Elspeth wakes up and enjoys her morning in her Sadorian cabin. And honestly it sounds amazing, they have secret compartments in the walls which open when you press on them (like the modern, handle-less cupboards, but more cool because how on earth do these work without magnets?). They even have something like a tap for Elspeth to have some water, which is incredible! These Sadorians are geniuses! I mean they also have a compartment for toiletries, like this ship is an actual hotel, I know that everyone knew she was arriving, but still it is thoughtful of them to include everything.
There is a hive of activity out on the deck, which means that the rest of Gwynedd’s men must have arrived, but then, it seems even worse. They appear to be out in the sea already, and no longer moored! Could they have set sail already? And coming outside, Elspeth can see that in fact it has! Too bad if Elspeth didn’t want to leave yet, and she didn’t even have a chance to tell Blyss about Rushton! Jakoby finds her soon enough, and doesn’t explain much about their journey, so Elspeth will have to wait for an explanation of that, and of the rest of the meeting, which now must have ended. She has to leave to navigate the ship, so questions about Bruna (whose clothes Elspeth is actually wearing, and in fact where a gift, which is slightly awkward) and Dardelan also go unanswered.
At least by now Elspeth has realised to just accept the ‘fatalism’ and being swept up by events out of her control, which are usually to do with her quest anyway, and help her in the long run, even if she felt like her life was out of control. In fact, things continue to surprise her about what is going on, as she finds Brydda coming towards her. He is here with Dardelan, who agreed with Gwynedd that they needed to secure Norseland to ensure the safety of the Land from another attack by Ariel or the Herders, including the possibility of a plague. And Elspeth’s concern about abandoning the new Westland doesn’t click with Brydda, because he doesn’t see an issue, the other chieftains are busy at work, and more Misfits will be on their way. It is clear that Elspeth is way out of the loop, as Murmorth is already under control, so Gwynedd doesn’t really need to hang around, and Salamander and the Black Ship have left and are heading towards the Red Queen’s Land. The new council of chieftains has already agreed with this idea, so Gwynedd hasn’t been acting alone. They really want to make sure any Beforetime weapons and plague seeds aren’t used against them.
To make things ‘worse’, Rushton is aboard. He is travelling to the location where he was tortured with Ariel, so that isn’t going to make it easy for his memories to stay contained. Merret and Blyss aren’t on board, so Elspeth can’t get them to help with Rushton and his memories, which is unfortunate. So things don’t look good, Elspeth is going to have to help Rushton on his own. Jak and Seely are on board though, which makes me wonder, why? They are a couple, but what are they doing going to Norseland? It seems that Jak, for some reason, demanded to get on the ship, and packed up his experiments, and rushed to Aborium, Seely not being left behind. Maybe it was a futuretelling, but if it wasn’t, what is the motive?
They meet Dardelan, and a lot is revealed, including Dell’s futuretelling about Gwynedd becoming king. Gwynedd is of course a Norselander, but he is more than that, he is the rightful Norse king, his great-grandfather was the nephew of the last king. And as it happens Gwynedd knows a secret way onto Norseland, which makes it easy for them to gain control, well, at least easier. Gwynedd is planning to get the Norselanders to rise up with them, after all he is king, and they are mightly oppressed, so it is likely to be not too difficult to get them to revolt. Though hopefully they aren’t too oppressed to want freedom any more, because that can happen, and it takes a lot to get people to uprise, but maybe the king can do that.
One curious piece of information is that Rushton has been taken by sea sickness, which is bizarre since he was the only one NOT affected last time. What is going on, is that because of his torture? Are his memories coming out? We don’t know and won’t for a while I guess. Instead Elspeth talks with Jakoby, and she shares my earlier concern about where Councilman Kana was getting spiceweed. She wasn’t aware of it, and it is a serious concern, is someone selling out to someone, or has someone gained access to the spice plantations? And she tells us that Rushton has asked her to go to Sador after Norseland, where he wishes to make a request of the tribes. Of course this must be during the Battlegames, for the tribes do not meet at any other time, so they don’t really have that long (yay added time pressure), and as to what Rushton wants to ask them, only he knows! I can’t imagine what he wants to request. Jakoby gives a snippet of information about her life, she has a sister! Where is she and who is she? Very interesting.
Instead we get to hear about more Sadorian culture, and how they train up people to know how to sail the greatships. Frequently they would just go out on journeys simply to teach train the new Sadorian shipfolk. All young people spend time on spice ships and then those who truly excel at it, are chosen to train to sail on the sacred ships. They haven’t quite sailed all the way to the Red Queen’s Land, but they have travelled towards it, as far as the darklands, where life consists of mutated plants and animals. It is like the blacklands, but with life, for those not adapted, it would be fatal, and indeed the journey is challenging, since they must take a lot of food and water to survive it, and have no passengers. Which makes me wonder how on earth they will get to the Red Queen’s land if they struggle to make it to these darklands, but I guess they ultimately only need food and water on the way there, they can always resupply once they are there, so they should be able to make it there (so long as they find it, otherwise they are screwed).
Elspeth doesn’t ask if they could go there (which she should), instead Jakoby suggests she go and look at the maps they have which show the darklands, which is really exciting. I’d really like to know how far exactly the Red Queen’s Land is, I struggle to comprehend the distance when I know nothing about it (it doesn’t help I’m not familiar with travelling via a ship with sails, or any ship for that matter). So are we talking like Australia to New Zealand? Australia to Hawaii? Just how far?
Before we get to see any maps we bump into Seely who explains why Jak wanted to get on the ship. He isn’t interested in Norseland, he wanted to get to Sador. And now I remember his experiment to breed bugs to eat the taint in lighter and drier conditions. During his time with Ines, he succeeded and now they are only suited for survival in the desert, which is fantastic news, because the Sadorians really want to heal the land themselves, and these bugs can do it. Maybe that’s what Rushton wants to ask them, because Jak can’t really go about spreading new bugs without their approval. Dell has even foreseen that Seely and Jak will return, which means that whatever happens in Norseland, they won’t be killed or taken prisoner, which is good news.
Seely is eager to get back to Obernewtyn to see Gavyn, once they are finished in Sador. Elspeth mentions that Gavyn has dreamt about her, and apparently she has dreamt of him too, last night in fact. Gavyn was walking with a host of dogs, including Rasial, along a narrow ridge surrounded by Blacklands. She just laughs it off, but I can’t help wondering if this is a true dream of something that is going to happen. But why would Gavyn be wandering around in the Blacklands? I wonder if this pack of dogs is the same that will signal it is time for Elspeth to go on her quest, which would include Darga, Jik’s Herder dog. I think Gavyn might be connected to Elspeth’s quest more than we could imagine, after all, what other purpose does he serve as a character? Clearly he has some role that he hasn’t fulfilled just yet, so I will keep an eye on him in The Sending and The Red Queen when I’m sure we’ll see him again (and of course later of the book if Elspeth returns to Obernewtyn).
Elspeth makes it to the map chamber, and is met with an old woman, Gorgol, who says that Jakoby doesn’t really follow any rules apart from her own, and ‘it isn’t surprising given her mother’s behaviour’. What on earth does that mean? What did Jakoby’s mother do? I want more backstory on Jakoby right now! And it seems Jakoby is quite a rule breaker, which is quite interesting because she has looked like a formidable leader and I wouldn’t have guessed she was a rule breaker.
But right now we are interested in maps, and Gorgol has a few that show the darklands, but nothing that goes as far as Land’s End, where the darklands finish. This is because there have been no Sadorian maps which have shown it, though she has seen them (they aren’t accurate enough for her, since their scales are based on landmarks or time, which are unreliable). Gorgol has seen a map of the Red Queen’s land, and it showed that it was beyond Land’s End, and was past miles of black coasts. But sadly, it is too far for any ship to reach, if you follow the coast, so to get there you’d have to sail across the Endless Sea, and risk getting lost. Gorgol shows her a series of maps which detail the coast as far as Sadorians have travelled, and there is a lot of Blacklands. But there is a sign of hope as there are two small islands which don’t seem to be tainted (how that works, I don’t know) and could be a source of freshwater according to the map maker, and freshwater is something they desperately need. After a few more maps, with varying degrees of accuracy and different scales, they come to the darklands, where two more islands seem to contain freshwater, an encouraging sign. But at the same time it seems discouraging if you listen to Gorgol, because Land’s End cannot be reached along the coast, but there is clearly a way. Salamander somehow knows where he is going, but how did he learn about it? Who did he ask? Even if he came from the Red Queen’s Land, how would he know how to sail places? It gets somewhat worse as Gorgol reveals that at Land’s End, it is not tainted so people use it for business, namely trading slaves. So Salamander could possibly just go to Land’s End before selling them off, though that would mean he would rely on someone else, which isn’t his style. But what is worse, is that the journey to the Red Queen’s Land from Land’s End is apparently even more challenging, so how on earth will Elspeth get there?
Elspeth takes a look at their maps heading in the other direction, past Sador, and she finds more Blacklands, but a lot more detail than anything she has seen before. A few have a couple of spots of untainted land, and even a few freshwater symbols, but it seems to go on forever. But there is one interesting thing, there is talk about another land, beyond the final map, where one Sadorian ship caught sight of after a storm blew them of course. That is a very interesting idea, I wonder which land it is, and whether it is inhabited. And has Salamander been there? Maybe the Herders ended up from there? Or even the white faced man, Matthew has mentioned that want thousands of slaves? Taking a look at an encompassing map, gives Elspeth a surprise, because the Land is tiny in comparison to the vast Blacklands, of which there is no known end. What is found in the interior is anyone’s guess. And all of this is making me desperate for more information, but there is no more, and no real hope of getting much more, after all where would Elspeth get it from? Salamander? Yeah that won’t happen.