try to bribe their way in to see the captain, but the guards leave them on read and they wait around all day. At sunset the captain shows up and tells them to leave. Noman is not pleased:
“I would advise you to take me to see your father now or I’ll have your head!” (page 178)
Bold move. They fight, Noman paralyzes and tortures the captain:
Noman played with the man, seeming to enjoy the torment he caused (page 179).
What a psycho. After a bit the captain (Nijal) gives in and brings them his father, Geoffrey (a great fantasy name) who leads them inside the keep.
Noman did speak now, in kind, cognizant prose, emanating a feeling of peace and truthfulness, which overwhelmed even Vilmos. He continued to speak at length about things Vilmos had never heard him mention to anyone else, things that caused Vilmos to start and tremble. Words like war, death, famine, and suffering, that rang in his ears long after Noman finished (page 181).
Spoiler from the future: we will actually find out what this message was about. Was there any narrative reason why Stanek is being so coy? I mean, I guess, but not a particularly good one.
Stanek informs us that Geoffrey intends to “heed the warning” – whatever the fuck that was – and Vilmos and crew roll out, despite offers to stay the night. Geoffrey gives them some fresh horses and supplies and they bail.
We now move into Nijal’s POV and he chats cryptically with his father about what it all means, but it’s Stanek, so we don’t learn anything. Eventually he says that it’s boring being here as the captain inside four grey walls and he wants to go out and have an Adventure. Geoffrey says that’s cool. Nijal packs a few things, saddles his horse, and takes off. He catches up, Noman is all, welcome to the team, because everyone’s cool AF now, and they head south. Why are they heading south? Plans changed. What plans, and what did they change from and change to? Go fuck yourself.
Seth is down at the docks watching a fleet of ships get loaded with supplies. He’s happy, because maybe the Elves will be saved from whatever extremely vague calamity they’re facing.
Seth heads inside for a council with Chancellor Van’te, Keeper Martin, Father Jacob, a new captain – Evgej – and Prince Valam. This is the meeting to finalize all the last-minute details, which Stanek will helpfully not share with us. They have primary and secondary points of arrival. Where? Not telling us. Enemies? We don’t even know who they are.
The fleet has been split into two groups with Valam and Seth leading group 1, and the others in group 2. After the first group of ships leaves, however, Captain Evgej appears on board, soaking wet.
“You are all wet,” said Seth (page 189).
Elves have a keen eye for detail.
Apparently, Evgej was really sad when they left, so Father Jacob said fuck it, let’s forget about our carefully laid plans, go join the first group, because that’s how dumb people think.
Back on shore, Martin and Van’te chat. They’re a bit concerned that their last message to the capital has gone unanswered and they haven’t heard from King Andrew (who is, of course, dead) but the king gave them a firm departure date and they’re sticking to it.
Later, the second group of ships leave on the next tide. Van’te has a brief encounter with a dead mead peddler and tells his guards to find the man’s book of sales, which I’m guessing will not pay off, narratively. He heads back to Quashan’ and wakes up the local Keeper, Parren. Parren is concerned because he’s been getting dream-messages from the other Keepers and thinks something is very wrong in the capital.
Parren and Van’te chat a bit and decide to do a Zoom and Enhance on his dream-messages. They realize the flag is not flying, which would only be if the King is dead…and now his only son and heir to the throne is on a boat across the angry waters.
Vilmos and crew head south. Vilmos makes friends with Nijal, Amir rides next to the magic companion (who everyone has named Little One, which is a bit creepy).
A few days later a large group of riders approach. Noman casts Minor Illusion to mask their presence, and the horsemen pass on by.
“There can be no turning back,” spoke Noman, looking to their newest companion, “yet at least we now know who the enemy are” (page 199).
I know I’m sounding like a broken record, but no, Stanek doesn’t reveal who the enemy is or provide any context clues.
The next man Ayrian the birdman returns with a scouting report that the bad guys are about an hour away. Noman gives an impassioned speech.
“I have seen the many paths we follow; soon they will merge, then only one path will remain” (page 201).
It’s hard to use so many words to say so little.
Vilmos has been practicing his levitation skills, but he keeps getting distracted and accidentally lifting Nijal (and his horse) a foot off the ground, which, I’ll admit, is a pretty funny image. The horse doesn’t even notice, which is a sign that Stanek doesn’t know much about horses. They’re dumb as rocks, but very skittish.
They travel and it’s boring. They stop in a small city called Kauj which isn’t on the map, so I don’t know where they are, and get a couple rooms at the inn. Vilmos practices levitating and decides to pin Nijal to the ceiling, even though he clearly doesn’t like it. Then Xith walks in and breaks Vilmos’ focus and Nijal crashes to the floor.
I really, really hate Vilmos.
In the other room, Amir looks at Little One, who has just finished her bath, and thinks about how beautiful she is. It’s still creepy.
Xith asks Noman to teach Vilmos how to cast Minor Illusion, so they talk about esoteric Magic for a few pages, and like every time they talk about Magic, it’s boring Stanekian technobabble.
The next morning Vilmos awakes in a terror because someone has a hand over his mouth! Luckily it’s just Nijal who says he needs to get dressed, stat. You see, Ayrian has returned with bad news (no, we don’t find out what) and they need to leave immediately (no idea why).
I am so sick of this shit. This is why I took eight years off.
We’re back in Imtal, the capital. Sister Jasmine and Princess Calyin are arguing about Adrina who is numb and sunk into a deep depression. She’s also at the table while they argue about her, which seems rude. Finally Calyin and Adrina go to the bathhouse to have a nice sisterly bath together.
Then there’s the funeral and it’s not interesting at all. Everyone is sad. That’s about it. Usually funeral scenes are used for interesting character development where we learn about how they’re wrestling with their grief and relationship with the deceased, maybe coming to a momentous decision, you know. Finally they start to carry the casket down into the crypt.
A group of men broke from the crowd. They lunged into the midst of the royal family. Jasmine was knocked from her horse. Adrina had seen the attack and tried to scream. A hand covered her mouth and she was dragged from her horse. The attack had come and gone in an instant that left the viewers dazed (page 219).
Nobody is good at security in these books.
And I’m not saying you can’t occasionally take out a head of state, these things happen. But, uh, immediately after your king was assassinated by a magical dark shadow and you don’t know who sent them, during his funeral, you might expect the guards to be, I dunno, on high alert? Maybe surround the entire family by angry men holding edged weapons so this stuff doesn’t happen? Just a thought.
Fighting breaks out. Soldiers are throwing off their white cloaks, revealing black uniforms beneath. Holy shit. What I said last chapter about them being bad at security? They’re fucking terrible at security.
The dark warriors – I don’t know if there’s a race thing going on – start indiscriminately murdering everyone in sight, and more of them are running in. Fifty more loyal guards come charging in and it’s murder o’clock.
Lord Serant is pissed, because bullshit like this doesn’t happen back home.
He vowed he would kill Chancellor Yi for his incompetence (page 222).
I don’t usually advocate murdering your underlings, but yeah, I’m kinda on Serant’s side here.
Stanek is pretty terrible at writing so it’s not super clear what is happening, but the royals aren’t immediately killed, so apparently their guards and the rear guard have them sorta surrounded and are fighting the dark warriors back. Makes you wonder how Adrina was spirited out so easily, doesn’t it?
Keeper Q’yer sends a mental message to the garrison, asking for reinforcements. Francis and Midori do some magic and a semicircle of flames shoot up, protecting the good guys from the bad guys temporarily.
Adrina is wrapped in a cloak with a hand over her mouth and carried away. After a bit, they tie her up, blindfold, and gag her. They lead her away and put her on a horse, and ride for a bit. She can tell from the number of hoofbeats that she’s part of a fairly small group.
Then there’s more sounds, then running, and then she’s tossed on the ground and bashes her head. There’s sounds of steel clashing and she thinks she’s being rescued. Eventually the fighting sounds go away and someone picks her up and says she’s alive. She’s carried for a bit until they get into the sewers. It smells terrible and she throws up, which sucks because she’s still gagged.
They set her down and take her gag and blindfold off and someone explains that she needs to stay quiet – she’s with friends. Someone picks her up and carries her, and it’s super dark and she has blurry vision – probably concussed, let’s be real – but she can hear them whispering. One has a strong voice and one has a soft voice. A bit later, they set Adrina down and cut her free, and she can finally see who her kidnappers? benefactors? truly are.
This is a big ol’ fight scene. It’s not terribly interesting, so let me sum up.
The garrison has finally arrived, so the tide of battle is turning against the dark warriors. Francis and Midori are exhausted, so the protective fire-wall is now gone. And now the dark lord has entered the fray and is encouraging his dark warriors towards the royals.
But Lord Serant is there, and he’s here to remind you that this is a kid’s book:
His blow cleanly took off the head of his victim (page 233).
Sister Catrin pulls out her ceremonial dagger and stabs the first bad guy who approaches in the neck – and then cries a single tear.
Eventually all the bad guys are wiped out except the dark lord, who reveals himself as Lord Konstantin of the Bandit Kingdoms, who you’ll remember from not being in this story and never being mentioned before. Lord Serant and Lord Konstantin square off in single combat like in the movies and it’s very uninteresting. Serant disarms him and the guards tackle him and tie him up before he can commit suicide.
The day has been saved, so Lord Serant goes to his beloved Calyin to say a brief prayer of thanks and think about the work that Great Kingdom will need to do to rebuild and prepare for retribution and – then he hears the thundering of hoofbeats. All of Lord Konstantin’s many, many reinforcements have just arrived.
That does make me wonder why, if he obviously knew backup was coming, Lord Konstantin was trying to commit suicide a couple minutes ago, but consistency is not one of Stanek’s strong suits.
Also, you recall what I said a few chapters ago, about them being fucking terrible at security? Jesus tapdancing christ on a pogo stick, what the actual fucking fuckity fuck is wrong with these people? Do they not have scouts? Spies? Outlooks? Guards? How did an entire mini-army show up, in your capital, in the middle of your country?
More heads need to roll than just Yi’s. This is gross incompetence.