At the story reaches Woodhall I’m trying my hand at splitting the party up again. I’ve not been happy with the last few times I’ve attempted this, and may even cut those parts out of the final version of the story. This split, however, allows for a rather important revelation. Let’s unpack.
I’ve not been able to develop Michael’s character as much as I’d wanted over the last two chapters. There was just too much going on with Jeremy’s arc which needed to come to the surface. Seekers Huddle allowed me to offer a glimpse into his psychology I’d not offered before.
Michael’s faith in The Valleys is greatly shaken. The ease by which Merkot almost tore up the connection between the Inner Valleys and the outer settlements struck him deeply. He was equally confused, however, by how easily the senator’s attempts were finally derailed. When he looks at his home all he sees is rapidly changing instability, and it worries him. He is honored to help Satal’s efforts to protect The Valleys, and his duty to protect Jeremy has kept him focused, but he doubts strength of the bonds which hold his people together. This is why he’s so mistrustful of the guards. It’s also why he stays with the animals while the others head on to the Great House. He was certain Tollen and Ama would be able to protect Talum, should the guards prove hostile, but wanted to see their animals reached the stables without people rummaging through their belongings.
Michael is more certain than ever the Seeker’s quest is the only way to establish a future for all The Valleys. The past must be revealed.
Marks is more than an exercise to teach me how to spell “lieutenant” 1, he’s a good example of a Woodhall guard. He pays respect to Ama, as is her due as a healer2.He also makes a reference to Walter as an important guest. Yet he shows much more deference to Tollen than the others. This is because Marks is a Seeker, who knew the old guard on sight. When Tollen uses the description “nice man” when posing the guard’s offer to Michael he wasn’t being sarcastic. He actually knows Marks is a “nice man.”
Tollen enjoyed watching Michael squirm as he considered the offer. This is because, while Tollen is a good man, he himself is not a nice man.
Ama’s statement about Woodhall’s security was not some throwaway piece of dialog. The way the other guards fell into line as the group passed felt rather ominous to her.
On the other hand, we might scoff at Woodhall’s level of security. After all, the group made it most of the way to the settlement before even seeing a representative of the town — this is the first settlement we encountered in The Valleys where this has been the case! What kind of security is that?
Rest assured, the High Road across the Empty Plateau is well watched. The party didn’t see anyone, but they were watched throughout their trip, and not only by the Um Healers high on Mount Gateway. Marks was denied permission to escort the party across the plateau precisely because it’s so well-watched by many different parties.
Tollen really had intended to escort Ama all the way to the Great House, but he took an opportunity to save some time.
Ama was very suspicious of Tollen’s motives. Should Tollen decide to reveal Jeremy’s identity to the Seekers of Woodhall the party’s timetable would certainly be disrupted. They might not ever be able to leave the town at all! She trusts Tollen in general, knowing him to ever work for the good of The Valleys, but worries his Seeking faith might override his loyalty to his friends. Jeremy is the manifestation of the Seeker’s hopes, after all.
She didn’t need to be worried. Tollen is well aware what Jeremy’s revelation would do to his movement, but he also knows Jeremy’s mission is not to bolster the fortunes of his sect. He’ll get his answers, and share them with others, but not as the expense of The Valley’s well-being.
I must say, however, my favorite part of Tollen’s detour is when Talum takes off down the road without having any idea where he was going. The Um Healer has been a bit of a grumbler over the past few sections, and it was nice to see the befuddled professor emerge again. When he needed to be reminded the invitee is led by the inviter, it made me smile. I enjoy absent-minded professor characters. Not only are they great comic relief, they often possess hidden depths3.
What the… Minnik?
Yup, Tollen has a bonding crystal. Minnik is actually one of Sheilak’s friends, and she was the one who convinced Minnik to form a connection with the old guard. He’s had the crystal for weeks and was thrilled at the opportunity to form a deep connection with a Guardian.
Minnik and Tollen are an interesting pair. The Guardian actually went against the wishes of his people to bond with Tollen, as they’d not made a decision to reveal this ability to the people of The Valleys. As such, Tollen’s partner is a much less assertive partner than Sheilak is with Jeremy. He simply doesn’t trust he did the right thing.
Tollen, used to being the dominant personality in the room 4, doesn’t mind his partner’s lack of forthrightness. In fact, it’s giving the Seeker time to explore the nature of the relationship formed by the crystal.
So why did Tollen bring Talum along to meet with the Seekers in Woodhall? Because the Um Healer knows more about bonding crystals than anyone else in The Valleys. Not only can he explain how they function, he also can explain how it was Seeker legends which drove him to search for the existence of such stones in the first place.
- Though this is one of his functions. ↩
- Though, interestingly, he seemed to ignore Talum until addressed by the Um Healer. ↩
- I’m actually looking forward to getting back to my first attempt at writing a novel. In my earlier story an absent minded character named “Professor Nobody” plays a main role. Writing “Nobody smiled/said/sighed” always made me laugh. ↩
- And especially in his own head. ↩