Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: Roc and a Hard Place


Roc and a Hard Place (1995)
[In this story Metria must summon various characters to a trial.  I have marked in bold the names of the people to be summoned at the point where Metria selects their tokens.]

Demoness Metria and her husband Veleno have been summoning the stork many times during the last two years, but the stork doesn’t seem to have got the message; there has been no baby delivered.  She had sent her “worser half”, Mentia, to Demon Professor Grossclout to find the answer, but Grossclout’s answer was that she should go and ask Good Magician Humfrey.  (Mentia is Metria’s alter ego: sometimes she splits off and leads an independent life; at other times, they occupy the same body.)  And having delivered the message, Mentia merges back with Metria.  But throughout the rest of the story, Metria and Mentia have internal debates.  And depending on need, one or the other comes to the fore.

(Metria’s usual way of travelling is to pop instantly from one place to another.  She can transport a single adult, or two small children, with her, but she can’t carry much more weight than this.  She can also fly or float through the air.  But there are times when she is constrained to travel as other people do.)

So Metria goes to the Good Magician’s Castle.  And asks the Question: “How can I get the stork to take my summons seriously?”  Humfrey’s Answer is: “That will be apparent after you perform your Service.  Go to the Simurgh.” (The Simurgh is a huge bird who is the wisest creature in the universe.)

At other times, characters have visited the Simurgh at Mount Parnassus. MareAnne, who is the Good Magician’s current Designated Wife, tells Metria that the Simurgh is not currently at Mount Parnassus, which is only her summer retreat.  MareAnne summons a quarter horse, called Eight Bits, who knows the way to where the Simurgh lives.  But the horse won’t allow a strange adult to ride him, so Metria transforms into her third personality, the waif Woe Betide (a form she had previously taken in “The Color of Her Panties”).  But now she needs an adult companion, so MareAnne assigns her Demoness Helen Back, who also knows the way, and will float along in the air above the horse.

Helen tells her they are going to Qaf, a mountain range which circles the Earth. [Mount Qaf comes from Middle East mythology.]  When they arrive at the Simurgh’s mountain, Helen tells her to climb to the top. And Helen and the horse leave.

So Metria climbs.  The mountain has a series of sections, coloured green, blue, yellow, pink, white and red: all different types of beryl (of which emerald is the green shade). Metria finally meets the Simurgh at the top.  The Simurgh gives her a bag of 30 summons tokens, made of black beryl.  They are each marked with a person’s name on one side, and their role on the other.  Metria must deliver the tokens to the people, and guide them to the Nameless Castle where Roxanne Roc will be put on trial in a fortnight’s time. (The Nameless Castle is on a cloud, floating in the air.)  Metria returns home.

But why would Roxanne be put on trial?  She is a decent bird, serving the Simurgh loyally by sitting on the egg in the Nameless Castle.

So Metria goes to deliver the first summons token to Roxanne.  But then she realises she can’t understand roc-speak.  She needs the Court Translator, who is Grundy Golem.  So she goes to the Golem home, and delivers the tokens for Grundy and Rapunzel. (Rapunzel will be a juror.)   Grundy comes back with her to the Nameless Castle.   But Roxanne doesn’t know what she is to be tried for.

Next she delivers a summons to Professor Grossclout, who is to be the judge.

The next summons tokens are for Trent and Iris.  Metria goes to the Brain Coral’s pool, but learns that they are taking a second honeymoon, on the moon.  She finds them there, and hands the summons to Trent, who is to be the bailiff.  She transfers control of her body to Mentia, who gives the summons to Iris, as Iris and Mentia had been together in the previous adventure (“Geis of the Gargoyle”).  Iris’s role is Special Effects.

The next token is for Grey Murphy.  Metria discovers that each token exerts a tug in the direction of the named person.  This will enable her to find people whose location she doesn’t know.  The token leads her to where Grey is, out doing a job for Humfrey. She gives him the token, which indicates that he will be the prosecutor.

Metria arrives at Castle Roogna.  Gary Gar and Gayle Goyle are on the roof, spouting water into the moat.  Mentia takes over the body, and delivers the summonses to the two gargoyles, as she had associated with them in “Geis of the Gargoyle”.  They are to be jurors.

Metria continues into the Castle, and delivers a summons to Princess Ida. Her job will be to defend Roxanne.

The next summons is for Threnody, as a juror.  This is a meeting Metria has been dreading, because, as is now revealed, Threnody is her daughter, and Threnody feels resentful towards her.  (As mentioned in “Crewel Lye”, Threnody is the daughter of King Gromden and a demoness.  We now learn that that demoness was Metria.) She finds Threnody in the forest, with Jordan the Barbarian, near the Region of Madness.

Threnody refuses to accept the summons.  She sings a sad song (this is her magic talent), which keeps Metria at bay, and then Threnody and Jordan head into the Region of Madness.  Metria follows.  Mentia takes over the body since, although normally slightly crazy, she becomes sane within the Region of Madness.  She persuades them to use the effect of the madness to reenact the events of about 440 years ago – first from Threnody’s point of view, and then from Metria’s point of view.

(This effect was previously described in “Harpy Thyme” and “Geis of the Gargoyle”: as a wave of madness comes, one person relives a memory, which the other people present see, and possibly take on the roles of the other people in that remembered incident.)

Jordan takes on the role of King Gromden.  Threnody takes on the role of the Queen.  Metria takes on her own role.  When playing the part of the child Threnody, Metria changes to the form of Woe Betide.

The first reenactment:
King Gromden had married for political reasons, and love and joy are missing from the marriage.  He meets a young woman (actually Demoness Metria) who says she had left home rather than be married to one of the village louts.  But she couldn’t find acceptance anywhere.  The King takes her to one of the royal station houses, currently unoccupied.  She kisses him, and before long they have slept together.  He visits the house the next day, but she is gone.

Later, the woman shows up at the palace, when the King and Queen are at supper with visitors.  She hands over their illegitimate daughter, shames the King about their adulterous relationship, reveals herself to be a demoness, and disappears.

The King accepts the child as his own.  But eventually the Queen puts a curse on the girl.  If she remains in the Castle, it will fall down.  So the girl, Threnody, leaves the Castle at 10 years of age.

The second reenactment:
The original meeting of the King and Metria occurs as before.  But although Metria has no soul or conscience, she is impressed by the King’s goodness, and resolves to reward him with a night of joy.  And their relationship lasts some time, with them sleeping together many times.  Demonesses can prevent the signals going to the stork, but Metria misses one of the escaping signals.  So a baby is delivered.  Metria thinks that as a demoness she can’t look after the child, and delivers her to the King privately. Over the years, Metria observes the girl without revealing her identity.

The Queen is in charge of educating the girl, but poisons her mind against her mother.  Eventually as Threnody grows up, she becomes the image of her mother.  The Queen is jealous and curses her.

Back in the present, Threnody realises that Metria’s version is the truth, but is not entirely willing to forgive her.  Mentia leads Threnody and Jordan out of the Region of Madness.  Threnody says that if Metria can remove the curse, which prevents her entering Castle Roogna, she will accept the summons.

Mentia comes up with a plan that will achieve this.  The next person to be summoned is a woman called Phelra, who will be a witness.  Metria brings her to Castle Roogna, as several people will be travelling together from this Castle to the Nameless Castle.  Mentia’s plan is devious, and involves both the fact that Phelra has not previously heard of the curse, and Princess Ida’s talent.  And the plan seems to have worked, but this will only be proved when Threnody arrives.

Metria returns to Threnody and Jordan, and tells them she will arrange transport to Castle Roogna for the next day.  Then she goes to the home of the winged centaurs.  She has a summons for Cynthia, as juror.  She asks that Cheiron and Chex come to transport Threnody and Jordan the next day.  Then she goes to Goblin Mountain, where Che Centaur is Gwenny Goblin’s Companion.  She gives Che his summons as a juror, and Gwenny her summons as a witness.

Metria’s next summonses are for Dug and Kim in Mundania, who are to be jurors.  Since they had been involved in the demons’ computer game (in “Demons Don’t Dream”), she goes to Com Pewter, who should be able to contact them.  She gives him a summons, as juror.  But when she asks him about Dug and Kim, Com Pewter says they don’t play the game very much any more.  Metria will have to go physically into Mundania to get them.  But since, as a demoness, she can’t exist in Mundania, she will have to go with Arnolde the Centaur, to be protected by his magical Centaur Aisle (refer the story “Centaur Aisle”). (This Aisle is a small region of magic around Arnolde, which takes effect when he is in Mundania.)  But to find Arnolde, she will need Jenny Elf’s cat Sammy.  (Sammy’s talent is to be able to find anything except home.)

Morning has arrived, so Metria returns to meet Threnody.  Cheiron, Chex, Cynthia, and Che arrive, with Gwenny riding Che. So they all fly to Castle Roogna, with Jordan and Threnody riding Cheiron and Chex.  And Threnody discovers she can enter the Castle, which had been her childhood home, without it falling down.  She and Metria become reconciled.

Now Metria has to find Jenny Elf.  Since Jenny had been involved in the demons’ game, Professor Grossclout should know where she is.  So she goes to see him.  But he wants to make a deal: he will tell her if she agrees to get his son, Demon Prince Vore (D. Vore = devour), married.  She agrees, and he tells her that Jenny is now living in the naga caves with Nada Naga.  (The naga are a snake/human crossbreed, able to take either snake or human forms.)

So she arrives at the naga caves.  Nada and Jenny are currently out, but Metra meets King Nabob Naga.  He wants Nada to get married, to a prince, as she will be ruling over the naga when the King steps down.  (Nada’s brother Naldo is no longer suitable to rule since he married Mela Merwoman.)  Metria and Nabob plan on a strategy to get Vore and Nada together.

When Nada and Jenny return to the caves, Metria delivers their summonses, to be jurors.

So Metria tells Jenny and Sammy that she wants to find Arnolde Centaur.  Sammy races off, with Jenny running behind, and Metria flying through the air.  After a long trek across country, they come to the Region of Madness.  Mentia takes over the body, as they enter the Region.  They find Arnolde and his Mundane archivist friend Ichabod, who are studying the lifeforms of the Region.  They are both very old, and have only survived this long because of the intense magic of the Region of Madness.  Arnolde and Ichabod agree to go with Metria to Mundania.  Mentia fetches Jethro Giant, whom she had met in “Geis of the Gargoyle”, who carries them to the north-west boundary of Xanth.  (Metria had not intended Jenny and Sammy to come, but through an oversight, Jethro had brought them along too.)

So they enter Mundania, staying within Arnolde’s Centaur Aisle.  They go first to Ichabod’s home, to collect his pickup truck, so Arnolde, with his centaur body, can be concealed in the back.  Metria experiments leaving the Aisle, and gets turned into a dust devil, a whirl of mindless energy. It is an awful experience, and luckily she gets back into the Aisle.  When Jenny leaves the Aisle, she appears to be a human child of ten; her ears become round instead of pointed, and she has five fingers on each hand instead of four.  But she won’t be able to understand the Mundane language when outside the Aisle.

Ichabod drives the truck, with Metria giving directions, as indicated by the tug on Kim’s summons disc.  As they travel, Metria learns how Ichabod operates the vehicle.

They arrive at Squeedunk Community College, where Kim and Dug are studying.  They find Kim and Dug at their respective dormitories.  Since the events of “Demons Don’t Dream”, Kim and Dug have become girlfriend and boyfriend.  So Kim and Dug join them in the truck.   They return to Kim’s parents’ home to pick up Bubbles the dog.  Then they return to spend the night at Ichabod’s home.

But in the morning they realise that Arnolde’s Centaur Aisle is shrinking.  And Ichabod is feeling his age, and can no longer drive the truck.  The truck has manual gears, and Dug and Kim are only used to automatics.  But Metria has learnt how to drive it, so she becomes the driver, with Kim guiding her from the passenger seat.  They all load up and set off for Xanth.  There are a few delays on the way, and Metria can feel the magic of the Aisle shrinking.  Eventually Kim has to take over the driving with Metria guiding her with the gears.  They have to take a rough track, and end up in a swamp.

Kim had won the talent of erasure in the demons’ game, but she can normally only use this in Xanth. But since the Centaur Aisle is magical, she can also use it within the Aisle. She sets about erasing part of the truck, and turning it into a boat.  And then Kim, Dug and Jenny drag the boat by a chain, while Metria transforms into a slippery sheet, to allow the boat to slide across the ground.  And so they reach Xanth.

The group takes the opportunity to rest, and Arnolde says it is unfortunate that so much of Xanth’s history has been lost.  Sammy takes off, with Metria following, and they find a book called the Book of Kings.  Metria brings it back to Arnolde, who starts reading it to them, telling them about all the Kings, including those who have been forgotten.  Jenny hums, and brings them into a shared dream, where it seems that they see the parade of Kings, and the events of the past.

Metria’s next summons is for Chena Centaur.  But Metria also has the responsibility to deliver Kim, Dug and Jenny to the Nameless Castle, and to return Arnold and Ichabod to the Region of Magic.  So they all travel together on foot, with Metria following the tug of the summons token towards Chena.

And they find her.  She has been living alone in the Xanthian wilderness, and at first tries to run away from them.  But Metria explains about the summons, which indicates she is to be a juror.  Chena tells them her story.

Chena had lived on Centaur Isle.  She had been taught that it was obscene for centaurs to have magic, but it was okay to use magic items.  So she collected magic rocks.  And then the authorities discovered she had the magical talent to activate the magic of the rocks, and she was exiled.  She had had to survive in the wilderness.  Her brother Carlton had secretly brought a package to her, containing a bow and arrows, and a knife.

Then she had been chased by a catawampus – a crazy feline monster – and had fallen into the Gap Chasm.  But she had been saved by Che Centaur, before she could fall to her death.  Che was based with Gwenny Goblin and a horde of goblins performing military field exercises nearby.  She stayed with them for some time, helping them with her magic stones.  She was falling in love with Che.  But then Gwenny told her that Che had a commitment to Cynthia, and Chena left, upset.

But Arnolde suspects that her greatest wish is for something else.  Chena realises that what she wishes for is to have wings, and to fly, like Che.  One of her magic stones is a wishstone, so when she states her wish, wings appear on her body.  She has become a flying centaur.

Time is running out to deliver the summonses.  Ichabod suggests that Metria enlist Prince Dolph, who can transform himself into a roc, to transport all the people.  So she goes to see Dolph at Castle Roogna.  He transforms himself into a hummingbird, so she can carry him, and she pops back to the group.

Then Dolph transforms into a roc, and transports Arnolde and Ichabod back to the Region of Madness.  Then he carries Kim, Dug, Jenny, Chena and Metria, in a gondola, to Castle Roogna.

Then Metria and Dolph (in hummingbird form) go to Gloha Goblin-Harpy’s nest, and deliver summonses to the winged goblins Gloha and Graebo, who are to be jurors.  They can fly to the Nameless Castle themselves. (Gloha and Graebo’s story is in “Harpy Thyme”.  Graebo was originally a giant, but had been transformed to a winged goblin, like Gloha, and they had married.)

Then Metria and Dolph go to Mela Merwoman, who is now living in the naga caves with her husband Naldo Naga.  Mela is to be a witness.  Naldo wants to come too, so he will be a spectator.  Dolph transforms into a roc, and flies them to Castle Roogna.

Next they locate Okra Ogress, who is now living with her husband Smithereen in the forest.  (Okra’s story is in “The Color of Her Panties”.)  Okra is to be a witness.  Dolph transports Okra and Smithereen to the Nameless Castle.

The next summonsee is Stanley Steamer, the Gap Dragon, who is to be a juror.  They fly to the Gap, where Stanley is quite pleased to see Dolph again; they had spent time together when Stanley was Ivy’s pet.  But Stanley now has a mate, Stella, and a son Steven.  Stella will remain to patrol the Gap, but Stanley must take Steven with him.  Metria and Dolph will return to take them to the Nameless Castle just before the trial.

Amongst the summons tokens had been a blank one.  Now it has a name on it: MPD, who is to be a witness.  Metria and Dolph follow the tug of the token north, close to the Void, and then into a gourd, to the dream realm.  Metria has trouble finding the recipient, until she realises it is a person with multiple personalities.  But this person cannot leave the gourd, and the token goes blank in his hand.  This can’t be the correct summonsee, so they return without him.  The token must have been enchanted by someone, making the writing appear.

Next they deliver a token to Marrow Bones, the walking skeleton, who is to be a juror.  Marrow’s wife Grace’l and their children Picka and Joyn’t come along too.  Marrow forms a basket from his bones, so Dolph can carry them.  They continue on to the Black Village at Lake Ogre-Chobee (the place where the black migrants from Mundania – the Black Wave – settled, in “Demon’s Don’t Dream”); Metria delivers a token to Sherlock of the Black Wave, who is also to be a juror.  Dolph carries them all to the Nameless Castle.

Metria delivers the last token (not counting the blank one) to the Simurgh, who is to be a witness.  She asks the Simurgh about the blank token, and the Simurgh tells Metria her job is not yet finished.  Metria tells her about the writing that had appeared on the token.  The Simurgh realises that there is interference; there must be a Demon Wager in progress, on the result of the trial.  It seems that after Demon X(A/N)th‘s win in “Demons Don’t Dream”, now Demoness V(E\N)us is challenging X(A/N)th.  Metria must do all she can to ensure the trial goes ahead, otherwise the Demoness will win by default.  And if she wins, the Land of Xanth will be handed over to V(E\N)us.

The day of the trial arrives. Everyone is gathered at the Nameless Castle.  The Judge, Professor Grossclout, appears.  He confirms that all personnel are present.  Then he announces that Roxanne is on trial for violation of the Adult Conspiracy.  The jury is selected from the Prospective Jury Roster.  Grey Murphy, the Prosecutor, insists that all selected jurors accept the validity of the Adult Conspiracy.  Ida, the Defence Attorney, insists that, to be properly accepted as Roxanne’s peers, the jurors must either be winged monsters, or isolated from mainstream Xanth.

A storm arises outside the Castle, threatening to destroy it.  It is Fracto, the worst of storm clouds, who must have been sent by Demoness V(E\N)us to disrupt the trial.  Metria borrows Chena’s wishstone, and wishes for the storm cloud to leave.  But her wish is not strong enough, and her other two personalities, Mentia and Woe Betide, must make the wish as well.  Fracto departs.

Grundy stands by to translate, and Iris creates illusions of the scenes the witnesses describe.

Phelra gives her evidence.  She had been at her home, when an unpleasant man approached.  Her talent is summoning animals, so she started to summon a Rocky Mountain Goat, so she could leave.  But she was interrupted by the man crashing into the house.  She had got as far as “Roc”.  But when summoning birds, she always gets carried away to where the bird is.  So she found herself transported to the Nameless Castle, where Roxanne was.  Roxanne had uttered some squawks.  Grundy translates this as “What? Darn!”  Grundy explains that “Darn” is an objectionable word, not suitable to be heard by small children.

The Simurgh gives evidence.  The egg that Roxanne is sitting on is hers; the chick which hatches will be her successor.  But the chick is intelligent and aware, inside the egg, and so would have heard Roxanne utter the objectionable word.

Ida gets the Simurgh to state that she had chosen Roxanne, as a qualified and honourable creature, to sit on the egg, and Roxanne had performed this duty well for six centuries.

Gwenny takes the stand, and relates the encounter that she, Jenny and Che had had with Roxanne in “The Color of Her Panties”.  Then Okra and Mela tell of their encounter with Roxanne, which also occurred in that story.  Phelra tells how Roxanne’s utterance seemed to be one of surprise and dismay at her appearance, and Roxanne had ensured she returned home safely.

Ida asks Roxanne to tell what had happened at the Time of No Magic.  (This occurred towards the end of “The Source of Magic”.)  When the magic ceased, Roxanne realised the cloud on which the Castle stood was dropping towards the ground. She flapped her wings to force the cloud to drift toward a lake, where it splashed down.  At the moment of impact she protected the egg in her claws, but suffered a broken wing in the process.  The cloud was softening in the water, so she moulded the edges to prevent it sinking too quickly.  Then she forced it to drift towards land.  A monster attacked, but she fought it off, and lured it away from the Castle.  She went to a healing spring, to heal her injuries, and fortunately the magic returned at that point.  She returned to the Castle in time for the cloud to drift into the sky again.

Ida hopes that all of this evidence indicates that Roxanne is a loyal, caring bird, and the jury should take this into account when delivering the verdict.

The Judge tells the jury that a hung jury will not be acceptable. (There is a row of gallows outside the courtroom to illustrate this.) The jury leaves to consider their verdict.

Sammy Cat comes to Metria.  Concluding he is lost, Metria takes him to Jenny in the jury room.  But the jury had not been able to decide on their verdict, so Jenny had sent Sammy to find someone who could help them.  The jurors put on a play for Metria, with Kim and Dug in the lead roles.  The play has obvious parallels to the court case, and Metria must make a decision in relation to the play, which the jury will use to make their decision in the court case.

But Metria is conflicted.  Which way must she decide?  And what will be the consequences?