Monday, January 24, 2011

God and Man

“These infinitesimal distinctions between man and man are too paltry for an Omnipotent Being. How these madmen give themselves away! The real God taketh heed lest a sparrow fall; but the God created from human vanity sees no difference between an eagle and a sparrow, Oh, if men only knew!”
Bram Stoker, Dracula (Dr. John Seward)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Lake Wobegon Summer 1956 by Garrison Keillor

This is the first Keillor I’ve read and I didn’t know what to expect. What I got was a well-crafted story with a bad ending about a fourteen-year-old boy named Gary growing up in a strict religious household in Minnesota, just beginning to spread his artistic wings.

According to the dust jacket, The Cleveland Plain Dealer says Keillor has a gift for treading “a line delicate as a cobweb between satire and sentiment,” and that gift really is one display in this novel.

By way of example, Gary’s life is filled with a crazy cast of characters—people both real in that puckered Midwestern Protestant kind of way, but who are also archetypes for the fear and doctrines many of them cling to. A great example is Gary’s Aunt Flo—yes, he actually calls her Aunt Flo—who is hypercritical of men and their ubiquitous secret shenanigans.

This is her great theme. All the Lake Wobegon men who got caught in adultery and never expected to. One after another, caught at the old game like a weasel in the moonlight, held up, dangling from the leg trap, and people cry Shame! Shame! And among the shamers is a man thinking, “Lucky for me that I covered my tracks. Nobody’ll ever find out.” And they sniff him out two weeks later, and tar and feather him and ride him around on a rail, and of the men carrying the rail, one thinks, “Good I burned those letters when I did.” Two weeks later, they find two unburnt letters addressed to Angel Eyes, and put him in stocks, and people throw dead fish and used fruit at him and buckets of slime and entrails, and one of the main hurlers thinks, “If I’m ever caught, which I won’t be, I’ll deny everything,” and two weeks later, he’s caught. He denies it, but they have found the pink garter, the hotel-room key, and he is made to walk around with a deceased pelican hanging around his neck, and the man who ties the pelican to him thinks, “I’ll call her and tell her I can’t meet her again until after this all blows over.” And two weeks later, he meets her, and when they are at a high pitch of excitement, suddenly red lights flash and two cops arrest him for gross indecency and drag him downtown, and one cop thinks, “I am the last person anyone would ever suspect of misdeeds.” And two weeks later, he stands up in the HiDeHo, wearing his fake beard and glasses, and he inserts the $10 bill in the dancer’s bodice, and feels the hand on his shoulder, and it’s his wife’s brother, who drags him home, where he sits in the dark basement and weeps for all the pain he has caused, and the wife’s brother is thinking, “I’ll meet Trixie tonight, as planned. Nothing to fear. We’ll go to Sauk Centre, where nobody knows us.”

There is so much that is so good here. It’s light and fun, sure it is, but it flows and the word choice is pitch perfect. It is masterful.

And so it goes. One after another. Each one dumber than the one ahead of him in the parade. Ping-Pong balls for brains! Pudding heads! She sits on the daybed and snorts. Mr. Hansen, that gilded idiot, who fell for the size 38-DD waitress at the Chatterbox and bought her a dozen tubes of crimson lipstick and promised her the moon and stars and inveigled her to accompany him to a truckers’ motel on Highway 10, and who should be parked in a booth at that very same motel coffeeshop but Hansen’s brother-in-law, eating a hot pork sandwich! He rose and collared the old goat before he could get his paws on the room key, and oh how the pitiful miscreant begged the brother-in-law to please look the other way. Oh, he was ten yards short of glory—oh, please please please, but no, he was hauled home and these was hell to pay and women yelling at him, How could you be so dirt stupid? He was in the doghouse for years! And yet—did that keep Clint Bunsen from flirting with the very same waitress? Sitting there drinking coffee and suggesting he show her Chicago. Show her Chicago! What is that supposed to mean? And him a former mayor and deacon of the Lutheran church. Didn’t stop him for one minute. And Mr. Hansen’s brother-in-law? He of the hot pork sandwich? Six months later, he pulled over by the Benton County sheriff for speeding; and sitting next to him was the reason for the his haste, a married woman from Kimball in a pink negligee with little fur puffs on the sleeves. The man returned home with his tail between his legs and had to sleep on the couch for six months and was made to take his dinner and go sit in the garage. And for what? A roll in the hay. A ride on the Ferris wheel. Wham bam, thank you, ma’am. For this they’re willing to give up everything? But that’s men. Men believe in their hearts that God will make an exception in their case and look the other way.

Yes, there’s humor here, plenty of it, humor and sentiment; but there is also satire, deep biting satire about what women think about men in their darkest hours, but also in that last line about darkness and light there is that fundamental truth on which those thoughts are based.

Gary is a young man, much like we would imagine Garrison at that age, just beginning the scratch the surface of what it means to be a writer. The deep meaning that hides under the surface of people and the choices they make is as seemingly opaque to Gary as it is initially to the reader. And Keillor’s ability to turn a phrase and his finely-honed comedic touch obscures these meanings even more, only poking through into our consciousness late in the novel, much in the same way it begins to manifest to Gary.

One pivotal scene comes during a visit to his Aunt Eva, a woman who raised him for a few years in his early childhood while he father served in the Army and his mother lived out east with him. Gary consistently has fond memories of his Aunt Eva, but sees her less and less as he grows older, until this day in his fourteenth year when she has guilted him enough that he goes to visit her.

I stood at the window waiting for my chance to escape. Grandma heisted herself up and headed for the biffy, and Eva said it again. If I thought you were going to forget all about me, I’d go upstairs right this minute and take that poison. She said she’d had a dream that I was grown up, wearing a very expensive suit and tie, walking in a crowd of strangers down a city street where she stood alone on the corner, hungry, lost, scared, and I walked right past her, not recognizing her, my own flesh and blood. She spoke my name and I turned and said, “Who are you?” And she ran away into the woods and the woods stood for her own death. “In the dream I knew I was about to die, and I wasn’t afraid,” she said. “I was happy to.”

And as she said it, I knew that the dream was real. That was exactly what was going to happen someday.

“What kind of poison?” I asked.


“Wouldn’t that be painful?”

“I don’t care. It’d be the last pain I’d ever have to suffer, and it couldn’t be anything like the pain of seeing people I love turn away from me.”

This seems intensely personal, and the reader is left with the impression that this is one of the most autobiographical parts of this obviously autobiographical novel. Gary’s reaction is predictable—he runs away from this smothering neediness—but it is also frustrating because Gary’s spirit is trapped, even as it yearns to be free.

I got on my bike with a big bag of tomatoes clutched in one arm and I kissed her goodbye and wheeled away and onto the paved road and down the hill and over the crick and I knew that if she took arsenic I didn’t want to be around or know anything about it or even attend the funeral. But Grandma looked good, her color was good, her mind was pretty sharp. If she could hold on for another ten years, then I’d be 24 and by that time a person knows what to do about these things. It was a fine day, no time to be thinking about funerals. I rode along no-handed, a talent common among tree toads I’m sure, and as I came to the first mailbox, I took a tomato out and threw it sidearm and missed, but I hit the big yellow sign with the curved arrow and went around the curve fast, still no hands on the handlebars, and hit the curve sign on the other side of the curve. The crowd of strangers in Aunt Eva’s dreams was a crowd of friends of mine in some city I hadn’t seen yet but would see and would be happy there. Yes! Happy! Strangers to her but dear friends to me. People who don’t sit around planning their funerals and complaining about the cost of butter nowadays and waiting for the Lord’s Return and agonizing over every light left burning in an empty room. My friends will be of another race entirely, a more joyful race, and I intend to be happy right along with them, and if you expect me to sit and weep and mope in the damp and gloom, you’ve got another thing coming, by God—and I hit the stop sign where the township road met the country road, splattered tomato all over, and missed one mailbox and then hit three in a row, for a record of six hits and two misses, and hit the RAIL ROAD CROSSING sign on both sides of the old Great Northern spur, and was coming in sight of town, up to the tree between the road and the swamp where Uncle Al had nailed the FOR ALL HAVE SINNED AND COME SHORT OF GLORY OF GOD sign—“Surely,” said Grandpa, “surely he has sense enough not to”—and Jesus looked down and said He believed I was going to hit it and of course He, being part of the triune God, was right—the big tomato made a lovely looping arc and splatted right between COME and SHORT and left a bright-red mark like blood, and now I was nine-and-two and the WELCOME TO LAKE WOBEGON was a cinch for No. 10 and the SLOW CHILDREN was No. 11 and just for the principle of the thing, I stopped to throw the last three tomatoes as high in the air as I could, to hear them hit the asphalt. If someone had come by and stopped and asked why I was wasting all those perfectly good tomatoes, I would have said, Because they’re my tomatoes and because it makes me HAPPY! Let’s hear it for Happiness! I’m h-a-p-p-y to throw t-o-m-a-t-o and a splanch and a splinch and a mighty spil-woshish. Grandpa turned away from the window, he couldn’t bear to see it. For somebody who was in heaven, he sure worried a lot.

It is revealed that Gary loves but doesn’t like many of the people in his family, his father perhaps most of all, who seems to epitomize the hand-wringing worry that he wants to leave behind for the happiness embraced in this tomato-throwing passage.

It is his older cousin Kate who is his true inspiration—a girl who seems to embrace life and its passions in a way that horrifies the rest of the family.

But Kate just laughed. “Darling,” she said to me, “I don’t intend to spend my life baking cookies and waxing the kitchen floor. These poor women! They think that, if they’re very quiet and smiley and keep their floors clean, everybody will like them. I am not a scrubwoman. I am an artist, my darling. So are you. Artists are put here to paint big strokes of color in a dull, gray world—and if some people prefer the dull, gray world, too bad for them. Don’t be a bump on a log. Wake up and die right.”

Kate is a wild girl, tap dancing on the edge of impropriety mostly for the rush of it but also for the joy that comes with creating such indignation among the others. She flirts and kisses and messes around with Gary from time to time, but it’s never very serious. She is attracted more to the latent spirit of the artist that she can see dwelling within him that she is to Gary himself. She dates an unpopular man, a local minor league ball player, someone from a family with scandalous troubles, and winds up pregnant by him and they decide to get married, partly to keep the peace and partly to better facilitate their escape from Minnesota. Her battles with her father are legendary.

On the front step she called him a name he hadn’t been called since his Army days. He cocked his arm as if he might wallop her and she called him one even worse. He let go. He cried, “Where did you ever learn words like those?”

She said, “I learned them by living! That’s how. I actually live life. Unlike some other people around here who I could name.”

And this is why Gary idolizes her. He wants to live, too, but he doesn’t have the daring or the wanderlust that Kate has. So he decides that writing will be his escape, his way of living a life of truth and passion the way Kate seems to. It may never get him out of Lake Wobegon, but even if it doesn’t, it will be the vehicle through which he leaves his childish conceptions of the world behind and becomes his own man.

I will write no more poems to please my teachers. I will write no more of boogers and farts to curry favor among cruel and callow. I will no longer toy with tornadoes and talking dogs and fatal blood diseases as if making a puppet show.

I will sit at the table with my family and write down their sighs, their little pleasures, their kind hearts, their faithfulness. In the face of sin and sorrow and the shadow of death itself, they do not neglect to wash to dishes.

Whatever happens, he decides, he will write it down.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

And, oh yeah, that awful ending. There’s an undercurrent of baseball and pubescent lust throughout the book. Gary gets a part-time job writing press clippings about the town’s minor league baseball team, whose star pitcher is the guy Kate hooks up with. And he’s constantly thinking about sex and secretly reading erotic comic books behind his schoolbooks. That business about Grandpa and Jesus looking down on him from heaven—that’s a humorous device Keillor uses to good effect to put Gary’s guilty conscience on display. He knows he shouldn’t think this way, but he can’t help it.

Well, at the end of the book Keillor oddly conflates these two things together, I think in an attempt to wrap them into a tight little narrative bundle. Gary goes to the ballpark after hours, strips off all his clothes and runs around in the field naked, his “pecker jouncing around like a jockey.”

A person walks around in a cotton envelope, it’s good to open yourself to the fresh air and reveal yourself to the universe. Here I am, all secrets known, all desires revealed, and I am not ashamed. Go ahead and turn on the lights, I refuse to cringe and run away.

I could imagine Ding Schoenecker in the dugout yelling, “Hey! You! Boy! What you think you’re doing?” Imagine Miss Lewis pale from shock and required smelling salts. Imagine the sister crying out, “See? I told you! Nobody believed me! So look for yourselves!” Imagine a story in the paper, BOY, 14, FOUND NUDE AT BALLPARK, HELD FOR OBSERVATION, PARENTS SAY HE “SEEMED NORMAL.” How could you do it? they said. Because it felt good. And because I am a writer and have to live life.

I get it. I get the point Keillor is making. That to be a writer, a writer has to put himself out there for all the world to see, that he has to live a real life and write about it, not about what he thinks life is from the cloister of his typewriter. But I have to say, as I was reading this scene, I wasn’t with Gary feeling his liberation. I was with his prudish sister, tsk-tsking him and telling him to grow up.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark

I was assigned to read this book in middle or high school. Assigned to, but never actually read it as far as I can remember. I’ve seen the movie about nine times, though. So when I saw the novel in a used bookstore in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin, I decided to pick it up and give it another try. It’s very similar to the movie, with long stretches of dialogue lifted verbatim from the text. So much so that it was impossible for me to read the book without hearing Henry Fonda read Gil Carter’s lines, Harry Morgan speak for Art Croft, and see Dana Andrews’ trembling lips in the words of Donald Martin.

There are some interesting differences between the book and the movie, though. First of all, Art Croft is the first-person narrator of the novel, but clearly not the leading role in the movie. It’s true that as the narrator Art is the observer and not prime actor in the drama that is The Ox-Bow Incident, but, neither, I think is Gil Carter. They’re both relatively bit players in the drama that consumes them. If I was going to make a movie of The Ox-Bow Incident and put someone other than Art Croft in the central role, I think I would’ve chosen Major Tetley. But talk about breaking the Hollywood taboos of the day. Can you imagine a leading actor like Henry Fonda playing a character like Major Tetley in 1943?

Which is an interesting prism through which to examine the rest of the differences between the film and the book. Having not read the book before seeing the movie, I thought 1940s Hollywood must have edited it heavily for both style and decorum. Now having read the book, I see that they did, but not necessarily in the ways I would have predicted.

Rose Mapin, for example. I was sure she was a Hollywood invention; put there to provide a vehicle for some up-and-coming actress and to put some sense of the femme fatale in the story. But nope, Rose Mapin is part of the novel. She’s the same goldbricking vamp in both places, run out of town by the respectable (but never seen) women for having too many boyfriends (Gil Carter among them), and marrying some aspiring tycoon with business interests in San Francisco. The novel even includes the asynchronous stagecoach scene, the husband’s simpering dialogue there in black and white.

The only other principal woman in the novel, Jenny “Ma” Grier, played in the movie by Jane Darwell (the same actress who played Ma Joad to Henry Fonda’s Tom in film version of The Grapes of Wrath), is a different story. Hollywood changed her quite a bit. Here’s how Clark has Art Croft describe her:

Jenny Grier was the name of the woman we called Ma. She was middle-aged and massive, with huge, cushiony breasts and rump, great thighs and shoulders, and long, always unkempt, gray hair. Her wide face had fine big gray eyes in it, but was fat and folded, and she always appeared soiled and greasy. She was strong as a wrestler, probably stronger than any man in the valley except Gabe, and with that and her appearance, if it hadn’t been for the loud good nature she showed most of the time, people would have been afraid of her. All the women were, anyway, and hated her too, which was all right with her. There were lively, and some pretty terrible, stories about her past, but now she kept a kind of boarding house on the cross street, and it was always in surprisingly good order, considering how dirty she was about herself. She was a peculiar mixture of hard-set ideas too. Though mostly by jokes, she’s been dead set against Osgood from the first day he came. She had no use for churches and preaching, and she’d made it hard for him by starting all kinds of little tales, like her favorite one about being surprised at how hungry she was when she woke up after the only sermon of his she ever heard, only to find that was because he’d gone right on through and it was the second Sunday, and he hadn’t wound up his argument then, but his voice gave out. And she could imitate too, his way of talking, his nervous habits with his hands, his Gladstone pose. She always pretended to be friendly, in a hearty way, when she saw him, and the man was afraid of her. But on the other hand she was a lot more than ordinarily set against what she thought of wrong-doing. I missed my guess if she hadn’t had a part in driving Gil’s Rose out of town. She didn’t like women, wouldn’t have one in her house, not even for one night’s sleep. In ways, I think she was crazy, and that all her hates and loves came out of thinking too much about her own past. Sometimes I even wondered if that way she mistreated her own body, with dirt and more work than she needed to do and long hunts and rides she didn’t want to make and not much rest or sleep, when about everything else she was a great joker and clean and orderly, wasn’t all part of getting even with herself, a self-imposed penance.

This sounds a lot more like Deadwood’s Calamity Jane to me than Ma Joad, but an independent woman that looked and acted like Ma Joad was less threatening to 1940s Hollywood, I guess.

I’m probably overreacting, but there’s another scene later on that makes me think this emasculation of Ma Grier was intentional. In the movie the character named Smith (a kind of mouthy know-it-all, who’s all for the hanging as long as someone else is going to actually string the rustlers up) gets really cozy with Ma. There’s a scene where the two of them are whispering jokes to one another and laughing uproariously while Donald Martin and the others wait for sunrise and their executions. Well, in the book, Smith is obviously trying to do more than just tell a few jokes:

“You didn’t miss anything,” Gil said, “except Smith working on Ma.”

That was still going on. They were sitting in front of us, and Smith had one arm around her thick middle and was holding a bottle up to her. He wasn’t making any headway, though. She was solid as a stump.

And a few pages later, when Martin gets indignant about Davies showing the letter he had written for his wife around to the other men:

“I made no promise,” Davies told Martin.

“All right, you made no promise. I should have known I’d need a promise. Or would that have done any good? I thought there was one white man among you. Well, I was wrong.”

Then he became general in his reference. He waved an arm around to take us all in. “But what good would an oath do, in a pack like this, an oath to do what any decent man would do by instinct? You eat our food in front of us and joke about it. You make love publicly in front of men about to die, and are able to sleep while they wait. What good would an oath do where there’s not so much conscience in the lot as a good dog has?”

“Make love” here more than likely means the attempt to make love rather than the act itself, but it’s interesting that the phrase was missing from the movie. As I said, so much of the movie dialog is lifted straight from the text of the novel, that I think the elimination of this phrase has to be intentional. For whatever reason, the producers must have been uncomfortable with the portrayal of Ma as an object of sexual desire. All the better then, that they cast Jane Darwell in the role.

And speaking of Martin’s letter—in the movie it features prominently in the denouement of the morality play; Gil reading it aloud to the illiterate Art Croft, while all the other men involved in the lynching listen on. But in the book, the transcendent words are not Martin’s. They are Davies’, and they come not at the end but near the beginning, while he is still trying to talk the men out of going after the supposed rustlers.

“Yes,” he repeated, “a sin against society. Law is more than the words that put it on the books; law is more than any decisions that may be made from it; law is more than the particular code of it stated at any one time or in any one place or nation; more than any man, lawyer or judge, sheriff or jailer, who may represent it. True law, the code of justice, the essence of our sensations of right and wrong, is the conscience of society. It has taken thousands of years to develop, and it is the greatest, the most distinguishing quality which has evolved with mankind. None of man’s temples, none of his religions, none of his weapons, his tools, his arts, his sciences, nothing else he has grown to, is so great a thing as his justice, his sense of justice. The true law is something in itself; it is the spirit of the moral nature of man; it is an existence apart, like God, and as worthy of worship as God. If we can touch God at all, where do we touch him save in the conscience? And what is the conscience of any man save his little fragment of the conscience of all men in all time?”

Indeed, the ending of the movie is quite a bit different than the ending of the book. In the movie, after the hanging is done, the posse of men meet up with Sheriff Risley on their way back to town, crowing triumphantly about what they have done without his knowledge and authority. Risley has unfortunate news for them—Kinkaid, the man whose death they thought they were avenging, was not dead, and the Sheriff has already caught the men who shot him and stole his cattle. Realizing that the townfolk have hung three innocent men, the Sheriff shakes his head grimly, and hopes aloud that God will have mercy on their souls, because he won’t. It’s a much different scene in the book.

We were all tired, even Gil half asleep in his saddle, and we nearly rode into the horses standing in the clearing before we saw them. They were quietly bunched under the falling snow.

“It’s the sheriff,” Gil said. “It’s Risley.”

Then he said, “Jesus, it’s Kinkaid.”

It was too, with a bandage on his head, and a bit peaked, but otherwise as usual, quiet, friendly and ashamed to be there. The other three men, besides the sheriff, were [Judge] Tyler, Drew and Davies’ pimply clerk Joyce. The Judge was red in the face and talking violently, but through the snow his voice came short and flat.

“It’s murder, murder and nothing less. I warned you, Tetley, I warned you repeatedly, and Davies warned you, and Osgood. You all heard us; you were all warned. You wanted justice, did you? Well, by God, you shall have it now, real justice. Every man of you is under arrest for murder. We’ll give you a chance to see how slow regular justice is when you’re in the other chair.”

Nobody replied to him, that I could hear.

“My God,” Gil said, “I knew it didn’t feel right. I knew we should wait. That bastard Tetley,” he finished.

Everybody would hang it on Tetley now. I didn’t say anything.

The sheriff was stern, but he wasn’t the kind to gabble easily, like Tyler. He was a small, stocky man with a gray, walrus mustache and black bushy eyebrows. He had a heavy sheepskin on, with the collar turned up around his ears. His deep-set, hard, blue eyes looked at each of us in turn. Nobody but Tetley tried to hold up against his look, and even Tetley failed.

When he’d made us all look down, he said something we couldn’t hear to the Judge. The Judge began to sputter, but when Risley looked level at him too the sputter died, and the Judge just stared around at us belligerently again, thrusting his lower lip out and sucking it in and making a hoarse, blowing noise.

Risley sat silent for a moment, as if considering carefully, looking us over all the time. Finally he stared into the snow over us and the milky blue shadows of the trees through it and said, “I haven’t recognized anybody here. We passed in a snowstorm, and I was in a hurry.”

“That’s collusion, Risley,” the Judge began loudly, getting redder than ever. “I’ll have you understand I won’t…”

“What do you want to do?” Risley cut in, looking at him.

The Judge tried to say something impressive about the good name of the valley and of the state, and the black mark against his jurisdiction and Risley’s, but it was no use. Everybody just waited for him to stop; he couldn’t hold out against all of us without Risley.

And so the men who did the hanging go free. It’s actually consistent with the theme Clark had been developing throughout the novel. Shortly after Davies gives his impassioned speech about the transcendence of law, Art observes:

It just seemed funny now to think I’d been listening to an argument about what the soul of the law was. Right here and now was all that was going to count.

And later, when an old codger tries to stoke everybody up into getting a move on:

But one thing I did see. If that old cackler who didn’t even have the facts straight could heat me up when I knew he was wrong, then a lot of these men must be fixed so that nothing could turn them off unless it could save their faces.

In other words, there is no supreme justice—only what happens in the heat of the moment by the people standing around who allow it to happen. It may be reading too much into the text, but Risley’s actions seem to me to underscore this very point. Justice is a man-made construction, not something meted out infallibly from on high. Whether it’s executed out by the Ox-Bow or in Tyler’s courtroom, the difference is one of degree and not of kind.

But evidently that’s not a moral 1940s Hollywood was comfortable with. By repositioning Davies’ words as Martin’s at the very end of the movie, by leaving the men who voted for the lynching under the pending punishment of the courts, and, most blatantly, by changing the number of people who voted against the lynching from Clark’s ambiguous five to Hollywood’s holy seven, shooting them in the angelic glow of the early morning sunrise, the movie wants you to come away with a clear sense of right and wrong. This is what happens when the hubris of man runs amok, when he takes justice into his own hands rather than entrusting it to the Almighty and the institutions that He has made among us to help us make sense out of madness. That’s certainly the movie Hollywood made. Too bad it’s not the book Clark wrote.

But even in the novel not everyone gets off scot free. Tetley kills himself, falling on his cavalry sword rather than shooting himself as is heavily implied at the end of the movie. But he only does this after his son Gerald kills himself, hanging himself from a rafter in their barn. Tetley’s relationship with Gerald is one of the great subtexts of the novel—his need for Gerald to act a certain a way, to prove Tetley’s own manliness by projecting a certain force into the world, something Gerald is incapable or unwilling to do.

In the movie, it feels a lot more like incapable—Gerald portrayed as a pathetic coward of a man-boy, unable to grow beyond the domineering shadow of his father. But the Gerald of the novel is a little more complex. In a scene wholly eliminated from the movie, Gerald reveals a great deal of mature thinking in an extended dialog with Art.

“Cold wind,” I began.

He looked at me as if I’d said something important.

Then he said, “It’s more than wind,” and stared ahead of him again.

“Maybe,” I said. I didn’t get his drift, but if he wanted to talk, “maybe” shouldn’t stop him.

“It’s a lot more,” he said, as if I’d contradicted him. “You can’t go hunting men like coyotes after rabbits and not feel anything about it. Not without being like any other animal. The worst animal.”

“There’s a difference; we have reasons.”

“Names for the same thing,” he said sharply. “Does that make us any better? Worse, I’d say. At least coyotes don’t make excuses. We think we can see something better, but we go on doing the same things, hunt in packs like wolves; hole up in warrens like rabbits. All the dirtiest traits.”

“There’s still a difference,” I said. “We’ve got it over wolves and rabbits.”

“Power, you mean,” he said bitterly.

“Over your wolves, and bears too.”

“Oh, we’re smart,” he said, the same way. “It’s the same thing,” he cried; “all we use it for is power. Yes, we’ve got them scared all right, all of them, except the tame things we’ve taken the souls out of. We’re the cocks of the dungheap, all right; the bullies of the globe.”

“We’re not hunting rabbits tonight,” I reminded him.

“No; our own kind. A wolf wouldn’t do that; not a mangy coyote. That’s the hunting we like now, our own kind. The rest can’t excite us any more.”

“We don’t have to hunt men often,” I told him. “Most people never have. They get along pretty well together.”

“Oh, we love each other,” he said. “We labor for each other, suffer for each other, admire each other. We have all the pack instincts, all right, and nice names for them.”

“All right,” I said, “what’s the harm in their being pack instincts, if you want to put it that way? They’re real.”

“They’re not. They’re just to keep the pack with us. We don’t dare hunt each other alone, that’s all. There’s more ways of hunting than with a gun,” he added.

He’d jumped too far for me on that one. I didn’t say anything.

“Think I’m stretching it, do you?” he asked furiously. “Well, I’m not. It’s too nice a way of putting it, if anything. All any of us really want any more is power. We’d buck the pack if we dared. We don’t, so we use it; we trick it to help us in our own little killings. We’ve mastered the horses and cattle. Now we want to master each other, make cattle of men. Kill them to feed ourselves. The smaller the pack to more we get.”

“Most of life’s pretty simple and quiet,” I said. “You talk like we all had knives out.”

“Your simple life,” he said. “Your quiet life. All right,” he said, “take the simplest, quietest life you know. Take the things that are going on around us all the time, so we don’t notice them any more than old furniture. Take women visiting together, next-door neighbors, old friends. What do they talk about? Each other, all the time, don’t they? And what are the parts they like, the ones they remember and bring home to tell to the men?”

“I don’t know anything about women,” I said.

“You don’t have to,” he said. “You know anyway. Gossip, scandalous gossip, that’s what wakes them up, makes them talk faster and all together, or secretively, as if they were stalking enemies in their minds; something about a woman they know, something that can spoil her reputation: the way she was seen to look at a certain man, or that she can’t cook, or doesn’t keep her parlor clean, or can’t have children, or, worse, could but won’t. That’s what wakes them up. And do you know why?” He turned the white shape of his face toward me sharply.

I didn’t like the way the talk was getting to sound like a quarrel. I tried to ease it off.

“No,” I said. “Why?” as if I was really curious.

“Because it makes them feel superior; makes them feel they’re the wolves, not the rabbits. If each of them had it the way she wants it,” he said after a moment, “she’d be the only woman left in the world. They can’t manage that, so they do the best they can toward it.”

“People can be pretty mean sometimes,” I admitted, “picking on the weak ones.” It was no good.

“It’s not always the weak ones,” he said angrily. “They’re worse than wolves, I tell you. They don’t weed out the unfit, they weed out the best. They band together to keep the best down, the ones who won’t share their dirty gossip, the ones who have more beauty or charm or independence, more anything, than they have. They did it right there in Bridger’s Wells this springs,” he blazed.

He’s talking about Rose Mapin here, about how the other women in town drove her out because she wasn’t like them and wouldn’t play by their rules. He then talks about another woman in town who was fired up about Kinkaid’s murder, demanding that the group of them ride out and catch his killers, even though she never cared two beans about Kinkaid before his death. Gerald believes her motivation is jealousy, that she secretly wants to see all men killed because she can’t catch and control one of her own. Art continues as a reluctant participant throughout this conversation, eventually commenting that Gerald must not think much of women.

“Men are no better,” he said. “Men are worse. They’re not so sly about their murder, but they don’t have to be; they’re stronger; they already have the upper hand on half the race, or they think so. They’re bullies instead of sneaks, and that’s worse. And they’re just as careful to keep up their cheap male virtues, their strength, their courage, their good fellowship, to keep the pack from jumping them, as the women are to keep up their modesty and their hominess. They all lie about what they think, hide what they feel, to keep from looking queer to the pack.”

“Is there anything so fine about being different?” I asked him.

“Did you ever hear a man tell another man about the dreams he’s had that have made him sweat and run his legs in the bed and wake up moaning with fear? Did you?”

“What do you want? Everybody running around telling his dreams, like a little kid?”

“Or any woman tell about the times she’s sighed and panted in her sleep for a lover she wasn’t married to?”

“For Lord’s sake.” I said.

“No,” he babbled on, “you never did and you never will.”

“It’s all right with me if I don’t.”

The white of his face was to me again. “You’re like all the rest,” he raged. “You’ve had dreams like that; you know you have. We’ve all had those dreams. In our hearts we know they’re true, truer than anything we ever tell; truer than anything we ever do, even. But nothing could make us tell them, show our weakness, have the pack at our throats.

“Even in dreams,” he said, after a bit, as if he was talking to himself, but so I could hear, “even in dreams it’s the pack that’s worst; it’s the pack that we can never quite see but always feel coming, like a cloud, like a shadow, like a fog with our death in it. It’s the spies of the pack who are always hidden behind the next pillars of the temples and palaces we dream we’re in, watching us go between them. They’re behind the trees in the black woods we dream about; they’re behind the boulders on the mountains we dream we’re climbing, behind the windows on the square of every empty dream city we wander in. We’ve all heard them breathing; we’ve all run screaming with fear from the pack that’s coming somewhere. We’ve all waked up in the night and lain there trembling and sweating and staring at the dark for fear they’ll come again.

“But we don’t tell about it, do we?” he dared me. And said quickly, “No, no, we don’t even want to hear anybody else tell. Not because we’re afraid for him. No, we’re afraid our own eyes will give us away. We’re afraid that sitting there hearing him and looking at him we’ll let the pack know that our souls have done that too, gone barefoot and gaping with horror, scrambling in the snow of the clearing in the black woods, with the pack in the shadows behind them. That’s what makes us sick to hear fear admitted, or lust, or even anger, any of the things that would make the pack believe that we were either weak or dangerous.”

He turned his face fully toward me, furious and challenging. “That is what makes you sick now, to hear me,” he told me. “That’s what makes you so damned superior and cold and quiet.” His voice choked him so I thought he was going to cry. “You’re just hiding the truth, even from yourself,” he babbled.

My hands were twitching, but I didn’t say anything.

Then he said more quietly, “You think I’m crazy, don’t you? It always seems crazy to tell the truth. We don’t like it; we won’t admit what we are. So I’m crazy.”

I was thinking that. I don’t like to hear a man pouring out his insides without shame. And taking it for granted everyone else must be like him. You’d have thought he was God, making everyone in his own pattern. Still, he was a kid and weak and unhappy, and his own father, they said, was his enemy.

“Every man’s got a right to his own opinion,” I told him.

After a moment he said, “Yes,” low and to his saddlehorn.

Having heard myself speak I realized that queerly, weak and bad-tempered as it was, there had been something in the kid’s raving which had made the canyon seem to swell out and become immaterial until you could think the whole world, the universe, into the half-darkness around you: millions of souls swarming like fierce, tiny, pale stars, shining hard, winking about cores of minute, mean feelings, thoughts and deeds. To me his idea appeared just the opposite of Davies’. To the kid, what everybody thought was low and wicked, and their hanging together was a mere disguise of their evil. To Davies, what everybody thought became, just because everybody thought it, just and fine, and to act up to what they thought was to elevate oneself. And yet both of them gave you that feeling of thinking outside yourself, in a big place; the kid gave me that feeling even more, if anything, though he was disgusting. You could feel what he meant; you could only think what Davies meant.

I’ve quoted this at length because I think Clark is making one of his most essential points here and in the character of Gerald Tetley—a point that is almost entirely lost in the movie because of the way Hollywood restricted the role that Gerald would play. Look at how dismissive Art is of Gerald—Art, our everyman observer of the life and death drama about to play out on the Ox-Bow stage. He treats Gerald like a lunatic. Art, like us, is so much a part of the culture that shaped him that he can only hear what Gerald is saying as some kind of crazy talk. But Clark gives us not-so-subtle clues that what Gerald is describing is really the way things are. It is, in fact, Clark’s central message about people and justice. Like Art, we all like to hear men like Davies talk, and be inspired by their high-minded rhetoric, but it is words like Gerald’s that ring more true in our gut.

And then there’s this dialog with Sparks—again with Art, not Gil.

“Ah wish we was well out of this business,” he said.

“It’s a way of spendin’ time,” I told him.

“It’s man takin’ upon himself the Lohd’s vengeance,” he said. “Man, Mistah Croft, is full or error.” He said it jokingly, but he wasn’t joking.

I suppose I think as much about God as the next man who isn’t in the business. I spend a lot of time alone. But I’d seen, yes and done, some things that made me feel that if God was worried about man it was only in large numbers and in the course of time.

“Do you think the Lord cares much about what’s happening up here tonight?” I asked him, too sharply.

Sparks took it gently though. “He mahks the sparrow’s fall,” he said.

“Then He won’t miss this, I guess.”

“God is in us, Mistah Croft,” he pleaded. “He wuhks th’ough us.”

“Maybe, then, we’re the instruments of the divine vengeance,” I suggested.

“Ah can’t fahnd that in mah conscience, Mistah Croft,” he said after a moment. “Can you?” he asked me.

“I’m not sure I’ve got a conscience any more.”

It’s a tidbit that the movie tries to position as part of its own interpretation of the book—that men only act in concert with the divine will of God when they follow their consciences individually, and the rule of law collectively. But as I’ve been discussing, that’s not my interpretation of the book nor, I think, the one Clark intended. Equating the human conscience with God comes easily if you focus on just one line of Davies’ speech, repositioned in the movie as Martin’s climatic and ill-fated letter to his wife:

If we can touch God at all, where do we touch him save in the conscience?

But a fuller reading of that speech, as well as the many other elements I’ve highlighted that were featured in the book and missing from the movie, appropriately places the emphasis on a different section of that speech, the part that comes just before the more celebrated line.

True law, the code of justice, the essence of our sensations of right and wrong, is the conscience of society. It has taken thousands of years to develop, and it is the greatest, the most distinguishing quality which has evolved with mankind. None of man’s temples, none of his religions, none of his weapons, his tools, his arts, his sciences, nothing else he has grown to, is so great a thing as his justice, his sense of justice. The true law is something in itself; it is the spirit of the moral nature of man; it is an existence apart, like God, and as worthy of worship as God.

The law is like God, in the sense that it exists apart from individual man. But it is not God. It is, in fact, the spirit of man’s moral nature—what we would today call a humanist concept. If it exists at all, it is more separate from God than it is from man, since man is its progenitor.

Looking at this last bit of dialogue between Sparks and Art in that context, I don’t think Clark is trying to tell us not to take on the vengeance of the Lord, even though that is clearly the way Sparks thinks. Rather, I see this as emphasizing my earlier point, that there are two kinds of justice, and man has a choice in which one he will exercise.

Act in accordance with Gerald’s rule of the pack, as the men at the Ox-Bow do, and you may satisfy your individual sense of justice. But act in accordance with Davies’ rule of law, which is grounded on the collective conscience of man, and you allow a similar, but broader, more wholly humanist justice to be served. Either way, justice remains a human concept. It’s not given to us by God, even though some of us, like Sparks and the movie producers, seem content to abdicate it to His domain. Perhaps they are uncomfortable with just two kinds of justice, which they ultimately see both as flawed, and with no higher meaning that what man can give them.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Chapter Six


Speculative Fiction
Approximately 33,000 words
Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1990. All rights reserved.

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All Knights of Farchrist placed death before dishonor. It was a code as strictly adhered to as the ritualistic worship of Grecolus himself. Honor was difficult to define, but it was always obvious when it was breached. It took years of faithful service to the cause to acquire it, and those who found it in their lifetimes radiated it out like the sun shines light to the dark planets around it. Many searched all their lives to find it. Most, however, could only truly find honor in their deaths, as my grandfather did in the cave of Dalanmire and as my father did on the rocks below Farchrist Castle.

+ + +

They spent a rainy night within sight of the walled garden of which Shortwhiskers had spoken. It was a horrible night, wet and uncomfortable. Shortwhiskers pitched a small tent he had packed on his mule, but it was not meant for three and it leaked. Brisbane tossed and turned throughout the night and did not drift off to sleep until very late.

The rain stopped during their fitful slumber and the morning greeted them with warm sunshine. The dwarf carefully rolled his leaking tent up and strapped it again to the mule, which they had leashed and staked to the ground during the night. They ate a quick breakfast of preserved meat and fruit and began to discuss how they hoped the day would go.

“How far in from the wall is Roundtower?” Roystnof asked the dwarf.

“Less than a hundred yards,” Shortwhiskers said. “It won’t take long to find him.”

Roystnof hummed. “I was just wondering what else we might find in there. Someone or something built the wall and planted the trees for some reason. This is obviously not a natural oasis. I’m thinking that once I restore Ignatius, we should explore it. See what we can turn up.”

“You can restore him, then?” the dwarf asked.

Roystnof’s brow furrowed. “I should think so, yes.” He withdrew his red book from a large pocket and opened it. “The spell is really not so difficult. Once you understand the magic that structures it, that is.”

“I’m sure,” Shortwhiskers said.

“Roy?” Brisbane asked.

“Yes, Gil?”

“About exploring the rest of the garden,” Brisbane said. “What if we should come across this basil-creature?”

“Basilisk,” Roystnof said matter-of-factly. “The garden encompasses a fairly large area. I’m hoping we can evade it if necessary.”

“But what if we can’t?” Brisbane said. “Or what if there is more than one?”

Roystnof did not have a quick answer for that one. Shortwhiskers looked at Brisbane like he agreed with the young man’s way of thinking.

“Well,” Roystnof said finally. “We’ll deal with that when need be. Look, we don’t have to scour the place. Just a quick look around. I think it’s a little odd that this kind of place a day out from Queensburg could be kept hidden for so long. I mean, I’ve never even heard rumors about this place. Have you, Nog?”

Shortwhiskers shook his head. “But not many folks come into the Windcrest Hills, what with the orks and all.”

“The orks do not dwell this close to the Mystic,” Roystnof said.

Shortwhiskers nodded. “True. But most people don’t know that.”

Brisbane briefly wondered how they knew that. “Maybe it’s the basilisks,” he said.

“What?” Roystnof asked.

“Maybe everyone who comes here gets turned to stone,” Brisbane said, swallowing hard before continuing. “They never return and their families and friends assume the orks got them.”

Shortwhiskers gave Brisbane another look like his last.

Roystnof dismissed the idea with a wave of his hand. “Unlikely. Someone would have returned.”

“How do you know?” Brisbane asked.

“Because Nog did,” Roystnof stated. “And he’s never the first to do anything.”

There wasn’t much argument after that. Roystnof begged for some moments alone to prepare his spell, and Brisbane helped Shortwhiskers suit up in his chainmail. Soon they were marching to the spot in the wall where the dwarf indicated he and Roundtower had climbed over previously.

There was no discussion. Shortwhiskers led them over the low wall and into the thickly vegetated region. The trees were placed close enough together that they nearly formed a canopy overhead, and the grassy floor was cluttered with small bushes and undergrowth. Brisbane was sure that at any moment a basilisk monster would drop from a tree or spring from the brush and turn them all to stone. He unsheathed his short sword and held it tightly.

They slowly made their way through the plants and were abruptly confronted with the statue of Ignatius Roundtower. Brisbane walked slowly around him, taking in every detail he could. It all appeared surrealistic in its final shade of granite gray. The figure was otherwise entirely lifelike and Brisbane expected it to move at any moment.

Roundtower was a tall man, just inches shy of Brisbane’s height, and had the build of a veteran sword swinger. A stone helmet was perched on his stone head, his face cleanshaven with the skin pulled tightly over his prominent features. He was dressed in stone chainmail much like Shortwhiskers’, but of a much finer quality, and a full-length stone cloak that wrapped loosely around his frame. One hand still pointed a finger at the large brown lizard he had seen seventeen days ago while the other held a massive stone shield. His belt held a stone scabbard as long as his legs, the stone hilt of a sword jutting from its end.

Roystnof kept his voice low. “Nog, scramble up a tree and keep a sharp eye out. If you see your basilisk friend coming, give a holler and we’ll make for the wall.”

“What about me?” Shortwhiskers said.

“Shut your eyes and keep quiet,” Roystnof said. “Basilisks can’t climb trees and can’t turn you to stone unless you meet their gaze.”

The dwarf looked at the lowest branch on the nearest tree, a foot above his head. Brisbane saw his dilemma and rushed over to give him a boost.

“He always gave the orders before we parted ways, too,” the dwarf grumbled as he made his way up and into the tree.

Brisbane went back over to Roystnof and the frozen Roundtower. The wizard was standing in front of the stone figure, his left hand held palm up at chest level, a small pinch of dirt resting in its center. Between the thumb and index finger of the same hand he held a slim needle.

Roystnof began to chant softly in the ancient tongue of magic. Brisbane knew better than to disturb him at this point, so he backed off and watched the scene from a distance. The wizard brought the index finger of his right hand down upon the needle held in the other and drew a red bead of blood to its tip. Holding the punctured finger above the pinch of dirt, and squeezing it between another finger and his thumb, he deposited a single drop of his lifeblood on the pinch of earth.

Brisbane could see no change in the statue that was Ignatius Roundtower. He looked up into the tree to see if he could see Shortwhiskers but the foliage was too thick. Brisbane turned his attention back to Roystnof.

The wizard’s chanting had grown louder and he was mixing his blood and the earth in his left hand with the ring finger of his right. He approached the statue and brought his left hand up flat to his lips. He had dropped the needle he had held and, when he stood only inches in front of Roundtower, he abruptly stopped his chanting and blew the smudgy contents of his palm into the statue’s face.

Roystnof quickly stepped back as his wet bloodmud hit the granite face of the warrior. Brisbane watched with fascination as the filth appeared to dry off the face within a few short seconds. It quickly lost all of its moisture and the dirt left behind flaked off harmlessly. Brisbane realized that the blood was actually soaking into the pores of the rock figure.

It was with that realization that Brisbane began to see the color return to Roundtower’s form. His helm, chainmail, and shield began to change to a bone white. The plumes jutting from the peak of the helmet turned red and the shield began to show a red decorated ‘I,’ hidden before by its plain gray face. The cloak became red as well and the rocks that had studded the scabbard began to glow like the colorful jewels they were. Finally, his face and hands grew a tanned and healthy brown.

The colors reached their peak intensity and Ignatius Roundtower stumbled out of his stone coma.

He immediately slapped his hands over his eyes, dropped to his knees, and cried out as if in agony. Brisbane approached him in concern, but Roystnof held him back with a cautionary hand on his broad chest. Roundtower curled himself up into a ball, squatting on the garden floor, and began to whimper. Brisbane heard a rustle behind him and turned to see Shortwhiskers descending the lookout tree in haste. The dwarf reached the lowest branch and dropped himself squarely to the ground. He started for the weeping Roundtower, but Roystnof stopped him as well.

“Do not touch him,” Roystnof warned.

“But what is wrong with him?” Shortwhiskers cried.

“All will be explained,” Roystnof said. “But for now, do not disturb him.”

The three of them turned to look upon Roundtower. The warrior’s cries had fallen to low moans of terrible sorrow, but he still hid his face in his hands. Slowly, those hands came away from his face and he blinked his red eyes at the ground again and again. His body was shuddering with sobs, but he stifled all sound coming through his throat.

Roundtower quickly looked up at the small group of companions, his face wet with tears. He looked each one over carefully, recognition vacant from his eyes. Brisbane stared back into the warrior’s eyes and the sorrow he saw there made him feel weak in the knees.

Roystnof took a step forward. “Ignatius,” he said, his voice soft and calming. “You are free. We are your friends. We have returned you to the world you know.” He spoke as if trying to pacify a snarling dog.

“My God,” Roundtower said, his voice cracking horribly. He got shakily to his feet. “Roystnof.”

Roystnof nodded, smiling.

Roundtower approached the wizard on staggering feet and embraced him. Roystnof stiffened in the warrior’s arms, but quickly relaxed and returned the hug. Roundtower shortly broke the embrace and turned to the dwarf.

“…and Nog Shortwhiskers,” Roundtower said softly.

Shortwhiskers smiled at the mention of his name and quickly shook Roundtower’s hand as the warrior was crouching down to embrace him, too.

Roundtower awkwardly regained his feet and turned lastly to Brisbane. Roundtower’s face put the vacant stare back on, but now it was lined with puzzlement.

“Do I know you?” Roundtower asked.

“No, you don’t, sir,” Brisbane said, somehow feeling that the ‘sir’ was necessary. “My name is Gilbert Parkinson. I am…well, I am a friend of Roystnof’s.”

Roundtower nodded slowly to Brisbane, some measure of understanding highlighting his features.

Shortwhiskers stepped forward. “Are you truly all right, Ignatius?” he asked. “When you came out of it you were so insane.”

Roundtower spoke to his dwarven friend but kept his eyes on Brisbane. “Nog, I have been through a terrible ordeal.” His voice faltered for a moment. “A very terrible one, indeed. I would like to rest before I speak of it.”

“A wise idea,” Roystnof said quickly. “Come. Let us leave this garden. I don’t think it would be safe to make camp here.”

The others agreed and all made their way back to the garden wall. Brisbane remembered the danger of the basilisk and again expected the party to meet up with it before climbing the wall. But the basilisk was not to bother them this day. They left the garden and walked back to the campsite the three of them had used the night before.

They made camp in silence. Roundtower helped Shortwhiskers pitch the tent, and, when it was erected, the warrior stripped off his armor and crawled inside. Roystnof and Brisbane went about fixing a small meal and before the fire had thoroughly warmed their stew, they heard soft snores coming through the tent’s fabric.

Brisbane scooped out a plate of stew and handed it to Roystnof. “Roy?” he said.

“Yes, Gil?” Roystnof said, blowing on a spoonful.

Brisbane served a second plate to Shortwhiskers. The dwarf sat near the fire.

“What was the matter with Roundtower?”

Roystnof swallowed the stew he had put in his mouth. “What do you mean?” he said.

Brisbane dished himself out a plate of the stew.

“You know damn well what Gil means,” Shortwhiskers snapped. “Why was he crying like an infant when you turned him back?”

Roystnof ate a few more spoonfuls before he said anything. “What happens to someone when they are turned to stone?”

“Isn’t that what we’re asking you?” Shortwhiskers scoffed.

Brisbane raised a placating hand to the dwarf. “How do you mean, Roy?”

“I mean,” Roystnof said, “that for the time the physical body stands immobile as stone, what becomes of the consciousness?”

“It’s froze,” Shortwhiskers blurted. “Time stops for the individual…doesn’t it?”

Roystnof shook his head. “No, my friends, time does not stop. Ignatius spent the entire time—over two weeks—in a conscious state.”

“Well, big deal,” Shortwhiskers said after a moment’s reflection. “Sure, it might get dull looking at the same bush for the whole time, but that hardly explains his reaction.”

Roystnof shook his head again. “Ignatius could not see with stone eyes. Nor could he hear with stone ears. He spent that time without any worldly stimuli, completely alone with his consciousness.” Roystnof looked toward the tent in which Roundtower slept. “There’s no telling what effect this deprivation has had on him. I have read of instances such as this in which the victim has gone mad.”

The dwarf did not have a snappy retort here. Brisbane thought of Roundtower’s plight. He tried to put himself in the same situation, but his mind could not rationally imagine the isolation involved. Totally devoid of all one’s senses for more than two weeks? There’s no telling what one’s mind would do in such a circumstance. Brisbane was sure, however, that after even a short time of such deprivation, the passage of time would lose all of its significance.

“Do you think Roundtower will be okay?” Brisbane asked Roystnof.

“I don’t know,” the wizard said. “He is strong and apparently aware of what happened, but he also has obviously gone through some sort of trauma. When he wakes it will be important for him to talk about what he went through. But it is much more important that he not forget who he is and the things he has done. That is often all too easy in cases like this.”

They finished their meal without talking more about Roundtower. None of them were tired so they began the arduous task of waiting for Roundtower to wake up. Roystnof spoke again of his desire to explore the rest of the garden, and Shortwhiskers mentioned that he had seen a small stone building in the center of the oasis from atop his lookout tree. Roystnof decided that tomorrow, if Roundtower was able, they would make for that building.

After that the wizard buried his nose in his red book and left the other two alone. Brisbane tried to get Shortwhiskers to tell him more of the story, but the dwarf said his tongue wasn’t in the mood to tell it. Instead, Shortwhiskers decided to pass the time by showing Brisbane some of the finer points of swordplay. Roystnof looked up from his book as the dwarf was demonstrating the proper grip for an effective thrust. His mouth curled into an unconscious frown and he returned to his magical writings.