Monday, August 15, 2016

Slaves of Sleep - Chapter Ten, part two - Break-In

We can only imagine what Tiger does to pass the rest of the day, because Hubbard fast-forwards to dusk after a break in the paragraphs.  Our hero is back at the foot of the hill, looking up at the Temple of... the Shrine of...  Hubbard.  Hubbard.  Names.  They're useful things to have.  If Tiger knows how to get around Tarbutón, and remembers the location of a dive he can take shelter in, why didn't he know the name of this temple when he ran up to it earlier in this chapter?  Why isn't he thinking to himself 'Ah, the fabled Basilica of Tarbutón!' or whatever?

We only get a hint about what to call it on the next page, when the narration mentions the treasure in the house of worship sometimes inspires would-be robbers to "scale the heights of Rani."  So it's presumably the Temple of Rani, or Pagoda of Rani, or Rani's Funhouse, or something.  But I just can't wrap my head around how much trouble Hubbard is having coming up with proper nouns for the characters and locations in this book.  Even at the end of his life he was able to make the effort and come up with names like Twa and Cun for bit characters in Mission Earth, so what was giving him problems here?

Oy.  Again, it's dusk, so the temple is glowing with the light of great braziers and torches, and there's a huge procession of jinn marching up the hill into the place, presumably for an 'oh crap we're about to be invaded please help' ceremony.  Slim chance of slipping in, Tiger almost turns away, remembers the dancing girl, finds the courage to proceed, you get the picture.

Although the reasoning for Tiger's mission is a bit interesting.  She and Tiger have never met, but since she looks like Miss Alice Hall, "the girl who had shown him the only kindness he had ever received," our hero feels that he owes it to her to rescue this dancing girl and send her to someone like Admiral Tyronin who would be influential enough to set her free and keep her safe.  Now unlike Palmer, Miss Hall isn't in danger of suddenly expiring because her dream counterpart got executed by an angry jinni, this temple doesn't seem to practice human sacrifice, and it probably won't be touched by a victorious Zongri given what we'll see in a few pages.  And also unlike Palmer, Miss Hall isn't aware of her dream twin's existence, so she isn't suffering each night, forced to go from the life of a stenographer to that of a dancing slave.  But I guess freeing an uncompensated worker is the sort of good deed both Palmer and Tiger can get behind, especially if she's a looker, so here we are.

So Tiger gets his Conan the Barbarian on and raids this temple to a heathen idol in hopes of rescuing a shallow female love interest.  He climbs the hill, facing only as much resistance as tall grass can provide, but nearly falls into the first real obstacle, a thirty-foot-wide and -deep moat filled with hissing and rattling

"Snakes!" said Tiger, feeling the hair rise on the back of his neck.  He took a hitch on his nerve and felt with his foot over the edge.  But the drop was sheer and the slimy things at the bottom rustled as they moved to the foot of the drop, waiting.

You think a frontier outdoorsman like Hubbard, who was of course a six-year-old Blackfoot blood brother to boot, would know that snakes like all reptiles are dry and scaly, not slimy like amphibians fresh from the pond.

He cursed impatiently at such Jinn hellishness.  But he wasted very little time mourning about it.  He had only one recourse - to ascend by the stairs through the main entrance!

I'm unclear whether these are mundane snakes, who presumably would need to be fed a ton of mice every so often, or magical snakes.  Jinn obviously have access to magic, since Queen Ramus was able to change her appearance to that of a human, and Zongri traveled between the worlds, and of course the ancient jinn managed that whole trick with reanimated corpses and captured souls.  So you have to wonder why they don't have much, or anything, in the way of magical defenses.

I'm not saying magical locks would help, our hero has the "I Win" Button Seal of Solomon, after all.  But it'd be a nice bit of consistency.

So Tiger crawls around to the front entrance, surrounded by marid guardsmen more invested in looking pretty in the torchlight than watching the shadows around them.  It's another obstacle, but Tiger grows only more determined, yadda yadda, because "now he was certain that his salvation, at least on Earth, depending upon his reaching Alice Hall in this world."  Huh.  Wonder what led him to that conclusion?  Is this another example of a Hubbard protagonist just suddenly knowing things?  Or - gasp! - could this be some of that fabled Wisdom of Soloman leaking out of Tiger's new bracelet?  Nah, I'm going with 'Hubbard protagonist suddenly knowing things.'

Also, I've already read this story once, and I just flipped through the rest of it once more, but I can't find where rescuing Genie World!Alice is what saves Human World!Palmer's nebbish hide.  Instead it's- well, later.

Instead of stealing a guard's cloak and trying to pass himself off as a marid, Tiger works his way along the temple's foundation, on the inside edge of the snake moat, until he finds a locked door.  It turns out enunciation is important when using the Seal of Sulayman, because this time, when Tiger whispers "open wide," the door opens silently.  Ta-da, we're in the temple.  Specifically in its main hall, a grand chamber with an even grander decoration.

At the far end was a gargantuan idol, gleaming with precious stones, all of gold and silver and ivory.  The hands rested upon the hilt of a sword some fifty feet long and the feet were spread apart in an attitude of battle.  This was Rani, Rani, goddess of the Jinn, terrible of eye, lovely of form, lustful and mystic, beautiful and murderous.  Other humans - and few they had been - had paid for such a sight with their lives.

Religion in this setting is wonky.  The jinn know damn well that God, or Allah, whatever you want to call Him, is real and powerful enough to stuff their smoky asses in a jug for millennia.  Tiger is carrying a blessed relic of that deity capable of blasting apart walls, silently picking locks, and defusing any sense of excitement and tension in the story's climax in another twenty or so pages.  Since Zongri was sealed away for refusing to convert to the One True Faith, there ought to be plenty of jinn Jews/Muslims/whatevers.  Yet here we are, in a temple to some homebrewed genie goddess of contradictions.

And no, this Rani isn't a goddess to rival the big G, as we'll see shortly.

The horde of worshipers haven't filtered inside yet, but the hall isn't quite empty - Tiger is able to overhear a knot of priests discussing something.  They've come to some sort of decision, talking about how "he" is one of the faithful and won't harm them, while Ramus hasn't been giving them enough freedom.  Tiger "of a sudden, remembered" how Queen Ramus' reliance on Zeno the Astrologer broke the church of Rani's monopoly on prophecy.  It sounds like these priests are planning to deliver an omen that will demoralize Ramus' forces, hopefully so "he," presumably Zongri, will reward them.  But how will they tell their goddess what prophecy to deliver, hmm?

So when the priests leave the scene, Tiger does some exploring, and finds a trap door leading to a staircase that spirals deep underground, follows it to a long cobwebby corridor, then climbs another staircase leading up.  This lands him in an observation room overlooking Rani's idol, and our hero, "being well versed in such obtuse subjects as ordinary necromancy" ...really, Hubbard?  Is this what you think people who finish college learn about?  Anyway, Tiger is disappointed that the jinn resorted to such old-fashioned tricks as eye holes carved in statues to allow them to watch the temple proceedings from concealment.

Fortunately no one's using this spy closet, so Tiger - excuse me, the narration is calling him "Jan" again - is able to watch the ceremony.  He's not interested in what the priests are saying, but searches the hundreds of dancing girls moving in complex geometric patterns before the ten thousand "Jinn and Jinnia" filling the great hall.  Eventually he spots this world's Miss Hall, who seems to be leading all the other dancers.  It wouldn't do for our hero's designated love interest to be one of the interchangeable back-up dancers, you see.

What Palmer can also see is that the statue of Rani has some big chains extending from its back, out of sight of the worshipers in front of it.  He's not shocked when the thing begins to sway in time to the music, and he assumes there's speaking tubes in it that led the "goddess" make pronouncements on command.  And man, it sure is disappointing that these powerful, magical beings have to resort to such mundane measures to give a statue some semblance of life.

Anyway, our hero goes downstairs again and finds a passage leading into the idol's base, another spy chamber.  No luck finding the idol's control center and delivering a prophecy in favor of Ramus, unfortunately, but our hero still has an idea.  There will be dire consequences if it's pinned on him, "But Tiger was bold and Jan was cunning," and there's a vanishingly rare reference to the two souls working in unison, how 'bout that.

The ceremony itself is interesting.  Drumming builds to a fever pitch, the dancers twirl until the music stops and they drop into poses of supplication, and then the high priest gets out a whip and demands that "Rani" tell them who will win tomorrow's battle between Ramus and Zongri.  It's very confrontational, with the goddess glaring down at the whelp daring to give her orders, clergy poking at the statue with smoldering coals, making "Rani" shudder, and the head honcho repeating his demands until the goddess lets loose a "flood of strange words" that the high priest helpfully translates as a pronouncement of doom upon Ramus.  So this isn't a deity who you placate with worship and hopefully get an accurate prognostication in exchange, it's one you mollify with song and dance, then you force an answer out of her with whips and hot pokers.  So she's simultaneously a goddess powerful enough to worship and able to offer insights to the future, but also one you can boss around with sticks.  Again, genie religion is weird.

The audience is shocked by the prophecy, and Palmer decides this is the moment to act.  "By the Seal of Sulayman!  Part the chains!"  And thus the focal point of worship in this city of jinn promptly faceplants right on top of the high priest, while ten thousand of the faithful watch in horror.  Next Sunday's service is going to be awkward.

In the chaos that follows, as the priests mill about in dismay and all the worshipers flee, Palmer - no, Tiger now - is able to dash to where the dancing girl he's after is huddled in fear, and scoop her up in his arms without her resisting.   Then he's able to tear the yellow cloak off a priest and wrap it around both him and his cargo, and since a human carrying a smaller human looks a lot like an ifrit holy man, they escape from the temple without incident.  Our hero reaches the city docks and orders some fishermen to boat him over to Admiral Tyromin's flagship, and since they assume he's some secret agent or something, they comply.

It's only at this point, after running through the temple, down the hill, and through the back alleys of the city to reach the harbor, that the dancing girl asks who her kidnapper rescuer is.  She's astonished to learn that this is the Tiger she's heard naval officers seek blessings for... well, at least Tiger's not the one being worshiped, so there's that.

Anyway, our hero asks if she's ever heard of the name Alice Hall, and she says no, as far as she knows she's Wanna.  I think this is the only time that name appears in this entire book - even after we're given it, the narration prefers to refer to this character as "the dancing girl," or "the girl," or just "she."  This is because Wanna isn't actually important to the story beyond looking like Alice Hall.

I guess fishermen are able to just dock with military vessels without any problems, because the next thing we know, Tiger's boarding the Morin and asking to see the admiral.  When halted by an officer he explains that he's the Tiger, prompting the other man to immediately place him into custody.  First he encounters a Commander Bakon, who the narration explains was the officer who stopped him on his way to the palace several chapters ago, and soon he's brought before Admiral Tyromin himself.  To summarize two pages - Tiger is in serious trouble, not just for breaking out of the palace, but now for stealing a priest's cloak (why are you still wearing that, Tiger?) and a sacred temple dancer.  But it's too late to go to shore, there's a battle to fight in the morning.

So the dancing girl gets put in the admiral's quarters, while Tiger is put in another ship's brig under armed guard.  Hope you didn't get your fill of boats in Chapter Five.

The sentry took Tiger's pistols and saber and at pistol point escorted him back to the deck.  Tiger was conscious of the girl's despairing eyes upon his back - and conscious too of the short-lived gratitude of man.

Tyromin and Bakon are both ifrits, though.

So that's how you break into a sacred temple - you point the Seal of Sulayman at things and problems go away, easy-peasy.  Makes me wonder why Tiger felt the need to bring the dancing girl to Tyromin for protection in the first place, since our hero is packing an artifact that can overcome any obstacle.  Why not just skip town, make a start somewhere else?  Use those secondary powers to make gemstones rise from the earth, grab a fortune, found a kingdom?  But I guess while the Seal of Solomon can defeat locks and shatter walls, even it is unable to overcome the raw power of Plot.

Back to Chapter Ten, part one

No comments:

Post a Comment