I like her.
Having dismissed getting married and/or spinning for the rest of her life, Pakse then does the next most logical thing she can: Joins the nearest mercenary company. NO. LITERALLY. THAT'S HER NEXT BEST OPTION.
There she saw the booth that Jornoth had told her to look for, draped in maroon and white silk, with spears for cornerposts. She paused to catch her breath and look at it. On either side, a man-at-arms with breastplate, helmet, and sword stood guard. Inside was a narrow table, with one stool before it , and a man seated behind. Paksenarrion took a deep breath and walked forward.By the way? WE ARE ON PAGE THREE. THIS. IS HOW. YOU. ADVANCE. PLOT.
The guy is a bit taken back when she says she wants to sign on, but he gives her the rules--be of age, in good shape and don't be an idiot--and she figures she fits it well enough. This is, after all, why she ran away from home. The next set of questions shows that Pakse isn't stupid, either. She's been planning this for a while, and it's just a combination of bad timing re: the wedding and her own plans that it all fell out when her Dad gave her over to the local pig farmer. Finally, he finds out where she came from, realizes that she walked thirty miles on an empty stomach, and gives her paperwork to sign so she can get dinner.
One short summery later, she's in the courtyard with the other recruits, looking them over. No snark, no judgement, just "Hey, here are other people." She shortens her name to Paks, because her dad called her Pakse, and she's not comfortable being called that again.
Off they go on a march. It isn't until they make camp, and Paks and another dude go off to dig the camp latrines, that we get our first hint of conflict:
The man who'd fainted snickered appreciatively. "It took 'em long enough. I'd say they weren't just digging ditches."Paks doesn't deck the idiot, but one of the other recruits says, basically, "Knock it off, we'll all have to dig". He also names fainter as Jens and another dude as Korryn. The chapter ends when Paks gets to the castle.
Next chapter, they get uniforms. The Korryn-is-a-shithead line is re-enforced when he cat-calls Paks as she walks across the yard in her tunic and not much else (It makes sense in context) and their mutual commanding officer calls him on his shit. Most of the rest of it is training details, worldbuilding and general misery--basic training isn't fun for anybody.
And then they give the newbies weapons and it's kind of pretty:
Siger glared at her. "Ha! Eager, are you? You innocents are all too willing to shed your blood. Very well— pick up the first one in line— yes— that one." Paks could not help grinning: a sword in her hand at last. She waggled it from side to side. "No!" roared Siger. "Don't play with it, fool! It's not a toy to show off with. A sword is to kill people with, nothing less."
I think that's one thing I love about this series. Paks is going to be a fucking bad-ass, but she sucks right now. She's never done it before. Fuck all that Harry Potter-natural flier super-seeker shit. We've got a main character who doesn't even know that the pointy end goes in the other guy.
Korryn starts laughing at her the first time the trainer knocks her in the ribs. So the trainer decides that it's his turn.
Its not pretty. It's beautiful.
"Ah-h. An expert, is it? You've handled a blade before?" Korryn nodded. "We'll see, then. You need not confine yourself to the hauk drill if you think you can do more." But Korryn began with the standard movements, holding his sword easily. "I'd say you were used to a longer blade, recruit," commented Siger. "Taught by a fencing master, weren't you? You like a thrust better than a slash. You handle that blade like you did most of your fighting in alleys. It won't do for us— you might as well forget it, recruit , and start learning it right." And with that Siger began a furious attack that forced Korryn back, and back, and back around the practice ring, taking blow after blow, until Korryn lost his grip and the sword flew out of his hand. Effa caught it in midair. "Now," said Siger, the point of his sword at Korryn's waist . "Is it quite as funny when it happens to you? Let's hear you laugh."
The thing I like best about this is that it's not a "my main character knows better than my side characters do!" because it's very, VERY clear that Paks can't even manage that much. This isn't about Korryn's skill, or Paks's skill. This is about Korryn being a dick, know-it-all and blowhard, and his trainer trying to knock him out of it. It's probably more satisfying than seeing the main character do better, because it's not about making Paks look good. From there, we segue into the number of ways newbie soldiers can hurt themselves with practice weapons, and it's a pretty long, decently funny summery of how This Is Not A Game.
And then one of the recruits gets REALLY hurt and we get our first hint of major plot:
"If there'd been a Marshal here—" began Effa.
Devlin interrupted. "No. Don't say that. Not here. Not in this Company."
Effa looked puzzled. "But I thought Phelan's Company recruited mostly Girdsmen— doesn't it?"
"Once it did, but not now."
"But when I joined, and said I was a yeoman, Stammel said it was good."
"Sergeant Stammel, to you. Oh yes, we're glad to get Girdsmen— the more the better. But there'll be no Marshals here, and no grange or barton."
"Effa, leave be." Arñe tapped her arm. "It's not our concern."
Religion is a big deal in this series--one of the reasons I picked it--and this is your first hint that something is probably off in the Company.
This moves into a conversation about gods, and the nature of gods, and how Gird was born human and thus couldn't have become a god, and how very little Paks cares about this.
Chapter two closes with Paks finally scoring a touch on her trainer during practice.
OH MY GOD I forgot how much I love this book. :D