Monday, September 2, 2013

Redemption of Althalus--chapter four

Althalus is now hiking through the deep woods of the far north of this universe in the middle of summer. Apparently this part of Hule borders Kagwher AKA The land of this current gold rush, so Althalus  comes across the frequent markers gold hunters use to steak off their claim. Like the California Gold Rush of the 1800s this is mostly sticks shoved in the ground. Unlike the California Gold Rush the Kagwhers top their posts off with severed heads.

It gets the point across.

Althalus has his own opinion about the gold mines, of course:

So far as Althalus was concerned, the mines of Kagwher were perfectly safe. There was a lot of backbreaking labor involved in wrenching gold out of the mountains, and other men were far better suited for that than he was. Althalus was a thief, after all, and he devoutly believed that actually working for a living was unethical.
You know, I never wanted to have the Belgariad told from Silk's POV. I think I understand why this never occurred to me. Jesus Christ does Al have his head jammed up his ass.

Althalus then takes a paragraph to establish himself as an agnostic.

This is a David Eddings book. That's not gonna last.

Althalus then sees the northern lights.

Darkness was just beginning to settle over the mountains off to the east, but up toward the north where the night was in full bloom, the sky was on fire.

It's the middle of summer. Althalus is wandering around in the far north where the sun doesn't rise in winter, which as I said earlier makes it either Alaska or Siberia-esque. There are places in both Alaska and Siberia where daytime in winter is "sneeze and you miss it" short. Do you know what else is that short? Nighttime in summer.

I'm going to hope and pray that this is like early autumn now, because the odds of seeing the northern lights in the summer are, to paraphrase a website I just read, roughly similar to seeing the stars at noon.

Anyway, Althalus, knowing exactly shit about astronomy, decides that the Northern Lights are very pretty, and that they probably mean that Ghend is bullshitting him about something big and scary that Ghend doesn't want to deal with. Also, the screaming thing is still around and is still screaming. It apparently has nothing better to do than scare the everloving fuck out of Althalus. Note: That is all the detail we are given about the Screaming Thing. There is a Thing in the woods and it is screaming, and Althalus is beginning to rethink this whole northern trip. And you know what? If I had never seen the northern lights before and the night sky freaking caught on fire, while something scary and random screamed into the distance? I'd go invite Mr. Ghend to go fuck himself with his gold and see if I couldn't invent counterfeiting paper money.

Althalus then runs into a crazy old man talking to God. For a crazy old man, the guy gives pretty exact directions to the House at the End of the World. Which Althalus follows to the letter, because how could a crazy old guy be wrong?

Althalus finds the Edge of the World. It is a very, very, VERY high cliff. The clouds are very far below. Actually, I think it's the cliff from The Silver Chair, and Aslan is going to show up any minute.

Then Althalus has a dream about a randomly beautiful women, and another of Eddings Copy and Paste details pops up:

Her hair was the color of autumn, and her limbs were rounded with a perfection that made his heart ache. She was garbed in a short, archaic tunic, and her autumn hair was plaited elaborately. Her features were somehow alien in their perfect serenity...Her brow was broad and straight, and her nose continued the line of her forehead unbroken. Her lips were sensual, intricately curved, and as ripe as cherries. Her eyes were large and very green, and it seemed that she looked into his very soul with those eyes.
Eddings has used that forehead line before in at least one other series, and it confuses me every time I read it. That's...not how foreheads or noses work, and when I draw that it tends to look like something is either deformed or broken. Also, that last sentence is a little Department of Redundancy Department. She looks into his soul with her eyes. What else is she going to look with?

She begs him to come away with her, and he says he can't, and the Screaming Thing is still screaming when he wakes up, and this is all supposed to Mean Something. And when we find out what it does mean, it's not exactly what we'd call "Subtle."

Oh, and this happens:

  • And when he awoke, there was a sour emptiness in him, and the taste of all the world was bitter, bitter.
At some point Eddings decided that archaic lyricism means repeating one word twice for emphasis, starting every single fucking phrase with "and", and using a lot of thees and thous. And there are several scenes in this book that are nothing but this phrasing. Scenes that are absolutely critical to the book and climatic to several character arcs. Like I said, I love this book, but holy fuck, Dave. WHY?

So yeah. Let's get used to that.

Winter is showing up by the time he finds the house. Being reasonably terrified at this point, Althalus spends a day sitting across its moat waiting for something to happen. Its drawbridge is down and the lights are on, but nobody seems to be home. Also, the candles that are on inside continue to burn all day, which isn't how candles are supposed to work. Between the fire in the sky, the Screaming Thing and the dreams, Althalus is rather weirded out by the time he goes into the house.

He goes into the house, climbs the stairs--I am totally visualizing the Arch-Mage's tower from Oblivion--and comes into this:

Beyond the door there was one room, and one only. It was a large, circular room, and the floor was as glossy as ice. The whole house was strange, but this particular room seemed stranger still. The walls were also polished and smooth, and they curved inward to form a dome overhead. The workmanship that had created this room was far more advanced than anything Althalus had ever seen before.
Two points: Eddings might not be great at lyrical description, but he is fairly consistent about what his character describes. If you've never seen a polished marble floor, "glossy as ice" would probably be all you could dig out. (There is a scene in the Tamuli where a bunch of medival era knights have to describe a fucking spaceship. I. SHIT. YOU. NOT. RANDOM FUCKING SPACESHIP IN A HIGH FANTASY NOVEL. They actually pull off "What the FUCK is this thing" nonchalance really well) You're not going to reach for very high thoughts if you've got a very limited vocabulary, is what I'm saying. What's more irritating is that "far more advanced" thing tacked onto the end there. I don't think that Althalus, having had the trip he just had, is going to go "Gee, these technological advancements are well beyond my time and place in history". I think he's more likely to go "Find the book and leave. Find the book and leave."

Anyway, the Book he came to steal is the pretty white box sitting on the table in the middle of the room. Whoopee. He snags it.

This is when he notices that there's a bed in the room, that there's furs on the bed and there's a little black cat curled up in the middle of the fur. It's purring. This continues for a couple of seconds, and then the cat does what I imagine every cat has wanted to do when its human lets winter happen:

“You certainly took your own sweet time getting here,” the cat observed in a distinctly feminine voice. “Now why don’t you go shut that door you left standing wide open? It’s letting in the cold, and I just hate the cold.”

End of chapter.

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