Chapter 49: Triumph

“There’s a degree of argument among scholars as to whether the Liesse Rebellion was the underlying cause of the Uncivil Wars or the first of them. I was there, though, and I can tell you this: the seeds that were sown in Liesse are what we reaped in the years that followed.”
– Extract from the personal memoirs of Lady Aisha Bishara

I’d have thought they would do this in Whitestone, with all the sprawling avenues and gardens there to use, but I’d severely underestimated how many people would be there for the ceremony. Half the city must have been packed around Fairfax plaza, filling every nook and cranny Marketside. Merchants were selling chilled wine and ale as well as something that smelled like those spicy sausages from Hedges. I was more interested in the grilled fish on sticks from the lake, though watching some man obviously devoid of taste scarfing down one macerated in the Southpool way instead nearly put me off my appetite. Ratface had told me that in Praes the designated idiots in all the jokes were the people from Nok, but here in Callow it was the Southpooleans. Too much mud in their part of the Silver Lake, it clogged the brains. The old rumour that their people mated with giant carps was a fond a well-polished assertion in the rest of the country.

The Fifth Legion was out in force, today. They’d opened a cordon from the Green Gate to the plaza and kept it open by liberal use of clubs when the crowd got too enthusiastic. Which it had, much to my surprise. I’d been at the heart of the force that had ended the Liesse Rebellion in fire and steel, but by the way people were cheering as I rode through the streets you’d think I’d restored the Kingdom. Some people actually threw flowers: bell lilies, the same blooms Eleanor Fairfax had once worn a crown of. A symbol of victory old as the Kingdom, now used to praise the girl who’d made sure that same Kingdom would not rise in her lifetime. The irony of that was cloying, and I would have told Hakram as much were he not three steps behind me to my left. Apprentice, to my right, had somehow gotten his hands on a chariot pulled by two pale silver winged horses.

I’d seen Warlock use a similar one back in Summerholm, running over the Lone Swordsman as his way of joining the fray. The horses were likely a pretty picture for the celebrants – they’d bring in mind the old tales about unicorns, now gone from Callow and into the Waning Woods – but from where I sat I could see the melded at the base of the wings. Clearly, those horses hadn’t been born with wings. I supposed that I should count myself lucky they didn’t breathe fire, like the flying pig had. Masego clearly had no idea how to actually guide a chariot, much to my amusement, but there seemed to be spells on the reins that did the work for him. Still, now and then his hand jerked out of his control and he tried very hard to pretend he’d meant to do that all along.

Behind us the Fifteenth filtered through the streets, the Gallowborne in front. The name had been officially sanctioned, and the paint on their shields depicting a golden noose was still fresh. The same emblem was on the banner Captain Farrier carried, gold on red with the embroidered motto they’d picked themselves: best of the worst. Robber already had several limerick couplets unflatteringly relating the words to their abilities in bed, which inevitably had spread like wildfire in my legion. Behind my personal guard, Juniper and her general staff were at the head of the column. The orc was looking unusually cheerful today, which more or less meant she wasn’t actively scowling at anyone. I even knew why, since Black had passed one that bit before official word could come in: she was, today, to be made the youngest general since Reforms. Before those didn’t count, in my opinion, since there’d been quite a few High Lords and Ladies barely into their teens granted that authority for political purposes. Marshal Grem One-Eye had only been granted the position officially in his twenties, though he’d ascended to the office of Marshal the same year. Still, she might yet beat that record too. There was always another war around the corner, and the old guard was beginning to be more old than guard.

I caught a handkerchief floating through the air, thrown from a balcony. The pretty blond girl who’d tossed it flushed deeply when I looked in her direction. Nice dress, I noted, and quite revealing. It was satin, so she was likely from lesser nobility or wealthy merchant class. I tucked it into one of the pockets sown inside my cloak. It was still the same pitch-black garment Black had gifted me last year, but it had undergone… modifications. There were three strips of cloth bordering the bottom of it now. Taken from three banners: the Silver Spears’, Marchford’s and Liesse’s. Hakram had procured and sown them himself on the march to Laure, since he was apparently a deft hand with a needle. I liked the effect, and it did not escape my attention he’d left room for many more stripes.

The procession was slow, but eventually we arrived to the plaza. I dismounted from Zombie the Second, who for now remained a living creature, and let a sigh of pleasure out at finally standing on my feet again. Adjutant and Apprentice flanked me as we waited for Juniper to join us, her perfectly polished armour reflecting the glare the noonday sun. The four of us stepped towards the platform ahead of us. There might have been wood under it, but it was out of sight: the entire structure was covered with a red woven carpet, the style of it Callowan if not the colour. The Empress had likely ordered it from Laure weavers to reinforce ties there. Malicia herself was seated on a throne, an ornate thing made almost entirely out of gold. The arms of it were shaped as lions holding bells in their mouth, a rather bold statement. Lions were a symbol associated with the throne of Praes, while bells had been the symbol of the Fairfax dynasty the Empress had overthrown.

Apparently the lions were a recent change, as it had been previously been tigers who’d served as the emblematic animal. They’d gone out of style after the sentient tiger army fiasco, Aisha had told me.

The Dread Empress was still absurdly beautiful, and I privately decided that having gotten a good look at her was half the reason the people of the city were cheering. The crown on her head was ivory inlaid with lapis-lazuli with a perfectly spherical sapphire as the centrepiece. Her dress was white bordered in thick braids of gold, revealing the beginning of her breasts and her bare shoulders. Splendid gold armbands with scenes of the Imperial civil war held from her upper arms and a heavy necklace shaped a dozen Towers linked circled her neck. None of it held a candle to Dread Empress Malicia in the fullness of her glory, sitting in the shade of her red pavilion. The four of us came to stand half a dozen steps down from her throne and stopped. She smiled, and the world felt like it had gone bright. Just a quirk of the lips, and I knew men would have killed their own siblings to get another one. They probably had.

Even Hakram was blushing, and I knew for a fact he found humans unattractive. Masego seemed a little surprised at himself for being affected at all, which made sense to me. I’d never seen him display any interest in anyone from either gender, and wasn’t sure he had that in him at all. The Empress rose, and for the first time I noticed that Black was standing to the right of her throne. He looked shabby, compared to Malicia. His plate was without ornament, his sword undecorated and his cloak looked almost threadbare. Until it caught the light, anyway, and then suddenly it looked like it was made entirely of crow feathers. It wasn’t enough to make him look like anything but a sworn sword guarding his ruler. At my side Masego and the two orcs knelt as Malicia took a step forward.

I remained standing.

“Rise,” the Empress ordered, and they obeyed.

Malicia’s words reverberated across the entire plaza without her ever raising her voice and the silence that ensued was so absolute you could have heard a pin drop.

“Order has been restored to Callow,” she said. “Procer’s attempt to place a puppet on the throne has been thwarted, the misguided rebels of the south shown the errors of their ways.”

Or a grave, for those who hadn’t been nailed to a cross. So that was the angle she was going to take on this whole thing. Poor Callowans had been tricked by the wicked Procerans, made to bite the hand that fed them by bribery and coercion. The Empire would, of course, be merciful. But no so merciful as to spare the nobles who’d masterminded the rebellion.

“Laure remained loyal,” Malicia said, her voice caressing the city’s name in a way that almost gave me a shiver. “As did so many of our subjects. For this, there will be reward.”

The anticipation in the plaza was palpable.

“All taxes in cities that remained loyal with be halved for a year,” she announced. “And in this greatest of Callowan cities, I declare a week-long festival to honour our victory.”

The crowd went wild. Halved taxes, huh. Good call. Trade had slowed when the blades came out and this would get it started again. As for flattering the ego of Laureans, it was hard to go wrong with that. I was honest enough to admit that the people of the city I’d been born in thought of themselves as the only part of Callow that really mattered. Apprentice looked bored out of his skull, but Hakram and Juniper were listening with sharp eyes. The Hellhound had already pressed me privately on the subject of what the Fifteenth would be doing in peace time, and the Empress’ current focus on Callow was revealing. I knew my legion would be on assigned duty to a city, I just didn’t know which one. Black had been even vaguer than usual, implying there were plans being hatched higher up in the ranks.

“Though I reward loyalty, I must also reward service,” Malicia continued when the cheers died out. “Legate Juniper of the Red Moons, step forward.”

The Hellhound did, and knelt when the Empress elegantly gesture for her to do so.

“For your resounding victories at Three Hills, Marchford and Liesse, I name you a general of the Empire. As of this moment, the Fifteenth Legion is granted full status as a Legion of Terror and the ensuing right of recruitment.”

The cheers at that were more sporadic, though I got the impression the crowd would vocally approve of pretty much anything Malicia would say today. Greenskins still weren’t popular in Callow, though in cities that was beginning to change as they spent time in garrison duty. Juniper remained kneeling.

“Lord Apprentice,” the Empress said, after Masego also knelt. “For your distinguished service in the pursuit of peace, I grant you Imperial sanction to raise a mage’s tower anywhere in the territories of the Empire.”

The history behind that was a little more complicated. A mages’ tower was essentially a fortified laboratory warded so heavily it would make a fortress flinch, and after having to put down a dozen rebellions springing from those the Tower had restricted their raising. The only person currently sanctioned to have one was Warlock, who had linked the three dozen laboratories he actually had through a pocket dimension to get around the technical restriction of one. Now Masego could raise one as well, and I knew where he would: Marchford. He’d already told me that after the ceremony he would be leaving the Fifteenth to go study the thinning of the borders between Arcadia and Creation where we’d fought the demon. He’d be missed, but I knew if I really needed him he’d come. We were friends. How odd, that I actually had those now.

“Hakram of the Howling Wolves,” Malicia said. “I welcome you as the embodiment of the ties between the Clans and the Tower, the living proof that our people are united as they never have been before. You have served well and faithfully, proving the worth of your Name. For this I grant you all the attending the dignities of a lord of Praes.”

But not, I noticed, the actual legal title. Black had been trying to push the recognition of clan chieftains as nobles in their own right for decades to no avail. The reasons for that involved the Clans not technically owning the steppes they lived in and the justifications behind the whole tribute system, which had apparently been even more of a clusterfuck before the Empress had reformed it. Still, this was not a meaningless gesture. Hakram could now own land, raise a retinue and would be tried in the noble courts of Praes should he ever commit a crime. That last part was admittedly largely irrelevant as long as he served in the Legions, since he answered only to military tribunals while in service, but should he break the law as a civilian he might be the first greenskin ever taken to trial in the noble courts. He could technically style himself Lord Adjutant in public, now.

“And lastly, Catherine Foundling.”

The Empress dark eyes were on me, her red lips quirking fondly. It was a lie, that fondness. I’d done little to earn personal affection from the ruler of the Empire. And yet, looking at her smile, I almost wanted to believe in the lie. Some people could be dangerous without ever holding a blade. I barely noticed the crowd going quiet again behind me.

“Our Squire was born in this very city,” the Empress said, and there was a rumble of approval. “In Callow’s hour of need, she led soldiers from all parts of the Empire and scattered the forces of disorder.”

Only true if I counted as a Deoraithe, but it painted a pretty picture.

“For her valour, she now stands before me as the Lady of Marchford.”

For a moment I thought I’d gone deaf. The clamour from the crowd filled the sky, as they stomped the ground and screamed themselves hoarse. I met Malicia’s eyes and inclined my head, hiding my surprise. My mind was already spinning. What the people had heard was a no-name orphan becoming a noble, granted the rule over one of the oldest and richest holdings in Callow. A promise that the old nobility was dead, and under the rule of the Tower anyone could rise. What I’d heard, though, was different. The Empress had granted me a Praesi title, ruling over Callowan land. It was a statement. We’re here to stay. No rebellion will ever sweep us out. I closed my eyes and let the crowd’s approval wash over me. I’d have to think on this, on what it meant, before the day was out. But just for a moment, I allowed myself to enjoy it.

The suite in the Royal Palace was the same one I’d been given after becoming the Squire, though this time I was conscious when moving in. There would be festivities tonight and I’d need to change for them, so I took a bath in that same Miezan wonder I’d already sampled once. When I emerged scoured clean and smelling like lavender I dried myself, tying a towel around myself. I felt something more than heard it, and reached for the knife I’d left by the bath.

“That won’t be necessary,” Black’s amused voice informed me.

I sighed. One of these days, the two of us were going to sit down and have a nice talk about the wonders of knocking. I returned to the room to catch the familiar sight of my teacher lounging in a chair by a Proceran bureau. He was idly thumbing through a book of Kilian’s, a treatise on fine elemental manipulation by Dread Emperor Sorcerous. I’d tried to read through it a few weeks back and emerged from the attempt more confused about how magic worked than when I’d started. Whatever the transitional phasing of energy was, it was fiendishly complicated. And also possibly not real? How something could simultaneously not exist and be considered a basis for spellcrafting was beyond me. I ignored my teacher and stepped behind a cloth screen to change into comfortable breeches and shirt. It wasn’t that I was shy about my body, more that it felt… wrong to be naked around Black. Like pissing in a church. It had been bad enough seeing him make out with Ranger in a Name dream.

“So you’ve got bad news for me,” I said as I emerged. “You’re getting sadly predictable in your old age.”

“I’m not even eighty yet,” Black replied with a twitch of the lips.

Not that he looked a day older than twenty-five, unless you paid very close attention.

“You’re correct, though,” he said. “Sit down.”

I leaned against the pillars of my enormously oversized bed instead.

“As the last appointment of the sort done directly by the Tower, Akua Sahelian was granted the governorship of Liesse,” he said.

I blinked, started to speak then closed my mouth. I pushed myself off the wooden pillar and, very calmly, punched it so hard it splintered.

“That is insane,” I said. “Is this because I sent the letter? I put all my recommendations that she get the post in quotes, Black. The only way I could have been clearer was to add a sentence afterwards going ‘by the way, this is sarcasm, the only thing Heiress deserves is a summary execution’.”

“Her bid had other backing,” he said.

“Gods, if Malicia had waited another week the appointment would be put of her hands. The whole point of the ruling council is controlling the governorship system,” I snarled. “I don’t know what she’s up to, Black, but people are going to be butchered.”

“I am aware,” he said quietly.

“This will cause unrest, mark my words,” I said. “It’s open knowledge she’s the one who set the devils on the city. Gods Above, you’re putting in charge of Liesse the same woman who saw over two thousand of its citizens fed to literal hellspawn.”

The butcher’s bill after the siege had been heavier than I’d thought it would be. The evacuation of civilians deeper into the city had not been complete, some people refusing to leave their homes even with an army knocking at the gate. Black did not reply. I stared at him until the fury began to wane. All I’d just said he already knew.

“This isn’t your doing at all,” I said.

“It is not.”

My eyes sharpened.


He grimaced, and that was all the answer I needed.

“Why? She must have reasons,” I said.

“I would assume so,” he replied.

I sat down on the bed, my limbs feeling heavy. What he’d just said… Shit. That had implications. Black and Malicia had been thick as thieves since I’d first met them, and though I’d known there were some fractures there they’d always presented a united front. Disagreements were settled behind closed doors, where no one would hear – not even me. That my teacher was even willing to admit this was entirely the Empress’ game meant he disagreed with the decision so much he was not willing to put up that façade for the conversation.

“Is she cutting you out?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“I will be getting answers on the subject when we return to Ater,” he said. “She doesn’t trust any defensive measures but the Tower’s for this conversation.”

There were only so many people who would have the guts to eavesdrop on a conversation between these two.

“The Truebloods are up to something,” I guessed.

“You kicked a hornet’s nest when you forced them to back your petition,” Black said.

“You were along for the ride the whole time,” I reminded him.

“I was not criticizing you,” my teacher said, lips twitching. “Quite the contrary.”

I might still have to kill you, one day, I thought as my cheeks warmed. The longer I knew the man, the more complicated my relationship with him grew. I’d thought, when I first became the Squire, that I would have to fight him tooth and nail for every scrap of power. Instead he’d had my back every step of the way, battering down doors I couldn’t open on my own. I loved him a little bit for that. For seeing something in me I’d always believed was there, but that no one else had ever acknowledged. I also hated him for it, because I could no longer think of him as the enemy. Warlock had said that one day I would have to make a choice, and I believed him. And when that day came, when the knife was in my hand, I knew that if I killed him I’d miss him. As a teacher, as a mentor, as perhaps the closest thing to a father figure I’d ever had.

He was the Black Knight, and I was the Squire.

“I’m your successor,” I finally said.

“You are,” he agreed.

“I’ve wondered why you have one of those at all,” I said. “The Empress has a theory but I don’t think it fits anymore. If it ever did.”

Black rested his chin on the top of his hand, draped over his chair.

“I have been doing this for a very long time,” he said.

“Villains live until they die,” I said.

“Yes,” he said softly. “Until they die. Over the length of my career, I have myself killed twenty-three heroes and heroines. I’ve orchestrated or otherwise ordered the death of easily thrice that.”

He shrugged indifferently.

“I’ll meet someone better, eventually. Or they’ll get lucky: it only needs to happen once. It might be today, it might be next month, it might be decades from now – but they’ll get me.”

“So I’m your contingency?” I said.

“You’ve heard it, haven’t you?” he asked instead of replying. “The song.”

My heartbeat stilled.

“The first step is hardest, they said to her

You will have to walk through fire-“

“It will burn away what you once were,

And always devour whole a liar,” I finished.

He smiled, and it was sharp as a knife.

“They will learn to fear you, Catherine. I hope I live long enough to see it.”

A shiver went through me as he rose to his feet. He knew the song.  Gods Below, he knew the song. Two years that question of where I knew it from had plagued me.

“You’ve heard it before?” I asked.

“Once, when I was young,” he said. “It was not for me.”

“Where is it from?”

“It’s not from anywhere,” he said.

I frowned.

“What’s it called, then?”

The Girl Who Climbed The Tower,” he told me, and left.

Masego’s rooms weren’t far from mine. I’d expected to find him alone there, but was pleased to discover he was talking with Kilian. They both rose when I came into the room.

“Cat,” Apprentice greeted me.

“My Lady of Marchford,” the redhead teased, curtsying.

I strode forward and swept her into my arms, dipping her into a long and deeply satisfying kiss. Gods, I’d missed spending time with Kilian. Eventually Masego cleared his throat and I released her. She was flushed and her eyes a little wide.

“Already taking advantage of the servants,” my lover sighed. “Typical noble.”

“Don’t bother returning to the legion quarters tonight,” I said. “I don’t think you’ll be using those much.”

“Your bed is much nicer than mine,” she conceded.

I threaded my fingers through hers.

“Somewhere in this godforsaken palace there must be a dress that fits me,” I said. “It might even be in a colour other than black, one hopes. We’ll go dancing tonight, at the festival.”

“Dancing was not one of the Fae talents I inherited,” Kilian said.

“Wear thick shoes,” I recommended. “It’s not one of mine either.”

She smiled, cheeks dimpling as she brushed back a strand of hair behind my ear.

“I’ll leave you two to it, then,” she said. “Always a pleasure, Lord Apprentice.”

Masego grimaced. “Gods, don’t call me that. It makes me sound like I should know what’s going on at court.”

She waved us goodbye with a last smile and the door closed behind her. Masego’s room were smaller than mine, I noticed amusedly, and already filled with a dozen pile of books. I could see what looked like a dead pig cut open in his bathtub, which was just so typically Apprentice I couldn’t help but snort.

“We’ll have to discuss where I’ll build my tower,” Masego said. “Sit?”

I sat on what appeared to be the sordid Proceran invention known as a pouf. It was particularly frilly, and couldn’t decide whether it was a stool or a sofa. Praesi had it right with the cushions, I thought.

“We’ll settle that when we get there, I think,” I said. “Obviously I’d prefer if it wasn’t in the middle of the city.”

“The hills would be best,” he said. “Where the demon was first contained.”

And that was why I was here, wasn’t it? Apprentice had claimed an actual chair and looked rather curious as to why I was here at all.

“Masego,” I said. “Could you hand me the trinket I gave you? The one made of bone.”

He frowned, then cocked his head to the side.

“Why? You’ve had no definitive proof I’m not corrupted.”

I blinked. “Wait, you knew?”

He looked rather offended.

“You thought I didn’t?” he said. “Catherine, it smells like goblin munitions. It has a piece of your Name in it.”

“And you wore it anyway?” I said disbelievingly.

“Well, yes,” he said slowly. “After being exposed to a demon it was necessary for me to have a kill switch in case Father’s diagnostic spell has failed.”

I was, honestly, at a loss for words.

“That’s, uh, very enlightened of you,” I said.

“It was a reasonable precaution,” he said. “Arrangements like it aren’t uncommon among villains. I know Uncle Amadeus has a way to kill Father should he ever be corrupted, and he himself has an arrangement with Assassin to be executed should he ever become a threat to the Empire.”

He shrugged.

“Your method was crude and relatively obvious, but it would have been effective.”

“I kind of feel bad, now,” I mused. “I mean, I already did. But now I feel bad in a different, novel way.”

“You should,” Apprentice muttered. “Honestly, thinking I wouldn’t notice. You might as well have written ‘magical bomb’ on the surface.”

“I’m… sorry?” I ventured.

“I’ll expect a more elegant method of disposal before we get to Marchford,” he said. “As well as a written essay on the subject of why trying to deceive a man with my superb intellect is a fool’s errand.”

“I’m a villain now, I shouldn’t have to do homework,” I whined.

Both of us were smothering grins. Apparently I could do something right, once in a while. Not for lack of trying in the other direction.

This particular annex to the Royal Palace, called the Songbird’s Cage, had been built by Eleanor Fairfax’s grandson to house his mistress away from the prying eyes of his queen. He’d had the doors and windows barred and locked when said queen had started visiting the mistress more often than he did, spawning half a dozen songs running on the theme of caged doves, all of them involving puns about ‘locks and keys’ that thought themselves very clever. In later years, it had become where Callowan royalty held prisoners that weren’t officially prisoners. Several rebellious Dukes of Liesse had cooled their heels there until talk of secession died down, as had Fairfax uncles with a little too much ambition. It was fitting that the Baroness Dormer would be held there. A line of Gallowborne led by Captain Farrier trailed behind me as we tread the corridors, waving away the legionaries from the Fifth that guarded the unlocked door. My guards took position around the entrance – I’d expected a bit of friction there, but the two orcs from the Fifth began asking questions about Marchford instead.

Few of my legionaries had to pay for their own drinks, these days.

I knocked politely and waited until I was bid to enter from inside. I could have just strolled in, but it cost me nothing to be polite. If I ever ended up in her position, I hoped I would be extended the courtesy. Somehow, it was doubtful I would. Villains didn’t get taken prisoner, as I understood it. We turned our cloak or died, there was no middle ground. I had a nice cloak now, though. Turning might damage it. I supposed I’d have to stick with the whole villain thing for now. Anne Kendal, the Baroness Dormer, was still stunningly beautiful even in the subdued garments of a prisoner. She’d been allowed to keep her personal wardrobe, by my order, save for armour and weapons. Sitting in the solar of her suite, by the window, she’d been reading a book in candlelight. It wasn’t dark out yet but the windows were facing the wrong way to let the sun in properly.

“Lady Squire,” she said. “I did not expect a visit for some days.”

“There’s been some new developments,” I said. “May I sit?”

“By all means.”

I took the comfortable armchair facing hers, then lightly slapped two scrolls on the table. One held the seal of the Legions of Terror, the other the Tower’s.

“My trial is over,” Baroness Kendal immediately grasped. “I wasn’t even asked to stand in front of the judges.”

Her smile turned bitter.

“So much for a fair trial.”

“There would have been no point in you being there,” I said flatly. “I stacked the tribunal.”

Surprise and confusion flickered across the Baroness’ face. She’d been taken prisoner by the Fifteenth when the city of Liesse was under martial law – it was in my power to decide she should be tried under a military tribunal. I’d quietly sit down with the officers involved and told them what the verdict was going to be. There had been no debate.

“Open it,” I said, pushing forward the scroll with the seal of the Legions.

She broke it open and her brow rose as she scanned the lines.

“I am not to be executed,” she said.

“You’ve been stripped of your holdings,” I said. “That much was a given. You may still call yourself a baroness, but not the Baroness Dormer. Doing so would qualify as unlawful claim to Imperial property, under Praesi law. I think the punishment for that is lashes? I skimmed the reading, to be honest.”

“This,” she said, “does not seem like the work of Praesi law.”

“Things are changing,” I said. “There’s a reason I fought this war. Open the other one.”

Steeling herself, the noblewoman broke the Tower’s seal. Her eyes widened.

“What is this?” she asked.

“Before the week is over, the Empress will announce the creation of a ruling council over Callow,” I said. “This is your appointment to a seat on it.”

Seven members, there would be. Black had one, as the official head of the council – and also held the sole right of veto over any motion passed. One seat for the Empress’ representative, two in the hands of the high nobles who’d backed me willingly. One for me, and two appointments left for me to choose. It would work through majority vote, and I’d own that. Black had already told me privately he’d only attend the first few sessions before officially passing his vote and right of veto into my hands. With two seats in Callowan hands, my own vote and my teacher’s, I’d be effectively capable of passing any motion I wished. I’d agreed to Black being head of the council without any quibbling: I was not, at the moment, capable of ruling Callow. Especially not if I now had the rebuilding of Marchford to worry about as well. The council was a temporary measure meant to ease me into the trade ruling until I made a decision about the reorganization of Callowan territories.

“I’m a rebel,” Baroness Kendal said.

“You were a rebel,” I said. “Now you have a seat and vote in the institution that will pick the Imperial governors for all the holdings that were confiscated in the rebellion – including your own. Congratulations, Baroness.”

“Who else will be in this… institution?” she asked faintly.

“Three Praesi yet to be determined, Black, myself and someone I’ve yet too choose. I’m considering picking someone from the House of Light, but I’ll need a priest that’s not a zealot. I was hoping for your help in finding one, actually.”

“So Praes still holds the leash,” she said. “Majority vote, is it?”

I hold the leash,” I corrected. “There’s governors needed for Vale, Dormer and Holden. We’ll be choosing them. I don’t know about you, but I figure it’s time at least some Callowan land is governed by Callowans.”

“Not Liesse,” she said, clever eyes searching mine.

“Liesse is my problem to handle,” I said. “We’ll have authority to set laws and taxes for all of Callow – except maybe Daoine. The Duchess is already sending envoys to argue that since her duchy is a tributary state it doesn’t fall under the council’s authority.”

“Kegan was born grumpy and only got worse with the passing of years,” the silver-haired woman murmured. “Am I to understand that this council will have authority over all Imperial governors?”

I smiled coldly.

“That is correct,” I said. “It is within the scope of our mandate to remove governors and governesses should they prove unworthy of the authority they wield.”

Oh, there were quite a few laws specific to governors I was going to pass. First among them a rule forbidding any Callowan official from summoning or dealing with devils. Then another one limiting the amount of city guards allowed, as well as the founding of a group investigating corruption in the collection of taxes. Heiress might have her appointment for now, but she sure as Hells wasn’t going to keep it.

“The Empress has forged anew the crown of Callow,” the Baroness said. “No, she’s gone even further. The Fairfaxes could not dismiss nobles who displeased them at will. The powers you described are unheard of outside of the Free Cities.”

“Things are changing,” I repeated quietly. “You could refuse the appointment, of course. Head into exile.”

Black had told me that if she made that choice Assassin would dispose of her before she ever crossed the border.

“No,” she said. “I rebelled because I saw a better path for Callow. What kind of a hypocrite would I be, if I left now?”

A dead one, I did not say. I rose to my feet, inclining my head respectfully before heading for the door.

“Lady Foundling?”

I paused, then turned to match her stare.

“Why me?” she asked.

“Because there was more to the Liesse Rebellion than the Lone Swordsman and Proceran gold,” I said. “Because you weren’t wrong, really. Just not strong enough to win.”

Because I know I can bend you to my will if I need to, my mind whispered. I left the room and the noblewoman with it. The Gallowborne immediately broke out of conversation, falling behind me. Captain Farrier stood at my side as we strode away. We left the Songbird’s Cage, and I strolled through a pleasant garden. Sunset was beginning. The birds in the trees already sang their songs, the silver fountain in front of me gurgling quietly. I stopped a moment to enjoy the quiet.

“Where to now, Countess?” Farrier asked.

I looked at him, at the calm blue eyes and the angular face. Not for the first time, I reflected he had the most Callowan face I’d ever seen. Malicia had made a statement, in front of the crowd. Named me Lady of Marchford. And now, in this quiet garden, John Farrier was making another one. Countess, he’d called me. Not Lady. One of us or one of them. I looked up to the reddening sky, my fingers clenching and then slowly unclenching.

I did not correct him.

144 thoughts on “Chapter 49: Triumph

  1. Only two chapters left for this book, an interlude and the epilogue.
    Shout-out to whoever started the TvTropes page for the Guide, it’s much appreciated. Any of you want to spend a minute or two fleshing it out, go wild. I’l contribute as well, but I might be a little too close to assess the tropes properly. Link’s on the side menu if you’re interested!

    Liked by 8 people

    1. maresther23

      So the epilogue will appear the 4th of January. Will you take an hiatus between books? I don’t know what I will do with my Tuesday nights, now that there won’t be updates to motivate me to systematically refresh my browser.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. stevenneiman

      One random question I’ve had for a while:
      I know that most species pairings tend to both view the other as ugly, but which ones are actually capable of having crossbreed children? I’m 99% sure I remember something about a half-elf somewhere, but what about dwarves, ogres, orcs and goblins? And can any of them interbreed with species other than humans and their own?

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Sir

      I find it weird that he didn’t want to set a dead man’s switch on her, He made it sound like all The Calamities had each other covered but I guess Black would be the one to kill her if she got corrupted.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Poetically Psychotic

        Bad idea to exchange dead man switches. It should always be more of a chain, so that if you’re corrupted you can’t just instantly kill the one(s) holding your own switch. Any of the Calamaties should be capable of taking Cat out now, but once she gets more power the Adjutant will probably have to set something up, and then Apprentice would have a dead-man’s-switch for Adjutant.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A-W-E-S-O-M-E!

    I can’t wait to find out what the Empress is scheming, and Apprentice just went up a few ranks in terms of awesome-accepting a bomb for a hair decoration because it was a logical thing to do, but getting upset because it lacked finesse. He’s like a Vulcan crossed with a mad scientist.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. maresther23

      That happens when you are the child of a group of very competent villains. You expect nicely executed failsafes. Cat got a pass because she was new, in a rush, and Callowan, but no more!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. RubberBandMan

    A question of mine that doesn’t seem to be answered, when she was healed by the angels, did her crippled leg get better? It seems odd that that they could cure being dead, but not fix up her leg.

    On the other hand, demons seem to play by their own rules, not just things that ignore rules.

    It seems unlikely it’ll get a mention for awhile in story, since she’s stuck her foot into politics now.

    And WOW, the scope of this story just went up. Squire is hearing the song calling claimants to the tower? With the hints about future uncivil wars, a possible and terrifying end game has just popped up.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. maresther23

    Everyone keeps saying that Cat is like a young Amadeus, but I suspect Black sees a young Alaya in her. Amadeus probably heard “that” song for Alaya, and he helped her scale the Tower. When the Dread Empress talked to Squire she said “I will ask you the same question I asked Amadeus. What do you want?”, just as Cat has asked Hakram and Aisha what do they want before trusting them.
    However, we know that there is a deep fracture between the Empress and her Knight. It has previously been said that when someone is trying to change a story and defeats the opposition antagonist stop appearing until the story is over or the protagonist loses its way. We know that some of the things the Dread Empress is doing go against the Reforms. What if Black singing “that” song is his way of telling Cat she may end opposing the “fallen” Empress?
    *Can someone point me to the chapters where “that” song appears, please?

    Liked by 2 people

      1. nipi

        I think its a bit irrelevant who Black sees in Cat. More important is who she is intended to be the replacement for. The song suggests it might not be Black himself.

        As for the song. My first reaction was: “Has Blacks been secretly grooming Catherine since early childhood? How many other such pet projects does he have?”

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Hakurei06

      “I’ve had a melody stuck in my head, these last few months,” I said. “I just recalled a verse from it.”

      I looked up at the night sky and recited the lyrics.

      “The first step is hardest, they said to her
      You will have to walk through fire
      It will burn away what you once were,
      And always devour whole a liar.”

      “Never heard it before,” Hakram admitted. “Though the melody does sound familiar.”

      “I can’t remember where I heard it,” I admitted. “Silly thing to be bothered over, I guess.”

      “I wouldn’t say that,” the tall orc replied, coming to stand besides me.

      A Practical Guide to Evil Book 2, Chapter 16: Trust

      Liked by 4 people

      1. WealthyAardvark

        Oh, that’s an interesting read on that part. When I first read it I assumed that was the growing corruption of the demon, and that if she heard the words she’d be lost to them. A sort of Pied Piper situation.


  5. Shequi

    Typo & corrections thread:

    “from where I sat I could see the melded at the base of the wings”

    I think there’s a word missing there, but I’m not sure what it should be.

    “I’d quietly sit down with the officers involved and told them what the verdict was going to be. There had been no debate.”

    I assume this should be “sat”, rather than “sit”


  6. danh3107

    Man what a great chapter, this series consistently blows me away.

    (Now if only we could learn more about the World, specifically Ogres. I need it to satisfy my lust for worldbuilding.)


    1. Well, since you asked nicely. Ogres aren’t native to Calernia and were brought over as slaves by the Miezans. Their population’s small because of that, and hasn’t grown much bigger in the centuries since. Inbreeding has been something of a problem. Those limited numbers are the main reason none of the Legions can field a large ogre contingent.


      1. nick012000

        What do they look like? I don’t think that we’ve ever had a proper physical description of what the non-human Praesi races look like, beyond Orcs and Goblins having green skin, Orcs being big and muscular, Ogres presumably being even bigger, and Goblins being small.

        I’m just imagining Orcs and Goblins as looking like the ones from Warcraft, but what do the Ogres look like?


        1. The Archdevil

          When I think of goblins, I keep thinking of the Warhammer ones. And the cave trolls from Lord of the Rings come to mind when I think ogre.


        2. Ogres are broadly proportioned as humans and about Mediterranean in skin tone (though there is variance). They’re hairier than humans regardless of gender and their skin is much thicker, to the extent that it looks more like animal hide. Their inner organs are different than a human’s with some redundancies and backups making them particularly hard to hurt permanently. Lifespan wise they can live up to a century, but inbreeding has been cutting down that span generation by generation.


      2. danh3107

        Wow that’s actually fascinating, where do they live then? Special quarters in the main Praesi cities? I’d imagine their leaders have to strictly control their breeding if inbreeding depression has become an issue.


      3. nick012000

        So, noone in Praes has decided to launch some trading expeditions overseas to wherever ogres originally came from, to try to import more ogres, then? You’d think that some enterprising Praesi noble wouldn’t come up with the idea to bolster their own forces by doing so with the excuse of “Oh, I’m just doing it to cut down on inbreeding amongst the ogres in my territory, really”.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Shoddi

        “Ratface had told me that in Praes the designated idiots in all the jokes were the people from Nok, but here in Callow it was the Southpooleans.”

        In Callow, Southpool is knock-knock joke. In mother Praes, joke knocks Nok.

        Liked by 5 people

  7. The Archdevil

    When I think of goblins, I keep thinking of the Warhammer ones. And the cave trolls from Lord of the Rings come to mind when I think ogre.


  8. RandomFan

    If it’s not rude of me to post it, and anyone wants the spoilers of the whole poem Catherine remebers, I think I found a version of the poem that is complete on the author’s tumblr… Though I’d hope Catherine’s path isn’t quite as dark as the poem’s.


    Sorry if this is rude to post, feel free to remove it if necessary.

    Author’s Edit: Man, had totally forgot I’d put this on tumblr. Also I’m a little surprised anyone found my tumblr at all. Regardless, removed for spoilers and this being an early draft.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. RandomFan

        Because I didn’t know if it was a deliberate case of “all there in the manual”, or something he didn’t want to share, and if the former, sharing it was not unreasonable- more the opposite.

        I mean, I don’t think the lyrics of either the legionary song or the one that repeats “It’s us who hold the line” would be spoilers, so I wasn’t sure either way if it was not supposed to be available.

        I’ve seen both from web authors, so I wasn’t sure.

        (also, I wasn’t digging for it so much as for the previous references to the poem, and I found the tumblr as well with my google search.)

        In any case, sorry.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Joel

    I have to say, the past few chapters have been some of the most satisfying I’ve ever read in fiction. Catherine’s turnabout from being essentially condemned to defeat by the fates to powers restored, body healed, peer of the realm is just magnificent.


  10. Ratpigeon

    For the people looking for references to The Song, there is one in Book 2 Chapter 16: Trust (she remembers the ‘first step’ verse when she’s talking to Hakram, right before she lays out her plans and he comes into his name), and we also see the third? verse in Book 1 Chapter 25, Snatcher’s Plan:
    They say the third step is the cruelest

    Walk when the moon is at her clearest:

    Love ends with the kiss of the knife,

    Trust is the wager that takes your life

    Which is right before she sets up her third? betrayal for the melee


    1. Hakurei06

      The thing that prompted her to recall the verse in V1 Ch.25:

      “You got it,” [Robber] grinned, sauntering away as he whistled the first few notes of a strangely haunting tune. I’d heard it before, I thought, though I couldn’t remember where.

      After relating the verse in V2 Ch.16:

      “Never heard it before,” Hakram admitted. “Though the melody does sound familiar.”



  11. Sashimi

    So, Catherine is Black’s contingency… For himself in case of his demise? Or for Malicia, if she goes off-script even further and becoming an obstacle? Both? (Or maybe Malicia soon reveals her master plan to him ave they both secretly bet on Catherine, without her and our knowledge? Though that’s too… Selfless. They’re still villains.)

    That said, I don’t see him survive the story… Too much foreshadowing. He kind of needs to end up at apparent odds with Catherine at least at some point, too. Make her plan to kill him for real. And then he dies for her, enabling her success and making his goal come true in the process, post-mortem for him. It would even fit into his gear-view of his name. He himself is but another tiny part, just as replaceable as everyone else.

    Or maybe he and Catherine will wreck the system enough that he gets his happy retirement? Both angles work. Whatever. Whatever happens, I’m sure I’ll be blindsided in some way anyway. GJ!


  12. alegio

    All hail Lady Catherine and her army of undead goa… emm… legions of terror!!!

    On another note, is there gonna be another month of waiting after this book is over? (if the answer is yes, its gonna be a bad first month of the year)


  13. Axeinaga

    Not sure from which chapter it is but here’s a fragment of the song.

    “They say the third step is the cruelest
    Walk when the moon is at her clearest:
    Love ends with the kiss of the knife,
    Trust is the wager that takes your life”

    I am really curious about this poem!


  14. Kelenas

    Overall a great chapter, though I’m a little disappointed that Catherine doesn’t seem to learn where her enemy is concerned. I mean, Heiress is undoubtedly arrogant, but she’s not outright stupid; she knows full well that the people of Liesse hate her guts, and that Catherine’s going to do everything in her power to take the governorship away from her.

    So, it’s pretty likely that Heiress doesn’t want Liesse to build a power base (as Catherine seems to think), but in order to achieve some sort of temporary objective more in line with traditional Praesi villainy, and stop caring about the position the moment she’s got what she wanted.

    Then again, maybe I’m overthinking this, and Heiress actually does think she can, dunno, rule the people of Liesse through fear all the while out-maneuvering Catherine in court/intrigue.


    1. tbarim

      I was thinking along the same lines. I seriously doubt she would put herself as a subordinate of Catherine unless it’s to get someing greater. There’s something specifically in Liesse that she needs.

      Catherine needs to brush up on some history if she’s going to get ahead of this.


    2. RubberBandMan

      This is what I was assuming too. In the end, Catherine and Black want to build something, something that will keep working even after they die, and Cat doesn’t seem to get short-term goals. Short term thinking, sure, but always in service to her long term goals.

      Heiress? She wants to DO something, and once it’s done she’s done. Everything is just a stepping stone. As for what…

      As for what’s in town… I dunno, some sort of angel-connected church she fiddled with? A body of a dead hero tied to Cat? Cat has mentioned several times about the proper disposal of hero corpses to stop necromancers from raising real terrors, but what happened to the Lone Swordsman’s body has been overlooked. And Heiress is the one who got in and out at will with no help, no reason she can’t head back when she’s in charge.

      Hell, it wouldn’t even be the first time she raised a killed rival of Cat to fuck with her.


      1. Phantom Renegade

        You guy’s are using way too much hindsight in your analysis, we have to remenber that Heiresse’s plan to get Liesse was in the works before she talked to Catherine, before she even came upon the city.

        When Heiress decided to make a play to govern Liesse (for sure way before she was even close to the city) she didn’t know the Lone Swordman was going to summon the Hashmallim, which “forced” Heiress to summon the devil legion, Liesse was always going to hate her but it’d be on principle at first, really the Squire’d be the one they’d hate the most because she’d be the commander who actually took the city, Heiress probably figured a bit of addicional hate was worth binding an angel but that backfired.

        Her governorship of the city also backfired, remenber when she made the pact with Cat she didn’t know about her plans to create a rulling council over Callow, she thought she’d be getting the same deal as Mazus, and then when she found out it was too late, Heiress said she would present a bid for governorship of Liesse, and when she did Cat would have to back her, and both were stipulations of contract they made.


    3. nipi

      I seriously doubt Heiress ever wanted to use Liesse to build a power base. Far more likely she wanted to use the inhabitants as blood sacrifices for some grand magical purposes. She is after all a classical villain.

      As for the council. Having someone watching over her shoulder will make achieving her goal harder but probably not impossible. She will just need to be sneakier.


  15. crazedmoth

    If the Truebloods are gaining power in Praes, and Malicia isn’t opposing them as much as she used to, who else is hoping for a flying castle or fortress to turn up? They’ve been mentioned every time we hear about classic Praesi villainy, and they seem like they’re actually effective unlike tiger armies etc., so it feels like one should turn up at some point.
    And Heiress has the resources to pull it off, too – her father is one of the best mages in Praes, and she has no morals, so running a scheme off child sacrifices is right up her alley (I think landships powered by child sacrifice were mentioned earlier?).


  16. Alexander LeakingPen Hollins

    There are lines, in works of writing, that give shivers. knowing shivers, anticipatory shivers, shivers of delight and dread and hope and fear all rolled into one.

    I did not correct him. gave me those shivers. God DAMNED but I love this story.


  17. James, Mostly Harmless

    I loved the lines about magic: “Whatever the transitional phasing of energy was, it was fiendishly complicated. And also possibly not real? How something could simultaneously not exist and be considered a basis for spellcrafting was beyond me. ” Sounds a lot like the imaginary number i (the square root of -1) used in electrical engineering and many other fields!


  18. JackbeThimble

    The nobility of Callow has some very strange habits for a feudal aristocracy. It looks like almost this entire generation of upper nobility died without issue, apparently because they were almost all women who remained unmarried into middle-age. Not only that but the man they were hoping to put on the throne with their rebellion married a woman who was within a decade of menopause instead of someone likely to actually bear him an heir. Was Black doing some kind of shenanigans to prevent the nobles from marrying? Massive tax on noble marriage? Betrothed having mysterious accidents? Even if that were the case I’d expect most of the nobility to have produced a few acknowledged bastards as a backup plan. It’s like these people have never played Crusader Kings.


    1. My greataunts never found husbands after both World Wars killed most of the men in their generation. There just weren’t enough to go around. They were far from alone with this issue: in countries like Germany, Poland, France, Russia, Italy and the UK, one of the lasting, and very quiet, effects of the World Wars was poverty for the hordes of unmarried women who would never find husbands. 😐

      Two decades ago, Callow lost a devastating war: I’m betting a huge number of men and boys of all classes died like flies. :/


      1. James, Mostly Harmless

        It is quite possible that Black has been systematically killing all of the Callowian nobles who did not escape to other countries. For that matter, he probably sent Assassin after those who escaped, too.


      2. JackbeThimble

        Did the future of their country depend on your great aunts producing heirs? And were they among the half-dozen richest and most eligible bachelorettes in their societies?


      3. James, Mostly Harmless

        This may be part of the reason that the Gabor sisters came to the US – they could not find suitable husbands in Europe after WWII.


        1. Yup. Austria and Hungry got as badly hit top-to-bottom as anybody else. Estates that were still worth looking at would have fierce bridal competition.

          The rise of the debutante spectacle of the late 40s to the 60s on both sides of the Pond was for a very good reason: for the men, it was a buyer’s market. 😐

          Heck, the women who came of age in the 40s got a double-whammy: the number of filthy rich, dirty old men was down because of the Great War, compounded by their own generation’s loss. The Boomers only started hitting the cattle market by the early 60s, and only then did the male-female ratio start evening back up. :/


      4. JackbeThimble

        Well for one thing, if there was an actual shortage of marriageable men in Callow after the war (which given that the war of conquest was actually fairly short and, although it was brutal it was nothing like the scale of the World Wars and left whole regions of the country almost completely untouched) there’s no particular reason the Callowan nobility couldn’t have married foreign nobility or even Praesi. All of this is also overlooking the fact that in this universe men and women are near-equally represented in armies, so there’s no particular reason to expect that the male:female ratio would be adversely effected by war. In any event we’re talking about the half-dozen individuals who are probably best placed in the entire society to find mates and have the strongest incentive to do so. Since we haven’t actually been given any reason to suspect that Callow suffered a male:female imbalance after the war it seems highly unlikely that they wouldn’t have found a way of continuing their bloodlines left to their own devices.


        1. But, even in the Legions (who we mostly know) males still outnumber females.

          We don’t know a huge amount about the general hiring practices of Callow before the war, but we do know this — although some noblewomen (especially Named) got into the top brass, they were unusual, as it was mostly still a sausage party.

          About the duration of the war: just ask Nagasaki, Coventry or Dresden what a difference a couple of days can make. 😛 It’s not the time it takes, but how much damage gets done that matters.

          A short battle that annihilates almost everything and everybody in a region trumps a ten-year long, passable, naval blockade (yay, smuggling! boo getting caught!) of mostly static lines which collapses because politics for destructive consequences. Occasional casualties over time are absorbable — losing huge numbers at once isn’t.

          And, the way Catherine always thinks about the way the Tower won, they used a bulldozer on anybody who fought for Callow. Which would mean most noble men of fighting age died over a short period of time, not just the once-famous destrier bloodstock. :/

          The little lads or old duffers who got shipped abroad in time are basically all that’s left.


      5. JackbeThimble

        You keep talking about the war of conquest as if it were as destructive as the worst cases of prolonged modern war when we have no reason to believe it was anything of the sort. We know that the war lasted less than a year and apparently only involved 4 major battles- Blessed Isle, The Field of Streges, Summerholm, and Laure. The scale of the conflict and the types of weapons used are completely different. At worst we should probably be comparing it to something like Azincourt or Crecy in the Hundred years war. Even in those battles, some of the worst in the pre-industrial era in terms of casualties among the nobility we know from the historical record that there were heirs ready to take up the slack and most of the widows were re-married before long. The reason for this is that in a feudal aristocracy the individuals in power have a clear interest in continuing the family line for the good of the kingdom/duchy/county etc. so they start having kids early and often. There’s a reason the English kingdom of France didn’t collapse when Henry V died suddenly-because he had two surviving brothers ready to pick up the slack, one of whom had been kept safely in england throughout the war for precisely that reason. What I’m asking is why the Callowan aristocracy didn’t take this basic precaution, especially since it’s now been 20 years since the civil war which is enough time for two full generations to grow to sexual maturity and for a whole third generation to be born. Did all the nobility who died at Streges die childless as well? If not then where are their children. We know for a fact that a significant number of nobles did survive or else where did the hundreds of knights who fought in the rebellion come from? And what we’ve actually seen of this universe does not support your claim that armies are “sausage fests”. In every military group we’ve seen, whether it was generals (Named or not) or foot soldiers women have been at least equally represented. This was true in the War college, it was true of the Rebel leadership-which was, if anything, a clamfest- it was true of the leaders of the peasant levies we saw at Vale, it’s been true of every scene that focused on Rank-and-file legionaries. The only male-dominated military unit we have seen in the story so far is the Stygian Phalanx and there’s no indication that that unit is typical.


      6. nipi

        Actually I dont think it has ever been mentioned that any army in this universe had an equal number of men and women in their ranks. Sure women were allowed to join and hold high positions but did they do so in such large numbers? Did the society see it as a female occupation? I mean nothing is stopping women from becoming garbage men but how many garbage men are actually female?

        Also unlike women us men are expendable:


        1. If you want to beat yourself up with the whole “I’m expendable; they’re not — it’s unfair” thing, go right ahead.

          Ignore the upper body strength, the closed work cultures that have arisen over generations making for unsafe practices most don’t realise are detrimental or speak up against until a significant number of new people from outside break in… etc, etc.

          Think about what Black and the Calamaties are trying to do to the Tower with goblin, orcish and other non-standard personel; apply to any cultural entity such as a work place or other societal construct…

          In short: quit only looking at symptoms, mate. 😉


      7. stevenneiman

        Nipi: The problem with “women are more valuable” logic is that it generally assumes that population growth is good. In Praes, the central problem stems from an excess of mouths to feed. That means that getting women killed, which effectively bottlenecks the next generation’s population growth, is ultimately beneficial.
        Yes, there are things that women or men are generally better at or more disposed to, but having the Legions kill them off in roughly equal number balances the scales.


    2. maresther23

      Women have been around 20% of the FIGHTING forces in must revolutions and wars (I add a link about that at the end). While men have physiological advantages, if it is necessary for women to do something they can do it. Look at how women worked in male dominated jobs like lumberjacks during WWII. (At the same time, men can also be excellent secretaries, nurses and fathers.) Most of the time, the separation of roles is a systemic problem, enforced by social norms and maintained by the lack of role mothers. Women do not consider themselves warriors because they don’t see female warriors in the street, nor in the stories.


      1. Shequi

        It is the same book – Chapters 44 & 49 are both entitled “Victory”.

        This one should be called “Triumph” – echoing the Roman practice of a Triumph, which was a ceremonial parade in honour of the victors, as well as the modern meaning being appropriate.

        Of course, that it was one of the Lone Swordsman’s aspects is just icing on the cake…


  19. stevenneiman

    “The old rumour that their people mated with giant carps was a fond [a->and] well-polished assertion in the rest of the country.”
    “but from where I sat I could see the [melded->meld] at the base of the wings.”
    “reflecting the glare {of} the noonday sun.”
    “a heavy necklace shaped {like} a dozen Towers linked circled her neck.”
    “For this I grant you all the attending [the] dignities of a lord of Praes.”
    “Masego’s [room were->room was/rooms were] smaller than mine”

    This is interesting. On one hand, Malicia and Black seem like they’ve been trying to set up a villainous betrayal scenario so that they can avoid taking part in it and throw off the story of their defeat, but on the other hand this seems genuine and serious, to the point that I wonder if Black might have trouble sticking to the plan.


  20. Arancaytar

    Wow, Cat has really done it now. After this much winning I was holding my breath for something else to go wrong, but since it didn’t I guess this concludes Book II.

    Whatever the transitional phasing of energy was, it was fiendishly complicated. And also possibly not real?

    Magic uses complex numbers, like electricity?


  21. M

    The Lone Swordsman raised his sword and Heiress backed away, preparing to cast.
    “What did you do?” Akua said suddenly, looking at me.
    “I have three things,” I said. “A kingdom, an enemy and a claim.”

    So, how did Heiress know abotu Cat’s plan before she started talking? Can she literally see the story change or something?


  22. arancaytar

    as well as the founding of a group investigating corruption in the collection of taxes. Heiress might have her appointment for now, but she sure as Hells wasn’t going to keep it.

    Maybe I’m too pessimistic, but I suspect that whatever Heiress is going to get up to in Liesse, it won’t be anything as petty or harmless as a little grift and embezzling.


    1. Cicero

      Considering how Heiress never seems to do things half the way, exspecially if it includes fucking other people over and being completely over the top, its more like common sense. I am expecting some flying fortress level kind of shenigans next book.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. JackbeThimble

    It’ll be interesting seeing how Catherine deals with her new council. We haven’t seen Praesi aristocrats as anything other than antagonists so far, except Aisha who’s been assimilated into the legions. It will be interesting seeing Catherine interact with aristocrats as more-than-nominal allies.


    1. maresther23

      I think it is more of a Sonike thing. After all, Cat’s story seems to be about a revolution, where the Sonike’s aristocracy loses its power to a coalition ak Callowans, Greenskins, and Taghrebi .


  24. James, Mostly Harmless

    Is there a list of the Dread Empresses/Emperors and when they ruled? I have beeen wondering which Empress was “The Girl Who Climbed The Tower” if Black heard it about 60 years ago when he was young.


    1. Soronel Haetir

      I get the impression that ‘heard’ is being used in a metaphysical sense here. Perhaps Malicia received it as some sort of Name business and then asked Black about it. I don’t see why Black would have received this particular poem via Name dreams or any other mystic channel; Being the one at the top of the Tower doesn’t seem like it is part of his ambition – if that were the case his working with Malicia over decades would be an extremely tense relationship, where until fairly recently at least everything we’ve been told says that’s not the case.


      1. Arancaytar

        Ooh. Then if Catherine has heard it too…

        then maybe this Squire isn’t destined to become a Knight after all. No wonder Malicia seems to have started to distrust Black shortly after he picked her, and why she seems to be angling to get Catherine to betray him.


      2. nick012000

        It might appear in the thoughts of any Praesi Named with the desire to rule- in Praes, that means climbing the Tower; Catherine counts, because she desires to rule Callow. Of course, if that is the case, it raises questions about where Robber has heard it – does he want to launch a coup, perhaps? To overthrow the goblin matriarchs, or to climb the Tower as the first goblin Dread Emperor?

        Or, perhaps, like Black, he heard it from Malicia. ErraticErrata has said that Assassin’s appeared in every book so far, after all, so Robber would be a potential candidate to secretly be Assassin. We know Assassin’s male, but I don’t think it’s ever been stated what race he belongs to.


      3. M

        I think we really have to think as to why people keep knowing the _melody_ of the song without knowing the words, as well as where Black might have been when he overheard it. I am halfway convinced it has the same melody as a very rarely used Praesi national anthem, or maybe a common Praesi lullaby.

        Also, this happens: He smiled, and it was sharp as a knife.“They will learn to fear you, Catherine. I hope I live long enough to see it.” Why does Black suddenly think Catherine will become terrifying as a consequence of receiving confirmation that she heard The Song?

        Based on his reaction here, I have a vague feeling that Black heard Alaya (later Malicia) hear the song (based on him saying “Once, when I was young, It was not for me.” I think he had to be in the same location as the real recepient of the song) right before he went to the tower to deliver the “Tremble, o ye mighty, for a new age is upon you.” line. Maybe it’s a special song only the New Age villains get to hear?


      4. maresther23

        Let me tell you a story, it is a story about power, of ambition, of those who hear The Call. Some have small ambitions: to be free, to defend their friends, and only hear a few notes of The Call. But some, some have bigger ambitions, to change a nation, to rule a kingdom, and those, those hear every note, every word of The Call. And saw, the bigger your will, the bigger your ambition, the clearer you hear The Call.


  25. Dianna

    So, I started reading this story on the 15th, just as the semester was ending, and have been reading it practically non-stop for the last week, finishing Thursday night. It’s fantastic, I love it, I love the characters, the story, the world, etc. My head it full of questions and idea’s, and adorable AU’s for if Catherine and Masego got to grow up together as kids of the calamities…

    Where does this fandom go to chat about this sort of things? Is there a form? a Reddit thread?


  26. Soronel Haetir

    Something that’s occurred to me, along the lines of Malicia no longer trusting Black: Black’s entire ambition from the very beginning has been to change the story, he isn’t really interested in the sorts of normal villainy. He’ll do those things if they move them toward his goal, but unlike Nefarious for example living in hedonistic luxury is not his end game. My impression is that most of those who’ve climbed the tower have done so simply because they are drawn to power rather than having anything in mind to do with that power (and those who do have something in mind have a goal that follows the story-line rather than wreck it; they may desire to come out on top but their methods are ones that will always fail because the story demands those methods fail).

    Perhaps Malicia is losing sight of Black’s goals, where backing Cat is very much in line with changing the story. I could well see Black and Malicia having a falling out and Black ending up on Cat’s side simply because she represents a more stable future. And Warlock, Captain and Scribe go with him out of true personal loyalty. Rager isn’t likely to interfer, the only question mark is Assassin.


  27. *Paramount* that Catherine gets another rubber-stamp Council Member. The current landscape is 1) Black Knight (One Vote, Veto Power. This Vote and the Veto will be Catherine’s in short order.) 2) Catherine (One Vote), 3) Malicia’s Representative (One Vote), 4) Nominally-Allied Praesi High Lord Representative (One Vote), 5) The Other Nominally-Allied Praesi High Lord Rep (One Vote) 6) Baroness (Formerly Dormer, One Vote), 7) A yet-to-be-selected choice of Cat’s. She’s thinking a non-fanatical House of Light Priest.

    This is *all wrong.* If there really is a break between Malicia and Black (and we’ve seen there is), and given the insanely high probability that Heiress will manage to scheme her way onto the Council by bargaining with one (or both) of the Praesi High Lords who get to seat two representatives that would mean a Voting Bloc where Malicia’s Representative is likely to support Heiress at least some of the time, Heiress’s own Vote, plus the two Votes of the Praesi High Lord Reps. That’s Four Votes one could easily see ending up arrayed against Catherine. Not all of the time, or on every issue, but a definite weakness.

    On the other side, we’ve got Cat and Black’s Two Votes + the Veto, and the Baroness (who, while much more likely to align with Cat a significant portion of the time versus the Praesi is by no means a rubber-stamped yes.

    Catherine *NEEDS* her last Council pick to be someone utterly in her pocket. Having that is also likely to keep the Baroness voting with her much more often. Without that rubber-stamped Yes-Voter it could easily end up 5-2 against Catherine (with the Baroness defecting in exchange for pro-Callowan concessions. With the Yes-Voter it goes 3-3, with the Baroness’s allegiance becoming the deciding factor.

    I’m having an impossible time buying that Black wouldn’t have at least said something cryptic that would lead Catherine to this understanding. I’m also having trouble believing even a political neophyte like she is, has somehow managed to convince herself she’s already got the Council locked down.


    1. stevenneiman

      Malicia might be trying to placate the High Lords, but they were always supposed to be expendable. What Malicia wants most of all in this is to keep Callow happy and docile, and the way to do that is to let the Callowan folk hero (or folk villain, as the case may be) have her way most of the time. That means one likely vote, but not one she can always count on.
      Cat has two votes personally. The Baroness has one vote, and she has proven willing to work with Cat when the alternative would be pointless bloodshed or suffering. The kind of priest she wants is one who will put good before Good, even if it means working within the system of the Dread Empire to influence it towards a safer and more prosperous Callow. That means that as long as she can convince her own nominees that her choice is better than the Truebloods’ (which should be a very easy sell), she has 4-5 out of 7. Even if things go against her somehow, she still has the veto power and can keep anything disastrous from happening. To be honest, having an unpleasant but available alternative should help to serve as a check if she ever does go mad with power.
      She also wants to give the House of Light just enough support that they can continue to do their good work in healing and helping the poor, so the priest and the Baroness should be fairly happy. They might be a bit frustrated at Cat twisting their arms, but they both know that the alternative is to grant power to the worst Evil has to offer, and there is no way they’ll let that happen. They are both people who sided with Good because they thought it was the best way to help others, and are sane enough to compromise if the alternative is disaster.


    2. Soronel Haetir

      For Heiress to get on the counsel and create that kind of problem it would have to be expanded from 7 to 8 seats. Say Heiress were to get Malicia’s appointment, that would still make it 4-3 so long as Cat can convince the priest to go along. And still nothing she disagrees with can be passed (since she will hold the veto).


  28. stevenneiman

    Does anyone who understands Patreon know how to make a one-time donation? I wanted to make a donation for Christmas to an awesome guy who gives us something nice every week, but the only option I could find on Patreon is a monthly pledge, and I don’t have any kind of personal income at the moment so I don’t want to have a repeating charge.
    Do I have to just pledge and cancel after the first payment, or is there another way to donate once?


  29. stevenneiman

    I’m going to do wiki pages for the various races, and I wanted to check with EE about a few specifics and make sure I have everything right. If I have any of this wrong, please tell me.

    Orcs are slightly larger than humans and much more muscular. They have a very warlike culture, and combat prowess is the easiest way to earn their respect. Their native culture and Namescape were mostly destroyed by the Miezans, and are only now beginning to recover. They are native to the Steppes, and are generally aligned with Evil.

    Goblins are about the size of human children, and tend to be scrawny but agile. They live in a matriarchal society and jealously guard every secret about their culture and language. They are the only ones who can make goblin munitions. They harshly punish any goblin that tells outsiders about their culture within the warren. In goblin culture, being ruthless and underhanded is the equivalent of being macho. They are generally aligned with Evil

    Ogres typically stand about 10 feet tall. They are not native to Calernia, and were first brought over as slaves by the Miezans. Because of their low numbers, Calernian ogres have problems with inbreeding that are beginning to lead to widespread health problems and shorter lifespans. They are generally aligned with Evil.

    Humans are a sort of “swing race”, the largest and most influential pretty much everywhere on Calernia. They are not strongly associated with Good or Evil, and are commonly both heroes and villains. They have basically the same appearance diversity as real life humans.

    Elves are similar in appearance to thin, beautiful humans with pointed ears. They are extremely dangerous, able to fight against much larger forces of other species without casualties. They are aligned with Good, but view almost everyone except heroes and other elves as vermin, and kill any that enter their lands.

    Dwarves look like basically every other depiction of dwarves: short, stocky and bearded. They live underground, and make fine armor and weapons for their own use as well as lower-quality gear to sell to non-dwarves. The Kingdom Under views dwarves as the only ones who can legally own property, making it completely acceptable for dwarves to “find” the property of outsiders and keep it or sell it back. They are extremely durable, and at least somewhat resistant to magic. They are associated with Good.

    Gnomes have technology far in advance of anything found in Calernia, in at least some ways even in advance of real world modern technology. They restrict the development of new technology on Calernia. Any nation that develops technology is given two warnings called red letters, and on a third offense the destroy the offending country and exterminate its citizenry. They do not seem to live on or trade with Calernia, visiting only to deliver red letters or attack. They are aligned with Good, though they are no more tolerant of Good nations developing technology than they are Evil ones.


    1. stevenneiman

      Oh, and did I miss any? I know that dragons exist, but they haven’t really featured more than the fact that one Legion we haven’t seen yet is led by one.


      1. nick012000

        I think there’s a nation of Dark Elves/Drow to the north of the elves’ forest. Heiress mentions them in passing in one of her PoV chapters (Coup de Theatre) when she’s thinking about how Praes is the only viable nation-level force of Evil on the continent. There’s also the rats of the Chain of Hunger, though whether they’re literally rat-men or if Heiress was just being figurative I’m not sure of.

        There’s also undead, but I dunno whether they’d be properly counted as a separate race or not.


      1. stevenneiman

        And that’s why I posted this and waited for a response rather than adding it straight to the wiki. EE has confirmed that no claim was made of the sort.


    2. Orcs – you have it right. As an entity, others refer to them as “the Clans”.
      Goblins – not sure where you got the word warren from, but otherwise correct. As an entity, others refer to them as “the Tribes”.
      Ogres – ten to twelve feet is average, rest is correct.
      Humans – correct.
      Elves – usually taller than humans, features too sharp and long to look like them. Not native to Calernia.
      Dwarves – Correct save for the alignment. I don’t remember ever saying anything about that.
      Gnomes – Never said anything about the alignment, or current tech level. Rest is correct.


      1. stevenneiman

        You described gnomes as using something that sounded suspiciously like modern nukes, and a few other things that sounded like high-tech, and they have a distrust of other races of Calernia trying to develop real technology. I assumed that they did that with primarily science supplemented by magic, and wanted to maintain the exclusivity of their power.
        Do elves live on Calernia but didn’t come from there, or are rare elven visitors the only ones on the continent? I think I remember a few things about places they live, but I wasn’t sure whether they were on Calernia or elsewhere in Creation.


        1. Gnomes didn’t use nukes in the story Black told. That said, uranium does exist in Creation and it’s been a long time since then.
          Elves came from across the Tyrian Sea. Some more information about that will be revealed in the epilogue for this book.


  30. Then another one limiting the amount of city guards allowed, as well as the founding of a group investigating corruption in the collection of taxes.

    Oh, Creation weep, for Catherine is going to create the IRS.


  31. Cicero

    “One of these days,” I replied softly, “I am going to find something precious to you and I am going to break it.”

    cat fullilled her promis-


  32. “You’ve heard it before?” I asked.
    “Once, when I was young,” he said. “It was not for me.”
    “Where is it from?”
    “It’s not from anywhere,” he said.
    I frowned.
    “What’s it called, then?”
    “The Girl Who Climbed The Tower,” he told me, and left.

    Chills. This chapter was a wonderful epilogue from Cat’s perspective…I almost just want to stop here while everything’s warm and fuzzy, because I know things will inevitably go south – probably as soon as next chapter!


  33. standardtypo

    Typos [standard]:
    {from where I sat I could see the melded at the base of the wings} melded -> melding
    {I’d quietly sit down with the officers involved and told them what the verdict was going to be} sit -> sat
    {Black had passed one that bit} one -> on
    {all the attending the dignities} the dignities -> dignities


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