It’s been a while since the last installment, but it hasn’t been uneventful for me, what with a house purchase, a death in the family, a move, and several other sorts of things. But we’re finally back to the quest! Today, cocoons, reunions, and tall dark handsome strangers!
Issue 10–The Forbidden Grove
Cutter’s depressed, thinking of his family and the narrow scrapes he and Skywise have had on the journey. Skywise tut-tuts at him, cheering him up, and they chase each other in play. Shortly, they come upon the issue’s namesake, the Forbidden Grove. Olbar, the human chief, mentioned last issue that his daughter and her lover had vanished in the Forbidden Grove and that he wouldn’t set foot in it. It’s a dark, still place, filled with shapes cocooned in spider-like webbing. When they cut one open, a live bird flies out.
Skywise, tired from his injury, sits and rests while Cutter explores more. Cutter comes across a larger cocoon and, curious, opens it. A wolf cub pops out. Cutter nuzzles the cub, missing Nightrunner, but catches a familiar scent – that of his daughter Ember! He dashes back to Skywise.
Skywise, meanwhile, is half-cocooned in webbing spat out by small, winged, humanoid creatures who refer to him as a “highthing” and say that he is very important, and goes with “the other ones.” Cutter comes upon them and chases most of them off with threats and his blade, although not without getting a faceful of webbing. He catches one, Petalwing, who laughs because it seems to be invulnerable. Until Cutter threatens to pull its wings off, that is, whereupon is becomes cooperative. Skywise detects Ember’s scent on the cub also, and Cutter interrogates Petalwing, who admits to cocooning three other highthings, before spitting web in Cutter’s face and escaping his grasp.
Cutter searches wildly, stopping to send every so often, until he gets a faint response. He tracks it to its origin, and finds three large cocoons, which he slices open despite Petalwing’s entreaties to stop. Inside are Leetah, Ember, and Suntop. Leetah says Cutter’s soul name as he embraces all three of them. She notices Skywise and apologizes, but Cutter reassures her that it’s all right – Skywise knows his soul name and, in fact, has always known it. Leetah and the twins apprise Cutter and Skywise of their journeys, the attack by figures riding giant birds, and how the trio arrived in the Forbidden Grove, the twins hidden in a saddle-basket on a zwoot and Leetah clinging desperately to its harness underneath its belly as it ran wildly. After they arrived in the Forbidden Grove, Suntop assured his mother that this was the place Savah had told him to find Cutter in, and they searched until they were tired and fell asleep, to be wrapped by the winged things.
Suntop gives Cutter Savah’s message, that there is something bad “out there,” and that he should not go near it. Leetah heals Skywise’s broken arm. As the winged things – Preservers, we learn – listen to the elves talk about their search for the High Ones, it remembers what it calls the Belonging Time, and insists on going with the elves, secretly following them when Cutter objects and hurls it away. Cutter and Ember horse around in the treetops, while Leetah muses silently on how different their children are, and whether Suntop will ever feel at home in Ember’s world, and whether she can ever feel at home in the forest also.
Skywise takes over child-minding duties for a while as Cutter and Leetah wander off for some time alone. Leetah confesses her unease about the forest. They come upon a clearing filled with fireflies at which Leetah marvels, and Cutter explains that the woods are beautiful, and not dangerous if you know how to think and act in them. They embrace and make love in the clearing, falling asleep afterwards. And wake up to find Petalwing has started to cocoon them. It insists that it wants to stay with them as they wander back to Skywise and the kids, and when Leetah mentions that the flying creatures spin their webs for no reason, Petalwing insists there is one: to keep the highthings safe and sound. They come upon an enormous cocoon, which Petalwing proudly states is the alrgest thing they’ve ever cocooned.
Cutter cautiously slits open the webbing, quickly hiding as soon as he’s done. Olbar’s daughter and her lover emerge, thinking that they’ve only been asleep for a little while, not for a full year. Leetah watches from hiding in amazement. She’s never seen humans before and thought they were monstrous, but realizes they aren’t.
A wolf howl arises. The humans run in fear, and all of the elves perk up in recognition, and howl back. The elves follow the howl, and everyone converges onto a clearing, where the humans have been trapped at arrowpoint by Nightfall, who is accompanied by Redlance. Cutter convinces her to let the humans go, and they run off. The elves have a joyful reunion. Redlance fills them in on what happened after Leetah and the twins escaped the bird attack — he and Nightfall dove into the river and hid below the surface, while seven out of the remaining ten Wolfriders were captured and taken in the direction of Blue Mountain and one was unaccounted for. They decided to track Leetah’s zwoot along with their wolves, and eventually came upon the Forbidden Grove and decided to howl for them.
Cutter decides that they now have to go to Blue Mountain, the lair of the bird spirits, to rescue the captives. Suntop panics, saying that Savah warned him that he musn’t go to the mountain. Cutter reassurs him that he understands, but says that the tribe is more important than he is, and he must help them.
The final page shows a cave in Blue Mountain, turned into a cell by the addition of thorny bars at the entrance. Strongbow is in it, grimacing in pain. Two shadowy figures stand outside the cell. One asks the other, Winnowill, if Strongbow has cried out yet. Winnowill replies, “Not yet…he plays the game well. But I shall win. I always do!”
#11 – Lair of the Bird Spirits
The issue opens at the same cell in Blue Mountain as #10 closed, from a different point of view. Someone armed with a dagger is stealthily climbing the steps to the cell, behind the backs of the two figures. Both are tall — one is an odd-looking amalgam of bird and humanoid figure that sort of looks like a giant bat, and the other is a female figure cloaked in black with long black hair. She is pyschically torturing Strongbow, and the symbol used for her sending, a white diamond shape for the elves we’ve known so far, resembles that of Madcoil, with a dark core and dark outline.
The woman turns as the dagger-wielder approaches and attacks psychically. Moonshade collapses unconscious. Winnowill tuts at the predictable nature of the attack while Tyldak, the bird-elf, comments that he finds it hard to believe the Wolfriders are related to them in any way. Winnowill agrees, but finds it amusing how savage they are. Moonshade recovers as Winnowill attacks Strongbow again, first defiant, but then pleading for Winnowill to stop. She quietly apologizes to Strongbow, presumably for failing to rescue him, as Tyldak comments that Strongbow should suffer for his crime.
At the foot of Blue Mountain, the local human tribe is laying a stone altar with game in preparation for a ceremony, wondering whether the strange “honored one” who appears, surrounded by wild beasts, will deign to talk to them. They believe he is a messenger from the bird spirits and that he will talk in his own time. They leave the altar. One-Eye creeps from the shadows with the wolves that accompany him, stealing the game from the altar. He talks to the wolves and himself, mentioning that he doesn’t dare send to Clearbrook, his mate, as there is an enemy in the mountain who turns it against him. The wolves catch a scent on the wind and perk up.
A distance away, Cutter, Skywise, Leetah, and the children walk through the brush as Petalwing serenades them horribly. Their wolves perk up also, sensing the rest of the pack. The wolves and Wolfriders run, Cutter scooping Leetah up onto wolfback, towards the mountain.
The human ceremony has commenced, and the Hoan G’Tay-Sho, as the tribe is named, prepare to send two young adults of the tribe up a path into a door in the mountain to serve the bird spirits. The shaman says that their last gift to the spirits was one of old age, a the spirits would know the humans in all their aspects. One-Eye watches, noting the door and planning his attack. The wolves with him perk up again, sensing approaching pack members, and he postpones his plan to howl. Cutter and the gang find him. One-Eye fills them in on how he escaped – a bird grabbed Clearbrook, so he grabbed her, but he fell off into a treetop. He tells them that the rest of the tribe is being held in the mountain, and warns them off sending as the “bad one” mustn’t know how many are left. They creep closer to the humans’ ceremony. Cutter recognizes Nonna’s tribe, and much to One-Eye’s dismay, reveals himself to the humans.
Inside the castle-like mountain, the Wolfriders are enslaved, forced to do menial labor. Winnowill approaches the door to the outside, hearing the humans’ ceremonial pipes, and sends to an elfish figure frozen in place above the door, commanding her to open it. As the rock that forms the door flows like water and opens up, the silhouettes of Cutter, One-Eye, and Skywise can be seen.
They demand their tribesfolk. Winnowill is momentarily taken aback, but commands Door to close. The Petalwing and the Wolfriders, except for Redlance and the children, dive through it. Petalwing spits webbing into Tyldak’s face as he flies to spread the alarm, while Cutter threatens Winnowill with his sword. One-Eye tries to send to Clearbrook, but Winnowill twists it, causing him pain, then psychically attacks Nightfall. Cutter threatens her again, and she subsides. They send, and the Wolfriders who can drop what they are doing and rush to their leader. Dewshine, who is sitting slumped on a bed that has a pillow with a bat-like motif, stays when Scouter runs off. Clearbrook is surrounded by tall, thin elves and has been given an elaborate hairstyle, They restrain her when she tries to run. Moonshade tells Cutter that Strongbow is caged and demands that he make Winnowill set Strongbow free. Winnowill takes advantage of his distraction to attack them psychically and escapes.
Other elves, led by Tyldak, fly down from above and attack. The fight continues for a while, and it is not certain who will win. Winnowill runs up to Strongbow’s cell, followed by Moonshade. Several of the elves, including Cutter and Leetah, break free and follow. Winnowill attacks Strongbow with her mind again, and says that she holds his life in her hands. Leetah flings herself forward and grabs Strongbow’s hand, shielding him with healing power. She demands to know why he is captive. Tyldak explains that he killed a bond-bird, and that the others ate of its flesh, a crime for which they must pay. Treestump explains they were given the choice to take their freedom in exchange for Strongbow, or to stay and serve the Gliders. Winnowill muses aloud that their diminished descendants have no sense of honor, and asks Cutter what he’d do if someone killed one of their wolf-friends. Cutter starts to say “I’d kill him,” but stops short, annoyed, as Winnowill smirks.
A temporary truce drawn, they follow her to Lord Voll, the leader of the Gliders. Leetah sends to Cutter that she’s glad the children are in the woods with Redlance, and they realize Winnowill can hear their private sending as she turns and smirks again.
They arrive in Lord Voll’s audience chamber, where Clearbrook is bound. One-Eye releases her and assures himself that she is fine. Winnowill dares Cutter to convince the stony-faced Voll of the tribe’s innocence. Voll introduces Kureel, who was to be matched with the slain bond-bird, and says that the bird riders are hunters and are diminished until Kureel waits for the next hatching and for his new mount to be ready. Cutter offers to bring meat to the Gliders until then to make up for it. Winnowill breaks in and suggests that a life for a life is more like it, and propses that they kill Strongbow’s wolf. The Wolfriders react angrily, and Leetah runs forward, telling Voll that they might as well kill their children. Voll remonstrates with her for cruelty, as there are no more children and there will be no more, and says he’d give anything to gaze into the eyes of a child. Cutter and Leetah hatch an idea…
Outside the mountain, Redlance and the kids wait. A bond-bird flies over, and Nightfall, riding postillion, sends to them, asking them to meet her.
Inside the mountain, Voll and the Gliders await their return. When the children show up on the backs of bond-birds, they are amazed. Voll looks closely at Ember, who promptly calls him a funny old bird, whereupon Suntop smacks her. Voll says that as the Wolfriders did not lie, he will honor his word also and let Strongbow and the Wolfriders go. Shortly afterward, Strongbow stalks into the chamber, glaring at Winnowill.
Voll asks that the Wolfriders stay for a while. Cutter says he’d like to, to learn about them, and tells them of his quest to find and unite all the descendants of the High Ones. He believes all elves should be together.
Winnowill then says that his quest is over, for the Gliders are the High Ones.
— I am amazed, every time I type out these recaps, how much story the Pinis managed to pack into 20-odd pages of comic. Especially coming back to them after reading lots of manga, where the ones I like a lot such as Mushishi tend to focus on slowly moving time, where moments are allowed to stand alone. The Pinis pack much more plot and action into the pages than these, but you don’t notice it and it doesn’t seem rushed.
— The first page of issue 10 has some interesting playing with scale. The ‘camera’ swoops over the forest, focusing in on some treelike plants, and as Cutter and Skywise’s heads rise over them, there’s a moment of vertigo between the scales, as the plants look so much like trees and the panel is closed in so tightly on their faces.
— There’s not too many places in the series where the characters behave stupidly or out of character for plot reasons, but early in issue 10 is one of them: if I was in a grove filled with cocoons that I’d just theorized were made by meat-eaters who were keeping prey alive for later, and my best friend was injured, tired, and wanted to rest, I would definitely not leave him alone to sleep, no matter how quiet and peaceful it seems.
— The page where Cutter rushes headlong into the woods in search of his family shows a nice adaptation of panel shapes to reflect Cutter’s emotions. As he dashes off willy-nilly, the panels lose their right angles and regular placement, but as he starts to calm down and focus himself to search for them psychically instead of physically, they begin to straighten up again, until the final borderless panel which contains Leetah’s weak response.
— The Pinis don’t go further into why and how Skywise knows Cutter’s soul name, at least in this first story arc, but there’s been fanfiction exploring that. I haven’t read any EQ fic since the Pinis published some in the Elfquest Gatherum lo these many years ago, but knowing what goes on in the heads of fanfic writers, I suspect it’s explored in great and, dare I hazard a guess, quite intimate detail in many stories.
–When I first read these as a child, I managed to catch up with the publishing schedule when issue #10 was released and faced my first agonizing three-month wait for issue 11. It was a masterful cliffhanger, and my brain came up with all sorts of explanations for the two shadowy figures revealed later to be Winnowill and Tyldak, but I didn’t guess anywhere near close to the truth.
–In issue 11, we see how much Moonshade is part of the Wolfrider pack — while she and Strongbow have their differences with Cutter, she immediately assumes that he can make the Gliders let Strongbow go. We will see this faith tested in the next issue or two.
–Lord Voll, when remonstrating Leetah for what he thinks is mockery when she mentions children, says “There are no more children! There will be no more! We are all dying within this mountain…dying, though unable to die! Surely you have seen that!” This shows that although death is unnatural for the elves, it may not be such a bad thing — the alternative may be eternal stagnation and a living death. The Wolfriders, although short-lived in comparison to the Gliders and the Sun Folk, are vibrant and healthy. (This won’t dissuade Cutter in his opinion that no more elves should die, though!)