The Final Reckoning | Chapter 11

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘In my raven youth they called me … Audrey.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: As if we had not learnt enough Harsh Lessons last chapter, ‘The Midwinter Death’ brings us another, namely, that mentor figures are not as infallible as they may initially seem. Sometimes one must count on one’s own wits and resourcefulness to pull through, and so it is with Thomas and Arthur here.

The effects of Thomas’ injury make for deeply uncomfortable reading. The sturdy mariner mouse whom our young heroes had come to trust, respect, and rely upon quite literally shatters before their eyes, involuntarily revealing the dark and guilt-gnawed heart he has been hiding for decades. Despite the Starwife’s callous manner, we recall that she knew Thomas before the Deptford Mice knew her, and in our heart of hearts we recognise that she will not abandon the midshipmouse in his time of dire need.

As we all hoped, the Starwife does indeed come to Thomas’ aid, but in doing so, dooms herself, bringing home the Harsh Lesson of this chapter. I feel like this is quite a unique aspect in fantasy, middle-grade or otherwise. In the usual course of things, the wise and seemingly-immortal mentor figure would gracefully fade and die only after the hero had proved to be a worthy successor for them, or after the main conflict had been resolved completely.

This is Robin Jarvis, however, and even the mightiest of oaks shall fall. The Starwife is exhausted in her very bones; she has done all she can, but ultimately, she can do no more. We must respect her for continually giving her all in even the most desperate of circumstances until she has no more to give.

The scene where she is visited by Barker in the falling snow is, I feel, one of the most poignant in this entire trilogy. The Handmaiden of Orion, revered queen upon the Oaken Throne, finally comes face to face with Bauchan the Ever-artful, third branch of the suppurating, blood-fed tree that is the Raith Sidhe. And yet, there is no great confrontation. No grand battle commences, no spells of might and ruin are exchanged. What do these ancient and terrible beings of power do instead? Grimace at each other over Jupiter’s Unbeestly head, and mutually give up.

It really jolts a body. Up until this point, our heroes may not have had a lot to hope for, but at least they had the Starwife. Now not even she can hold back the encroaching night, and even the agent of the Unholy Three flees before the prospect of Jupiter All-powerful. For the Deptford Mice, and for the world, the future looks as bleak as midwinter.

 

Matt’s Thoughts:  Another deep mythological chapter. In a way – at least if you’ve never read any of the other books – much of the mythology is unknown. Who is Hagol, whose midwinter death has stricken Thomas? Bauchan turns out to be a real character, not just an imaginary god. Well, how many other gods are there for other creatures? How does the cosmology of the spirit-life work in the Deptford universe? Is there a significance to the name Audrey that echoes through history?

But in a way, these are questions for the nerds. (Which we all are over here at Myth & Sacrifice!)

What’s far more striking about this chapter for me is that moment that often occurs in the third volume of a Jarvis novel – the cutting off of all options. If you follow the thread for this book, we thought the Book of Hrethel might defeat Jupiter. It was blank. Then we thought the mousebrass would defeat Jupiter. It failed. Then we hoped it might be the Starwife or something.

But the Starwife is now dead and Bauchan has declared that the Raith Sidhe have given up hope.

Like, what the heck else is there that we can try?

Jarvis is a master at doing this as his stories draw to a close – where the darkness is so thick and the way so unknown, no one can know how it’s all going to end.

I find this to be such a contrast to most other young people’s stories, where the heroes are so heroic, and the ending so telegraphed, that you can tell where it’s going from a mile away and how it’s going to end. Not so here.

Three more chapters to go till we’re all done!

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6 thoughts on “The Final Reckoning | Chapter 11

  1. Finally, the truth.
    The rat we thought we knew as Barker is really none other than Bauchan.
    Yes, THAT Bauchan.

    The third of the unholy trinity known as the Raith Sidhe.

    The revelation of his true identity not only explains so many mysteries but opens the door to several new ones.
    We can safely assume that the crafty devil was working some kind of subtle magic when he hid Piccadilly from the rats as they came pouring out of Holeborn. He must have masking Piccadilly’s presence or how else would the obvious sight of a mouse’s body sprawling beneath him escape the notice of hundreds of rats? And he did it while managing to avoid arousing Piccadilly’s suspicion that he was no mere rat. Looking back on moments like that once you’re armed with the benefit of hindsight makes you feel so much awe for Bauchan’s cunning.

    And then there’s the other miracles he worked. Guiding Piccadilly back from the dark shore of insanity. Resisting
    The Starwife’s attempt to read his thoughts and uncover who he was and what his true intentions were. The knowledge of sorcery he displayed when he kept the wraiths from swarming Arthur and Thomas, followed immediately by a seemingly inexplicable understanding of human science when he instructed the midshipmouse to use his tinderbox to ignite the contents of an oilcan.

    We knew there was so much more to Barker than met the eye. But tell me truthfully…during your initial journey through Book Three, who predicted that lurking within the skin of a wizened old rat was the ancient spirit of an trickster God? If anyone raises their hand then I’ve got this to say. Congratulations! Because I never dreamed of the sinister secret Barker was hiding up his sleeve!

    The spirits of The Three had lain in slumber for countless centuries. What caused Bauchan to awaken and walk the earth again after so long? I may have the answer to that question.

    It was because of One-Eyed Jake. Remember when he dragged Audrey to the secret temple deep beneath Deptford? They were followed by another rat who was loyal to Jupiter and had found out about the small group of rats who were secretly worshiping The Three. A fight ensued between the two rats and Jake won. Since he was pressed for time, he tore off the other rat’s head and dedicated the act to the headless God. Bauchan.

    And that was when it happened. As Fletch’s blood was spilled upon the crude altar, Bauchan woke from his slumber. We thought Jake’s murder of Fletch was nothing more than a grisly killing intended to make us gasp with horror. But The Starwife was astute in her observation that this act of dedication might have consequences beyond the wildest dreams of the one-eyed rat.

    One question I’m left with is this: why was Bauchan in London? If his purpose was to monitor Jupiter and find some way to turn The Unbeest’s plans to the advantage of the Raith Sidhe, why was he nowhere near Deptford? Yes, Morgan was in London but a whole Summer had gone by before he amassed his army of rats and he was no longer on Jupiter’s side anyway. So why did Bauchan choose to manifest there rather than Deptford?

    Here’s the answer I’ve come up with: because London had something that Deptford sorely lacked in the wake of Book One. I’m talking about RATS. As The Starwife deduces when Bauchan confronts her in the yard, what the trickster God aimed to do was raise the Three Thrones again. To do that, he needed a large group of rats who could be converted into Raith Sidhe worshippers. This is why he took the form of an elderly rat, someone who would be old enough to remember the old ways of the rats. The legend of the Gods they once worshiped before Jupiter rose to power and their mere mention became a crime punishable by death. Most likely, Bauchan planned to wander among the rats and play the part of a storyteller, winning them to his side with tales of the glory days when The Hobbers numbered in millions and blood flowed like wine.

    The rats of Deptford would have been the perfect pick, dreaded as they were for their bloodthirsty ways. They also weren’t an option, having been destroyed by the foul plague demons Jupiter planned to unleash upon the world. But there was another option. London. There were still plenty of rats in that sprawling city, just waiting for a powerful will to mold them into the new cult of the Raith Sidhe.

    And so it was that Bauchan went to London and where he donned the face of Barker.

    It was a grand plan to be sure.

    Unfortunately though, it had one tiny flaw.

    Another warlord in the making had shown up in London and beaten Barker to the punch.

    Old Stumpy or to call him by his true name, Morgan.

    The Usurper lay slain but his left claw was still alive and eager to seize the reigns of power for itself.

    Funny how things work out, huh?

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  2. This deliciously ambiguously titled chapter brings us full circle with Audrey. The Dark Portal saw her unable to save her father, but here she rescues Thomas – her newfound father figure – from certain agonising death. As a result, she comes into her own power. Expertly crafted!

    Also, the scene between the Starwife and Bauchan reads like Shakespeare at times. Love it!

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    • You once called Audrey the absolute queen. Well, that’s literally what she becomes in this chapter. Not by her own choice but the best rulers tend to be those who never wanted to sit upon the throne.

      Very much so! Bauchan actually uses the word “Avaunt!” while mocking her! That alone gives his coolness factor a boost in my book since I’ve always loved the use of olde worlde dialect!

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  3. What?!?! Barmy Barker is actually a Rat-God????? WHAT?!?!?!?!?!

    I LOVE when characters in stories have twists like this, and Barker-Bauchan is one of the best I’ve ever read.

    However, if we were thinking Barker turning out to be a cunning and powerful Raithe Sidhe was going to be of any use to our favourite mouse heroes, we’re in for a big disappointment. Hell, he’s already walked out of the story before the Starwife identifies him for us. 😒😒😒

    And yes, I have to agree Aron I always kind of suspected Bauchan was here somehow because of One-Eyed Jake, although I hadn’t thought the theory through nearly as well as you have. Eloquently put.

    I’d like to say I felt a pang of sorrow at the Starwife’s passing, but to be honest she’s been so deliberately cranky all the time that I figured she’s probably happier dead than alive, so it’s a good thing, right?

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    • The Starwife sitting down in the cold dark night and waiting for the Midwinter Death to come for her is so poignant.

      Here at the end, she seems so old and tired. And the saddest thing of all is that when she closes her eyes for the final time, nobody is with her. And yet she meets her inevitable fate with such serenity. There’s the magnificent queen of the squirrels, yes?

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  4. I love this chapter… Audrey’s unwittingly becoming the new Handmaiden of Orion, and the old Starwife facing Bauchan AND death with dignity.
    I’d like to know more about this Starwife, coincidentally named Audrey just like her mouse successor. There is mention of a battle on the night she took up the Silver, but no further details are given. All we know is that it can’t be the war between the bats and squirrels because she is not Ysabelle. In a way I find it odd that The Oaken Throne was not directly about the Deptford Mice’s Starwife (unlike The Alchymist’s Cat being about Jupiter and Thomas being about, of course, the titular character). It explained the traditions of the squirrels, but the Starwife we know from the Deptford Mice trilogy remains as enigmatic as ever.
    As it is explained in The Oaken Throne that the Starwifeship only becomes official when the Silver Acorn is brought to the Starglass. I find it interesting that this is the first time a Starwife has been initiated without that occurring. It’s clearly possible then that a present Handmaiden of Orion can use her powers to “channel” the Starglass and choose a successor even without its being there… though I guess Thomas’ frozen body was sort of a makeshift Starglass because Audrey had to hold the pendant over him! Since the Starglass was afterwards destroyed altogether, whenever a new Starwife is chosen in years to come the ritual will absolutely have to be done without it.

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