Hello everyone, while the new chapter is still finishing up the beta review process, I’d like to note several changes I’ve made to recently published chapters as a result of several ongoing discussions and realizations while writing new content. Normally when I edit past chapters the changes are minor — simple tweaks to descriptions for accuracy/impact or rewording a sentence to make it flow better. But this time I’ve had to restructure entire scenes.
Change 1 – Gerard’s Familiar
While writing the traveling chapters, I had been working out Gerard’s character sheet on just what his skills and specialization was. It was late into the process when I realized I never picked a familiar for him. As a Lotharin who had undergone formal magical education in Alisia Academy, there’s no reason for him not to have summoned a familiar. After all, there’s always a chance he might have summoned a phoenix, which would have drastically changed his social status and mobility in life.
It took some research and discussions in discord before I finally picked one. This prompted a few edits to past chapters, with the most significant being in the 1st scene of chapter 12, after Kaede finished puking from her motion sickness as a result of traveling by faerie ring, and the group decided to walk instead of teleporting again:
The Samaran girl smiled slightly as she couldn’t help but appreciate the irony. Here she was, adorned in a frilly, black-and-white maid dress that clearly fixed her status as being a rich noble’s servant. Yet for the first time since coming to Hyperion and despite the pretense of being a lady’s maid, she was undoubtedly the real leader of their little party.
Meanwhile to her left, Gerard reached down into an extradimensional familiar pocket and retrieved a black raven with white feathers above its neck.
“Soar, Sophie, and give me lay of the land.” He said before flinging out his arm and letting his raven take flight.
The burly engineer then turned back to a staring Kaede and shrugged: “Figured since we’re walking I’d survey the land, as Her Highness had requested of me.”
“Just a bit surprised to see a raven for your familiar,” Kaede expressed but left the remaining half of her thoughts unsaid. He doesn’t match the witch stereotype at all.
“Ravens represent curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge,” Cecylia commented with a smile. “I think it actually fits him quite well.”
“That’s true. I’d almost forgotten.” Kaede responded as she remembered Huginn and Muninn, the twin raven familiars of Odin, the Allfather of the Norse.
— It made her wonder if this was yet more symbolism between Medieval Christianity’s persecution of witches and its stifling of knowledge’s progress. Which begged the question: did Hyperion’s Trinitian Church have any similar effect on its growth?
“Well, since we’re taking the scenic route, let’s be going then.” Kaede said before she turned towards the southeast and began to walk downhill.
Change 2 – Sylviane’s Army on March
I had some late feedback from a long-time reader that while the traveling chapters were good at providing content, there was a lack of sense of story progression during them. It was as if Kaede and companions were just side-questing while the main quest was stuck on standstill. Furthermore, as I was writing chapter 15, I realized I never mentioned when Sylviane’s army had started its march on the capital, which would have been before Henri’s army. So here’s the details added to the 3rd scene of Chapter 12, right before the discussion between Pascal and Sylviane on missing Kaede’s presence:
Later that night, Sylviane sat in Pascal’s room as the two of them exchanged thoughts on the day’s events and meetings.
Tonight would be their last night staying in Roazhon, as the Princess’ forces were scheduled to begin their march on the Empire’s capital of Alis Avern on the following morning. This army included the entirety of General Caradoc’s 20,000 strong Army of Ceredigion, nearly 5,000 soldiers from the Kingdom of Avorica, 353 surviving veterans of the elite ”Black Guard” from the Kingdom of Gleann Mòr, and 2,500 experienced troops of the capital’s garrison who would be returning home.
In total, the forces Sylviane gathered to retake Alis Avern numbered nearly 28,000 men. And significant work had been done over the past week to restructure units depleted by combat, integrate communications across cultural and language barriers, and prepare the logistical support necessary to supply the army on its march.
The Princess was still uneasy about the campaign ahead. However, she could at least feel satisfied that they have crossed off every item on her checklist. Nevertheless, she still felt like there was something else that was missing. And after looking around the room, her eyes settled upon the guest bed where she noticed the reduction of pillows at its head.
Of course. She thought to herself as she envisioned the sight of a petite, snowy-haired Samaran girl sitting on the bed with a book.
“It sure is quiet without Kaede here.” Sylviane remarked with a nostalgic smile.
Change 3 – Outremont and the House of La Tours
For a long while, I had forgotten about the importance of scenery and architecture in storytelling, until a certain moment when I reflected upon this in discord. Perhaps it’s an easy mistake to make while writing a novel that’s all text. But I’ve certainly toured enough places where I’ve looked up at the landmarks and awed at how a monument or natural terrain gave symbolism to the history of the people who lived around it. And as a cultural scholar, Kaede would no doubt have picked up on this.
So I revisited the final scene of chapter 13, when Kaede arrived in Outremont, the largest city in Rhetie and the seat of power of the La Tours family. I wanted to capture a bit about the history of the La Tours family and how it changed over the generations — from the most renowned hero of the Lotharin Independence War to a family corrupted by its wealth and influence — a topic will be a subject of further conversation in chapter 15.
Furthermore, I sought to add more gravitas to the scene when Kaede met Duke Hugh (though this edit was made when ch14 was published), as well as add a reminder of the three-way-nature of this diplomacy trip: as Emperor Gabriel was the other player who naturally took his own actions to alter the politics of the realm.
Unlike the previous days, the four of them talked very little before making it to their destination — the fortress-city of Outremont, capital of the Duchy of Lorraine.
The city was built onto the southern slopes of an outcrop mountain that stood at the northeastern end of the South Lotharingie Mountain range. It kept watch over a strategic nexus of several major roads, including the South Lotharingie River as it widened past the steep terrain. The fortress settlement was formidable, with two layers of thick stone curtain walls that rang rings around the city, large projecting bastions that protruded from the lower walls, and even a crowded market built atop an elevated ravelin that shielded the main gate. This design left it looking like an odd hybrid between a Medieval castle and an early Renaissance Star Fortress, except one built upon very rough terrain.
Yet, unlike the declining fortress-town of Aouta, Outremont was a prosperous and bustling city of commerce that had long outgrown its old self. The city’s stout walls separated its districts into the old and rich ‘upper city’, the poorer ‘lower city’, and several suburbs built atop external earthworks. Meanwhile, Duke Hugh’s white castle sat at the peak of the small mountain that the city stood upon. It held a commanding view that towered over the fortress’s surrounding countryside by at least twenty stories of total height and elevation difference.
As the group made their way into the city, Cecylia had met someone at the local tavern to ‘return’ their borrowed carriage. The four of them then trekked through the imposing gatehouses of the inner walls and castle. A squad of soldiers met them at the castle gates and offered to escort them to meet the Duke. It was clear that the Princess had sent a message ahead of them and their arrival was expected.
The Samaran girl had shed her maid outfit back at the tavern for her new dress as the Princess’ Grand Squire. She forced herself to take deep breaths as she strode up the red carpet with her head held high. The familiar was flanked by Cecylia in a Weichsel dress uniform on one side, while Reynaud and Gerard followed on the other with the redhead wearing his royal armiger’s cape.
Kaede wasn’t surprised when she was led into an audience chamber that was as grandiose and kingly as any royal court. The place felt more like a small cathedral than a ducal court with its high ceiling and ribbed vaults. Intricate sculptures decorated the gables while light poured through tall, stained glass windows. The entire room was arranged to ensure that the light best illuminated the raised platform where the Duke sat and those who stood before him.
Around two dozen nobles and courtiers stood in the back of the court as Kaede made her way up to the throne. The Duke’s soldiers and armigers lined up on both sides of the carpet in full armor with their weapons drawn. Their silence was unnerving as every pair of eyes across the huge audience chamber fell upon Kaede. Only the sound of her companions’ boots could be heard as the four-member party approached the throne in a tense and oppressive atmosphere.
Ignore the pomp and concentrate. The familiar swallowed as she tried to ignore her skittish nerves.
The muted ceremony was clearly intended to unsettle and intimidate the Princess’ emissary, all the while serving as a reminder of House La Tours’ power and influence. Kaede knew that her battle ahead would not be easy, as she would be fighting on her opponents’ home ground. Therefore, she did her best to not be distracted by the surroundings and center her gaze on the Duke whom she came to greet.
The corpulent and severely obese body of Duke Hugh sat upon a stone throne like a supersized blob of man-shaped pudding. His blubber overflowed onto the chair’s armrests as though the generous seat was still too small for him. It was a potent reminder of his unflattering nickname ‘Huge the Rotund’, which conveniently passed through Kaede’s mind in the mocking tone of Elspeth’s schoolgirl soprano.
Can he even get up there by himself? The familiar couldn’t help but wonder.
It wasn’t quite enough to bring a smile to Kaede’s lips. But for a brief moment, she felt the tension and pressure upon thin shoulders alleviate. The Samaran girl took a deep breath before she stepped into the light that criss-crossed before the raised platform.
“Your Grace.” Kaede dipped down in a curtsy while she lowered her head in a deep and courteous bow. She then placed her hand on top of her chest and introduced herself.
“My name is Kaede Nikita Konstantinovna Suvorskaya, Grand Squire of the Empire of Rhin-Lotharingie. I come before you as the emissary of Her Highness, the Crown Princess Sylviane Etiennette de Gaetane.”
“Yes, I know who you are.” The Duke said with an expression that was rather hard to discern due to the swaying fat of his many chins. “To think that the Princess would send a familiar to treat with me. I would be amused, if I wasn’t offended by such ridicule.” His gaze hardened as he finished.
Kaede drew in a sharp breath as she felt taken aback by how badly this was going from the very start. Pascal’s intelligence officer Hans Ostergalen did inform her that Duke Hugh was one of those nobles with an abundance of blue-blooded prejudice. Nevertheless, it was not uncommon for those of low birth to be promoted into offices of state service even in the Empire. It would be a stretch to claim sending Kaede was ‘discourteous’, let alone ‘offensive’.
“Y-Your Grace.” Kaede tried to speak up and not retreat back to her usual, wispy voice. But the Duke cut her off without giving her any opportunity to explain.
“Yes, I have heard that you are close to Her Highness. But you are nevertheless a mere servant, and your undeserved promotion does not change that fact.” He declared before giving a derisive snort. “Nevertheless, your intimacy to both the Princess and her Wicker fiancé does give you value. And I shall gladly make use of it, by offering you to His Majesty, Emperor Gabriel, as a sign of my goodwill.”
The Samaran girl heard the sound of cold steel being drawn as her entourage pulled out their weapons. But as a translucent magic barrier crackling with electrical charge slammed down in front of them between her and the Duke, she immediately realized that this was all prepared theater and she had walked into a trap.
It was clear that Gabriel had been one step ahead of them, and the false Emperor had already secured House La Tour’s crucial allegiance.
“Arrest them all.” The Duke unilaterally ended the negotiations before they even began.
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