In the seventeenth and penultimate part of Interesting Times, Rincewind controls and army, and Cohen accepts his role. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
There’s one detail here that pleases me more than anything else. I’m gonna quote a part much later in this section:
It wasn’t that the red guards were good fighters. They were very mechanical, each one performing the same thrust, parry, slash, regardless of what their opponent was doing.
I am so deeply satisfied that Pratchett stuck to his. After a great scene where Rincewind tested out the magical armor (BLESS THE MIDDLE FINGER PART), we get to experience what a Rincewind-led Terracotta army is like. I just imagine that Rincewind is somewhere, using the same three moves in the same order because THAT IS LITERALLY ALL HE KNOWS ABOUT FIGHTING. If Pratchett had written the Red Army as fighting with any more skill than this, I might have called foul. However, this is exactly what Rincewind would do, isn’t it?
So while Rincewind is probably having the time of his life – seriously, the image of him, giddy and childlike, repeating moves while slowly moving forward, is such a gift – the Horde is… well, they get to do the same thing. It’s been cool watching Mr. Saveloy’s transformation, first of all, and even if he’s a terrible fighter, he’s still enjoying the chance to be “uncivilized.”
Mr. Saveloy’s hair streamed in the wind. He bounded through the dust, waving his sword and screaming.
He’d never been so happy in all his life.
But I was also amused by the image of the Horde watching the Red Army rise out of the ground and attack Lord Hong’s army.
“Well, now, there’s a thing,” Cohen said, feeling for his tobacco pouch.
Just… I love this idea that the Red Army causes so much chaos that literally everyone forgets about the Horde. Which is understandable! Yet it’s a perfect opportunity for Cohen to adjust his purpose. Attacking the armies might be fun, but the Red Army was clearly well-equipped and effective, and that seems like the easiest way to take part of that fun out of all of this. Going after Lord Hong is the best choice here for them, but I loved that Pratchett uses this moment to get Cohen to really think about his life as a barbarian and how that relates to his age. Cohen pokes fun at Truckle for taking a moment to catch his breath, and it brings forth a really uncomfortable conversation.
Because pretty much every barbarian they know is dead.
It recalls an earlier conversation, of course, and perhaps this is how Cohen quietly admits that Mr. Saveloy was right. This is how he deals with the truth of his mortality, even if he never has to think about it while he’s fighting. But in the long walk back to the Forbidden City, Cohen can’t escape the reality of age. What’s he supposed to do now? What if his friends die? What if there’s nothing left to conquer or pillage? What’s going to happen when the day of his death arrives? I honestly feel like this book is showing us the very first time Cohen has ever considered these questions.
And it changes him.
“Y’know, lads,” he said, in a voice so suddenly full of weariness that Mr. Saveloy felt a pit opening up, here, at the moment of triumph, “I was goin’ to chop your heads off. But… what’s the point, eh? I mean, when you get right down to it, why bother? What sort of difference does it make?”
I believe that this is why Cohen finally starts to take up the mantle of Emperor instead of wishing to ditch it all and go to a new place. I still feel a little weird about the idea that an outsider to Agatean culture gets to be the one making changes for everyone else, but at least the decisions that Cohen makes here are pretty superficial and obvious. No more kowtowing, freeing all the prisoners (minus those who actually committed terrible crimes), all torturers are to be executed, and… every peasant gets a pig “or something like that.” Which is not all that helpful? I think that’s the point, though. This is still an area of leadership that Cohen is utterly unfamiliar with. He’s going to make mistakes, and I also don’t even know if he’ll stick around permanently. Do these people want him as an Emperor? And what of Rincewind? Hex is gonna mess something up, and I’m sure Rincewind will be pulled home at the most inopportune time imaginable.
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