The Final Reckoning | Chapter 5

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘In life he was called Jupiter – now he is a phantom, an Unbeest more powerful than anything this troubled world has ever known.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Now I don’t know about you, Readers all, but to me this chapter just feels cold. ‘The morning was chill and dismal’ tells us everything we need to know about morale in the Skirtings, and far from improving when the Starwife arrives, things continue their long, icy, inexorable, slide downhill.

In this chapter, we really get a sense of the scale of the house in which the Deptford Mice live. The wide open space of the Hall no longer seems freeing and convivial, but open and exposed. The Midwinter Death enfolds the mice in its freezing cloak, and their collective fear seems to compress them together as much as the need for warmth does. The building of the beacon fire feels endless and interminable, and when that painstaking task is finally complete, the mice almost miss the whole point of the exercise. Thank the Green for Oswald, who was just curious and hopeful enough to remain on the roof!

I had a rummage around the internet for any source on the origins of the title ‘Unbeest’ by which the Starwife refers to Jupiter. Sadly, as with certain names in The Crystal Prison, I did not find anything exact, but I did discover the Old Scots ‘vnbest’, of which ‘Unbeest’ may be a fantasy variant. Personally, I love the idea of the Starwife knowing a myriad of ancient and forgotten languages, and occasionally making reference to archaic terms for things when, in her old age, she can no longer dredge up the energy to recall the word currently used.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: I’m not sure where the word ‘Unbeest’ came from, but it’s awesomely simple and unsettling at the same time, wouldn’t you say?

You know everything is mixed up, when the Starwife ends up in Deptford with the mice. I somehow feel that this is the equivalent of the Queen having to leave Buckingham Palace and crash at somebody’s place in a less glamorous area of London. It feels wrong, but highlights how serious the situation is. But it also shifts the Starwife into a subtly more sympathetic light as well.

Previously, she was a bit like Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings. Provides help to the heroes, but somewhat distant herself. But now we’re getting a glimpse of her – I was going to say ‘that is more human‘, which obviously she isn’t. But as a sympathetic character with a past of her own.

And obviously a past that involves an ongoing animosity with bats. Even if you haven’t read The Oaken Throne in the Deptford Histories, which delves into all this, you can sort of imagine the bats and squirrels as two proud countries that need to form an alliance to defeat a common enemy, but would normally hate each other. (Without thinking, I was going to say proud European countries but that opens a can of worms now, doesn’t it?)

But then, in the midst of all the gloom and doom, how much of a little spark of joy do we get from having Oswald be the one that gets picked by the bats? We’ve known he is a legendary character from Book 1, even if he spent most of Book 2 being sick. And now he gets a chance to prove his courage again. Bring it on, I say.

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One thought on “The Final Reckoning | Chapter 5

  1. I love the word Unbeest too. The Starwife could have settled for calling Jupiter an evil spirit or a ghost but that word seems to capture the horrifying essence of what he has become. An abomination that has no place in our world and threatens to destroy it simply by being here.

    In Chapter Five of The Final Reckoning, the queen of the squirrels approaches the mouse community for the purpose of consulting with the bats about the evil schemes of a demonic cat. Give yourself a moment to let that sink in, people. You may think that we’ve officially reached the point of this story where things can’t get any stranger. In which case, I am delighted to say that you’re wrong. Dead wrong, as you will discover for yourselves.

    In the Skirtings, the mice are beginning to feel the pangs of hunger now that their food supply has been cut off. Audrey cleans her bowl of what little it can offer a hungry growing mouse and then heads out into the Hal,l where a disturbance is livening up the bleak mood. Master Oldnose valiantly attempts to calm down the rest of the mice, but really, he is just providing them with somebody to moan at. I’ve got to say that the mice aren’t very constructive in their remarks. What’s that, Algy? You don’t fancy the prospect of having to survive on cabbage soup while the food shortage lasts? Oh wow, thank you so much for your contribution to the discussion! As Audrey rolls her eyes and walks on, the mousemaid again feels as though she no longer belongs here. Having tasted the freedom of the world beyond the confines of The Skirtings, she cannot help feeling trapped now that she has returned from her journey. Since the trilogy began, we have been given hints that Audrey is so much bigger than the abandoned house, and it seems that she is slowly coming to realise this truth herself. Which leaves us with the question of where she must go to find her true path in life. Only she can discover what the answer shall be.

    Audrey goes out into the yard, where she is soon joined by Oswald. The two mice watch as a bird searches in vain for food, pecking at the ground which has frozen over. It seems peculiar that the mice should sympathise with such a creature after Audrey came so close to ending up in Mahooot’s stomach. The wren may not be the same type of bird as the greedy owl, but I’m impressed that Audrey can hear the sound of wings beating and not cringe as flashbacks of the last time she ever saw Jenkin come flooding back to her. Perhaps she pities the wren because Winter is the great equaliser for every animal, meek or small? The Midwinter Death is stalking the bird just as surely as the mice she has known her whole life. When you look at it from that perspective, I can understand and even admire Audrey for harbouring sympathy for the bird. Audrey and I have one thing in common, the love we share for the magical beauty of Winter evenings. There’s nothing quite like watching the snowflakes fall like a rippling curtain while you’re safe and warm behind the window of your own home. Winter is a time when we should all be thankful for the many wonderful things we have in our lives such as food to eat, shelter from the cold dark night, and loved ones to share these gifts with. Since the mice can no longer count on the poor old woman next door for food, the sanctuary of their own walls and their loyalty to each other will be more important than ever before. The night is young, and so is Book Three. We’ll see if sanctuary and fellowship will hold true as the story continues.

    Audrey and Oswald turn away from the bleak landscape of the wintry world and return indoors were a new sensation is sweeping the Skirtings. Thomas Triton has made port, and this time he has a passenger. Someone very special. Even Algy forgets to mope about the menu consisting of naught but cabbage soup as the Starwife stands before the Deptford Mice. Interestingly, the Handmaiden of Orion confirms that the Grill was enchanted by Jupiter for the purpose of luring the mice to their deaths. I think that was hinted at in The Dark Portal and The Crystal Prison, but only now does a character come right out and say it. The Starwife surely knows what she’s talking about, what with being a person of magical persuasion herself. The answer to this question would lead a canny reader to ask a whole new question: why did Jupiter decide to put a curse on the Grill in the first place? It could not have been the only gateway between his nightmare domain in the sewers and the world of light and life. Why did he have it in for this one specific community of mice? What could possibly have brought his wrath down on their heads?

    Taking her gnarled paw from the Grill and wiping it clean in disgust, the Starwife considers the mice who have come flocking to gawp at her. By the Green Mouse’s whiskers, there are no words for how much I enjoy the Handmaiden of Orion’s debut in the Skirtings. I’m not sure what the mice were expecting, but I would bet my paw that it was not a curmudgeonly old squirrel whose walking stick thuds on the floor as she barks at them to get out of her way. She may be the link between the mortal realm and the heavens but right now, she’s an elderly lady dying to sit down after a long journey, and in no mood to put up with slack-jawed gawkers. I love it. Especially when she meets Master Oldnose and punctures his ego as if it’s a balloon and her sharp tongue is the pin. When you think about it, the Starwife and the mousebrass maker have something in common, since both of them serve a higher power. The difference between them is that the squirrel has a direct line to the higher powers, whereas the mouse’s paw is guided much more subtly by his deity during the forging of the mousebrasses. Would it be fair to say that Master Oldnose is like a local priest, whereas the Starwife is the equivalent of the Pope?

    The Starwife crosses paths once more with Audrey, who is understandably not keen to renew their acquaintance. When the squirrel mentions that she desires to hear about what happened in Book Two from the mousemaid’s lips, I can’t help wondering what Audrey would say if she was more inclined to dip her tongue in acid sarcasm.
    “Oh gee, let me think. So much happened while I was staying at the field that I hardly know where to begin. Which would you prefer? The part where everyone spat at my feet because they thought I was responsible for murdering their children? Or how about the part where I was nearly eaten by an owl? Wait, I’ve got it! The part where they were going to hang me and I was only spared because I agreed to marry a boy who’s not my true love! Now THAT particular Summer memory is my personal favourite! And I owe each and every one of them to you because you were the person who blackmailed me into going in the first place!”

    Come on! She must have been at least a little bit tempted to unleash a magnificent rant upon being confronted with the Starwife again! I’m impressed that GWEN is able to muster the courtesy with which she welcomes this squirrel into her home. She lost her husband to Jupiter’s evil, and now she’s confronted by the Starwife, whose scheming ways took her daughter away a few days later. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if there was a certain rapier in her paw when she came marching out to greet the new arrival…

    Thumping on the floor with her stick, the Starwife announces the grim tidings she comes bearing. Jupiter has returned. And in an almost chilling display of genre blindness, the mice scoff at the thought that an evil sorcerer could possibly rise from his grave and wreak a terribly revenge upon the heroes who put him there. What’s the matter with these people? If a wisewoman ever warns you of a coming evil, you listen to her! The Handmaiden of Orion says that her powers were lost when Jupiter’s claws plucked away the Starglass, but what about the silver acorn she wears around her neck? Is the amulet magical in its own right, or is it the key which unlocks the power of the Starglass? A symbol which grants the one who holds it the right to harness that power and use it as she sees fit?

    As Audrey stands faced with the prospect of that nightmare beginning anew, her eyes harden and we are reminded of the unbreakable spirit with which she confronted Jupiter at the climax of Book One. The earth may be smothered with ice and the shadow of the Midwinter Death may be on her doorstep, but our heroine’s candle is burning on with defiance while her neighbours wail about how hopeless their situation seems. She’s made of rare stuff, is Audrey. The end may be nigh, but she’s determined to stick around and see just HOW it all ends when the curtain falls.

    The Starwife has come to speak with the bats, and since they have vacated the attic, she must turn to more traditional means to draw them back from wherever it is they flew off to. And so we come to the crux of the chapter, which is to say, the beacon fire. Up to the roof go the mice and lone squirrel to see if the summons will be answered. While they wait, Arthur glances across the rooftops and spots the power station hunkered in the distance like a beast waiting to leap upon its prey. Remember when Orfeo and Eldritch took Twit for a joyride? One of the local landmarks they passed was none other than this power station. And what did they say to the little fieldmouse? “Not your story, Master Scuttle.” That was two books ago, and now here we are at the close of the trilogy. Meaning that if we’re ever going to find out whose story will lead them to the power station, it will surely be here.

    The importance of this momentous occasion is made clear as the other creatures in the city stop what they are doing and gaze at the flicker of firelight. Hours pass and nothing stirs in the mournful sky. When the beacon finally goes out, the hopes of the Deptford Mice are also extinguished. They had pinned so much on that bright flame, and now find themselves staring at the ashes that remain of it. Suddenly the roof of the abandoned house feels like an island slowly sinking into the depths of darkest despair and there is nowhere they can go to escape. All hope is gone and the desolation is crushing.

    Which may explain why Orfeo and Eldritch pick this moment to show up. The bat brothers love to make a production out of their fortune-telling so it makes sense that they desired to make a dramatic entrance. Seeing these two jokers again after so long brings a glad smile quirking its way to my face. But my pleasure at their return is somewhat soured when they begin mocking the Starwife over how far such a proud and haughty squirrel has fallen. I never thought of the brothers as cruel before. Here, we get another hint at the deeper mythology of the series as mentions are made that there was once bad blood between the squirrel kingdom and batkind. Disgusted by their treatment of the Starwife, Audrey steps forward and gives the bats a tongue-lashing which wipes the smiles from their arrogant faces. Never change, girl.

    Orfeo and Eldritch have some interesting things to say. According to them, the future they were once able to see so clearly has now grown dark. An unknown path, if you will. So the bats were unable to foresee Jupiter’s return? But they warned Arthur about how Madame Akkikiyu’s crystal ball must not be allowed to shatter at any cost. Oh my gosh, look at me, everyone! What you see is a Mouseketeer who is just dying to speak his mind regarding what this implies about fate and the ability to see the future in the Deptford Mice trilogy! DYING! But I can’t. As much as I would love to, I know that the moment is not right. I must wait a little longer. Just…a…little….longer. I can get through this. I know I can.

    Since the bats are no clearer than the Starwife about how to contend with the Unbeest, she smugly suggests that it looks like a certain somebody will need to go with them and join the great gathering of the bats. Between them, they may come up with a way to stop Jupiter before it’s too late. Chuckling, the bats agree with her conclusion …with a slight twist. It is not the Starwife who shall accompany them but the person whom they really came to meet on this rooftop. And that person would be …Oswald?

    Is this choice their way of insulting the Starwife? Or is there some higher reason why Oswald must attend the bat council? There’s only one way to find out!

    Despite the fuming of the slighted squirrel queen and the squawking protests of his overprotective mum, the albino mouse takes Orfeo and Eldritch’s claws just as Twit did before him and is whisked away into the night…

    What an awesome chapter that was! There were no mass murders or rat armies marching on the mice but there were so many moments when the characters got a chance to shine like stars and remind me of why I love them so much! I am soooo excited for what is to come!

    Like

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