This section opens with a quiet little chapter in which Kerowyn’s cousins sell some horses to the Valdemaran military. A delegation from the Valdemaran Guard has come to the Bolthaven horse fair because they heard the horses were good, and because of Kerowyn’s reputation. Which they obviously learned about from Eldan, in case you thought he might have moved on.
This incident reveals that every concern I’ve ever raised about Valdemar’s military and its funding was totally true, plus a few extras. The military is critically short of resources with which to fight Hardorn, a country they thought was an ally until just a couple months ago. The war is expected to be difficult and costly. While negotiating over the horses, Selenay’s delegation reveals that the regular army doesn’t field light cavalry or horse archers, but some of the nobility have private armies that do. Given the fractiousness of Valdemar’s nobility, their involvement in a number of conspiracies to weaken or overthrow the monarchy in the past 20 years, and the recent death of Lord Orthallen at the hands of Lady Elspeth, I can think of few ideas worse than allowing the nobility to maintain private armies that have resources and capacities the regular army does not. Machiavelli would have recommended against this! Also, he would have suggested that perhaps the Heralds could get by with a slightly less generous program of tax rebates. And that maybe someone should look into the goals and political interests of the psychic horses.
In other news from Valdemar, Queen Selenay has cashed in some of her wedding presents to fund the purchase of an indeterminate but large number of horses. That sounds really altruistic – like Isabella sponsoring Columbus, if Isabella had done that purely out of the goodness of her heart – until you remember that Selenay’s husband was killed while trying to assist in her assassination, and that event was so traumatic it undermined Selenay’s relationship with her infant daughter. I’m surprised she kept the jewelry for so long.
With the horses sold, and the Skybolts settled into Winter Quarters for a profitable off-season, Kerowyn decides to go on vacation. The King of Rethwellan, Daren’s brother, is looking for more information on mercenary companies and hoping to shake up his court. Kerowyn has an open invitation.
Everything I ever knew about the dangers of wild pigs, I learned from Mercedes Lackey. When I was a kid reading these books for the first time, I assumed that all pigs were domesticated, at heart if not in actual fact, and that they were universally gentle, slop-eating creatures. Charlotte’s Web cast a long shadow on my assumptions. I thought boars were misunderstood. This section of By the Sword set me straight. It is entirely to Lackey’s credit that I knew Robert Baratheon was doomed the second he announced his intention to go drunk pig-hunting. Pigs: Stay alert! Watch your six! Bring back-up forces and funky throwing spears! Kerowyn takes boars really seriously, so she’s prepared for the moment when a boar hunt goes wrong and a wild sow charges the King of Rethwellan. And, as it turns out, the fate of Valdemar hinges on this one pig.
The King of Rethwellan is saved (of course), which spares his kingdom from the perils of a long regency and any possible uncertainty associated with the fact that Rethwellan’s rulers are chosen by a magic sword. The king (whose name I refuse to learn how to spell) commands a Bard to write a song about it, and tells Kerowyn that she can request a boon if she sits quietly through a dinner that features a performance of her new song. This is asking a lot of someone with Kerowyn’s personal history.
I’m completely charmed by the notion of a boon. What would I ask for if anyone ever granted me one? Kerowyn gets to ponder this over dinner. I think the king was imagining that she would ask for a title, or maybe for a guarantee that the Bard would never sing the “Kerowyn kills a pig” song ever again. Events conspire to suggest that the king hasn’t really thought through all the possibilities. During dinner, an envoy from Valdemar requests an audience, and Dirk and Talia come in to ask for some military support against Hardorn. Rethwellan, being recently engaged in its sporadic conflict with Karse, is disinclined. But on Kerowyn’s hip, Need stirs, and Kerowyn decides that her boon will be to ask the King to remember the promise his grandfather made to Selenay’s grandfather, Prince Roald, “in the library of this very castle.”
Dirk and Talia! Look at them! She’s all serious and not entirely fluent in Rethwellan, and he, according to Kerowyn, looks like a farm boy and moves like an assassin. I’m so excited that they’re here! Also, it’s heartbreaking, because Talia says she has proofs of Ancar’s evil sorcery with her if the king wants to see them, and I know that she means she can show her scars if required. She’s so brave and outrageous and this request really was doomed until Kerowyn stepped in.
The promise was made in the Oath books, and that promise was that Rethwellan owed Valdemar a favor equivalent to putting a ruler on the throne. Which is pretty vague as international favors go. Kerowyn, Daren, and the king of Rethwellan all learned about it from Tarma. Prince Roald should have given some thought to finding a way to share information about that, write it down, and maybe get it signed. I see I this as an example of not only Roald’s dereliction of duty, but his Companion’s, because if either the Prince or the Companions did any kind of record keeping at all, Dirk and Talia could have arrived in Rethwellan prepared to talk specifically about this promise, perhaps with written documentation, and Talia could have planned to conduct negotiations with her shirt on.
That was an extremely expensive boon. How young is the next heir, anyway? The king agrees to send the Skybolts as an advance force and foot half the bill. The Bolts will be followed by Rethwellan’s regular army under Daren’s command.
NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED!!!! It’s so great to see you! How have you been? Welcome back, Hon.
Tune in next week when we fight for Valdemar!
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.