Chapter 11: Report

“Note: those meddling heroes keep surviving getting thrown off cliffs. Must build taller ones in anticipation of the next encounter.”
– Extract from the journal of Dread Emperor Malignant II

There was something morbidly fascinating about watching Hakram’s new hand move.

The naked bones were just as dextrous as when they’d been hidden under my adjutant’s flesh and muscle, though they were now animated by necromancy instead of more natural means. He got no sensation from the skeleton hand, he’d told me, though he could roughly gauge how much pressure he was putting on something when holding it. I could feel the threads of magic that kept it moving according to his will, feel how they dug into his body and used his soul as fuel to maintain the enchantment. I was fairly sure I could tie my own threads to puppet the bones if I tried, which meant any decent necromancer could likely do the same. Not a great worry considering not even antiheroes like the Swordsman would be caught dead with anyone that dealt with the dead, but somewhere down the line Heiress might get it into her head to pull something. I’d have to ask Apprentice if anything could be done about it. Hakram followed closely behind me as we strode through the main avenue of the Fifteenth’s camp, absent-mindedly returning salutes from legionaries as we did so.

“A whole company,” I finally sighed. “And that’s just the ones we caught.”

The tall orc grimaced. “A sad day when we lose more legionaries to desertion than a run-in with heroes.”

When the dust had settled, Juniper had slapped down a report on my desk that had taken the taste of victory, however slight, right out of my mouth. While the soldiers under Commander Hune had been keeping the city from exploding into revolt, almost two companies’ worth of Callowan recruits had taken advantage of the chaos to escape into the countryside. Nauk had kept a lid on the situation as best he could and his patrols had managed to corral about half of the deserters into a prisoner camp, but the aftermath of that mess was a logistical nightmare. Juniper and I had made a point out of spreading out my countrymen across as many lines as possible to avoid the formation of Praesi and Callowan cliques in the ranks, That measure had failed spectacularly and now half the lines in Nauk’s kabili were missing one or two recruits, forcing a never-ending nightmare of transfers to fill the gaps. That we were adjusting our ranks and the most basic unit level right before heading into an active theatre of war had both Juniper and I in a dark mood: we couldn’t linger in Summerholm much longer, but neither could we go tangle with the rebels half-cocked.

The last news had the Silver Spears digging deep into General Istrid’s supply line until Captain and the Blackguards drove them off. Countess Marchford had intensified skirmishes all over the front, sending packs of barely-armed peasant conscripts to burn the fields between Vale and the Legions of Terror to deny General Sacker foraging when she advanced. The Empire wasn’t losing by any stretch of the situation – if anything, that the Countess had seen fit to burn some of the best farmland in Callow proved that much – but neither was it winning. And the longer the rebels were loose, the further talk of revolt would spread. Black knew that better than I, so I had no idea why he’d yet to pull away another pair of legions from border duty to flank the enemy. There must have been angles at play I couldn’t see. Regardless, the Fifteenth needed to get into the fight yesterday and all the fucking deserters were costing me time. The only upside to this I could see was that all our Callowan recruits who intended to pull a runner likely already had. That a full fifth of my countrymen’s numbers in the Fifteenth had tried to disappear into the wilds at the first occasion was incredibly galling, but in some ways I should have expected it. The overwhelming majority of the deserters had been gallows recruits, criminals given a choice between the noose and five years of service in the Legions.

Which also meant that there were about one hundred hardened criminals with legionary training loose in western Callow, but for now that wasn’t my problem. General Afolabi was the one who’d have to keep the region together after we joined the front and I wished him luck with the task. He’d been dropping hints for the last few days that the Fifteenth’s presence in Summerholm was disruptive to civil order, and while he wasn’t wrong it still irritated me that after I’d pulled his ass out of the fire the Soninke was trying to shoo me away. Juniper warned me that by acting this high-handed I wouldn’t be making any friends. Fuck it, if he couldn’t deal with me taking charge to put an end to the mess he’d allowed to fester I would likely had ended up making an enemy out of him down the line. He was near the bottom of the pecking order when it came to the Empire’s generals, anyway: he was the most junior among them and one of the least trusted by the Tower.

“It’s a risk, Catherine,” my adjutant gravelled. “I won’t deny if it works they’ll be useful, but if it fails…”

“It’ll hurt my credibility with the ranks,” I acknowledged sourly.

My age had been surprisingly little of an issue when it came getting my authority respected: I supposed I had centuries of young heroes and villains leading armies to thank for that. Besides, according to the census I’d had taken there was not a single of my legionaries older than twenty-five. Which was troubling, in and of itself. Not so much that I had no veterans to advise me, though Juniper had expressed private misgivings about that, but that if I’d been able to arrange this as it currently was I would have. This would not be the last war I’d be involved in, and having the core of the Fifteenth following me from the beginning of my career would only encourage them to obey my own orders over those of the Tower further down the line. Once again, Black knew this. And yet he had arranged it. More than that, nearly half my soldiers were from Callow. My teacher was making this easy on me, and he wasn’t in the habit of giving me unnecessary advantages.

If anything, he was a firm believer in hobbling me so I’d learn to deal with problems from a position of weakness. So what’s your game, oh teacher of mine? No point in thinking too long about it right now. Black’s mind was a labyrinth of vicious cleverness on the best of days. Besides, for all that the deck had been stacked in my favour when it came down to it I had yet to acquire the trust of the rank and file of the Fifteenth. My age and lack of experience might not have been divisive issues but my birth certainly was. Even having a Name and the tutelage of a Calamity could only get me so far. If I screwed up, if I made an obvious mistake that could be attributed to Callowan sympathies… That concern had made deciding the fate of those one hundred imprisoned deserters a godsdamned thorn in my side. Juniper had argued for crucifying the lot of them and putting them up on the ramparts of Summerholm as a warning for the rest, but that wouldn’t solve anything.

I was also, to be frank, a lot less sanguine than my Legate at the idea of casually ordering a hundred gruesome deaths. And yet, I couldn’t just reintegrate them in the ranks. There was no guarantee they wouldn’t run again given the chance and I’d have a mutiny on my hands if they got off without punishment. Besides, there was a difference between not wanting the lot to die a brutal death spread over several days and wanting them to get off easy. I had little sympathy for the bastards: while the rest of my soldiers had been doing their jobs and dying in the line of duty they’d tried to flee. The cowardice was revolting, regardless of the circumstances of their enrolment.

I was still in a foul mood when we arrived at the open clearing where the deserters had been herded, forced to kneel and surrounded by twice their number in loyal legionaries. They’d been disarmed and divested of their armour, of course. No point in taking unnecessary risks. I strode past them towards the wooden crate my adjutant had installed in anticipation my address, the both of us ignoring the whispers of “Deadhand” that spread when Hakram was recognized. The orc had acquired something of a reputation, by surviving a fight against not one but two heroes with only a lost hand to show for it. I climbed on top of the crate, resenting the absurdity of it but painfully aware that even kneeling some of the prisoners reached up to my chin.

“Silence,” I ordered, and the whispers were snatched right out of their mouths.

I resisted the urge to clear my throat, taking a deep breath. Black’s lesson on pitching my voice so it could carry far without being a yell had seemed an affectation at the time, but I was glad of them now.

“Military tribunals were convened last night and sentences have been given,” I announced.

It felt strange, standing in front of over two hundred people decked out in plate and wreathed in the dark cloak my teacher had gifted me. I felt like a fake, like the fact that I’d been so often making it up as I went along should have been obvious to everyone, but my gaze swept over the prisoners and I saw only fear on their faces. There was something darkly satisfying about that, much as the feeling unsettled me.

“For desertion, low treason and dereliction of duty while the Empire is in a state of war, you have all been condemned to death,” I said.

There were a few cries of dismay and some prisoners tried to get up. My temper flared.

Sit the Hells down,” I Spoke, and my voice rang like steel.

As if they’d been struck, the deserters fell back to the ground. So did quite a few of my legionaries, I noted, though since they’d not been the people I addressed the effect of the Speaking on them was much weaker.

“I have been urged to make examples of you,” I growled. “To put you up on a hundred crosses as a warning for the next fools tempted to run.”

I mastered my irritation and let out a deep breath.

“But that would be a waste. You owe military service to the Tower and I fully intend to collect.”

Confusion and a little hope, but most were just wary. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. As well they should. It had occurred to me, eventually, that I was trying to solve a Callowan problem through Praesi means. It was the wrong set of tools for the job. The Kingdom of Callow had its own military traditions, more than just the now-disbanded knightly orders. My girlhood hero Elizabeth Alban, the Queen of Blades, had tried to invade the Duchy of Daoine once – though back then it had been an independent kingdom. Well aware that the Watch would inevitably make a butchery of whatever troops she sent in to breach their strongholds, she’d founded a new division in the Callowan host: the Forlorn Hope. Criminals, traitors, deserters – she’d conscripted all the scum at the bottom of the barrel, armed them and sent them first into the grinder at every occasion. Using the worst of the Kingdom to do the Kingdom’s best work, she’d famously called it. And now here I was, with hard battles ahead of me and a full company of deserters. There were lessons to be learned from the past, if one was willing to look in the right places.

“As of this morning, the Forlorn Hope company has been added to the rolls of the Fifteenth. Congratulations on your reenrolment in the Legions of Terror,” I announced. I paused, eyes sweeping across the crowd. “I see some of you are rejoicing. Wipe that smile off of your faces. Make no mistake, deserters: this is not a mercy. I own you now.”

The words rolled off my tongue easily, coming unprompted now.

“Lawfully you are a dead men and women, all of you. The manner and time of your death is at my discretion, and I intend to use you sorely before letting you go.”

I allowed a hard smile to stretch my lips.

“Your officers will be Praesi, as they have refrained from disgracing themselves. Their authority over you is absolute: they’ve been granted the power to carry out your sentence at any time, for any reason they see fit.”

That had been the hardest part to implement. Obviously I couldn’t use Callowan officers, but finding volunteers to lead soldiers likely to slip a knife in your ribs if they got a chance had been… tricky. Ultimately Juniper had agreed that any officer serving in the Forlorn Hope would get a promotion out of the company after a fixed duration of service. Ambition was not a quality my legionaries lacked, especially those who’d gone through the College. There’d have to be oversight to make sure that unprecedented amount of power of their soldiers wouldn’t be abused, but mentioning as much right now would have been counter-productive to my goals. I needed them scared. But not desperate. If they thought they had nothing to lose, there’d be no telling what they’d do to get out.

“Your situation is not, however, entirely hopeless,” I continued. “Should you serve out the remaining years of your term without incident, you will be released and your record wiped clean.”

I stared the prisoners down, feeling my Name simmer in approbation under my skin.

“You want to be free? Earn it.”

I let the silence that followed my last words remain for a moment, weighing down on them, then sighed.

“Dismissed,” I finished.

The guards set to the chore of bringing back the prisoners to their separate camp as I stepped down from my crate, taking Hakram’s offered hand. The live one, because I wasn’t touching that other one without a damned good reason.

“We’ll need to hurry if we don’t want to be late,” my adjutant reminded me.

“Time to face the music, huh?” I grunted.

It’d been a while since I’d seen my teacher anyway.

It was utterly bizarre to stand by a Miezan-style open bath while in full armour, but not as strange as watching a Calamity putter around the cold waters while lighting candles.

Not normal ones, I noted. They were little carved figurines of obsidian covered in runes, and while I could see no wick they were nonetheless burning. I almost asked Masego but he was watching his father work quite intently: apparently he’d never attempted a scrying spell of this particular breed before. Warlock had taken the opportunity of turning our report to Black into a lesson for his son, which was rather thoughtful of him. Hakram shuffled uneasily behind me, nervousness easy to read even on his inhuman face. It was about the teeth, with the orcs: showing the lower part of their fangs without going up to the tips was a sign of agitation, apparently. Or so Captain had told me, and after all those years of working with orcs I figured she’d know. My adjutant had never met Black in person, even back in Ater. That he was now doing so after the entire Comital Palace had been turned into a smoking wreck probably wasn’t helping his nerves. The four city blocs surrounding the western bastion had gone the same way, but thankfully Hune’s legionaries had evacuated them in time. There was a little more to it than that, of course: the Black Knight was a big deal, to most orcs. A living legend, even, to those who’d been born after the Conquest and the Reforms. I supposed it wasn’t unlike if I’d been able to meet Eleonore Fairfax or Jehan the Wise, had they still alive.

“It will do,” Warlock suddenly announced, rising back to his feet and tidying up his robes.

I eyed the circle of candles surrounding the water sceptically.

“I thought the reason most two-way scrying has those little pebbles at the bottom of the bowls was so there’s a sympathetic link to ground the spell in? How does this one even work?”

The Soninke raised an eyebrow.

“Do you have a few days for me to grant you a layman’s understanding of metaphysical sympathetic effects?” he asked drily.

“Probably not,” I admitted.

“Then take my word for it,” the still ridiculously handsome older man replied. “Masego, did you commit the pattern to memory?”

“The escapement seems a little weak to me,” the bespectacled boy muttered. “I’d have to write down to formula to grasp how it actually works, but reproducing it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Warlock clicked his tongue against the top of his mouth.

“What do we say about blind imitation, Masego?” he prompted.

Apprentice rolled his eyes. “Sorcery without understanding is a sword without a handle,” he dutifully quoted. “I don’t know why you’re so fond of that saying, Father, you wouldn’t be caught dead using an actual sword.”

Warlock looked aghast at the very idea. “Only plebs kill with their own hands,” he asserted, remembering Hakram and I were still in the room only a moment latter. “No offense,” he added, not bothering to inject a great deal of credibility in the appeasement.

“Some taken,” I replied honestly.

Masego snorted. His father ignored me and waved a hand, muttering under his breath. The waters rippled, then lit up with an unearthly glow. My teacher’s silhouette appeared on the surface, seated by a table and – why wasn’t I surprised? – a cup of wine in hand. It was barely Noon Bell! Praesi drinking habits were downright unwholesome.

“I can’t believe you fell for that goblinfire trick, Wekesa,” Back spoke amusedly. “We used the exact same one to flush out the Grey Wizard.”

Warlock sneered. “If Afolabi, your general, had kept a closer eye on his stocks it wouldn’t have been an issue. Besides, I’m not the one who toppled Stygia’s government while drunk as a lord.”

Black threw up his hands in exasperation. “Are you ever going to let that one go?” he replied in irrigation.  “I got a jug of wine when we traded the donkey, was else was I supposed to do with it? I swear, you’re worse with that than Sabah is with the whole dragon affair.”

“She’s right to hold it over your head,” the other Calamity replied with a twitch of the lips. “It was sizing her up for dinner while you haggled over terms.”

“It was asking for an absurd amount of goats and you know it,” the green-eyed man replied peevishly.

While in my case regular meals in the company of Black and Captain had long disabused me of the notion that living legends were above petty bickering, if the stunned look on Hakram’s face was any indication it was a fresh revelation for the orc. I cleared my throat.

“While I’d like to revisit why the Empire would be meddling in one of the Free Cities’ internal affairs at some point in the future,” I noted, “I think there might be more pressing matters at hand.”

And just like that, all traces of amusement slid off the two men’s faces. I’d seen it happen in my teacher before, but witnessing the same on a man as amiable as Warlock was a little unsettling.

“Catherine,” Black finally bothered to greet me. “I hear you’ve managed to get the Summerholm situation under control.”

“Hello to you too, Uncle Amadeus,” Apprentice interrupted, tone a little irked.

“Don’t be a brat, Masego,” the dark-haired man replied lazily. “The greeting was implied. The same goes for your adjutant, Catherine.”

Green eyes turned to Hakram, too considering to be anything close to friendly.

“Hakram Deadhand,” he murmured. “Catchy, that. If the story spreads it will accelerate your growth into your Name.”

“Sir,” the orc replied stiffly, saluting out of reflex.

I winced in embarrassment for him.

“At ease, Adjutant,” my teacher replied, kind enough not to voice the amusement I suspected he felt. “This is not an official debriefing; we’re merely sharing information. Scribe tells me the Fifteenth managed to take one of the heroes prisoner.”

The last sentence was inflected to sound like a question, though everybody in the room knew it wasn’t. It was one of Black’s more irritating habits to leave sentences hanging as an invitation to elaborate instead of actually asking a question – he did it all the times when we had our evening lessons.

“The Hunter,” I grunted. “He survived the wounds only barely, he’s been kept in enchanted sleep ever since.”

Green eyes turned to Warlock and his eyebrow arched.

“He’s from Refuge, I’ve confirmed it,” the older Soninke said and I blinked in surprise.

That was news to me. Wasn’t Refuge ruled by Ranger? It was an independent polity, sure, but the few times the subject of the other Calamity had come up she’d always been spoken of fondly. That didn’t really mesh with heroes trickling into the Empire from there, unless there was a plan in the works.

“One of Hye’s pupils,” the Knight grimaced. “That’s going to be a mess. Malicia will insist on diplomatic sanctions.”

“I’m sorry, did I miss something here?” I broke in incredulously. “Because the implication seems to be that a fairly notorious villain was a hero’s teacher.”

Warlock graced me with an amused look, Black leaned back in his seat.

“Calling Ranger a villain is something of a stretch,” my own teacher finally said. “She’s not particularly concerned with matters of Good and Evil. Mostly, she does what she feels like doing. We can discuss it more later, Catherine – it’s a somewhat complicated issue.”

The other Calamity smirked. “You can say that again.”

Black’s eyes turned cold, for a heartbeat. “Glass houses, Wekesa,” he simply said, and Warlock looked abashed for a moment before they smoothly changed the subject.

“You’ll need to bring him with you when you join us south,” the pale-skinned Named informed me.

I frowned. “That seems like a recipe for a heroic rescue,” I told him bluntly.

“The Swordsman lost,” Masego disagreed quietly. “You’ll have free hand for at least a month.”

Black nodded in approval. “By that time we’ll have gotten word back from Refuge and found out whether he’s been disavowed or not. If so, summary execution. As a matter of fact, if he somehow manages to wake up and attempt an escape you’re free to deal with him however you wish. There’s limits to our forbearance, even with old friends.”

“And if he hasn’t been disavowed?” I asked.

Black’s smile was perfectly pleasant, and all the more frightening for it.

“Then things will get interesting,” was all he said.

“We haven’t identified the other prisoner yet,” Masego contributed when it became obvious the subject was closed. “We’ve managed to heal the burns enough to ascertain she’s Deoraithe, but she’s yet to regain consciousness.”

“I might have been a little heavy-handed,” Warlock idly admitted. “I forget how fragile people without Names can be.”

Black drained the rest of his cup, then set it aside. “Is she from the Watch? Sacker says they’ve been quiet, but sometimes they slip between the cracks.”

“I was waiting on your approval for that,” the Soninke replied. “The procedure always has risks, as you well know.”

“See if you can get anything out of her when she wakes up,” Black ordered. “If not, go ahead with it. And do a bloodline ritual, just in case.”

Warlock grinned. “Not going to get on my case for summoning those nasty, nasty devils?” he teased.

“I’m enough of a general to know a lost battle when I see one,” the Knight replied sourly.

“So you can learn,” Warlock mused. “I take it you need the room for the next part of this conversation?”

“If you would,” my teacher agreed. “I’ll be in touch later this evening regardless.”

The dark-skinned nodded, putting his hand over his son’s shoulder.

“Come, Masego,” he announced carelessly. “The unwashed masses have business to discuss.”

“That’s funny,” Apprentice mused, “you know, considering we’re in a-“

The voices faded abruptly as they passed the room’s threshold, like they’d been swallowed up. A protective ward. Hadn’t even noticed it. I still couldn’t, even now that I knew it was here, and that bothered me more than a little bit. I knew there were few mages of Warlock’s calibre out there, but there were some. A liability to look into, when I next found the time. Hakram made to follow the mages but my teacher spoke up.

“Stay, Adjutant,” he ordered. “This concerns you more than Catherine.”

The sudden set of the orc’s jaw betrayed his concern, but overall he kept his face remarkably calm.

“Warlock’s professional opinion is that you’re less than a month away from coming into your Name, Hakram Deadhand,” Black announced conversationally. “Which means you need to be made aware of the broader concerns regarding it.”

“There’s going to be pushback,” the orc gravelled. “From the more conservative elements in the Empire.”

“Pushback is something of an understatement,” Black replied. “I expect that the assassination attempts will begin before the end of this campaign.”

My fingers closed into a fist at the blunt statement of fact. “They’d try assassinate a Legion officer in the middle of a war?” I spat.

“The nobility sees the outcome of the Rebellion as a foregone conclusion,” he noted. “Meanwhile, Adjutant, you personify the very trend they’ve been spending the last forty years trying to bury.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment, sir,” Hakram muttered.

“You should,” Black agreed. “The last orc to have the potential for a Name was Grem One-Eye, boy. You walk in hallowed company.”

My officer swallowed loudly, and I couldn’t blame him for it.

“Isn’t there anything you can do about the assassins?” I asked. “I thought those all answered to the the Tower.”

“They’ll hire their blades through Mercantis, and short of burning that city down there’s not much we can do about that,” Black admitted. “Malicia’s already suppressing the rumours in Praes and she’s put the information under the seal of the Tower – it’s illegal to even speak of it at the moment. But those are stopgap measures, Catherine, and there’s only so long it will work.”

I gritted my teeth. “We’ve got our hands full enough without dealing with assassins on top of it,” I grunted. “There’s got to be a way to take care of it.”

“There is,” Black replied mildly. “Kill them. Brutally, publicly and repeatedly. Eventually they’ll decided that assassination isn’t a feasible way to remove him from the board and turn to other means.”

“Might be simpler to choke that off at the source,” I said.

He snorted. “While the thought of cleaning up the political scene of the Empire with a vigorous round of hangings has a certain appeal, we should deal with the open rebellion putting the south of Callow to the torch before starting a civil war.”

I recognized the change of subject for the tacit declaration that this particular discussion was over with.

“You’ve decided where the Fifteenth will be deployed, then?” I asked.

“It’s time,” he agreed. “You’ll link up with us for a few days but split off towards Marchford when we move south to force a battle. It’s time for the Silver Spears to be dealt with. Congratulations, Catherine: your first battle will be as an independent detached force.”

I grinned. “Best news I’ve had all week.”

26 thoughts on “Chapter 11: Report

  1. Daemion

    Hakram Deathhand, that sounds very metal. ^^

    So Catherine gets to go to war with an untested and understrength legion, without backup. Sounds perfect for her name.😉

    Like

  2. Bart

    I strode past them towards the wooden crate my adjutant had installed in anticipation my address
    Add “of” before my.

    They’d try assassinate a Legion officer
    Add “to” after try

    It seems like Hakram may need a bodyguard, just to help him out a little more.🙂

    I hope that was a tacit acknowledgement from Black that he’s going to back her little civil war thing. It should be a good way to shake up some troublesome nobles.

    Like

  3. daniel73

    I want to learn more about ranger now if she is ok with training heroes and yet keeps here place as a calamity. There is bound to be another interesting story there. Especially if her name has not deserted her over such a thing🙂

    I hope hakram gets bodyguards or something cause he is one of my favourite characters so far😀

    Like

  4. Unmaker

    Typos:

    if the stunned look on Hakram’s face was any indication it was a fresh revelation for the orc
    (perfect place to put a ‘but’ in front of)
    but if the stunned look on Hakram’s face was any indication it was a fresh revelation for the orc

    “He survived the wounds only barely, he’s been kept in enchanted sleep ever since.”
    (two minor improvements – ‘his’ wounds and this is a good place to use a semicolon as a clause separator)
    “He survived his wounds only barely; he’s been kept in enchanted sleep ever since.”

    There’s limits
    There are limits
    (character speech, might be as intended)

    to the the Tower
    to the Tower

    Eventually they’ll decided
    Eventually they’ll decide

    Reactions:

    “We haven’t identified the other prisoner yet. We’ve managed to heal the burns enough to ascertain she’s Deoraithe, but she’s yet to regain consciousness.”
    So the rather skilled Deoraithe observer Breagach was not a Name. Or this is another Deoraithe.

    “they dug into his body and used his soul as fuel”
    That doesn’t sound good. Of course, necromancy, Evil, etc., but Hakram is enjoyable to read about, so I hope there are no long-term problems with this.

    “feeling my Name simmer in approbation”
    Wait, her Name is praising her for reinstating a tradition of an old enemy of the Empire? I know Names are more concerned with following their nature than with Good and Evil, but even so that seems odd.

    “your first battle will be as an independent detached force.”
    “Best news I’ve had all week.”
    If she fu**s it up she can be hung out to dry. Seems like that’s one to file under “he was a firm believer in hobbling me so I’d learn to deal with problems from a position of weakness”, except the hobbling is political rather than positional.

    Like

    1. Bart

      Also, instead of:
      He survived his wounds only barely
      It should be:
      He just barely survived his wounds

      “Just barely” is a colloquialism and you can’t really use similar words to convey the same message.

      Like

    2. zengar

      “Wait, her Name is praising her for reinstating a tradition of an old enemy of the Empire? I know Names are more concerned with following their nature than with Good and Evil, but even so that seems odd.”

      Well, the basics of Forlorn Hope company seem to me to be awfully similar to “Struggle.” Coming up with a solution that has _some_ military tradition behind it, even if not Legion tradition, might skirt the edges of “Learning.” And her 3rd aspect, the one which hasn’t been labeled for her or us yet and which I suspect points the way toward what name Squire is transitioning to, well…

      I suspect that when Cathrine’s connection to her name was weakened, it was actually caused by altering that 3rd Aspect. Going from whatever it started out as to something about converting enemies into allies, or at least resources. Binding the Lone Swordsman to a path that furthers her goals. (and might result in him defecting from the Light) Convincing Juniper to become her chief of staff rather than her adversary. Forming a company of the “twice damned”? Those that survive being put through the mat grinder repeatedly are going to be some tough SoBs and story-wise they’ll either end up trying to stick a knife in her back or become fanatically loyal gave them a chance rather than killing them. Most likely both.

      Like

    3. x

      “perfect place to put a ‘but’ in front of”
      The previous clause already had “while”. You’d need to remove that for “but” to be valid at all.

      Typos:
      I would likely had ended up
      have

      an issue when it came getting my authority respected
      came +to

      Besides, for all that the deck had been stacked in my favour when it came down to it I had yet to
      favour, when

      in anticipation my address
      anticipation +of (was in Bart’s comment above already)

      Black’s lesson on pitching my voice so it could carry far without being a yell had seemed an affectation at the time, but I was glad of them now.
      lesson … glad of it / lessons … glad of them

      Lawfully you are a dead men
      -a

      unprecedented amount of power of their soldiers
      power over?

      four city blocs
      blocks (was in Nirge’s comment above already)

      , had they still alive.
      +been

      Back spoke amusedly
      Black (was in Nirge’s comment above already)

      he replied in irrigation
      irritation

      he did it all the times when we had our evening lessons.
      all the time?

      Eventually they’ll decided
      decide (was in Unmaker’s comment above already)

      Like

    4. Wait, her Name is praising her for reinstating a tradition of an old enemy of the Empire?
      When you look at the institution she just revived, it’s not something you’d automatically put on the side of Good. Besides, Evil doesn’t have to serve Praesi interests or perspective.

      If she fu**s it up she can be hung out to dry.
      On the other hand, if it’s a success she doesn’t need to share the credit with anyone but Juniper.

      Like

  5. alegio

    “Only plebs kill with their own hands,” – warlock
    “It was asking for an absurd amount of goats and you know it,”- the dark knight

    And… now I cant see a villian seriusly any more.

    It looks like hakram will geat his OP-boost in the next chapters and thats great, catherine desperately needs someone to help her with the heros and normal soldiers are a no no here.

    Like

  6. FinalPyre

    Don’t think I’ve seen these caught yet.

    I thought the reason most two-way scrying has those little pebbles at the bottom of the bowls was so there’s a sympathetic link to ground the spell in?
    Could be said inquisitively, but not really a question, and she asks what she’s implying directly afterward.

    The dark-skinned nodded
    man (or something else)

    Like

    1. stevenneiman

      Question marks in uncertain statements are technically a grammatical mistake, but in practice can be left to stylistic judgement. English is such a soft language, it can be hard to say what is and is not strictly proper grammar anyway.

      Like

  7. Arkeus

    Mmmh, so Catherine isn’t aware that Ranger is The Lady of the Lake?

    Anyway, just caught up to date on this. This is a very good take on the more realistic “Empire establish legitimacy in countries by making puppet rulers of national blood they brainwashed early on”, and I wonder how this will go.

    Having Catherine jumping with both feet in to be brainwashed more and more and constantly ignoring how she is both incapable of seeing how Praes sees Villains or how Callow sees Heroes is interesting but endlessly frustrating.

    Black Knight, or more probably Scribe, was really effective in creating Imperial Orphanage in order to use memetic warfare and supplant Callow’s names with Praes ones.

    Like

    1. stevenneiman

      What do you mean, “jumping in to be brainwashed”? She is doing everything in the knowledge that neither the people in charge nor their teachings can be trusted at face value, and if fact her entire objective is to try and turn Praes around. She is most certainly not doing anything that makes her easier to brainwash directly, and she is only more manipulable because she is now in a position worth influencing.

      Like

      1. Arkeus

        This novel seems to be following real-world ways on how to enslave a nation: basically the most common way is to get people from that place young, submerge them in your own nation’s values in a way that makes sure they are neither from ‘your culture’ nor ‘their culture’ AND actually believe ‘your nation’ is invincible in order to paralyse them, and then use them as a puppet ruler of their nations who will forever be using petty plot to rebel but be ineffective because they will be incapable of understanding your own nation nor their owns as they would have been raised knowing neither.

        If you look at not only how Cat is handled but also how she think this is fairly obviously happening:

        First, she was raised in a Imperial Orphanage that made sure to only show the dysfunctional sides of Callow and to always put in accents on how strong Praes was. You can easily see that with the ways she was utterly unaware of how effective Callow troops were, was fangirlshipping villains from the starts, and ALWAYS begin her modes of thoughts with “Callow could never do that” (insert example of Callow having actually done that).

        Second, the first think Amadeus did once contacting her was trying to instill into her a fear and impression of being invincible. He is helped a lot there by Cat’s upbringing and her assumptions, so that when Amadeus says “Yeah, I have 50 moves in advances to take care of Heroes”, she doesn’t think “He spends most of his time trying to deal with Heroes before they appear because he knows that no one is invicible”, but she thinks “Woah, even if it’s useless he is so careful, he is invincible”. This basically continues as it goes with Cat made successfully unable to ever think she can win against Amadeus and always worshipping his mind, so that she will later on choose to “settle” as the High Lord/Whatever of Laure that’s under the direct supervision of him and think ‘good enough’ or some such (Of course I am expecting both Amadeus and Malicia to have very different plans than that, as they seem to have a very different agenda).

        Third, you can clearly see how she is utterly unable to either see how Praes or Callow think. When she heard “Only one Grace, only one Sin”, she doesn’t think “Well, this is Amadeus using leashes in order to limit the military”, she actually think “this is what made it strong”. When she heard about the Best Emprer (The Betrayer) she is utterly confused as she would never have thought he would be popular as he was ineffectual. When she hears about Triumphant she is utterly confused as she would never have thought she would be hated as she was effective. She just continuously is unable to GET Praes because of assumptions on their values, and not realising that “Evil” and “Good” have nothing to do with “liking effectiveness”. This is why “One Grace, One Sin” is such a horrible motto for the army, as it pretty much enable all the ineffectiveness of ‘amusing extreme actions’ the Evil party love so much. She didn’t even realize what was happening when she was making the Goat Bombing, and why making those won her so many points from Praes people.

        She also reverse that a lot with Callow, constantly thinking “If the old Military of Callow would hear about what I am doing they would be having fit” and then you are shown that the old military of Callow actually did the same but better, and so on. Likewise with her Squire name being happy with what she just did this chapter- she is probably going to be utterly unaware why.

        tl;dr: Cat has been constantly moulded into being the perfect puppet ruler in Laure that will obediently ask how high when told to jump.

        Now… There are hints that Amadeus actually has other plans from that. Same for Malicia. Same for Lady of the Lake/Ranger.

        For example, the most obvious reason why she is given so many Callow troops in her Legion is basically in order to make her hate Callow. After all, her troops are people who have been sentenced to death by the Praes and who are then told to attack their own familities. Cat being so mad at them being loyal to their own people was hilarious, btw.

        However, while it’s “the most obvious reason”, it might also be a Test. On one hand, the High Lord/etc will see this and be amused, but OTOH… if she actually manages to subvert her legion, she might be having a lot of people ready to attack Praes without much issue if a lot of her soldiers are from Callow. Depending on how it goes, it might actually be Amadeus’ plan to have Cat doing that.

        Likewise, Malicia and The Lady of the Lake seems to have their own separate plans.

        Like

      2. You’ve picked up on several details, but you’re also misreading quite a few things.

        The Imperial orphanages do serve as propaganda-dispensers, but only to an extent – if the lies were too obvious they wouldn’t be believed. Their two main functions are to ensure that orphans from the Conquest can easily secure a job, ensuring they have something of an interest in maintaining the status quo, and to serve as an early warning system for heroes-to-be.

        The “fangirling” you’re pointing out is no coincidence, you’re right in that, but that you seem to think it’s unique to Catherine is a mistaken assumption. As mentioned in the early chapters of Book I, Callow was beaten so overwhelmingly during the Conquest that there was a widespread cultural reaction of putting the Legions of Terror on a pedestal. That Catherine picked up quite a few stories about the Calamities when she was a kid is just a reflection of the fact that she worked in a tavern catering to legionaries, who wouldn’t exactly tell stories about Callowan folk heroes.

        Cat has in fact several times implied she might have to kill Black before reaching her goals, so I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea she thinks he’s invincible from. She does recognize it would be very, very hard to accomplish this but that’s a pretty accurate assessment. If it was that easy to do, it would already have been done. Does she think that Callow can militarily beat the Empire right now? No. She’s not wrong, and considering she’s spent the last year studying the Legions it’s not like she’s making an uninformed assumption.

        As for her understanding neither the Callowan nor the Praesi mindset, you’re half right. For one there is no such thing as the Praesi mindset – even among the human ethnicities of the Empire, there’s some pretty radical differences in how they see the world. And that’s without even throwing in the non-humans, who are a lot more influential now than they’ve ever been before. The reason Catherine has been consistently misreading the Lone Swordsman, which is what I’m guessing you’re basing that sentence on, is that he’s not going at it like a traditional Callowan hero. He’s assembled an army, but he’s not leading it. He’s fighting the Praesi occupation by using terror tactics instead of traditional heroic means, and so on and so on. In his own way William is as strange a hero as Catherine is a villain, by their own cultural standards.

        The “one sin, one grace” philosophy is meant to do entirely the opposite of what you’re describing. It was introduced by Black as a way to curtail the old “evil for evil’s sake” way of doing things that was in place before, and it’s worked very well so far. Keep in mind that the catchy slogan isn’t all there is to that way of doing things – the character seen so far who lives most by those words is Juniper, and she’s not one to enable pointless shenanigans. This whole way of doing things is a new trend of Praes, and that’s why Cat was surprised at the likes of Traitorous being so popular: in many ways, she’s familiar with Legion culture (and recent one at that) more than that of actual ethnic groups. It’s hard to reconcile an openly compulsive backstabber like Traitorous with a smooth operator like Malicia.

        Catherine does have some inaccurate ideas about how the military of the Kingdom was run, most of them springing from either the fact that the Conquest was very one-sided or that military manuals from Old Callow were largely destroyed in the aftermath of the occupation. That said, she’s also been right on some occasions. The comment you were referring to, if I’m not mistaken, was when she noted that the goblin way of doing things would be horrifying to the knightly orders that existed pre-Conquest. That’s perfectly true. While knighthood was very romanticized among Callowans, there truly were codes of honour and chivalry in place that knights were expected to live up to. The mere implication that a Callowan knight would have stabbed an opponent in their sleep would have qualified as a duelling offence.

        As for the reason Catherine was given Callowan troops being making her hate Callow, that’s incorrect. There /are/ reasons and she’s already guessed a few of them, but what you’re describing doesn’t really work? I don’t see how former death penalty criminals deserting during a battle would turn into her hating her homeland. As for said deserters leaving because they’re being loyal to their own people, that’s a bit of a stretch. Whether deserting after being press-ganged into military service by a foreign nation occupying your own is morally wrong at all is a whole other issue, but automatically granting them patriotic intentions is putting a very positive spin on their actions. They also weren’t told to attack their own families. The deserters, as mentioned, were primarily from Nauk’s command and that part of the Fifteenth didn’t fight. There were also a total of sixty Callowans plus the heroes in the entire attack force, so the odds of anyone in the Swordsman’s party being related to anyone in the Fifteenth are astronomically low.

        As for intentions Malicia, Black or even Ranger might have for Catherine you’ll have to keep reading. That said, if Black or Malicia wanted to indoctrinate a young Callowan into the Imperial way of seeing things they probably wouldn’t have picked a sixteen year old with pretty set ideas about how the world should be.

        Like

  8. stevenneiman

    “not a single {one} of my legionaries older than twenty-five.”
    “had they still {been} alive.”
    “I’d have to write down [to->the?] formula to grasp how it actually works”
    “[Back->Black] spoke amusedly.”
    “an absurd [amount->number] of goats”
    “The dark-skinned {man?} nodded”

    On the subject of assassins, my response if I was totally evil would be retaliation of one loved one and one valuable underling per attempt, as Hakram represents both. Or just off the person themselves, but that might be harder to manage.

    Like

    1. Soronel Haetir

      That’s assuming you can figure out exactly who is sending the assassins. Doesn’t help much to know it’s one of the nobles, need to narrow it down a bit more than that. Properly done even the assassin doesn’t know who hired them. And even harder to do while you’re supposed to be commanding a legion in the field far from where the hiring took place.

      Like

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