Heroic Interlude: Attaque au Fer

“Those who clap others in irons always end up choking on them.”
– Eleanor Fairfax, founder of the Fairfax dynasty

The Baroness Dormer was strikingly beautiful.

Hair like spun silver, men said, and even in her late thirties the sight of her smiling was enough to make his breath catch in his throat. William was evidently not immune to her charms, though he fancied he was less swayed by them than most. Still, of all the nobles involved in the Liesse Rebellion he thought her the best of the bunch. Unlike the Duke of Liesse and his now-betrothed the Countess Marchford, he knew that ambition did not drive the woman sitting across from him. Her fief would not grow from the liberation of Callow, and given her long-running enmity with Countess Elizabeth there would be no position of influence at court for her in the aftermath. She’d joined her force to the Rebellion because she wanted the land of her ancestors to be free, and such a purity of intent was laudable. Not often rewarded, but perhaps all the more laudable for that.

“I can bring five thousand to bear, though I hesitate to commit some of them to a battle,” the baroness said. “They are peasant volunteers, untrained in the arts of war.”

“Your household troops can take the lead,” the Lone Swordsman replied. “I don’t suppose you’ve managed to scrape up some knights?”

Chivalric orders had been disbanded wholesale after the Conquest, but the south of Callow had never truly been invaded – after the fall of Laure and the submission of the Deoraithe, the flight into exile of the Duke of Liesse had been enough to tip the balance towards surrender. The only southern demesne with an Imperial Governor assigned had been Liesse itself, and though William knew better than to think the entire sector had not been crawling with the Black Knight’s spies the scrutiny of the Tower had not been as heavy down there. In northwest and central Callow the capitulation of the Kingdom had been greeted with wholesale butchery of horse herds across the land: the old promise that Praesi would never manage to suborn Callowan cavalry had been faithfully observed. Down south, though, some smaller herds had remained in the hands of nobles. Flat refusal to sell any to the Tower had caused tensions and threatened an uprising the year following the Conquest when a general had tried to force the issue, but in the end orders had come from above to let the matter go.

“I had half a hundred when we started the war,” the aristocrat replied, “but they’re all with Talbot now.”

“We’ll make do,” William sighed. “If she’s to fight the Legions of Terror on the field, she needs all the help she can get.”

“Especially now,” the baroness murmured.

The Lone Swordsman grimaced. Word of Foundling’s unexpected victory against the Silver Spears had already spread even this far. Mages in Marchford, he expected. Now that the Praesi had made popular the use of scrying rumours flew even faster than messenger birds. I warned you, Prince. One misstep is all she needs. With the eastern flank secure, the Ninth and Sixth legions could march towards Vale with their supply train safe. Countess Elizabeth would not be facing tired, half-starved soldiers: she’d be staring down the war machine that had triumphed on the Fields of Streges in the fullness of its might. At least it was only two legions: if it had been three or four the rebellion could be considered as good as over.

“She’ll hold,” William promised. “As soon as we’ve dealt with the Heiress’ host we’ll move to reinforce her.”

“I am glad you heeded my call,” the silver-haired beauty admitted. “Fighting a Stygian phalanx would have been bad enough on its own, but with a Named to lead them? I dared not force a battle with the forces at my disposal.”

“You were right to wait,” the Lone Swordsman said. “I’ve never been to Stygia but the Bard assures me the tales are true – on even ground they are one of the finest in the land.”

The formation the slave-soldiers took in battle was a slow and cumbersome thing, but it had shredded hosts from Procer and the other Free Cities both. The Stygians did not retreat or hesitate, for the leather cord around their neck could choke them in an instant should the person owning them wish it.

“So much for the Praesi being above slavery,” the baroness scoffed. “I used to consider it their one redeeming feature.”

“The Heiress is from the old breed of eastern villainy,” William acknowledged. “They tend to break even their own rules when it gains them advantage. Keep priests close, I would not put it above her to summon devils if things go sour.”

The House of Light did not officially take sides in mortal conflicts, though it occasionally did produce a clerical Named who carried the banner of the Heavens into battle. Mundane priests who felt the calling to combat Evil could join religious martial orders but those were not part of the House proper, merely affiliated with it – hence why the Empire had slaughtered every last paladin from the Order of the White Hand but allowed the many churches and cathedrals in Callow to continue existing after the annexation. Most priests did, however, take a very dim view of bringing devils and demons into Creation. Those they would fight regardless of who did the summoning.

“I’ll make sure to have them on hand,” the aristocrat replied. “Luck in battle, Lord Swordsman.”

William smiled thinly. “That’d be a first.”

The tent they’d prepared for him had a cot and a table, the latter of which he would never use. The dark-haired man was no general and he knew as much – the strategizing was better left to individuals with a talent for it. The one time he’d thought he had a plan he’d gotten almost all of the people he’d brought with him killed, including another hero and the only observer the Duchess of Daoine had bothered to send. Taking off his coat, the Swordsman threw it on the cot. He’d been about to sit down and remove his boots when he paused, smoothly unsheathing his sword and bringing the edge to rest against the throat of the other Named in the tent.

“One of these days,” Thief said, “you’ll tell me how you do that.”

“Unlikely,” William replied.

Forcing the Penitent’s Blade back into its scabbard was an effort. It disliked returning without having drawn blood, even if no one worthy of being bled was around.

“I wasn’t sure you’d come back,” he admitted a moment later.

“I wasn’t sure I would,” the short-haired girl shrugged. “But here I am.”

With a tired sigh, William sat down on his cot as she perched herself on his table.

“I’m sure you’ve noticed the host surrounding us,” he began. “We’ll be marching on the Praesi army camped by Lake Hengest tomorrow.”

“They’re not camped by the lake anymore,” the Thief informed him. “I paid them a little visit while considering my options. They’re half a day’s march away from you now, though they’ve stopped for the night.”

He did not insult her by asking if she was sure of this. It would be the same as if someone asked him if he was certain his guard stance was correct.

“Heiress knows we’re after her, then,” he grunted in dissatisfaction.

It had been too much to hope for that she wouldn’t see them coming. Still, he was confident in his chances against this particular villain – unlike Squire in Summerholm, she wasn’t fate-bound to survive the encounter with him.

“Heiress isn’t with the army anymore,” the pale-skinned heroine corrected him. “She took the commander of her Proceran mercenaries with her and went into the hills. The man in charge is some Wastelander lordling called Ghassan.”

The Swordsman honestly wasn’t sure whether to be pleased by the news or not. Lack of a Named meant their victory was all but certain, but what in the Burning Heavens was the villain doing in the hills? An army couldn’t pass through them.  That much was common knowledge in Callow.

“Where’s Bard, anyhow?” Thief asked.

William snorted. “You know Almorava. She comes and goes as she wills. For all I know she’s passed-out drunk in some ditch and she’ll catch up tomorrow.”

Thief – she’d never revealed her true name to them – shook her head.

“William, you should know better by now. She drinks like a fish, but when have you ever seen her drunk?”

The Swordsman raised an eyebrow. “Every day since she first crashed through the window over the room where I’d assembled the rest of you.”

Apparently Almorava had meant to sit on the windowsill to look mysterious and all-knowing but slipped on rain-slick stone and fallen through the glass. The sultry pose she’d tried to affect afterwards had been largely negated by the fact that her face was bleeding heavily.

“The thing about being a thief,” the heroine said, “is that you have to learn to read people. Catch when they’re tired enough to dismiss footsteps on a rooftop, guess when they’re so impatient they’ll send a replacement servant through instead of checking the story.”

She drummed her fingers against the table, crossing one leg over the other.

“She plays it up well, the clumsiness and the slurring, but no matter how much hard liquor she puts away she’s never been more than tipsy.”

“You think she’s deceiving us,” William frowned.

“I think she’s playing it up for her audience,” Thief replied. “Isn’t that what Bards do?”

“She’s a heroine,” the Swordsman eventually said. “That much can’t be faked. Why would she bother to trick us when she’s on our side?”

The other Callowan passed a hand through her short hair, ruffling the tomboy cut as an uncomfortable look settled on her face.

“When we left for Summerholm, there were five heroes in our band,” the heroine said. “And we all knew going in that one of us would die to the Warlock – monsters like that don’t go easy. It couldn’t be you, because you have a mirror on the other side. Hunter was meant to be your right hand, ill-suited as he was to the role. You needed me to get into the city and to get out afterwards. That left…”

“Almorava and Simeon,” William finished. “Your point?”

“Both of them are bumblers,” Thief spoke quietly. “There was a redundancy. But how much of an impression did Conjurer make, compared to the Bard? He barely talked while she was always in the background, larger than life, drinking and badly strumming her lute.”

The Swordsman breathed in sharply. “What you’re suggesting borders on murder.”

“All she did was cover her bases,” she replied. “I can respect that, I really can. But I can’t trust it.”

“Almorava has always given me good counsel,” William said hesitantly.

“She’s given you advice that keeps her story moving along,” Thief retorted. “And I don’t know about you, but I’m not looking for a starring role in a tragedy.”

The dark-haired hero chuckled mirthlessly. “You might have joined the wrong cause, then.”

“Oh fuck this,” she snapped, falling to her feet. “I’ve had enough of the tormented warrior tourine. I don’t care how fucking tragic your backstory is: this isn’t about you. You wanna know why I came back? Because even if you screwed up spectacularly in Summerholm, you’re still the only option we’ve got. I’ve stolen some outrageous stuff in my time, but an entire kingdom? The Empire makes my Name a mockery every day, and it’s not going away on its own. So put on your big boy pants and get your shit together, William. Nobody’s asking you to clean up every mess in Callow, just to kill some villains with your godsdamned horrifying angel sword.”

Fury flashed through the Swordsman’s veins but he kept a lid on it. He’d earned this much and worse, for his failure against Warlock.

“I tried that, if you’ll recall,” he replied sharply. “It got Simeon killed and lost us our best chance at getting Daoine into the war.”

“Because you went about it wrong,” Thief informed him bluntly. “You’re the Lone Swordsman. The whole band of heroes motif runs against your Role. Gods know you couldn’t stand us half the time, anyway, and to be honest spending more than a day at a time with you makes me want to jump off the nearest cliff.”

“The whole point of assembling heroes was to even the odds against the Calamities,” the dark-haired man barked back, patience running thin.

“And that worked out great,” the heroine snorted. “So what if the odds are horrible? That’s what heroes do. Hells, when I first heard about you you were the guy who’d assassinated an Imperial Governess in broad daylight and blown up half of General Sacker’s face. You’re not incompetent, William. What you can’t handle, we will. Stop doing the things you think are clever and start doing what you’re actually good at.”

“And what,” the Swordsman replied coldly, “would that be?”

She tossed a parchment at him.

“Here’s a plan of the Praesi encampments. Kill the people that need killing. And before you slaughter your way through every officer in there, I want you to consider something.”

Thief leaned forward and looked into his eyes.

“Do you know what an antihero is? An idiot who thinks they can use Evil’s own methods to beat it. Here’s the thing about Evil, though – they’ve used those methods for a lot longer than you. They’re better at them. If you want to make a better world, maybe you should act like someone who deserves to live in it.”

She walked out of the tent before he could think of something to reply. It took him a quarter bell to realize that at some point during the conversation she’d stolen his purse.

The moon was almost full.

The white-enamelled armour he’d taken to wearing after the Hanging was back in his tent, traded in for his old chainmail and leather coat. It was… comfortable. Like he’d shed a skin that didn’t quite fit for one that did. The Stygians ran a good camp, with sentinels patrolling regularly, but that was the weakness in their system. Fixed intervals made it easy to infiltrate the place, once he knew the pattern. It wouldn’t do for the slaves to show initiative, would it? he thought with disgust. How many times had the whip been cracked on their back, before the ability to improvise had been beaten out of them for good? For all that Stygia was one the Free Cities, few enough of the men living there knew anything of freedom. Moving from shadow to shadow, William made his way to the large tent in the centre of the camp. Thief had marked it as the officer’s tent, and even from where he stood he could see lamps had been lit inside. Leaning behind a crate full of rations, the Swordsman waited as a single man passed him by on the way to the latrine trench. The wind moved a tent flap and the olive-skinned soldier glanced in his direction, mouth opening in surprise.

William’s fist impacted with his stomach, knocking the breath out of him. An armoured elbow to the back of the head saw the slave fall into unconsciousness, his body unceremoniously dumped into the crate where no one would find it. The hero hastened his steps after that: eventually someone would realize a man was missing, and the alarm would be raised.

There were more guards around the command tend, a tenth on patrol and one sentinel at every corner of the square hide structure. The patrol he outwaited, crouched behind a rack of pikes, but for the others he’d have to take a more proactive approach. Loosening the strap binding his sheathed sword to his belt, William took the makeshift blunt weapon in hand and closed his eyes. Breath in, breath out. His Name lit up inside him, turning his blood to smoke and dust. The cold strength took hold of him and in a single leaping bound he crossed the distance between himself and the closest guard, the pommel of the Penitent’s Blade hitting the back of his head. He could see the other guard in the back of the tent beginning to turn in his direction, but the movement was comically slow. The man might as well have been swimming through mud. Three steps blurred and the flat of the sheathed sword slapped the chin upwards, the strength of the blow enough that just sailing through the air it caused a small gust of wind. He had to catch the man by the back of the neck to prevent his unconscious body flying into the back of the command tent. Setting down the sentinel gently, he stepped away to drag the first one out of sight as well before Creation began to catch up with him. He let out a long breath, letting the power flow out of him.

Quietly, he unsheathed his dagger and cut a flap for him to slip inside. Eight men, he counted when taking a first glimpse. All olive-skinned with their heads shaved closely and wearing nothing but brown cloth pants and a leather cord around their necks. Miezan numerals had been branded between their shoulder blades. A man in his late fifties had a one, he glimpsed a pair of twos and the rest were threes. Officer rankings. He’d heard Stygian slavemasters gave sets of enchanted irons to burn away the numbers and brand new ones when the purchase was made, to accommodate field promotions. The inside of the tent was bare, with eight cots on the ground and a single low table where they were all seated on the ground. A carafe of wine sat in the middle of the table, with eight clay cups around it that were still mostly full. Sheathed short swords were laid on the ground behind each of them, within easy reach. They noticed the moment he entered the tent, and all the threes reached for their weapons – but the highest officer present raised a hand to stop them.

“Hero,” he said, his Lower Miezan lightly accented.

“Lone Swordsman,” William introduced himself.

“First Spear Ophon,” the man replied.

One of the officers spoke in a tongue the hero didn’t recognize, but Ophon smiled sadly.

“I’m afraid we are all already dead, Parthe,” he said. “Finish your cup. Raising an alarm will only cause the death of more brothers before he leaves.”

William stepped closer, then cast a look at the leader.

“May I?” he asked.

The older man looked amused. “By all means.”

He sat himself between the twos, setting the Penitent’s Blade across his lap. Ophon said something in the same tongue as earlier and the younger man picked up a cup and poured him wine, glaring heatedly all the while. William took a small sip, having no idea whatsoever whether this was a good vintage or not. He’d always preferred ale to wine in those rare instances he drank.

“You are here to kill us, yes?” Ophon asked mildly. “To hurt your enemy.”

William set down his cup. “You don’t sound very worried about that,” he observed.

“I have seen heroes fight, unlike these young men,” the leader replied. “I know the strength of a Name. Struggle will just mean a bad death. I would rather leave Creation peacefully, enjoying my last cup of wine.”

“Spears of Stygia do not break,” the man to William’s left broke in.

“Three cities stand between us and the Magisters, Thenian,” Ophon gently chided, “yet I hear their words still.”

The younger man looked down, abashed.

“I’d heard Heiress had freed you,” the Lone Swordsman murmured.

The man from earlier, Parthe, scoffed.

“Free, yes. Slaves do not get pay, she said, and we are to be paid after the war. Yet we bear the Strangler still,” he spat, tapping the leather cord around his neck. “A strange thing, this Praesi freedom.”

“Gifts from the Wasteland are always poisoned,” William said. “My people have learned that the hard way.”

“Yet it is not the Heiress who has come from our lives,” Thenian barked. “No matter the side, it is always the brothers who pay the corpse-price. My people have learned this the hard way.”

The Lone Swordsman brought the cup to his lips again. If he decided so, he could have every man in this tent dead before the cup hit the table. Swing, his third aspect. Not even Squire had been able to match his hits when he tapped into it, whether in swiftness or strength. The hero calmly put down his cup, rose to his feet, and let his Name flood his frame. The power spread through the air, thick and lingering. William put his hand on the hilt of his sword and followed his instincts.

One after the other, the leather cords dropped.

“There are no slaves in the Kingdom of Callow,” he said. “Not as long as I live.”

Most of them groped blindly for the collar they had been branded with since birth, faces alight with wonder at the reality that they could no longer die to whim of anyone owning their command rod. Not Ophon, though. Ophon finished his cup of wine with guarded eyes.

“And what, I wonder, is the price of this freedom?” he asked quietly.

The light winked out of the others’ eyes, and it made William want to flinch. Because he knew, here and now, that he could convince them to fight for him. He could feel the pivot forming, the weighted decision that would set the course of Fate. And the rebellion needed the troops so very badly, didn’t it? They would still be free, and fighting for a just cause. Would I not have been tempted, if I were a better man? Maybe. But he’d just seen the joy, and seen it disappear. Even now the faces shuttered at the prospect of trading one master for yet another. If you want to make a better world, Thief had said, maybe you should act like someone who deserves to live in it.

“Nothing,” he replied, and the words tasted like ashes in his mouth. “Once, years ago, my sister told me that freedom is the Gods-given right of everyone who was ever born. Would that I had listened to her sooner.”

He settled the sword back at his hip.

“I’ll need one of you to escort me as I go around the camp breaking the cords,” he said. “I can draw you a map if you need one, but south of Dormer along the river you should be able to find passage to Mercantis. There will be a battle with the Proceran mercenaries tomorrow, so I’d recommend swinging around north to be careful.”

Ophon poured himself a second cup. A long moment of silence passed, as all the others watched him carefully

“Above the gates of Stygia there is a statue of a magister,” he finally spoke. “He is a tall, proud man this magister. On his shoulders are two cranes, named Redress and Retribution. They are the patron spirits of the city, said to speak in the dreams of those deemed worthy.”

The soldier peered into his cup.

“Never has a slave been graced with such favour, but all men of Stygia live with that hope – even those who are not men at all, by the laws of the city.”

Ophon smiled.

“I am an old man, hero,” he said. “I find I no longer have the patience to wait for the cranes. I would seek redress, of this girl who bought me. I would seek retribution, for the lie of false freedom.”

“First Spear-” one of the threes began.

“You are still young, Mamer,” he interrupted gently. “Do not be so eager to follow. You still have a life ahead of you.”

“Spears of Stygia do not break,” the two who’d remained silent until now rasped out. “Oaths were given. I would seek the cranes with my brother Ophon.”

“Retribution,” Thenian agreed softly, hands closing around his sword.

“Redress,” Parthe growled, and it had the weight of a promise.

William smiled, and for the first time in years it was genuine.

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54 thoughts on “Heroic Interlude: Attaque au Fer

  1. NemoMarx

    “Do you know what an antihero is? An idiot who thinks they can use Evil’s own methods to beat it. Here’s the thing about Evil, though – they’ve used those methods for a lot longer than you. They’re better at them. If you want to make a better world, maybe you should act like someone who deserves to live in it.”

    Ouch.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not wrong, though. Our Will has been wallowing in his terribleness-oh-woe-I-don’t-deserve-anything for a smidge too long to see the forest for the trees. :/

      Without that kick in the rump, he might well have accidentally fallen, let alone just screwed up… again.

      He still could, though. Both screw up and fall, I mean. -_-

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hardcore Heathen

    The section on how important horses are to Callowan knightly orders made me think of something.

    Why is Squire a villainous Name? Especially a Praesi villainous Name? They have no chivalric orders, no tradition of knights – which makes me wonder about the origins of the Black Knight.

    On the subject of the chapter, I felt mixed about how William got to have his cake (be nice to the slaves) and eat it too (they still join him in the rebellion). On the one hand, it’s nice to see that doing the Right Thing doesn’t always bite you in the ass. On the other hand, it sort of cheapens the sacrifice of telling them to be free men.

    Like

    1. oaclo

      I figure Black Knight could easily have originated as a Knight betrayed by his lord who took up Evil to get his vengeance. Or it could simply have been handed down from the Miezan(?) Empire that used to rule. They probably had cavalry.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Morgenstern

        Well… or as a knight that made a face-heel-turn, no betrayal by lord, but rather betrayal by the knight 😉

        Like

    2. To be fair, Willy took a heroic gamble, and luckily for him it paid off. And I for one thought it was nice to see something like this in a story happen, instead of the expected ‘shit hits the fan’ eventualities we given almost every time.

      Though this could just as likely come to bite him in the ass later, so who knows.

      Like

      1. stevenneiman

        Nah, it was Fate that he got what he needed for doing the right thing. Those soldiers are not only going to fight for him like he could have made them, but they’ll fight like Hero-lead troops, to the last and with everything they have and more.

        Like

    3. Shikome Kido Mi

      Honestly, even if they all just left the country it would have still been a boon, since the Rebellion would no longer have to lose men fighting them. Which is why all the officers joining is a bit over the top, I suppose.

      Like

    4. Shequi

      A Knight, originally, didn’t have anything to do with horsemanship. The term descends from old germanic language terms for a Young Male Servant or Retainer. From there it gathered senses of duty and fealty, and eventually (sometime in the course of the Hundred Years’ War) came to denote a particular style of armoured cavalryman, and after that a noble rank.

      The Knight, in the sense of the translation convention that we read the characters thoughts and speech through, would be a name for a Retainer.

      Squire comes literally from the old french for “shield carrier” around the same time Knights came to mean armoured cavalry.

      Adjutant is actually from latin – “Adiutus”, meaning helped or assisted.

      So in the original, all of the words used for these names actually mean the same thing – an assistant to a higher person.

      Like

    5. stevenneiman

      On the subject of Squire, its less about the knight and more about the subordinate position. And in any Evil nation, a subordinate Name is going to be looking for career advancement, especially if they can get is by stepping into the still-smoking boots of their former master. It makes perfect sense that a powerful, famous Name like Black Knight would come with an ambitious retainer/protege with their own minor Name.
      On the subject of the slaves, I think that the point was that he was getting his way by a means that Heroes are supposed to use. As Almorava said, just by virtue of being a Hero he was almost guaranteed to end up with the slaves fighting for him, but if he had done it without acting like a noble Hero he couldn’t have lead them with the superhuman inspiration that Heroes usually get. He might have had slaves otherwise, but now he has warriors with as much to fight for as they have to fight against, and with a Hero leading them, that matters a lot. Also, they might have just ended up feeling cheated if he just forced them back into their old slave-soldier role and just ditched him, but now they have something good to compare their treatment to, and they are gonna give Heiress more hell than she sicced on the Fifteenth.

      Like

    6. stevenneiman

      Squires are people who put on armor for their liege knight. The Squire isn’t an inherently villainous name, but it always serves as the attendant for a Knight, either Black or White.
      Note that the Name Equerry was mentioned and implied to be a purely heroic Name.
      As for freeing the slaves, Names are at their strongest when the fit their place in the story. William is an angsty but ultimately sympathetic protagonist, so his Name tends to win out when he feels conflicted and angsty about making it but chooses to do the morally pure and sympathetic thing. A traditional reward for a Name being happy is that for whatever reason is dramatically appropriate normal people follow the Named into battle, and here he has people handy who have a reason to feel grateful and who honestly wouldn’t know what to do with themselves outside of a war. They have no other training, and they have a major grudge against Heiress as the person who bought them, so willingly choosing to fight him is believable, especially when it is also narratively appropriate.

      Like

  3. oaclo

    Looks like things work out for heroes when they act heroic. On the topic of that quote from his sister, it’s still bullshit just like he thought it was in his backstory. The peasants of Callow were no more free before the Conquest. The only thing that really changed for them was losing the right to self-determination. But then, it’s not as if Callow would have allowed its subjects to secede.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Unmaker

      “Looks like things work out for heroes when they act heroic.”

      Thief finally goaded him into acting with his Name and Role and he was rewarded for it. Act your Roles and fate moves with you; act against them and things go wrong.

      Like

      1. Morgenstern

        But does he? Act according to his Name and Role, I mean? Seemed to be portrayed as antihero because of his Role, too, not just him personally being responsible for that. So trying to let the slaves go completely free and NOT “drag them into war” on the good side might have actually been TOO heroic, in that sense, not “anti” enough.

        Unless, of course, Will suddenly became VERY logical, telling himself that the best argument would be to SEEMINGLY offer this, so they would all the more willingly/likely come over to his side….. Didn’t seem to be portrayed that way here, though, what with the remark “like ashes” on his tongue or something the like. o.O
        Seemed more like he NEVER actually intended for them to have complete freedom (that he supposedly, and thus only SEEMINGLY, at least consciously…) offered….. that complete freedom would have had to include the freedom do choose ANY action they like, from joining him to keeping neutral to ultimately staying on the side they were on. We don’t quite get an outright confirmation that he really thought that far and still stayed true to the idea, despite the (very quickly cut-off) short “spears don’t break” or something by that one officer that quickly came over to Will’s side, after all….. We can only imagine such an actual example, where someone does not come over – and, it being left to the mass of former slaves, it seems likely that Will would never have to face that problem, because the other former slaves might kill anyone who would actually try to stay on Heiress’ side, once they’ve won back their freedom of thinking and decision (however likely such a quick 180-degree turn of slaves presumably having been broken in the course of years and for years already seems realistically).

        Like

      2. Morgenstern

        Necessity for a leash would seem to imply that the “brokenness” might not be all it is thought to be, of course, but one can also read it as simple safety ensurance by paranoid masters – or even simple sadism, enjoying the power over life and death…

        Like

  4. Akim

    Yeah. great chapter. Buuuut how long must we suffer to finally see Cathrine Struggle with a Demon ?

    You are truly evil !

    Like

    1. Why?
      This is an extremely innocent sword from an extremely innocent game 🙂
      Look, there are even angels on it, just to show how holy and innocent that sword is 😀

      Like

  5. Naeddyr

    Finished this today, and I like it a lot. If you are updating regularly, please consider something like patreon!

    At first I was afraid it would be too edgy for my tastes, but your twisting and the careful steering of the whole capital “Good vs. Evil” actually works.

    My prediction regarding the demon: can they be… reasoned with?

    Like

  6. x

    Typos:
    Now that the Praesi had made popular the use of scrying rumours flew
    scrying, rumours

    tormented warrior tourine
    routine

    Yet it is not the Heiress who has come from our lives
    come for

    they could no longer die to whim of anyone
    +the whim

    Like

  7. lennymaster

    Great chapter once again, but I do not think that giving them a choice was all that heroic. He is a HERO, the moment he decided not to kill them, which would have been nearly impossible for him to do, they are slaves in all but name after all, their decision to help him was nearly out of question.
    I think it is much more interesting that Thief noticed Bard’s behavior in Summerholm, and their respective odds of making it out alive. That shows just how much the Names, even those aside from the Bard roles, are aware of them living a story, which makes Heiress decision to not take Scribe seriously all that more idiotic.
    I think that Will just sealed his fate of being defeted, as an “Antihero” he possibly could have beaten Squire, who behaves to some extend like an “Antivillian” then now when he has taken more to the classical Hero role.
    (Antihero; someone who does less than savory things for the greater good. At least as I see it.)

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    1. “I think it is much more interesting that Thief noticed Bard’s behavior in Summerholm, and their respective odds of making it out alive. That shows just how much the Names, even those aside from the Bard roles, are aware of them living a story, which makes Heiress decision to not take Scribe seriously all that more idiotic.”

      It could be just a thing for Bard and Thief (and other similar types) Names though. In fact, a Name like Heiress would more than likely shun meta concepts since being meta would qualify as breaking tradition.

      “I think that Will just sealed his fate of being defeted, as an “Antihero” he possibly could have beaten Squire, who behaves to some extend like an “Antivillian” then now when he has taken more to the classical Hero role.”

      But then again, keep in mind that in tbsi universe, all a good guy needs to do to win is simply be a good guy, a hero. It’s the villains who need to get creative as if they don’t, they will lose as the ‘story’ always as the villains lose.

      So while Catherine and Black are certainly very meta-aware and work fastidiously to cover up villainic flaws, for Willy, the beat solution would likely be to embrace heroism instead of being creative.

      Like

      1. lennymaster

        You might be onto something that only roles like Thief can compare to Bards in thier awareness of the story. Maybe because they are more cunning or they have to think outside the box, but Heiress is portrayed as mastermind and should as such be more aware of the story. Maybe it is really because of the traditional focus of her Name but I would have expected for that to have been more centerstage until now for that explanation to work. She relised after all that it would be a stupid idea to take back the reforms, if for no other reasons than that they made the legions more effective.
        On the other matter, the thing with the classical Hero vs. Villian schemata is that a classical hero beats a classical villian every day, no matter how they plan and scheme and prepare with a hundred traps and monsters and contingencies, the Hero always wins, through deus ex machina, prophecy, a mysterious/legendary ancestry, turning the villians own plans/troops/monsters against him or plain, stupid luck. And sometimes all of the above.
        But Kat is no common villian, she is a villian that thinks like a Antihero and acts like a Villain. she was raised with Callowan storys in wich the protagonist always wins, contrariwise to Praesi ones, with a Villian protagonist that always looses in some way. Think back to the stories Black had Squire reed.
        In the end, at least in her way of thinking, she is the protagonist of her own story, maybe not the Hero that Callow needs, but deserves, a VILLAIN!

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    1. Unmaker

      Genre-savvy character in a setting driven by tropes for the win. I wonder if she feels the attention of the audience, whoever they may be, and only drinks when they are watching.

      Like

  8. Unmaker

    Typos:

    come from our lives
    come for our lives

    tormented warrior tourine
    tormented warrior routine

    when I first heard about you you were the guy
    (clearer with a comma)
    when I first heard about you, you were the guy

    Reactions:

    William did turn the slave legions to his ends as I thought. But the means were a bit different than I thought. Now, how did the Heiress not anticipate this? Or is this a permissible loss to her plans?

    I still think William hasn’t woken up and thought about his position, but it is slightly gratifying to see him acting smarter. On the other hand, I have new-found respect for Thief.

    Like

  9. Delver

    I think with regards to this being heiress bumbling, we gotta remember her motives. She doesn’t really want to defeat the heroes and rebellion, she thinks it will inevitably fail. Which it will considering praesi military might. Unlike kat, she doesn’t care if all of callow is sacked for it to happen.

    What heiress wants most is to dethrone both empress and black. To do that she is no doubt trying for a rift between them. I don’t know how giving the enemy soldiers and more motive and setting loose a demon helps that, but we’ll just have to wait to see the bigger pic.

    Like

  10. Alegio

    William finally had something good happen to him :O, and it didnt bite his ass in the exact same moment?, Now thats a plottwist XD.

    I wont be happy if our favorite LSwordsman and Squire dont go on a “good and evil united” raid to kill the demon, not for the fight but for the lulz of them actually getting to see that they could be friends

    Like

    1. stevenneiman

      I think the point was to show that Silly Willy actually is more powerful and more successful when he gets his head out of his ass and starts actually acting like a real Hero rather than just trying to kill Villains. I’m getting a very strong sense that he is going to help Cat when he realizes that she is actually a better person than most of his Good compatriots. At the very least, I expect him to help her out with at least one of bringing down that demon and giving Heiress a good thrashing. Heck, as a Hero armed with an angel feather he might even be able to kill the demon for good.

      Like

      1. Lightdefender

        Recall the the Lone Swordsman is the racist bastard among the Heroes (enough so that the Exiled Prince commented upon it). And our protagonist is leading a legion composed of members of the races to whom he’s most opposed. I find it unlikely they would ever join forces so long as both those are true.

        Like

      2. stevenneiman

        Yeah, he is racist, but if he was confident that it would only last as long as it took to bring down the Heiress/demon I don’t think he’d mind too terribly working with orcs and goblins. I think he assumes that they have some kind of inherent affinity for Evil, but if working with them could help him bring down someone he hates as much as Heiress, or a literal embodiment of Evil, I think he could swallow his pride for one battle.
        Also, I feel like him and Cat can’t be involved in anything but a reconciliation story, and I very much doubt that Cat will be the one to switch sides given that she actually likes and respects her Evil buddies while Will actively dislikes his. That pretty much leaves it either turning out to be a nemesis story after all and ending with William dead (I don’t think Cat dying is even likely enough to be worth discussing), or the rule of three being violated if you don’t want Will to have a face-heel turn.

        Like

  11. stevenneiman

    “though William knew better than to think the entire sector had not been crawling with the Black Knight’s spies the scrutiny of the Tower had not been as heavy down there.” I think this is grammatically correct, but there are enough negations to make it confusing.
    “Now that the Praesi had made popular the use of scrying{,} rumours flew even faster than messenger birds.”
    “tormented warrior [tourine->routine]”
    “around the command [tend->tent]”
    “Yet it is not the Heiress who has come [from->for] our lives”

    Interesting. So William actually can choose to act like a decent human being given a choice between that and being a Hero. Amusingly, he got even better results than doing what seemed the coldly practical option. Also, its interesting to see that Thief has the good sense to learn about the relevant stories despite not having a Role based on doing so. I’m pretty proud to have (I assume) guessed right about why Bard acts the way that she does, to make herself a fan favorite with plot armor.

    Like

    1. Morgenstern

      Coldly practical option? Hellooo? The coldly practical option when confronted with a SLAVE army, people FORCED AGAINST THEIR WILL to fight you, IS to free them – and not have all the trouble of trying to kill them all, one by one. Bonus points for realizing you actually at least get the chance or rather likelihood that at least SOME of them will JOIN you against their former oppressor, if you free them…

      What some people here seem to see as “coldly practical” (killing the officers — but in this case they are SLAVES, there AGAINST THEIR WILL, and NOT people fighting out of their own free will who have CHOSEN to do that!!!), would simply be STUPID.

      A real antihero CAN do the thing that is sometimes ALSO heroic – they are simply doing the LOGICAL/PRACTICAL thing. Which can be EITHER heroical or villainous.

      ———————————————
      Being neutral, btw, is not necessarily the same thing, imho, as neutral might simply imply not caring about xy or imply the “either/or” approach where action is predefined (in case y, apply approach a, but in case x, apply approach b, with NO variation in each case (with case y, there will never be approach b and vice versa) – while being an antihero actually means incorporating BOTH and varying your action/response according to the facts and how they present themselves (that is, you simply widen your repertoire, but can STILL decide anew which of your methods to apply with each case at hand, whatever is the rationally best thing to do with in any given moment; it might also include a good) –> to do the best thing possible with the aim of the “greater good”;
      mostly/often including a bit more “quantity” than (especially or only where it is hard to determine…) “quality” [when it comes to people; although, when it comes to action, antiheros might do a few things that outright shiny-pure heroes would not do — but it must NEVER amount to simply acting *stupidly*, e.g. torture is thus a rather debatable device, as one CAN logically argue that “real torture” (not just trying to scare someone into giving up secrets) is rather UNreliable, because you might NEVER find the assumed “fine point” where people give up their secrets and NOT just start telling you whatever they assume you want to hear, what might amount to outright lies simply to “please” you…].
      Antiheroes are often (but not always, cf. at least certain, so far into the story still-possible, readings of Amadeus) the “tortured” type (aka Will), meaning a good deal of internal struggle might end up in a good deal of variation in actually APPLIED methods (more-or-less the same situation or actually the same situation X ends up with application of one time A and the other time B, when the outcome is rather unclear no matter what), because “in real life” there are certainly cases, where facts/decisions are not, cannot be “clear-cut”, situated in a very “gray area” of morality, with pros and cons for EACH decision, no matter what, all options having detriments.

      Some examples:
      – Do you sacrifice a smaller number of people to save THOUSANDS? Or go the full-out-heroic of “heroes don’t sacrifice anyone”, they let fate decide and/or people themselves decide if they wanna sacrifice themselves, but will NEVER sacrifice someone else purposely, WITHOUT those people’s consent?

      – Do you sacrifice ONE innocent/child/baby/”holy person” etc. for the sake of many? (Although, the “holy person” case might be clear-cut, bc. “holy” people tend to consent to sacrifice… But an antihero might actually NOT want to sacrifice such a *consenting* person, because they can see that this person could actually do much *more* good by staying ALIVE and helping/rescuing others in all those years they would/might still live… so in that case the premise is turned around to make it such an UNclear situation.)

      – “Dishonorable” acts. Although, depending on definition of “honor” and “hero” applied, heroes might still be able to act like this.
      The extremest shiny-pure ones, often given as ones with “knightly codex”, won’t though, even if it is just a surprise attack instead of annoucing not only that you are now at war or will come back for xy, but actually announcing every single action.
      Or never use stealth etc… (yeah.. compare the Thief role here… but scoundrels ARE rather debatable on the morality lines in most RPGs/stories and NOT the typical/classical actual hero…But:). More rational types of still-hero WILL apply the former approach of only a general announcement, though, and NOT feel the need for stupidest-heroism (that could potentially even end you up with e.g. deciding a war in supposedly honorable one-on-one-combat, where the EVIL combatant is much more powerful – which would end your people up in the worst of slavery, just due to the rightful/honorable challenge mechanics…. stupid, stupid, stupid…).
      Many hero-versions will never use more “extreme” tactics during war, due to detrimental effects on commoners (in the more clear-cut cases) or (in the less clear-cut ones) “even on the enemy forces” because “one simply does not employ some stuff, not even on your worst enemy, no matter how effective”.

      —————–

      Freeing slaves that might then, at least potentially and to a certain percentage even likely, JOIN your side? NOT part of those unclear situations. Because that is as clear-cut a situation as they ever get, due to the fact that you get BOTH effectiveness reasoning AND heroic morality decision in ONE package.

      ——————-

      In short: Antiheroes are mostly about EFFECTIVENESS while STILL also having MORALLY GOOD purposes / reasoning behind what they do and as ultimate goal. Heroes are more mostly portrayed as more emotional and *personal* in their emotions, that is more clearly “norm-human(e)” in their thinking, reasoning, and acting (they tend to save friends instead of strangers, when they have no choice but to decide — or refuse to decide at all, which might end them up in a VERY bad place, if there simply IS NO third option; they tend to vote to “NEVER sacrifice the baby”, even if that means that the fated outcome that they struggle against will end up in dozens, hundreds or thousands, multitudes of deaths, simply because they could not do the morally-taboo thing of sacrificing the baby or kicking/killing the dog..), when it comes to morality and “trouble cases”…. antiheroes, as their opposite in such cases and ONLY such cases (if we are talking about the antihero that preserves the HERO in that word and definition) use the logical/rational approach *in cases WHEN* emotion does not get you anywhere but into a bad place no matter what (some loss will be incurred, no matter what; either you sacrifice A or bad thing B will happen, which might be worse than A, overall) and in cases where it can be simply viewed as a numbers game (but heroes make it a morality game instead, disregarding the numbers that also influence morality in other, clearer cases… emotions having muddled the brain, so to speak, I don’t know how else to express this).

      It’s the classical train experiment example. Can you press the button to decide if the train goes to track A (one person on it) or B (more people on it, which can be further complicated by indicating what kind of people are on it, varying in how it is regarded from person to person although most will opt to always save children as the supposedly most innocent, sacred thing there is and the logical one when it comes to life expectancy, “years saved” so to speak).
      –> Most people will opt to push the button to save the many..
      AND then: Could you also push that one person onto the track, if that would stop the train to save all the others instead of just pushing a button. –> Most people will NOT push that person, if they had to do it personally. Strange, huh? An antihero most DEFINITELY would push that person. Unless it was constructed as known fact that the group of people 1plusX in number were baddies and the one person a goodie – then, of course, you save the one good person… which can, again, get VERY muddled (one more example of entirely NOT clear-cut situation), if the good and bad is rather relative, as it is bound to be with most normal people… e.g. the bad including only some minor theft and the good being simply never having done even that, but not having done much specific good either instead of simply being a normal/decent person that has never hurt anyone (badly and on purpose). The more specifics you get, the more muddled it gets. Which often ends heroes up in not making a decision at all – while an antihero might actually make a decision, due to the assumption that not acting at all is that much more likely to end you up with the (perceived) *worst* option… better to ensure the lesser evil happens instead of the greater one, even if there is no one, clear-cut good choice.

      [That is, of course, UNLESS we are talking about the classical first definition of antihero as a protagonist simply being (in most things that matter) the opposite of a hero… or the other-other definition: being an UNLIKELY hero.]

      Like

      1. Morgenstern

        Ugh…. because this came after the comment it came after:

        Of course, Will’s choice to NOT try to persuade them to come over to his side, but simply freeing them and NOT asking anything (#)
        IS, of course, exactly what stevenneiman has said: he chose the right thing instead of just being the H/hero instigating and then leading these people (in)to war and, rationally, also kind of forcing them into it, even though it would probably be more coercion than outright force. (Not much difference – one need only think of an application in a sexual scenario to make this clear: the outcome would still be a kind of rape, if the other side does not actually WANT it, but only succumbs under psychological pressure applied.)

        ———————
        (#) Well… besides, probably, indirectly, assumedly wanting them to NOT fight for his enemy any longer… which, of course, might have been / be the surprising choice of SOME of them, if he actually lets them “go free, no strings attached”, a situation where his actual inclination to the outmost could have been shown… or could have been shown to not be there, after all – not having gotten even one example, we simply cannot know, but the logical, “normal” thing to assume would be that he’d be at least badly surprised if someone did that, never having expected it, thus exposing that he simply assumed only good for him could come of freeing them. That the situation depicted does not offer any example, where Will can prove he would actually go that far or rather DOES go that far in actuality, is probably what some other people here have pointed out as bugging them.
        If ALL of them go over to Will of their own free will, Will CANNOT prove that he actually meant what he said — and it was not just some trick of speech/persuasion, after all by offering only an illusonary choice without actually meaning it to the fullest meaning there is, them ACTUALLY being free, that is: being able to choose ANYTHING, up to and including the option to STILL decide against Will and not just the decision to remain neutral in the conflict or even join him…

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  12. Morgenstern

    Sorry for the mix-up. ´o.o`

    I actually confused the arguments for a second, when starting out with that choice of words, setting out with the whole comments section having become one muddled conglomerate in the back of my mind and posting in reply to the last one. -.-

    Like

    1. Morgenstern

      Hmm…. Now I’m wondering if I simply misunderstood other posts about what of the above action was supposedly the “heroic” thing to do (and, assumedly, not fitting his antihero-stereotype anymore??), too.

      Did everyone just mean the “no strings attached” decision instead of the “not killing them [stupid…], but freeing them [only logical..]” decision? ^^ (Much talk about nothing, then… I really thought at least some people referred to the … well… anti-part of the “antihero” as opposed to the “hero(ic)” part there…)

      Like

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