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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Gathering Dark - Chapter 11



Within the Conclave.


Chapter 11 - A Day in the Life

One of the great misconceptions, from the day of the Brothers themselves to today, is that magic is somehow marvelous and wonderful and that being a mage is some type of glorious adventure. In truth, magic is just a study in forces, albeit forces that are undetected by the common man. And most of the work of a mage is not involved in deadly spellcasting duels, but in wearisome study, tiresome memorization, and unending research.

-Arkol, Argivian scholar

Barl leads Jodah to a small room that contains two beds. Should another new candidate be inducted, they'll share this room with him. Jodah uses the warm water and towel that was provided to him to scrub off all the salt and grime still stuck to him and fell instantly asleep.

When he wakes, Jodah finds his old clothes missing, and instead finds a blue silk shirt, a darker pants of wool, and a purple vest with large copper buttons folded nice and neat waiting for him. Jodah steps outside and finds himself being assaulted by a very large man.

The man, Shannan, quickly apologizes and tells him to hurry up. It's breakfast time.

In the dining hall, Jodah watches as Shannon heaps ham, bread rolls, and griddle cake onto his plate, and after they find seats, ends up picking off food from Jodah's plate, assuming that the much skinnier man isn't going to eat it all.

But besides taking Jodah's food, he also gives Jodah a run down of Citadel. He tells him that he's been assigned to help settle him in. To make sure Jodah knows where everything is and when it's time to eat. Stuff like that. He also gives Jodah a run down of the people within the Conclave Citadel.

"Ophenia and San-Lo," Shannan said, not bothering to explain which was which. "Two months ago they hated each other, to the point that everyone feared that open spell combat would break out in the halls, or at least an official challenge in the arena. Then Barl comes back from one of his trips with a magical whatsis, a dark sphere made of unknown wood. San-Lo wants it, but Barl assigns Ophenia to reach it, but all the books that Ophenia needs are in Lo's private stock. So the two of them have been playing kissy-face for the past couple week, with one trying to get the book sand the other trying to get the sphere. Won't last, of course, but I think Barl was hoping to get the two to stop acting like rival cats. Worked, at least so far."

The woman mage he met when he first arrived, kept her hair black thanks to using some plants she found in the swamp to the south. Dorine is the white haired woman who fancies the young male servants, as does Lord Dervish, although he has better taste. Jonko is a red mage that like to humiliate the staff, and Orm can't been seen down here because he's fasting as a means to reach a higher plane of consciousness. And Lucan, one of the other mages he met the day before is generally known as an ass-kisser.

The only people who Shannan will not speak any gossip about are Barl and Lord Mairsil. It's not good to speak about the boss, and Shannan was recently promoted to be one of Barl's assistants because one of them recently had his fingers broken in a vice.

After the meal, Shannan walks him over the the library and leaves him in the care of a wrinkled woman who introduces herself as Nedda, which is short for Nedastophalites. He can tell she's disappointed when he doesn't recognize the name and thinks lesser of him.

She tells him he'll be working in the Scriptorium, and when he says he doesn't have very good handwriting, she says it doesn't matter. He'll be using one of the scarabs like were used when Barl had interviewed him. As long as he doesn't stutter, he'll be fine. As for what he should be copying, that's up to him. It'll all need to be copied eventually.

After messing up a few pages while reading some diary that he picked up, Jodah gets the hang of things and so the second time that Nedda comes in to check on him she doesn't tell him to start over and instead nods her head in approval. At lunch Shannan returns to deliver lunch, ignoring the glares from Nedda. Jodah takes only two other breaks besides that. One to get water, the other to check up on something in the history section of the library. Towards the end of the day Shannan appears once more to tell him they need to get ready for diner.

On their way out of the library , Jodah paused by the plant-strewn desk. He said, "Nedastophalites was the last warrior-queen of now-lost Zegon, before they were ruled by a council. She died fifty years before Urza was born, and her reign was regarded as a golden age of the Zegoni people, winning them their freedom from the main Fallaji rulers of that time, the Tomakul."

Nedda tells Friend Jodah that's he's done quite well for his first day.

As for dinner, it turns out it's a formal occasion, and Jodah finds clothes laid out for him to change into in his room. At the dining hall, Jodah's given an assigned seating next to Shannon. The tables are arranged in a large horseshoe shape, and Shannon explains that there are about two-hundred and fifty mages in the Conclave Citadel at anyone time, with about half of them showing up for dinner on any given night, while other stay in their private rooms and laboratories to continue their studies. More mages of the Conclave are out and about across the land.

There are two empty seats, and Shannon explains that when Barl and Lord Mairsil are absent, dinner is always entertaining. One mage, Remarin, begins showing off by tossing an apple core into the center of the room, then casting a spell so the seeds sprout into a full-blown apple tree before their very eyes, and then as each apple on the tree ripens and falls, they chime a musical note as they hit the ground. When the performance is over he casts another spell and shrinks it back down for the servants to clean up, and the other mages applaud his efforts. Another mage, decides to use his magics to animate the corpse of a dead turkey, armed with knife and carving fork, and so other mages animate long loaves of bread and dinner rolls as a counter-offensive, all the while Shannan excitedly yells out the play-by-play for all to hear.

Afterwards, it's announced that poetry and spells will be performed in the smoking room, but Jodah decline and tells Shannon he wants to spend some time thinking and then get to sleep.

In his room, Jodah lies down and feels safe. He's warm and well-fed. There are no goblins and no Church. He can get used to this.


...In Lord Mairsil's study...

Barl enters the study, surprised to find Lord Mairsil surrounded by books and the file on Jodah rather than working on the clock, and asks why he was summoned. Mairsil wants an update on the status of the new arrival, and Barl tells him he's been assigned as a Scriptor as instructed.

Barl then asks why he's so interested.

Mairsil lays it all out to him. Jodah from Giva Province had a mage in his family line. His great-great-grandfather Jarsyl. Giva resides in the lands that used to be Argive of old. Urza was from Argive and had a grandson named Jarsyl as stated in The Antiquities War written by his very wife, Kayla bin-Kroog.

Jodah may very well be a descendent of the great Urza himself.

Barl thinks it sounds too much of coincidence, but Lord Mairsil says it's a coincidence worth pursuing. Barl asks if the wand is to be used, and Lord Mairsil is appalled at the thought. Not every problem can be solved with a hammer. Instead, it would be better if he meet the boy personally.

"The boy has no family. He has no real friends. He has lost his mentor, and he falls into our laps. He is looking for someone to follow, someone to look up to."

"That someone would be you, I suppose," said Barl flatly.

"Of course," said Mairsil, the lupine smile tugging back the corners of his thing mustache, "and once I have him, he'll be the key I need to solve my great mystery. I won't need Ith at all, will I? For I will have one of Urza's blood to unlock the door and bring me the power that is rightfully mine!"

* * *


Entertainment

Arkol lays things out quite clearly, but this is something that's been shown throughout the whole book. Life isn't one battle after another. And studying as a mage isn't performing one powerful spell after another. Grubb has been highlighting a lot of the fear, boredom, confusion, and need to accomplish the mundane to survive. And that in and of itself can be entertaining to read if written well.

While Jodah is the main character of this story, we've known from the very beginning that larger events revolve around him that we know he doesn't know about. It's easy to enjoy watching him learn about his new surroundings, finding a place that he might actually fit in after all the unfortunate events he's had to suffer through since the book began, and focusing on the little obstacles in his way like winning over the old librarian because the plot is still driven forward by the rest of the cast.


The Secret

I have to confess that I knew Jodah was a descendent of Urza from the very beginning, thanks to having read some of the other books that were published after this one, but I feel stupid for not putting together all the clues and realizing those clues were laid out there for the characters within the story to find. I even had the last chapter of The Brothers' War tagged with Jarsyl's name and I didn't notice!

While I knew who he was, I also knew that he didn't know, and of course it has to come out.

And through Mairsil's last words, maybe I'm finally coming to understand why. He says that by having someone of Urza's blood within reach, he might no longer need Lord Ith to unlock the "door" to some greater power. While I don't know why both Lord Ith and a descendent of Urza would be able to unlock this "door" and no one else can... we did get a glimpse of Lord Ith's nightmares and whispers and temptations from the demons within begging to be released.

This dark power is of course not just a figment of his imagination and Lord Ith has been doing all he can to resist releasing it, but Mairsil has no such concerns. And now that Mairsil knows of the importance of the boy, Jodah is now in a tug of war between the Usurper and Lord Ith (by way of the Rag Man).

In terms of the plot, since this isn't a book about the Hero's Journey and rather is focusing more on the harshness of life, it's important for Lord Mairsil to understand the secret so we know that someone is being active in the story. It was the Rag Man, then Sima, and now that duty is being handed off to Mairsil while Jodah just lives his life. I'm sure we're going to witness Jodah stop Mairsil in the end, but a more traditional story would have had Jodah learn of his destiny or decide he needs to make a difference in the world or have him actively think ahead more than just a day at a time much earlier than is presented here.

Time to watch Lord Mairsil unleash his corruption on our unsuspecting hero, and time to wonder when and where the Rag Man will show up to give warning and protect his charge. As for Jodah... we'll just have to wait and see when he finally catches on.


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