Cnaiür, Chieftain of the Utemot, meets with the other Scylvendi chieftains, enraged that he had not been summoned for the war council. He knows that many of them heard the rumors of his father’s death long ago and that is the source of their contempt for him. He tells Xunnurit, their King-of-Tribes, to exercise patience in dealing with Ikurei Conphas, who has invaded the Steppe after a series of provocations against the Scylvendi. Xunnurit, however, thinks Cnaiür’s plan is overly-cautious and that they must attack immediately. Cnaiür relates how through patience, they had defeated the Kianese at Zirkirta. Oknai One-Eye, Chieftain of the Munuäti, asks Cnaiür how long must they wait because the droughts will begin soon, and they need to drive their herds to summer pastures, and many chieftains agree with this. Cnaiür says that Conphas had brought lots of provisions because he also expects a war of patience. Xunnurit again dismisses Cnaiür’s advice and says that tomorrow, the Scylvendi will attack.
Riding to battle the next morning, Cnaiür wonders about Conphas’s plan, certain that there is something amiss. Cnaiür comes upon a ridge and studies the Nansur army, which remains close to their encampment rather than on the banks of the River Kiyuth. His uncle, Bannut, also wonders this. Cnaiür explains that Conphas wants a pitched battle and orders Bannut to go to Xunnurit and find out what he wants the Utemot to do. Bannut returns with another Utemot tribesman, Yursalka, who tells Cnaiür that Xunnurit wants them to attack the Nansur’s left flank, which is composed of the Nasueret, rumored to be the finest soldiers in the Nansurium. The Scylvendi cross the Kiyuth and arrange themselves into a crescent without challenge, again making Cnaiür question what Conphas is planning. Before the Scylvendi charge, Bannut tells Cnaiür that he will be measured today and that “measure is unceasing.” Cnaiür is shocked, and tells his uncle that it is not the time to bring up old grudges.
Cnaiür leads the first wave of his Utemot into a charge against the Nansur. Cnaiür is unhorsed, and the Nansur ranks are largely unbroken. When he looks for the second wave, he sees that they remain behind. Suspecting treachery, Cnaiür rounds on Bannut, who tells him that he killed him to rid the Utemot of Cnaiür, who had been an accomplice to his father’s death as well lover to his killer. Cnaiür strangles him and rallies the surviving Utemot from the first charge. Their battle with the Nasueret draws the second wave to relieve them, and the Nasueret flee.
Cnaiür rushes to a hill and sees that the Nansur’s right flank is about to be overwhelmed while the Nansur’s camp is on fire. Then Cnaiür spots a Nansur column in the center that bears a Nasueret standard, and realizes Conphas had deceived them into believing their best troops were on the flanks, not the center. The Scylvendi’s own center has been driven to the other side of the Kiyuth. Balait, Cnaiür’s brother-in-law, comes to him and says they need to reassemble and strike while the field is confused. Cnaiür tells him of his suspicions and that Conphas sacrificed his flanks so he could have the center.
Cnaiür understands Conphas’s plan: he knows that the Chorae bowmen were behind the Scylvendi center. As he tries to warn Balait, the Imperial Saik strike. Rising into the sky, the Schoolmen bathe charging Scylvendi in flames. The battle quickly becomes a rout for the Scylvendi. Cnaiür is protected from their magic by his Chorae, but Balait is burned to cinder.
Cnaiür flees toward the Kiyuth and sees Yursalka and other Utemot ride by. He calls out to Yursalka but he ignores him. As Cnaiür swims across the Kiyuth, cutting off his brigandine, something hits him in the head, and Cnaiür loses consciousness.
He regains consciousness, hearing three looters. He hides his Chorae in the mud, and pretends to be dead. One inspects him, finding nothing. He loses consciousness once more.
He wakes in the morning, and crawls away from the bank of the Kiyuth and rests upon a dead horse. He feels vindicated about his early misgivings. He thinks about Bannut’s words and wonders how many other Utemot think as his uncle had. Then he hears two men talking, and Cnaiür once again plays dead. He realizes that one of the men is Conphas. Cnaiür wants to rise and attack him, but stays, listening how Conphas relates to Martemus how he knew his tactics would work because the Scylvendi are static and that “war is intellect.” Conphas tells Martemus that the battle they fought was the first engagement of the Holy War and they leave.
Cnaiür thinks back to twenty-nine years ago. In the dimness of his father’s yaksh, his father and other tribesmen talk about the insolence of the Kuöti. A slave steps forward and proposes a wager to Skiöath, shocking everyone but Cnaiür. Skiöath says that he has already failed his gambit, and the slave replies that he will wager his life against Skiöath and that everyone wonders about his strength. Skiöath laughs and says that he has already been measured. The slave replies that measure is unceasing, and Cnaiür, as instructed before by the slave, asks his father if he is afraid. Skiöath glares at him, and asks the slave, Moënghus, what’s his wager. This leads to a duel where Skiöath is killed.
At night, Cnaiür flees, avoiding the Nansur pickets.