With Michael joining the party this passage became a necessity. Walter’s background has been teased over the course of the story thus far, and it’s soon going to be coming to the surface much more prominently. This was just the beginning, let’s unpack.
Michael’s smiled warning
The truth is, as soon as Walter stepped through the tunnel and into the Inner Valleys he had no chance of arriving at The Ravine unheralded. Too many people know him, and certainly old guards such as Michael hold him in high regard. When Michael signaled ahead to the other guard posts he simply sent the message, “The Old Fox has returned, and travels with a young man and an Am healer.” This message has certainly been received in The Ravine, and not everyone is pleased to hear it.
Walter is going to be shown more and more deference the deeper he gets into the Inner Valleys, which is something wanted to avoid, but was always deluded himself into thinking it was possible. The guards at the Meadow Run would probably have even let Walter through, though they could just as easily “fallen” for his disguise and treated him as any other outer settlement trader. Michael was not about to allow that to happen.
Walter isn’t kidding when he said he just wants to be left alone. He exiled himself from the Inner Valleys because he had grown disgusted with the place and wanted nothing more to do with it or its trappings of power. For years he really has been kidding himself that he was nothing more than a “simple trader.” Ama played along for a long time, but realizes that when Walter returned to the Inner Valleys the game was over.
Ama was absolutely correct that Walter had never really left “the center.” Wherever he is, the older man simply migrates to the middle of things even if he doesn’t hold an official position 1. Along the coast he negotiates settlements between feuding towns, proposes compromises between rival political factions 2, and help establish the infrastructure that has allowed High Cliff to grow into the largest settlement in the region. Walter’s ability to deceive himself that all these things had nothing to do with power is actually a remnant of his own Inner Valley prejudice, he still equates “power” with the Inner Valleys.
He really does not like that his supposed “retirement” is over, and so he gets a little touchy with his friends.
Oh, and you might have caught yet another watermelon reference when Walter tells Michael to cut something “off the vine.” I’m not sure what the origin of this one is, as it doesn’t fit the reasoning for why a “watermelon” is a bad situation 3
Walter snaps at the Shadow
Walter hasn’t noticed it yet, but he’s become very comfortable with the Shadow as a companion. So much so that he has no problems barking orders at her, as he does in this passage. This is partly because of her presence, Walter’s comfort-level is expanding as a survival instinct. It’s also, however, because Walter is back in the Inner Valleys, and his innate authority is beginning to assert itself.
Walter is not a manipulative man, though Jeremy’s assertion that he is selective in picking up strays might make it appear that way. As Ama said, Walter is drawn into the center of things by instinct, and the when he picks up a “stray” it’s usually because he perceives that person has a role to play for the good of all. He finds great joy in helping people discover their paths, and helping them live for the good of The Valleys. It’s what led him to stick with Jeremy, and is why he was struck into musing when Michael offered to accompany the party.
Walter is not a healer, and doesn’t posses the ability to perceive colors. Yet his instincts are probably the closest a non-healer as ever come to possessing the ability.
I alluded to it in the notes last week, but Michael is a lot more aware of who the three companions are than any of them perceive. This is why he is not shocked in the slightest when Jeremy identifies him with a color. In fact, by labeling him “brown,” Jeremy paid the old guard quite a compliment!
I don’t want to make Jeremy’s abilities a constant “go to” device in the plot. Healers are, by nature, not ostentatious with their powers – and having Jeremy run around declaring colors at everyone would be considered quite rude. The deeper the companions get into the Inner Valleys, the less both Jeremy and Ama will be able to distinguish anything from “purple.” In fact, that will be a significant plot point next week.
Ama, however, is very interested in the scope of Jeremy’s abilities. Am healers typically train for years to sense the emotional state of the local in which they reside. Only a few in one hundred could pick up the state of entire region, which Jeremy does with ease. Ama wants to help Jeremy learn to filter this ability, without pressuring him into anxiety. This is why she’s been so nonchalant about encouraging him to use is ability to perceive color.
- This trait is actually drawn from my own personality. I hate begin near “the center” of things, and yet I always find myself there. ↩
- While the people of the Inner Valleys perceive The Coast as lawless and uncouth, they actually have quite a vibrant political life. ↩
- Nope, I’m not telling you that yet. Sorry. But I’d love to hear guesses. ↩