Storm Constantine



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reviewed by Paul W. Cashman

[ 15k cover art ]

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Book II: The Bewitchments of Love and Hate

(Poems at each chapter-head by Valor of Christian Death)

When we last left our story, a young human named Pellaz had been bewitched off by a young not-so-human named Calanthe to be Incepted into Wraeththu -- i.e., made not-quite-human. Better than human in some ways, and all too similar in others. Pellaz had been killed right before Cal's eyes, and reappeared years later, eventually being crowned Tigron of all Wraeththu in the capital, Immanion; meanwhile Cal faded into oblivion. So Book Two is about Pellaz's further trials and tribulations as the not-quite-welcomed leader of his people, right?

Wrong! Book 2 opens in the province of Galhea, now firmly controlled by the fierce Varr tribe, and centers on the fascinating household of Terzian, a Varrish tribal leader who has carved out quite a fiefdom for himself within the Varrs' own territory. You'll remember Terzian's home, nicknamed Forever, from Book 1. On their way to Immanion, Pell and Cal had found Terzian's mate, Cobweb, and were welcomed when they brought him back to be healed; then Terzian fell for Calanthe (Cal has amazing charisma), and you can guess how he felt when Cal chose to continue on with Pell.

This is a house with feelings and politics galore. About five years have passed and Swift, the pure-born son of Cobweb and Terzian, has now matured quickly into a young harling who seems about ten. Terzian is somewhat aloof and cold, but Swift loves him as his father and adores Cobweb as his "mother" and early teacher in the occult. This second book of Wraeththu is told from Swift's often humorous, often dry point of view.

While off on a campaign Terzian is injured badly in the leg, similar to Cobweb's injury in Book 1, and the resulting memories of Cal and Pell's visit serve as a foreshadowing of what's to come. Cobweb, jarred into painful recollection, fears Cal greatly -- and quite rightly! -- as a rival for Terzian's affections:

"Never speak his name, never!" Cobweb warned. "Never whistle in the dark for it summons evil and he will hear it. In the treetops, the feathered ones will know. Watch them, Swift, watch the birds!"
--But that very night, Swift has a terrible dream in which Cal appears. "Call me!" he begs, and when Swift awakens, he's yelling a name, that name he had never heard spoken before: "Cal! Cal!"

The high-caste leader of all the Varrs, Ponclast, has sent his own pure-born son Gahrazel to study with Swift and his tutors. Gahrazel is a year and a half older than Swift and more knowledgeable about things like aruna -- still a youngster, Swift is appalled at the thought of least at first!

Then, just after Midwinter Festival, it happens: one day the crows, the "feathered ones" in the trees near Forever have vanished. Swift and Gahrazel "protect the house" with talismans of herbs and horsehair sanctified with their own blood, and spread salt along the estate's borders. But to no avail; a patrol finds Cal in the snow, near death, and brings him back to Forever. (The boys also discover that Terzian's equerry pulled down their protective talismans unknowingly....oops!)

Cal has returned to Forever. Terzian welcomes him; Cobweb, to put it mildly, is Not Amused.

Jump to Summary of Book 2

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         Spoilers below!

If love and hate are like lightning, Cal is a walking lightning rod. Already beloved by Terzian just from that brief visit before, Cal's streak of wildness and his magnetic personality cause Swift to take a grudging liking to him, too. ("He seems pathetic, rather hopeless," Gahrazel observes after they surreptitiously sneak in and, emboldened by drink, first confront Cal on his sickbed.)

Gahrazel undergoes his Feybraiha, his coming-of-age, and his first experience with aruna. After this, he and Swift grow apart bit by bit. Meanwhile, Swift has been having an occasional nightmare of floating hair, and eyes following him, tracking him, beckoning him.

By now, Swift is fascinated by sex and can't wait for his own Feybraiha. A suitable mate for his all-important First Time has to be chosen, and it ends up being....Cal! At first Cobweb is dismayed, but over time Cal wins him over, too -- at least enough to behave civilly towards him.

Terzian and Cal conceive a son hosted by Cal, named Tyson. Cal, knowing he isn't the best choice for raising a son, humbly asks Cobweb to raise Tyson and give him a good upbringing. Cobweb, outwardly angry but inwardly astonished, accepts grudgingly.

Momentous events have been occurring outside peaceful Galhea. The powerful Gelaming tribe -- of whom Pellaz is now Tigron, or king, unbeknownst to everyone in Galhea including Cal -- have established Imbrilim, a base in southern Megalithica, the continent where Galhea lies. Lord Ponclast has chosen Terzian to lead the army south.

Gahrazel, ever spurning his father Ponclast's Varrish authority and not wanting to go with the Varr army, decides to go over to the Gelaming and lays plans to escape to their camp. Swift agonizes over this, but ultimately sends his father an anonymous note implicating Gahrazel, who is arrested and eventually killed at his father's own order. Swift, of course, is aghast at what he's done, but he hates the Gelaming even more now for what they've caused.

The time finally comes when Terzian rides south with the Varrish armies to confront the Gelaming. Contact is lost with them as they penetrate the sorcerous mist-barrier the Gelaming have created. Back at Forever, Cobweb and Cal become reluctant allies and lovers in Terzian's absence (any family tree gets complicated with Cal around!), and Cobweb has a Foretelling: Cal and Swift will also ride south and into the mist. Cal at first believes this a trick to rid Forever of him, but Cobweb is sincere -- and thoroughly frightened.

Then a mixed tribe of human and hara wanderers, the Zigane, are found making for Galhea, and their leader, a sorceress named Tel-An-Kaa, asks for Swift by name. Despite the conflicts elsewhere with the few humans who are left, Swift brings her up to Forever and confers with her. She tells him the Gelaming have asked for him, and that they do not wish war. Then this cryptic exchange ensues:

I stood up. "Have the Gelaming sent you, Pythoness?" I demanded. "Is this their way of defeating us? Are you here to worm your way into Galhea's heart and set poison there?"
"No," she replied, unruffled. "I told you; my master sent me. Let us say that, in this matter, he adheres to neither side. As for the Gelamings' motives, I am not qualified to say...."

Tel-an-kaa's master remains a mystery for a long, long time.

Swift and Cal make their plans to ride south, with a Varrish soldier and former flame of Swift's, Leef, joining them. Sad good-byes are said, and the trio ride south to meet their destinies.

It's a few weeks' travel before they get to Gelaming-controlled lands, but on the way they face human attackers and the sad sights of Mankind's mighty civilization now fallen into ruin; towns and villages desolate and lifeless, cars abandoned on the sides of the cracked, overgrown roads. They make few stops except when needed, and the south wind holds tinges of Gelaming mind-magic. They find a once-great city, cars blasted to pieces, and spend hours skirting it as Swift stares in awe: he had never really thought mankind had that much technology, and the sight of it humbles him. Farther they travel, spirits sinking lower, stealing and killing as needed, taking aruna as a threesome as their only luxury.

At the Marsh of Astigi they seek passage from the Froia tribe on their rafts, and stay overnight in their floating city. A dance is held in Swift's honor as Terzian's son; the dancer, Nepopis, takes ceremonial aruna with Swift, then later tells him his visions.

"...Beware the forest of illusions. The illusions are truth, but you will need strength to face them....His face. He has almond-shaped eyes and he is wise. He is held in high esteem. He bears the Tigron's mark...."

They spend two more days crossing the marsh on Froia rafts, encountering sorcerous visions and hazardous loops of repeating time. The forest is beyond the marsh. As they approach the mist-weaves, Swift sees Gahrazel's spirit, who tells him that Terzian and Ponclast feasted on his own heart after poisoning him. Yet Gahrazel isn't angry:

"I'll forgive you, forgive you, only say it, say it now, the one thing I can take with me. Forever. Do you know what to say?"
I knew what to say. I closed my eyes. I summoned it up within me, a maelstrom of feeling, and let it spill from my mouth. "I love you, Gahrazel."
"Do you forgive me?"
"For what?"
"Do you?"
"Yes, yes; I do...."
Then they come across a clearing Cal recognizes bleakly as the last place he and Pellaz were together. Swift dreams again, first of his father and Ponclast devouring blood and terrorizing the countryside and then he dreams again, and this time it's not a dead spirit he sees:
Then a figure rushed out of the trees, light spiraling in, a euphony of birdcalls. It brought the afternoon back in. Someone grabbed Tulga's reins by the bit-ring. He looked up at me, smiling. "I knew you would come!" His beauty was like gold in my eyes. So beautiful, after what I had just seen, I wanted to weep. He wore a ring that was like a seal. His ears were pierced with gold, three times on each side. Hair that was a luxury of blackness, lifting like wings, braided with pearls. His smile touched my heart. I knew him. It was Pellaz.
"Are you afraid?" He laughed. Tulga sniffed at him and he cupped her velvet nose in his hands.
He touched me, lightly, upon the leg and my flesh tingled beneath the cloth. "What your friend Leef said was true, it is only illusion," he said, "but illusion of the truth nonetheless. It will soon be over. Look after him."
"Who?" Of course I knew.
The vision shook its head, smiling sadly. "My love, my tormentor, my dearest memory, my Cal. Calanthe; slayer and beloved. It will be some time...."
"He has seen you."
"Not like this. Only you have truly seen me and it will not happen again. Be strong, Swift. I have faith in you and I will give you such jewels as you cannot imagine...when you find my people." He was fading.
I reached for him. "Pell, what is real?"
"You are. Remember that." He was gone.
Cal urged his horse to my side. "You spoke his name!" he cried, his eyes all wild as if I had spoken blasphemy.
"He was here," I said. "Cal, he was here. It was different. Cal, oh, Cal, I know it...he...Cal, Pellaz is not dead!"
Leef had to pull him off me. He was hysterical; he cut my lip. Tulga neighed in terror. "But it's true!" I wailed.... Leef restrained a sobbing, broken Cal in his arms....
Finally they break out of the forest and past the Gelaming dream-defenses, and almost immediately they are found by a Gelaming force led by Arahal, an officer of the Hegemony. Among the Gelaming is one Seel Griselming, who was leader of the Saltrock settlement in Book 1. Oh, Calanthe recognizes his old friend, but would rather not see him, since Cal had last parted with the murder of Seel's hienama, Orien, on his hands.....

They are taken to Imbrilim, more like a canopy-and-gauze city than a camp. Swift, exhausted, is put to bed, but just before he drops off, he overhears the following really important conversation regarding his dreams and ultimate love:

"Is the Tigron coming here?"
"I don't think so," another answered. "I've heard he will send the Tigrina."
"Ah, such a neat sidestep. Our Tigron delays the inevitable, I feel!" I recognized that voice. It had spoken to me always, in my dreams, in my soul.
"Perhaps, Seel, perhaps. Though a more charitable mind than yours might think that the Tigron only wishes to consider other people's feelings. These hara have been through a lot. You are too harsh."
"Too harsh! I know him. I know Cal too. They are both too strong for that!"
"Be quiet, both of you!" another voice warned. The pure-born is yet awake!"
....When I awoke, I would remember every word of that conversation, and remember it for the rest of my life.

Arahal takes Swift on a tour of Imbrilim, which only confuses Swift's feelings even more. If the Gelaming were so evil, why are they so elegant and refined? Humans and hara coexist peacefully in the camp and the Gelaming, unlike the Varrs, don't treat them as slaves.... Gradually he learns the horrible truth behind his tribe, the Varrs, and the atrocities they have committed across northern Megalithica; he also learns that the Gelamings' preferred method of conquest is to smother the target with gentleness, quietly taking their knives away and ultimately absorbing them. Swift is not fond of violence, but this more-humane "ethnic cleansing" leaves a bad taste, too.

While waiting to be summoned, Swift sometimes went out into the camp to look for Seel, who he now inwardly realizes is destined for him. Once he finds him alone in a field, stretching and exercising: "He was so slim, it seemed impossible that he had all the right bits inside him." Seel sees him watching and stretches just a tiny bit farther....
Back at the tent, Cal says fearfully, "I get the feeling...I won't be around here much longer." He is right.

The next morning Swift is finally called before the Gelaming Hegemony in the person of Ashmael, who is disarmingly casual. Swift is told that he must begin training to raise his caste-level. When he asks about his father and the Varr troops who approached earlier, he is told that their fate was determined by the Tigron and Thiede, not by the Hegemony members at Imbrilim.
Almost accidentally he learns that the Tigron is indeed Pellaz and can't wait to get back to Cal with the glad tidings, but he is told that his path diverges from Cal's -- and he returns to the tent to find Leef fretting; Cal had been taken away. Once again, Calanthe fades from the story.

Swift begins his caste-training in earnest, now realizing that with all their faults (mostly vanity and pompousness), the Gelaming are right. He realizes also that one of his purposes is to reunite the Varr tribe under himself as a sort of provincial governor for the Gelaming, since he has Terzian's blood, but Cobweb's sensitivity and passion. He stays busy and sees almost nothing of Seel for several weeks, but he thinks of him often. Then Pellaz's consort, the Tigrina Caeru Meveny, arrives, and Swift is called before him. Swift goes to Caeru emboldened by wine and sure in the knowledge that the Tigrina intends to ask about Cal, then seduce him.
Swift is half right; he is asked about Cal, but it is he who ends up seducing the Tigrina, and lending an ear to Rue's tale of sadness: although he and Pellaz are betrothed and live in Phaonica, the Tigron's palace, they sleep apart and there is no affection between them. Swift observes afterwards:

So many people have said that Pellaz, Tigron of Immanion, is the kindest, most compassionate person they have ever met. He appears perfect. In a way, it is comforting to know that he is not. I listened to Rue's story in silence and I said nothing after he'd finished it. Once I would have wept, as I had when I'd heard Cal's sad story, but now I expressed my emotions in a different way. I made love to him, sad Caeru; it was not aruna, but truly the warmth of love, because he needed it so badly, and I, soiled Varr of less than perfect character, knew how to give it.
At dawn, he bid me leave. We parted awkwardly; the magic of the previous evening had gone. Such things were meant to be brief. I wondered if Caeru, Tigrina of Immanion, had got what he'd come seeking for in Imbrilim. I would never know. By noon, his dark pavilion was empty.

A few weeks go by, and finally after much effort Swift realizes one morning that he is now Ulani caste and level, and this means the plans for the Gelaming attack upon Ponclast's stronghold can be begun in earnest.

Of course, this involves Swift, and their magical attack will also require a product gleaned from Grissecon between himself and....Seel! Swift has been dream-manipulated to the point of desiring Seel intensely, yet it appears Seel sees little or nothing in the Varr. Appearances can be deceiving, though: Seel, too, has been manipulated by Thiede in his dreams into desiring Swift!
Swift spends an afternoon thinking about all this and finally makes an admission to himself: he loves Seel, yes, loves him, despite the Gelamings' distaste for that all-too-human emotion.

They take aruna together, and their glowing essence is used to create a glowing crystal through the power of Grissecon. Later, soaring together in ecstacy into the higher worlds, they fulfil Thiede's hope: they concieve a son, to be hosted by Seel. From being strangers they have gone to being chesna, as close as two Wraeththu can be.

Now, at last, it is time to move against Ponclast at his northern citadel of Fulminir. The Gelaming would normally have attempted to use their usual cosseting tactics on the Varrs, but Ponclast and his upper generals are truly evil and have trained in the occult powers of Wraeththu. The Gelaming decide to take five hundred troops first to Galhea, to establish a base there, and then stage their attack on Fulminir. The Gelaming horses -- that can transcend normal time and space -- are readied, and so Swift returns home to Forever at the head of a small army.

Cobweb is not pleased with Swift for basically becoming Gelaming, nor is he happy that a Gelaming lord carries Swift's pearl, but he acts the gracious host. Seel ejects the pearl, which cracks a few days later to reveal the infant harling. Cobweb, reminiscing fondly about hosting Swift, is a bit more mollified and resigned; when asked to watch after the newborn, he agrees.

Just before they leave, Ashmael finally reveals what had happened to Terzian: separated from his armies by the dreamweaving in the forest, he wandered for several days before being allowed to come across Thiede and Pellaz in a clearing. They confronted him with a choice: repent his misdeeds -- and they are many -- or face death. Terzian resisted, there and back at Immanion, where they forced him to relive his worst excesses. Finally he begged them to kill him, but as Swift sadly observes, "Gelaming hate to kill people." The Gelaming will bring Terzian back to Galhea and Forever ("He is dying, Swift"), but only after they assault Ponclast's fortress, Fulminir.

Fulminir itself is an evil, black stronghold, and to assault it, their force of 300 uses the Grissecon-created crystal, which seems alive and sentient, to form an entity that can breach the city walls. But Ponclast and his commanders are invoking blood-magic inside, and combat the entity with a demon. The demon appears to be winning when Seel points at the entity and the glowing crystal filled with their essence. "That is another of our children," Seel says. "The child of Grissecon." Desperate and in psychic pain from their link with their "child," they couple for Grissecon and give the entity enough added power through aruna to defeat Ponclast's demon and break the city walls.

They enter Fulminir to find all the hara within frozen in stasis. Evidence of the Varrs' flesh-eating and torture is everywhere. On a high tower of Ponclast's palace they find him and his generals, frozen in place where they'd magicked the demon. Ashmael releases Ponclast and Swift, dismayed by Ponclast's attitude ("Gahrazel's father's seducer," he thinks), finally succumbs to his rage and leaps on him with a knife. He is restrained before cutting Ponclast more than once and heads downstairs in a daze.

There, in a courtyard, he wanders across Thiede himself, and together they decide what is to become of the Varrs (set to wander in Thiede's mirror-forest) and Fulminir (to be razed). Galhea will be expanded, envisioned as the major city of northern Megalithica, and any Varrs who become "enlightened" while in the forest will be allowed to escape its mind-mazing effects.

Thiede returns to We Dwell in Forever with Swift and Seel, leaving the cleanup to others, and Swift enjoys one night and morning of happiness before Ashmael drops a bombshell on everyone: the next day, Terzian would be brought back to Forever, to die at home. Thiede offers an anguished Swift other options, but Swift, shaken and saddened, agrees: his father should be allowed home one final time. He and Seel finally decide on a name for their son; Swift says "He has to have a name. Now. For my father." They give him Azriel, "an angel's name."

Terzian and his remaining soldiers, subdued and listless, arrive at Forever on aruna-fired rafts, and Terzian is restored to his old room. His first conversations with Cobweb and with Swift are painful, and one thing is clear: he still loves Cal deeply. Swift tells Thiede: "My father needs Cal," and Thiede replies enigmatically "Oh, God! Must my life continually be plagued with love-sick fools bleating that particular demand at me?"

Terzian's health declines slowly, while around him Galhea settles back into its old routine. Most of the Gelaming have left to begin the restoration of Megalithica and the remaining Varrs, spurning their bloody history, have been renamed Tribe Parasiel.

One night the wind gales around the house and Swift is awakened by a pounding at the door. He opens it, sees nothing, then feels a presence behind him as he closes it. He turns around slowly. "Cal."
"I've been given time. Not much, but it will have to do," Cal tells him. Swift begs Cal to tell him what has befallen him, but Cal says he cannot, dare not answer. He goes in to see Terzian to succour him, but not before Swift tells him:

"Cal, about Pellaz. He is alive, you know."
There was a moment's silence. His face shivered briefly. "Yes," he said. "I know, Swift." He pulled a forlorn face and shrugged. He would say no more now. "I'll have to say goodbye now, Swift."

In the morning, Terzian was dead, his face peaceful at last, a faint smile on his lips.

Swift ends his tale (and the book) on a bittersweet note with this moving paean to his friend:

Most days, I like to walk in the garden. I can think there. In the evening the summerhouse calls me.... It is there that I can talk to you best, Cal. For sometimes, I am sure that you are near. It is where I can tell you to come back to us, that hate is banished for good from our home and even you could not bring it back in....
We will remember, but not with sadness. I want you to know that whatever evil you think is inside you (and I do know that you think that), it is only part of the essential harmony of the world; the world needs you. Without pain, there cannot be pleasure, without darkness, light cannot thrive. We need contrast, and the lone wolves who stalk the earth, like yourself, they bring perspective and objectivity into our lives. We need you, Cal, all of us. Angel or devil, you hold the balance. You begin the tales, we end them. It is time that you began your own. Every day, I look at Tyson and see your eyes. One day, he will ask me about you, for you are in his heart. The hostling who did not care. That is something you must attend to, for your son is innocent and your trials are not his....
It isn't long, Cal. Listen to me. The bewitchments of love and hate are perhaps the strongest magics in the world. Magic called you to us in the beginning, I am sure of it. I called your name in a dream. Now I'm calling you again. Listen in the shadows; I'm whistling in the dark.
Once again on a bittersweet note, here Book 2 ends.
           Spoilers above!
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Summary of Book 2

Of all three books in the Wraeththu trilogy, Bewitchments has the most "complete" resolution, which is probably why I found it a very satisfying book. The title couldn't be more apt; love and hate do comprise so much more than a backdrop in this tale, and it all revolves around Calanthe, who by now has emerged as the surprise central character in the series. He's either beloved, hated or feared by damn near everyone in the series -- not bad for a tribeless, powerless wanderer! Pellaz still loves him, judging from Swift's vision in the forest, and many people whose lives Cal has touched, like Swift, care a lot for him. Swift's closing message for Cal, written in Storm's inimitable style, was so moving that I got teary-eyed when I re-read it.

Once again you find yourself meshing with Storm's characters. In this book especially, primal human feelings like love and hate rule our Wraeththu friends, and their hopes and fears become ours. You can sense the tension and Cobweb's paranoid hatred when Cal arrives, and the anguish later when Terzian returns from his long absence, broken, yet defiant.
Swift's gradual evolution in thinking, from unknowing Varr to embarassed Gelaming-in-training, form a great backdrop to the larger events raging across Megalithica. His grief at realizing that his own father was the cruel leader the Gelaming said he was is almost too painful to relate -- or to read over again. Swift's various loves: of Gahrazel, then Leef, Cal, Rue and finally, especially Seel, provide a needed contrast, moments of tenderness, and insight into Wraeththu that works just as well for us.

And then there's Terzian's final night at his beloved home and with his beloved Cal, a satisfying and happy end to a sad tale. Cal vanishes again, his mesmerizing charisma taken from us, but this time he won't be gone too long....

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