A Rare Event: The Sharp and Thoughtful Ryan Avent Gets One Wrong...
Something Is Going Wrong...

Literature: Home Redecoration at Minas Morgul

One of my favorite passages from the late Kage Baker (2008), The House of the Stag (New York: Tor):


She looked up from her loom. The sergeant of the guard, the one with red eyes, bowed to her. "Sergeant?"

"Lady, we have the workmen for you. The Children of the Sun you wanted. With all their tools and gear. Himself says come and see."

"Thank you, Sergeant." She rose, smiling. "Where are they?"

"Got 'em in the lower courtyard."

He escorted her down through the corridors. Hideous monsters saluted shyly as she passed them. She stepped out into the courtyard and beheld red men, kneeling in a long row., They were blindfolded, their hands bound before them, and some wept and prayed to their gods. Piled in a heap to one side of them were chests and trays of tools. Gard stood to the other side of them, in his full black armor. When he spoke, it was not to her but to the prisoners, in a voice full of rolling thunder.

"Now, Children of the Sun, if you die tomorrow, you will still have seen the fairest sight of your lives, and you'd not see anything fairer if you lived on a thousand years. Free their eyes!"

His guards stepped forward and pulled off the blindfolds, one by one. One by one the red men blinked, stared around, then gasped as they saw the Saint. Some of them fell prostrate before her, bound hands outstretched. "Oh, Lady, save us!"

"Have mercy on us!"

"Don't let him kill us!"

She looked at them with horror and looked white rage at Gard. "What have you done?"

"Brought you workmen, as I promised," he said in that same theatrical tone, meeting her eyes without flinching. She saw amusement there, and covert purpose. "Why, madam, are you displeased? Shall I have them hanged?"

"No!" she cried. "You will have them released at once!" The red men crowded forward on their knees, weeping, thanking her, imploring her, praising her.

"Then I will spare your lives," said Gard to the Children of the Sun. "But you will slave for me nonetheless, to make fair the rooms in which my lady lives."

"They will not slave!" said the Saint. "If they choose to work, you will pay them in gold, and then you'll let them go!"

"Lady, is it fine work you want?" said one of the prisoners. "By all the gods, I swear you'll have rooms finer than a duchess's!"

"Wife, I will defer to your wishes," said Gard. "For I am your slave in all things. Should one of them displease you, however, his head shall look down sadly from a pike."

"May I speak to you alone a moment?" said the Saint to Gard.

He bowed her to the door, and she pulled him within the hall after her. "Now they will do anything you ask them," said Gard smugly.

"How dare you!" The Saint looked him full in the eyes with all the force of her anger, and he rocked back a little on his heels but did not look away.

"Wife, this is the way a Dark Lord accomplishes his affairs. And I had to bring them up here blindfolded, you know, that's elementary security. They haven't been hurt. They haven't been robbed. If they do a good job for you, by all means pay them what you will. They'll have to be taken down the mountain blindfolded too, but you have my word they'll be released alive and unharmed. That's fair, isn't it?"

"That isn't the point! Why couldn't you have asked them to come?"

"Because they wouldn't have. What with me being a Dark Lord and all, as they'd say. But look now: we'll get your rooms redecorated. They'll go back home and spread tales about the terrible Master of the Mountain and his beautiful and saintly Lady, who saved their lives. It'll do both our reputations a world of good."

"But this is all absurd!"

"Isn't it? I lie to survive, because people fear and respect a black mask more than an honest face. Life became much simpler once I understood that."

"We have not done with this conversation," she said. He bowed to her. She turned and went out to the Children of the Sun...