If you’ve been following along with our season two re-releases, then you know that we just put out revisions on a really enjoyable story called Witch’s Heir. You also know that I realized while I was doing those revisions that the basic summary of that episode is almost identical to the basic summary for this month’s new episode, The Society of the Broken Promise, something that I probably should have noted and altered when I was doing the original outlining for the whole series. Oops.
However, if you can look past that fact, and actually read the story, I think that you’ll find it is plenty different from Witch’s Heir. That episode was very tightly, personally focused on Kiluron trying to come to terms with being Prime, and with Aiga trying to come to terms with her mother’s ghost. Having all of that take place through the lens of an assassination attempt was really more of a narrative device than a major plot point (it was major to the episode’s story, but not major to the overall Blood Magic story, if that makes sense). The assassination attempt in The Society of the Broken Promise is very, very different. I mean, I almost cut off Kiluron’s hand, if that helps clear it up for you.
So no, there is no sympathizing with the assassins going on in this episode; this one is about two things. On the surface level, it is about the straightforward problem of countering the Gälmourein threat. On a deeper level, it is about the mysteries involved, and in that respect this is a little bit of a bait-and-switch. While not technically a multi-part episode, we will not get answers to most of those mysteries until later in season three (not even in the next episode). While we do get a resolution to the immediate problems in the story, and get Kiluron and Doil started on their next adventure, we don’t really get a lot of answers to what’s really going on, and that was intentional, even if it does make the title a little confusion. From what answers you got in this episode, it should really have been called Gälmourein, or something similar, but I stuck with how I originally titled it. I think it emphasizes that there is more going on here than the apparent action plot, which is important to making this episode work; I fear it would be a little boring without those larger considerations looming over it.
A brief note on the Prime’s Progress. When I was reading Conn Iggulden’s Wars of the Roses series, I read about something called the “King’s Progress” (or the Queen’s, depending), in which the reigning monarch travels all through the land dispensing judgements and being generally seen by the people. I thought it was a really interesting concept, and when I wanted Kiluron to go visit Heart City at the end of this story, it seemed like a perfect way to make it happen, plus it solved some plotting and world-building problems I’d been having as I was thinking about how to structure the next episode. So yes, we will see more of the Prime’s Progress, and I hope that you find this historical tidbit as interesting as I do.
There’s not a lot more to be said about this episode. Coming right off of writing it, I don’t think it’s among the best in the series, but I also don’t think it’s bad, and furthermore I am notorious for misidentifying which episodes are my strong ones and which aren’t (I was convinced that Contaminant was terrible, but readers ended up really liking it – I suspect that we have Aiga to thank for that). Whatever you think of it, you should definitely read it, because there is a lot in here. This is the kind of episode that you should pay attention to if you want to be on the inside when we get to later episodes in season three. Speaking of which, I’ll link to some episodes that you might want to re-read before this one as a refresher. However, none of that is strictly necessary, and you can certainly enjoy this story on its own. I am pleased to present: The Society of the Broken Promise.
Something about Releir made Kiluron feel old, which was odd considering that the man he, Doil, and Borivat were currently interviewing bore all of the expected standards of middle-age: the banner of receding hairlines, the pennant of forehead furrows, even in the oriflamme of squinting eyes. Their interviewee was likely twice Kiluron’s age, and yet there was something about his mannerisms, his comportment, which made Kiluron feel that the age gap was really reversed, that he was twice Releir’s age. This, after he had only been Prime for a year.
“Well, it seems to me quite obvious that such provocations would necessarily be a cover for attaining more favorable trade relations,” Releir was saying in response to Doil’s question about Rovis border skirmishes. “As such, it would be most reasonable to provide such concessions as could be afforded, without giving the appearance of weakness. This would defuse the situation and enable cooler heads to prevail in the relationship.”
Grimacing, Kiluron wished that he could have Doil stop the interview. He already knew that Releir was not going to be a suitable replacement for Borivat, and with the sun casting its last evening rays through the high windows in the conference chamber, he was ready to turn his attention to other matters, like supper and sleep. Instead, he would be forced to listen to the man drone on and on about foreign policy that he had clearly only ever experienced in some stuffy old tome tucked into a study on a country estate.
“The Eastern Tribes, Ala’Durai’s coalition.” Kiluron leaned forward, interrupting Doil’s next question and snatching Releir’s nervous eyes. “Let’s say that they’re being raided by some of the western tribes from the interior. How would you advise the Union respond?”
Releir licked his dry lips, and his eyes flicked anywhere but Kiluron’s. “Um, I do not know all the details of the situation you describe, but it would seem to me best that the Union avoid being drawn into a regional conflict which would be in affect similar to the incursions of the primitives from the Unclaimed Territories. Such primitives do not respond in a rational fashion to our typical overtures, and therefore cannot be dealt with; it is in the interests of the Union to maintain defenses against such creatures and avoid provoking them into hostilities as much as possible.”
With a shake of his head, Kiluron turned to Doil. “Can we be done here?” Releir squirmed uncomfortably in his chair, but Kiluron paid him no heed.
“I suppose.” Doil sighed at the breach of protocol. “Thank you for your time, Releir. We will contact you with our decision in a few days.”
When the man had departed, Doil scribbled a few more notes. “You know, my lord, it would really be better if we gathered responses to a consistent battery of questions from each candidate. That would make our decision much more rigorous.”
“There was no way I was choosing him, anyway,” Kiluron sighed. “There’s no way I’m choosing any of these people. Borivat, are you really sure about this? Guess you’re stuck here with us awhile longer.”
Borivat frowned. Kiluron had agreed reluctantly, after Doil’s intercession, that the old advisor could retire, but not until he had helped them select a new Minister of Affairs and Relations with Alien Lands. “We knew already that this day’s candidates were unlikely to be suitable. It is still good to hear their perspectives.”
“Not Releir’s,” Kiluron grumbled. “We just fought a war that barely kept Merolate from being conquered, and he acts like we should be a bunch of pacifists.”
“We are interviewing for minister of Minister of Affairs and Relations with Alien Lands, not a replacement for Admiral Ferl as Minister of Public Defense and Civil Order,” Doil observed. “Although I see your point. He was perhaps a little too eager to accommodate our adversaries.”
“We can’t be caught so unprepared again,” Kiluron insisted. “I won’t let it happen.” He rubbed his forehead and took a deep breath. There was no point worrying about invasion now; he was already doing what could be done. “Anyone want to join me for supper?”
Rising stiffly, Borivat shook his head. “No, thank you. I have some research I would like to conduct before I retire…” he hesitated, noting his choice of words, and flushed faintly. “For the night, that is.”
Kiluron shrugged. “Doil?”
“It seems a bit early for supper…” he hedged.
“Sounds like a yes to me,” Kiluron asserted. “Come on. There’s a new tavern just opened down near the docks; all the laborers are saying it’s the best place in town.”
Doil raised an eyebrow. “If it serves food, ale, and is within a short walk from where they work and sleep, the laborers would be singing its praises even if it served boiled cockroaches.” He nevertheless allowed Kiluron to lead him out of the conference chamber and towards the castle gates. “You do realize that the castle employs a full kitchen staff? You could have a meal anywhere, anytime you like. Why do you insist on going to public taverns? And how, for that matter, do you know what the laborers are gossiping over?”
Putting on his best mock-affronted expression, Kiluron tried not to laugh. “I think that you’re missing the point.” He saw that Doil was still skeptical, but just laughed and continued on, his adviser following along with considerably less enthusiasm. A pair of guards fell in behind them as they left the gates. “Twiol, how’s the wife? Recovered from the scare you gave her?”
Twiol flushed and fumbled over his words. “Uh, yes Sir. Glad that I’m back in Merolate for a time, that’s for sure, we both are.”
“Good. And how about you, Vargil? Up for a great evening of following your Prime around the city?”
Vargil chuckled. “Guess that depends on where we’re going, Sir.”
“Listrick’s Tavern, where else?” Kiluron answered. Vargil’s dour expression lightened. “Hope we can get a table.” He was glad that Doil did not point out that the proprietor would almost certainly clear a table for the Prime of Merolate, assuming that she didn’t have a fit at seeing such a personage walk through her door.
Predictably, the tavern was packed. The evening air was slightly chilly, but that did not prevent people from pressing right up against the door as they awaited their turn at the bar or a table. Standing on his toes, Kiluron spotted the only clear space in the common room, where a man in puffy clothes was strumming energetically upon a lyre; only a few strains of music ventured as far as Kiluron’s straining ears at the brimming door.
“Would you like to clear a path, Sir?” Twiol asked.
Frowning, Kiluron shook his head. “That would kind of defeat the point, I think. Come on, let’s see if we can’t just sidle in here.” He glanced back at Doil, who looked distinctly uncomfortable. “Come on, Doil. I promise it’ll be alright. Really, it’s been ages since I got into a bar fight.” When Doil only looked more uncomfortable, Kiluron grinned. “Seriously, it’ll be fine. But it’s good for you to get out of your studies every now and then.”
“I suppose,” Doil admitted. “Remind me of that after we are safely seated at a table with decent food in front of us.”
Kiluron began edging his way through the crowd. A few muttered curses and amiable shoves fluttered in response, but nothing more, and soon the four of them had slipped all the way up into a space between barstools. One of the men in an adjacent stool looked up angrily at the invasion but recognized Kiluron. Before the man could say anything, Kiluron put a finger to his lips and shook his head. When he’d been Sub-Prime, no one had remarked on him going out for a drink, except possibly Prime Wezzix. Now that he was Prime, the whole Union seemed to be able to recognize his face.
After a lengthy delay, the proprietor approached Kiluron and his companions. “Four ales, please,” Kiluron said, “and four dinners of whatever you’re serving tonight.”
Listrick was a heavyset, matronly woman who appeared more in command of her tavern than many generals were in command of their battlefields. “That’ll be eight pieces,” she said. Kiluron pressed a single gold coin onto the oiled, gleaming bar. Listrick snatched it up, bit it suspiciously, looked at Kiluron, looked down at the coin, and looked back up at Kiluron. With a sigh, Kiluron repeated his finger to his mouth and headshaking routine, but Listrick inflated anyway. “Hey everyone! Prime Kiluron’s at my bar!”
A ragged cheer went up from those sitting within earshot. “Three cheers for the Union’s Defender!” someone shouted, and an approving roar swelled up in answer.
Uncomfortable, Kiluron raised the mug Listrick provided. “And more importantly, to the victors!” he replied, gesturing expansively at the tavern’s occupants. “All of you, the true saviors of this Union.” This elicited another cheer from the crowd. Leaning forward, Kiluron caught Listrick’s attention. “Table to the side, maybe? For the four of us?” She had been the one to announce him as Prime; Kiluron wouldn’t feel guilty now if some advantage came of it.
Listrick nodded and led the four of them to a table against the wall opposite from where the minstrel was performing, shooing away the table’s original occupants. Bowls of stew and mugs of ale followed them to their seats, and Kiluron nodded his thanks. “Keep the change, by the way,” he added. Listrick beamed, gave an awkward bow, and retreated to attend to her other customers.
Taking a long pull on his ale, Kiluron leaned back and sighed. “Peace at last,” he murmured. He noted Doil’s skeptical eyebrow through his almost closed eyelids. “What?”
“This hardly seems like it would be described as ‘peaceful,’ whatever else it might be,” Doil remarked. The minstrel chose that moment to strike up a particularly raunchy tune, and half the taverna appeared to know the words, as if they were trying to prove Doil’s point.
“Do you see anyone bothering us?” Kiluron asked over a verse about a quite unlikely arrangement between a sailor, his wife, and a dolphin. “Is anyone trying to get our opinion on this or that, or find our weaknesses, or presume on our strengths, or any of the other things we have to deal with all day, every day? Nope. There’s no one. Just some regular folks doing regular things.”
“Except for the business with the cheering,” Doil observed. “Perhaps you enjoy such things more than you care to admit.”
“Um, no,” Kiluron retorted. “But notice: that was it. We did the little performance, and now everyone is content to go back to their own business.”
Doil still appeared skeptical. “If you say so, my lord.”
Whatever Doil’s opinions, Kiluron could already feel himself beginning to relax. By the time he had finished his stew and his second mug of ale, he was no longer thinking about his ministers, or about Rovis, or about the province governors, or about the threat of invasion. Instead, he felt pleasantly warm and comfortable. The buzz of conversation was just loud enough to give him a sense of privacy, and even Doil was laughing along with the two guardsmen.
It was late when Kiluron and the others returned to the castle. Twiol and Vargil bade Doil and Kiluron good night at the gates; Kiluron thanked them, and ambled up the broad steps after his adviser, who was visibly drooping.
“However did I allow you to keep me awake until such an obscene time of night?” he asked. “I’ll barely have time to sleep before it’s time to wake up again.”
Kiluron slapped his shoulder. “Sometimes it’s worth the sacrifice.”
“I suppose.” Doil yawned. “We’ll both pay for it tomorrow, though. Good night.”
Click here to read the rest of Blood Magic S3:E2: The Society of the Broken Promise
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