Friday, December 16, 2016

Swan Knight's Son: Chapter Six

Bahr wrasslin’ll put a little haihr on yer chest.  Gil trains hard in the art of bear-style kung-fu for the next four months and comes out the other end so ripped he tears his shirt sleeves off, Hulk Hogan style.  On the down side, he had no more contact with the two-legged and swimsuit clad mermaid Nerea.  Lammas Eve Arrives and it’s time to set off for the dropping of some eaves.  Lammas Eve is July 31, a fall harvest festival.

Before Gil and his cousin set off, Bruno informs Gil that his apprenticeship is over.  Bruno consulted with a man named Francis who informed him that once Gil goes to see the elfs his training is complete.  Francis, Bruno informs us, “was born a son of Adam but now serves a better father.  The beasts of the wild are in his charge.”  That sounds an awful lot like Saint Francis, and given the overwhelming references to the Christian faith in the book so far that seems a safe assumption, but this is a book where the whole point is that nothing is as it seems, so let’s stick a pin in that thought for a few more chapters. 
Of more import to Gil, Francis is a rebuilder of broken churches.  We’ve met Francis.  Back in Chapter Two, he’s the robed man who allowed Gil into the broken Anglican Church during the thirteenth hour of night to avoid detection by the elfs on parade. 
Nerea takes Gil up the river to the local national forest where they spy on a tournament of the elfs, and for the first time we see them in all their terrible majesty.  A long parade of elfish knights in full regalia crawl out of a hole in the ground to meet on the field of battle.  The WinterKing and the King of the Summer Country both desire that their power hold sway over the earth in the coming months, but both have malicious results in mind for humankind.  Which makes Lammas Day the perfect day to fight this tournament - this will decide how fierce the winter will be.
The tournament itself rages over the hillside, and Gil finally learns what it means to be a knight.  Contrary to the descriptions of knights by modern day historians – that knights were loutish brutes who took what they could from the weak – these knights follow a strict code of honor.  They meet in fair battle, and how one wins is as important as the victory itself.  Better an honorable death than an ignoble victory.  This is Gil’s training for knightly behavior on the field of battle, and it quickly becomes a ‘sink or swim’ lesson when one knight discovers Gil hiding in the bushes.
Nerea exercises the better part of valor, and Gil stands his ground to give her time to escape.  He acquits himself well, thanks to his bearish lessons, and this wins him no friends on either side of the tournament.  We see first-hand the contempt the elves have for mankind as they refer to Gil as a, “ruck of common clay,” and a “son of the dirt”.  Despite making several attempts on his life, Gil out-knights the lot of them both in manners both martial and chivalrous.
The only thing that saves Gil’s life is the King of Summer himself.  After a bit of banter in which Gil holds his own, shows his silver hair, and confuses them by his half-human blood, the high king commands his knights to allow Gil to leave in peace.  This towering power commands goes by many names, the one most familiar to us would be Oberon, but for the remainder of the book, he is referred to as Alberec.

This chapter pays off the first five chapters of set-up.  We get our first naked view of the elfs.  No more shadows, no more mists, they are portrayed in all their terrible might and beauty.  Everything about the elfs is almost-but-not-quite human.  They look a bit like humans, but not quite.  They talk a bit like humans, but not quite.  They clearly inhabit a world similar to humans, but not quite.

In short, they are alien creatures.  They live within the uncanny valley, and with all the pageantry and beauty they possess, they maintain a haughty and deservedly arrogant attitude toward mere mortals.  While Gil holds his own in the events depicted, it is clear that his escape with his life was miraculous and largely the result of the rules of the tournament itself.  It's clear from this chapter that Gil has powerful enemies, and now we begin to understand exactly why his mother kept him hidden for so long.

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