The Stone Key – Chapter 23 – Part Two

Chapter Twenty-Three – Part Two

Time for Elspeth to search the west coast for the null before everyone is infected and dies. Plus hopefully she can find the Misfits that were stuck over here since the rebellion. As Elspeth is waiting to enter Halfmoon Bay, again we hear of farmers being forced to come to the city after the Blacklands caused mutations to their crops. It seems this isn’t something new, and it is unfortunate that they are forced to burn their crops if they are mutated, because of the Council rules. I guess it might also be harmful to eat those crops and animals, since they’ve been exposed to radiation, but I guess the farmers and people themselves have already been exposed to that radiation from the storms anyway. Elspeth was going to play the ‘grubber’ card, but after three successive grubbers, she doesn’t want to push her luck, so she is ‘in search of medicine for her Grandfather’. Elspeth could see that this gate opened up to the poorer parts of the town, which meant that there could be some trouble for Elspeth, and there is already evidence that people are planning to commit crimes. I don’t really like the assumption that the poorer areas are automatically more crime addled, maybe that is true, but it is a poor assumption.

A group of drunken soldierguards turn up, and start to heckle Elspeth whilst she is questioned by the gate keepers. And they cause some trouble for Elspeth, as they accuse Elspeth of having a strange accent for a ‘grubber’, so Elspeth has to make up a story of her mother being born in the city. The men continue to harass Elspeth, but she can’t do anything about it, so just says her real mother’s name (which we don’t know I don’t believe) and that she came for Morganna. I share Elspeth’s anger, that she is here trying to save these drunkards, and she doesn’t have time to deal with them, they should be grateful, but they will never know. Elspeth enlists a local dog to make a distraction, so she can slip into the city more discreetly, so the men cannot try to follow her.

Making her escape, she trips over an old man, who appears to be drunk, but actually is affected by Sadorian spice-weed, or something similar. But that is an exotic thing, so where did he get it? Taking a drink at a public well, a woman starts to harass her, hoping that Elspeth will be killed, along with ‘her kind’, getting something for free, while she who makes it, cannot even dare have some, or risk being beaten. The woman continues telling her that she must be here for Councilman Kana’s dreamweed, which explains the old man. It all sounds very suspicious, why is it free, and how did this woman know Elspeth wasn’t from around here? Is it because she used the fountain?

Continuing through the city, Elspeth finds further evidence that Halfmoon Bay is filled with poverty. There are open gutters with sewerage, and all the people give Elspeth looks of resentment, even though she is plainly dressed. She almost gets harassed once again, this time with the intention of robbing Elspeth, when the dog that aided her earlier, arrives, and causes the two to retreat. Now Elspeth has a guide through the city, and her first stop is the ocean. He has good news that people thought Elspeth just ran away in terror, so she is safe. What is interesting, is that this dog considers himself a free dog, and his name is Fever. They came across an area covered with smoke, and it appears that this is where the dreamweed is manufactured. If it is like the Sadorian spice-weed, where are they getting it from, the Sadorians aren’t trading.

Yes, Elspeth, there were places of squalor and poverty in the Beforetime. We are not at all perfect, a billion light-years from it, and yes, we collected ‘plague seeds’. But, though I am sure some countries want them as weapons, most of these things are for science, and we collect them to create vaccinations and the like, but I guess, it doesn’t matter if it was a science or military facility where Ariel found the plague seeds, he has them now.

Fever takes Elspeth to one of his funaga friends, and it is reassuring to hear that at least some people make friends with animals that aren’t ‘theirs’. Though Fever leaves her behind, as he goes off to answer a challenge from another dog, which I think is a nice touch, since this is exactly what a free dog would do. As Elspeth tries to probe people’s minds for information about Salamander’s ship, she comes up with nothing, because of all the dreamweed that people are consuming, blocking their minds. Entering the mind of a seller of the stuff, he is angry that the Councilman is giving away the dreamweed during the moon fair opening, which is tomorrow, and that explains the larger than normal crowds.

Elspeth finds Fever’s friend, a blacksmith, whose has a prosthetic leg. He soon picks up that Elspeth isn’t from around here, and warns her not to give herself away with her accent, or her fair skin. I find this man very interesting, and it is hard to know what to make of him. He isn’t going to give Elspeth away, and he is helping her with her questions. Entering his mind, it appears that he thinks that she has run away from an abusive bondmate, because of her bruises, and that she is selling the bridle that she stole from that bondmate. I guess that is why he is being extra kind, I wonder what he would have been like if he didn’t think that. The man is kind enough to tell her to go and get some food for him, as well as some for herself.

What is interesting, is that it seems that this man, Aro, is kind to everyone. He has helped out nearly all of the stallholders, and they owe him, so they are kind in return. Elspeth sits down and eats with him, and quickly asks about The Black Ships, and she is surprised to find out that indeed it was here two days ago! He only stayed to deliver the spiceweed to the Councilman, and didn’t even empty out the cells, which nearly caused the soldierguards to rebel, for they wanted their pay. But he still paid them for the prisoners, he just didn’t take them. Aro suggests that Elspeth find some work at a laundry with a friend, Metta, so she can get money for her medicine. He is so kind, that I am sad I ever doubted him. We need more Aro’s in this world, and Elspeth’s!

It is this kindness that makes Elspeth tell him the truth, that she is not seeking medicine at all. She tries to ask him if he saw Ariel come off the ship, but he has changed, and become suspicious. Obviously fearing that she is going to sell him out to the Council or Salamander. She pleads with him, and he relents, giving crucial information. Ariel has been here, or at least a blond man, who the woman who sold the food thought was handsome. There was a Herder with him, and I guess that is the null! Aro notes that he looked confused, not ill or injured, just confused. Ariel had to constantly push him on to their destination, one that Aro does not know. Well, at least Elspeth knows that Ariel has been here with the null, and that it is likely that he is still here. She doesn’t have to search the other towns now.

Aro had seen the null’s face, so even though he is not a foe, Elspeth decides that she must try to find out what he looked like with a probe, it is too good an opportunity to waste. Elspeth soon found the memory she was looking for, and ensured that she was shielded from being absorbed in it. Slightly confusing is the fact that Aro is called Rolf, I guess he has a nickname. Soon enough he saw The Black Shipand noticed that someone was rowing ashore, which was unusual so early in the night. Ariel and the Herder soon approached, and Rolf/Aro busied himself in his work, lest he be noticed taking an interest in the business of Salamander.

The Herder tripped over, and his face was visible to Rolf. It looked like he was incapable of a thought, and his face was frozen in some sort of horror. Of course, as a null, the Herder would be completely blank because of what Ariel puts them through. But a huge shock is around the corner. Elspeth knows the face of the Herder. It is Domick! WHAT? Ariel infected Domick! So he had him after all! Why didn’t he release him like he did Rushton. Or had he planned this all along! But I have to wonder, what was Elspeth’s plan? What would she do with the null once she found him/her? Kill it? Take it far away, until it died? But now, with this revelation, what will she do with Domick, if she can get him?


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