I am writing this column on a borrowed iPad whose keyboard I am not used to. Please excuse any errors, typos, and bizarre auto-suggestions that may survive editing.
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Synopsis: #2 Raid at Sorrow’s End
We left our frightened band of elves stuck on the edge of a desert wasteland, betrayed by trolls. Cutter blames himself for trusting the trolls, while Treestump, one of the elders of the tribe, points out that the decision wasn’t his alone. They discover that Skywise’s piece of stone chipped from King Greymung’s lodestone has a strange property: no matter which way you spin it, it always ends up pointing in the same direction. One end points back down the tunnel they came through, the other out into the desert. They take it as a sign, and Cutter declares they will cross the burning waste.
Traveling by night, they rest by day, lacing leather cloaks together to produce some sort of shade while the wolves hunt for food, finding only small lizards, and while their water skins empty. Redlance, hurt by the humans in issue 1, worsens in the harsh conditions. Partway through the second night of travel they spot mountains in the distance, which give them a bit of hope. Cutter resolves that he will get his tribe to the mountains alive, no matter what. Day arrives again, before they reach the mountains. Redlance is nearing the end of his strength and opts to stay behind, his partner Nightshade choosing to stay with him. Cutter says that he wishes he’d killed the human shaman that instigated the burning of the woods when he’d had the chance, but Redlance argues with him, saying that the elves are hunters, not murderers, and that he does not want that to change. Cutter leaves the last waterskin with Redlance and Nightfall.
Cutter hopefully names the mountains ahead of them “Sorrow’s End”, and they set off. Two wolves die, and several elves give in to exhaustion and have to be strapped to their wolves. They reach the mountains, which have shade but not water. Cutter, enraged when a spiny plant scratches him, lops its top off and discovers the interior is wet and spongy. This ia a welcome relief, but not a solution. As the elves rest and drink, Cutter restlessly explores the area. He climbs up the side of a mountain and looks over to discover … A settlement of elves! Cutter thinks they seem more like humans than elves, without wolves or tree houses, and living in the sun instead of the night. He does not trust these unfamiliar elves. Skywise wonders if they’d help the Wolfriders if they asked, but Cutter is not willing to risk a third betrayal, after that of the humans and the trolls.
As the Wolfriders plan, we meet two villagers, Leetah, drawing water from the well, and Rayek, who is badgering her for an answer to his request for her to become his life mate, saying that any maiden in the village would say yes to him, but that she is the only one worth saying. Leetah slips from his grasp and runs away, laughing.
The villagers hear howls coming from the mountains as the Wolfriders attack, stealing baskets of vegetables, gourds of water, and loaves of bread. Rayek, defending Leetah, threatens Cutter with a spear, but Cutter breaks it and kicks Rayek aside. He looks at Leetah’s eyes and at that instant he feels a strange connection to her, and the desire to have her. He abducts her, throwing her over the back of his wolf, and the Wolfriders depart, the villagers throwing rocks at them. Skywise twits Cutter about not getting any water.
Rayek tells Leetah’s father, a blind elf named Sun-Toucher, that Leetah has been taken. He begs Rayek to save her. Rayek leads a group of villagers up the mountainside, but the villagers soon lag, and Rayek climbs on alone, berating them for being soft, and listening for the Wolfriders.
Wolfriders Strongbow and Treestump watch Rayek and the villagers, considering that Strongbow should shoot Rayek. Cutter forbids killing if they can help it, as he struggles to keep Leetah silent. Skywise tells him (silently, via sending) to threaten her into silence, and Cutter tells Leetah that if she makes a sound, she won’t like what will happen to her. Leetah, accurately judging the validity of this threat, screams. Rayek hears, and arrives at the Wolfrider’s hiding spot, shouting threats if they’ve hurt her. The Wolfriders quickly surround and Pike reaches to disarm him, but Rayek turns on him, stares into his eyes, and Pike goes catatonic. The Wolfriders knock Rayek down and pull his headband down to cover his eyes. Leetah, frightened for Rayek, offers to do anything Cutter says.
Rayek threatens the Wolfriders by the High Ones, which stuns the Wolfriders, as the High Ones are their sacred ancestors. Cutter demands to know what he knows of the High Ones, and Leetah points out that they are all descendants of the High Ones. Cutter, standing down a bit, explains where they came from, while Rayek calls him a liar. Leetah invites the Wolfriders down to the village, saying that her father will know if they speak the truth and says that the villagers will help them if they are.
A little while later, they stand before Sun-Toucher, who reads their emotions. Cutter remembers the two left behind, and says that he must return and get them before it’s too late, as one of them is hurt, possibly dying. Leetah reveals herself to be the village’s healer, and says she will go with him. Rayek grabs her arm and forbids her to go, at which point she turns on him, objecting to his forbidding her. He apologizes, and offers to accompany her.
As Leetah and Rayek, mounted on large animals we learn later are called zwoots, follow Cutter and his wolf into the desert, she broods over the Wolfrider chieftain. She too felt something when their eyes met, and “Tam,” a word she doesn’t understand, has embedded itself in her mind.
Out in the desert, a vulture waits for Redlance to die. Nightfall nails it with a rock, screaming for it to leave her and her life mate alone. She hears Cutter’s howl, and rushes to him. Leetah kneels beside Redlance and is shocked to discover that his wounds were deliberately inflicted. Cutter tells her that humans did it, and Rayek comments that they have legends of such creatures, but he never believed them. Leetah enters a healing trance and heals Redlance. Cutters thanks her, touching her chin, and she shrinks from him into Rayek’s arms.
Back in the village, Cutter talks to Sun-Toucher, saying that he hopes Leetah will forgive him for abducting her, but he felt like he had no choice. Sun-Toucher thinks to himself that perhaps Cutter really did not have a choice. Out loud, he welcomes Cutter and the Wolfriders to the village, saying they would give freely what the Wolfriders had taken. He then says he will bring them before the Mother of Memory.
Sun-Toucher leads the Wolfriders to the largest building on the village and bids them enter. They walk in and see a slender figure whose face is veiled in shadow, much, much taller than any of the elves. The figure bids them welcome to Sorrow’s End.
The staples gave up the ghost long ago on my oldest copy of this issue and the paper is turning brittle so paging through it is an exercise in delicacy. I read the earlier issues many more times than the later issues, partly because I think I liked the sense of openness and mystery of the early story, before the elves start discovering answers to their questions.
The artwork in this issue is still excellent, designed for black and white printing. While the Sun Villagers are portrayed on the cover with darker skin than the Wolfriders, there is less of a contrast between them than there is in the later colored versions, and I remember having to adjust my mental image of Leetah and her village when I read the colored books. This is a case where the manga practice of using tones would have helped, but if Wendy Pini had been using tones in addition to drawing and inking, it would have taken even longer than three months to get the next issue out. At least, I think at this stage, she was still doing all the inking herself. Later on–I don’t remember if it was during this first 20 issues or later–WaRP Graphics starts using other inkers to work on the books and in my opinion, it changes the art subtly in a direction I don’t like. But more on that in later columns.
There’s a lot packed into this issue. The desert scenes last much longer in my memory, which goes to show how much story you can pack into a few short pages. The Pinis wrote a novelization of the first five issues called, I think, Journey to Sorrow’s End, which allowed us to go into Nightfall’s thoughts during the day she and Redlance were left behind and made even more of an impression on me, which I brought back to the comic.
And speaking of Nightfall, here we see her as the protector and Redlance as the nurturer in their relationship. It’s a nice inversion of the usual gender roles to see the male preaching pacifism and the female fierce and protective (over someone who isn’t her baby).
This is a good issue to have a protective female partner, as the first time we meet Leetah, she seems to be a flighty character, stringing Rayek along. He does give us reason to think she may be right in not immediately accepting his proposal, as he is arrogant and possessive, but we don’t learn more about her misgivings in this issue.
We also see another one of Cutter’s defining characteristics: his fears of not living up to his father’s reputation and legacy. The other elves are less harsh on him than he is on himself, but still have a tendency to refer to Bearclaw when talking about decisions–Treestump, when telling Cutter that his decision to trust the trolls wasn’t his alone, says that Bearclaw would have tied him in knots for letting the troll Picknose catch him off his guard. Cutter can’t be too happy about that. However, he still feels keenly his responsibility for his tribe, and most of his decisions are made with that in mind, which makes his abduction of Leetha that much stranger. We’ll learn more about that in the next issue.
This theme of trust and betrayal begun with the trolls is going to resonate strongly through the series. Every time the elves meet new people they have to make the decision to trust them or not, and it’s not always clear what they should do. And they’re going to have to decide if betrayals will damage their trust in others. Trust and betrayal also figures heavily in the backstory that leads to the current storyline.
I’m going to leave this month’s column at that and wait eagerly to see what you guys have to say about it. I’m still debating whether or not to do more than one issue at a time, as the synopses tend to be rather long, but that can wait for now.
Merry Christmas for those who celebrate it, peace and good will for those who don’t, and happy birthday to meeeeeeee!