Entering the futuretelling hall and making her way to meet Maryon is not the most pleasurable experience for Elspeth. She has been here countless times, but talking with a futureteller is always an uncomfortable experience because what they can do, and what they know, including what they don’t share with you. Plus futuretelling for Elspeth is the source of a lot of her anger and hopelessness, because she finds them not just frustrating in their obscurity, but also push her on a path, fate, that she doesn’t really like. Over time she has gotten over some of this anger, and has started to accept her fate, but still talking to a futureteller isn’t a pleasant thing for her, even if she wants to hear what they have to say.
And we soon see Elspeth’s conflicted thoughts about futuretelling emerge, as she tries to rationalise that futuretellers do not make the future happen, but at the same time, the telling of the future knowingly alters it. As much as it is frustrating for Elspeth, imagine what it is like for futuretellers. They have to constantly live in a world that is based on the future, and they have to quite literally debate with themselves about the best course of action, and will have lives on their hands if they decide on a course of action. Like Maryon, who has sent Jik to his death for the greater good of Obernewtyn and probably Elspeth’s quest, but does that make it inherently right to sacrifice that one life for everyone? It is this ethical and moral minefield which is futuretelling. And there is no escaping it for the futuretellers, so it must be a harrowing Talent to have.
Another part of Elspeth’s dislike of futuretellers is the fact that they alone, know of the quest, at least from the glimpses they have seen. And a lot of the quest that they have seen they keep to themselves, knowing the need for discretion, but then for Elspeth she must wonder what on earth have they seen for her. Plus no matter what they see, they cannot help her, which means Elspeth’s future is up to her, as well as the help from the Agyllians of course, but the futuretellers know about her quest, and yet cannot help her. They have to act as ‘cool observers’ not only to the future but to the inner motives of people that they can easily see. Elspeth’s unease is understandable, but we mustn’t forget the people who have to live with all this knowledge.
Setting aside her irritation that has already been ignited because of Maryon’s insistence of what Elspeth actually feels compared to what she says (even when Maryon is telling the truth), Elspeth asks about how much someone could see if they had a great Talent. She is thinking of Ariel and whether he would know what is coming to the Red Land. Maryon reminds her that the future is never fixed, so even the best futureteller just sees what is most likely to happen at the time of their futuretelling out of all the possible futures, some of which they could never see, like Ariel not foreseeing Elspeth’s act of defiance in the underground complex. But the more powerful someone is, the more possibilities that they will see, so in effect they can try and factor those in and make the situation work for them, if they are twisted like Ariel, or just trying to stop enslavement like Maryon.
I do like that we are getting an explanation of how futuretelling works, because it is a hard thing for us to really grasp, as are all the Talents really. But futuretelling and then acting on it, is really about trying to influence the future to get the ‘best possibility’. So in other words, meddling. Now this is where I sometimes struggle, why do they have to meddle and alter the future, shouldn’t it be ‘just is’. Because after all the ‘best possibility’ depends on who you are, and what you are working towards. And as I mentioned earlier even the ‘good’ choices can have consequences that are not quite so good. Maryon tries to say that they do limit what they share because meddling isn’t a good thing, and if they foresee a great evil they will do whatever they can to avert that.
And for the first time we get a glimpse into what Maryon actually has seen when making her decision to send Elspeth to Sutrium, where she ended up in Saithwood. She saw two equally likely possibilities, one was that the west coast would be plague riddled, the other it would have war between the rebels and Herders. Maryon spend a great deal of time seeing why the plague was averted, since it was the greater of two evils, and it turns out that if Elspeth went to the Saithwood the plague was most likely to be averted, and if she didn’t, the plague was likely to wipe out the west coast. When Maryon tried to see what would happen in Saithwood she found countless possibilities, which is apparently normal for Elspeth. She might have died in some paths, but it was a ‘risk worth taking’. I guess Elspeth’s extra number of possibilities might be due to Elspeth’s fate, but also due to Elspeth’s own nature, where she sometimes does something unexpected, so that probably leads to plenty of unexpected possibilities.
A quite expected response to this is for Elspeth to ask why she didn’t just tell her about the plague in the first place. But I think Elspeth knows that being told that going to Saithwood would stop a plague in the west coast would be a fruitless exercise, since how could she believe that that would end up being the case. Why not go to the west coast immediately? That is exactly what Elspeth would have done, so telling her is not the best course of action. And Maryon tells Elspeth that no matter what course she might foresee, she knows that Elspeth will ‘follow her own course’ regardless of the sidetracks. And that is completely true since time and time again we have see Elspeth going on some random tangent, but coming out with invaluable knowledge about her quest, where she least expected it.
Unfortunately for Elspeth, Maryon reveals that she and Ariel are intrinsically linked together, and an eventual meeting of the two of them is inevitable. But she also says that Elspeth and Rushton are clearly linked because of their eventual love for one another. But a more shocking one is that Dragon and Ariel, which like Elspeth and Ariel is a rare and potent link. Maryon explains that all three of them are ‘keystones’, what they do will effect the lives of many others. This is very interesting, I guess Dragon is a keystone because of what she will do in the Red Land, freeing thousands of slaves, but is there something more to it than that? And why is Dragon and Ariel linked, what paths do they both share? Of course Maryon knows who Dragon really is, but more bleakly Maryon foresaw what would happen if she didn’t go to Sutrium with Elspeth. And it seems that if Dragon didn’t go, the Destroyer would win and wipe out life. This shouldn’t be too surprising since Dragon is essential for one of the signs, but as to why Dragon had to end up disappearing who knows.
And all of this delving into Dragon’s past, when she saw this bleak future, ended up making Maryon see the future with the Gadfian slavers invading the Land with hundreds of greatships and thousands of warriors. Which then of course led to her discovery of how to avoid it, with the four greatships of the Land. As for Ariel, he is most likely to be in the Red Land, and he knows Elspeth will be coming soon enough to him, and he is waiting with great anticipation to get his hands on her. The one saving grace is that he misunderstands how people will act, instead focusing on how he would act, which is why he didn’t foresee Elspeth’s brave move to open the door to Rushton.
Somewhat awkwardly Elspeth asks if she is a keystone (even though I thought Maryon just said that, she didn’t), it sounds quite self-centred since she assumes that she is a keystone. But Maryon says she doesn’t know, all she knows is that trying to focus on Elspeth is next to impossible. There are thousands of possibilities with Elspeth, which makes her much more than a keystone, she draws both Dragon and Ariel to her, but I wonder if there are other keystones, also being drawn to her!
They are interrupted by a man Elspeth has not seen before, Lief, who seems to have a strong futuretelling talent for mundane things. Like he foresaw Maryon would want him to bring Elspeth’s gifts, so he just came in and gave them to her. Interesting, but is that useful? She receives beautiful boots and a travelling coat. Elspeth doesn’t know where they will be useful, the ships would be too wet for such heavy things, and the Red Land too hot. But I’m sure Elspeth will find a use for them, and the other gifts she will get later. Maryon also wants Elspeth to formalise Dell’s position as mistress of Oldhaven, as ‘it is needful’. Honestly anything Maryon says or does, I immediately assume she has had some futuretelling or vision about it. And you’ll never know if she has, or if she is just giving her opinion.
Elspeth asks about Maruman, and Maryon will try to see if she can find out about him, and Elspeth talks about Miryum and Straaka, and Maryon is intrigued, nobody has communicated with the spirit of a dead person. It wasn’t thought possible, which is why it is probably just a true dream or something, but I have a feeling that maybe we will see a ‘first’ in this world, with Elspeth at the centre. And with that Elspeth leaves Maryon’s chamber, quite relieved to be leaving, and I don’t blame her, it has been an odd encounter.
Elspeth meets Fian, presumably to get him to translate things again, but we learn that the Tecknoguild’s settlement in the White Valley has actually finished. Analivia, Bergold’s sister, who was sneaking around, came to them and brought workers to finish it, Garth couldn’t say no, because Analivia is a woman not to be messed with and is truly obstinate. And there is word that the two of them, will come and live at Obernewtyn when it is a settlement, which is interesting. Elspeth hands over the rubbing from the sword, which seems to be ornate, decorative gadi, which might make it difficult. But like any good Tecknoguilder, Fian won’t be discouraged with a good challenge. I hope we see the translation when Elspeth goes to the White Valley to see the Gypsies, but maybe he won’t have had enough time. Can’t wait to see Marie and Iriny again!