This was a fascinating piece to write. Up until this point Walter has been surrounded by people who show him deference, friendship, and respect. Tollen is the first person who shows him hostility. Let’s unpack.
I mentioned last week that Tollen does respect Walter for who he was, even as he’s seriously peeved with who he became. He drops a hint of what he thinks of Walter’s actions by expression the notion he was “playing ‘common man.’” It’s no less than what Ama pointed out about Walter’s forced accent as they emerged from the tunnel, though it has a great deal more “bite” to it.
Tollen is not a bad man, in fact, he shares many similarities with Walter. In a different context Tollen is generous and kind. He also, much like Walter, tends to pick up strays 1. He’s not even really angry, he’s wounded – and that wound has been untreated for a long time. When Walter and Tollen’s correspondence ended, some 15 years prior to the story, the old guard never mentioned his friend’s name again 2. The truth is, Tollen wants to be glad Walter is back, but is finding it difficult to trust his heart. This is making him more grumpy.
Is Tollen correct about Walter leaving him holding the bag? Not really. Had Walter remained in The Inner Valleys things would probably have gotten worse, not better. But it’s hard for people left behind to accept that.
Up to this point, the only character to use Ama’s nickname is Walter. Tollen, however, brings it up as a barb. Why does he do this?
Here’s a fun tidbit for readers. Tollen was actually the one who gave Ama the Nickname when she was in her teens, shortly after she was chosen to apprentice as a healer. As you might expect, she hated it.
Tollen and Jeremy
Tollen doesn’t react much to Jeremy’s revelation of a lost memory. This is because he already knows about him. Tollen, you see, is a Seeker. He joined the group shortly before his retirement and is actually rather prominent among it’s small group of adherents in the Inner Valleys. The council of Water Gap passed on word of Jeremy’s arrival, and with whom he was traveling. The old guard may be a prominent member of a semi-secret religious movement, but he’s also a guard. He’s kept information about Jeremy to himself.
Jeremy, then, was only partly-correct about the source of Walter’s information. The message Michael sent ahead gave him a time-frame, and the inclusion of Michael to the party, but he knows a lot more than he’s letting on.
The young seeker-healer, is very perceptive, though. The puzzle wasn’t that difficult to figure out, and both Walter and Ama assumed Tollen had received Michael’s message. But it was nice to show Jeremy being less than passive.
Jeremy drinks ale
Yes, the people of the Valley’s have hops. The do not, however, make IPA’s. Inner Valley ale is a good, earthy, honey-brown. Why? Because it’s my story. So there.
Did anyone pick up that Michael was already planning on accompanying the party before they announced their side-trip to Meadowrun? Great job if you did.
So why did Walter leave? And who was he that he commands such great respect?
I’m sure folks have guesses about “who” by this point in the story, but I’ll reveal those details in due course through the narrative. I really want to get to The Ravine.
As for the “why” question, I’ve already revealed some bits of that. At the time of his departure, Senator Merkot was subtly advocating for a clearer distinction between the “Inner” and “Outer” settlements 3, thus assuring the Inner Settlements would stay atop the social order of The Valleys. Walter stood against his block of senators and advocated for more equality between the settlements, including the ending practice of preventing new settlements from becoming “official” towns until they could fully incorporate under the Senate’s rules. Merkot’s maneuvering began shortly after Woodhall and Plantation officially incorporated and joined the Senate as full members – which suddenly gave the outer towns much more of a voice in the governing body.
Walter left when he was passed over as head of the guard, in favor of Merkot. Fearing the outer settlements would be further weakened, Walter departed in protest. This sparked a backlash against Merkot’s agenda and weakened his ability to maneuver the guard.
Walter left for the coastlands, an area not considered to even be fully part of The Valleys, so as to not give the impression he was actively moving against Senator Merkot. As has been pointed out previously, however, Walter can’t help but be drawn to the center of things. He was the one who convinced the Coastlanders to ignore the prohibition against naming towns not offically incorporated through the Senate, and led the charge to make Highcliff a regional center.
The shift in guard training is strangely contemporary, which was not something I meant to be when this story began. With the rise of the surveillance state, those in power are not being trained to systemically, and subtly, consider ordinary people “potential threats.” This is a dangerous dynamic, and the only outcome of it is to lessen people’s trust of those who hold power. This, in turn, makes those in power more afraid… and down we go for another loop of the spiral.
Of course, the African American community can look as the rise of the surveillance state and say, “Oh, now you get what we’ve been saying for centuries? Better late than never, I guess.”
Another figure of speech
I “love” the idioms the people of The Valleys have developed. Tollen’s exclamation of “Portals, man!” is a new one – and I love it. Within the murky memory of The Valleys, there is a link between the portals and the extinction war 4. Thus, the exclamation “portals” has come to be linked with disaster and calamity. Actually, in the context of The Valleys, using the phrase in that way is considered something of a cuss word.
And what did Walter set in motion? If you read this post carefully you can probably figure it out.
- There is a reason Michael reports to him. ↩
- Michael was “adopted” by Tollen shortly after that time, which is why he’s never been privy to the relationship his friend had with the legendary Walter. ↩
- A derogatory reference to those from the outer settlements is “outies.” My apologies to all those who possess such a physical trait. ↩
- The portals were all sealed with cessation of hostilities. ↩