The chapter begins by Wart channeling his inner (pre-)teen angst.
“He [Wart] was not forced to stay indoors because of the rain, by his female supervisors, as happens too frequently to the unhappy children of our generation, but the mere wetness and dreariness in the open discouraged him from going out. He hated everyone” (73).
‘I hate you and you, and especially you! Why doesn’t anybody understand me‽’ I can hear Wart saying in my mind’s eye.
More alarming though, check out that piece of sexist trash—Wart was forced to stay inside due to his female supervisors, the horror! Boys need to be free to splash around in the rain, dicks out and waving… I can hear White remarking in my mind’s eye. Darn women, emasculating men by keeping them cooped up when they should be outside doing manly—penis-y—things! (Sorry to keep going back to genital delusions, it is just so evident in this passage.)
Now, I can understand where White is coming from; when I was little and my brother and I were babysat by our grandmother, she would, to our chagrin, keep us pressed inside all day while the wonders of the great outdoors beckoned. But that was due to many factors concerning danger as well as health and a personal desire to see us. Not because, as White seems to be suggesting here, that women are making children unhappy because of “reasons”.
But Wart is bored. Apparently, living in a castle is a tedious affair. True, though, it does sound less like Hogwarts and more like drafty corridors in an age before penicillin. So it does sound trite.
So to alleviate his boredom, Wart begs Merlyn to transform him into a bird—a merlin—so that he may spend the night among the castle’s various hawks and falcons, taking in their culture (or something). Merlyn eventually agrees but not before commenting on the bird’s enclosure and life; long story short, the birds formed a kind of Spartan military enclosure which favors only the high born class (other birds of prey). These game-birds are trained, in part, through hunger, and it is suggested that they have not only a deep pride for their home and heritage, what they can remember of it, anyway, but also that they do not actually understand that they are prisoners.
It is an odd commentary but not one which is unwelcome by any means since it is true that many real world military men and women are trapped into service for similar means (of honor and defending one’s home, etc. various other rationales which simply don’t apply in the imperialist metropole). But it is simply odd to see such a commentary spoken through birds and one which connotes as much sadness as it does—prisoners who take delight in what they can remember about their life before imprisonment, form an elitist, classist structure, and who take themselves so seriously, are in reality, simple animals who are unaware of the shadow-makers in the cave. Pity.
Merlyn drills into Wart that he must not under any circumstances stand beside Cully’s enclosure as Cully is not right in the brains; not only are we going to find some more extrapolations about Cully, the bird from the first chapter, but it is also tied up in yet more mental health issues. Yay? I dunno… this is, I think, the third time that mental health aberrations have been written of so far (the first was that woman from the first or second chapter and the second was Wat, who bite off Dog Boy’s nose). The references don’t seem particularly Ableist but it is odd seeing repeated reference to mental illness.
But, Merlyn transforms Wart into the merlin bird and then takes him into the enclosure where he is super nervous about being around his formerly subservient creatures. Disguised now as one of them, Wart must pass both a series of questions as well as an ordeal in order to prove his avian mettle.
This whole process isn’t very interesting—the questions are simply about being a bird and where he comes from and so on, whereas the ordeal is simply being forced to stand near Cully until a bell chimes three times. There is a bit of tension to the whole thing, which I find remarkable since it is just bird games, but it isn’t interesting except in a world-building sense, of seeing all the hidden spaces of a world.
Before that happens, though, Cully makes his presence known by loudly muttering to himself.
“’Damned niggers,’ he [Cully] was mumbling. ‘Damned administration. Damned politicians. Damned Bolsheviks. Is this a damned dagger that I see before me, the handle toward my hand? Damned spot. Now, Cully, thou hast but one brief hour to live, and then thou must be damned perpetually” (78).
Cully, what a bigot and reactionary. But the dialog does sound like that of a mentally ill person, perhaps someone with late stage Alzheimer’s disease who struggles to remember what exactly is happening at any given moment (though Cully is also prone to fits of violence, it seems, so this is perhaps not the case). Usage of the N-word and reference to Bolsheviks is thought-provoking; the birds’ enclosure is a military-style formation, so it is not surprising that the old timers would be counter-revolutionary (though how birds know about Russian communists is beyond me since this is early medieval England).
Then Wart completes his trial, is sworn in, and the chapter ends after the birds sing their jolly old militarist song.