Chapter Eight – A Message From the Dark Lord
And….we get to see Elmas again.
I’m not sure why, really. As I recall, Elmas was told in no uncertain terms that if he failed to kill the Sociopaths and take over Atlantis, he was going to be killed. Unfortunately, the Sociopaths are very much alive, and Atlantis is Dark Lord-free. But here is Elmas, chugging along, still alive, like the Little Engine That Can’t Quite.
Incidentally, there’s no mention of Lord Necros in this book. At all. He’s suddenly gone.
Morris spends a paragraph talking about how badass Elmas is and how much people fear him. And then he starts talking about how much Elmas fears the Dark Lord. This is THE Dark Lord, the big cheese, the main man. We actually have the guy up top. Elmas is summoned in to see him.
The Dark Lord gave him one swift look, and his lips curled. His eyes were fathomless depths of evil. There was, indeed, an aura of evil that hung like a cloud about this powerful commander of an empire (page 73).
Just in case you were wondering – the Dark Lord is evil. No, really.
The Dark Lord tells Elmas he’s failed. Again. And if Elmas can’t cut it, he has others who can. I wonder why he hasn’t just killed Elmas and given his job to someone else, because by now it should be painfully obvious that Elmas can’t cut it. Elmas stammers for a bit about how he’s always been obedient but the Dark Lord tells him that’s not enough. He wants results. We get some more description of the Dark Lord, who has eyes that glow red. Basically, he looks exactly like Lord Necros. Maybe Lord Necros is who the Dark Lord pretends to be, just to confuse his underlings.
Elmas points out that Goel helped the Sociopaths. This infuriates the Dark Lord, because he’s forbidden anyone to mention Goel’s name in his presence. And y’know, if I worked for the Supreme All-Powerful Evil Dark Lord, who could make me die in agonizing pain with a flick of his little finger, I would be very careful not to mention any forbidden names. Then again, Elmas is kind’ve a dim bulb.
Elmas explains that he has a chap working for them in Camelot. And he’ll alert them to the danger of the Sociopaths. Now, to me, this is further proof of Elmas’ incompetence, because if he has agents in Camelot you’d think that he should already have alerted them to the danger of the Sociopaths. However, the Dark Lord says he has one last chance and tells him to get out. Elmas leaves. Then the Dark Lord angsts for a bit, and looks even more evil.
We then cut over to Melchior. A servant informs him that a messenger from Elmas has arrived. I love these teleporting messengers. The messenger comes in and he’s an albino. The albino tells him that he needs to capture the people who came to Camelot. Apparently they’re the most dangerous opponents in the kingdom. Even though they’re all kids. Melchior scoffs. The messenger says it’s important. Melchior tells him to explain.
Cut to Camelot. It’s a tourney. Elaine and Reb talk. Elaine says she’s worried for his safety. Reb says he’ll be fine. Elaine mentions that the melee is about to start. Reb asks what it is.
…seriously? They’ve been here for weeks, probably over a month. Reb’s been knighted and this is his first tourney. He still doesn’t know what a melee is? Oh wait – Morris needs to explain to the clueless readers. Right. So basically there’s a bunch of red knights, led by Prince Loren. And there’s a bunch of black knights, led by Melchior. And, uh…
“They are going to have a pretend sword battle” (page 77).
Admittedly, this is Princess Elaine talking, but still…
A herald announces the rules, which is that anyone who falls from their horse cannot be attacked. Then there’s other rules, and then Dion waves his scepter and the fight is on. Partway through Melchior starts to attack someone who falls off, but a trumpet sounds, and he stops, and looks up, and notices the king glaring at him. It’s a good thing someone in the middle of a wild melee with the adrenaline pumping can notice stuff like that. And so it goes on for a long time and finally the king declares a tie. Prince Loren and Melchior are furious, but the king doesn’t care. So Melchior rides up to the king’s platform and asks to have one more contest, that would settle the winner of the tournament.
Uh-huh. So basically, to settle the winner of the tournament, you’d take the two knights who have done the best in the jousting, and they’d joust, right? I mean, that makes sense to me. Loren immediately says that he should joust Melchior, even though Melchior kicked his ass twice earlier. But Melchior asks to pick someone to joust with him. And we get an…interesting quote:
The king was not a man to know fear – but if he were, this was the man he would have feared. He knew Melchior had gathered to himself discontented men, knights who had grudges against the crown and against the kingdom (page 79).
Earlier, Elendar was griping about how he couldn’t make the king understand why he couldn’t trust Melchior. And now suddenly the king understands perfectly. Right.
King Dion agrees. Melchior says he’s heard about this chap called Sir Reb. The king protests and points out that Reb is just a snot-nosed fourteen-year-old. Melchior points out that he’s unhorsed some of King Dion’s best knights, and saved his life from a wild boar. And then he goes over to Reb:
“You are not a coward, I trust, Sir Reb?” (page 80).
Reb, of course, immediately jumps up and says he’ll fight him.
Amazingly, this entire scene works well, and is pretty much the only scene in the entire book that doesn’t totally suck, mostly because Melchior is quite skillful at pushing buttons. And so Melchior turns to the king, who hems and haws and finally decrees that the joust will take place at noon tomorrow.
Everyone crowds around Reb and begs him to change his mind. Josh wonders if Melchior could be working for the Dark Lord. Come on – a name like Melchior, you know he’s evil. Josh tries to convince Reb to put it off for a week and practice more. I’m not sure how that would work, considering the king publicly declared it was going to be tomorrow. However, Reb’s pride has been touched, so he says he’s going to fight tomorrow. And we end with a quote from Josh.
“Someday, Reb, you’re going to learn that sometimes wisdom is better than throwing yourself into a fight” (page 82).
Wow. That’s the kind of thing you want to cut out and hang next to your bed so you can read every day.
Chapter Nine – The Revenge of Melchior
It’s not often that we get to open the chapter with an idiotic quote, but then again, this chapter is a putrid and pestilent piece of shit from beginning to end, so here we go:
The news of the contest between the young stranger Sir Reb and the mighty warrior Sir Melchior spread like wildfire (page 83).
First of all, Reb’s been there a month, so he’s not really a stranger. Second, the thing about medieval tournaments is that pretty much everyone is there, nobles and peasants alike, and anyone who actually mattered is going to be there and hear the decree, so there’s no one for the news to spread to.
The gossip was that if Sir Melchior won the battle he would somehow make things hard for the king (page 83).
Look, Morris, I understand you’re writing for younger readers. But putting the word ‘somehow’ in there is not all the explanation you need. If he wins the joust, he wins the tourney. And he’ll get a purse, and some prestige. Maybe some more people will like him. It’s not winning an election, it’s winning a fucking game.
Sarah and Josh and Token talk about talking Reb out of it. And as homoerotic quotes go, I’ll admit that this one isn’t anything special, or even particularly good, but when taken in context with later quotes about Reb and Token’s relationship, it will make more sense.
“I tried all night to get him to change his mind” (page 83).
Yes Token. You and Reb were awake all night. Okay.
The Sociopaths talk some more. Dave exposits that Melchior is basically the top jouster in the kingdom. So basically, Melchior is Gregor Clegane. He’s huge, he’s strong, and he’s an excellent jouster. And Reb is basically Sansa Stark: a naïve kid who has no idea what he’s getting himself into. No matter how you spin it, Reb’s totally screwed.
I wonder if he’ll win anyway?
Sir Gwin tries to talk Reb out of it. Unsuccessfully. Sir Elbert tells him to just fall off and play dead, since Reb’s too young to die. Sir Nolen tells him that a good horse is half the joust. And Reb grins and says that Thunder (the horse) has to be twice as good as Melchior’s horse. File this one under ‘obvious foreshadowing’.
Sir Gwin recommends Reb use the same trick he used last time. Reb points out that Melchior isn’t stupid and will probably slaughter him if he tries it. So Sir Gwin says he has no idea. Reb mentions that Goel’s probably watching and he’ll just have to trust him. Good plan.
They go to put Reb on his horse, and Reb is amazed. Because with plate armor it’s too heavy to climb on your horse so they hoist him up with a rope and lower him down onto his horse. Except that Reb has already jousted in full armor so there’s no reason for him to express wonder at all of this – not to mention that Reb has jumped on and off his horse while wearing armor several times before.
Sir Nolen gives Reb his shield, and this inspiring quote:
“Remember, you’ve got the best horse, and you’ve got the best cause” (page 86).
I’m sorry? The best cause? Reb accepted the joust because Melchior bruised his all-too-fragile ego! Where the hell did cause come into all this?
Reb thinks about how screwed he is unless Goel bails him out. He has no idea what to do. And then suddenly…
Only for one blinding moment did the idea flash into his head. But in that instant he knew exactly what he could do – and he realized that the thought had come from Goel! (page 87).
Sometimes, I wonder just what the hell Morris is smoking.
Most of the time, it’s pretty straightforward propaganda. Trust in Goel, don’t have any faith in yourself, and Goel will bail you out of your impossible situation. Especially when the situation you’re in comes from obeying Goel’s commands or something like that. This is drilled into the reader’s heads with nauseating regularity – rarely does a page go by without something mentioning how they have to trust Goel.
Then we get situations like this. Melchior basically insulted Reb, bruised his ego, and because Reb can’t just brush off comments like that, he accepted the challenge. Now, if I was writing this story, I would chalk this one down to “Reb Learns a Lesson”. Reb goes out, jousts Melchior, has his ass handed to him. Learns a valuable lesson about being too prideful. After all, wasn’t that what the little quote at the end of the last chapter was for? But instead, for some reason, Morris and Goel decide to reward Reb and let him win through the powers of Deus ex Machina.
Unfortunately, Morris needs to have Reb win here to set up some other, horribly contrived plot angles later on. In fact, everything in this entire book is horribly contrived, far more so than any of the other books.
So Reb rides out to face Melchior. He gets tunnel vision. The trumpet is sounded and they start galloping at each other. In slow motion. They get closer and closer, and finally, just before they hit:
Now jousting horses knew to keep straight on the track, but at Reb’s touch the fiery stallion abruptly swerved to the right (page 88).
No no no no. Jousting horses are trained to run straight. Not swerve if the knight twitches a bit at the thought of having a lance rammed into his spleen. Even Morris knows this. This couldpossibly be acceptable if Morris had mentioned Reb practicing this particular trick, with this particular horse, for weeks and weeks on end, but he hasn’t. The horse has no idea. And yet he swerves to the right. Exactly far enough for Melchior’s lance to miss Reb. But not too far, so when Reb points his lance across his body – straight across – Melchior runs right into the lance and is knocked off his horse.
I wonder if that’s even legal. It’s certainly unchivalrous.
Everyone celebrates. King Dion congratulates him. Reb says that it wasn’t him, it was Goel. So the Sociopaths start a cheer for Goel, and meanwhile Elaine goes over to Reb and congratulates him. Reb kisses her hand. Elaine asks him to wear her favor next time. Awww, look at them – they’re in love!
Everyone heads off to party, leaving Melchior behind. He mutters something to his lieutenant about how they’ve won this round, but there’s another one to play. Won this round? This would make more sense if we knew what Melchior’s plan was, considering that winning the tourney would have accomplish jack, even if he did manage to kill Reb in the process.
We then cut forward to that night. Someone bangs on the door of the boys’ room. It’s Prince Loren. Apparently Melchior has kidnapped Princess Elaine. They’ve been summoned to the war council. Just what every war council needs, a bunch of dumb kids. Sarah asks Josh what’s going to happen.
“Like Loren says, it’ll mean war,” Josh said grimly. “The king will never allow his daughter to be kidnapped.” (page 91).
Newsflash: she’s already been kidnapped.