Friday, August 5, 2016

Slaves of Sleep - Chapter Seven - A True Frog of a Windmill

This is a very important private audience, so aside from the three companies of marid guards, Queen Ramus' audience hall is empty except for Her Majesty, Palmer-Tiger and a chained Zongri, who our hero notes is the biggest, scariest ifrit in the room.  Ramus demands to know whether her human prisoner is the one Zongri hit with "so untimely a sentence," but Zongri has trouble confirming if this is his victim.  See, he cursed a bespectacled weakling, "A very owl of a scarecrow" ...uh, right.  Yes, a shrimp "with his head stuffed with books and his heart so much sawdust," okay, that's a bit more sensible.  Might have wanted to use that instead of the owl-scarecrow comparison.

But since Palmer is currently inhabiting the body of a veritable bear of a combine harvester, Zongri doesn't quite recognize him.  Ramus yells at him to look harder or whatever and insults his poor vision, and Zongri gets sassy, saying that while he's currently in shackles, if nothing else his time spent in a copper jar has taught him patience.

"And I can wait until you visit me in my own realm, the Barbosi Isles, where I would have been even now if your cursed ships were not so glutted with cargoes for the weaklings I find here.  How am I supposed to know what has transpired in the ages since I left?

I dunno, how did you learn about Islam a thousand years after getting sealed away by an ancient Hebrew king?

How was I to know that the jest of Eternal Wakefulness, once so marvelous, would bring any danger here?  How was I to know that soft living and slaves had reduced my race to the point of putty?  My magic beyond my power?  And if I have done this thing, what of that?"

It was just a prank, bro.

"What of that?" bellowed Ramus in a fury.  "You witless son of chattering monkeys, can you not see the desolation which would spread if all humans in our world would come to know TRUTH?  Quick now, stop blabbing your ignorance and closely look upon the prisoner.  We must know!"

Yeah, this whole Curse/Jest of Eternal Wakefulness is a bit confusing.

If it's meant to be something terrible... well, how?  I guess it's awfully confusing to the victim, who finds themself in a new place every time they try to get some shuteye, and I suppose that could be dangerous if the you in the Genie World is an acrobat while in the Human World you're acrophobic, but that's a rather random and indirect way of harming someone, isn't it?  Plus it looks like the Genie World persona will end up putting increasing influence over the Human World mind while it's borrowing the body, until it's submerged entirely.  Which sort of undermines the "eternal" part of the curse, doesn't it?  And that's not even getting into Masters of Sleep.

There is a way this enchantment could be horrible, even fatal - it is after all a curse of eternal wakefulness.  The human body needs sleep.  The brain needs to turn off for a few hours and recover from what you did to it all day.  But with this curse, there's no escape - you might have a horrible nine-to-five minimum wage job in one world, you lay down to shut your eyes, and the next thing you know you're living the life of a genie's slave in another world.  So how many nights could you go without rest before your life fell to pieces?  How many days without rest would it take before you lost your mind?

Except that doesn't seem to be happening to Palmer, does it?  He shows no sign of fatigue despite being mentally "awake" for over a day now.  All his disorientation comes from suddenly being placed in a world of fantasy, not from being forced to continue functioning without rest.  So again, how exactly is this a punishment?

If anything, Zongri has done Palmer a favor, because now he, as Ramus said, knows the "TRUTH," and (in theory) his scholarly knowledge but meek demeanor is being complemented by a powerful personality with a lot of experience when it comes to action sequences.  This "curse" is about as inconvenient as that imp in Zelda games who tries to halve your magical power but ends up doubling your mana bar.

But back to this chapter.  Zongri, if it means he'll be released from Ramus' custody, is willing to admit that alright, this human is indeed "Jan Palmer, victim of the Eternal Wakefulness and long may he roast in hell!"  Ramus tells him to lift the curse, Zongri tells her to just kill him, but Ramus counters that Tiger's exploits have earned him a reprieve from such a fate, and adds that Zongri won't go free until he undoes his magic.  This very much upsets the prisoner, but Ramus points out that while she agreed to release him, "I had not stated all my conditions."  If you ever find yourself dealing with a jinni, make sure to get everything in writing before you agree to a deal.

So that's the situation - Ramus would much rather execute the nefarious Zongri than the rascally but heroic Tiger, but is willing to let the rival ifrit go if he lifts the Curse, and maybe explains how he managed it.  Zongri, with an executioner's encouragement, starts talking about the legendary Seal of Sulayman, a mere replica of which was still powerful enough to keep him bottled away for millennia.  The actual seal was lost by Sulayman, but when Ramus keeps up the pressure, Zongri dramatically reveals that, duh dun duhn, he now possesses the original Seal of Sulayman!

He jerked the ring from his finger.  "Look!  I searched but a day to find it.  Sulayman got it back and I knew how to find his tomb.  It lay in the miserable dust which remained to him and I took it up and put it on and all the secrets of the two worlds will be mine!  All the land will yield to me.  Earth will disgorge all her buried treasures, walls will fall at my bidding!  Look well and be as stone!"

Huh.  In The Alhambra's "Legend of the Enchanted Soldier," Solomon's magic ring somehow ended up in Spain before being chanced upon by a student, who used it to incompletely pilfer a treasure vault and ultimately... well, the ring's fate isn't recounted.  But I think if the student had made a pilgrimage to Solomon's tomb, wherever that may be, the story would have mentioned it.  Also, how did Zongri know that Sulayman got his ring back after losing it?  Probably the same way he converted to Islam while in his bucket.

Oh yeah, sorcery and all that.  That big moose of a butter churn Zongri tells everyone to turn to stone, but nothing happens, even when he waves the magic ring above his hand and repeats the command.  Ramus laughs that Zongri messed up - when Solomon wore it, the ring gave him all of its wisdom, and lost its power over humans, and because an ifrit has now worn it, Zongri has "destroyed its power there."  Which is to say, here?  Wherever.  At any rate, it's now "as powerful as a doorknob!"

Thing about doorknobs, though: they're not good at turning people to stone, but they can, if installed correctly, open doors.  Zongri warns that even if his new magical fashion accessory can't petrify people (and ifrits), it's got other powers, and tells all the marid soldiers to keep their distance.  The guards comply, though I'm not certain it's because of the magic ring, the narration says they "were so hypnotized by the strength of the man that they did as he ordered."  I mean, these ugly little jinn are pretty used to doing whatever an ifrit tells them to.  At any rate, Zongri shouts "See!  I strike off my own chains!" and sure enough his shackles fall to the floor around his feet.  With this ancient magical artifact, Zongri has become a master of unlocking.

But before he can go any further, Zongri gets hit by a lion.  See, as the guards stood back from the bellowing prisoner, Palmer was left unattended and sweating, "then, suddenly, felt lightheaded."  In the space of a sentence our protagonist goes from a stunned Palmer to a grinning Tiger, who ducks out of Zongri's sight and unpins the chains securing one of the lions to Ramus' throne.  And while the marid flunkies are affected by Zongri's command, this kitty don't give a damn.  So the lion pounces on Zongri, then Tiger pounces on the lion, resulting in a "mad tumble of Ifrit and human and jungle king" that lasts until some marids grab the lion's chain and secure the beast.

I'm not entirely sure why Tiger did this.  I mean, I know what his objective was, I'm just mystified why he chose this way to go about it instead of... well, doing what he'll do later.

When both the lion and Zongri are secured, Ramus gloats a little and orders a guard to take the magic ring from the prisoner.  But to everyone's surprise (except for one person, and you can probably guess who), Zongri doesn't seem to have the original Seal of Sulayman anymore.  Zongri demands that Ramus have all her guards searched, and though the queen is insulted, she agrees to have all her troopers inspected for the ring, then their officers, and even the commanding major.  Still the ring doesn't turn up, so Zongri leaps upon Palmer, or I should say Tiger, who willingly lets the ifrit pat him down (none-too-gently).  Zongri eventually gives up and punches Tiger to the floor before he's pulled off him.

Zongri is convinced that Tiger is a thief, while Tiger counters that he saw Zongri swallow the ring, honest.  Ramus orders the rival ifrit thrown into the deepest, darkest dungeon she has until Zongri agrees to hand it over...

Wait, this is stupid.  Either Ramus is right and the Seal of Sulayman has no power any more, in which case this is a lot of fuss over a curio, or she's wrong, in which case she's hoping that Zongri will, after being locked in a room by himself, surrender something that would allow him to escape from any prison.  You know, once he barfs the ring up or fishes it out of the cell's bucket.

Maybe Ramus inherited her position after her husband got whacked by a rival kingdom and isn't actually any good at ruling.  Anyway, Zongri swears horrible revenge on Tiger, but doesn't resist when the guards take him away - he's happy to go to any place he doesn't have to look at the filthy thief.  But before he leaves, Zongri drops the bombshell that there's no way to undo the Curse of Eternal Wakefulness, for "Who including God can destroy knowledge once given or separate personalities once fused."  No question mark, so it's a rhetorical... statement?  Also, there are ways to destroy knowledge and personalities, and we'll see some next book.  They're just too evil for even the ifrit to come up with.

Tiger asks Her Majesty what's to be done with him, and she muses that she can't afford to let him go free, but he's done too much for her realm to be executed, so it's back to the tower for him until they find a better option.  And the narration points out that our main character is still Tiger at this point, even though in past action sequences, Palmer took over the minute the excitement stopped.  I don't think this is quite what Zongri meant when he talked about fusing personalities, it seems like Palmer is fading away in favor of Tiger.  "Eternal" Wakefulness my ass.

It's now well past nightfall, so Tiger makes a big show of yawning and acting tired even while quietly searching the room for observation ports.  He eventually takes off his shirt and pants in preparation for bed, but keeps his "floppy-topped seaboots" on as he snuffs out all the candles, something I'm sure any spies won't find suspicious in the slightest.  Then he crawls into bed, still wearing his boots.

And then, secure, he reached into the floppy top of the right one and pulled forth a thing which weighed at least a pound.  Even in the darkness the Seal of Sulayman blazed and crackled.

And I'm especially sure no observers are going to take an interest in the canopy bed lighting up from the inside with eldritch energies.

So, that was a productive chapter.  We learned a teensie bit more about Palmer's curse, which will get elaborated upon in two chapters, though like I said it's nothing you shouldn't be able to guess by now.  Our villain made a reappearance and was easily bamboozled by our hero, showing that he's nothing to be worried about.  And the protagonist just gained a magical "I Win" button he can abuse for the rest of the story, putting an end to any tension in the Genie World segments.

But since we've made so much progress in the Genie World, we ought to pop back to the Human World and check on the veritable mouse of a mannequin who's still stuck in jail for a crime he didn't commit, but may get committed for.

Back to Chapter Six

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