Part 9: The Prune-Faced Man

Chapter Eleven – Decision

Adrina rides along wondering what she should do. She’s decided to take the mysterious old woman’s words at face value, because if you can’t trust a stranger you meet in the woods in the middle of the night, who can you trust? The problem is the stranger told them not to tell anyone about their conversation. But the stranger also told them not to go to Alderan. And they can’t exactly stop and turn around the entire company without telling somebody why. You’re an idiot, stranger.

Emel returns from his scouting trip, and Adrina notices that he’s sweating.

Emel smiled devilishly. “Ebony wanted to race, so I pressed the group hard. I saw no harm in it. We are nearly upon the borders of Ispeth now.” (pages 159-160)


You’re a soldier, Emel. You shouldn’t just do things. What, precisely, is the point of wearing out a bunch of soldiers and horses? Men and horses should always be kept as fresh and ready for action as they can, especially when you’re charged with guarding the princess. And yes, from time to time armies will run exhaustive training exercises. This is not one of them. The only reason Emel did this was because his horse wanted to race, which makes Emel a fucking idiot.

The expression on Emel’s face grew grim. He lowered his voice to a whisper as he began to speak. “Did you know that tomorrow a detachment will break from the main company?”

Adrina turned frank eyes upon Emel. “Have you thought of what I said earlier?” (page 160)

I’ve mentioned before how fond Stanek is of dialogue in which one character asks a question and another character instantly changes the subject without even acknowledging the original question, despite the fact that human beings rarely talk this way. This is occasionally acceptable when it’s done for a reason, such as to demonstrate what is important or what is on a character’s mind, but there’s no rhyme or reason to how Stanek uses this. I’m pretty sure he only does it to throw in random bits of information that he wasn’t sure how to work into the conversation.

They talk. They agree they have to tell someone, but they can’t decide between Father Jacob, Keeper Martin, or Captain Brodst. Finally Emel has to leave.

Adrina rides along for a bit and thinks about how one of the captains, a chap named Trendmore, is apparently an ambitious and manipulative man. Or so she’s overheard. Then her reverie is interrupted.

“What troubles the mind of one so young and beautiful?” asked Keeper Martin (page 161).

There’s something slightly creepy about old men saying that to teenage girls.

Adrina asks if he’s planning on going to Alderan with them. Martin says that he hasn’t decided, he’s awaiting a response to a message he sent to another Keeper. Adrina asks if it was a dream message.

“You have careful ears dear. Where did you hear such a thing?” asked Keeper Martin – a check for honesty, among his other duties as Head Keeper was to track the history of the royal family. At the age of consent, it would be time to draft a new tome, one with the young princess’ name inscribed upon its leather binding (page 162).

One of the great things about editors is that they tend to catch sentences that just don’t make any fucking sense, or sentences that are missing a word or two, or are horribly phrased, or were written down while the author was high and have no logical reason for their existence. I also don’t know what this age of consent is about, but I’ll assume it means the same as ‘coming of age’. I also don’t know why you would need to draft an entirely new tome to keep track of a single person’s history, especially a princess who will probably not hold any position or have much of an effect on her kingdom at all. At best, she might get a page or two in the family volume. And finally, how is what Martin said a check for honesty?

Martin explains that one keeper can send another keeper a message that ‘enters their awareness and takes the form of a dream’.

“The real difficulty lies in the proper use of your will. To begin you must clear all thoughts from your mind and reach into the center of your being. A spark of power lies there that is your soul. You reach out with that power until you touch the consciousness of the one you wish to communicate with. You speak through images and feelings that you create in your consciousness and pass… Boring you dear?” (page 162)


Adrina is interested, though, and wants to learn how to do it. Martin says that only the keepers can actually do it – he is willing to teach her the theory of it, though. They agree to start that night. And I hope you enjoyed reading this bit, because they don’t start that night, and none of this is important or will ever be mentioned again.

The company stops to rest. Adrina meets up with Emel, who has made the only rational decision any young man would make: he doesn’t know Father Jacob or Keeper Martin, so he wants to confide their secret with his father, Captain Brodst. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, except for the fact that it took Emel all day to wrestle with this decision.

Adrina, disagrees, though. She relates her conversation with Keeper Martin and says this makes him the best choice. Right…because the Keeper is able to send dream-messages, he’s the best choice. That totally makes sense. But for some reason, Emel agrees.

The company gets going and crosses into the Duchy of Ispeth. A short while later a vanguard of the Duke’s army comes out to meet them. And the Duke is with them. Apparently the Duke doesn’t like people just waltzing into his land, whether they’re under the king’s banners or not. Captain Brodst calls a halt and he and some people go forward to meet with the Duke, and the company stops for the night.

The next morning Stanek loses his mind:

“Emel,” Adrina called out, flagging him down with her hands as he rode past. She attempted to make conversation with him but her cut her off and rode on ahead. It didn’t seem intentional, though, because he seemed worried about something. She thought it possibly related to the conversation the captain had with the acting sergeant before they broke camp. She hadn’t been able to discern their whispers but the conversation had seemed rather one-sides, with Emel doing most of the listening.

Aggravated she wrapped the reins tight in her hands and spurred her mare on. “Oh no you don’t, Emel Brodstson!” she screamed after him.

Emel reined Ebony in and wheeled about to face Adrina. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t need to. His stare was angry and cold.

“Did I do something?” asked Adrina in tears (page 167).

Let me get this straight. Adrina realizes that Emel isn’t intentionally ignoring her, because he’s worried. So she reacts by screaming at him. And after he turns around, she breaks down crying and asks if she’s done something wrong.

Stanek must have written this between lines of coke. No other explanation makes sense.

Stanek throws in another randomly-change-the-subject twist and Emel launches into a speech about how terrible some swamps are, which the company has to skirt around. And then he says that he’s going to be part of the group that goes south to Quashan’, and then he rides off.

Well. That means there’s only one thing to do. They need to find Keeper Martin and tell him what’s going on before Emel has to leave.

They don’t.

Well, they find him, but they don’t talk to him. Adrina runs into Keeper Martin. They stand around talking. She has every opportunity to bring this up. And she doesn’t.

She’s a dumbass.

After a bit the company divides and Emel’s group heads south, for some reason. Adrina rides after them to say goodbye to Emel.

She wanted to tell him it wasn’t his fault. She wanted to tell him what she felt for him in her heart. She wanted to tell him that she would miss him. Yet as he turned to look at her, she found her tongue growing limp (page 171).

Ah, young love. You can tell how much they like each other because Adrina treats Emel like shit.

Adrina tells Emel to give her regards to her brother, Prince Valam. Romance!

Chapter Twelve – Vangar Forest

Vilmos and Xith enter a forest. It’s very thick. After a page of the forest being thick, there’s a movement, and Xith tells him to run and not to look back.

So they spend two pages running.

There are howls behind them. Vilmos asks what is chasing them and Xith doesn’t reply. So they keep running. It gets dark. Xith ties a rope around Vilmos’ waist and they keep walking. This lasts for another two pages. Suddenly the rope goes slack. Vilmos pulls the rope towards him and finds nothing at the other end.

He keeps walking. Suddenly he sees a giant two-headed wolf at the head of a pack. It eyes him hungrily. Vilmos backs across a stream, and when he reaches the other side, he bumps into Xith, who explains that the wolf-monsters won’t cross the stream after them. Well. That’s certainly convenient.

Xith is covered in blood. Most of it isn’t his. He’s holding the head of one of the monsters. Although if they’re a two-headed monster, shouldn’t that be two heads? And since they’re just two short people walking along carrying all their possessions, what’s the point of bringing a head along?

Vilmos tends to Xith’s wounds. He has a feeling that one day he’ll return to this forest and he won’t escape so easily.

File that one under “obvious foreshadowing”, I guess.

Chapter Thirteen – The Bottoms

Captain Brodst is trying to decide whether to take a short cut on the road through the swamp or take the main road around it, which is of course much longer. They’re behind schedule. However, Duke Ispeth told him that not a single person has come north for over a week. Which is really strange. So – reading between the lines here – for the past week, everyone that has entered the Bottoms hasn’t come out alive. I mean, there are other ways to interpret that, but that’s a pretty logical conclusion. I would say that you should avoid it.

There’s an amusing bit next, in which I am preserving the book’s formatting exactly:

Captain Brodst remembered that just after the duke had said that he’d scratched
his head and said, “It’s
probably nothing. In another week or so, I’ll probably find that the roads were washed out again…” (pages 181-182).

Which is even funnier because this exact same formatting error is in multiple editions of this book. Yeah, Stanek couldn’t even be bothered to correct a formatting error when he released a new copy.

But there was something in the way the old duke had said it that told Captain Brodst he didn’t really believe what he just said. It was true Duke Ispeth was eccentric and suspicious of everyone; even so, Captain Brodst had never seen anyone as agitated as he’d seen the duke that night. He had ranted and raved for hours (page 182).

Right. So every one of Brodst’s senses are telling him this is a bad idea. Best case scenario is that the road is washed out…which is going to make it really fucking difficult for them all to get through. Worst case scenario, they’re all going to die. Going through the swamp is a terrible idea, and Brodst knows this. So what do they do?

They go through the swamp.

Adrina is pensive. Keeper Martin tells her they have nothing to worry about. He and Father Jacob and Captain Brodst joke about the castle where they’re going to stay that night, saying that it’s only sank into the swamp three times. Which reminds me, oddly, of a certain movie by Monty Python.

It gets foggy and cold. It stays foggy and cold. Adrina is apprehensive. Two pages pass. It’s still foggy and cold. She gets the feeling that unseen hands are strangling her. This makes her freak out a little bit. And, uh:

The specter was there with her – like in her dreams – to take her away. But now she didn’t want the specter to take her away. The prune-faced man with his twisted wooden staff had saved her before, but he wasn’t here now and this wasn’t a dream (page 187).

Of course, this is the first time in this entire book the prune-faced man has been mentioned, so this scene doesn’t carry emotional impact. However, that is a rather good description of Xith. I wonder if Xith is in Adrina’s dreams as well?

Adrina starts hallucinating and screaming and flailing about. This makes her horse freak out and rear and then fall over. Adrina lands in the swamp and the horse falls on top of her with a crunch.

Unfortunately, no, she’s not dead.


  2 Responses to “Part 9: The Prune-Faced Man”

  1. Is there any way of pronouncing “Brodstson” without sounding like a drunken Sylvester the Cat?

  2. Having your horse rear and then fall on you is the second-worst thing I can think of happening as far as injuries the horse didn’t intend to cause. People do live through it, but usually with a broken pelvis. At best. This guy has never even seen a horse, has he?