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You might say he was... sacked. B) YEAAAAAAAAH!
Chapter 14: The First BagI think our standard "waking up" scene needs some theme music, too, because we get that as well here. Godly breakfast, weird laughter on the part of Scald, everyone's having a good time, yadda yadda yadda. Maybe we should go the Standard Snippet route and just make it "A Cup Of Coffee, a Sandwich, and You." It fits in well with our "vintage" theme. This Standard-Order Breakfast, however, comes with gossip! Is Alex really a wizard? Why, the dwarven mound is simply abuzz with rumors! Natch, King Dwarfking wants to see them, because heaven forbid we go somewhere without people gawking over Alex. But in his meeting hall, what is King Dwarfking doing? Why, he's offering them... chairs! Arranged in a friendly circle! As he said last night, he doesn't like all that pomp and wants his guests comfortable and he wants them to feel alright talking to him. I gotta say, I unironically like King Dwarfking. If only by virtue of being one of the few characters here with some damn characterization. And not the informed kind, either, like how Tayo is supposedly the "quiet, stoic, grim one," even though he talks as much as anyone else and has never once demonstrated his supposed grimness or stoicness for us. King Dwarfking is a Boisterous Bruiser king to the letter, but at least he actually goes to that letter. He says he hates pomp and circumstance, and he demonstrates it to us by being pretty What's Up, King Dude? about it. And for once, the book doesn't beat us over the head with his supposed good-naturedness by constantly telling us about it. It just lets Dwarfking take center stage, and actually do his thing for us. And his thing is being a friendly, dwarf-y guy. He's A-OK in my book. Scald would be this, but the book also beats us over the head in telling us how humorous and high-spirited he always is, and his displayed personality is incredibly erratic and annoying. While I was alternately raving and ranting to all of you about the characters in this book, the gang got busy telling King Dwarfking about their journeys. We basically get a minaturized version of the first couple of the chapters of the book, mostly where Alex joins everybody and finds he can use a +3 Snowflakes, Staff of (Special). Alex lets drop that he's fought a troll, and how he picked up the bags. King Dwarfking is intrigued! You see, many years ago, a dwarven adventurer went missing, and he can't help but wonder about those bags... Holy crap! Is something from an earlier chapter actually going to be relevant to the plot? I bloody well hope so! While Dwarfstone from the previous chapter accompanies him back to his room to fetch the bag, they have a mini-Claudette ("You could be a wizard!" "Yeah, but it's confusing.") and Dwarfstone expounds on his adventure-y aspirations, which will never come to pass if Iownan, the Living Magic 8 Ball, tells him "no." You know, this whole time—this whole bloody time—we are never once told what makes "adventurers" special. Never. And, heck—Scald et al seem to have taken off for HIGH ADVENTURER! of their own volition. What on earth—or rather, in it, given that these are dwarves—is stopping this kid from packing his Magic Bags and up and leaving, right now? Right now, I think this kid has had more lines of dialogue than Dwarfaxe Jr. has had in the rest of the book, so I think he'd be an apt replacement. Alex fetches his Magic Bag, with the other Magic Bags in it, and also spends some time parading Moon Slayer (oh lord that's still hilarious) before King Dwarfking. Magic Bags in Magic Bags... You know, that poses a good question. Can you open one Magic Bag inside another? Could you open another one in that one? Can you create a long chain of bags-in-bags? How do they work? Is it a matter of alternate universes? Space compression? Shrinkage? In another point-to-author, he's at least made these things a focal point of the whole adventurer getup, so all that time spent on them wasn't wholly wasted, but there's still so many questions... King Dwarfking also adds,
"You shall all be free to carry weapons in the dwarf realm of Vargland, for I name you all friends of my kingdom."I don't know about you, but telling someone it's OK to pack heat in your streets seems like an... odd way of avowing your friendship. But maybe it's just me. Alex begins producing the magic bags from... his own bag (hmmm). Apparently, Dwarf can smell Dwarf, because the instant Dwarfking sets eyes on the fifth bag, he knows it's his long lost cousin Umbar's bag and ol' Umby was troll bait. He shall send for Umbar's heir immediately, and they will begin... the ceremony! Alex: WTF? Handbook don't say nothin' 'bout no ceremony! And yes, because simply showing us the ceremony taking place later wouldn't be enough work, we must describe it in explicit detail before the actual event—which will, of course, either gloss over it entirely or repeat everything we've already heard once here. Or both. We even get told the exact words that will be used. The gist of it: The person with the bag calls forth the heir, and asks them if they're it. The bag-holder asks for proof. Heir hands over passwords. Bag-holder tries them. If they work, the bag gets passed over. (Specifically, you have to say "The adventurer is satisfied.") Then the heir makes an offer of treasure. If it's bad, say "It is unjust." (And heaven help you if you don't use those exact words.) If they're givin' beyond what hurts, say "You are too generous." But like, don't do that ever to a dwarf 'kay, 'cuz you know how they get pissed off if you reject their generosity, boyfriend. And it's explained that the reward is usually part of the treasure in the bag. Usually a tenth. These adventurers really like their multiples of ten, don't they? Though oddly, this world shows no signs of using metrics, as one might expect from a ten-fetishistic people. Maybe they only use the metric system for treasure, like how the US only uses metrics for soda. Oh, and if the heir doesn't know the passwords, then they have to visit the local data recovery specialist—I.E., Iownan—to fix the bag, and the adventurer's spirit will never be satisfied. Ever. But hey, that'll never happen, right? Of course not; that'd be conflict! So they simply beat Alex over the heads with remindes to never ever ever Oh My Gods! and we mean never insult a dwarf by asking for too little! Well, given the emphasis put on both these things, I'm guessing one still will happen. Since this book loves to recycle things, and we've already been smacked about with how deathly serious it is to insult a dwarf's generosity, I know which one my gold coins are on. To the ceremony! As I predicted (unfortunately), we do, in fact, get an exact repeat of the words Dwarfbeard and Arconn told Alex. Nothing like reading the same thing over again, eh? The names are filled in, though. And then we get a total gloss-over. I don't know if that's a relief or not. The name of the heir (Irrelevant Character #74): It's also Umbar! Mmm. This could get confusing. What does Umbar Jr. offer? One hundred true silver pennies... and half of all the bag's contents! Dun dun DUUUUUUN! That's five times Dwarfbeard's suggestion! 'Dramaaaaaaaaaa. What will Alex do? Astoundingly, after this magnanimous offer, we get the second genuine laugh of the book:
As the thought went through his mind, Alex saw Thrang out of the corner of his eye. Thrang was mouthing "one-third" wildly, while trying not to attract too much attention to himself.That is, admittedly, a pretty friggin' hilarious mental image. I just imagine this dwarf hopping up and down, arms flailing, screaming "ONE THIRD! ONE THIRD!" in all but actual volume, and the second somebody turns around, he starts Acting Unnatural and rocking on the balls of his feet with a Not-So-Innocent Whistle. So Alex asks for one-third. But Umbar Jr. won't back down on those pennies! Dwarfbeard congratulates Alex on his new haul. Um, don't you mean their new haul? But just like he did after they beat the troll the first time, Olaf gets all cagey on us. People in this world just love thrusting unwanted wealth on Alex! Alex is very uncomfortable with this money, especially the pennies. True silver and all. But no, he's restored the family's HONOR! Which Umbar Sr. so ungratefully lost by daring to be killed! So Alex better button up and swallow it. Some of Umbar's (Jr., I think) friends stay up all night, sorting out his treasure, and they haul it in. And it is magnificient! It is huge! It fills up a room and then some! It makes El Dorado look like a tiny village! It is treasure! Alex: Wow-ee! We better get to dividing this, guys! Olaf: Lolno Alex: ...No, seriously, guys, take some of this. I want to share. Olaf: No means NO, mofo. YOU'LL EAT YOUR TREASURE AND YOU'LL LIKE IT. ... ...You know, I realize that this is a huge frickin' pile of treasure and would probably be awesome to behold and own in real life, but Olaf's reaction here once again bothers me. From him, and from Alex's resignation, we're clearly supposed to see Alex's humbleness and generosity as being wrong; he's supposed to want to hoard all this treasure and not give any to the people whom he likes and befriends. He's Alex El Magnifico; he deserves it all, right? But the damnable thing is, I can't help but side with Alex. Because, really, when you get right down to it: He hasn't done anything. By his own admission, he's just a kid who's been coasting along on a lot of good luck. His only two real proactive moments in the story—killing the trolls and the bandits—were even driven by the sword, which it arguably could've done in anyone else's hands. And even then, he got lucky actually finding it in the shop! All of this, Alex brings up, and it's all valid. But it always gets brushed off as another symptom of his apparently chronic self-doubt. He's Special and he's supposed to accept that, and the accolades and presents that come with it, even if nothing has yet convinced him yet that he's at all deserving of all this. Even if we don't want to get into Alex's Stu-ish-ness, there's still an awkward double standard going on here. We're not allowed to insult the dwarves by turning aside their generosity; noooooo. But if Alex wants to be generous, if Alex wants to share the fruits of his labor with his crew, and if Alex brings up, rightly, that he hasn't even done as much as they have under his own free will, it is somehow OK to totally spurn his gratitude and sense of giving and force him to choke on his own windfall. No matter what happens, Alex is always More Specialer Than Anybody, and he isn't allowed to ever be anything else. It's like a chokehold by a pair of tyrannical parents. Anyway, Alex gets even more mythril true silver in the hoard, learns how to stuff huge piles of stuff in his bag at once, and goes to Umbar Jr.'s feast. That's pretty much it for this chapter. ...Boy, I spent a lot more of this installment ranting about, and deconstructing, the book itself than I did actually talking about the chapter. Or so it seems. Well, this chapter is, like I said, actually sort of OK and not absolutely horrible and ridiculous aside from that, so maybe it's to be expected.
Now I have this mental image of a dwarf on The Price Is Right jumping up and down shouting "ONE THOUSAND!" or some such at whoever's playing the pricing game. :D Also, yeah, if I were Alex I'd want to share some of my wealth, too. This sort of enforced Gary Stu-ism would just rub me the wrong way.
Oh god, now I can't unsee that, either. And I kind of love it.
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