"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.