So, the rat. Whose name is Ripred.
Ripred is the favorite character of almost everyone who has read these books, and if he’s not their favorite favorite he probably ranks very high. There’s some good reasons for that, though. One, he’s a really interesting character. Two, he’s a complete bad ass.
“Stay you!” cried Vikus, as Luxa, Henry, and Mareth sprang up, swords in hand. “Stay you!”
The rat regarded the three humans with amusement. “Yes, stay you or I shall be forced to move, and that always puts me in an ill humor,” he said languidly.
Luxa and Mareth stopped uncertainly, but Henry ignored Vikus’ command and lunged at the rat. Without moving another muscle, the rat flicked his tail. It cracked like a whip knocking the sword from Henry’s hand. The blade spun across the stone floor and slamed into the cavern wall. Henry gripped his wrist in pain.
Get rekt, Henry.
Vikus and Solovet invite Ripred to eat an incredibly awkward dinner with the group. Vikus had arranged for Ripred to guide them through the rats’ land. The prophecy does call for “one gnawer beside”, so it’s not completely out of left field, but the other quest members still have a hard time getting on board with the idea.
“‘Beside’ could mean anything,” snarled Henry. “Perhaps we leave the gnawer dead ‘beside’ us.”
“Perhaps you do. But having witnessed your last attack, I doubt it,” said Ripred, starting on a wedge of cheese.
I could read about Ripred dragging Henry all day, honestly.
“They themselves killed Fangor and Shed,” said Mareth bravely.
“Well, then, I stand corrected. Fangor and Shed were excellent fighters, on the rare occasions they were sober,” said Ripred.
“The rare occasions they were sober”??? How do rats in the Underland become inebriated? I’m sure the humans can make alcohol, but I doubt the rats can get their hands on that easily. So what are they taking? Mushrooms?? What happens at gnawer turn up functions??
“So, what’s in this for you?” said Gregor to Ripred.
“A fair question,” said Ripred. “Well, warrior, I am planning to overthrow King Gorger and I need you to help me.”
“By doing what?” said Gregor.
“I don’t know,” admitted Ripred. “None of us does.”
Now that’s reassuring. I kind of like the fact that Gregor’s role in everything is so vague, it makes you appreciate more how ridiculous it is that they expect so much from an eleven year old. They don’t even know what they expect, they just expect… something.
Gregor pulls Vikus aside and asks him why he didn’t tell anyone about Ripred. Vikus says that he doesn’t believe in giving people more information than they can handle. Has that ever worked out for anyone?
Vikus assures Gregor that Ripred can be trusted. Rats and humans once lived in relative peace, and Ripred wants to restore that.
“So, you’re saying Ripred’s a good rat,” said Gregor, choking on the words.
“If he were not, would I trust my granddaughter to his care?” asked Vikus.
Luxa is Vikus’ granddaughter! It explains why Vikus spends so much time looking out for her, I guess, but it’s still a bit weird to imagine.
“All right, I’m going. Is there anything else I need to know that you haven’t told me?”
“Only this: Despite what I said, I knew you were the warrior from the first moment I spied you,” said Vikus.
“Thanks. Great. That’s very helpful,” said Gregor.
I like Vikus but he’s kind of useless.
Luxa and Henry are both furious with Vikus, so much so that they don’t even want to give him a proper goodbye. I feel kind of bad for Vikus, but at the same time what did he expect? It was unfair of him to not tell Luxa and Henry about Ripred until it was too late for them to choose something else.
The next day, Gregor asks Luxa and Henry how they want to handle the food. Henry says that because he and Luxa are royalty, they won’t serve food. Get over yourself, Henry. Gregor says that he’s not going to serve Henry and Luxa either.
Ripred laughed. “Tell him, boy. Tell him your country fought a war so you wouldn’t have to answer to kings and queens.”
Gregor looked at Ripred in surprise. “How do you know that?”
“Oh, I know a great many things about the Overland that our friends here do not. I have spent much time there among your books and papers,” said Ripred.
“You can read?” asked Gregor.
“Most rats read. Our frustration is, we cannot hold a pen to write.”
So Ripred just hangs out in the Overland sometimes, I’m guessing mostly in libraries and such. How has no one ever noticed a giant rat hanging out in New York? Also, I bet there are words that Ripred mispronounces because he’s only ever seen them written down in Overland books and has never heard them spoken aloud and I find that thought hilarious.
As Gregor is looking at their food supplies, Luxa approaches him and asks how they can prepare the food. She’s never done it before, but she’s willing to try. Henry is not, but that’s no surprise. Gregor shows her how to make a sandwich (which may or may not be named after Bartholomew of Sandwich, no one knows), and they make enough for the whole group.
Gregor gives a sandwich to Ripred, though he makes sure to mention that he’s only doing it because he needs Ripred’s help, not because he cares about Ripred.
“It’s good we have this understanding. Mutual need is a strong bond. Stronger than friendship, stronger than love.”
“Do rats love?” said Gregor dryly.
“Oh, yes,” said Ripred with a smirk. “We love ourselves very much.”
Honestly why is Ripred not my best friend
Ripred leads the group through a cramped tunnel dripping with some kind of liquid that smells like rotten eggs. They make it all the way through the tunnel before Ripred tells them that there were other ways they could have taken, but Ripred took them through this way so their scent would be covered. It’s a smart idea, if unpleasant.
The rotten egg scent hid something from the group too, though. A couple of spiders come out of the tunnel soon after the group does.
A large orange spider with a small brown spider on its back staggered in and collapsed on the floor. The brown one was oozing a strange blue liquid. It made a great effort to sit up.
Its front legs brushed its chest as it spoke. “Vikus sends us. Gnawers attacked webs. Many spinners lost. We two… we join… the quest.”
And with that, the brown spider fell over dead.
Two spinners have joined the quest, and one of them is already dead. The spider who’s still living introduces herself as Gox, and says that the dead spider is named Treflex.
The prophecy says that four quest members will die, and Treflex appears to be one of the four. Can’t say it’s too upsetting, since it’s not like we had any time to get to know Treflex anyway.
Ready for something disturbing but also kind of hilarious?
“Well, Gox, I suppose you’re hungry after your journey, but our food is limited. None of us will think less of you if you’d like to dine on Treflex,” said Ripred.
Gox immediately began to pump juice into Treflex.
“She’s not going to – oh man!” said Gregor
Yep. Gox is eating Treflex. Right in front of everyone.
“Spiders are neither squeamish nor sentimental,” said Ripred. “Thank goodness for that.”
“Look, if anything happens to me or Boots, don’t let that spider drink us. Toss us off the cliff, in a river, anything, okay?”
They both nodded. “You will return the same favor for us?” said Luxa wanly. “And our bats?”
“And Tick and Temp, too. I promise,” said Gregor. He could hear the slow sucking sounds as Gox drained Treflex’s body. “Geez,” he added.
WHY IS THIS HORRIFYING AND FUNNY TO ME ALL AT ONCE
After Gox is finished her cannibalistic act, she explains what happened to the spinners. The rats attacked them, presumably because they got word that an Overland human had been to see them and they got suspicious. The rats do know about the prophecy, but when Ripred asks if the prophecy or the warrior were mentioned,
“There were no words, only death,” said Gox.
That line is so metal I love it
Okay, okay, what happened to the spinners is actually horrible, even if I’m not a fan of them. The rats just showed up and started slaughtering them with no warning.
The group gets moving. While they’re walking Gregor asks Luxa to explain more about bonding between humans and bats. It’s rare for someone to already be bonded to a bat at Luxa’s age, but after her parents died she spent a lot of time with Aurora and was allowed to bond with her to help alleviate some of her grief and fear. It helped, but Luxa also has another way of dealing with her fear.
“You see, I tired of constant fear, so I made a decision. Every day when I wake I tell myself that it will be my last. If you are not trying to hold on to time, you are not so afraid of losing it.”
Gregor thought this was the single saddest thing anyone had ever said to him.
Seriously, that is really sad. What’s also sad is that Gregor realizes that Luxa’s rule isn’t so different from the rule he made for himself after his dad disappeared. He refused to imagine a future where his dad might be back. He denied himself the luxury of feeling hopeful and happy, and isn’t that what Luxa is doing? Telling herself she’s going to die every day so she won’t be afraid, but by doing so not allowing herself to think of a future where she won’t need to be so afraid.
Gregor then asks how the bonding ceremony actually works.
“It is a simple ceremony. Many bats and humans gather. You stand face-to-face with your bat and say a vow. Like so,” said Luxa, extending her hand and reciting a poem.
“Aurora the flier, I bond to you,
Our life and death are one, we two.
In dark, in flame, in war, in strife
I save you as I save my life.”
“And then your bat recites it back, but using your name. Than there is a feast,” concluded Luxa.
If the vow is broken, punishment is severe. The one at fault is banished to live alone in the Underland, which is basically a guaranteed death sentence. This whole conversation felt like foreshadowing, why else would we need this information? So I guessed from reading this that either Gregor would eventually bond with a bat or we would see a bond broken or both.
They stop to rest for the night. Gregor happens to wake up at some point, and it’s lucky he did, because Henry was about to stab Ripred in his sleep. Suzanne Collins sure loves her cliffhangers, doesn’t she?