Chapter Ten – The Winner of the Quest
Sir Gwin summons all of his lieutenants, and they all head out to get their followers. And we get a little gem:
King Dion and the queen were distraught (page 93).
Morris hasn’t quite mastered showing, not telling. And actually, this sentence doesn’t even need to be there – the following few paragraphs adequately show us what the king and queen are feeling. Or, in other words, Morris expects his readers to be too clueless to figure out that parents would be upset when their daughter is kidnapped.
Mauve asks the king how he could do it. Dion explains that it was very clever, and actually, they haven’t heard anything from Melchior, it was his lieutenant, Sir Baloc, who did it. How they know this, we don’t know. They further exposit how cruel Sir Baloc is, and how he’ll go and take refuge with Melchior, who will expect the king to come in and begin hostilities, which will give him an excuse to attack the king.
Right. I don’t think Melchior really needs an excuse to begin hostilities. He’s just kidnapped the monarch’s daughter. That’s basically an open declaration of war. If he wanted to take over the kingdom, why didn’t he just slaughter the royal family in their beds and install himself in their place? We already know that they aren’t really guarded.
Dion further exposits that he doesn’t know if they’re strong enough to defeat Melchior. And he thinks something is falling over their kingdom. Like a shadow. Darkness. From Mordor and the Dark Lord. It’s very dramatic.
Sir Gwin comes with a message from Sir Baloc. Apparently Sir Baloc is demanding permission to marry Elaine. Because he really needs the king’s permission to marry her, if he wants it. Naturally King Dion doesn’t think much of this. He continues to wax poetic about how if Baloc gets in as their son-in-law, he can start spreading his Evil influence through the guards and knights, turning them Evil, until they’re ready to go over to Melchior and the Dark Lord. To be perfectly honest, I’m not even sure why this is in here, because Dion has no intention of giving permission, and if Baloc has a shred of intelligence he’ll know that the king has no intention of giving permission. Basically, it’s a declaration of war and the other side now has a valuable hostage. And there’s a few more useless paragraphs in this book.
Baloc also says that he’s not going to set Elaine free unless they send a challenger. The phrasing here is rather weird, but the basic idea being that if the challenger wins (whatever he would be fighting) he’ll give Princess Elaine back, and if the challenger loses (whatever he would be fighting) Baloc will claim Elaine. Or something like that. It’s not stated that it would be single combat, so I’m guessing whoever the challenger is, he’ll simply have to fight Baloc’s entire garrison.
King Dion says that they’ll send the challenger. If the challenger loses, they’ll send the entire army. Sir Gwin immediately volunteers. The king says no – they’ll draw for it. Any knight who wishes can put his name in. Sir Gwin immediately points out what an idiotic idea that is. The king says he thinks that only the more able knights will volunteer – which is patently ridiculous, especially since we later learn that every single knight in the kingdom put his name in the lottery. And the stupidity makes me clutch my head in pain. This is your daughter we’re talking about. You don’t screw around in a situation like this. If you have the option of picking a Jaime Lannister or Barristan Selmy to fight for you, against the possibility of a sixty-year-old drunkard who wants one more shot at glory, you don’t make it random.
But Dion says he was Inspired. The idea Came to him. It’s like a Message from Goel. Or, like most of this book, it’s a Plot Contrivance. Because you know that Reb is going to put his name in. And I wonder who will have his name picked?
Josh meets Elendar and they talk, recapping information that was on the previous page in an unsubtle way to remind the reader that there is Danger! They go up to where everyone is gathered to see whose name is to be drawn. I’m not sure why everyone is there. Since time is of the essence, you’d think they’d just get the names together, have the king and his council present, and draw a name. It doesn’t need to be a big deal.
King Dion gets up and begins to talk:
“I need not tell you of the crisis that has come upon us” (page 98).
But he does anyway. Finally he’s ready to draw the name. And we get another stupid quote:
“I, myself, will draw the name so that there will be no charge of favoritism or of dishonesty” (page 98).
Again, why would anyone care? The princess has been kidnapped. No one would think anything of it if the king picked the smartest, strongest, most talented and trustworthy knight to go rescue her. For that matter, isn’t the fact that the king is going to all this effort to have a ‘random’ drawing more or less proof positive that he’s not playing favorites? He’s being an idiot about it, but that’s par for the course. And finally, why would the king drawing the paper himself in any way make people think it was fair? Generally, you want an impartial outsider to do these kind of things, someone who doesn’t care or has no stake in what’s going on. The king obviously does. In fact, he has every reason in the world to rig this, even though he obviously isn’t, because he was dumb enough to think of this in the first place.
He pulls out a name. And stiffens. He waits and pauses dramatically, and then announces that it’s Sir Reb whose name was chosen.
Sir Reb was the most surprised person in the arena. […] He had put his name on a slip of paper, but never once had it occurred to him that he might be chosen (page 99).
I think it probably occurred to everyone who had the misfortune to read this book.
The king asks him if he’s ready to take on the quest. And Reb, of course, says yes.
Chapter Eleven – The Scent of Death
It’s morning, and Reb and Token are heading out on their Quest.
Elendar, apparently, had woken them up before dawn and taken them to where their horses were waiting. Apparently nobody else was around, which is odd – you’d think that the king and queen and Sir Gwin and maybe the rest of the Sociopaths would want to see them off on their suicidal venture, but no. Elendar said that every knight needs a squire, so he was sending Token along. Because he trusts Token. Token, apparently, has a quality in which Reb is lacking – caution. He talks about how there’s a dark cloud over the future, which is indicative of the Dark Lord’s presence.
Reb and Token look back on Camelot in the distance. Reb mentions how he bet Token never thought this was going to happen when he woke up in his coffin. And Token responds with a completely pointless quote and story about Abraham Lincoln – because most twelve-year-olds quote Lincoln. And, like nearly everything in this series, the quote and story has absolutely nothing to do with what’s going on.
They ride all day and finally stop and camp for the night. Over dinner, they talk about how spooky the place is. Reb has a map and mentions that the place is called ‘Darkwood’. Yeah. Really imaginative, that. They’re about to go to sleep when Token seems someone. Reb whips out his sword and challenges the figure…and it’s a woman. A hot one. She introduces herself as Mogen, which is one letter removed from Morgan, and this is a Camelot-esque adventure, so I’m going to guess she’s evil.
Mogen explains that everyone in Camelot knows about the quest, and butters Reb up for a bit. And then she asks if they’d mind sharing their meal. Reb agrees. So they give her some meat, and some juice [!] that they’re carrying in leather skins. Juice. I’m not sure how long juice lasts in leather skins, but I’m guessing it’s not that long.
When she’s done eating she says that they’re wise not to trust strangers, which is the same line Hamar used, and we all know how that turned out. However, then she explains that Goel sent her, and everyone who claims to have been sent by Goel has turned out to be good, so maybe she’s not evil after all.
We’re in Token’s POV, so we then get a semi-flashback to something Elendar told him before they left, about how Reb is too trusting and Token needs to be alert and suspicious of everything. So Token asks how can they be sure Mogen is from Goel. Reb immediately shoots him down. They argue for a bit, and finally Mogen gazes deeply into Reb’s eyes, and tells him that she wants to help. I bet she does. Mogen says that Goel knows that Reb needs some help against Sir Baloc, and pulls out a golden medallion on a chain. There’s a weird sign on it, which Token finds vaguely familiar. Mogen explains that it’s Goel’s sign, and the medallion came from around Goel’s neck. She tells Reb that he needs to always wear the medallion and never take it off.
So Reb puts it on. And immediately he feels more powerful and stronger and bolder and the world quails before him. And with that, Mogen vanishes into the trees.
Token says that he doesn’t like it. Reb shoots him down again. And then we have an absolutely lovely moment:
“I declare, Wash, you’d complain if they hung you with a new rope!” (page 108).
Reb’s a white partially reformed racist. Token’s black. Are you seriously telling me that nobody raised an eyebrow at that line?
Token still doesn’t trust her. Reb gets mad at him, and then stands up and talks about how strong and powerful he feels and he’s ready to take on the world! It’s extremely ominous. Token says nothing. He sits there and thinks about how messed up this entire situation is and wishes Elendar was there. And then he goes to sleep.
The next day they get lost. Token complains. Reb tells him that if he doesn’t shut up he’s going to beat Token into silence. This is also extremely ominous. Then again, I generally feel like beating all of the Sociopaths into silence every time they open their mouths. But they find the path again.
That night they camp again, a day away from Baloc’s joint. And we switch back over to Reb’s POV. Token goes to sleep, but Reb hears a voice. It’s Mogen. She comes over to sit next to him, and he smells something weird. They gaze into each other’s eyes and he gets excited by her presence. Yes, that’s the word Morris uses. And then Mogen touches Reb’s head and starts talking in a strange language. He sits there like he’s been shocked, and finally comes to, lying on his back on some blankets. The medallion feels heavier. So now Reb is wearing something around his neck that’s made of gold, is of dubious value, grows heavier the farther he goes, and causes changes in one’s personality. Why does this sound so familiar?
When Token wakes up, he freaks out, however. Because the entire place smells like death.
…yeah, she’s evil.