Monday, March 31, 2014

Paksenarrion--chapter 23

The Duke marches the company up to yet another castle. Paks observes everything and Elizabeth Moon showcases amazing self restraint by not describing the arrow slits above the gate "murder holes". The owner of this castle is old enough to get to call the Duke "Young Phelan" without getting his clock cleaned for it; the Duke is very respectful of this person. The only time he tells the guy off is when he first asks if the women need separate housing, and then implies that maybe having that many women in combat is immoral. The Duke very quickly states that his women are his soldiers, same as the men. Paks' cohort is lead to their barracks. Everybody gets to enjoy watching the count's rather sexist staff stumble over the fact that there's lots of women in the Company.

(Speaking of which, an interesting etamology re: Woman. "Man" means human. Not the gender, necessarily. It's the "wo" that gets tacked onto it that designates a different gender. Basically sticking that "wo" in there means "Something other than human". So yeah, the word "Woman" is intensely sexist.)

Anyhoo, Paks also brings up that Count Sexist also isn't calling the Duke by his title. One of the other soldiers explains that the guy isn't disputing the Duke's title, mostly because the Duke hasn't asked him to acknowledge it. Somehow this is respect on the Duke's part, and it makes me wonder what this Count guy has accomplished that everybody around him is being very, very tolerant of the fact that he's an utter fecking moron.

The next day they march out and work on defending this place from the Honeycat. The Duke most notably does not allow any looting of the random villages they wander into. This continues from town to town until they get word that a large chunk of the Honeycat's army has surrendered to the Golden Company, and told them that the Honeycat is most likely in his own cities. It's time to go squish them.

They get so enthusiastic that several people fall into a fairly basic trap--stake pit hidden behind a barricade--before Stammal can warn them off. Most of them are newbies, though a couple of the injured are vets. The enemy gets away while Paks and her fellows deal with the stake pit. The chapter ends with Paks eyeing the first city this chapter that doesn't belong to Count Sexist Aristocrat. I do not think this city will be standing too much longer.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Paks--chapter 22

So Paks starts training her recruits. The trainer she had came with the newbies, mostly because the Duke didn't leave ANY of them behind and the dude had "nothing to do". He tells her which of her newbies need the most work, and where, and she gets right down to it. Three of 'em listen when she tells 'em they need more work. One of them says that Siger, the trainer, told him he was coming along well.

Paks smiles. And then she beats the confidence out of him and explains exactly what he did wrong.

Then Siger comes over, they pair off, and he beats the confidence out of Paks. Who is absolutely delighted because it's brand new sword work for her to learn. He disarms her, she manages a trick she picked up in battle, and gets a touch on him with her dagger. Everybody applauds, and the newbies look absolutely terrified, as newbies should. She promises that they'll get better.

She keeps tripping over the new Saben, though. She tells the newbies a little about her Saben, and they nod and remain absolutely clueless.

After some reshuffling of the cohorts, the Duke moves them out. Time to hunt the Honeycat. They meet up with the G0olden Company on the road, a mercenary troop run by a woman. Paks considers what this would be like, running her own Company. Eventually, they split back up and head to their next rest point. More worldbuilding ensues until we get to an inn, where Paks and her buddies rest, eat, and drink. In about that order. Two of them stay longer than the others and come back drunk. Paks uses this to explain to her newbies why drinking when marching is a very bad idea.

After another couple days, they're ordered to draw swords and be ready to both march quickly and be ready to fight. The Halvarics have already clashed with the Honeycat's forces, so technically Paks's fight is easier than theirs was. The other side is already bloodied and tired, and Paks's side is fresh as a daisy, relatively. It still takes approximately three seconds for one of her newbies to go down with a broken arm, which she promptly steps on because Battle. One of the other two gets hurt too, so they're both off to the surgeon's tent. When the fighting stops, one of the other cohorts is ordered to persue the enemy, and she gets to go check on her newbies and eat. She gives them the down and dirty--that they did well, but they need more training and "be glad that was your shield arm". And then one of the surgeons goes over to her and chews her out for not getting her own wounds cleaned out the first chance she got.

Next day, they get to take the enemy camp apart. Exciting

They march and find the Halvarics holed up in a tower. They settle in for a siege, but don't have to wait too long. The other guys climb over the wall while Paks is on sentry duty; it takes a while for the rest of the camp to wake up so she's on her own for a decent amount of time. They manage to stay alive, but don't take the tower. Paks then wonders how they'll manage this campaign. The Honeycat isn't with this army, and there's an awful lot of 'em for them to be a set of throw-aways. Vik then tells her a story involving a man and a barrel of ale, and the chapter ends with him telling her the point: When you bite off more than you can chew, take a minute to cut it down to size.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Book update and Paksenarrion chapter 21

Well, kids, now my BACKUP computer has fried itself. The good news is this will probably motivate my housemates to help me get one of the two fixed. I had a discussion with the computer savvy friend-of-a-friend and it's probably the power supply in that one too. Which makes very little sense to me because the backup is only a year old...but it's also an all-in-one, which to me seems like it'd be more likely to have overheating issues, given that it's got less space to work with.

The better news: I do still have access to a computer and my working files, and will be able to continue to write and edit at a sane pace. In the same vein, The next Exiles book, which I intend to serialize a'la Dragonbreath, is one third of the way done, which means ya'll's first chunk is complete. The bad news: Due to the nature of the backup-of-the-backup, I don't have access to a full version of Word, which means I can't format the final files, and I have no access whatsoever to any art programs at all.

THAT SAID: I will shoot for a mid april, early may release date for the next chunk of Starbleached. As I said, I can edit just fine. The friend-of-a-friend will be able to replace the power supply in at least one of our busted computers and I am going to try very hard to get one of 'em working by the end of next week.

So there's that. Now. Book

Chapter 21 starts off with a "Fix the busted morale" feast for Paks' company. Now that they're home, they're sleeping in their old barracks, and there aren't enough people to fill half the beds. Company commanders understand that this is an immediate reminder of the shit they went through at Dwarfwatch, so it's time for a party, speeches, and awards. Everybody who survived Dwarfwatch gets a ring, including Paks. That's the award. The speeches are, basically, "Death to Honeycat", which gets the only real response out of the crowd.

We're introduced to a bunch of the other companies over a briefly summarized winter, and then Stammal and the other sergeants bring in the new recruits. The usual showing off by the vets is accomplished in short order, and Paks gets assigned a few newbies to show around. She manages to remember her own first year without dwelling on her dead friends, which is probably a big accomplishment all on its own. Then Stammal drags her off to have a drink and to get her version of Dwarfwatch out of her.

She agrees, but not before Vik introduces her to his newbies. One of them is named Saben.

The vets get a couple days off, so everybody's heading to the village. Paks puts them off because she and Stammel are heading off for that drink.

She gives them a very choppy version of her hike to find the Duke, neatly avoiding any mention of Canna and Saben past a very general "We" and "They". The other vets quickly switch the conversation over to their own accomplishments. The recruits ask to hear her version in full, and she politely declines, then gets a little more pointed when one of her shadows starts pushing. They get it and shut up.

Stammel lets her know that the recruits were trained in an awful hurry and have even less training than she got, because the Duke is in an incredible hurry to start marching. They small talk for a while and then Stammel takes Paks to the inn and gets her quietly drunk before pulling the whole story out of her. Probably the best therapy she could get, given the time this is set in. He also brings up the issue of sex with Saben, and correctly picks up that Paks feels very guilty that she and Saben never slept together. He tells her that it's natural for friends to want to give everything to friends, that it's obvious Paks doesn't want sex, that it's probably the hardest choice people can make, and that she doesn't need to feel guilty for not sleeping with her best friend before he died.

The entire thing is fucking gorgeous.

Then he asks about the medallion, because it's truly unusual for Canna to have left it to Paks. She brings up the incident with Canna's shoulder. That it was infected before, that nothing happened when they prayed over it, but that from that point on it improved to the point that she could draw a bow a few days later. Stammel gets kind of freaked and suggests that Paks finds a marshal or a preist or something to get the whole story out. He then moves on to advice about the newbies, and the chapter ends with them polishing off the ale and heading back to the keep.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Paksenarrion--chapter 20

Chapter twenty opens with Paks dealing with her greif. She does alright, but the text makes it clear that this is not easy:

She could not talk about it to anyone. She knew that Vik and Arñe watched her, and almost hated them for it. She heard a Halveric ask Barra if she and Saben had been lovers, and did not know which was worse, the question or Barra's scornful negative...For the first time, she wondered what it would have been like to bed him. It was something he had always wanted, and now there was no chance. But if she had—if it hurt more, to lose a lover— she shook her head , and went doggedly on with work she hardly noticed. Better not. She had never wanted to, and surely it would be worse to lose a lover. It was bad enough now.
There is something utterly fucking heartbreaking about that paragraph. It's obvious that Paks really valued her friendship with Saben, equally obvious she had utterly no desire to have sex with him.

It kind of reminds me of the three words the Greeks used for love--Philios, brotherly, Eros, romantic, and agape, usually translated as unconditional. It's scenes like this that make me think of how often we rob the concept of love by making it just that thing that happens before you have sex. You have sex because you want to have sex. Paks loved Sabin unconditionally. She didn't want to screw him, obviously, but she's lost a few friends by now and it's clear this loss cuts much, much deeper than just the death of a good friend. She's lost the best companion she's had so far, and the only way she can deal is to keep on working.

Eventually, Paks has to decide between not caring about her fellows ever again, or caring about them even more--caring about them enough so that the next time, she'll be able to save them. And she decides to do the latter.

She looked at her own hands, broad and strong, skilled— she could still protect, with those hands. She said nothing , and the tears came again, but somewhere inside a tightness eased.

And then they find a tunnel leading from the camp where they found Canna and Saben straight into Rotengre. And I would imagine the people in that city are about to have a very, very, VERY bad day.

Paks is assigned to the wall, the distraction that will let several companies get through that tunnel without any major resistance. She makes it to the top of the wall and, along with several others, gets into the gate tower before it can go into full lockdown. They get the main gate open in short order. Meanwhile the Duke has gotten his people through the tunnel and Paks, once again, finds herself on guard duty well behind the actual fighting.

You'd think all the standing around and watching shit would be boring, but I kind of like it. It's not because Paks is a chick, it's because this is what soldiers do. They stand and watch shit and hope that the shit doesn't start moving, and that if it does, that they can make it stop moving before it escalates to "kill or be killed". And guarding the gatehouse of an unfriendly city is a pretty fucking important job.

And then she does get taken into the city when they take the keep, and one of the vets teaches Paks how to loot.

....she's not real enthusiastic about it. Oh, she grabs enough, but she's not destroying furniture or ransacking overly much. Her attitude is basically "This is cool, this is worth something, this is pretty, and I don't really need too much more than that".

Eventually she gets sick of sack duty and they send her to manage the civilians. A man probably defending his family almost kills Paks in a scene that's presented pretty dispassionately. She's the invading force, she's torn these people's lives apart. We're still on her side, but we're seeing the shitty side to this whole war thing. The family could also have been disguised soldiers--they were all carrying poisoned weapons, and none of them survive long enough to tell. Paks gets a dose of the poison.

They treat her, and make an interesting discovery while searching the bodies.

Under his outer robes he wore a massive silver chain with a curious medallion. As Kir slid it out, the captain swore. Paks peered at it , wondering what was wrong. As big as a man's palm, it looked like a silver spider, legs outstretched on a web.

This is the sign of the Webmistress, and it's enchanted as fuck. They scramble to find a cleric, then get the idea to have Paks shove Canna's Gird medallion on the thing. It doesn't do enough, so Paks has to go off and find a preist. Nobody is happy about having found the fucking thing.

Eventually they've sacked everything they can sack, turn the city over to the coalition of merchants that hired them, pack up and start walking back out again. There's a reminder that a lot of people died, and the chapter ends.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Paksenarrion--chapter 19

The Duke marches on the fort where Paks and company surrendered. He's got Paks with him and we go through a very quick run down of tactics before they run the fort. And when they do, let's just say it's a bad day to be wearing the Honeycat's colors.

She thought of Canna and Saben, and felt a wash of anger erase the last nervousness. I'm going to kill you, she thought as her rank reached the pikes. She ducked under a pike to slash at the enemy. One in the second rank chopped at her; she dodged without thinking and darted between the front pikes while he was still off balance. Her sword almost took his head off. She felt without looking that her companions followed her example, felt the first quiver of yielding as the pikemen realized that these swordsmen were not held off by the bitter tips of their weapons... She fought on; it didn't matter, she was going to kill these scum until she died.
And this, friends and readers, is why you do not treat your prisoners like shit and you fight fair. Because it might feel good to roll the other bad people over, but eventually you're gonna piss off a good person past what they can handle and when that happens, my dears, they will END you. And I'm now STRONGLY nostalgic for the Honor Harrington series because FUCK did you not piss off Honor. (She only got that pissed three times. Two times, she killed the sons of bitches responsible via legal combat, and they absolutely deserved it. The third time she had to be physically restrained because killing wasn't justified. Even though the sons-of-bitches abso-fucking-lutely deserved to be killed horribly and nobody would have minded seeing 'em die. If you want to live long in the Honorverse, don't hurt Honor's people. Just don't.) (Which is why I am WAITING for the next honor book. Somebody killed (GIGANTICALLY CENSORED TRAUMA INDUCING SPOILER) and if they do not get turned into VERY small pieces within very short order I will be VERY put out with the universe.) (Oh, and speaking of which, my dears, the first Honor Harrington book is free. You are welcome and I will be here when you need to cry.) (Which you will) (Frequently)

It turns out that the Halvarics and the duke's men held the fort--barely--so the Honeycat's people basically got jammed into a meatgrinder.  The survivors are VERY happy to be liberated. Also: arming your trained captives when your enemies come to hurt you? REALLY good idea. No, seriously. It saved a lot of lives. Again: This is why you treat prisoners with dignity and respect.

There is still no sign of Sabin or Canna. I think from here on out it is assumed that they are dead.

They find the Duke's commanding captain dying of gangrene on a bed. They have a conversation where the captain apologizes profusely for losing and the Duke assures him that he did nothing wrong, and the Duke is very proud of him. The Captain asks what the losses will do to the Duke's company.

"Do?" The Duke stared at the wall a moment, then smiled at Ferrault. "Ferrault, when I'm done with him, neither Siniava nor his friends nor his followers will have a hut to live in or a stone to mark where they died. I'm going to destroy him, Ferrault, for what he did to you and the Company. We've already destroyed the army he brought north this year, and that's only the beginning."
Paks, who has been walking around this entire time with a bone bruise and a cracked rib from the fight, is FINALLY made to go sit down and rest. When she wakes up, the Duke rounds up the survivors--it doesn't take long, though most of the command structure is dead--and gives 'em a speech that is basically what that says up there. He gets a bit more elaborate, though:

"Yes," he said firmly. "We can do that, and we will. You already know other companies are with us: the Clarts, the Halverics, Vladi's spears. More will join us. I pledge you, sword-brethren, that until this vengeance is complete, I will consider no other contract, and all I have will support this campaign." The Duke drew his sword and raised it in salute to the Company. "To their memory," he said. "To vengeance." And the Company growled in response : vengeance.

To recap: These morons have pissed a bunch of mercenaries off so hard that a mercenary company, which is essentially a corporation that thrives on paid murder, is going to go WITHOUT PAY until the Honeycat and his people are squished. And not just go without pay, but dedicate ALL of its reserve resources to the squishing.

They. Are So. Very. Dead.

Then the Duke hauls up individual soldiers--both genders representing--to distribute awards for valor. Eventually he hauls Paks up to the front.

"You have no captain to speak for you," he said. "Nor sergeants , nor corporals. Yet your deeds speak aloud without their aid. I cannot pick and choose among you; I will have made for each of you, from these spoils, a ring to commemorate your deeds. But those to whom you owe your lives, who brought me word of your peril: even among such honor, they deserve honor. Three started: Canna Arendts, Saben Kanasson, and Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter. "Here is a ring ," he said, "that I think best represents your deed. Three strands, for the three who started together, braided into one: the one who succeeded, the message, for returning to the place you began.

Paks reflects for a moment that this is NOT how she wanted to win glory--not over her friends' graves--and the Duke moves on. He tells them who they are to regroup under--their commander, and HIS commander, are both dead, and most of their cohort is too--and then dismisses them for the evening.

And then the Halvaric's commander shows up. The dude whose son the Honeycat shot out of the saddle for shits and giggles.


 They sort out VERY quickly that nobody is ANYBODY'S captive and move on to the "let's go hunt down the shithead" arrangements. Also funeral arrangements, because a lot of their people are dead now.

And then we get a rather nice plot bomb during the actual funeral.

Then the Duke signalled his piper, and a tune Paks had never heard before seemed to drag all the sorrow and anger out of her heart with its own bitterness. It was the "Ar hi Tammarion," the lament written for the death of the Duke's lady by the half-elven harper at the Court of Tsaia , and not since then played openly. Paks did not know the history of the song, but felt its power, as the rough wind dried tears she had shed without knowing it.
Tammarion, if you remember, is the woman mentioned during Paks' trial. She's also the woman that Paks has been compared to favorably on more than one occasion. INTERESTING.

They march back to Rotengre. The soldier who gave Paks a rough time on her return trip shows up and is VERY apologetic, and Paks is graceful about accepting his apology. Offers of ale are made, which Paks refuses. Then the Duke calls her up because he might have news about Sabin and Canna. And it probably isn't good.

It isn't.

The surgeon says Saben had taken a hard blow to the head, and probably never woke up. He died soon after they were found. Canna was not badly wounded in the fight, but when the brigands realized their hideout had been found, they tried to kill all their prisoners before they fled. Though she was still alive when the militia got in, she died several days later, here in camp. She knew you had made it, and that we'd defeated Siniava's army on the road and gone on north. The surgeon said she wanted you to have her medallion, and wanted you to know you did the right thing. She was glad you made it through; he said she died satisfied."

She gave Paks her Gird medallion, which is odd because usually those get sent back to the granges, the Girdish form of churches. The Duke also recovered the little horse she'd given Saben. He packs the rest of Sabin's things up to send to his family. He gives her a drink and sends her out of the tent to steady herself. She finds the other survivors of the cohort and collapses.

"We were so close," she whispered, as tears ran down her face. "Only a few more miles, and they—" She could not go on. Arñe got up and put an arm around her shoulders; they all sat together a long time in silence.

End of chapter.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Paksenarrion--chapter 17+18

Paks and company get surprised by a boy minding his pigs. They elect not to kill him and get directions to civilization. They get to a house, and send Saben up to get food and directions, while they watch from the trees. The woman of the house first tries to get him to come inside, then PUMPS him for information--are you alone? Where's your home?--and she's being REALLY congenial to a random dude who probably looks like he rolled in the mud, given that Saben, Canna and Paks have all been sleeping rough the last few days. Saben finally tells her that he deserted his unit for a girl, and the two armed men the women was hiding inside the house book it out the back door while she goes to get the food. Paks's nerves go up higher. The armed dudes start crawling along the house and the fence line, watching Saben the entire time while they stay out of his line of sight.

Not. Good.

Finally, Saben turns to leave, and the woman shouts "Help theif" which sends the armed guys running in her direction. Paks breaks the tree line and clashes with the guys with swords, Canna gets herself a hidden bowman, they all take care of the problem and set to interrogating the woman who set up this half-assed ambush.

They get a "DON'T search my house!" that sounds a bit too much like "DON'T throw me in the briar patch!" so they figure there's more in the house and go up for a looksie. Paks and Canna take care of the trio they find, get food, and come back out, tie up the woman and then head out. Eventually they find a road they recognize.

Chapter Eighteen:

They missed the armed band until they were face to face. Eight heavily armed brigands in scale and chain mail, with good swords at their sides, seemed to spring from the trees to surround them. Two had shields.


They fight until Paks takes a tumble down a riverbank, and Saben tells her to run for it. She's lost her sword, but she's clear of the fight, so that's exactly what she does. Eventually she makes it up the banks and takes off into the woods. She makes it to the road and then, FINALLY, makes it to the duke's company.

And immediately gets called out by somebody who doesn't know her for being a fucking mess. Because when you survive, you're not usually shining like a daisy. Eventually they make it to somebody who knows Paks--Barri, the abrasive female recruit from way back with the shitty attitude about rape. Paks insists she has to see the duke--NOW.

Nobody goes along with it--they figure she broke her parole--until she mentions the Honeycat. She's not too coherant--she's exhausted and she's been running for several days by now, not to mention she is absolutely, in every sense of the word, filthy. The Duke gets the handful of coherant fragments Paks can put together, realizes the Honeycat is on his way, and starts moving.

She also tells him that Sabin and Canna were attacked somewhere up the road, and feels like an ass for not saying anything earlier. By this time they got some kind of stimulant into her and she is a little--VERY little--more coherant. She collapses for good not too long after sending help for Sabin and Canna.

When she wakes up, she hears a squire criticizing her and the Duke defending her. That doesn't sound so good. She goes out and they pump her for more information, including how the Honeycat is marching on the Duke's position. The commander of the guys who took the fort the first time around is listening in on the conversation. It sounds like the Honeycat killed a lot of his people too, and he looks pissed. 

 The Duke marches out, but he leaves Paks behind because she needs rest, and because the scribe can get all the information she has to offer, which is really more valuable than her sword right now.

The Duke gets back. He saved some of the prisoners, but not all of them. Paks doesn't ask who survived, as that's a touchy subject and she can probably pry it out of somebody less scary. She gets permission to head out with him the second time around, though she is to rest whenever she needs to.

Chapter eighteen ends with the Duke making revenge plans, but not before he tells Paks that she has done a very, very good job.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Paksenarrion--chapter 15-16

So Paks and her friends are trying to get back to the City of Robbers so they can tell the Duke that the rest of their garrison, and the dudes who took them hostage the first time, have all been taken hostage AGAIN. Only by way worse dudes, so this time the Duke might want to step on it.

It's also really likely that she, Saben and Canna are lost. They're kind of trying to figure that out right now. They get their bearings when they find the road...which is overrun by enemy soldiers almost immediately. Not good. Even better--they can't ask for food without endangering whoever they buy from, because they're wearing the Duke's colors, but they can't ditch the colors either, because then they'll be taken for bandits.

They eventually creep up on a farm to steal food, only to discover that the bad guys were there first, and the first thing they did was kill, maim and otherwise  violate the farmers.  They're also cooking a cow, which they abandon in a hurry because they have to high-tail it back to the garrison full of hostages. Because they'll be leaving soon.

Canna tells Paks not to think about what might be happening to their people. Paks can't stop thinking about it. Saben is still weepy over the farmers' families because they're a lot like his family too.

Reprovisioned, they take a second to look over Canna's wound. It doesn't look too bad, but she's got an open wound through the shoulder, and she's been crawling through the mud. They clean and treat it as best they can, and the chapter ends with them setting off.

Next chapter, they manage to make it through the night; Canna's wound is getting worse. Paks asks Canna if Gird, Canna's god, wouldn't heal her. Canna is aghast that Paks knows Gird does this sometimes. Apparently it's trade secret, and anyway it takes a Marshal or a Paladin--first mention of the latter--to heal.

"We could try," said Paks. Canna stared at her
. "What are you, a paladin in disguise? You aren't even a Girdsman." 
"No, that's true. But we need you to be well and strong."
 "I'm— oh, all right. If you want to. It can't do any harm."
They try. Something happens, but it's real vague and all Canna volunteers is that she can breathe a little easier now. She's doing well enough to suggest that maybe all the crossroads will be watched, and they'll need to be extra careful. They clear a few patrols, then run smack into a mounted rider. Paks handles it by throwing her pack at him, then running at him with her dagger. It's the only weapon she's got. Canna comes up from behind and kills the guy, while Saben takes care of the horse so it doesn't return to its stables riderless.

Canna's wound is doing better, though Paks is a little more banged up from the fight. They spend the next several days dodging patrols and fires--from villages and settlements the bad guys murdered and torched--and the chapter ends with them deciding that splitting up is still a really bad idea.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Paksenarrion chapter 14

Just so you know, the next few chapters made Young CW cry.

So Paks, Saben and Canna are off picking berries. Paks has Probable Feelings for Saben, Saben has Serious Feelings for Paks, and Canna is Just Cool in General. As Young CW had never encountered GRR Martin, she had no idea how bad this combo is re: plot matters. I hope you brought kleenex.

The Halvarics sounds Obvious Alarm. Paks is not yet practiced enough to understand that Obvious Alarm means You Fucking Run For The Nearest Weapon And God Help You If You Are Slow. Her buddies also stand their like idiots and watch a massive collum of People march on the fort. They don't start moving until the enemy start shooting their own people, and of course by now the only place they can run is for the nearst pile of brush. This gets Canna shot in the shoulder. Bonus points for her, she makes no noise whatsoever. But now they're in the middle of an ambush with one third of their party mortally wounded. Good going Paks.

 They pull the arrow from Canna's shoulder. Somehow this manages to neither kill nor cripple her (There are several major veins, arteries and nerves, not to mention bones, in that very small, cramped space. If an arrow isn't lodged in a bone, odds are it's lodged in something even less arrow-friendly.)

Also: the enemy clearly wants to rape the women in Paks's little party. Nice.

So now they have to hike to Rotengre with a wounded girl. So they do the smartest thing they can: Stuff themselves with food. No, really, this is smart. Food is important, and they've been gathering berries for hours. Vitimine C is strong with berries, it'll ward off infection in Canna and it'll give Sabin and Paks the energy to make it to the city. NEVER underestimate the value of food.

They also have cheese and meat, which are apparently Fantasy World Staples. They give these to Canna because they figure she needs them.

tone. "I know neither of you are Girdsmen, but— I wish you would join me in prayer. At least for the confusion of our enemies." "That I'll go along with," said Saben. "But won't Gird be angry if non-Girdsmen pray in his name?" "No," replied Canna. "He welcomes all honorable warriors." She reached into her tunic, the cloth rustling as she moved, and pulled out her holy symbol. Paks heard the faint chinking of the links of the chain. "Holy Gird, patron of warriors, protector of the weak, strengthen our arms and warm our hearts for the coming battles. Courage to our friends, and confusion to our enemies."
I really, really love this. I DO believe that God answers even the prayers of non-believers and it's kind of awesome to see that kind of thing in print. (It's also why I find LKH's faith-based protections offensive. God wants to preserve people, IMHO; making their safety and salvation be dependent on how strongly they believe seems kind of self-defeating in my book. He fucking DIED for you. He can weather your non-belief just fine) Anyhoo, it gives God (in whatever form) an existance beyond the faith. Gird, in this case, is less dependant on your legalism. He cares more about how much help you actually need right now.

They weather the first night intact. They make it almost to dawn when they hit the enemy's first patrol. Not good. The best part is they identify the hostage-taker as the Honeycat. Which isn't exactly a positive.

They have a breif arguement over who is in command. Canna wins, with Paks as a second. And then this happens:

"Another thing— if one of us is caught , or killed, or— or whatever— the others must go on. Someone has to get to the Duke, no matter what, or the whole thing is wasted. Clear?"
Paks and Saben protest, naturally. It's all for one, one for all, right? Canna is quick to set them straight:

"We're warriors first," said Canna firmly. "That's what we're here for. If you accept my command, you must accept this. We're warriors , and our duty is to our Duke. He's the only one who can help the rest, anyway. I'd leave you— I wouldn't want to, but I would. And you'll leave me, if it comes to that, rather than let the whole cohort be lost, and the Company after it."

I kind of want to marry this.

The chapter ends with Paks hearing some kind of drum.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Paksenarrion--chapter 13

Just a one off tonight kids. Got a lot of stuff to take care of tomorrow.

On the plus side, the next Starbleached book (Working title: Fortitude) is drafted and in its cooldown phase. I'm now working on the next Exiles book. So you finally have something to look forward to!

So our chapter opens with Paks marching to the seige. It becomes real clear that the bad guys know the Company is on its way. Lots of the vets are groaning. We get a nice list of all the cities Paks is marching through before she gets to her destination:

Even from a distance, Rotengre looked more formidable than the other cities, more like an overgrown fort: high, steep walls, massive towers, all out of proportion to the breadth. It was shaped somewhat like a rectangle with the corners bitten off; its long axis ran north and south, with the only two gates on the short ends. Paks decided that the tales must be true— it was a city built for trouble, not for honest trade.
They march, their allies join them, and the folks in Rotengre withdraw into their city and slam the gates shut. The seige has begun.

The descriptions can basically be summed up thusly: Paks is so bored she'd rather be digging latrines than standing at front line duty. Because seiges are boring as fuck and everybody hates them. It's also fucking hot. So when Paks gets ordered to hike up north to relieve a garrison, she's like "Cool beans. I'll go" and gets right to marching.

They get to the fort just in time for it to get put under seige.They let things run for about an hour and then start talking surrender. Mostly because they are mercenaries and they don't give a fuck about holding it, they just don't want to die.

Donag nodded at the siege engines rolling down the slope toward the bridge. "We will sooner or later. We can hold it a week, maybe, if we've water enough. But we'd take heavy losses, and they'd break through in the end. Tir's guts, I wasn't looking forward to being a captive again."
That last sentence makes me giggle like a little girl.

Donag explains that they'll be counted, tallied, probably given a pretty generous parole, and held onto until the Duke pays ransom. The biggest rule is "Don't fuck the enemy, it's bad manners and beneath our dignity when we're their prisoners. Wait until after we get ransomed." Sounds nice and almost bloodless, right?

...yeah, I have been cringing in anticipation of this next sequence of events.

There's an interesting moment when they are ordered to disarm. Paks does not want to surrender her sword. For a moment she imagines rushing the enemy, then elects to lay her sword down gently, rather than just dropping it. It's kind of pretty, and it defines her character for others, later.

 As Paks slipped her dagger from its sheath, she felt a heavy cold weight dragging at her. She was not even tempted to use the dagger. It seemed that nothing could ever be right again. To stand unarmed in the midst of armed troops, defeated without a fight, was the worst thing she could imagine. But with the others she marched back, under guard, to await events.
Paks is also reluctant to agree to the terms of parole. One of the enemy captains talks her into it by explaining that, between mercs, it's all just a kind of game, and there's no honor lost in surrendering right now. Then he goes into lecture mode and gives all the newbies a good, long education in why Respecting Each Others' Prisoners Is Important. (basically, so you don't get treated like shit when it's your turn in the shackles. Which they're not using here, because respecting each others' prisoners is important.)

They are eventually allowed to leave the keep and pick berries. Paks does this as often as she can. This makes sure that she, Saben and Canna are outside of the city when the next shoe falls.

End of chapter.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Paksenarrion--chapter 11 and 12

Okay, updatey things first. The next starbleached book is almost finished. I have about two scenes left. Suffice to say that Antidepressants FUCKING ROCK, and I'm wandering around going "Is this normal? Is this how normal people feel? Is something wrong? Did they put me on too high a dose? Are there rainbows shooting out of my ass? WHAT IS THIS?" At one point I asked my mom, who has more mental health training than I do, to go down the manic episode checklist, and at the end of it she was like "No, you don't have a problem. You're just normal." We're watching me kind of close and I'm going back in to see my caseworker later this week and the doctor later this month, but so far it's like WOW.

And that's what chemical depression is, children. It's not a feeling, it's not something you can think your way through. YOUR BRAIN IS SICK IT IS NOT WORKING CORRECTLY.

Also, I'm in the process of arranging for a summer job, as once the school year ends I will be out of work. There is an AMAZING chance on the table right now that has (as far as I know) absolutely nothing to do with writing or art but everything to do with potentially crafty things and positivity and working with special needs people all summer long. I have no idea what that'll do to other things I had planned for the summer (Derail them, most likely) but an awful lot of me is like OH MY GOD I CANNOT AFFORD NOT TO DO THIS.

So anyway...really good book.

Paks rejoins her company. They routed the enemy, but re-enforcements are arriving and the other side is gonna have another go. Paks takes a minute to look at her allies, including their livery, which is described really well and seems pretty realistic.The next battle happens and Paks does rather well.

Eventually Paks asks why they're fighting over the same stretch of ground without trying to take the other guy's camp. Her shadow, who is still an asshole, explains:

"Why don't they want to fight and win?" she asked one night.
 "Don't complain," said Donag. "If they wanted to win— I suppose you mean Foss Council?— it'd be our blood on the ground, and not their militia's. Think about it. They want to win , but what they want to win is whatever it is they're fighting about: where a border is, or a caravan tariff , or something like that. If they can convince Czardas to yield on that, without us having to cut our way through the entire Czardian army, so much the better."

Yep. Nobody got a horse in this battle, my friends, except the people paying money. So they'll make a lot of noise and some people will get dead, and eventually the two parties who actually do give a fuck about things will wind up at the negotiating table.

Kind of dispiriting, isn't it?

Tactics go back and forth, and eventually that's exactly what happens: The treaty gets signed in favor of Paks' employers, rather than the other guy's, and most of the Company survives to be glorified caravan guards for the rest of the season. Paks gets paid.

Apparently the currancy in this relm is not only gendered, it's also pretty sexist.

Anyhoo, Paks is going to try to save most of hers up so she can pay her father for the dowery that never was. Frankly I'd let Dad swing, seeing as how he paid it before he got his daughter's consent, but Paks loves her family, so she's gonna squirrel most of it away.

And then most of the veterans take most of the recruits off to show them how not to get robbed in a tavern. Or rather, how to pick good taverns so they don't get robbed.

"Is Foss so dangerous?" asked Saben. "And who'd attack us? We're armed," said Paks. "It's exactly that attitude ," said Stammel severely, "that loses good fighters every year. With the Company , you're good. But alone, in an alley with thieves— no. If you're lucky you wake up in the morning with a lump on your head and no money. Unlucky, you find yourself in a slaver's wagon with a sack over your head and a brand— or maybe just dead. You youngsters don't know the first thing about cities —well, maybe Vik and Jorti do— and that's why you'll come with me this time."
There's a nice scene in one tavern where a guy cat-calls Paks, who freezes for multiple reasons, and Stammel explains that she could kill the idiot, and he should know because he trains her. The guy promptly shits himself and goes away. Then there's a shopping scene that finally gives us a decent list of this world's gods:

She found the surprise for Saben several shops down. Here were trays of religious symbols, carved of the appropriate stone or metal. Most she did not know. The crescent and cudgel of Gird were familiar, and the Holy Circle, and the wheatsheaf of the Lady of Peace. The sword of Tir was there, both plain and cleverly set with a tiny jewel in the pommel. But whose was the leaping fish, or the tree, or the arch of tiny stars ? She looked at tiny golden apples, at green leaves, at anvils, hammers, spears, fox or wolf heads, little human figures clothed in flowers (swirling hair made the loop for hanging). Here was the antlered figure of Guthlac, and the double-faced head of Simyits, a harp for Garin, the patron of harpers, and shears for Dort, the patron of sheepshearers and all in the wool trade. Then she saw the little red stone horse, and remembered Saben's words that day in the stronghold. She looked up and found the shopkeeper watching her. She glanced around; Saben was in the next shop, pricing combs for his sisters.

The chapter ends with her giving Saben the horse, and him giving her a comb he tricked her into picking out herself.

Next chapter: Paks and Saben are talking during guard duty about their plans for the future. Saben eventually asks if Paks would like to be more than friends.

"Saben, you know I—"
 "You don't want it. I know. Not from me or anyone. Well, I'm not asking: just if you did ever change. If it was just Korryn, I mean." 
Paks ducked her head lower and stared at the ground. "No. Even before. I just don't feel that way."
 He sighed. "I'm glad it wasn't Korryn. Don't worry; I won't bother you." 
She looked up. "You never have."

Short, sweet, to the point, and IMHO it shows that this is an awesome friendship. Saben would rather not ruin it by pushing for sex. Even though he really likes Paks. And then he basically spoils major plot points by teasing her:

Saben nodded. "Lady Paksenarrion, in shining armor on a great war-horse, with a magic sword—don't laugh at me, companion! Here I'm giving you a good-luck prophecy and you laugh at me. Ha! See if I ever warn you about overhoning your blades again."

Eventually someone--not them--spots the Duke coming in. Apparently the Wolf Prince has been hitting the wounded of every mercenary company he can find, and the Duke would really like to make that stop. He doesn't take Paks, though, so we have to wait for Barra to them all about it. Basically, they attacked his stronghold and broke it,saw the condition the servants and prisoners were in, and decided killing every soldier loyal to the Wolf Prince, as well as the Prince himself, was the absolute best thing they could do.

Vik comments at how Barra's difficult to deal with. Paks defends her on the basis of Barra being a good fighter. Vik then goes into a FUCKING BEAUTIFUL speech about how you can't be that black and white--if you don't learn to judge people by who they are, and not just on how much you like them, or want to like them, you can get hurt pretty badly.

You've told us you always wanted to be a fighter, a fighter for good, right?" He waited for her nod before going on. "Well, you're so intent on that— you don't see other things. You see people as good or bad, not in between; as fighters or not, and not in between . And since you're basically a good person, you see most people as good— but most people, Paks, are in between— both as fighters, and as good or bad. And they're different. If you don't learn to see them straight— just as you'd look at a sword, knowing all swords aren't alike— you'll depend on them for what they don't have."
Paks and the other recruits are now past their first year. There's a long sequence to show how she's matured, and how she's accepted by the Company as a veteran. The next batch of recruits come in, and Paks finds out about the trick they played on her the first day she arrived:

"Just hang about as if you didn't know they were coming," said Donag, grinning . "Keep close to the yard. When the captain yells, throw yourself into position, fast. Whoever's closest, go for the front; never mind your usual position. What counts is speed. They don't know where we're supposed to be, and they'll be too scared to notice. Be sure to keep a straight face— they'll be funny, but don't laugh."
Stammel is not her sargent anymore. Instead she gets a difficult-at-first female sargent who Paks eventually warms up to. Then they get their next contract:

This year's contract was very different. "It's a siege," explained Donag, who had used his own mysterious contacts to find out. "The Guild League cities are joining to siege and assault another city, halfway across Aarenis. They're hiring several companies as well as their own militia. I think our contract's with Sorellin, but the others are supporting it."

The city they're fighting is a haven for theives. The bad news is it'll probably last a long time. The Good news is, unless they hire the Honeycat the theives won't have any support at all.

Yeah. Guess who the theives are going to hire.

Anyhoo, the chapter ends with Paks feeling rather confused, but upbeat: At least she'll be marching to someplace she hasn't seen before.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Paksenarrion chapter 9-10

There's a lot of marching and a lot of worldbuilding--rained out, irritated merchants, landlords who don't want to deal with said rained out merchants.

"Guild League cities, that is. Those on the north caravan route, not the Immer route." Paks felt that this explained nothing. Stammel noticed her blank look. "Don't you know anything about the south , about Aarenis?" 
"It's where some spice comes from, and fancy embroidery," said Paks.
I heart you Paks. Please don't change too much.

So Stammel breaks down a breif history of the world for Paks, and it is LOOOOOOONNNNNNNG on the infodumping, but it kind of makes since as Paks knows ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ABOUT HER UNIVERSE. Then he moves on to "Yeah, the Duke has standards, but he's gonna fight for whoever pays the best who isn't actively shitting on decent people." which makes a couple of the other guys go "HUH I THOUGHT ALL MERCS WERE THE SAME."

"What do you mean, we're an honorable company?" asked Barra. "Aren't all companies much alike?" 
"Tir, no! I wish they were. The good ones—mostly northern— agree on some things— we won't harbor each other's criminals or traitors, we won't torture prisoners , we treat prisoners fairly, and so forth. We don't steal supplies from peasants, or destroy crops if we can avoid it. We compete, but we know there's wars enough to keep us all employed; we don't try to kill each other off, except in battle . And that's our business. But there are some others—"

Pont gets into the "scare the recruit shitless" action, and begins feeding them stories about the Wolf Prince, an all around scoundril who will do ANYTHING to win. Huh. Gee, hope he doesn't show up later.

(Hint: He shows up later)

Another merc is mentioned--the Honeycat--and Paks is told they'll probably meet him later in this campaign. One of the other recruits is having a lot of trouble with the "Surrender when we tell you" part of being a mercenary.

Effa was still arguing, talking about St . Gird and the honor of a warrior, and Arñe, as usual , was trying to shut Effa up. "Effa," said Pont finally, "if you wanted to be that sort of warrior —a paladin or something like that— you should have talked to your Marshal about joining a fighting order—" "He said I should get experience," said Effa, red-faced. "You'll get that here," said Pont. "And even Marshals and paladins, Effa, must follow orders—" "But they don't surrender! They fight to the death—" "Not always," said Bosk. "I've known them to retreat: any good warrior must learn when to withdraw."
All of that is really important and will not even START to payoff until the end of the book.

Paks sees mountains for the first time. She reacts to them just about the same way I did. (OOOOOOOH SHIIIIIIIINY)

Eventually they reach a very pretty valley that is absolutely SWARMING with other merc companies. One of them rather pointedly hints that they'll be clashing with Duke Phelan (AKA Paks's) company real soon.

And then Paks gets a shithead of a shadow to help her survive the war.

"Are you the one that got Stephi in such trouble?" Paks froze; she had relaxed too soon. Donag interpreted her silence to suit himself. "I thought so. You ought to be ashamed enough to keep quiet. A good friend he's been to me, Stephi— cause more trouble , and you won't see the north again." He glowered at her a moment longer. "They say you can fight; it had best be true."

And then when they reach the next rest point, Stephi himself shows up and heads over to talk to Paks.

I have no idea how I feel about this other than creeped the fuck out. Yes, the guy was drugged and TECHNICALLY the incident counts as a rape of him too, but GOOOOOOD is this creepy.

The upshot, though, is that Stephi drags Donag off for a nice talk and after that, he's nicer to Paks.

Some of the vets are friendlier than Donag. Canna is nice to Paks. She's important later. There's more marching.

Chapter nine ends and chapter ten begins with the enemy showing up.

Paks gets the shakes almost immediately. She stands her ground, but it's her first battle and there are a lot of bad guys out there.

She fights, manages her first kill, and gets herself seriously wounded within a few paragraphs. Not bad for her first time. Stammel sends her to the back of the line for medical attention. They hold her down, treat her wound, and drug her unconsious with herbs mixed with wine, because there's no pain meds in this universe.

There's also no antibiotics, so Paks immediately gets very sick and recovers very slowly. They send her off the front lines to one of the supply cities as soon as she's able to walk. In a wagon.

She settled into the second of five wagons, bedded deep in straw and braced into a corner against the jolting ride. Four others shared the wagon: Callexon, a recruit in Dorrin's cohort, with his broken leg bound in splints, a veteran with a huge lump on his head who never woke up, a woman named Varne , from Cracolnya's cohort, who had been burned by flaming oil, and Effa, who had been trampled by a warhorse and would never walk.

I'm gonna confess: At this point in the novel I was really attached to Effa, and it made me very sad that she was paralyzed. But not nearly as sad as the next part:

She was wakened by a scream and a jolt that wrenched her leg. She opened her eyes to see Vanza hurtling out the back of their wagon, sword in hand . Out the front she could see strange horses and masked riders with black wolf's heads on their red jerkins.

The Wolf Prince is after Duke Phelan's wounded, and this includes Paks. One of the "fun" aspects of his MO is that he'll hold people ransom...but only for three days. Pay in coin or jewels, or you get your people back in itty bitty pieces. The mules on Paks's wagon bolt as soon as the fighting starts, and she spends a lot of her time alternating between dodging weapons and trying to get the bits back out of the mules' teeth. Another wagon manages to get away, but it breaks down before they get too far. They unload all the wounded and start trying to fix the wagons. Paks tunes out and is someplace safe when she tunes back in. She gets healed by magic, probably the first serious mention in the book. The wizard is a dude named Vetrifuge.

That's the best wizard name in the history of things.

Duke Phelan himself interviews her because she was consious during the attack, and she played a pretty good role in it herself, getting the horses out. She gives him enough information to know who attacked his wounded, and he promises her that she'll be right as rain in a few days, and ready to kill everybody that threatened to hurt her friends.

The chapter ends with a long discussion of the nature of theology and magic, and how everything has a price.

I seriously love this book.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Paksenarrion--chapter 7+8

Chapter seven opens with prep for the mysterious Duke's arrival. It takes a few paragraphs and covers pretty much everything--they have to basically scrub everything, including the latrines, with the medival version of a toothbrush, and they're not allowed into the actual hall at all. Paks then pulls guard duty. There's a very brief description of the sky, relevant stars, and how Paks feels about them (IE the setting of a particular constallation means she's closer to the end of a miserable watch).

 Of course that means she's the first to catch the flash of armor that means the Duke and his soldiers are on their way. She gets ushered back to the other recruits to parade for them--though it takes an INCREDIBLY long and detailed description of the sunrise for us to get to the actual flashy thing.

The Duke arrives:

"Welcome, my lord Duke," he said. The cloaked figure pushed back the fur-edged hood, revealing rumpled red hair above a bearded face.
"Early for breakfast, I'd have thought," said the Duke. "What sharp eyes spotted us this time?"
 "A recruit, my lord," said Valichi. 
The Duke scanned each of the recruit units; Paks felt his gaze like a dagger blade, cold and keen. Then he grinned at Valichi. "Well," he said, "let's keep that one. Good work, Captain."
The Duke's last name is Phelan. He spends the next few days inspecting everything and, on occasion, eating in the recruit's mess. The only mention of the trial is when Paks wonders what the Duke did to Stephi. She doesn't ask anyone. The recruits figure out pretty damn fast that they're being tested informally, and they push themselves pretty hard--mostly resulting in minor injuries. On the last day they form up and the Duke gives a little speech. It's short and kind of pretty. Paks unit, of course, is allowed to march out of the training area first.

Then they all go get their armor and weapons issued. This happens:

"Make up your minds," said Stammel, "how you're going to wear your hair. If it's long, I'd say keep it inside the helmet, hot as it is, or some enemy will grab it and throw you. It'll make a cushion." Paks found a way of winding her braid that was comfortable and secure. But the helmet was heavier than she'd expected. So was everything else.
It's a really minor point, but the one thread--it doesn't even count as a plot point--that I remember best from this book is Paks' hair. It's a really minor detail that evolves as her character evolves.

They march. Paks reflects on how much she's changed since she started this trip. It's been pretty much a full year since she signed on, if I'm reading it right. Along the way she accepts that she is now a mercenary. Along the march Paks overhears a lot of shouted hints and comments on what lies ahead of her.  Eventually they hit a city, and Paks's small-town girl brain promptly explodes. Eventually they reach a courtyard and settle down for dinner. The conversations indicate that the Company has been through here. Several times.

Paks also sees her first elf.

"You mean you don't know? It's a good thing you didn't point. That was an elf, from Lyonya or the Ladysforest, a messenger to the Council."
 "Elf—" Paks and Saben looked at each other. "Will we see more of elves and dwarves and things like that?" asked Paks.
 Bosk spat. "I hope not. Uncanny, they are, and unfriendly, too. We don't have much to do with them , and the less the better, I say."
They also name-drop another type of elves, the kuaknom. This won't materialize for a while, so we can just ignore it for now.

They swap stories for the night--there's a really good description of a chandelier as seen by a poor person--and move out the next day.  In the rain.

It's miserable. Moving on.

Eventually they hit a bog they can't march through, in what ought to be a road. Stammel's captian, Pont, orders Paks and the others to fill the bog in with most of the nearest wall. 

The chapter ends with Paks and the others making it to something resembling shelter.