Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: Crewel Lye


Crewel Lye (1984)
Little Princess Ivy (5 years old) is out of sorts and bored. Her mother is not paying attention to her, a baby brother, Dolph, has arrived, and Ivy has been confined to the castle for some apparent misdeed.  She tries watching the magic tapestry with its moving images of long-ago historical figures, but it is boring, and the pictures are fuzzy.  She notices that Jordan, one of the palace ghosts, is also watching the tapestry.  Jordan had helped Imbri defeat the Horseman in “Night Mare”.  And during his time as a ghost, he had come to love a female ghost called Renee.

Jordan had lived 400 years ago, but his memory of it is fuzzy, just as the images on the tapestry are fuzzy.  Ivy decides she must clean the tapestry, and then Jordan will see the pictures well enough to tell his story.  She needs to go to Good Magician Humfrey, to get the recipe for a cleaning solution.

Jordan finds a night mare’s horse shoe, and Ivy uses it to travel through the gourd realm to the Magician’s Castle.  Zora Zombie is there; she is babysitting the youthened Humfrey (refer “Dragon on a Pedestal”); her talent is to age people faster than normal.  Ivy’s talent is Enhancement, so when Ivy visits the Good Magician’s Castle, she enhances Zora’s talent, which speeds up the aging process even more. So Humfrey is now a young child.  Humfrey gives Ivy the recipe.

Ivy returns to Castle Roogna and follows the recipe, and makes up the cleaning solution: crewel lye. She uses it to clean the tapestry. Now that Jordan can see the images of his past life, his memories come back. He tells his story:

Jordan is a warrior barbarian living in Fen Village, in the far north of Xanth.  He decides he would rather go adventuring than settle down with his girlfriend. So he heads off.

One night he hears the rattling of chains.  He follows the sound, and sees a pooka, a ghost horse, who remains tangible because of the chains wrapped around his body.  Jordan chases the horse until he eventually catches him, and the horse becomes his steed. He calls the horse Pook.

Jordan’s magic talent is that his body heals itself, which is a useful talent for these dangerous adventures.  It takes longer to heal for more serious injuries.  He can even come back to life if he is killed.

They run into a tribe of goblins.  They escape into a tunnel in the mountain, but then are attacked by big humanoid monsters called callicantzari.  Jordan is killed by the monsters, cut up and put into the cooking pot. But they delay cooking him, and he comes back to life, and heals, overnight.  Pook had escaped, but now comes back and rescues him.

Then they encounter a tribe of elves, who invite Jordan to be their guest.  (An elf is a quarter the size of a human.)  An elf tribe always has its camp around an elf elm; closer to the tree, the elves have greater strength.  After they eat, and Jordan tells them his story, a female elf, Bluebell, takes him to her room in the tree, and they sleep together (or “summon the stork” according the usual Xanth euphemism).  Bluebell uses an “Accommodation Spell” to turn them into compatible sizes.

Jordan and Pook travel on.  They find an injured stork, who is attempting to deliver a baby ogre (or ogret) to its parents, but had been attacked by a dragon, so it can’t fly.  Jordan loads the stork and the baby bundle onto the horse, and they continue on.  But they are attacked by dragons and have to fight.  Still under attack, they arrive at the Gap Chasm, and Jordan, the stork and the baby fall from the horse.  The stork is dead, but Jordan recovers, and the ogret is okay. They find their way down into the Chasm.  The Gap Dragon starts chasing them but they find a tunnel in the southern wall, and make their way back to level ground.

Jordan and Pook find their way to the ogret’s parents’ home and deliver the baby.  Then they continue on to Castle Roogna.

The castle is run down, and there are only two occupants: King Gromden, and a serving woman.  But they welcome Jordan as a hero who had been prophesied.  The King is dying, and must choose a successor. There are two candidates: twin brothers, Magicians Yin and Yang. Jordan must go on a mission which will decide which will be the new king.

Jordan meets the Magicians on two successive days, as they refuse to come together.  First he meets Yin who explains Jordan’s mission.  He must go and fetch a certain object and return it to the castle.  If he successfully returns, Yin will win, otherwise Yang will win.  Yin is the Good Magician who tells the truth, Yang is the Evil Magician who lies and deceives.  Yin gives him a bag of seven small white objects; they are spells, whose shape indicates their function.  Their purpose is to counteract the corresponding harmful black spells which Yang has placed along his route.

The spells are:

  • a shield: the corresponding harmful spell is a black sword which cuts and kills, the white shield preserves life;
  • a figure of a monster: the black monster figurine summons a monster, the white figurine banishes it;
  • a skull: the black skull brings death; the white skull brings life;
  • a stone: the black stone will turn him to stone, the white stone will return the stone to flesh;
  • a doll: the black doll will exchange his identity with another person, the white doll will exchange it back.
  • a tangled length of vine (the eye-queue vine): the white vine provides intelligence, the black vine idiocy;
  • a magic compass: the white compass points the way to the target object, the black compass will prevent him from knowing the way.

When Yang comes the next day, he inspects the spells Yin has given Jordan. He tells Jordan that Yin and the King are stupid, and tries to get Jordan to abandon the mission. But Jordan insists on proceeding.

So Jordan sets off the next day on Pook.  He knows that he must head northwest. He comes to a mountain, and thinking that this may confuse the predicted route, he goes over the mountain rather than around it.  But at the peak he encounters the black compass spell, and loses his sense of where he should go. He invokes the white compass, but instead of giving him back his sense of direction, it turns the rocky mountain to flesh.  Yang had mixed up the white spells, so they no longer perform what is indicated by their shapes!  Jordan doesn’t know where to go, but Pook does, and they continue down the mountain and in a northwesterly direction.

Then he encounters the black monster spell.  A tarasque appears: this is a dragon with a lion’s face, bears’ legs, a thick carapace and scorpion’s tail.  Jordan invokes the white monster spell, and suddenly becomes more intelligent.  He fights the monster, but is critically injured.  But then Pook attacks it, leads it away, and traps it in a cave.  Jordan’s body starts to heal, but is still unconscious. Pook gets Jordan on his back and carries him to the home of a young woman called Threnody, and Jordan recovers.

Jordan tells Threnody his mission.  She tells him about King Gromden’s background.  His wife, the Queen, had been jealous of the King’s daughter; she put a curse on the girl so that if she stayed in the castle, the castle would fall down.  This would mean the kingdom would fall, and humans would no longer be the dominant power of Xanth.  So the daughter left.  But the Queen also put a curse on the King, so that he would not remember the first curse.  As a result, the King keeps trying to bring his daughter back.  He wants her to marry his successor, which will satisfy the people, as his bloodline would continue.

Then Threnody tells him that she is the King’s daughter.  But she has poisoned his wine. She dumps his body down a chute into the Gap Chasm, where it gets smashed to pieces.

Pook sees Jordan’s body fall, and finds a way into the Chasm.  Pook doesn’t understand about Jordan’s healing ability, and tries to find a way to bury him.  Pook hauls Jordan’s body out of the Chasm.  But Jordan comes back to life overnight.

And then he encounters the black stone spell.  As Jordan starts to turn to stone, he invokes the white doll spell (a random choice, he doesn’t know which spell does what), and an arrow appears in his mind, showing him the way to his target.  Jordan dies again as he turns to stone, but eventually his healing ability brings him back to life again.

Jordan and Pook follow the direction of the arrow, which eventually brings them back to Threnody’s house.  And Jordan discovers that in fact Threnody is the object he is supposed to obtain.  But Threnody doesn’t want to come.  So Jordan ties her onto the horse, and they start back toward the castle.   Threnody escapes a few times, but the arrow in Jordan’s mind points out her location, so he manages to get her back.  Threnody tells Jordan some more about herself: she is not the daughter of the Queen; she is the illegitimate daughter of the King and a demoness.  This is the scandal which has left the castle almost deserted.  Threnody has inherited an ability from her demonic heritage: she can become diffuse like a ghost (she had used this ability to escape), or change her shape, or her size.  But all of these changes take time.

Then they encounter the black sword spell.  The spell expands into a full-sized sword and attacks Jordan; he counters it with his own sword.  The opposing sword keeps attacking, while Jordan is tiring.  He invokes the white vine spell, and his consciousness transfers into Threnody’s body.  Meanwhile the black sword continues to attack Threnody, who is now in Jordan’s body, and kills her.

But Threnody – because she is in Jordan’s body – comes back to life, but takes some time to fully recover. Jordan (in Threnody’s body) drags Threnody (in Jordan’s body) into the hollow of a dead tree for protection, and then discovers stairs going underground, and continues down them.  There they encounter the Gnobody Gnomes, the cowboys (humans with heads of bulls and cows) and the Knock-Kneed Knights.  They find a female ghost horse called Peek, who comes with them.  Eventually they emerge above ground again.  And they encounter the black doll spell, and their consciousnesses swap back to their correct bodies.

So they now both have a ghost horse to ride on.  But then Jordan encounters the black vine spell, and is afflicted by idiocy.  In this state, Threnody persuades him they should turn back towards her home.  The horses leave them, not wanting to be involved in this betrayal.  Jordan invokes the white skull spell, which turns into a full-sized white shield, which becomes handy for defending himself against the various monsters that attack.

As they travel together, it seems that Jordan and Threnody are falling in love with each other.  Jordan starts to recover from the idiocy spell, and Threnody reluctantly agrees to continue with him to Castle Roogna.

But at the castle’s drawbridge, Jordan encounters the black skull spell, and falls down dead.  Magician Yin tries to persuade Threnody to cross the drawbridge to the castle, but she refuses. She uses Jordan’s sword to chop up Jordan’s body, and hides all the parts in different locations, preventing him from coming back from the dead.  It seems that Threnody’s profession of love had been a cruel lie.

Back in the present, Ivy wonders whether the ghost Jordan can be brought back to life.  Can they find the parts of his body, and bring them back together?  The female ghost Renee says she knows where his body parts are.