Chapter 9

They’d not left the campsite for half an hour before it got worse.

“We agreed to pool our men together, Ferranda,” Augusto Cerdan shouted. “You would go back on your word?”

“I gave no word,” Lady Ferranda Villazur evenly replied, “and go back on nothing. If you assumed, Cerdan, that is on your head alone.”

The eldest of the Cerdan brothers was the one barking the loudest but he was not the one Angharad was wary of. Twice now Remund had tried to catch Cozme Aflor’s eye, to give him a silent order, and only the retainer’s obstinate pretence he had not noticed was preventing that disaster in the making. Isabel had retreated behind her maids, wisely so, but the rest of the infanzones were at each other’s throats: Lady Ferranda and her hired huntsman Sanale standing on one side, the Cerdans and their retainers on the other.

The Cerdan valet, Gascon, had pulled a pistol out of his blue-and-red livery and his impressive moustache bristled with his masters’ anger. Lord Augusto had not drawn his sword, for all the red flush of his face, but his younger brother’s left hand was kept under his cloak and to Angharad’s eye the stance spoke of his holding either a pistol or a knife. Master Cozme, the real fighter of the lot, had pointedly refrained from reaching for a weapon but Lady Ferranda still kept a hand on the grip of the slender sword at her hip. She must be feeling the weight of the numbers arrayed against her.

“Turn on us now and we will remember it, Villazur,” Remund sneered. “It is all of your house that will feel the displeasure of the Cerdan.”

Angharad’s teeth clenched. That, she thought, was a step too far. By the open disgust on Song’s face and the blankness on Brun’s, she was not the only one to think as much. Lady Ferranda’s eyes went cold.

“Watch your tongue, you viperous brat,” she said. “If you threaten my kin again, I swear by the Manes there will be blood.”

Remund smiled, triumph in his eyes.

“See, I told you she was against us,” the Cerdan announced to all. “For all we know she was the one who killed that Tianxi peasant. What if she comes back to attack us in the night? We can’t afford to let her loose.”

Angharad had been reluctant to step in, for the affairs of the infanzones were theirs to settle, but when Remund’s claim was answered by the sound of Ferranda Villazur unsheathing her rapier she knew the time for such courtesy was past. She cleared her throat, shoulders tensing.

“You have made a grave accusation, Lord Remund,” Angharad stated. “Kindly either prove or withdraw it.”

The infanzon’s dark eyes swept the crowd, but as he did his face reddened. The Cerdan had made few friends and none now cared to back the youngest’s wild accusation. Remund tugged at his blue doublet’s high collar, nervousness seeping into his eyes as it sunk in he might be short of defenders.

“You are here at our sufferance, Tredegar,” he began. “You-”

Brun took a measured step closer to Angharad’s side, hand on his hatchet. The sight of it had Remund trailing off.

“I would like to hear your proof as well, Lord Remund,” Brun said.

The weight of Song’s silver eyes burned against the side of Angharad’s face for a long moment, before the Tianxi idly took a step closer to them both. She did not reach for her musket but the implication was clear.

“My brother spoke in anger and shamed himself,” Augusto Cerdan suddenly cut in. “He never meant to impugn Lady Ferranda’s reputation.”

Remund’s face twisted in fury, as much turned on his now-smiling brother as Angharad herself. She met his gaze, unimpressed. Though it was true that the company assembled at the beginning of the trial had ended, and so the oath not to do violence on one another as well, Lady Ferranda had given them no reason to bare steel.

“Do you withdraw your accusation, Remund?” the fair-haired Villazur bit out.

Movement to the side as Isabel strode past her maids, shaking her head.

“Of course he does, Ferranda, do not be silly,” Isabel said. “You know how men’s tempers are, he was only angered you would leave us so. I’m sure he is most sorry.”

A pause.

“Naturally,” Remund said, after a beat. “It is as Isabel says.”

And so, Angharad noted, he was spared from having to recant and apologize with his own words. Cleverly done, if Isabel’s intent was to spare him further humiliation, but the Pereduri’s lips thinned. One’s honour should not be left in another’s hands. The ploy reminded her all too much of the tales Mother had told her of the High Queen’s court, of courtiers confessing to the misdeeds of their izinduna patrons so that those hallowed personages’ honour would not be stained. It was a base sort of cleverness, one she had not expected of Isabel. She is only trying to keep the peace, Angharad decided. That is a laudable thing.

“Then we have nothing else to say to each other,” Lady Ferranda stiffly replied, sheathing her blade. “It is best we part ways swiftly.”

“If you prefer,” Augusto Cerdan shrugged. “A shame Remund’s manners were so poor as to drive you away.”

Angharad’s jaw clenched. Was there anything in all of Vesper that would have the brothers cease pricking one another? Ferranda bad curt goodbyes to her fellow infanzones, even to Isabel, and ignored their attendants entirely. She grew warmer only when coming over towards the others, kindly bidding farewell to Song and Brun before turning to Angharad herself.

“Your help was most appreciated, my lady,” Ferranda said, laying hand on her heart and bowing slightly.

Angharad was not familiar with the gesture but mimicked it easily enough.

“It was nothing,” she replied.

“It was not,” Ferranda firmly said, “and I will not forget it. I hope we may meet again come the Trial of Ruins and share a road for a time.”

“I look forward to it,” Angharad said, meaning every word, but cocked her heat to the side. “I mean no slight, but are you quite certain you two should set out alone?”

“I have long prepared for these trials, my lady,” the other woman said. “Believe me when I say I am certain indeed.”

“Then I will not wish you luck you ill need,” Angharad smiled, “but may the God’s blessing go with you.”

Ferranda looked startled.

“You are a Universalist?”

“As are most Pereduri,” Angharad agreed. “The Redeemers never made many converts among us.”

The faiths might have the same source and believe in the same Sleeping God, but the hardline beliefs of the Redeemers had always made her uncomfortable. Their insistence that Vesper was the test of the God and he gave neither blessing nor succour, that devils and hollows were inherent instruments of evil, struck her as wretched. The Universalist creed, that the Sleeping God had divided himself into all save devils and all would return to him when he woke to be judged for their deeds, felt like a kinder and deeper truth.

Not that a Sacromontan would know much of either creed. Their city was in the old heartlands of the Second Empire, the cradle of the Orthodoxy. The Lierganen had spread their faith far and wide, converting most of the known world, but since Malan had been only a distant province of the empire it had been spared the imposition of the imperial creed. Not that the Orthodoxy was so orthodox, these days. Tianxia and the Someshwar both claimed to be the seat of the faith since the fall of Tarteso, occasionally going to war over it.

“I should have guessed from the lack of haughty sermons,” Ferranda snorted, but her amusement soon faded.

It was replaced by a flicker of hesitation before the blonde’s expression firmed.

“A word of warning,” she spoke in a whisper. “Isabel has already lost what she came to this island for, and will now look to other prizes.”

“I do not understand,” Angharad frowned.

“You are not a choice she ever intends to make,” Lady Ferranda said, not unkindly.

Without further ceremony, the other woman offered her a nod and decisively broke away. Angharad was left trying not to gape, as much from her flirtation with Isabel having been caught on to as by how out of the black the warning was. And unnecessary. She hardly expected marriage out of a liaison that had yet to even begin and had not even found it in her to daydream of being joined in the Watch by the lovely infanzona. Isabel did not seem well-suited to such a life. No, their affair – should it bloom – would end with the trials and remain only a fond memory. It was kind of Lady Ferranda to try to protect her feelings, but she had no undue expectations to be wounded by. Angharad was still wrestling with the suddenness of it all when Song and Brun joined her.

“A very polite woman,” Brun said, glancing at the departing pair.

He sounded approving. Lady Ferranda and her hired man were heading east, Angharad saw, towards the road that supposedly led all the way to the mountains and the second trial awaiting within them. The Trial of Ruins, it was called. The Cerdans had several times implied it was some sort of maze.

“And clever,” Song mused. “She waited until everyone else was gone to part ways with us.”

Angharad glanced at her.

“You believe she wants others to think she is still with our group,” she slowly said.

“A lone pair would be vulnerable,” Song said. “But less so if no one knows they went off on their own.”

Vulnerable to who, Angharad could have asked, but she knew the answer. She simply did not want to consider it.

“Then you suspect, as she must, that the murderer did not act alone,” she murmured. “That there are those among us who would hunt other trial-takers.”

“I suspect the same,” Brun frankly said. “And while I have no proof, it occurs to me that Tupoc Xical was pleased our great company parted ways on such poor terms.”

“He also went hard after that man Tristan,” Song noted. “Not without grounds, but it did feed the fires just when they were beginning to cool.”

Angharad grimaced. She was not unaware she had acted poorly there, also casting the blame on the apprentice physician. It was only sensible that when an oath-breaking killing was had one should look at where honour had proved loosest, but she could admit to herself that was not the sole reason she’d spoken. It had been so deeply embarrassing, to find the man she’d thought a kind soul standing over a beaten woman with a debt collector’s weapon in hand. It’d felt like he had taken advantage of her, back on the ship, and wounded pride had moved her lips. Her father had always admonished her over lessons of law, saying that justice could spring only from clear mind and cold heart.

Would that she had listened to him, instead of laughing that she would find a wife to run Llanw Hall’s estate for her just as Mother had found a husband. She could not quite shake the Sacromontan’s sharp retort. You are attempting to do me violence right now, he had said, and had he been wrong? Angharad had not bared a blade but an accusation before the others was almost as dangerous. It gnawed at her, that while respecting the letter of her oath she might well have violated the spirit. And for wounded pride, of all things. She had felt guilty enough to accept when Isabel brought up the notion of keeping the physician in the fold.

“I added to the flames myself,” Angharad admitted. “It was ill-done, and I do not know if I owe him apology but there should be some redress.”

Another debt to mark, one of the many she seemed to be accruing these days. Like a drunken vagrant, she racked up accounts wherever she drifted to. What she would not give to be home again, where it had all made sense and her life had been a well-lit road ahead of her instead of the darkened trail she was now stumbling down.

“I would not say he’s earned so much,” Song said, “but that is your decision to make.”

Angharad sighed, forcing herself to set aside the pointless thoughts.

“Tupoc is dangerous,” she finally agreed. “He recruited fighters for a reason, and though I do not know whether he would hunt others outright I do not believe he would balk at violence should he meet us.”

“They went east, towards the woods,” Brun said. “Of all the groups we should be the least likely to run into his.”

True enough, as they were headed northwest towards the long aqueduct known as the High Road. For what Angharad did not yet know, as the infanzones had been tight-lipped about their plans, but she would soon learn. She had been told they were not far from the structure, a mere half hour of walk. Lady Ferranda’s departure and the tenor of it having left a pall on them all, at first the mood was grim when they set out on their journey again. Angharad took the vanguard with Cozme Aflor once more, leaving the back to Song and Gascon. Brun, she saw with a thread of amusement, was chatting with Isabel’s redheaded maid again. They seemed quite charmed by one another.

Isabel herself stood between the Cerdans, a pleasant smile on her face as the three conversed. Angharad could only wonder whether at how genuine it might be, given how much more sharply the brothers had begun sniping at each other since the beginning of the trial. She kept her eyes ahead, however, looking for threats as the light of the great lantern Cozme carried swept the grounds before them. Her companion at the front was not one for silences, so it was not long before he spoke up.

“Shame how it turned out in camp,” Cozme idly said. “We could have used them.”

“It does feel like our company’s ranks have grown thin,” she said. “I regret my hand in that.”

Cozme snorted.

“Don’t think it’s a reproach, Lady Tredegar,” the older man said. “I’m not sure that Tristan boy cut the other rat’s throat, but he was a little too slick for my tastes. Always up to something. I won’t mourn leaving him behind.”

The greying retainer sighed.

“Yong, now? That was a loss,” he said. “Wish I knew what made him leave.”

“He was a skilled marksman,” Angharad slowly agreed, “but why such esteem? You are a fair shot yourself.”

“You know that knot he had on top of his head?” Cozme said, gesturing towards the back of his own.

Angharad nodded.

“It’s the way men from Caishen do their hair when they go soldiering,” he said. “I’ve worked with some of them before and they’re hard men. some of the finest in Vesper.”

Angharad’s lessons on Tianxia had involved learning the Ten Republics by rote, but it took her a moment to place which one Caishen was.

“The city is near the borders with Izcalli and the Someshwar,” she said. “I was taught there is hardly a season there without skirmishing.”

“More than skirmishes, sometimes,” Cozme told her. “About twenty years ago the raj of Kurin decided he wanted to claim a slice of the lowlands, so Caishen mustered militia and mercenaries to turn him back. Only it turned into a rough stalemate, so a pack of Sunflower Lords led warbands over the border to attack both under banner of flower war.”

“That sounds…” Angharad began, looking for the right word. “Messy.”

“It was that,” Cozme grunted. “Bloody as all Hell too, and it took most a decade before the bleeding stopped.”

“Caishen won?” she asked.

“The Kurin troops shelled an old temple trying to push out the Izcalli, only they broke something they shouldn’t have and a horde of old gods came howling out,” he said. “They started killing everything so the Watch stepped in and told everyone to go home until they cleaned up the mess.”

It was for good reason that the blackcloaks were given the authority to force temporary truces under the Iscariot Accords, Angharad thought. Not even the most bloodthirsty of the Sunflower Lords wanted the devastation of the Succession Wars to come again, those ruinous days when entire kingdoms were swallowed up by the Gloam as the great powers fought tooth and nail to succeed Liergan’s hegemony.

“You believe this Yong fought in the conflict, then,” Angharad guessed.

“He has a veteran’s way about him and he’s in his forties,” Cozme replied. “I can’t be sure but I’d bet coin on it.”

Angharad saw no need to doubt her companion, their regular conversations having revealed that his fifty some years in Sacromonte left him learned in many matters. Not in the way a noble would be, a proper education, but in the manner of a skilled retainer. Useful knowledge, gathered on the ground.

“Sacromonte does seem to attract all sorts,” Angharad said. “You met these Caishen soldiers in the service of House Cerdan, I take it?”

“I used to work under Lord Lorient, the boys’ uncle,” Cozme said, tone wistful.

He shook his head.

“Not Lord Cerdan himself, one of his younger brothers,” he elaborated. “He ran the house’s affairs in Feria District for a few years and we used hired hands there. The war in Caishen was just over, so the port was flush with penniless mercenaries come to the City for work.”

Angharad found herself approving of the Cerdan generosity in employing such luckless men, a reminder that the brothers were not the sum whole of House Cerdan. The eastern ports of the Isles often found themselves flush with destitute souls from Izcalli when one its constant wars went badly for a Sunflower Lord, but Malan did not treat the exiles as kindly. Most of them ended up press-ganged into the High Queen’s navy or used as labour for the great shipyards.

The two of them kept up lively talk throughout the walk, the noblewoman finding Master Cozme to be as pleasant company as ever. It was obvious the older man missed his days spent serving Lord Lorient and was hoping to return to the man’s service after the trials. Why he was no longer under Lorient Cerdan was something Cozme remained vague about, though Angharad suspected he had made a blunder of some kind. Joining the trials to protect the Cerdan brothers must have been his way of expiating the mistake, a worthy redress.

Honour was not the sole province of nobles, Angharad reminded herself.

Finding the High Road proved easy enough, near the end, for the structure loomed tall above the plains. At least thirty feet tall, the aqueduct was a long stretch of arches going into the distance – first through plains, and likely even through the distant woods beyond them. Perhaps, Angharad thought, all the way to the mountains. The stone was weather-worn and smooth, she saw as she approached, and though there was no trace of where it once would have carried water to rain must still gather atop it: at the foot of where the arches began, the ground was a mess of stinking mud. The noblewoman stopped at the edge, wrinkling her nose.

“First Empire work, do you think?” Brun asked, coming to stand by her side.

She’d not heard him approach. How lightly the Sacromontan stepped, sometimes.

“It looks old enough,” Angharad agreed.

Not all remains of the First Empire were wondrous machinery. The Antediluvians had left great works of stone as well, fortresses and cities and stranger things – towers hidden beneath lakes, palaces balancing atop cliffs and even bridges that crossed half a sea. Many had aged poorly, shattered by war or the ravages of time as eras passed. First the Old Night, reigning for devils only knew how long, then Morn’s Arrival announcing their fall when the last of the Old World took refuge in the depths of Vesper. It had been centuries from then to the Second Empire and longer still to this day. Their curiosity was ended by Isabel sweetly calling for all to gather, the infanzones finally ready to reveal their plan.

Only between the Cerdan brothers and Isabel she found that Song was standing, unveiling a scroll under the light of a lantern held up by Gascon. All gathered close and Angharad sucked in a breath at the sight of what the Tianxi revealed: a map. Spirits, no wonder the infanzones had been unanimous in their desire for her to join. Angharad had wondered at such unusual unity. Hungry for a better grasp of their situation, the Pereduri leaned close. Though it was rough work, nothing at all like Malani sea charts, the outline of the Dominion of Lost Things was clear. They had landed at the southern end of the island, at a place named Lodoso Dock, and followed the road north.

Passing through nameless woods they were now on a plain that reached the shore on the western side but led into further forest to the north and east. The forest to the north was cut by a great river across which there were two bridges, and further beyond stood the mountains and a fort marked as the Trial of Ruins.

“Some of you might be wondering why it is that we have led you to the High Road,” Lord Augusto addressed everyone. “Now is the time to have your answers.”

He gestured at Song’s map, finger tracing the air above the thin grey line that was the aqueduct on the map. It went straight north, parallel to the road, and crossed woods and river to end against a mountainside.

“Its name is most apt, you see,” the eldest Cerdan told them smilingly. “We will climb the aqueduct and use it a high road across half the island, bringing us mere hours away from the Trial of Ruins without ever being at risk.”

“The aqueduct is intact all the way across?” Brun asked, skeptical.

A doubt earned, Angharad thought, if the two of them had been right in guessing the High Road to be a work of the First Empire. Her gaze left the map, instead turning to the tall arches. Not only was it of towering height but the weather-worn smoothness of the stone left no real grip for someone trying to climb. How were they to even reach up there?

“There are sections that fell apart,” Lord Augusto acknowledged, “but we have means to cross them.”

“I imagine,” Angharad slowly said, “that you also have equipment to climb our way up? It will take more than ropes and audacity to achieve this.”

She had not seen cliff-climbing gear among the bags of the infanzones, but then she had not looked for it. Augusto Cerdan smirked, the stern lines of his face softening.

“We have something altogether better,” he said.

His brother stepped forth, Remund preening under the weight of the gazes turned on him. With an arrogant smiled he brushed back his black curls, tucking them under that ridiculous plumed hat he insisted on wearing. Why Sacromonte fashion dictated a side of the brim should be pinned to the hat’s crown was beyond her – unlike a tricorn, it would not even properly keep the rain out of your face. Satisfied he had everyone’s attention, Remund Cerdan breathed out and began tracing thin air with his finger. For a startled moment Angharad thought he might be using a Sign, but the infanzon instead left a trail of thick light.

Contract, she thought. The youngest Cerdan finished with a flourish of the wrist, having traced a small circle of light whose hole faced the sky. Before anyone could think to ask as to the usefulness of such a thing, Remund dramatically took off his hat and hung it on the light as if it were a hook. Both hat and light remaining hanging in midair, to the amazement of several gathered around.

“I will be making us stairs all the way to the summit,” Lord Remund announced. “My power can support weight enough for a grown man and bags when properly focused.”

“That is impressive,” Angharad freely admitted.

“It is not a power without flaws,” Lord Augusto was quick to reveal. “Never let your flesh touch it, else it will be burned.”

The younger brother turned a hard gaze on him, visibly furious.

“Do not be miffed, Remund,” Isabel said, patting his arm. “We agreed to tell our companions as much, yes? No one wants an accident.”

“It was mine to reveal,” the youngest Cerdan insisted, but the edge to his anger was gone.

He sighed, snatching his hat back a heartbeat before the solid light snuffed itself out. Angharad studied him carefully, looking for a price but finding none visible. Was his pact like hers then, bound to a single great oathsworn act? She had not studied the lore of spirits in depth as a girl, but she remembered only old and powerful ones were capable of such things. The Fisher was one such, ancient as stony shores of Peredur and powerful enough a spirit to have formed a body, but that was not so rare a thing. Sacromonte, for all its waning splendour, was host to some great spirits of the Second Empire – the Manes, she thought them to be called.

“It will take us no more than four days to make it to the Trial of Ruins, keeping to a reasonable pace,” Song announced, carefully rolling up her map. “We carry rations and water enough to make it there without resupply.”

“The sanctuary in the mountains provides food and water for all,” Lord Augusto told them. “Our needs will be met.”

The infanzones knew much of the trials and it was no secret why. Isabel had candidly admitted to her during one of their walks that most noble houses kept records of the Dominion of Lost Things for their own, though the Watch forbade the tracing of maps during the trials so any drawn must be after and from memory. Song’s own map, of superior quality, must have been sold to her by a blackcloak and so stood a testament to the Tianxi’s resourcefulness. There were no arguments as to the plan the infanzones had revealed, rightfully so, and so without further ado the preparations for the climb began: Remund Cerdan, wearing thick cloves, began forging stairs with his contract.

Or so he had called them, but Angharad found them closer to a rising slope. The infanzon only ever drew circles she noticed, never another shape even if the sized varied, and seemed as wary of touching the solid light with his bare flesh as others must be. Lord Augusto went to oversee the servants while Song and Master Cozme kept watch, leaving Angharad free to spend her time in pleasant company. Isabel came to her side without being bid and they stood arm in arm as they watched Remund Cerdan put his contract to work.

Isabel had long traded her brocade dress for more practical clothes, much like her maids, but they were just as flattering to her form as the last. A long jacket over a blouse and a yellow satin bodice led into matching breeches and hose, the ensemble secured at the waist by a broad belt while below the hose disappeared into knee-high boots. Having eschewed jewels the infanzona had instead added a touch of panache through a wide-brimmed felt hat, angled roguishly.  Angharad’s eyes lingered on the delicately embroidered bodice and the slender waist it encircled so lovingly.

“Is my bodice so interesting, Lady Tredegar?” Isabel teased.

“I could be looking at your pistol, Lady Ruesta,” she easily replied, smirking back.

It was a small pearl-incrusted piece tucked into her belt, lacquered so heavily there was no telling what the wood beneath might be.

“That would be disappointing,” Isabel said. “I might have picked it thinking of you.”

It was an effort not to cough in embarrassment, but Angharad was not a girl and she had played this game before. Being smitten would only keep her on the backfoot for so long.

“You should have sent for me, then,” she lightly replied. “Should it not be my duty to help you put it on?”

Isabel’s green eyes glittered with amusement, but small fingers pinched Angharad’s side through her coat.

“Bold,” the infanzona half-heartedly chided.

“If that is your request,” Angharad drawled back, “I will endeavour to deliver.”

Isabel’s lips quirked.

“I had thought to offer you a walk with me tonight,” she said, “but I begin to think I would be courting danger.”

Angharad met her eyes, offering a roguish smile.

“Somehow I don’t think you’d mind a taste of… danger.”

Isabel’s cheeks pinkened, eyes widening, and she shyly looked away. It had been so very worth it to learn that smile after Thalente Cindi used it to get her into bed, Angharad mused and not for the first time either. Father had once caught her practicing it in the mirror, which had been mortifying, but not as much as the way he’d then given her advice about perfecting it. Surprisingly good advice, too, which had led her to suspect Mother might not have been as much the pursuer in that courtship as she’d always claimed. The sudden realization that she would never again speak with her father, that never again would she see Mother kiss his neck in affection as they talked of this and that, hit her like a shot in the belly.

She swallowed thickly, Isabel turning to shoot her a concerned glance at the sound. Angharad forced calm upon herself, setting aside the grief. She could not let the past catch up to her, lest it swallow her whole. Forward, ever forward until she took her revenge and at last she could allow herself to weep.

“Are you quite all right?” Isabel softly asked.

“I… miss my home,” Angharad finally replied, keeping to a truth exact. “It would be difficult to return.”

Isabel found her hand and squeezed it comfortingly.

“Difficulty does not last forever,” the infanzona said, then her voice became cadenced. “All things come and go, all that was will be: a closed circle is without end.”

Orthodoxy words, but kind ones. She took what little comfort there was to find within them, gaze returning to Remund Cerdan as he finished the last of his work. He’d climbed up, needing to draw the circles of light with his fingers, and was now a single one away from reaching the top of the aqueduct. His valet Gascon was holding up a lantern from below, its lights revealing a sight that had Angharad going utterly still. Remund’s skin was pale as milk, and for a disgusted heartbeat she thought the man had hollowed, turned into a darkling, but it was not so. His movements were oddly stiff and she realized that his skin was no longer skin at all: it was as if it’d turned into ivory. Even his eyes had gone pale. The noblewoman shivered in discomfort at the sight.

“It is not pretty,” Isabel quietly agreed. “The Tiller-of-Rectitude has twisted tastes, for all that his boons are powerful.”

“Is he a Mane?” Angharad asked in a whisper.

Isabel chuckled.

“No, nothing so impressive,” the dark-haired beauty replied. “He is a temple god, though, revered enough to have his built in the Old Alcazar. It was a coup for Remund to attract his attention.”

The work now finished, said Cerdan climbed atop the High Road and disappeared into the dark, perhaps hoping he had not been seen. His older brother directed the servants to begin bringing up the bags, Gascon and the Ruesta handmaids taking turns to bring up clothes. They covered their hands with washcloths to avoid being burned, the clumsiness it entailed slowing down the work even further. Angharad and Isabel reluctantly parted ways when her time came, the infanzona pulling on fitted leather gloves to help her on her way up. Up there she began to chat with Remund, one of her maids at her side to take up the bags the other one brought up.

With about half the work done, Brun was sent up with his own affairs and Song pulled from guard duty for the same at Isabel’s own suggestion. A courtesy, Angharad decided, meant, meant to soothe away the resentment the high-handed manners of the Cerdan had brought. Angharad went to keep Master Cozme company, less than interested in watching Augusto Cerdan pettily ensure that his own bags were brought up by the servants before his brother’s, and found him sitting on a stone as he kept an eye on the plains around them.

The lantern’s cast only went so far, but out here the lights of firmament lent an eye in a way they had not out in the woods. The cold light of cycling stars, those great Antediluvian wonders, shone like handfuls of diamonds sown in a sea of dark. Yet for all their beauty it was the crescent bite of the southern moons, slices of Glare bled out by faults in the machineries of firmament, that navigators set their courses by. Unlike the stars, they did not move with the passing of years – though unseen ebb and flows dictated the strength of their light.

“Almost done?” Cozme idly asked.

She glanced back.

“Still more than a third of the bags left,” Angharad said. “Mostly supplies. Lady Isabel’s bags were brought up first.”

Unsurprisingly, given that Lord Augusto had been deciding the order. He was still down there with the dark-haired maid and his valet, enjoying the exercise of authority.

“Of course they were,” Cozme Aflor sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “At least with Mistress Song up there we have-”

A shout interrupted him, both their gazes immediately drawn by the sound. Song was gesturing wildly, pointing to their left. Cozme was on his feet in a heartbeat, pistol drawn, and Angharad reached for her saber – yet there was nothing there. Was had the Tianxi seen?

“What in the Manes is she shouting about?” Cozme muttered, picking up his lantern.

Fiddling with the shutter to open it wider, he let out a curse when it jammed and began pulling at it. Song shouted again.


The shutter suddenly jerked open, light leaping forward and revealing a dazed lupine three feet away where there’d been thin air a heartbeat earlier. Angharad’s arm moved even as her mind froze, slicing through the lemure’s eyes. The creature whimpered, just before Cozme fired behind her and she turned just long enough to see another lupine’s brains splatter the grass. It was then she finally caught sight of them: strands of shadow on the green, slithering unseen towards them. She barely began to count before ceasing in blind dread: there were dozens, maybe even a hundred, converging from all sides. The Pereduri seized her panic before it could seize her, ripping the lantern out of Cozme’s hands.

He cursed, but she was already throwing it behind them. As the light whirled it ripped away the veil hiding the lupines behind them, dazing them for a moment as it had the others.

Run,” she hissed, and they did.

She broke into a sprint, hacking blindly when something snapped at her heels, and saw Cozme’s wide-brimmed hat fly off when he turned to cut at burning yellow eyes. They were soon at the lantern she’d thrown, howls erupting behind them as the pack emerged from nothingness and ahead she saw one of Isabel’s maids going up the rings of solid light, the valet right behind her, screaming as she burned her hands in her hurry. The distraction cost her, Angharad’s foot slipping on the grass, but Cozme caught her arm and kept her standing. A shot sounded from the top of the aqueduct, the lantern behind them exploding in a ball of pale fire whose blooming light had the lemures yelping in pain.

They did not waste Song’s gift, running the last of the way hard enough their legs burned. Angharad almost slipped into the mud when she reached the ground by the last of the bags, supplies she knew they would have to abandon. Already Lord Augusto was climbing up his brother’s rings, shouting for his valet to hurry, and there was just enough room for another to begin going after him. Angharad and Cozme traded a look for a heartbeat, then she gestured for him to go. She would have slipped out there, if not for his help. That debt at least she could repay. She turned to face the onslaught, blade in hand, and breathed out slowly.

The light of abandoned lanterns laid out a ghostly ring for her, the darkness beyond just thin enough that when whatever greater power had veiled the lupines released its hold she saw the horde entire. A dozen slowly circling around her, eyeing the black ichor still staining her blade, and twice as many spreading around. She saw it then, the monster behind it all. She would have thought it a hill on the horizon, if it had not moved. Large as a carriage, the wolf-like lemure leaned heavily on its too-large front legs, the great maw seton its eyeless face filled with teeth like razor blades. The horror, though, did not lay there: it was covered in bulbous cysts and open wounds, trailing from all of them a foul black pus that the lupines came close to lick as if it were to them mother’s milk.

Shadow shivered down their fur when they did, melding them with the dark, and Angharad retched at the sight. Her disgust was forced aside when fear stole its place, her wandering gaze enough to incite the lemures to attack. The yellow-eyed monsters charged a dozen all at once, bone stingers rattling up a storm as they ran. Shots rang from above, downing two while the other balls missed, but Angharad kept her eyes on the enemy. Going still, she glimpsed ahead.

(It leapt up, tearing out her throat as another hamstrung her and the rest barrelled into her corpse)

Crouching down without missing a beat, she let the lupine fall into the mud as she carved through the muzzle of the one to her left. Pivoting on herself to rise back to her full height, she stole another glimpse.

(Claws into her back, snapping at her heels from behind, a mass like a tide tipping her over.)

Precision in all things, she told herself. So the wasp kills the lion. Measured movement, using her pivot to stumble back so the lupine clawing at her back instead stumbled into the one crawling out of the mud to bite at her heels. Hands high, shifting the weight so she could steal her footing back in time to slash at the muzzle of the first lupine in the tide. It was chaos after that, too fast and brutal for glimpsing. Claws tore at her side, through coat and shirt, and she smashed a skull with her saber’s pommel and hacked into another enemy’s flank. Another few shots from above, and another from closer: Cozme had reloaded while climbing.

And just as suddenly as it had come the tide withdrew, lupine corpses strewn all over the ring of light as the survivors fled back to the safety of the dark. Angharad, panting, felt the foul mixture of blood, sweat and ichor slide down her skin. Already another pack was gathering, and larger.

“Climb,” Isabel called out. “Before it is too late.”

Not eager for another melee she was unlikely to survive, the Pereduri moved towards the rings. She could tell immediately, though, that it wouldn’t be enough. Gascon was near the summit, but the valet had dropped the cloth that covered his hands and his fingers were covered with black burns, his eyes red with tears. Lord Augusto had half-climbed with him but couldn’t go ahead, not when the rings could not support the weight of two men, and though Angharad could squeeze close to Cozme it would leave her a mere handful of feet above the ground. The lupines would drag her down in moments. Song shot her musket again, blowing up a lantern in a burst of pale flame to scatter the gathering pack.

Only two left.

“A rope,” Angharad shouted. “Thrown down a rope, we’ll climb up the side.”

“Then they’ll stop shooting to cover us, you fool,” Augusto shouted.

But Brun, the God bless him, listened to her instead of the Cerdan. Within moments he was dangling a rope off the edge, and though it would need a leap to catch it Angharad would not miss. She glimpsed, saw herself falling short, and adjusted the angle. She had as many chances as she would need.

Song shot again, another lantern buying them precious time.

“Shit,” Cozme swore, looking back. “The large one is coming. Can the rope handle both of us?”

If that creature came, Cozme wouldn’t be high enough for safety either.

“Isabel,” Angharad screamed. “You and your maids, help Brun.”

Four people on the rope, would it be enough? They would have to risk it.

“It should,” Angharad said with certainty she did not feel. “I’ll go first, try to catch you.”

Another shot, the last lantern went and she breathed out. The light faded and the pack thundered against the ground, racing forward. Time to- there was a scream, above, and Angharad’s breath caught as she watched Augusto Cerdan twist the knife he had rammed into his valet’s back, throwing the weeping older man down. With a shout of triumph the infanzon climbed up to safety, Cozme close behind. Angharad looked back for a heartbeat, seeing a lupine’s jaw close around Gascon’s face, and felt something well up in her. She followed behind Cozme, the ring of lights winking out behind her, and though one of the lemures leapt up just in time to almost catch her boot she got away in time.

Few even tried to reach her, the pack falling on Gascon like ravenous hounds and tearing him apart.

Taking Song’s hand and letting herself be pulled up atop the aqueduct, Angharad let out a shaky breath. But she was not done, not yet. She wiped her blade clean on the side of her trousers and sheathed it, then turned her eyes on the knot of worried-looking infanzones. Even as the pack howled below them, prowling at the feet of the arches like hungry dogs, Angharad strode forward. Cozme caught the look on her face and moved in her way, but she sidestepped him and struck as hard as she could: her palm caught Augusto Cerdan on the cheek, hard enough he fell to the ground. She heard the cock of a pistol being pointed at her back but ignored him as everyone began to shout, unsheathing her saber.

As fury and fear warred over the eldest Cerdan’s face, she tossed the empty scabbard at his feet.

“Have you gone mad?” he began. “I’ll-”

“Augusto Cerdan,” she cut through with icy calm, “I name you a disgrace in the eyes of all who see, a coward without honour. Pick up this sheath and duel me once peril passes, or let your heart serve in its stead.”

The challenge was delivered in clean, crisp Antigua and laid out the two choices that lay before the craven traitor. He could either let her execute him for his deeds, here and now, or pick up the scabbard and accept a duel when they reached safety. Cozme still had a pistol pointed at her back, but Angharad did not flinch as she met the traitor infanzon’s dark eyes. She could not see behind her, where the honour of the others might have fallen, but the demands of her own were beyond dispute. A long moment passed, all their lives resting on the Sleeping God’s breath as the lupines howled all around, until finally Augusto Cerdan moved.

He picked up the sheath and the slower of his two deaths with it.

49 thoughts on “Chapter 9

  1. edrey

    well, Angharad is so naive that is annoying. if she was teenager i would say that she is sweet but there is limit to that. its a pity that the trick of Tristan only killed the valet and now one of the cerdans, and the rest of their trip would be safe.
    on the other hand i really liked Ferrandar, a very nice change of pace. and the lore is great, the religious disputes and the wars especially. Yong must have lots of stories to tell.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Deworld

        I got the impression they both are +- 20. When Tristan found out that Abharad has been doing mirror-dancing trials every year 10 times, he guesses she was about 10 when she started. And in this chapter, Song refers to Tristan as “that man”, as opposed to “boy”. Standards for who is considered “man” in this world may differ significantly from our modern interpretation, so it’s not that strong of a case here, but I still think Tristan is slightly older than a teenager. These are the two examples I remember off the top of my head, there well may be more in the text.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. edrey

        Yeah, i would say 20-21 years old and according to the fashion of their clothes and the weapons they use i assume that its a 18th century world. at 20 they are adults and to be honest, most people didnt expect to live past 50 and starvation and sickness were pretty common in mayor cities, moreover vesper have Gloam diseases and devils. i would say anyone who doesnt mature fast enough is death meat.


    1. caoimhinh

      I wonder how did she grow to be so stupidly naive in that kind of world, moreover, in a culture that had her fighting monsters to death ever since she was a teenager.

      By the background she has and in the context of the world she lives in, she shouldn’t be so sheltered as to believe that everybody lives by the rules of honor that she somehow made her life’s creed as if she were some sort of knight.


      1. agumentic

        She doesn’t think that everyone lives by the rules of honour, she just thinks they should, and that if they – especially if they are nobles – break those rules too much, her own honour demands killing them where they stand.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. She’s naive, yes, but it’s not really out of character for her to be. I can’t exactly call her “sheltered” given that she’s had to duel herself to the death ten times, but she’s got mediocre people-reading skills and like 20 people to keep track of. Also, aside from one enforced by literal mind control, she’s only made one serious misjudgement out of all the people she’s formed more than tentative opinions of.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. She’s naive, yes, but it’s hardly out of character. Also, out of a whole swarm of people, she’s only actually misjudged two of them, and one of those was enforced by literal mind control.


  2. jworks17

    I like how glaringly naive Angharad is currently, it’ll be cool to see how the naivety gets whittled away over the course of the story.


    1. KageLupus

      She is growing on me. I am looking forward to seeing her a few books down the line, after taking off the rose-colored glasses and seeing the world from other perspectives. Right now she is still a bit too hung up on honor and propriety for my tastes. Not to mention the inherent elitism that comes from being a noble. She had to remind herself that even people who aren’t nobles can be honorable an hour before watching a noble knife his retainer before literally throwing him to the wolves. The cognitive dissonance there feels like it is going to get overwhelming pretty quick.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Deworld

        “Right now she is still a bit too hung up on honor and propriety”

        Dunno, for me, it’s the best part of her character. She seems like someone who will stick to her ideals of honor no matter what, and that is what makes me respect her.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Moodprint

    We have two very different main characters, with very different strenghts, flaws and values. I really like how it showcases how powerfull the point of view can be. I find myself sympathizing with both main characters, even though they would propbly hate each other. Good work!

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Reader in The Night

    Honestly, this sounds like a very dumb rule for a society to create? Calling someone out for treacherous behaviour in a dangerous situation, publicly announcing that you intend to kill them for it, and then allowing them to have your back until said danger is past, despite the fact that they have just proven they have no honor?

    That sounds like a rule that gives every incentive for the punished party to double down on the treachery and attempt to murder their accuser, with no incentives in place for them actually helping the group survive the present danger, since the group are the ones guaranteeing the punishment.

    I know the rules of honor can many times be seemingly nonsensical, but a rule that is actively detrimental to the group’s survival like this seems like it wouldn’t last much past whoever invented it’s (probably very short) lifespan.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. CantankerousBellerophan

    I would like to point out that Angharad mourns for the death of a family who routinely enslaved refugees fleeing wars which seem to have ended in the magical annihilation of their homes. This atrocity seems so normal to her that she is surprised when others admit to merely subjecting them to wage slavery as enforcers. She pines for the return of this horror while considering herself honorable, and while acting as would-be executioner for a man who she considers dishonorable. Augusto Cerdan’s only crime, here, is being more honest and personal than average in his willingness to sacrifice the lives of those he considers his lessers. Angharad, by her very existence, has done the same countless times. She just didn’t have the dignity to do it by hand.

    Furthermore, her thoughts on what constitute a “proper education” are laughable. What use is knowledge of history or classical manners to her now? She denigrates the very kind of knowledge which she could use to survive her current predicament. Considers the ability to survive true adversity beneath her station.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. MerchantPrince

      Where is the long-winded paragraph about the death of crowns and the wisdom of the noose, parasite? Methinks the People grow weary. Could it be that the grain ration today was unfulfilling even by your standards?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. CantankerousBellerophan

        The crowns in this chapter are already dying, and the conditions they force upon others are the only noose necessary. Why waste the efforts of the People at all when the enemy is dooming itself of its own volition?

        The Trial of Lines may have been invented by the Blackcloaks, but the existence of the nobility is the only reason it is a trial at all. The obvious, trivial solution to it, which should see everyone through to the Trial of Ruins, is for everyone to willingly cooperate in mutual defense. The only reason that is impossible is noble treachery and hubris, both direct and systemic. The direct examples are obvious, and many have already pointed them out: The group would not have split if not for the murder, likely by one of their own or retainers. Most of the nobles would not be here in the first place if not for their unslakable thirst for personal aggrandizement and power, which sees them largely unwilling to cooperate past the immediate term. The Cerdans knew the perameters of the Contract they intended to use and failed to even bring gloves for everyone to use. Tristan would not have been an easy target for a frame-up if Angharad had just minded her own business from the beginning. This entire Trial has been botched from start to finish, in obvious ways, by the nobility, and it is going to get many of them messily killed before the end of this.

        But, as is always the case, the systemic reasons are far more interesting. The nobles can’t work together outside the lines of their own families because they are carrying the arbitraty positions they wish to attain in wholly notional heirarchies with them into life threatening danger. They value titles they do not have over lives they may well lose. The commoners know not to work with the nobles unless there is immediate, obvious gain to be had because they know nobles are universally more snake than man. Tristan was forced to ruin his image with the rest of the group on day one because there was no other way to ensure he would have access to Glare. Which is only the case because the nobility has built a world where light itself is a commodity they claim ownership of, limiting everyone else’s access for their own personal gain. Going further back, Tristan’s entire motivation is driven wholly by the nobility’s ceaseless violence against everyone else. Angharad’s complete incompetence in every situation which does not warrant a sword, and all the conflicts which have thus far arisen from it, is driven by noble traditions of arbitrary violence which create children who see everything in terms of violence instead of cooperation.

        The Trial of Lines is easy. Its solution hews to humanity’s natural inclinations towards social interaction, sharing, and cooperation. But everyone’s lives are at stake, now, because the nobility are fundamentally inhuman. They break people, both themselves and everyone else, from childhood on. The result is what we see here: the task of walking down a road for a few days, turned into a nightmare. We have no need for sturdy rope or the rage of the crowd. They have done this to themselves.


    2. edrey

      you konw, your hyperbole its getting tiresome, can you pintpoint the word slave in the chapter or better yet the fact she is aware of their suffering at their hand and she approve it? be specific.
      your comparison of mercenaries with refugees is no even funny, much less that she approved the acidental release of monsters and devils that caused the calamity.
      i dont know what is worst, the fact you are comparing her self-defense actions with the “honest” attack from the back of cerdan to a very loyal servant or the fact that your making her some kind of monster who disdain anyone who is not a noble and that her view of honor is just a way to hide it.
      if you wanted to be funny, eloquent or cause some theatrical effect, well you have failed, irrational haters are disliked for a reason and this the perfect example of it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. CantankerousBellerophan

        Angharad uses the term “press-ganged” to describe what was done to refugees to her homeland. For those who are not aware, press-ganging is the English term for the old naval practice of forcing sailors from captured or defeated vessels into service on your own (rather than, say, keeping them in the brig until they can be offloaded at a POW camp), on the threat of immediate death by either shot or sea.

        This is just slavery. It is not at all an exaggeration to call it that. Press ganging has a long and grim history in the real world, under every imperial flag, and the practice was one of many reasons crews would turn pirate rather than continue to serve crowned heads. It turns out the average, everyday person doesn’t actually want to enslave their fellow man, and being ordered to do so will sometimes bring out the best in people. People are better than the crowns which claim to rule them.

        Perhaps press ganging is different in Vesper, but then why would the author use that specific phrase? It is safe to assume it is no different here, and therefore that Angharad’s family were literally slavers, if in a roundabout and somewhat detatched manner. This is yet another reason to hold them in contempt. And, therefore, to hold Angharad as she currently is in contempt, as a tool of this malign status quo.

        I also think you’re somewhat misinterpreting my intent. My hatred is reserved for characters, not the writing itself. I am extremely impressed with this whole story so far, find the world of Vesper fascinating and well-built, and considering that EE’s previous work probably played a significant role in my radicalization against the real-world status quo, I largely agree with the messages being conveyed. My long-winded bloviating (and yes, I know that’s what I’m doing) is a mark of my appreciation for the work. I wouldn’t be able to have those criticisms if the world to which they apply were not so well-conceived a commentary upon our own.

        Liked by 2 people

    3. Zlz

      Gotta say, I’m not 100% sure how much of your ranting is earnest versus getting into the Bellephoron spirit, but I really appreciate it either way. It seems clear that Angharad has huge blinders due to her education, and while I doubt she’ll ever get rid of them entirely, I expect her arc will be about shedding most of her preconceptions regarding the nobility of nobility, now that she’s facing all of the unsavoury part directly. Really looking forward to reading it, either way.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. Iceember

      “The eastern ports of the Isles often found themselves flush with destitute souls from Izcalli when one its constant wars went badly for a Sunflower Lord, but Malan did not treat the exiles as kindly.”

      AFAIK Malan =/= Peredur. They seem to have similar traditions but I think it’s a stretch to assume that the Pereduri treated refugees the same as Malani unless it’s explicitly said otherwise.


      1. CantankerousBellerophan

        One can understand why she mourns while also pointing out the people being mourned would, in a just world, have been slaughtered years ago by the people over which they claimed rule. It is not surprising that Angharad mourns her family. Even victims of abuse will sometimes mourn their abusers. That is only human. It is, instead, a demonstration of her total blindness to the truth that everything she knows is a lie, her conception of honor is a shallow, patronizing game, her understanding of justice is anything but, her traditions are atrocities, and her place in the world is a phantasmal thing which survives only until the people decide they’ve had enough.

        Being wrong, even in so many ways, is also only human. But that is no excuse. She must either learn to be better, or die in ignorance. No other end can be satisfying.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I expect her to learn to be better in the sense of marrying honor to morality more closely (they’re already dating), getting better at justice (she’s already trying to, in this very chapter), and getting a better understanding of what one’s “place in the world” is (inevitable, given hers is currently in the process of changing)


  6. Morgan

    It’s nice to see how the two protagonists weaknesses and strengths cause them different problems – Angharad’s prowess and status vs Tristans subtlety and cunning

    Liked by 2 people

  7. caoimhinh

    Honestly, I’m confused about the stairs.

    How the hell did they burn their hands when climbing those stairs? It can’t be that they are a ladder that they need to use their hands to climb, can it?
    When first used, it was described as a circle of light with the hole facing the sky, and even Angharad states that they were arranged like a slope, so I’m having a hard time picturing people burning their hands when climbing that stair.

    Shouldn’t they be able to just use their legs for that?

    I thought the Cerdan guy made little platforms or steps where they could stand and go from one to the other to reach the top of the aqueduct, but then we are told that these people couldn’t climb quickly and even needed to cover their hands because they somehow need their hands to go up the stairs.
    As if they were climbing up on handholds rather than using stairs.

    Moreover, their supplies are carried in a way that the servants carry most of the things and the infanzones don’t have to shoulder that burden, right? So why did it take so long for them to move their packs up to the aqueduct? They shouldn’t have so much stuff that it would take any significant time to move, given the size of their group and how not everybody is carrying heavy stuff.

    P.S: At this point, I don’t like Angharad. She is like Trissiny from the Gods Are Bastards except without a proper justification for her behavior beyond being somehow sheltered in a dark Elden Ring kind of world where she grew up participating in a ritual where she fought to the death against a monster every year.

    She just seems delusional in her naivety.


    1. Frank Moore-Clingenpeel

      I think the aqueduct they’re climbing up to is basically a trough held up by columns, with no surface next to the stairs to lean on for balance. The “stairs” are a bunch narrow circular platforms in the middle of a field with nothing on either side to use to help balance.

      The way I’m visualizing it, the servants have bags dangling off their shoulders as they sort of clamber on hands and feet while they climb so they don’t to tip to the side.

      Also there’s a weight limit per stair that is more than “one person plus a bag” and less than “one fully loaded person,” which might also include that person putting some of their weight on their hands.


    2. Rynjin

      Shades of Triss, but not nearly as bad and already showing signs of improving. Angharad has so far avoided the depths of launching into a racist screed and then trying to murder a classmate for getting mad over it.


      1. caoimhinh

        True, at least Trissiny’s issues made sense, and her reasons for having those issues were completely valid and in accordance with her background. Being a paladin raised in an abbey of militarized extreme feminism that has been fighting against demons and drow for centuries, all of her issues made complete sense, and even then after knee-jerk reactions Triss always took a moment to rethink, though her initial reactions always left a bad impression on those around her.

        But Angharad, on the other hand, while not as dislikeable, comes off as a ridiculously naive person for the background she has been introduced as having, to the point of being far more annoying. Because she doesn’t make one say “ok, so she doesn’t know this” and “She is making a wrong assumption here” but rather “How the hell doesn’t she know this?” and “Why the hell is she thinking this way? She shouldn’t be so naive”.

        I mean, Angharad comes from a society that makes children fight monsters in ritualistic duels every year, so why does she act as if she is a sheltered princess looking at the world from the lens of an honorable sportsman?
        And she isn’t even presented as an idealist that wants to make things better or something, but rather a naive person who simply doesn’t know how things work in the outside world.
        I wouldn’t be surprised if she actually believes that the Cerdan guy is going to accept the duel and she finds herself shocked to find that he wouldn’t comply with the rules of her “challenge”.

        Her attitude simply clashes with the setting of this dark and cruel world, and is incongruous with her background as a fighter and a noble who has been tutored in the ways of the world.
        She is a warrior in a grimdark world behaving as if she is a little princess who has just discovered that there are people who don’t have servants and ponies. And that is jarring.

        It’s as if that ritual about fighting a monster taking her shape every year was added later on to make her look more badass and people wouldn’t say that she is only strong because of her contract (though just in the 4 chapters from her POV that we have seen, she would have died half a dozen times if not for that contract). If not for that, we could keep going thinking she’s simply sheltered, but it’s already been shown that she wasn’t sheltered, and by the trend so far, it’s all but certain that we are going to keep seeing things that indicate that Angharad shouldn’t be so stupidly naive.


  8. Abnaxis

    The infanzones are pretty legendarily stupid.

    They knew from the beginning they were going to pull this trick, but they didn’t pack gloves for their servants. Then, they haul the luggage up before they haul the provisions…

    Yeah they 100% deserve whatever bad things happen to them during these trials

    Liked by 2 people

  9. greycat

    I’m wondering why Augusto chose this particular moment to stab the scent-tainted guy and toss him down. My initial guess is he somehow figured out that this guy was attracting the monsters, possibly by way of a Contract that gives him information.

    If that’s the case, he has to pick up the scabbard to keep himself alive long enough to explain this to Angharad.


    1. Deworld

      It wasn’t the valet that got the scent-covered knife, it was Augusto himself. In fact, I’m not sure why he did the killing at all other than simply to distract monsters with a fresh body.


      1. greycat

        Ah, you’re right. I didn’t remember correctly.

        The text doesn’t say, but we can assume that the knife was still in Gascon’s back when the lupines attacked him. Maybe Augusto believed that the scent was solely on the knife, but that doesn’t explain the killing. You’d just throw the knife down without needing a human sheath.

        Maybe Augusto believed that Gascon was the scent bearer (as I did). That would explain the killing, and the knife in his back explains the lupines’ fixation on him. Of course in this case, Augusto remains tainted, and the lupines will continue attacking.

        Or, maybe Augusto knew that he was tainted, but used some Contrat power or other trick to transfer all of the scent to Gascon, with the stabbing being part of the transfer.

        The next Angharad viewpoint chapter might clear things up. I can hope.


      2. caoimhinh

        He had to kill Gascon to climb the summoned stairs and get out of danger. Since Gascon dropped the cloth that protected his hands he could not keep climbing and got stuck, but Augusto, Cozme, and Angharad were behind him and could not advance until Augusto got Gascon out of the way.

        The other alternative was betting on the rope to hold the four of them, but even getting to the rope seemed to be an issue, as even Angharad with precognition ability didn’t take it and was running simulations inside her mind attempting to grab it but failing.

        I know Augusto is a bastard and made a selfish thing. But it honestly wasn’t the wrong choice. Gascon’s stupidity was going to cost them all. Augusto made the choice of getting Gascon out of the way to save his own life, but that also saved Cozme and Angharad, and they would have died if he didn’t do it.


    2. caoimhinh

      Augusto doesn’t know about the scent.

      He killed the guy ahead of him because he was preventing the rest from climbing the stairs and getting out of danger, since after losing the cloth that protected his hands Gascon couldn’t keep climbing without burning his hands and thus got stuck midway.
      Honestly, as savage as the act was and as wicked as we know that the Cerdan are, I don’t think he made the wrong choice in that situation, the four of them would have all died if he hadn’t gotten the servant out of the way.

      I still find the design of those stairs nonsensical, it makes no sense that they can’t climb without using their hands, I guess EE meant them to be a ladder and the Cerdan guy made handholds for them to climb, but that’s still a dumb choice of design on the Cerdan part and even then would make no sense as we are shown that Gascon was stuck standing on one platform but unable to keep rising thus they ARE NOT handholds that are needed to stay on the stairs.


      1. agumentic

        Augusto was not in danger, though. He and Gascon already climbed high enough that lemures couldn’t reach them, only Angharad and Cozme had to jump to the rope, So he didn’t even kill him to save his life, he just did it because he was panicking.


      2. tirielle

        I assumed that the stairs were pretty steep, enough so that you would need to steady yourself on the stair ahead to pull yourself up. The main reason is that creating the platforms obviously has a cost, so it makes more sense to make less platforms and not overstrain the person making them. Making enough platforms to have an easy walk probably wouldn’t be worth it.


    3. TheB1de

      He didn’t know that they had a scent attracting these guys. He stabbed his valet because his valet was above him on the stairs but wouldn’t go further because the valet had already badly burned his hands on the stairs. Augusto stabbed and threw Gascon down so that he could climb past him to safety.

      Liked by 1 person

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