I enjoyed an eventful Saturday: I finished reading Robert E. Howard’s A Gent From Bear Creek and hosted the first pool party of the season here at Casa Lizzi. If any of you who attended are reading, thanks for coming. That was fun.
As was Gent, a fix-up novel stringing together several of REH’s Breckinridge Elkins yarns. Breckinridge Elkins is a comedic, larger than life Western hero; a character in the American tradition that runs through the likes of Madison Tensas, M.D.’s Old Leaves from the Life of A Louisiana Swamp Doctor and Mark Twain’s humorous tales such as The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, as informed by Western folktales such as Pecos Bill. As a fix-up novel, inconsistencies pop up. Sometimes Breckinridge can read. Sometimes he can’t. But it doesn’t matter: the fun is in the fun. This is a book best read with a beer in hand. Reading it aloud, with fully committed emphasis on the dialect, could only enhance the enjoyment. But I think it suffers as a novel rather than as a collection of distinct short stories. There is a degree of plot repetition in the chapters (stories), each generally relying upon mistaken identity, usually as a result of Breckinridge’s profound stupidity and gullibility, leading to cartoonish levels of violence, most of which is performed by the superhumanly tough and strong Breckinridge. They are all fun, yet I think they would be better enjoyed at intervals. Despite this minor reservation, I recommend it to those with a sense of humor.
Now we near the end of Magnus Stoneslayer’s diary. Only a few more entries remain. Here’s today’s.
The raising of an army, dear diary, is not the most unobtrusive of activities. The whereabout of Yaslina thus could not be expected to remain a secret. It was not wholly surprising, then, that she was abducted. What was unexpected, given the circumstances, was that she was not taken by Zantian political opponents but by an unaffiliated wizard. In itself a wizard kidnapping a beautiful, politically well-connected woman is no surprise, even – in my experience – a commonplace. But all things considered….
I left Ancus and my two former pirate crew in charge of training the recruits and, along with Vetrius, launched the rescue. Vetrius hinted (seldom straight forward, these sorcerous types – a common character flaw) that the enchanter who’d absconded with Yaslina – one Volanthes – was an old rival and nemesis. The abduction was apparently motivated by a personal feud and entirely unconnected to the brewing civil war. The world is a twisty, convoluted thicket. The itinerant barbarian swordsman cleaves a straight path.
A kidnapper without a pecuniary motivation is unpredictable, a wizardly kidnapper doubly so. That he abducts his victim and does not kill him indicates that there is some value to the kidnapper in keeping the prisoner alive. What that value might be differs, and could change capriciously. Gloating is a common factor with sorcerers. They tend to be solitary and their triumphs go unwitnessed; a captive audience seems to appeal to many of the sort.
In this case the value of the captive to Volanthes lay in the value of the captive to Vetrius: Yaslina was the guiding light of Vetrius’ life and, as such, coveted by Volanthes, if for no other reason than to deprive Vetrius of her. And so Vetrius, pointy hat in hand, to the dark tower of Volanthes came, offering himself up in exchange for Yaslina. A triumphant Volanthes summoned his rival up to his seat of power. To gloat. And there in Volanthes’ sanctum the sorcerous disguise dropped; the guise of bearded, venerable age fell to reveal the brawn of a savage in his prime and the blur of a sword stroke.
The barbarian may cleave a straight path, but it isn’t always from the expected direction. Thus, dear diary, we have with us again our guiding light, and I bid you a contented good night.