Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: Harpy Thyme

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Harpy Thyme (1993)
Gloha is a winged goblin girl, a goblin/harpy crossbreed.  She is now 19, and thinks it is time for her to find her ideal man.  But she is the only one of her kind.  She goes to ask Good Magician Humfrey about this.  He tells her, “Go see my second son.”

But Gloha doesn’t know who Humfrey’s second son is.  She asks various people, finally ending up with Tandy.  Tandy suggests she ask Tandy’s father Crombie, whose talent is to point to anything which needs to be located.  Crombie, having retired, now lives in the underground caverns with Tandy’s mother Jewel Nymph.  Tandy will take her there.

They set off, walking (since Tandy can’t fly), and come across what looks like a mudslide.  This is actually a creature called Swiftmud; riding on its back are Retired King Trent, Retired Queen Iris, Bink and Chameleon.  They are all going to visit Crombie and Jewel for a fade-out party. (Major Characters in Xanth do not die, they fade away: from this book onwards, characters generally use the term “fading out” rather than “dying”.  These four and Crombie and Jewel are now quite old. Jewel, as a nymph, was originally ageless, but started aging when she married Crombie.)  So Gloha and Tandy join them on Swiftmud.

Eventually they reach Jewel and Crombie’s cave.  Crombie is confined to his bed, and close to fading away.  Gloha asks him to point to Humfrey’s second son, but he says he can’t.  Then she asks him to point to her ideal man, and he points in a particular direction.  She asks him to point to someone who can help her in her search, and he points to Trent.

Gloha has a suspicion, and asks Crombie if he is Humfrey’s second son, and Crombie admits that he is, and tells of his unhappy childhood experience and alienation from his parents.  Gloha persuades him to be reconciled with his father, and Crombie agrees.  At that point Humfrey arrives.  He gives Crombie youth elixir, so he will not fade away yet.  He also gives youth elixir to Trent, who will be Gloha’s companion in her quest; Trent’s apparent age has been reduced from 96 to 26.

The fade-out party has been postponed.  In the meantime, the others will remain in suspended animation in the Brain Coral’s pool.  In exchange, the Brain Coral releases a female winged centaur called Cynthia.   Cynthia was originally a human girl, who had opposed Trent in his original attempt to take the throne.  Trent had retaliated by turning her into a winged centaur.  But not being able to fit into Xanth society in her new form, she had voluntarily gone to the Brain Coral’s pool. (She was 16 at that time.)  She now prefers to keep her current form, and accepts their suggestion that she might go to live with the winged centaurs Cheiron and Chex.

So Gloha, Trent and Cynthia set off, finding their way out of the underground caverns. They encounter various hazards on the way, including a horde of goblins who had left Goblin Mountain when Gwenny became chief.  They finally reach the surface.

They travel to the home of the Winged Centaur family. There they meet Chex Centaur; Cynthia agrees to be youthened from 16 to 8 (the same age as Cheiron and Chex’s son Che), with youth elixir Humfrey had given to Trent.  That way she can grow up again, receiving training as a centaur.  She remains there when Gloha and Trent move on.

Gloha and Trent pass Mount Pin-A-Tuba, the bad-tempered volcano, which is rumbling, and producing smoke and ash.  They have to be careful not to attract the volcano’s attention.  The rumblings increase and boulders are shooting out.  They need to take cover.  They find a house made of bones, and discover Marrow Bones, the walking skeleton, inside.

Marrow needs to acquire a soul; otherwise, as a creature of the gourd (the dream realm), he will fade out.  In appreciation of his involvement in the game “Companions of Xanth” (in “Demons Don’t Dream”), Demon  Professor Grossclout had told him to camp near the volcano, and he would obtain a half-soul, which would serve his purpose.  But Trent can’t give him half his soul, because it is old, and Gloha can’t because she is female – her soul would not be compatible.  But they suggest that Grossclout meant that he should travel with them, and Marrow agrees.  Trent transforms Gloha into a roc, so she can safely carry Trent and Marrow away from the volcano.  She does so, and continues on and lands near where they emerged from the underground. From there they can follow the direction Crombie had indicated for Gloha’s ideal man.  Trent changes her back to her natural form.

They continue on and reach the Magic Dust Village.   One of the villagers, Pa Troll, tells them of a problem the village has.  A vent has opened in a nearby mountain, and a poisonous fluid is flowing towards the village. They can’t get close to it because of the fumes.  When the fluid gets to the village they will have to flee, and the magic dust won’t get distributed. They had sent one of their number to the Good Magician, and he told them to “carry on until Harpy Time”.  The villagers now wonder whether Gloha, as a crossbreed harpy, is the fulfilment of that statement.

Trent and Gloha can’t see how they can help, but Marrow can, since he is immune to the poison fluid and fumes.  Marrow climbs the slope and plugs the vent.

The next day they continue on into the Region of Madness.

A wave of madness hits them, and Gloha finds herself reliving an event from her past: an unhappy experience within the harpy community, where she had never fit in.  When it ends, she discovers that Trent and Marrow had seen it too.  At that point, Demoness Metria arrives. (The demoness, curious about what is going on, comes and goes during this adventure.)

Another wave of madness hits, and Gloha relives another experience.  She is telling her Aunt Hoary Harpy she wants to leave the harpy nest.  But Aunt Hoary says she is not ready when she can’t swear in typical harpy style.  The flashback ends.  Metria says she had got caught up in the flashback, and had found herself playing the role of Aunt Hoary.

And then there is another flashback.  Gloha relives an occasion when she had run out into the storm, but then got attacked by various creatures, and fallen into an underground tunnel.  She had encountered gargoyles there.

Trent suggests that he stand upwind of Gloha.  That way it will be his memories that they experience.  When the next wave of madness hits, they all experience Trent’s time of exile in Mundania, and they all play the parts of characters in Trent’s life.  Metria plays the part of Trent’s former wife, who had died.

Finally they leave the Region of Madness and come to Lake Ogre-Chobee.

The storm cloud Fracto is approaching, and it is threatening to rain.  They come to a building labelled “The Thunderdome”, and enter it to avoid the rain.  They find a giant inside, lying down, asleep.  They wake him; he introduces himself as Graeboe Giant. He is normally invisible, but he is sick, and can’t maintain his invisibility. The Good Magician had sent him to this location.  His symptoms are: general weakness and susceptibility to illnesses, he sleeps often, but remains tired. He thinks he is likely to die soon.

A crowd of people arrive in the building.  The Curse Fiends have arrived to put on a play.  (The Curse Fiends are a community of humans who all have the same talent of casting magical curses. They generally keep to themselves. They perform plays.)  But the travellers’ presence had disrupted this, and the Curse Fiends insist that the travellers put on a play instead.  So Gloha, Trent, Marrow, Metria and Graebo improvise a play, combining elements from various fairy tales, and perform it.

Afterward they continue on their way, with Graebo coming with them.  But he keeps on getting weaker; he says it is a disease of the blood; his body is not making enough of it.

They come to the Faun and Nymph Retreat.  They notice that there seem to be more fauns than nymphs; something must be happening to the nymphs.  The travellers camp nearby.

Gloha goes for a walk, and is suddenly captured by an ugly man, who carries her away to his castle. The castle contains many cells containing nymphs.  The man, whose name is Veleno, says he wants to marry her.  Gloha says no.

The demons had put Veleno in this castle, and provided him with everything except love.  When he finds a woman who loves him, he will be released from the enchanted castle.  The demons told him that the woman who will love him would be hidden within the nymph community.  So every day he has been kidnapping a nymph and marrying her, and consummating the marriage.  But the nymphs can’t remember it the next day, so the marriage is invalid.  He has been keeping the nymphs in the castle because he can’t tell them apart, and doesn’t want to waste time kidnapping the same ones.  But since Gloha is not a nymph, maybe she is the woman for him.  He locks her in a cell, saying she will stay there until she agrees to marry him.  She goes to the window and screams.

Graebo hears the scream.  He reports to the others.  He carries Trent and Marrow and heads in the direction of the scream, and they see the castle.  Metria transports herself into the castle, then reports the situation back to them.  Graebo tries to lift the roof of a turret, but with his illness, he is too weak.  Metria discovers that the castle is enchanted; she can enter, but she can’t physically touch any part of it; it is intangible to her.

Trent and Marrow find a way into the castle through the roof, but then get locked in a passageway.  Graebo comes close to them from the outside, and Trent transforms him to a mouse to bring him in, then into an elf, so he can search for the key to the cells.  The double transformation makes Graebo very weak.  So Metria has to take tangible human form and carry him; she will not be able to hold the key because of the enchantment, but Graebo will.  They find the key, and return to release Gloha.  But Veleno manages to lock Graebo in with her.

Meanwhile, Metria goes for help from the various relatives of their group.  But Graebo might not survive until they arrive, especially since Veleno is not providing them with food and water.

Ever since Metria had played the role of Trent’s wife in the Region of Madness, she had been wondering what it would be like to be a loving, caring person.  But she is a demoness, with no soul and therefore no conscience.  Now she offers to marry Veleno, in order to release them all.  Maybe if she pretends to love him, it will break the enchantment.  Veleno agrees.

So they are all released from their cells, including the nymphs, and the wedding preparations begin.  A few demons turn up including Professor Grossclout.  Grossclout conducts the wedding ceremony.  Then Metria realises she has received half of Veleno’s soul, and she is now capable of love and care, for her husband and for others.

The next morning, they have to leave the castle in a hurry because it is collapsing, as the enchantment has ended.

And then the various people Metria had informed turn up: the winged centaurs, the goblins, the harpies, the giants and the walking skeletons.  If they are not careful, the goblins and harpies will start fighting each other.

Expecting to die soon, Graebo offers Marrow his soul.  Trent works out how Graebo can be cured: by a bone marrow transplant from Marrow.  It would then be a fair trade for Marrow to receive half of Graebo’s soul.  But they will need a bloodroot and a trans-plant.  Trent organises all the creatures to search for these things.  They soon find some bloodroot.  But the only trans-plant they can find is in a crevice on Mount Pin-A-Tuba.

Trent decides to use the various creatures for a siege on the opposite side of the mountain, to distract its attention from the group approaching to use the trans-plant.  The harpies have discovered that the boats in the nearby Miracle Lake have mirror-barnacles (miracles) which can be used to make magic mirrors.  The creatures will raid, but the mountain will not want to give up this valuable treasure.

Trent transforms Veleno into a Slowmud (a cousin of the Swiftmud) in the shape of a chair, to carry Graebo (still in elf-form) to their destination on the mountain.  A giant carries Veleno to the mountain.  Then Metria guides Veleno up the slope along the route they had worked out.  Trent, Marrow and Gloha go with them.  It is a dangerous journey.  It seems Graebo might die before they get there.  But Gloha and Graebo confess their love for each other; this gives Graebo the will to live; he is willing to be transformed into a winged goblin to be with her.  Finally they reach the trans-plant, and Graebo is restored to health.

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